Bush Leaves Obama A Litany of Problems

APBush flying Sunday to the White House after a last weekend at Camp David.
WASHINGTON -- Two unfinished wars, the U.S. economy deep in recession, the budget deficit about to hit $1 trillion and America's image badly tarnished abroad.

Not since Herbert Hoover left Franklin Roosevelt the Great Depression has a U.S. president left his successor a litany of problems seemingly as daunting as George W. Bush will bequeath to Barack Obama when he takes office on Tuesday.

While Bush and his loyalists insist that history will take a kinder view of his legacy, historians are already debating whether he will rank among the worst presidents ever, putting him in the company of Herbert Hoover, Warren Harding and James Buchanan.

Some presidential scholars say it's too soon to render a verdict, but many have made up their minds.

"Can anyone really doubt that this was an abysmal presidency?" said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a political scientist at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. "All that's left to sort out now is just how far down the list he goes."

A generation ago, Ronald Reagan, Bush's Republican hero, asked Americans to think about whether they were better off than when his Democratic opponent, incumbent Jimmy Carter, entered the White House. By that standard, Bush doesn't stack up well. Ending his eight-year tenure amid the worst financial crisis in 80 years, he leaves with one of the lowest approval ratings of any president in modern times -- in the mid-20 percent range.

The widespread support he won in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks is long gone, weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, an inept response to Hurricane Katrina and a meltdown on Wall Street that has spilled onto Main Street. At home, unemployment is at a 16-year high and people's savings are slipping away.

On the plus side, Bush's top domestic achievement may be something that didn't happen -- another attack on U.S. soil. "We haven't had another attack in seven years," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. "And that matters."

Overseas, Bush's legacy will be defined largely by Iraq, and it will be left to Obama to finalize an exit strategy and repair the damage to U.S. credibility.

Bush flew to Baghdad last month hoping to showcase security gains there, but instead the enduring image will be of the president ducking shoes hurled by an angry Iraqi journalist.

Bush leaves other unfinished foreign policy business. The nuclear standoff with Iran could be one of Obama's biggest challenges, testing his promise of direct talks with Tehran to supplant Bush's policy of diplomatic isolation.

In Afghanistan, which critics say Bush neglected because he was too distracted by Iraq, the Taliban are resurgent and Osama bin Laden has yet to be captured or killed.

Mindful of the clock ticking down, Bush has spent his final weeks trying to burnish his legacy. He granted more exit interviews than any recent president, held a final news conference and delivered a televised farewell address.

Bush said history would be his judge but only "after some time has passed." He has insisted that he will be vindicated someday like Harry Truman, unpopular when he left office and now admired for his handling of the Cold War.

"Truman is the patron saint of failed politicians," said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University in Houston. He suggested a likelier comparison to a very different president -- Hoover, who presided at the start of the Great Depression.