Worst-Ever US President or to His Guns. How Will History Remember George W Bush? US PRESIDENTIAL HANDOVER as George W Bush Prepares for His Final Day at the Office, Political Correspondent DAVID WILLIAMSON Assesses His Lasting Legacy for the US and the Wider World
Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON
DESPITE his delight in cowboy culture, President Bush will not be allowed to ride into the sunset with a nonchalant salute to his successor when he finally leaves the White House tomorrow.
Instead, the 62-year-old Republican will walk into a firestorm as both members of his own party and traditional opponents attack him for his administration's starkest failures.
Just as millions tuned in to watch President Richard Nixon being grilled by a young David Frost over the Watergate fiasco, people of every political stripe will want to see him in the television dock.
In interviews no longer constrained by White House deference he will be asked how a buoyant economy was wrecked, why "water-boarding" was tolerated in interrogations, and why - at the height of the search for Al-Qaeda leaders - he chose to invade Iraq.
Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton - and the first George Bush - left the White House adored by their parties and respected on the international stage. The mention of Mr Bush, however, regularly triggers emotions ranging from bewilderment to despair.
First Minister Rhodri Morgan believes the Supreme Court's decision in 2000 to halt the Florida recount and thereby award the presidency to Mr Bush has had catastrophic consequences.
He told the Western Mail: "It's a very, very sad story. I can't imagine Al Gore opening Guantanamo."
Mr Morgan considers Mr Bush "biased against science" in his opposition to embryonic stem cell research and laments he pursued the goals of "neoconservatives" in the Middle East. This group dreamt of toppling Saddam Hussein and transforming Iraq into a democratic ally of Israel.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, Mr Morgan, argues, gave them the political firepower to pursue the invasion.
He added: "The key thing is, even before 9/11, Bush had surrounded himself with neocon advisers that all had this obsession that they wanted to put right what they saw as George Bush Srwimping out of various things like not going through to Baghdad."
The First Minister hopes he will see President-elect Barack Obama leading a Roosevelt-style revival of American confidence which in turn could kick-start the world's economy.
He said: "Really, America needs to find itself again and unite itself again."
Len Scott of Aberystwyth University, one of Wales' most respected political scientists and a former assistant to Denis Healey while he was Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, is withering in his assessment of the outgoing Commander in Chief.
He said: "I can't think of a worse American president. Not only in terms of his personal qualities, but of his accomplishments."
Scholars of the future, he predicted, will study how the neoconservatives convinced America's leaders to pursue the dream of remaking Iraq.
He said: "That's where the historians will be focusing a lot of their energies for decades to come and working out the extent to which he had a predetermined agenda for taking on Iraq and how far that agenda was accelerated by 9/11."
He added: "I'm confident Al Gore would not have invaded Iraq."
The image of the Harvard and Yale-educated former Governor of Texas as a spouter of "Bush-isms" and a dangerous buffoon is not shared by all, though.
Throughout his two-terms he drew on extraordinary reserves of self-belief to push forward programmes which frequently flouted conventional wisdom.
In his first term he overhauled the education system through the No Child Left Behind programme which introduced new levels of accountability to the schools system.
He took strides to enhance prescription drug provision and announced a EUR1.35 trillion programme of tax cuts.
Attempts to bring America's millions of illegal immigrants into the official workforce were rejected by his own party and attempts to pioneer a new social security system floundered. …