George W. Bush�s time is shortly up. Israel�s Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert has quit so he can fend off corruption allegations, while Britain�s
Gordon Brown beats back his own party colleagues who are after his job. Polls
show in all three countries that the majority of voters would like nothing more
than to tell each of them, �Don�t let the door hit you on the way out� . . . but
for very different reasons.
George Bush�s legacy is well known: Mendacity over the Iraq
war, failure to win the alleged �war on terror,� neglect of people caught up in
the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, erosion of civil liberties, disrespect for
international law, failure to honor his promise to facilitate a Palestinian
state, and fiscal irresponsibility that turned a federal budget with a healthy
surplus of $128 billion into a massive deficit of $357 billion.
The surprise is his approval rating still hovers around 27
percent even as the US economy is in freefall and when taxpayers are being
asked to foot an $800 billion bill to keep financial institutions afloat. If
Congress refuses on their behalf, as Bush admitted recently himself, �this
sucker could go down.�
Even more unpopular than Bush among his own electorate is
Olmert, whose approval rating fell to just 3 percent following the
Israel-Lebanon war and rarely rose above single digits since. He will be
remembered for misguidedly leading his country into a conflict from which
Israel emerged the loser, its myth of invincibility shattered forever.
Unlike Bush, who followed his own convictions without
blinking while disregarding opponents� opinions or fluctuating polls, Olmert
put his own aside fearful of Israeli public opinion. Following the embarrassing
war, he clung to office half-heartedly trying to please everyone and pleasing
virtually no one.
On the one hand, he�s been talking peace with his �friend,�
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and, on the other, he�s allowed rampant
West Bank settlement expansion that isolates Jerusalem, making a two-state
solution even more difficult. But that was before he resigned.
Now that he has little to lose and has no time to implement
anything of importance, he�s trying to raise his profile as a statesman. Now
free of worries concerning public condemnation, he told the Israeli daily
Yedioth Aharonoth that if Israel is serious about making peace with the
Palestinians and Syria, it must be prepared to relinquish both East Jerusalem
and the Golan Heights.
He indicated that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were
�very close to an agreement� and said, �I�d like to see if there is one serious
person in the State of Israel who believes it is possible to make peace with
Syrians without eventually giving up the Golan Heights.�
Israelis have reacted according to which side of the
political spectrum they belong. The hard-line right-wing camp still dreaming of
a greater Israel views his comments as treacherous; the peacenik left is
annoyed that he waited until he was virtually out of power to say them. This is
nothing more than an act of cowardice, they contend.
It was arguably an act of cowardice that changed the
fortunes of Tony Blair�s successor Gordon Brown. As a leader appointed by his
party rather than voted in by the electorate, early in his tenure, he gave the
strong impression that he was about to call an election.
Then just when opposition parties, the press and the public
were geared for one, Brown, who had patiently waited years for the job, changed
his mind. The Conservatives went into action to paint the prime minister as
weak and indecisive. It was a question of character, they said. Brown, who has
since battled terrorism, livestock disease, floods, inflation, growing
unemployment, soaring crime, loss of confidence in The City -- Britain�s
financial hub � and a volatile economy.
If an election were to be called today, Tory leader David
Cameron would certainly be moving into No. 10, so Brown must work hard to keep
the loyalty of his Cabinet and party backbenchers while assuring Britons that
he�s the best men to lead his country safely through troubled global waters.
Bush, Olmert and Brown: Three very different characters, who will leave behind
them very different legacies. Interestingly, the man who has done the most
damage to his own nation and worldwide, Bush, may leave with his head held
As Stanley Fish predicts in the New York Times, �Within a
year of the day he leaves office, and no matter who succeeds him, George W.
Bush will be a popular public figure, regarded with affection and a little
nostalgia even by those who voted against him and thought he was the worst
president in our history.�
He argues that many will miss the funny folksy, gregarious
guy who is a basically decent man at peace with himself. Eh? I guess you have
to be American to empathize with that description of the man who created and
still supports Guantanamo and to date has shown little compassion for the
hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi and Afghani civilians, whose lives were lost
as a direct result of his wars. The more innocuous Olmert and Brown will not be
so easily forgiven by their own publics. My guess is that when Bush is building
his library, doing the speech circuit or advising the board of some high-profile
corporation the others will have already faded into obscurity. Okay, so nobody
said life was fair.
Now we can only wait to see what the next combo might be.
Personally, as long as it doesn�t include John McCain and his �I�m a Russian
expert because I can see it from my kitchen window� sidekick it can only be
better than the one in place today.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.