A somewhat surprising piece at CBC.ca:
A snapshot of the world on September 12, 2001, would have revealed the following: an Iraq led by a brutal dictator defying UN inspectors and seeming to be on the verge of recreating a military program involving weapons of mass destruction; a strong and thriving terrorist network, supported by a Taliban-governing Afghanistan, celebrating the launch of the deadliest attack on U.S. soil; and Americans bracing for what most believed would be an inevitable second strike.
Taking that same snapshot more than seven years later, the world’s landscape has changed dramatically. Iraq and Afghanistan have become burgeoning, albeit troubled, democracies and strategic allies of the United States.
As al-Qaeda’s host, Afghanistan was the natural first target. NATO forces were able to overthrow the regime within months and put in place a Western-friendly leader, who eventually became the first democratically elected president of the country.
That means little to those who look at Afghanistan today and see a country still riddled with poverty, corruption, rising opium production, a presidency with little power and a resurgent Taliban.
Yet there have been important, if fragile, achievements in Afghanistan over the past few years — more widespread schooling, regional government, a more professional army — that hold out at least some hope for the future.
Today, Iraq has a badly-functioning but still democratically-elected government and GDP per capita higher than it was before the war. According to the Brookings Institute, Iraqis now have more cars and better access to phones, internet service and media outlets than before.
All achievements to be sure, although little comfort to the families of the tens of thousands killed and injured in the violence.
If Iraq and Afghanistan can become stable, functioning democracies, the 43rd President’s foreign-policy legacy might be salvaged. It’s his economic legacy from which his reputation – and his country – may never recover:
President Bush has presided over the weakest eight-year span for the U.S. economy in decades, according to an analysis of key data, and economists across the ideological spectrum increasingly view his two terms as a time of little progress on the nation’s thorniest fiscal challenges.
The number of jobs in the nation increased by about 2 percent during Bush’s tenure, the most tepid growth over any eight-year span since data collection began seven decades ago. Gross domestic product, a broad measure of economic output, grew at the slowest pace for a period of that length since the Truman administration. And Americans’ incomes grew more slowly than in any presidency since the 1960s, other than that of Bush’s father.
Bush and his aides are quick to point out that they oversaw 52 straight months of job growth in the middle of this decade, and that the economy expanded at a steady clip from 2003 to 2007. But economists, including some former advisers to Bush, say it increasingly looks as if the nation’s economic expansion was driven to a large degree by the interrelated booms in the housing market, consumer spending and financial markets. Those booms, which the Bush administration encouraged with the idea of an “ownership society,” have proved unsustainable.
Even excluding the 2008 recession, however, Bush presided over a weak period for the U.S. economy. For example, for the first seven years of the Bush administration, gross domestic product grew at a paltry 2.1 percent annual rate.
The administration also failed to gain traction on some of the fundamental economic and fiscal issues facing the nation — including solidifying the finances of Medicare and Social Security, simplifying the tax code, or making health care more affordable. Resolution of those issues might have left the government more flexibility to respond to the current crisis by lowering the nation’s future budget deficits.
The federal government had a modest budget surplus when Bush took office in 2001, but ran a deficit — funding itself to a significant degree with borrowed money — of 4.9 percent of gross domestic product in 2004 and 4 percent in 2005, even as the economy was growing at a healthy pace.
There was a time, not too long ago, when the Republican Party was considered the “fiscally responsible” one. Not anymore.