George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)

Dating back to his years as vice president under Reagan, George H.W. Bush had the image of being a wimp, and it’s an understatement to say that he had no sense of humor about it. The world has paid a price for his insecurity. He wielded power often without understanding why, a trait that seems to have run in the family. His son would be even worse in this regard.

Generally the Elder Bush’s presidency is seen as successful in foreign policy and a disappointment in domestic policy. That’s backwards. He was better in domestic affairs than he is usually given credit for, precisely because he was willing to go against his constituency for the good of the country. As for foreign policy, let’s start with that right away.

1. Peace (Foreign Policy)

The Gulf War was a smashing overnight success, but that victory masks a highway of long term disasters. Bush’s overall failure was simple: he didn’t return America to a policy of military restraint when it was clearly time to do that. There was no great power to take the place of the communist threat (when the Berlin Wall fell in ’89 and the Soviet Union dissolved in ’91), but Bush kept on with aggressive overseas policies, determined to overturn his “wimp” image. He invaded Panama. He went to war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, worried that Saddam might invade Saudi Arabia (and threaten the oil supply), even though there was no evidence indicating that Saddam had such designs. And after the Gulf War he left behind a permanent military presence on the ground in the Persian Gulf, something that hadn’t been needed to protect oil even in the days of the Cold War. As a result, Osama Bin Laden — who like all jihadists was enraged by the presence of infidels profaning Muslim lands — mounted a jihad against the U.S.


But first things first. Before Iraq, Bush invaded Panama and removed the dictator Manuel Noriega, supposedly to protect democracy and the 35,000 Americans who lived in the country. The invasion was launched soon after the killing of a U.S. marine, but the operation had been planned for many months prior: a grand jury had indicted Noriega on drug-trafficking charges, which was embarrassing to Bush since Noriega had been a CIA asset back when Bush ran the CIA.

The invasion of Panama started in December 1989, and was the largest military action taken by the U.S. since the Vietnam War, involving 27,000 soldiers and 300 aircraft. It was over in about a month, Noriega was removed, and Bush withdrew without establishing any structure to enforce the interests he had used to justify his invasion. The elected government was restored in Panama, but nothing much changed in the country. Media pundits and analysts had suggested the Panama invasion was really undertaken by Bush out of his insecurity for his wimp image, and that’s probably right. (It also shows the crazy lengths to which Bush was taking the drug war.)


Bush invaded Iraq when Saddam invaded Kuwait — something that would have not happened if America had learned its lesson from Korea. Exactly 40 years before, Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, gave an infamous speech in which he declared South Korea outside of the defensive perimeter of American protection; North Korea took that as a green light to invade the south. To this day, South Koreans haven’t forgiven Acheson for igniting the Korean War.

Bush’s Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, copied Acheson’s blunder to a degree. In a meeting with the Saddam on July 25, 1990, she stressed to him that the U.S. did not want a trade war with Iraq, saying:

“We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 1960s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America.”

It’s unfair to fault Glaspie too much for these comments. Far worse were John Kelly’s a few days later. Kelly, who was Bush’s Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, appeared before the House International Relations Committee, and pulled a much stronger Acheson, declaring explicitly that the U.S. had no obligation to come to Kuwait’s aid if attacked. Saddam took that as an immediate green light, and on August 2 invaded and occupied Kuwait, claiming it as Iraq’s 19th province.

In the cases of both North Korea and Iraq, the aggressors thought they could get away with whatever they wanted because of the official statements of American officials. In both cases, after the invasion occurred, Truman and Bush panicked and sent troops to defend countries that were of no strategic interest to the U.S.

The rationale for the Gulf War

Bush’s public reason for the war — “This aggression cannot stand!”, he thundered — was an empty rationale. Throughout history America has allowed aggression to stand all the time without response. The U.S. isn’t the world police, and when it does respond to aggression it needs a reason other than to simply counter aggression for its own sake; it needs a reason that protects American interests, or its people, or its allies, in some way.

