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ROBINSON: Stains on a legacy

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

In retrospect, George W. Bush's legacy doesn't look as bad as it did when he left office. It looks worse.

I join the nation in congratulating Bush on the opening of his presidential library in Dallas. Like many people, I find it much easier to honor, respect and even like the man -- now that he's no longer in the White House.

But anyone tempted to get sentimental should remember the actual record of the man who called himself The Decider. Begin with the indelible stain that one of his worst decisions left on our country's honor: torture.

Hiding behind the euphemism "enhanced interrogation techniques," Bush made torture official U.S. policy. Just about every objective observer has agreed with this stark conclusion. The most recent assessment came earlier this month in a 576-page report from a task force of the bipartisan Constitution Project, which states that "it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture."

We knew about the torture before Bush left office -- at least, we knew about the waterboarding of three "high-value" detainees involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. But the Constitution Project task force -- which included such respected eminences as Asa Hutchinson, who served in high-ranking posts in the Bush administration, and William Sessions, who was FBI director under three presidents -- concluded that other forms of torture were used "in many instances" in a manner that was "directly counter to values of the Constitution and our nation."

Bush administration apologists argue that even waterboarding does not necessarily constitute torture and that other coercive -- and excruciatingly painful -- interrogation methods, such as putting subjects in "stress positions" or exposing them to extreme temperatures, certainly do not. The Constitution Project task force strongly disagrees, citing U.S. laws and court rulings, international treaties and common decency.

The Senate intelligence committee has produced, but refuses to make public, a 6,000-page report on the CIA's use of torture and the network of clandestine "black site" prisons the agency established under Bush. One of President Obama's worst decisions on taking office in 2009, in my view, was to decline to convene some kind of blue-ribbon "truth commission" panel that would bring all the abuses to light.

It may be years before all the facts are known. But the decision to commit torture looks ever more shameful with the passage of time.

Bush's decision to invade and conquer Iraq also looks, in hindsight, like an even bigger strategic error. Saddam Hussein's purported weapons of mass destruction have yet to be found, of course; nearly 5,000 Americans -- and untold Iraqis -- sacrificed their lives to eliminate a threat that did not exist. We knew this, of course, when Obama took office. It's one of the main reasons he was elected.

We knew, too, that Bush's decision to turn to Iraq diverted focus and resources from Afghanistan. But I don't think anyone fully grasped that giving the Taliban a long, healing respite would eventually make Afghanistan this country's longest or second-longest war, depending on what date you choose as the beginning of hostilities in Vietnam.

And it's clear that the Bush administration did not foresee how the Iraq experience would constrain future presidents in their use of military force. Syria is a good example. Like Saddam, Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator who does not hesitate to massacre his own people. But unlike Saddam, Assad does have weapons of mass destruction. And unlike Saddam, Assad has alliances with the terrorist group Hezbollah and the nuclear-mad mullahs in Iran.

I do not advocate U.S. intervention, because I fear we might make things worse rather than better. But I wonder how I might feel -- and what options Obama might have -- if we had not squandered so much blood and treasure in Iraq.

Bush didn't pay for his wars. The bills he racked up for military adventures, prescription-drug benefits, the bank bailout and other impulse purchases helped create the fiscal and financial crises he bequeathed to Obama. His profligacy also robbed the Republican Party establishment of small-government credibility, thus helping give birth to the tea party movement. Thanks a lot for that.

As I've written before, Bush did an enormous amount of good by making it possible for AIDS sufferers in Africa to receive antiretroviral drug therapy. This literally saved millions of lives, and should weigh heavily on one side of the scale when we assess The Decider's presidency. But the pile on the other side just keeps getting bigger.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

Comments

FordGalaxy 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Ah...so instead of admitting that Obama is, in many respects, as bad or worse than George Bush, we instead resort to the old standby line that George Bush was the worst President, and quite possibly the worst human being, in history.


He says the pile of negatives against Bush keeps getting bigger, but seems to refuse to accept that the reason the pile keeps growing is because the most transparent administration in history has merely continued exercising Bush's policies.


