Steve Chapman

President Bush recently hit the lowest job approval rating of his term, barely higher than Richard Nixon's during Watergate, and 28 percent of Americans think he's the worst ever. But his poor performance review has yet to inspire a frenzy of self-scrutiny.

He brings to mind Russia's Czar Nicholas II, who when told he needed to regain the confidence of his people, suggested that the people needed to regain his. In 2004, asked to name his biggest mistake, Bush couldn't come up with one. Watching his final news conference Monday, you might conclude that he has not spent the intervening years pondering the question.

Asked again where he had gone wrong, the president did offer a few minor regrets: that "Mission Accomplished" banner, pushing Social Security reform in 2005, and flying over New Orleans instead of landing there after Hurricane Katrina. Abu Ghraib and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he confessed, were a "disappointment."

But really, Bush undervalues his negative achievements -- even leaving out the current recession, which in all fairness is due largely to factors beyond his control. As he contemplates his memoirs, he might make use of the following cheat sheet to keep track of his biggest and most inexcusable failures:

Iraq. Bush insisted on fighting a war that didn't need to be fought, on the assumption it would be easy, for purposes that could have been achieved without getting more than 4,200 Americans killed and 30,000 wounded, not to mention squandering upward of a trillion dollars.

The problem is not that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction (as UN weapons inspectors in Iraq were on their way to confirming before the war began). It's that even if he did, they would have been militarily worthless, because using them would have guaranteed his immediate annihilation -- which explains why Hussein didn't use chemical weapons in the first Gulf War. WMD or not, he was a danger we could easily contain.

Afghanistan. The president was right to go after the Taliban. But the Iraq invasion meant shortchanging the war we had to fight. "We're simply in a world of limited resources, and those resources are in Iraq," a senior administration official attests in David Sanger's new book, "The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power" -- acknowledging an obvious truth the administration has always denied.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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