Many at the time claimed that oil was Bush’s real motive for the war, but if that was true, then Bush was being very stupid, in two ways. First, there was no evidence that Saddam had any designs on pushing his ambitions beyond Kuwait into conquering Saudi Arabia. Second, even on the assumption that he would or could conquer Saudi Arabia and try cutting off oil to America, the U.S. can just buy oil from someone else. That’s what happened under Nixon in 1973, when the Arab nations of OPEC retaliated with an oil embargo (as payback for Nixon assisting Israel in the Yom Kippur War). For a while it made oil prices more expensive, granted, but the embargo was a failure for the Arabs, hurting themselves even more.

Oil was doubtfully the reason. Bush admitted, rather, in his diary that he had personalized the issue, seeing Saddam as the “epitome of evil”. He thought imperially: that the U.S. needed to remove Saddam from Kuwait in order to demonstrate righteous American power, and also probably to demonstrate that he (Bush) really wasn’t the wimp everyone thought. The Younger Bush would be driven by his own image insecurities in going after Saddam in 2003.

Easy victory, downward spiral

I still remember the outcome of the ground war like it was yesterday. I was an undergrad at Lewis & Clark College in the winter of 1991, and students were in an uproar. (Some were even waving banners of protest, casting Saddam Hussein as a saint — my first taste of extreme leftist insanity.) On February 24, Desert Storm’s ground offensive began, and by the end of the day, the Iraqi army had been vanquished; in another three days, Kuwait liberated, and on February 28, Bush declared a cease-fire, and left a permanent garrison behind in the Middle-east. The war claimed about only a hundred American soldiers.

The war was an overnight success but a long-term calamity. Because of Bush, the stage was set for the rise of al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks on the American homeland, the Younger Bush’s long and disastrous war with Iraq, and al-Qaeda’s morphing into the Islamic State — and ISIS’s take over of parts of Iraq after Saddam was deposed by the Younger Bush. Secular tyrants like Saddam are bad, but jihadists who come in and fill the void are worse.

A caveat is needed here, because this point is misunderstood by the left. To acknowledge that American policy caused Bin Laden to launch a jihad on the U.S. is not to say that foreign policy “makes jihadists” out of Muslims, or that jihad terror wouldn’t exist if not for western military intervention. Jihad exists regardless. The Islamic world has been expansionist and war-driven since the seventh century, and the case of the Barbary Pirates in Thomas Jefferson’s time is one of many examples proving that. The Barbary jihadists terrorized Americans before there even was a U.S. foreign policy, and they justified their terror with the same rationale later used by Osama Bin Laden: it was the will of Allah, and the Prophet’s command. Jihadists wage war without provocation.

But it’s just as true that provocation will inflame them. Our foreign misadventures have made jihadists hate us especially. It began with Jimmy Carter, who armed the mujaheddin (Islamic guerilla fighters) in Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to promote Islamism to fight Communist forces. Reagan increased support for these jihadists, and Bin Laden was one of the many who felt used in this experiment. Bush put things beyond the point of no return: by planting a permanent military presence in Muslim holy lands, the jihad against America was almost guaranteed.

If Woodrow Wilson screwed up 70 years of the 20th century by his actions in World War I, then George H.W. Bush picked up that baton rather effectively in 1990, and set in motion a downward spiral that we are still seeing play out 30 years later. As Ivan Eland notes repeatedly in his books, historians love to give presidents credit for winning wars, especially those that are won so clean and fast like Operation Desert Storm. But they rarely stop and ask if the conflicts were justified (this one wasn’t), or if they could have been avoided (this one could have), or whether a long line of horrible consequences is worth the orgasm of a short-term triumph:

“The ‘victory’ in the first Persian Gulf War just keeps on giving. Ironically, during the lead-up to the war, no one identified what legitimate threat Saddam ever posed to the United States. Saddam was never much of a threat to America, but putting him on the enemies list caused major problems for three decades, and the meter is still running. Thus the Elder Bush has to be held responsible for initiating this chain of events.” (Recarving Rushmore, p 377)

