Dubai: There’s one image of US President George W. Bush that will forever endure: That of a deer caught in the headlights, staring into the unknown in front of a class of kindergarten pupils as he read “My Pet Goat” to them on the morning of September 11, 2001.
For a minute he stared and squirmed in his seat after receiving a whispered word in his ear that the United States was under attack, that the two planes had crashed into the World Trade Centre Towers 1 and 2, and that he, as the nation’s Commander-in-Chief, leader of the richest and most powerful nation in the world, needed to do something PDQ — pretty darn quick.
But there was nothing as the seconds ticked by.
Nothing as some more ticked by. And then more seconds. It was the biggest lapse in an elementary school since Vice-President Dan Quayle – the right-hand-man to George H. Bush — misspelled “potato”.
But if Bush junior were to be marked by the teacher for his actions in the wake of the terror attacks and for the remaining six years of his presidency, how would he fare?
Certainly, in terms of trying, he would receive top marks. His War on Terror changed the world forever — just as the images of those jets flying into the Twin Towers did — and a dozen years after those events, we’re still living with the consequences.
In economics, he scores low — and again Americans are still living with the consequences of his actions.
If President Bill Clinton’s last term was dominated by his affairs in the bedroom, at least when it came to affairs of a fiscal nature, he was a genius. On taking office, Bush inherited a thriving economy, an employment rate of 5 per cent, and a balanced federal balance sheet — US Inc was breaking even and its spending was in line with its income.
Sometime during his education at Andover, Massachusetts, he missed basic maths classes, likely spending too much time on the football field and baseball diamond. Conventional wisdom is that taxes need to be increased at times of war — Income Tax itself was first introduced in Britain at sixpence on the pound to fund the Crimean War. But twice Bush opted for military engagement — in Afghanistan and Iraq — and in both places there was no end-game plan not prospect in sight then — and the military moves also coincided with tax cuts and breaks to US citizens. In effect, it’s the main macro-economic reason why today, President Barack Obama is wrestling with a federal budget deficit of $15 billion (Dh55 billion). And those same tax breaks and cuts have also so rigidly right-wing Republican thinking that lower taxes are indeed a right and not a privilege.
Bush wasn’t a particularly bright student — he had a reputation for being an occasional trouble maker. But his family had connections. His grandfather had been a long-serving Republican senator for Connecticut and his father was a well-respected businessman and diplomat. It was those connections that landed his a place at Yale. Bush liked to party, was popular and wasn’t interested in politics or in the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations simmering on and off American campuses.
But two weeks before his graduation, Bush received a draft notice. His family connections landed him a place in the Texas National Guard air wing — safe and in no danger of being shipped to the paddy fields of the Mekong delta.
Heck, some day he might be Commander-in-Chief, so he better learn about how a war is really fought, from offices and on home soil, not in the front lines, and real heroes are the ones who plan the war, not those who get the medals for doing the dirty work.
He also gets failing grade when it comes to law — you can’t exact information under torture, every one has basic rights, and all are equal before the law. That’s a big fat ‘F’ in this case.
International relations? If you ain’t with us, you’re against us. His father built an international coalition of the willing to evict Saddam Hussain from Iraq. Bush built a coalition of those willing to believe dubious intelligence reports on Weapons of Mass Destruction.
So how would that elementary teacher sum up his presidential report card?
“George has learning difficulties, is disruptive and anti-social in class, fails to understand basic commands, and is a bad influence on others. He tries hard but the Oval Office isn’t for him.”
But those family connections sure do help.