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Bush handled terrorism well, but not the economy

Partisan blather aside, let's take a no-spin look at President George W. Bush's two biggest legacy items: the war on terror and the economy.

Bush leaves office with a 34 percent approval rating, according to a recent Gallup poll. That ties him with Jimmy Carter's approval rating when he left office in 1981, not exactly a place you want to be. However, the war on terror issue is still being defined and will likely help Bush when history is written down the line.

Immediately after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Muslim jihadists had a big wind at their backs. We saw TV images of Muslims dancing in the streets as the great Satan America was humbled by al-Qaida. Almost instantly, the invincibility of the United States was challenged and the physical safety of Americans was at risk. It was very possible that further attacks were close.

Moving quickly, the Bush administration reorganized the FBI into a terror-fighting organization and toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, disrupting al-Qaida's command and control. Those successful tactics blunted a number of active terror plots and resulted in the capture of a number of al-Qaida big shots, all of whom broke under coerced interrogation. The information they gave up allowed the Bush administration to further damage the terrorist infrastructure.

Then came Iraq, an operation designed to cleanse the Muslim world of the huge terrorist enabler Saddam Hussein. The price of that war is still being debated, but what honest people don't dispute is that the al-Qaida foot soldiers who invaded Iraq hoping to defeat the U.S. military were eventually decimated. The price for America in Iraq has been enormous, but al-Qaida has also paid big.

Today, the terror threat still exists, but is no longer centralized and has lost most of its momentum. In short, the United States is winning the shooting war, and President Bush should get credit for that.

On the economic front, however, the picture is different. The dramatic rise in oil prices last spring was artificially driven by greedy speculators, some of whom worked out of brokerage houses like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. The oil company chieftains quickly realized they could make billions raising their prices to reflect the upward price speculation and did so with gusto. Thus, millions of consumer dollars were diverted to gas bills instead of other obligations. That lighted the fuse of the recession.

At the same time, banks were making risky home loans to unqualified consumers. The banks then sold many of those loans to quick-buck artists at places like Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. When consumers began to default because money became tight, panic ensued and the recession roared in.

Where was President Bush while all this was happening? He continued to put forth that the economy was fundamentally strong when it was not. That is on the president. If his economic advisers misled him, he should have said so. But Bush is leaving office with no credible explanation for the collapse.

The Democratic Congress also stood by and did nothing to protect the folks. In July, Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, told the world Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were 'in good shape going forward.'

A few weeks later those mortgage entities collapsed. Frank is now blaming the Republicans, but he is being flat-out dishonest in not taking any responsibility.

Like a sports team that loses big, the head coach is the main guy. After Iraq and the wobbling economy, the folks lost confidence in President Bush, and Barack Obama capitalized on that.

The truth is that the Bush administration did very well in protecting us against terrorist killers - but not so well in protecting us against Wall Street greed heads.

Veteran TV news anchor and author Bill O'Reilly is a host on Fox News. His "Radio Factor" can be heard from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays on NewsTalk 1300 WIMO-AM.