Furthermore: that there was no real threat to the United States no doubt accounts for Bush’s justification of invading Iraq by stating that it was in service to the United Nations. As he said in a televised speech, when he began bombing Baghdad:

“This is a historic moment. We have in this past year made great progress in ending the long era of conflict and cold war. We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order — a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations. When we are successful — and we will be — we have a real chance at this new world order, and order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the U.N.’s founders.” (January 1991)

Taken with his earlier rhetoric about “defending democracy in Panama”, Bush had indeed become the apotheosis of Woodrow Wilson’s vow to “make the world safe for democracy” — and in service to a nebulous group like the U.N. over the U.S.A. which he had sworn to serve. Bush had, in other words, resurrected the role of America as the world’s policeman.

2. Prosperity (Domestic Policy)

Because of Reagan’s fake tax cuts — tax deductions that were not accompanied by cuts to federal spending — deficit budgets had ballooned to record levels when Bush took office. (These levels would be exceeded only by the Younger Bush and Obama in the 21st century.) The buildup of deficit under Reagan had tripled the national debt, and Bush was left with quite a mess to clean up.

Bush’s federal spending as a portion of GDP wasn’t much better than Reagan’s, adding an average annual increase of 2% over his term. But on the positive side, he did start to move the nation back to more fiscal responsibility with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990. The act included the Budget Enforcement Act, which established procedures that required any new tax cuts or spending increases to be offset by spending cuts or new tax increases. Democrats and Republicans teamed up to defeat this bill, to which Bush responded with a federal shutdown over Columbus Day weekend until they finally passed it.

The Budget Enforcement Act went a long away to deficit reduction, and contributed to the budget surpluses of the Clinton years. (It would expire in 2002.) Bush is to be commended for his willingness to increase taxes in order to heal the budget. Like all presidents who go against their party (John Tyler, Chester Arthur, Jimmy Carter), he doomed himself as a single-term president. Republicans were against any tax increases at all, and wanted all the savings in budget cuts. What made it worse for Bush was that he had promised explicitly during his ’88 campaign not to raise taxes. But he did what was best for the country rather than cater to his constituency.

In this way, Bush was more fiscally conservative than Reagan, though he is seldom credited for it. Ivan Eland notes the irony:

“Although Reagan raised taxes in every year except two during his eight-year presidency, he was better at public relations than Bush and therefore more skilled at cultivating an image of being a fiscal conservative. Thus, voters forgave Reagan for raising taxes, whereas they did not Bush. Bush also had never cut taxes as Reagan had, and instead raised the marginal income tax rate on the highest earners, a powerful Republican constituency — whereas Reagan hiked taxes in obscure parts of the tax code on which the media did not focus.” (Eleven Presidents, pp 258-260)

Bank bailouts

Unfortunately Bush resorted to bailouts. In 1989 there was the crisis in the Savings and Loan industry, the failure of which led to the recession of 1990-91. During the Reagan administration, government insurance for savings and loan deposits had been raised to provide a cushion allowing the industry to make riskier loans and investments using the funds of depositors. Instead of taking the free market approach of allowing the savings and loan banks to go broke, Bush approved the largest federal bailout in all of American history — the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 — costing the government $300 billion over ten years.

What Bush should have done was deregulate the savings and loan industry, and get rid of the deposit-insurance crutch that caused the crisis in the first place. Bailouts are terrible policies, and this was a bad precedent to set. The Younger Bush would enact his own bailout (on top of worse sins than daddy’s) and cause the Great Recession of 2008-10. Both Bushes evidently felt the need to “save” Republican-leaning financial industries. The Elder Bush’s precedent influenced both his son and Barack Obama to bring back Keynesian methods which had been rightfully discarded after Nixon.

Surprising Free Trade Advocate

Another plus: Like Bill Clinton, the Elder Bush promoted free trade, which was surprising for a Republican of this time. (Reagan and the Younger Bush were more typical Republicans on this point, supporting tariffs.) He signed an agreement to foster better investment and trade with Mexico, then signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, creating a trilateral zone between American and the two countries with no tariffs. Clinton would get the agreement ratified on his watch, but Bush is to be commended for his advocacy and for signing it.

