As he prepares to leave the White House after eight monumentally eventful years, what's the right standard for judging the performance of George W. Bush?
The basis for answering that question has changed radically over the course of the last seven years, very much to the president's detriment.
The concentration on the Iraq War after March of 2003 altered the criteria for evaluating the Bush Presidency. The conflict in Iraq, like all wars, proved messy, unpredictable, frustrating and often mishandled. For better or for worse, the American people identified the struggle as the defining gamble of the Bush administration and leading commentators declared that the president would provoke either contempt or gratitude based on the outcome of that war. If the United States failed in its mission of establishing a durable, pro-western government in Iraq, Mr. Bush stood no more chance of a favorable judgment by history than did Johnson or Nixon after the collapse of the U.S. investment in Vietnam. If, on the other hand, Mr. Bush defied the fanatical anti-war (and often anti-American) protesters and all the media nay-sayers, and somehow managed to produce a positive outcome in Iraq, then that alone seemed to guarantee a positive verdict by posterity on his presidency.