Fri, January 16, 2009
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Bush legacy shaped by crisis

2009-01-16 03:07:34 GMT2009-01-16 11:07:34 (Beijing Time)  Reuters

As US President Bush prepares to leave office, he leaves behind two unfinished wars and the U.S. economy deep in recession and a legacy his supporters hope will improve with time.

As Bush leaves office, it remains to be seen whether his legacy and image will shine brighter with the passing of time.

STORY:

Inauguration Day, January 20, 2001. After a contentious presidential race George W. Bush becomes the 43rd President of the United States.

More than eight years later, Bush leaves behind two unfinished wars and the U.S. economy deep in recession.

The tone and direction of Bush's presidency were largely set on September 11, 2001.

Bush was informed of the attacks while sitting in an elementary school class room in Sarasota, Florida.

Taken to an undisclosed location, Bush addressed a nation in shock:

SOUNDBITE: US President George W. Bush, saying (English):

"Freedom itself was attacked by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended."

Within days President Bush headed to Ground Zero in New York, where his rallying cry to rescue workers helped send his poll ratings into orbit:

SOUNDBITE: US President George W. Bush, saying (English):

"I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon."

Within weeks the United States was at war in Afghanistan. Bush enjoyed wide support at home and abroad -

That strong support is long gone, eroded by the unpopular war in Iraq, the poor response to Hurricane Katrina, and a meltdown on Wall Street that has spilled onto Main Street.

Russ Baker, author of a book on the Bush family, offers a view of Bush shared by many of his critics.

SOUNDBITE: Author Russ Baker, saying (English):

"He is somebody who squandered opportunities, who was amazingly reckless and who shamelessly fronted for special interests and totally abandoned his obligation to the American people and the people of the world."

The President's supporters - and Bush himself - say history will be kind.

Bradley Blakemen worked in the Bush White House.

SOUNDBITE: Bradley Blakemen worked in the Bush White House, saying (English):

"No leader has ever been appreciated in their time, it is only after time when a full and fair assessment can be made, not only in their accomplishments but their failures."

Many Americans view the war in Iraq as one of those failures.

Bush said the war was needed to rid Saddam Hussein's Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. But those weapons was never found.

The Baghdad bombing campaign began on March 20, 2003. Within a month statues of Hussein were torn down and a month after that Bush landed on the USS Lincoln, under a banner that read Mission Accomplished.

But the war raged on - and violence exploded. Iraq descended into near-civil war between Shias and Sunnis. Insurgents planting bombs on roads and in city markets - killing thousands.

With the war bogging down, Bush appointed General David Petraeus to take command in Iraq, and gave his support to a 30,000-troop increase known as the surge.

Roger Carstens of the Center for a New American Security

SOUNDBITE: Roger Carstens of the Center for a New American Security, saying (English):

"Petraeus was for the surge, and I think Petraeus and Bush looked at each other and said despite everyone else saying that this is going to fail, let's go ahead and take our shot here and gamble. Ultimately General Petraeus made the surge work and validated President Bush's choice,"

But critics say the cost in life and treasure was too high - more than 4,000 US troops killed, many thousands wounded, at a price topping $800 billion.

On the domestic side, there was Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005 and flooded New Orleans. More 1,800 people died. Bush came under attack, for the lack of federal response.

And in his final year in office, Bush faced a once-in-a-century financial crisis, the gravest since the Great Depression.

Bush said he is not one to feel sorry for himself.

SOUNDBITE: US President George W. Bush, saying (English):

"... why did the financial crisis hit me, it is just pathetic isn't it, self pity."

Bush flew to Baghdad last month hoping to showcase security gains there, but instead the enduring image will be of the president ducking shoes hurled by an angry Iraqi journalist.

Overseas, Bush has won some praise for boosting aid to Africa and, at home, for a smooth transition to the incoming Obama Administration.

As he leaves office, it remains to be seen whether his legacy will shine brighter with the passing of time.

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