Energy and the Environment

Bush was a pioneer in international climate change policy. He signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992), which set voluntary curbs on greenhouse gases. He also signed amendments for the Clean Air Act, and energy bills to improve overall efficiency.

3. Liberty

Bush’s best action for liberty was to sign the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which gave disabled people the same protections that other groups got under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also required employers and public places to make reasonable accommodations for the disabled.

To his credit, he signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which provided family-based immigration visas, created different employment based visas, and a diversity program with a lottery that admitted immigrants from countries where their citizenry was underrepresented in the United States.

Bush also signed the Ryan White CARE Act of 1990, which is the largest federally funded program for AIDS and HIV patients [a point made by someone in the comments below this post]. This act was designed to improve access to care for low-income, uninsured, and under-insured people affected by AIDS. Bush was no prize on this front, however. He criticized AIDS activists for exercising “too much free speech”.

Bush appointed two good Supreme Court justices, David Souter and Clarence Thomas. Souter turned out to be an unexpected progressive, but in the right ways, and Thomas proved to have libertarian leanings, often (though not always) in the right ways. It was sort of a replay of Reagan’s appointing of libertarian Antonin Scalia and moderate Anthony Kennedy. Like Kennedy, Souter was an even-minded conservative capable of progressive rulings when the law had the elbow-room for it.

Bush has two stains that offset the stars on his liberty record. They are as follows.

The drug war

Throughout my series, there are four presidents I penalize for the drug-war: Richard Nixon, for launching it; Ronald Reagan, for escalating it, and for his zealous use of anti-drug propaganda; Barack Obama, for hardly lifting a finger to help his own tribe, as was expected from an African American president of the 21st century. And the Elder Bush.

Aside from free speech, there’s no right more crucial than the right for people to do as they please with their consciousnesses, as long as the results are peaceful. Ruining the lives of nonviolent drug users (mostly African Americans) by incarcerating them (and at great expense) is a serious Constitutional and moral failure. To make room for these nonviolent drug users in prison by paroling murderers, rapists, and child molesters, is as wrong as any policy gets.

Not only did Bush continue Reagan’s escalation of the war, he doubled federal spending to fight it, built more prisons to accommodate it, and enacted longer prison sentences for drug offenses. On top of that he got the military more deeply involved. He persuaded Columbia, Bolivia, and Peru to participate in a useless $2.5 billion effort to destroy drug crops and trafficking.

Pardoned Iran-Contra criminals

In the same way that Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon (and tried to pardon all of Nixon’s underlings involved in Watergate), Bush pardoned high-level Reagan officials who had been convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal. As vice president under Reagan, Bush had been involved himself in the affair, and he probably pardoned these men in order to ensure their silence about his own activities.


The Elder Bush was not the complete failure his son was, but he was poor nonetheless.

Peace. For needless interventions in Panama and Iraq, and for ruining the next three decades in the Middle-East with an intervention that was catalyzed by the irresponsible statements of his own officials, and that served little more than to assuage his poor self-image, he gets precious little credit in this category. He resurrected Wilsonian interventionism, which would play out even worse in the presidencies of his son and Barack Obama. He did handle the Soviets well as the Cold War ended, and for that I throw him 3 points.

Prosperity. His commendable tax-raising strategies, against the wishes of his own constituency, doomed him to a single-term presidency and he is to be commended for that. For the Budget Enforcement Act, as well, which paved the way to the budget surpluses of the Clinton years. He also gets points for the good energy and environmental legislation he signed. All of that weighed against his bank bailout, which set a horrible precedent to boot, yields him a prosperity score of 14.

Liberty. His progressive measures for disabled people and for immigrants and appointment of two good Supreme Court justices must be weighed against his increased funding and prison building for the drug war (not to mention warring overseas for the cause) and for pardoning Iran-Contra officials. In my view, that washes to a score of 13.

