“Around the world the Bush name is synonymous with arrogance, ignorance, reckless insouciance, torture, violence, and ineptitude,” said Gerard Baker in Britain’s The Times. “And those would be from America’s friends.” But as George W. Bush leaves office, we should do him the courtesy of recalling that no other president before him had to face a terrorist attack like 9/11. Americans were subjected to “human destruction on an unthinkable scale by an enemy that moved largely unseen in their own midst.” Bush had to act quickly to protect Americans at home and to crush the terrorists who were still plotting overseas. His goal, the “eradication of the tyrannous political regimes that have nursed Islamist violence for centuries,” may well be judged the correct one. The problem was that, in striving toward that goal, he was “grotesquely, almost picturesquely, inept.”
That’s because Bush is, in fact, just an overgrown frat boy, said Tony Parsons in Britain’s Daily Mirror. “A natural simpleton,” Bush is nothing more than “a rich man’s son who got to the Oval Office on his daddy’s shirttails.” He plunged his country into two disastrous wars, threw away its moral authority, and wrecked its economy. And through it all, he smiled the smile of “the global village idiot.” Who can forget Bush’s last G-8 meeting, when he thought it was witty to say, “Goodbye from the world’s greatest polluter!” Treating global warming as a joke is “a wonderful example of the man in all his belligerent stupidity.”
That’s letting him off a bit too easily, said France’s Le Monde. Bush was not simply a bumbler. He had a vision, albeit a repugnant one, and he pursued it with religious zeal. Indeed, it was his “freedom from doubt,” his conviction that he was an instrument of God’s will, that led to his worst errors. Bush’s simplistic division of the world into the forces of good—America and its allies—versus the forces of evil—anyone who opposed the U.S.—meant that he could not conceive that his country might itself do wrong. This naïveté, this blind spot, led him to break international law by torturing people he deemed to be terrorists.
Yet American arrogance can’t be pinned on Bush alone, said Barbara Spinelli in Italy’s La Stampa. For decades before Bush came to office, Americans were “hypnotized by the mirage of their own force.” At least since the Reagan years, Americans had the gall to think of themselves as “a city on a hill, with incorruptible moral supremacy, destined to civilize the world.” The U.S. has long believed that it has the right and the ability to “shape the world according to its own idea of good and evil.” Will President Obama be able to dismantle this “toxic belief system”? It may be too big a task.