America’s 43rd president, George W. Bush, left office with a domestic approval rating of 22% and is the only living U.S. ex-president with a current rating under 50%. Bush’s international approval ratings weren’t wonderful either – which isn’t surprising to most of you – and made these places in the world a bit more unusual when I visited them.
What stood out even more was that these places weren’t Texas or in the United States at all. The first region is actually in a country where you’d expect George Dubya Bush to hardly be the most popular politician around.
The Kurdish Region Of Northern Iraq
I’ve written before about the unrecognized Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq and the optimism brewing there. Although the second Iraq War is the source of many negative global attitudes towards Bush, this part of the world has greatly benefited from the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The area under the control of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is in many ways its own country, flourishing without the oppression they once lived under.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to travel in northern Iraq, you might be surprised to hear when asked about the former president, people would emphatically say, “we love George Bush!” (With two glowing thumbs up.) Most of the Kurds I spoke with in northern Iraq credit Bush for initiating the control, stability, and improving conditions they find themselves in today. (Questions about Barrack Obama generally elicited a more neutral reaction, although their enthusiasm for America was none diminished.)
Georgia – The Country Not The State
The former Soviet Republic where Stalin was born and his home enshrined in front of the museum dedicated to him doesn’t seem a likely candidate to have a good opinion of the least popular US president alive. Though you may begin to change your mind after arriving at Tbilisi Airport and take a cab into the heart of town – on George W. Bush highway.
Georgia is a country that’s made a remarkable political shift since its peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003. Shortly prior to that, the Bush administration sent an envoy to work out a plan for free elections. Though that plan was ultimately unsuccessful, the move added pressure in the inevitable ousting of Eduard Shevardnadze. The Bush administration strongly supported the Rose Revolution and Bush remains pragmatically popular in Georgia.
They Know They’re Not Sharing A Popular Opinion
Clearly these opinions in Iraq and Georgia aren’t uniform and individuals vary. While the Kurds enthusiastically and the Georgians calculatedly have praise for Bush, it’s within the context of their specific situations. In both places they made it clear to me they know that most people in the world don’t like Bush; and many noted they believed he’s made a mess of many international affairs. But for Georgians and those living in northern Iraq, Bush’s two terms worked out well for them. And they haven’t forgotten.
Have you been anywhere else where George Walker Bush was surprisingly popular – or not? I’d be interested to hear what other places you’ve been and would add to this list.