In what might be described as the "pot calling the kettle black," former President Bush weighed in on the effects of Edward Snowden's revelations of large-scale government spying, saying, "He damaged the country." Pressing him on the point (and with no apparent irony), interviewer Robyn Curnow went on to ask President Bush if he thought "it's possible for one man to really damage the security of the country." The answer is a resounding YES — one man certainly can do a lot of damage to the country. Let us count the ways.
President Bush's unnecessary and catastrophic war in Iraq has certainly damaged the nation, to say nothing of the suffering inflicted on the Iraqis in the futile search for WMDs. Those WMDs, it turns out, were nonexistent, a failure of intelligence due to political pressure. To drum up support, the administration sent top officials to appear on media outlets and strongly suggest that there was connection between Al-Qaeda and Iraq, and that failure to act could lead to a nuclear attack on America.
The fearmongering worked and we invaded Iraq in March 2003. The war ultimately claimed the lives of 4,488 Americans and wounded over 32,000 more. Estimates of Iraqi casualties reach to 600,000. The financial costs of the war, including interest on the debt used to fund and the cost of caring for our veterans, are estimated to total $4 trillion. Very damaging indeed.
Also during the Bush years, America’s standing in the world took a beating. According to a Pew Research poll taken annually from 2002 through 2007 in 50 countries, anti-Americanism spread far and wide. Though strongest in the Muslim world, it was a worldwide phenomenon, showing up in Europe, Asia, and Latin America too. Predictably, the war on terror and the Iraq invasion won few hearts and minds, but it is interesting to note that, among those who disliked America, it was usually President Bush and his policies that people cited as reasons.
Leaving aside international issues, what about President Bush’s domestic actions? Any damage there? Let’s take a look at the response to Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina was going to be a disastrous storm no matter what happened. But the Bush administration’s response was crippled by blatant cronyism. President Bush had replaced experienced administrators at FEMA with personal friends, political operatives, and donors to his presidential campaign, none of whom had any experience with disaster management. The director, Michael Brown (who was immortalized with this infamous quote), had previously worked for nine years as the commissioner of an Arabian horse association. Brown’s deputy, Patrick Rhode, was an operative for the 2000 Bush presidential campaign before his FEMA gig. Over 1,800 people died in that catastrophe and the televised images of people trapped on rooftops and in the squalor of the convention center were a national embarrassment. And to this day, no American administration has so badly bungled a response to a hurricane and saw a major American city practically drown under its watch.
Of course the financial meltdown of 2008 under President Bush caused, and continues to cause, tremendous damage to the country. During the height of the meltdown, 8.8 million jobs and over $19 trillion in wealth were lost. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent to prop up troubled banks, and the estimated loss of GDP for just 2008 and 2009 is $1.2 trillion. Unemployment remains stubbornly high to this day, with about 37 percent of the unemployed having been out of work for over six months. And those are just the U.S. highlight. As we know, the crisis spread to many other countries. While the roots of the meltdown are broad and deep, and neither political party should escape blame, the bipartisan commission investigating the crisis reported in 2011 that it was avoidable and criticized the actions and lack of oversight of many Bush administration officials.
So can one man really do a lot of damage to a country? History has already given us the answer.