Almost born on the day that our beloved country was born (July 4), George Walker Bush, son of former president and vice president George Herbert Walker Bush and brother to former governor of Florida Jeb Bush, will turn 70 this July 6th.
It is fitting that his birthday falls within such an auspicious range of dates since he, and his vaunted political family, has been so integral in the formation of this country as we know it today, or as his father called it, The New World Order, which was formed during his two terms as president (2001 to 2009).
In his seventh decade in this mortal realm, George junior has much to reminisce about and even more to do, as this tireless American icon shows no signs of wearing down. Bush is a tireless speaker and the curator of the George Bush Library. Moreover, he is an author of his memoir, Decision Points.
I have written a book. This will come as quite a shock to some. They didn't think I could read, much less write. Of course, Bush's presidency was marked by similar energy.
He came in as something of an underdog, despite his political pedigree, being the fourth president to win while receiving fewer popular votes than an opponent.
When asked, Bush, in his classic Texas candor, explained, "It doesn't really matter who's doing the voting so much as it matters who's counting the votes. I think that Russian fella said that, Joseph Stalin. Now there was a leader for you. Strong, intimidating, forceful.
"That's what happened with the hanging CHADs thing down there in Jeb's state, Florida. They were counting the votes all wrong. Once they figured out how to count them right, they found out I had actually won. They misunderestimated me."
This role of the down-trodden outsider, fighting against all odds, was perhaps the wellspring of his famed tenacity and decisiveness, a quality which would be tested early and often during his political tenure.
It was only eight months into his reign when the Dark Forces of Terror committed the unthinkable act of bringing war to the shores of this country. A band of terrorists working with crude technology, while based half way across the globe in the caves of the Middle East, managed to infiltrate some of the tightest rings of security in the world to perpetrate attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a random field in a tragically named town in Pennsylvania, Shanksville.
With his trademark prescience, Bush already had one of the most important tools for fighting terror already drawn up well before the attacks on our soil took place: the PATRIOT Act.
Some have - quite mistakenly - criticized Bush and his crack team for having the document prepared prior to the actual events on 9/11, but as Bush himself said after the carnage of that day, the figurative line in the sand had been drawn and there were only two sides in the entire conflict:
"Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," Bush explained how the world would be after that fateful day. "From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded ... as a hostile regime."
And so would any individual.
Bush then launched what would become the Bush Doctrine, a global War on Terror (similar in scope to the highly successful War on Drugs waged by Nancy Reagan or the subsequent wars on poverty and illiteracy), which was inspired by his words, and his hardened, frontiersman attitude honed in Texas politics.
Or as the man himself said: "We will find those who did it. We will smoke them out of their holes. We'll get them running, and we'll bring them to justice … We will rid the world of evildoers."
In alignment with this new, and quite historical policy, Bush unleashed the full fury of the American and European Coalition armed forces on Afghanistan.
The military engagement, called Operation Enduring Freedom, was named just that because its ultimate goal was not to destroy the core institutions of the Middle-Eastern Countries that found themselves in its path, but to build a lasting, democratic peace in a region ruled by opium-dealing cartels, oil barons who neglect their starving and struggling people and fascist strong-men who slaughter their own kind.
Yes, Bush sought not to dominate the oil and drugs production of the reason as his opponents may have asserted at times, terrorists as they were, but to build nations that are peaceful and free.
"Free nations are peaceful nations," the former President reminded us all. "Free nations don't attack each other. Free nations don't develop weapons of mass destruction."
Let it be clear that, after hearing intelligence that Iraq was creating Weapons of Mass Destruction, Bush "sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American.
Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way." Our former president was simply giving the Iraqi people a helping hand in 2004 by suspecting they had such weapons and making sure that there government wouldn't use them against anyone else. Of course, armed intervention was inevitable.
No doubt, Bush did not want to jeopardize the lives of the young yet again, yet he felt compelled because he was certain "there was no doubt that the Iraq regime continue[d] to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
Critics of the Bush Doctrine and its bloody application point to the 2,382 US deaths as a result of this offensive, 455 British deaths and 681 "Other" casualties, for a total of 3,518 in this offensive alone. Some, in fits of classical terrorist rhetoric, have called this war an Oil War, or even a Big Business War where companies like Haliburton and other mega-conglomerates make billions off of the lives of young soldiers who are shot, wounded and killed in the name of "enduring freedom."
Bush, however, sees this mission in a much loftier light, one that parallels classical if not Biblical struggles between the most basic and powerful forces in the world. He also admits the difficulty in dealing with the repercussions of his bold, if not pragmatic, decisions: "This foreign policy stuff is a little frustrating."
The former president also was forced to concede that this involvement in that region was necessary because the United States was "reliant upon big foreign oil. More and more of our imports come from overseas."