Peace — 3/20
Prosperity — 14/20
Liberty — 13/20

TOTAL SCORE = 30/60 = Poor

5 thoughts on “George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)

  1. You really need to stop reading Eland his “facts” are often false or inaccurate at the best. There is so much here to comment on.

    People with AIDS were protected under the Americans with disabilities Act and Bush also signed the Ryan White CARE Act, which is the largest federally funded program for AIDS and HIV patient. AIDS activist thought that he didn’t use his voice as president enough, but has any president really been all that vocal about AIDS? Did Bush have “disregard and disdain” for people with AIDS? I think not! Bush did say that people engaging in risky behavior should change that behavior, but that would make sense. Should he have advocated for people using dirty needles and having unprotected sex? The comment was also taken largely out of context as well, he said it to someone asking him what to do “If the behavior you’re using, prone to cause AIDS, change the behavior.”

    Your percentages of people in prison on drug charges is WAY off. Only 21% of people in state prisons are there on Drug Charges of ANY kind. The split is 13% of all prisoners for Drug trafficking and 8% for all other drug related crimes. So your “two-thirds” would come out of that 8%. This would include, but not be exclusively, people in prison for “possession”. It is well known that people in prison for possession actually are there because they plead down to this lesser charge, they are actually drug dealers not drug addicts.

    I also don’t understand the libertarians’ love for turning people into heroine addicts? The idea of libertarianism is that if you aren’t hurting anyone else. Can you really say that about drug dealers? They destroy people’s lives all the time. Even the drug addict is hurting other when they steal from people to support their habits, or spread diseases. Oddly enough one of the biggest causes of the AIDS epidemic was users sharing needles, so in a way the “War on Drugs” fought against the spread of AIDS. I also find it odd that you’d put the right to shoot up heroine above the freedom of religion, freedom of press, and everything else in the Bill of Rights and Constitution besides the Freedom of Speech.

    The problem with The Savings and Loan were due to two things, the heavy regulations of the industry due to the original act that created them: he Federal Home Loan Bank Act of 1932 and rampant inflation. S&Ls were only allowed to make long term fixed rate loans, which worked out fine as long as inflation remained low, which it did during the Depression (poor economy), World War II (wage & price controls) and the 1950s, which was a period of low inflation growth. Inflation crept into the economy due to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and Vietnam War policies was exuberated by the 1973 oil embargo, and was super charged by Jimmy Carter’s policies. Carter clashed with Burns over the fed tightening interest rates. Carter replaced Burns with William Miller, who was known for his expansionary monetary policies and promoting economic growth while disregarding inflation. When Carter promoted Burns to Secretary of the Treasury, he picked Paul Volker, but with nobody in the business community willing to accept the post Truman had to choose someone from the from the Board of the Federal Reserve. Carter also asked Volker NOT to raise interest rates as well. This inflation that mortally wounded the S&L industry. There was some deregulation in the 1980s, but it was too little too late, and only prolonged the collapse. Since bad government regulations and policies caused the S&L crisis, it only made sense that the government would help in the aftermath of the collapse. $300 billion over 10 years is a lot of money to me and you, but not to the Federal Government. That’s about the same as what the government spends in Farm Subsidies, which is an unending cost to the government.

    You actually make the argument against your point on the Iraq War. Middle eastern Terrorist have basically existed for over a thousand year, we didn’t create them. They hate the United States because we are allied with Israel. There were terrorist attacks before the first Iraq war.

    For anyone reading this and interested in it, my rankings are listed here:

  2. Eland actually scored Bush a lot lower than I did. One of the reasons I’m doing this series is because for all of Eland’s proper correctives to the mainstream, he falls into problems of his own, and isn’t always consistent in applying his criteria. In some cases he fudges and awards presidents more than they deserve (like Cleveland and Van Buren) or over-penalizes them if he doesn’t like them for certain hot-button reasons (Truman being his worst offense). In any case, Eland had nothing to say about Bush for the AIDS issue. It didn’t weigh into his rankings at all, but it did in mine. It’s true that the left enjoys taking statements out of context and over-maligning people who aren’t full-blown SJWs, and Reagan for example has been over-maligned on this point. But for a president in the ’90s to criticize AIDS activists for exercising “too much free speech”, on top of reduced clinical funding, is a serious mark of demerit. That AIDS victims were protected under the Disabilities Act is no special mark of merit, beyond the goodness of the act itself, designed to cover people with disabilities in general. However, I do stand corrected on the Ryan White Care Act which I had forgotten about, and for this reason I have edited my section on the AIDS issue and bumped up Bush 4 points. The Ryan White Care Act makes the AIDS issue a wash.

