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OUT OF THE BUSH

Gradually since September 11 last year, Mr George W. Bush has surprised everybody by growing into his onerous job

History chooses its own personalities, personalities do not choose or make their histories. The career of Mr George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, would tend to strengthen this overarching generalization. Mr Bush became the president of the most powerful nation in the world somewhat by accident. He was not the front runner in the race to succeed Mr Bill Clinton. When he came to office it was something of an anti-climax after the heady days of the Clinton presidency when the economic boom appeared to be never-ending, when the US never had it so good. There was, it appeared then, little that Mr Bush could do to improve upon his predecessor’s record. Mr Bush, himself, probably expected an easy tenure: not too much expectation and not too many challenges. One day in September last year suddenly changed all that — Mr Bush’s own perceptions about his time in office and the objective nature of the presidency. Arguably, from within the Oval office, this is the most encumbered and the most onerous presidency. F.D. Roosevelt’s term after Pearl Harbour and John Kennedy’s tenure during the crisis of the Bay of Pigs come to mind as comparisons but neither Roosevelt nor Kennedy faced a direct attack on US soil and that too on the nerve centres of economic and political power. On September 11, 2001, the idea of US invincibility took a severe beating. It was as if an unknown outlaw had walked into Dodge City and taken potshots at the sheriff.

Mr Bush, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, did not seem to be quite cut out for the huge responsibility that had been thrust upon him. But he grew quickly, surprising his critics as well as his admirers. Unlike the cowboy of Texan folklore, he was not quick on the draw. He sent out Mr Colin Powell to mobilize world opinion, to set up a front against global terrorism. In his speeches, he carefully distinguished between Islam and fanatics who killed in the name of Islam. He waited for the taliban to surrender Mr Osama bin Laden before he deployed his fire power. The reaction may have appeared to some as vendetta but was in reality, mediated by reason. At home, Mr Bush rebuilt the shattered confidence and morale of his people.

The touch revealed in Mr Bush’s handling of affairs after 9/11 is not always evident in the econo- mic realm. Mr Bush still remains committed to the reduction of taxes. This might adversely affect not only the long drawn-out battle against terrorism but also the reconstruction that has to follow the destruction. There are suspicions that despite the experience of last September, the Bush administration is still not devoting adequate attention and resources to security. On the last point, it can be said in Mr Bush’s defence that he has always been opposed to the expansion of the government and its activities. It is too early for the final verdict on Mr Bush as president. But in the last year, he has demonstrated that he is not afraid to face the challenge of history.

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