BERLIN (Reuters) - Editorial writers around the world have been taking their final printed whacks at George W. Bush, accusing the president of tarnishing America’s standing with what many saw as arrogant and incompetent leadership.
Some newspaper editorials, for all their criticism, suggested historians might just be kinder later on than those now writing first drafts of history. A success often cited by those seeking a silver lining was the United States’ freedom from further homeland attacks following September 11.
Bush’s successor, Barack Obama, will be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president on Tuesday.
“A weak leader, Bush was just overwhelmed in the job,” said Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung under a headline: “The Failure.” “He confused stubbornness with principles. America has become intolerant and it will take a long time to repair that damage.”
Editorials hit out at Bush for two unfinished wars, for plunging the economy into recession, turning a budget surplus into a pile of debt, for his environment policies and tarnishing America’s reputation with the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
Bush was given credit in some editorials for defending the United States against terror attacks after September 11, 2001.
Israel was most complimentary, of his intentions if not necessarily of his achievements.
“Of all the U.S. presidents over the past 60 years, it is hard to think of a better friend to Israel than George W. Bush,” the Jerusalem Post daily wrote during Bush’s final visit.
Last week columnist Caroline Glick wrote Bush “recognizes Israel and the U.S. share the same enemies and they seek to destroy us because we represent the same thing: freedom. But Bush never learned how to translate personal views into policy.”
Canada’s Toronto Star was categorical in its condemnation.
“Goodbye to the worst president ever,” it declared. “Bush was an unmitigated disaster, failing on the big issues from the invasion of Iraq to global warming, Hurricane Katrina and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.”
“Bush leaves a country and an economy in tatters,” wrote the Sunday Times in London. It said America’s national debt and unemployment nearly doubled on his watch.
Britain’s Daily Mail said he entered office with a budget surplus of $128 billion but exits with a $482 billion deficit.
“He leaves the world facing its biggest crisis since the Depression, the Middle East in flames and U.S. standing at an all-time low.
“How will history judge George W.? Have we, perhaps, to quote his own mangled malapropisms, ‘misunderestimated’ him? On the plus side, after 9/11 he achieved what became his number one priority: to prevent his country suffering further attack on its own soil. Al Qaeda has been hugely weakened.”
The Scottish Daily Record observed: “America is now hated in many parts of the world. Bush leaves a legacy of wars and the world economy in meltdown. He has been dismissed as a buffoon and a war-monger, a man who made the world a more dangerous place while sending it to the brink of economic collapse.”
The Economist found room to praise Bush on free trade, immigration reform and China. But its overall view was negative:
“He leaves as one of the least popular and most divisive presidents in American history. Bush has presided over the most catastrophic collapse in America’s reputation since World War Two.”
The Sydney Morning Herald complained about Bush’s “singular lack of curiosity in international matters” in an editorial titled “Farewell to a flawed and unpopular commander-in-chief.”
But it also praised Bush for improving U.S. relations with China and India, his efforts to fight AIDS in Africa. It predicted historians might one day rank Bush in the mid range.
Le Monde disagreed.
“It’s hard to find a historian who won’t say that Bush was the most catastrophic leader the U.S. has ever known,” the French daily wrote. “One success: since September 11, 2001, there was no attack on U.S. soil. But this sits alongside an interminable list of failures, starting with the war in Iraq.”
Germany, ridiculed as “old Europe” by Bush’s former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld for opposing the Iraq invasion, took aim at Bush.
“Bush brought great misery to the world with his ‘friend-or-foe’ mentality,” wrote Die Zeit.
Stern magazine said: “Bush led the world’s most powerful nation to ruin. He lied to the world, tortured in the name of freedom and caused lasting damage to America’s standing.”
The Pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper resorted to bitter black humor under the headline: “We cried a lot and the joke was on us.” It recalled his controversial election win in Florida and how he once nearly choked on a pretzel, watching television.
“Perhaps we could say that fate, which let the American people down first in Florida and then with the issue of the pretzel in the president’s throat, ultimately helped them by making sure the president would spend half his time on vacation.
“Indeed, he would have caused twice the damage if he had been more active and focused.”
Austria’s Wiener Zeitung wrote Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even ranked higher in one international opinion poll than Bush:
“The United States was once the symbol of justice in the world but that has been damaged by Bush. A web of manipulation has cost America $900 billion and the lives of 4,000 soldiers — along with at least 500,000 Iraqis.”
In Poland, the Warsaw daily Dziennik lamented the worst part about Bush’s presidency: “It was empty rhetoric.”
Additional reporting by Jakub Jaworoski in Warsaw, Peter Griffiths in London, Alastair Macdonald in Jerusalem, and Francois Murphy in Paris; editing by Ralph Boulton.