As President Bush takes a valedictory lap, touting asserted victories and barely acknowledging things done wrong, he leaves office deluded into thinking that history will vindicate him.
As destructive as the Bush presidency has been in the short term, its true catastrophic impact won't be realized for years and perhaps decades. Just like the gray and wrinkled president himself, the Bush presidency will not age well.
Bush claims that his greatest achievement as president was in keeping our nation safe from another terrorist attack. But Bush leaves office having allowed his Iraq folly to distract him from the al-Qaida threat.
Since 9/11, terror attacks in Britain and Spain, and American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hand of al-Qaida, demonstrate that the group remained viable throughout his presidency. Bush's invasion of Iraq gave al-Qaida an opportunity to infiltrate that country — where it had not been before — attracting angry Muslim men to its cause from around the world.
Then, by putting the Iraq war on a credit card and diverting troops and materiel from Afghanistan, Bush created an intractable mess. Barack Obama will have to address a resurgent al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan and now Pakistan with a broken American military and a multitrillion-dollar bill for the Iraq war that will eventually come due.
All of which makes us less safe.
For all his boasting, Bush didn't dispatch the key al-Qaida terrorists — Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are very much alive. Instead, Bush created more enemies for us. The administration's torture and detention policies were the best recruitment tool since Uncle Sam. For every prisoner we waterboarded, stripped naked, sexually humiliated and nearly froze into hypothermia, we inspired dozens to join the other side.
Of course, the real beneficiary of Bush's Iraq adventurism is our nemesis Iran, which had its Sunni mortal enemy Saddam Hussein eliminated and now has a copacetic Shiite-dominated Iraq government next door.
Bush's geopolitics were a disaster, but what we may never fully know is how destructive the culmination of his anti-intellectual, antiworker and antiscience policies will prove to be.
We have lost eight precious years that we should have been devoting to reducing our dependency on fossil fuels, addressing global climate change and investing in American human capital. The future belongs to those who invent. But the only enthusiasm the Bush administration demonstrated in the realm of science was in subverting it.
Bush's lack of interest in pushing America toward innovation has made us feel like a country in suspended animation run by a guy who likes his gas guzzler and Uncle Miltie.
Bush's vision for America was to keep us as the world's consumers: indulgent, wasteful and gluttonous, living on borrowed money like a wastrel. Could it be something in his upbringing that made him comfortable with that condition?
Bush was unconcerned that America was losing millions of manufacturing jobs and had stopped exporting much of anything beyond exotic securities. He didn't care that the national debt ballooned, our personal savings rate fell to zero and our trade deficit hit record after record.
His priorities were in protecting tax cuts for the rich and expanding global trade policies that moved capital and jobs overseas. That, and making sure no newly created embryos the size of a pinpoint would be used to advance medical cures for diseases afflicting millions of people.
So when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tells NPR that the coming economic stimulus plan can be described in four words — "science, science, science and science" — she is expressing a great pent-up demand for America to start being smart again and energetic and start fixing problems rather than creating them, with government as a partner.
Bush is trying to leave the Oval Office with a smattering of polite applause and claims of some future redemption. But history will not be kind to Bush. His fingerprints will be on the ruins of too much.
America has survived Bush — but just barely.