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The Second Worst American President?

In the New York Times column to which Abe refers, Nicholas Kristof pronounced George W. Bush the second worst American president.  Why was he so harsh on Dubya?  “Mr. Bush’s presidency imploded not because of any personal corruption or venality, but largely because he wrenched the United States out of the international community,” the New York Times columnist writes.  “His cowboy diplomacy ‘defriended’ the United States.  He turned a superpower into a rogue country.”  And what would Kristof recommend to President McCain or President Obama?  That’s simple: “After Tuesday, let’s rejoin the world.”

Rejoin the world?  There is, unfortunately, little left of the “world” for the United States to rejoin.  At this moment, the global financial architecture is disintegrating while the international system of geopolitics is falling apart.  Most of the assumptions we make today about the way the planet operates could-and probably will-become obsolete in a short period.

So the task for the next American leader will not be to find a way to repudiate Bush’s foreign policy.  He will, in the early days of his term, have to communicate his vision of how the globe should work and will need to go about implementing it.  This is, in short, a moment that demands greatness.

In contrast, Kristof recommends we accept the International Criminal Court and establish a “Truth Commission” on torture.  He sees the need to “rethink and refurbish” multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Perhaps we should do these things, but these proposals sound like small beer in comparison to the challenges that will confront President Bush’s successor.

Perhaps Mr. Bush will end up being considered the second worst American president, especially if the world rapidly transitions into a period of sustained recession and conflict.  Yet it is too early to make such comparative judgments-and certainly there is no time to do so.  Now, we should be figuring out how to lead the world to sustainable prosperity and stable relations among nations.  We are rapidly passing from the best moment in history and have the responsibility to avoid the worst.



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