According to a CNN poll, George W. Bush is the least popular living President. His 43 percent favorable rating is well below that of his father ( 59 percent), Bill Clinton (66 percent) and the much maligned Jimmy Carter (54 percent). There is obviously political fodder for the Obama campaign here, but another point needs to be made. All of the latter three tried assertively to end the Israeli occupation, and Bush I and Carter both crossed swords with the Israel lobby–and paid a steep political price. (Clinton’s peacemaking efforts I believe were sincere and useful–but he was far more careful not to cross swords with the lobby. His assignment to Arafat of the entire blame for the breakdown of Camp David peace talks in 2000 was shameful and destructive, and transparently designed to favor his wife’s Senate bid.)
The contrast between the three and George W. Bush reveals something complicated and troubling about American politics. It says that in the measure of time, Americans far prefer a president who is roughly in accord with the international consensus on Mideast affairs, regardless of the short term political costs. Bush is also obviously held responsible too for the Iraq War, an expensive disaster, justified by lies.
As a foreign policy president, George W. Bush was in over his head, and trusted the neoconservatives in his administration far too much. His inexperience was attractive to the neocons: one of his tutors, Richard Perle, was quoted as saying that Bush knows what he doesn’t know, implying he was ready to defer to those with greater wisdom.
The neocons of course abandoned him when the Iraq went sour: before that, the Commentary crowd had touted Bush as if he were a combination of George Washington and Charlemagne. Dozens of pieces promoting what they called “the Bush Doctrine” were published. (America should force “regime change” in countries the neocons don’t like, basically.) Now they have grown silent about their sponsor. Bush meanwhile has given out several signs that he feels he has been misled by his erstwhile tutors.
The curious thing is that while George W. Bush is nearly a non-person in today’s GOP, the neocons are still there, scattered all through the Romney campaign. Romney is fairly popular, with it seems to me at least a 50 percent chance of getting elected. His success would require that there is no serious discussion of foreign policy in the campaign, no sense among Americans that a Romney victory would bring a reprise of Bush’s first term. The mainstream press seems quite willing to cooperate in this.