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Professor Donald Elder: The Presidents of the United States – George W. Bush

Mar 7, 2014 by

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An Interview with Professor Donald Elder: The Presidents of the United States- George W. Bush

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

  1. Today we will look at George W. Bush, the forty-third president of the United States. When and where was this President born and when did he serve-(during what time period or event or series of events?)

George Walker Bush was born July 6, 1946 in New Haven, Connecticut. His father, who would become the forty-first president of the United States, relocated the family to Midland, Texas after graduating from Yale in 1948. George W. Bush went to public schools in Midland through seventh grade, at which point his father moved the family to Houston. Bush attended a Houston preparatory school for two years, and then went to Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts for his high school years. Upon graduated, Bush was accepted for admission by Yale University. Bush graduated from Yale in 1968 with a B.A. in History. In May of 1968, Bush was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Texas Air National Guard. Bush served in this capacity until the latter half of 1972, when he transferred to the Alabama Air National Guard.

In 1973, Bush entered the graduate program in Business Administration at Harvard. Bush was honorably discharged from the Air Force Reserve in 1974, and in 1975 he received his M.B.A. from Harvard. He then went back to Midland and started to work for a friend in the oil business. In 1978, Bush ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, but lost a close election to his Democratic opponent. Bush soon decided to start his own oil business, eventually selling his firm in 1986 to Harken Energy Corporation and joining that company’s Board of Directors. In 1988 Bush moved to Washington D.C. to manage his father’s presidential campaign.

After his father’s victory, Bush joined with other investors in purchasing the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball Club. In 1994 Bush decided to enter the political realm, running for governor in Texas. Bush won that election, and in 1998 was re-elected. A year later, Bush made the decision to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2000. He won the Iowa Caucuses, but lost the New Hampshire Primary to Arizona Senator John McCain. Bush then won the South Carolina Primary, and this victory helped propel him to the Republican nomination.

The general presidential election in 2000 proved to be one of the most controversial in American history, as the election returns in the state of Florida were disputed. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Bush campaign, and with Florida’s electoral votes Bush won the election. Bush was inaugurated president in January of 2001.

  1. What was he MOST known for?

Bush had a very eventful presidency, but will probably always be remembered most for the Iraq War. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Bush delivered a speech in which he labeled three countries as “the Axis of Evil”—Iran, North Korea, and Iraq. Although not all the records pertaining to the decision have been declassified, it seems evident that by early 2002 the Bush Administration was planning for a war with Iraq. As a justification, the Bush Administration asserted that Iraq had amassed weapons of mass destruction; because of this, a war would be necessary to disarm the Iraqis.

As we had done in the 1990s, the US approached the United Nations with a request that the organization pass a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, but this time the UN would not acquiesce. Bush then arranged a coalition of nations that did feel the use of force against Iraq was justified, and in March of 2003 their forces invaded that nation. The war was relatively brief in duration, with President Bush announcing the end of hostilities on May 1, 2003. When investigators began to search Iraq for the weapons of mass destruction that the nation had purportedly possessed, however, they found no evidence of their existence.

Reports later surfaced that certain individuals within the Bush Administration had doubts about the assumption that Iraq possessed these weapons, but had their objections swept under the rug. This led some observers to question whether Bush might have had a different motivation for going to war with Iraq. To make matters worse, an insurgency soon developed in Iraq against the occupying American forces, and before President Obama ended military operations in 2011 over 4,000 Americans would die in Iraq.

So, because the primary reason for going into a costly war turned out to have been based on an erroneous assumption, the Iraq stands as the event that most people will remember about his presidency.

  1. What would you say were his strengths?

Bush had seemed to drift early in his life, but his marriage and his decision to tone down his drinking seem to have given him a balance in his life that was necessary for him to pursue a political career. He also had the capability to stake out a position and hold to it, famously calling himself at one point “the decider.”

  1. What were his relative weaknesses – politically perhaps, personally?

As has been the case with other presidents, what one observer would see as a strength another person might call a weakness. Many people, for example, saw Bush’s dogged determination to hold to a position as a liability, as he seemed incapable of changing course in light of new developments. In addition, while Bush was capable of giving an effective speech, he was more often seen as a person who had trouble articulating his thoughts. This inability to clearly and effectively communicate his thoughts also hampered him in terms of being an effective president.

  1. What would you say was his impact on the United States and possibly the world?

There have been few presidents who have had as drastic an impact on the United States as George W. Bush. He led the nation into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and conducted an international campaign against suspected terrorists. At home, he convinced Congress to give the government broader surveillance powers over the American people, and his administration embraced interrogation techniques for suspected terrorists that many found objectionable. Clearly, the world is a much different place as a result of the presidency of George W. Bush.

  1. In terms of his place in history- it seems to be secure- but could you summarize your views as a historian about him?

While time may help the image of George W. Bush, he currently is regarded as one of the least successful presidents of all time. His perceived failures in the foreign policy realm and the economic morass the country found itself in as he left office have given him a very low ranking: he is currently in 39th place out of the 44 presidencies that we have had.

  1. What would you say were his greatest accomplishments?

For all of his faults, Bush deserves to be remembered favorably for his actions immediately after the terrorist attacks in September of 2001. His speech to the nation in the days following the tragedy reassured and inspired the nation, and his symbolic gestures (such as throwing out the first pitch at the 2001 World Series in Yankee Stadium) were very appropriate. He gave the nation absolutely the right type of leadership during those troubled days.

 

  1. Could you provide a summary statement about our forty-third President?

One of the most lasting images of President Bush will always be a press conference that he spoke at in Iraq in 2008. During the conference, and Iraqi journalist rose to his feet and threw his shoes at the president. This would be regarded as an insult under any circumstances, but in Iraqi culture, the throwing of a shoe is particularly demeaning. Bush handled the situation as well as could be expected (he dodged both of the flying projectiles), but this incident demonstrates the extreme range of emotions that Bush engendered while he was president of the United States.

Published by Jimmy Kilpatrick
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