Eugene ignore the basic facts of history, in that most Presidents are more favorably viewed the farther removed we get from their terms in office, mainly because we've become a nation of knee-jerk reactionists. Blame short attention spans or the 24-hour news cycle (where CNN recently proved it's more important to be first than to be right).

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Haughton 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Robinson, et al. using the GWB presidential library opening as a distraction at this critical point in the BHO administration should be expected. Ironically the continuous attempts to blame GWB will be part of the Obama legacy. Robinson, et al. will not be around in five years when BHO will really need these people. All evidence of the vitriolic rhetoric towards GWB will provide facts of the failed attempt at damage control by the Obama image makers on the www.

Here is an interesting counterpoint:

http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/obama-legacy-pt-1-many-top-ten-things-black-america-will-have-show-8-years-president-obama

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JeanE 11 months, 4 weeks ago

I am so disappointed that the Gwinnett Daily Post published this obviously extremely biased and left based viewpoint without at least printing a conservative counterpoint, I guess the AJC is the only paper that strives to be fair and balanced. Shame on you, Post!!!!!!

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kevin 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Robinson always had to take his daily does of pot before he writes. He is the most sarcastic and unknowledgeable writer this paper has ever hired. When is you contract up so I can continue to buy the paper again?

The person that wrote this should be put on the FBI & CIA "watch list." I'll pray for someone who feels they can lie about anything, like his "god," Obama. If you are going to write about slander of a former President, you should start writing your novel about all of Obama's catastrophes and lies. You will surely run out of paper! What would you write about if folks ridiculed your president, who is certainly worthy of ridicule.

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Why_not 11 months, 4 weeks ago

Dubya is the one that's more than worthy of ridicule.

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Haughton 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Obama's own are already turning on him. When you constantly continue to insert GWB into your repertoire then you contribute to BHO's ridicule and failure. BHO's legacy is already being written as the worst and we are only half way through. Try as you might but you can't change that, but media contributors like Robinson, et al. have a more powerful voice than you.

http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/obama-legacy-pt-1-many-top-ten-things-black-america-will-have-show-8-years-president-obama

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Jan 11 months, 3 weeks ago

You really should read everything on your link before posting. This site is blatantly racist and full of misinformation. It is surprising that anyone can possibly aggree with these extremist, but then you had the nerve to post it twice.

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Haughton 11 months, 3 weeks ago

I did read it. It is a website created by BHO voters that are outraged he did not deliver to them what he promised. How can these people be racist? How can they be extremist if they voted for BHO and have discovered the lies? This is just but ONE example of the BHO revolters. Shot the messenger if it makes you feel better. You have nerve knowing that BHO is failing our country and sticking your head in the sand.

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news2me 11 months, 3 weeks ago

Why_not, are the early morning hours the hardest when you are trying to fight off thinking about kevin? Is this Dubya talk just a way to get his attention? Something tells me kevin is not interested, and he might be turned off by your Obama worshipping. Just sayin...

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Why_not 11 months, 3 weeks ago

It would break my heart if I said something that Kevin didn't like......

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Mack711 11 months, 4 weeks ago

There are two writers that this paper could do with out,Cepada and Robinson. Both have an axe to grind and are very quick to blame others for their problems of today. Obama took office and had no plan. Only take from the 'evil rich' and give to those who do not have. The evil rich have moved off shore. You have seen more companies close up and move off shore due to some of the newer regulations that have come from his administration. This will continue for the near future. Sure there are plenty of low paying jobs out there but most high paying jobs are gone probably to never to return again. We donot have the silled jobs that we need in order to maintain our country. Bush made mistakes during his time in office but Obama has made more.

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news2me 11 months, 3 weeks ago

ROBINSON: The stains on Obama's legacy are permanent, kind of like the tatoos he and his family have recently talked about getting.

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SuxBeanU 11 months, 3 weeks ago

typical gino hack job. Why does the GDP continue publishing this bozos drival?

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