The cameras were in the Oval Office for a gathering of eagles, as some of the more poetic put it. President Bush was playing host at a lunch gathering in which the guests were his successor, and three of his predecessors, one of those being his own father.
It was interesting indeed to watch the reportage of the event on television. If a viewer had not known the order in which these men stand in the presidential pantheon, he or she would be forgiven for thinking that Barack Obama was the host.
It was he who was being asked questions, and it was he who was doing the talking in the clip that made it to the news.
Had the man to Obama’s immediate left been a two-bit despot, the scene would not have been tolerated, or played out in the manner it was.
But that man was an American president, George W. Bush. Though he was the incumbent, the 43rd president was allowing the 44th to take center stage. The other three men, presidents Clinton, Bush and Carter, played their supporting roles with equal grace.
It was indeed a gathering of eagles, but with talons retracted.
That lunch has now passed into the history books and as we enter the final week of the 43rd president’s time in office we would do well to reflect on his record and legacy with regard to Ireland in general, and Northern Ireland in particular.
There is no doubt that George W. Bush stirred the world pot, created much angst in his own country and others, not least Ireland. There’s no arguing with polling numbers that confine his popularity rating to that nether region below 30 percent.
But when it comes to Ireland, President Bush, though seemingly a bit reluctant at times to personally embrace Irish issues, leaves behind a pretty decent legacy.
Many feared at this juncture eight years ago that the historical breakthrough and astounding progress of the Clinton years might be squandered and neglected in a Bush presidency.
But it didn’t turn out that way. Bush visited Ireland twice in his first term. Though he did address the peace process both times, the context of the visits were not the North per se.
During his second term he did visit Belfast with the peace process primarily on his mind and more than once he threw open the doors of the White House to visitors from Ireland, both in the context of relations with the South, and the effort to underpin the peace north of the border.
That latter effort was significantly helped by the three American envoys over the past eight years, Richard Haass, Mitchell Reiss and Paula Dobriansky.
So, as President Bush prepares to leave office can it be stated in the affirmative that Northern Ireland is in a better political state than it was eight years ago? The answer is yes.
And for that we say thanks to a president who ensured the continuation of America’s watchful role during his watch.