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"The Sheer Wasted Opportunity of It All"

I think Thomas Friedman does the best job I've yet seen of predicting how future historians will judge Bush's presidency:

"No matter what happens, sooner or later character in leadership is revealed," said David Rothkopf, author of the upcoming "Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making." "Gore lost the election and had to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. He took the initiative to get the country and the world to focus on a common threat -- climate change. Bush won the election and for the first year really didn't know what to do with it. When, on 9/11, we and the world were suddenly faced with a common threat -- terrorism and Al Qaeda -- the whole world was ready to line up behind him, but time and again he just divided us at home and abroad."

Indeed, Mr. Bush, rather than taking all that unity and using it to rebuild America for the 21st century, took all that unity and used it to push the narrow agenda of his "base." He used all that unity to take a far-right agenda on taxes and social issues that was going nowhere on 9/10 and drive it into a 9/12 world.

Never has so much national unity -- which could have been used to develop a real energy policy, reverse our coming Social Security deficit, assemble a lasting coalition to deal with Afghanistan and Iraq, maybe even get a national health care program -- been used to build so little. That is what historians will note most about Mr. Bush's tenure -- the sheer wasted opportunity of it all.

Yes, Iraq was always going to be hugely difficult, but the potential payoff of erecting a decent, democratizing government in the heart of the Arab world was also enormous. Yet Mr. Bush, in his signature issue, never mobilized the country, never punished incompetence, never made the bad guys "fight all of us," as Bill Maher put it, by at least pushing through a real energy policy to reduce the resources of the very people we were fighting. He thought he could change the world with 50.1 percent of the country, and he couldn't.

"That is what historians will note most about Mr. Bush's tenure -- the sheer wasted opportunity of it all." Sounds spot-on to me. Think of what could have been accomplished had Bush been a better man. It's sad. And it's not just the wasted opportunity of national unity, but the fact that Bush's policies have so polarized the country and the world. When he leaves office, he will leave the US in a far worse position than he found it.

Our nation is divided, our reputation around the world is at rock-bottom, we're running massive deficits, we've spent nearly half a trillion dollars on a war that has degenerated into an ethnic and religious civil conflict, we've lost nearly 4,000 soldiers representing the best of our country, at least 75,000 Iraqi civilians have died, our actions have "substantially strengthened bin Laden's network"... and Al Qaeda's original expenditures to set all this in motion were half a million dollars and the lives of 19 of its men. Who got the better of whom?

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