According to several people close to the White House, President Bush has become particularly fascinated with the life and presidency of Harry S. Truman. Apparently, Bush sees in the 33rd president his soul brother-in-chief. It's easy to see why. From Bush's perspective, the two men have a lot in common.
Bush was born in 1946, the second year of Truman's presidency.
Both men are regular folk from the so-called heartland of America. Truman was born and raised in Independence, Mo. When President Bush wasn't at his family's vacation home in Maine or at boarding school in Massachusetts, he was raised in Midland, Texas.
Truman lied to the military about his bad eyesight so that he could enlist and fight in France during World War I. Bush used his family connections to get out of fighting in Vietnam, a former French colony.
Truman was fond of folksy phrases. He had a plaque on his desk that read "the buck stops here." Bush's folksy phrases, such as "I'm the decider" and "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family," have been printed on countless books, T-shirts and page-a-day calendars.
Truman co-owned a haberdashery that sold men's shirts. Bush wears men's shirts.
The thing Bush seems to like the most about Truman is that he was an unpopular president who has been judged relatively well by history. Loathed when he left office, Truman is now thought of as America's proto-Cold Warrior.
By publicly fetishizing Truman, Bush is saying to the country that he's no longer interested in what the public thinks about the Iraq war. He's saying "screw public opinion, I want to be well-regarderated by historians, not pollsters."
When it comes to distrusting the whims of the voting public, I'm in complete agreement with the president. I still have trouble understanding how the largest state in the Union has, not once, but twice elected the star of Kindergarten Cop to its highest office.
Nevertheless, it's hard to see how the large majority of Americans who think that Bush is a screw-up are wrong. For example, even if you still believe that invading Iraq was in the best interests of the United States, the administration's mishandling of the war has been so thorough that future historians are likely to be even harder on Bush than today's public.
The American public hasn't even begun to come to grips with the grandness of the disaster caused by Bush's invasion of Iraq.
For example, there has been almost no public discussion or reckoning of the massive number of Iraqis who've been made refugees by the war.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report published in November, 1.6 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes and move elsewhere within Iraq. An additional 1.8 million Iraqis have been forced to leave Iraq altogether, with the majority of them going to neighboring Syria and Jordan.
Those numbers are colossal on their own and mind-blowing when you consider that Iraq's population is only 25 million or so. As a percentage of the population, it's the equivalent of 30 million to 40 million Americans moving to Canada or Mexico.
The report says that 3,000 Iraqis are fleeing to Syria and Jordan every day and that the number is increasing. Iraqis now comprise more than 10 percent of Jordan's population.
The people fleeing aren't terrorists or enemies of the United States. They're regular people -- doctors, lawyers, CD-store clerks, etc., who by virtue of being the wrong religion on the wrong city block had to run for their lives. Many of those fleeing have been targeted for violence because they helped Americans.
What has the Bush administration done to help these refugees fleeing from the chaos we created? Almost nothing. The United States spent nearly $100 billion on the war last year, but only $35 million to help Iraqi refugees. According to the New York Times, the Bush administration has only planned to accept 500 fleeing Iraqis into the United States this year. That's fewer people than fled Iraq in the time it took me to write this column.
I'm not sure how history will vindicate that.
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