Now that President Bush is about to step off the stage of history, at least as the president, various pundits are weighing in on his legacy. Most seem convinced that he was one of the worst presidents in U. S. history. Anyone who really knows history at all would not make such a statement so soon after the conclusion of two terms in the White House. Historians well know that we have had far worse presidents than George W. Bush. They also know we have had many who were far better. The point here is relatively simple—it is way too premature to judge this man's body of work.
My most profound dismay with this president has been his inability to explain to the American people what he was doing and why. I would argue that few modern presidents were as ineffective in communicating their vision of the world as George W. Bush. And yet few faced the challenges that he faced. This is where history will judge him, one way or the other. There is one sense in which the outcome of Iraq will determine, one way or the other, the success of his mission. And none of us yet knows the full implications of "the Bush doctrine" in the Middle East. I have no earthly idea what will happen in Iraq in the coming years and rest in the fact that no one else does either, except of course the Lord of heaven and earth who does right.
The same failure to communicate also stymied Bush when he dealt with the economy over the last six months or so. When he made his case for the financial stimulus package he made it so badly it is hard to know exactly what he had in mind, at least based upon what I heard him say to us the general public.
But there are several areas where Bush made a real difference for good and few of his critics will give him his due. First, we have not been attacked since 9/11. Does he get any credit for this? I would argue that he must receive some credit even if critics disagree strongly with his overall foreign policy.
Second, and even more obvious to fair-minded people, George W. Bush has left a noble legacy in Africa. From South Africa to Rwanda, from Ethiopia to Kenya, Bush is appreciated, if not loved. He saved millions of lives and made a difference on this continent like no previous U. S. president. His work to save those suffering from HIV/AIDS is nothing short of remarkable.
In 2003 Bush began an effort to expand prevention, treatment and support programs with a $15 billion plan. The 15 hardest-hit countries, 12 of them in Africa, were the recipients of this money. More than half of the world's estimated 33 million AIDS infections are in Africa. The Bush initiative was linked to the goal of putting 3 million people on AIDS drugs by 2005. This goal was reached in 2007.
But detractors continue to attack Bush. They say that he should have channeled these funds through the U.N. and that he had depended too heavily on faith-based organizations and abstinence. And they also attack his plan because it does not promote abortions. Critics also say his programs have diverted attention away from pneumonia and diarrhea, which are bigger killers in Africa.
Yet some critics, such as the rock star Bono and Bob Geldorf, have become open admirers of Bush's efforts in Africa. Geldorf, who accompanied Bush on his trip to Africa last February, wrote in Time magazine: "The Bush regime has been divisive
. . . created bitterness—but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives."
I suppose what grieves me the most is that people are so partisan that they cannot appreciate the positive contributions of a good and decent man at all. Look, he saved lives, regardless of the politics involved in his actions. Bad men don't care. Bush may not be a great world leader, time will tell us whether this is the case or not. But he is not the terrible man his enemies say he is. I wonder what these Bush critics will do now that he is gone and they helped elect a man that they wanted to be the new president. The answer to that is already apparent, at least in a few limited cases. Some are already starting to snipe at the new leader, Barack Obama, even before he enters office.
I pray for George and Laura Bush and their future work for peace and justice. I also pray for President-elect Barack Obama who has a task before him that few of us could possibly understand. I would guess that one of Obama's best intercessors will be George W. Bush. I would also make one simple prediction: contrary to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, this ex-president will not inject himself into direct and harsh criticism of his successor who enters the oval office with my prayer support this coming Tuesday.