    The issue of the drug war has nothing whatever to do with turning people into addicts. It’s recognizing that they need help, not incarceration, and heroin addiction is not the inevitable outcome of using other drugs like pot and psychedelics, nor even from legalizing heroin itself. Portugal proves the whole point. Its population of addicts went down by half after ending its own drug war through legalization. It’s an addict’s “cage” — his or her life full of isolation, stress, and/or misery — that continues to make drugs attractive to the addict. People who take diamorphine (heroin) for long periods of time for medical reasons (like hip replacement) don’t become addicts, but addicts isolated from society in prisons or rehab facilities continue using. Portugal puts addicts on programs so they have something positive to do, rather than shoving into prisons where they don’t belong; the results in Portugal speak for themselves. Criminalizing drug use is obscene, period. And yes, I certainly put the right to use drugs, and drinking what we want and eating what we want, on the same plane of freedom as free speech. I’m not a drug user myself, but there are plenty of people (I know some) who use pot and psychedelics, and they are no worse off for using — if anything, even better. You’re right about the 2/3 figure, and I removed that part from the post. It doesn’t affect my scoring on the drug war point anyway.

    I completely stand by my point about Bush and Iraq, and on this point Eland is correct, or at least mostly correct. Like all extreme libertarians he attributes foreign hostility almost purely in terms of blow-back, as if to imply that foreign policy “creates” terrorism. He doesn’t understand that terrorists can be driven by ideology for its own sake. However, the fact that jihadists are ideologically driven, and have always existed and always will (unless a miraculous reform of Islam takes place), doesn’t mean the Mid-East would be the same mess that it is today without the interventions of the two Bushes and Barack Obama. The mess wouldn’t even be close to what it is now (our alliance with Israel notwithstanding). Planting a permanent military presence in the Mid-East was a horrible policy blunder, and it’s the major reason for 9/11. The Younger Bush’s deposing of Saddam allowed ISIS jihadists (who are far worse than even tyrants like Saddam) to fill the power void. Ditto with Obama’s removing of Mubarak in Egypt and Gaddafi in Libya. All of these foreign policy interventions — which were never even justified to begin with — produced chaos and anarchy, and the strengthening of jihad and sharia groups all over the Mid-east. The two Bushes and Obama were failures in this regard.

  3. My take on how Bush should score on your/Eland’s scale


    The most important thing Bush did as President was his handling of the end of the Cold War. To me this is worth at least half of his possible Peace points. Bush deftly handled the breakup of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. It’s not inconceivable that hardliners could have taken control of Russia, that a major war could of broken out or that some madman could have taken control of a stockpile of nuclear weapons. Bush was also critical in the reunification of Germany. For his handling of the end of the Cold War alone, Bush should be given 10 points.

    How to divide the rest of the “peace points for Bush. The next most important thing foreign policy wise was Iraq. Lets say this is worth half of the remaining points. First off, Islamist extremists have long hated America, so you can’t blame that on Bush. You also can’t blame Bush for the formation of Isis either. The United States has had troops stationed in the Middle east long before Bush became President, so using this to deduct major points is also incorrect. In Iraq Bush formed a wide coalition, that included Muslim nations, quickly defeated Saddam Hussein’s Army and he didn’t change the mission later. Even if you believe that Bush is partially responsible for events, you would have to honestly give him 2 or 3 points for his quick and decisive military victory and coalition building ability.

