Monday, January 25, 2010

Bush Ain't So Bad

We liberals take it for granted that George W. Bush was the worst president in the history of the United States. But I was thinking recently, what did he really do that was worse than the actions of any other president? He really didn't set any precedents.

Was he the first to start an unprovoked preemptive war? Not by a long shot. He was at least the fifth to do so, if we're only counting major wars. What about falsifying information to provoke the nation to war? Nope, try Polk and the Mexican-American War or Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin incident leading to Vietnam's escalation.

What about throwing American citizens in Guantanamo without so much as charging them with any crime? Well, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, which is the same thing. Bush's civil rights record isn't great, but at least he didn't reign during an era of legal slavery, nor did he own slaves himself. Bush wasn't a champion of women's rights, but at least women weren't legal property and did possess the right to vote during his term.

In terms of torture, my knowledge of history fails me to recall another example of an administration which tried to come up with a legal argument to justify torture. But that doesn't mean Bush was the first president to oversee state-induced torture. In fact, the only area where Bush is diabolically unique is his use of presidential signing statements, which can alter bills passed by Congress without any check.

That takes me to the wonderful and glorious Obama administration and Angola. In August, Hillary Clinton visited the African country, which is run by a dictator, Jose Eduardo dos Santos. Clinton threw out the usual calls for democracy. But last week, a law was passed that stripped Angolans of the right to vote for their president. Instead, the president will be elected by the parliament. This was because do Santos feared he might receive less of the vote than his party did in the 2008 parliamentary elections (which weren't deemed free or fair by independent observers), thus checking the Angolan president's immense powers.

The reason why Clinton was in Angolan last summer has to do with that nation's vast oil reserves. The U.S. is also hoping to combat China's influence in the resource rich African nation. So the question becomes, will the Obama administration pursue a policy of kowtowing to dictators for the sake of oil and in order to engage in a self-defeating game of offsetting China's influence? Or will the Obama administration buck the trend of presidents past?

(more on Angola at the HQT-IE)

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