x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Bush hails success in protecting America

George W Bush, now deeply unpopular, is trying to establish his legacy as the president who kept America safe from terrorism.

WASHINGTON // With one month remaining in his presidency, George W Bush has returned to a subject that he considers a strength of his term in office: national security. Using much of the same rhetoric he employed during his re-election campaign in 2004, Mr Bush yesterday touted his administration's efforts to combat terrorism, defended his policy of pre-emptive war and trumpeted his success in preventing a major attack from occurring in the United States since September 11, 2001. "Virtually no one would have predicted that more than seven years would pass without another terrorist attack on our soil. It is not a matter of luck," Mr Bush said in a speech at the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where senior military leaders and civilians study military strategy and international affairs. "It is the result of tough decisions we began making immediately after September 11." Mr Bush spoke of successes in Iraq, where violence has dropped to the lowest level since 2003. He also praised his administration's other initiatives, including the redistribution of intelligence powers and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, saying he left the next president with the "tools our country needs to prevail in the long struggle ahead". The speech was the latest valedictory message offered by the president, who is trying to cast his eight-year tenure in a positive light before he steps down on Jan 20. In recent weeks Mr Bush has appeared in a series of television interviews and he has given speeches on a variety of topics, from his initiative to distribute HIV/Aids medication in Africa to his support of faith-based social programmes at home. As part of his legacy tour, Mr Bush made surprise visits this week to Iraq and Afghanistan, both countries at the heart of his efforts to fight global terrorism. During the visit to Baghdad, Mr Bush's fourth, he hoped to highlight the improved conditions there. But that message was overshadowed when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr Bush during a press conference. It is common for outgoing US presidents to talk up their resumes during their final weeks in office, presidential scholars say. "They have less on their plate and certainly less going forward, so they have more time to reflect upon their legacies," said Brian Balogh, a historian at the University of Virginia's Miller Center for Public Affairs. "Presidents are men of action, so when the topic is 'how will people remember them', they try to do things so that people will remember them more fondly." For Mr Bush, who frequently casts himself as a wartime leader, that means embracing a presidency that has been defined by his response to terrorism, two wars and the authorisation of harsh interrogation techniques that many believe are a violation of international law. Mr Bush stood by his actions yesterday. "There can be no debate about the results in keeping America safe," he said. The outgoing president struck a similar chord last week in New York during a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point, where he strongly defended his record as commander in chief. But it has not been easy for Mr Bush to improve his image. The outgoing president, who has long contended that history will vindicate his decisions, has been dogged by historically low approval ratings during his second term. Americans overwhelmingly consider the invasion of Iraq a mistake, and in the twilight of Mr Bush's presidency, fear and anger have been stoked by a massive economic collapse. Mr Bush's departure also has been overshadowed by the political rise of the president-elect, Barack Obama, whose historic transition to the White House has dominated headlines. Still, Mr Bush continues to stand firmly behind his policies, highlighting what some believe to be his most enduring legacy of all: sticking to his guns. "His approach to the presidency is to be steadfast, is to not change, is stay the course, and not to waiver," said Mr Balogh, the historian. "It makes sense that he is not going to change course, or apologise or acknowledge mistakes at this late date." sstanek@thenational.ae