    The remaining five points would go to his other foreign policy initiatives. I apportion two points to his handling of Panama. Not only did he remove the Drug lord Dictator Noriega from Panama in a quick and concise way, that country is thriving today. Panama is ranked 4th among Latin American countries in GDP per capita, only behind the Bahama’s, Trinidad and Tobago and Saint Kitts and Nevis. Those three countries are all Caribbean tourist attractions, Panama is not. To say Panama isn’t a smashing success is factually wrong. 2/2 points. He handled China after the Tiananmen Square incident quite deftly as well. He condemned them, but he didn’t go so far as to make relations irreparable. 2/2 points. In Somalia he sent troops to guard food and medical supplies being handed out. This was a true humanitarian mission, as Somalia serves little to no strategic importance. The mission was later Changed by Clinton, but Bush should be given a point here.

    So for Peace he deserves at least 17/20 for peace if you give him the maximum deduction for later developments in the Middle East after Iraq, you gave him 5 points. It’s also notable that you didn’t similarly dock Carter for his horrible Middle eastern policy as you score Carter at 11 points

    Prosperity, Bush largely set up the good economy that Bill Clinton enjoyed during his Presidency. In the 1992 election year GDP growth rate was 3.4% and 4.1% during the fourth quarter, Clinton inherited a booming economy. He also signed the bill that capped spending increases, which helped to shrink the budget deficits under Clinton. Whereas Clinton does deserve some credit for the economy, the bigger portion should go to Bush. You actually deduct 10 points, HALF, for the S&L crisis. Bush didn’t cause the crisis, he was left holding the bag. Your argument that he should have let the market fix the situation is generally a good one, but it was the Federal Government that caused the Crisis to begin with. The S&Ls were set in 1932 and were overly restricted. They could only make long term fixed rate home loans, they could only have low interest deposit accounts. When interest rates and inflation started rising in the 1960s, the inadequacies of the program became appearing. The combination of LBJs spending on the Great Society & Vietnam, the 1973 Oil Embargo and Carter’s inflationary domestic policy fatally wounded the S&Ls. Since the government caused the issue it only made sense that it should at least partially fix the problem. The cost of the bailout was $132 Billion, which is unfortunate, but you can’t deduct a full 10 points. I could see maybe 2 or 3 points.

    Prosperity Bush deserves at least 17/20 if you make the maximum deduction for the S&Ls. Once again, Carter, who had an abysmal economic record somehow gets 20 points from you.

    Liberty. One of your reasons here seem to be that he said that AIDS activist exercised “too much free speech” but that was in response to AIDS activist claiming that he “murdered” people that died of AIDS. It should be noted that Bush did nothing to abridge their freedom of speech. Including people with AIDS under the American with Disabilities Act should be a credit to Bush. When people think of disabilities, they don’t think of diseases, they think of people that are crippled in some way.

    The other reason you dock him is due to the drug war. You do realize that people in Prison for possession aren’t junkies and addicts, they are dealers that pled down to possession. There isn’t a mass incarceration of people for being caught with a joint in their pocket or having a dime bag. The President is also tasked with executing and upholding the laws, all of them. It isn’t up to the president to pick and choose which laws he does or does not like and act accordingly. Bush acted properly under the Constitution in this regard.

    Liberty: Bush should get some very good points here, maybe not 20, but he really shouldn’t be docked very much. I’d say 16-18 range.

  4. Thanks for the full reply. We’ll have to agree to disagree about a lot of this, but a few comments:

    When you say that “you didn’t similarly dock Carter for his horrible Middle eastern policy as you score Carter at 11 points”, I actually scored Carter at 9 peace points, not 11, and that’s quite a lot of points to lose: for Camp David, Afghanistan, and the sloppy hostage rescue operation. But I also weighed those sins against the many positive non-interventionisms, which is exceptional for a post WWI president, and the sort of thing most historians don’t award merits for — a serious problem, I believe, in the mainstream rankings. Carter avoided war in the Horn of Africa, refused to support Somali aggression against the Soviets, ended the occupation of the Panama Canal Zone, scaled back in Nicaragua, ended the U.S.-Taiwanese defense alliance; etc. This non-interventionist record is stellar for a 20th-century president, and they are the sort of things other presidents would have had a hard time steering clear of, or walking away from. If not for all of those positives, or less of them, I would have docked Carter even more for the Mid-East fiascos. All things considered, 11 points is a serious downgrade. I can say with confidence that I didn’t play favorites with Carter in this category, I cut him down to size as he deserved.

