Four chapters mark the George W. years

HOW will history treat the 43rd President of the United States, who steps down tomorrow to head back to his Texas ranch?In the short term at least, George W.

Graham Dines

HOW will history treat the 43rd President of the United States, who steps down tomorrow to head back to his Texas ranch?

In the short term at least, George W. Bush will be regarded as a man who stole the White House aided and abetted by the Republican dominated Supreme Court, and who was never really up to the job.

A reformed alcoholic who became governor of Texas and ruled from the state house as an uncompromising defender of law and order - under his tenure, Texas executed more prisoners than any of the other 49 states of the union - he ran for the White House to finish the work of his father George, who had only one term as president, losing to Bill Clinton in 1992.

There are four defining moments in the Bush junior presidency - the controversy of his election, 9-11, the war in Iraq, and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

The 2000 US election came down to the result in Florida. Disputed ballots and problems with the automatic voting machines ended up in the district and federal courts and finally the Supreme Court, where Republican appointed justices outvoted Democrat nominees to give Florida to Bush.

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It's ironic that had Democrat Al Gore won his own state of Tennessee - and it's widely recognised that if you can't rely on the support of your own people then you really have to right to the presidency - he would have been elected, no matter what the outcome in Florida.

But the state of country music, Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga, tipped out for Bush, and Gore was left to consider what might have been.

The appalling events of September 11 2001 would have taxed the most competent and resolute person. After an initial panic among his security guards, who forced Bush into Air Force One to criss-cross the United States in the air until the scale of the threat was assessed, Bush's stature soared.

He donned a hard hat and went himself to the smoking ruins of the twin towers, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the rescue workers, the families of the victims, Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani, and Democrat senator Hillary Clinton.

By launching an air and ground offensive against the Taliban who were sheltering in Afghanistan, Bush had the backing of almost everyone in the western world. It was never going to be easy, and US troops along with contingents from the UK became bogged down in a war of attrition which is still going on today.

But it was a necessary, just military operation which was attempting to rid us of the Al-Qaida terrorist threat.

No so Iraq. Saddam Hussein was painted as a villain of the first order. No one could possibly disagree, but shelling, rocketing, and invading Iraq was a cover up for regime change which Tony Blair, to his eternal discredit, joined in with aplomb.

As opposition to the invasion grew, the public was told that Saddam held weapons of mass destruction which could be turned against British interests. That was exposed as a lie when no weapons were found, but still Bush and Blair stubbornly maintained their stance that Iraq had to be given western democracy.

In a way, both men benefited from the war. Bush was re-elected in 2004 and Tony Blair won the 2005 British election. If there had been the widespread revulsion at the invasion and occupation, surely they would have been defeated?

That they weren't probably says more about their political opponents than the justice of the fight.

A year later, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, bringing widespread flooding and destruction and a mass evacuation of this noble southern city.

Bush flew over the disaster area, but didn't land. Federal aid was slow to arrive. The suffering of the people was plain for all to see - except the administration in Washington DC.

Bush didn't recover from this public relations disaster. Democrats swept the board in the mid term 2006 elections, effectively checkmating the spending priorities that Bush wanted.

At his final press conference this week, Bush didn't receive the normal applause from the assembled journalists. The media realised that here was a man who represented the old order, stigmatised by Iraq and New Orleans. Next week, Barrack Obama offers a real prospect of change.

George W. Bush leaves the White House almost friendless. Tony Blair, Australia's former prime minister John Howard President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia and President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia are almost alone in their support for him and this week Bush awarded them the President's Medal of Freedom this week, the highest civilian award in the US in recognition of his work to “improve the lives of citizens”' and for his efforts to promote “democracy, human rights and peace abroad.”

Somehow, I can't see Bush receiving an honorary Order of Merit from the Queen.

RUM goings on in the European Parliament, when after the controversial vote on banning some agri-pesticides, the UK Independence Party accused East of England Conservative Euro MP Christopher Beazley of being a poodle for the European Commission.

Mr Beazley's voting machine broke down in the Strasbourg parliament, and then told the parliamentary president that he didn't need it fixing “as I plan to vote yes to everything.”

David Campbell Bannerman, who will be heading the UKIP list in this June's Euro elections, hit out: “Mr Beazley is like the Man from Del Monte... he just likes to say `yes.' Yes to everything the EU wants, regardless of the cost for hard pressed families living in the East of England; yes, regardless of the impact on local businesses; yes, despite the damage to our country from yet more loss of control of our affairs. "

“This Tory MEP is letting down his country and his constituency. No wonder polls show that more than one in 10 Tories will back UKIP at the Euro elections.”

Mr Beazley, who is on the pro-European wing of the Conservative Party, is not seeking re-election this year. “My only comment on UKIP is to advise everyone in the East of England to vote Conservative.”

Two Tories who did vote against the pesticide ban were East of England's Geoffrey Van Orden and Robert Sturdy. Mr Van Orden said: “The measures approved this week go too far - farmers will see many pesticides and fungicides they use being taken off the market and this will inevitably affect production of foodstuffs at a time when they are facing ever increasing challenges. There are also implications for food imports.

“Conservatives did all they could to oppose the extremist approach on pesticides: we called for an assessment of all the consequences, we pushed for a rejection of unsatisfactory compromises and we asked for exceptions for some products. We fought hard throughout the process for more reasonable legislation, but were finally in the minority.”

Labour's Richard Howitt and Liberal Democrat Andrew Duff backed the proposals. Mr Duff said: “Pesticides will only have to be withdrawn from the market when their current authorisation comes to an end, which in most cases is not before 2013. One of the main impacts of the new law is to promote the development of safer alternatives to toxic substances. The measure also seeks to protect bees, whose numbers are in steep decline.

“People should not be taken in by the scandalising of the eurosceptics about the main content of this package deal. British farming is competitive and will remain so. The new law will stimulate research and development, not least in the East of England. Our food and the countryside will be cleaner, and people more healthy.”

MR Howitt lost out by one vote in the contest to find a leader for the UK's Labour Euro MPs. Glenis Willmott from the East Midlands takes over from Gary Titley, who had held the post for six years.