LETTER: Rehabilitation of Bush may still be possible

When was the last time you heard anyone say something positive about George W Bush. Actually, the chances are it was sometime in the last week.

Bush's European farewell tour could have been a disaster but in a remarkable series of media interviews and appearances Bush has, for the first time in years, received some positive notices.

Lets put it in context. Demonstrations continue to dog his European tour, which has visited Europe's major capital cities in the last few weeks (although as Gerard Baker argued in The Times there is an anticlimactic feeling about the protests - the protestors seem to have moved on this time).

And Bush, like Blair, is still intrinsically linked to an unpopular war and cowboy diplomacy. The liberal media will never warm to Bush, but the knowledge that in less than seven months the Bush presidency will be over, most likely replaced by a President who has emerged straight out of the liberal heart of The West Wing, seems to have taken some of the heat out of fire.

Partly it has been his tone. He delivered a major speech during this final trip to Europe not in Britain, but France - which he called America's 'first friend', and he has called for a more ‘powerful and purposeful Europe' in closer alliance with the US.

In an interview with the Times last week he wisely expressed regret (or at least a touch of regret) about some of the rougher moments in international relations during his presidency. Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest he has been convenient hate figure in Europe and that most American Presidents, given the choice, would have followed a similar path. The infamous Bush swagger and cowboy rhetoric just made it easier to hate.

At the Downing Street news conference earlier this week he was markably low on swagger. Both Brown and Bush appearing more relaxed with each other and unified that at any time in their short-lived executive partnership. Perhaps the knowledge of his certain departure has made it easier for both of them.

What is crystal clear is that Bush has already started to think seriously about his legacy. The decision to invite a group of eminent historians to dinner with the two leaders was a PR masterstoke. Conversation, we are told, remained firmly within the realms of 18th, 19th and 20th Century history, rarely straying into current events.

Meanwhile the subliminal message coming out of the dinner was this is a man of history, to be judged in the long-term rather than the immediate. A point Bush has been hammering home himself.

In the US George Bush remains a figure of some national embarrassment, from former press secretary Scott Mclennan's embarrassing revelations to John McCain's transparent attempts to distance himself from Bush.

As Ian Leslie, editor of the popular US politics blogsite Marbury argues, Bush may still be toxic but his rehabilitation is not out of the question. Reagan and Clinton, both markedly more unpopular in their second terms, worked hard to reposition their presidencies in their final months.

Bush has had a decent run in the UK and Europe in the last few weeks - the real test will be if he can persuade the American people to reassess their view of the most unpopular president of recent times.

Jim Godfrey, media and political consultant

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