    Likewise, my 20 prosperity rating for Carter is based on a proportional impact. I find it impossible to overstate the impact of his appointing Volcker to the Fed. Indeed I cringe to imagine the America I might have gown up in (in the ’80s) if not for that appointment. The abysmal economy during Carter’s terms wasn’t his fault. It was the sins of LBJ and Nixon that snowballed into stagflation. So I admittedly pass over some domestic sins (like Carter’s union busting) for what he did here, especially since it was an act of courage for going against his party and sacrificing his chances in the next election. In this he was like John Tyler and Chester Arthur, and I award bonus points for that too — for doing what was right, for the good of the American people, instead of what a president’s constituency expected from him.

    You make a fair point about Bush deserving more points for some items, for example 10 instead of 5 for the way he handled the Soviets, but again, sometimes the president’s record requires weighing things not only in themselves, but in regard to what offsets them. And as I explained already, Bush’s actions in the Mid-east resulted in a chain of events that can hardly be atoned for. (I understand you disagree with that analysis.) And for the bailout, it was more than just the cost, but the precedent which Bush clearly set for his son, who emulated him in more foul ways than one. Throughout all my rankings, bad precedents add to the penalties, in varying degrees. (Incidentally, Eland awarded the Elder Bush only 1 point out of 20 for prosperity, which I think is insane.)

    I’m thinking, however, that Bush may deserve more liberty points than I granted (even after bumping him up 4), because the supreme court justices he appointed (Souter and Thomas) had a lasting positive impact on American jurisprudence. It was a tough call weighing that and his other positives against the drug war and pardoning the unpardonable (the Iran Contra officials).

  5. I went over why you are giving Carter WAY too much Credit for Volcker on your Carter post, but I think I need to go a little more in depth on the Peace subject here.

    You dock Bush a full 15 points for his Middle east policy, which could make sense, except that we had problems in the middle east before Bush became president. A good example is the Hostage Crisis during Carter’s term. You can’t fairly blame Bush for jihadists haltered of America started before Bush was ever President. You also can’t blame Bush for decisions made after Bush left office.

    The biggest mistake ever made in the Middle East by the United States was Carter withdrawing support the Shah of Iran, which led directly to the rise of the Ayatollah’s and all the issues that we have had with Iran since. One of the next three biggest mistakes made in the Middle east was Carter’s support of Jihadists in the Soviet-Afghanistan war. Camp David was bad because we bribed two countries to do what was in the best interest to begin with, but the peace result would be worth one maybe two points.

    In the America’s Carter made two big mistakes, giving away the Panama canal, during the cold war. The other was pulling support from the Somoza government in Nicaragua and actually aiding the Communist Sandinistas. Carter deserves zero points for anything done in the Americas.

    Carter’s unilateral abrogation of the Treaty with Taiwan and severing of diplomatic relations in order to bow down to Communist China shouldn’t be seen as any type of “victory”. It was one in a long line of Carter deciding to turn his back on former allies. Better relations with China were good, but they shouldn’t have come at the expense of an ally. Maybe one point here.

    Historians generally agree that Carter’s policies in Africa were a failure. Giving him points for not getting into wars between Ethiopia & Somalia, or Namibia and South Africa really don’t make much sense. It’s doubtful that any president would have asserted the U.S. Military in these situations. Carter’s tough stance against South Africa actually helped lead to pro-apartheid candidate B.J. Vorster being elected as President of South Africa. Any points earned for not going to war in the horn of Africa would be offset by actually pushing South Africa to the point of electing a pro-apartheid candidate.

    I really can’t see giving Carter any more than three points, and that’s being generous, as I would only award two points for Camp David.

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