Unlikely? Perhaps. Farfetched? Maybe. Impossible? No.
Although no one knows for sure what the Iraqi landscape will look like 20 years from now, one thing is certain: The United States – particularly loyal supporters of former President George W. Bush – will be very happy if the above scenario plays out.
Bush left the Oval Office as one of the most unpopular presidents in history. His final jobs approval rating of 34 percent, according to a Gallup Poll, was due in large part because of his controversial decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
As is well-documented by now, the former president started the war under the pretense that Saddam Hussein was not only connected to the group responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Al Qaeda, but that his regime was also hiding weapons of mass destruction. But when none of his accusations turned out to be true, some critics all around the world called Bush a liar and even a war criminal.
Although Bush’s efforts did end the reign of one of the world’s most inhumane and oppressive leaders, some critics question whether or not Iraq would be better off with Hussein still in power. Just two weeks ago, the New York Times reported that more than 100 people were killed and at least 300 injured in attacks led by Iraqi insurgents hoping to overthrow the democratically elected government that Bush’s administration helped create.
But what if the civil war in Iraq eventually dies down and the people finally buy into the democratic government. Will Bush – dare I say it – be looked upon as a good president?
“It’s definitely possible,” said Russell Riley, chair of the University of Virginia’s presidential oral history program. “Americans have a very short memory, so things you don’t expect to happen can happen.
“If there is a more democratic Middle East, which was one of Bush’s goals, and the historians of the period can connect that to President Bush’s decisions, then of course it would look much better through the lens of history than it does now.”
Riley said former president Harry S. Truman’s rise in popularity over the last 50 years is a perfect example of Americans changing their mind about the commander-in-chief. Truman left office with a 32 percent rating, according to a Gallup poll. But in 2009, a CSPAN poll ranked him as the 5th greatest president of all-time.
“When you get some distance from a presidency, the community of scholars begins to change its opinion which then changes the minds of the general public,” Riley said.
However, not everyone thinks the former president can make a Truman-esque climb. Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University and author of presidential biographies, said even if the Iraq situation clears up, Bush would still be an average president at best.
“He has this huge Achilles heel which is that the economy tanked in October 2008,” Brinkley said. “No matter what, he’s going to get low marks because the country busted on his watch.”
Brinkley, who ranked Bush as one of the ten worst presidents in U.S. history, said that while the recession might not be Bush’s fault, it would always prevent him from being considered a “great” president.
Yet no matter what happens over the next twenty years, Riley said that members of the “Bush alumni” would continue to try and boost the former president’s reputation.
“They believe that what they were doing was the right policy and the man behind it was an admirable man motivated by the best interest of his country,” he said. “So there’s always a hope that by the sober judgment of history, people will get things right.”