Leading article: The tragic legacy of a disastrous president

Share
Related Topics

It gets an outing on every visit of an American president to these shores. And yesterday's appearance of President George Bush in London, stopping by on his farewell tour of Europe, was no different. Both Gordon Brown and Mr Bush paid tribute to the "special" relationship between our two nations.

The "special relationship" is a concept that cuts little ice with hard-headed diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet it was once more than a platitude. While the default position of much of the world has traditionally been to look upon America with guarded scepticism, Britons (at least for the past century) have been instinctively well-disposed to the United States and its leaders. The bonds of a common language and a history of shared struggle in two world wars did indeed make this relationship something out of the ordinary.

So perhaps Mr Bush's most significant legacy, as far as Britain is concerned, will be the destruction of the instinctive trust of America and its leaders that once prevailed here. It is no exaggeration to say that Mr Bush has done more damage to relations between our two nations than any president in living memory. This rupture is not an accident of circumstance; there are no impersonal forces of history to blame. This sorry state of affairs is the consequence of the actions of a single leader and his small coterie of advisers.

America's invasion of Iraq must, of course, be recorded at the top of the charge sheet. In 2002, Tony Blair announced that he was prepared to pay "the blood price" for the sake of the special relationship. But it was not the then prime minister who paid it. That fate has, instead, fallen to 176 British troops who have lost their lives in Iraq.

Yet President's Bush's malign legacy is about much more than Iraq. Relations have been soured by the prolonged jailing of innocent Britons in Guantanamo Bay, the suspected use of Britain as a stopover point for CIA torture flights and a hopelessly one-sided extradition treaty. President Bush has even helped to undermine the peace dividend from the end of the Cold War. He has antagonised Russia by pushing America's missile defence shield project, an outpost of which is to be situated on British territory.

Of course, one might argue that the real culprit here is Mr Blair, who signed Britain up unquestioningly to President Bush's foreign-policy goals when he was in Downing Street. Mr Blair's burden of responsibility is undeniable. But it does not rescue Mr Bush from the abysmally low regard in which he is held by the majority of Britons. And with his disregard for international law, his arrogant refusal to build alliances, this President would have inspired fierce opposition here, even if Mr Blair had not committed Britain to the Iraq misadventure and the "war on terror".

In one sense, this is a discussion about history. Like all second-term American presidents, Mr Bush's power is waning by the day. His legacy will be for academics to debate. The pertinent question now is to what extent Mr Bush's huge unpopularity has contaminated wider public attitudes to America in Britain. Can a President Obama, or a President McCain, heal the wounds? Or is the damage permanent? One would have to suspect that the situation is recoverable; not least because America itself seems as eager for change as Britain. But whether the relationship will ever return to what it was pre-Bush, is another question entirely.

And whatever the future holds for transatlantic relations, there will be very few in this country who watched President Bush's plane depart yesterday without a feeling of profound relief that the end of this disastrous presidency is finally in sight.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
 

If I were Prime Minister: I would create a government that actually reflects its people

Kaliya Franklin
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower