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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Operation Enduring Slobodan

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The George W. Bush presidency will be a lasting disaster for the United States. It will take decades to correct the legacy of his eight years in office. On the economic front, while the economy has been expanding, growth has come at a steep price. Bush will leave behind a $500 billion budget deficit and $425 billion in annual interest payments, according to a forecast by The Economist. The trade deficit has nearly doubled on his watch and is expected to surpass $800 billion this year, weakening the U.S. dollar.

Oil prices have been bid up by demand from China, but the absence of energy conservation policy in the United States, the world's largest oil user, has contributed to the price spike. Not to mention the setbacks for environmental protection over the past eight years, even though delays in responding to global warming could prove fatal for humanity.

The man who styled himself "a uniter" while running in 2000 is presiding over a nation more than ever divided along ideological lines.

And then there is the Bush foreign policy. Repairing the rift with European allies may be relatively easy, but not rebuilding the trust of the world's 2 billion Muslims. The war in Iraq will drag on, stirring worldwide resentment, draining America's resources and tying up its armed forces. Iran and North Korea, the real rogue nations bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, are showing much less fear of U.S. military might.

It is a daunting list to live down. But perhaps Bush's worst offense has been to squander America's moral authority. For 55 years after the end of World War II, the United States was the leader of the Free World not only because it was rich and powerful, but because it stood for human rights, liberty and respect for international law. Those were the values that ultimately defeated communism and won the Cold War.

By using torture and extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo and secret prisons abroad, the Bush administration not only sanctioned other countries to do likewise, but forfeited America's right to sit in judgment over other nations' policies and human rights' records. In the 1970s, whenever Washington criticized Soviet repression, the response from the Kremlin was: "In America, you lynch blacks." That was no longer true, and everybody knew that. Now, however, publications like the annual "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices," issued by the State Department in March, are no longer taken seriously and can be dismissed around the world as so much self-righteous American hypocrisy. Any tyrant now has a ready excuse, by rattling off a list of abuses perpetrated by Washington.

The problems created by the moral bankruptcy of the Bush administration were sadly on display in Russia following the death of Slobodan Milosevic. When the State Duma unanimously condemned the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, it should have come under sharp criticism from the international community. Such behavior is incompatible with Russia's status as a member of the Group of Eight. However, the bunch of nationalists and former Soviet apparatchiks in the Duma are showing the same disdain for the concept of international justice as the Bush administration, which has done its best to hollow out the International Criminal Court.

Meanwhile, America's preventive, unilateral invasion of Iraq has discredited future and past efforts by the international community to intervene in the internal affairs of member states in order to put an end to obvious atrocities. Take NATO's intervention into the Yugoslav civil war, which stopped senseless slaughter in the heart of Europe, saved many innocent lives and put genocide on trial in The Hague.

Slobodan means "free" in Serbian -- the word Bush is so fond of using. With Bush recently affirming America's right to a unilateral preemptive strike, it is now clear that both men understood the concept of freedom similarly -- as a freedom from constraints by international opinion, morality and basic human decency.

Alexei Bayer, a former Muscovite, is a New York-based economist.