With this Ivy League intellect honed to the sharpness of a double-edged sword, Bush would often ruminate on the goals of this crusade in the Middle East, deciding that he was perched in between a duality that had been warring for all eternity, a conflict that may even require the intervention of the Divine Christian Spirit (to which Bush himself is an adherent). Or, as he stated shortly after the commencement of the Afghanistan incursion: "The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain.
Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them." So, with the combination of a little Bush Doctrine, a dab of ex deus machina and a few brigades of soldiers from across the globe, peace was supposed to prevail. As of yet, it has not, but Bush and his followers preach that the course must be kept and vigilance must be a priority, for a country such as America garners jealousy as much as admiration, hatred as much as praise.
Beyond our borders are hordes of Paleolithic cultures leering at our culture and drooling as they think of how they can destroy our greatness. Mr. Bush warned us all: ""Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we." Truer words were never spoken.
That is the driving force behind all of George W. Bush's political motivation: the people of this fair land that we call the United States of America. Bush has never, as so many who have grasped the mantle of power, forgotten his wholesome and quite simple roots at home in Connecticut where he was born. There is - and always has been -a connection to that ethos, one which has rendered him more humble than others in his position.
In short, he can identify with the working American who has a house to maintain, hungry children to feed and a future for which to save. In his own words, Bush sympathized with the light of the common American, saying, "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family." Moreover, he, if anyone, is responsible for the economic situation of this population that struggles to survive each day; that is, the economic opportunities that abound for those who care to work and to re-invigorate the economy by spending their money on all those "imports produced overseas." (They are produced overseas, of course, to lower the cost of production and therefore the overall price. It is not to increase the profit margin for corporate America.)
Occasionally, as an accomplished leader may do, Bush may just gush at the prosperity he has been able to create for the people he loves so much. When confronted by a divorced mother of three who had been able to find secondary and tertiary employment to help to "make ends meet," he glowed and saw something greater than a woman standing before him with her three young children and no husband. In fact, Bush saw a symbol of his political efforts, the economic upswing that ensued and the quality of life that many subsequently enjoyed. Speaking simply yet insightfully as always, the former president stated: "You work three jobs? … Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that." And he meant it.
Now, the septuagenarian former politician-turned-author and speaker is one of those common folks living out his days without the rigors and stresses of being commander-in-chief of the Free World. If that divorced mother thought she had it tough by working three jobs and raising her three kids, she may not want to trade places with Mr. Bush any time soon.
Retirement hasn't seemed to have slowed him down as of yet; he has plenty to handle. First, he has to figure a way to make his $201,300 per year pension stretch to cover all of his monthly bills (no small task), manage an office allowance and other benefits that can boost the tab to $1 million a year.
The difficulty here is that before the economic meltdown of 2008, Bush's private assets were estimated at between $8 million and $20 million. The president believes that nest egg has shrunk as happened with so many citizens, but he doesn't know by how much because it's in a blind trust. This may sound like an embarrassment of riches, but that's a lot of money to handle. Also, since he's a gifted orator, he will be using up more of his scant free time with the speech circuit, at the cost of $50,000 to $100,000 per appearance. The burgeoning author is also said to have secured a seven-figure book advance for his memoirs. That's a full plate for anyone, but, being a man of arts and belles lettres, Bush also has an eponymous library at Southern Methodist University.
Yet, Bush seems to be warming up to this slower pace of life after all those hectic years in office.
Typical of the man, Bush remains unerringly principled in this later phase of his life.
He is, if you will, a sage for the new breed that came after, one that did not have the harrowing questions of 9/11, the tenuous days that came after that tragic day and the construction of the New World Order.
His advice may seem Byzantine, but some minds, such as his, seem to operate at a level that is almost quizzical to the layman thinker: "I'm hopeful. I know there is a lot of ambition in Washington, obviously. But I hope the ambitious realize that they are more likely to succeed with success as opposed to failure."
So simple, so direct and yet his words are so full of that Horatio Alger type of wisdom that cuts through the Gordian Knot of our dilemmas. He claims to have "zero desire … to be in the limelight" or to criticize his successors. Essentially, he wants to write his book and then briefly "emerge" and then "submerge" once again into a self-imposed obscurity. In fact, Bush seems to be "liberated" at this point in his life.
The shackles of those former responsibilities are off of him, and the weight of the world, almost quite literally, has been alleviated from him.
With an air of reminiscence, Bush recalls when his freedom finally set in: "So, I'm lying on the couch and Laura walks in and I say, 'Free at last,' and she says, 'You're free all right; you're free to do the dishes.' So I say, 'You're talking to the former president, baby,' and she said, 'consider this your new domestic policy agenda'."
And so the simplicity of domestic life has returned to the man who once stared down Terrorism and created one of the longest and most deadly armed confrontations in American history (a feat only Richard Nixon and Lyndon Baines Johnson can claim), all the while maintaining a depth of insight, a stunning wit and, of course, an engaging turn of the English phrase.
Though he looks fondly upon his days as president of this mighty nation, he admits, there are easier ways for it to be done: "A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."
Happy birthday, George.