The damage begins with Iraq, where the Bush Administration has fractured that country beyond repair. Unless the next President is John McCain or some other Republican committed to keeping the maximum possible number of troops in Iraq until we "win" the US will have to withdraw forces from Iraq and begin closing down our bases there. This is unlikely to be a clean process; the move may not foment civil war in Iraq, but it will undoubtedly lead to a prolonged period of instability and there will be major problems with Iraq's neighbors, probably a Turkish invasion of the northern Kurdish area.
But it's not only Iraq that's been demolished; it's the entirety of Bush's ill-conceived "war" on terror. It's painfully obvious to everyone, except the residents of the White House, that we made a disastrous mistake when we abandoned the pursuit of Osama Bin Laden and engaged in a war of choice in Iraq. Therefore, the next President will have to send more American troops to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The "war" on terror will continue, in a different form, as will many of the financial expenditures.
In parallel, the new President will have to reconstruct Homeland Security. Dubya put all his defense eggs in one basket: "fight them there so we don't have to fight them here." As a result, his Administration under invested in Homeland Security, failed to heed the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission calling for substantial investment in our first responders and in common-sense actions such as monitoring freight coming into the country.
For all these reasons the 44th President will have to propose defense expenditures comparable to the current level. Unfortunately, these requests will come at a time when the Federal Government is running in the red and being asked to increase our massive deficit to alleviate a recession.
George W. Bush and his Neocon Republican advisers have shattered the American economy. The precipitous economic downturn is a direct consequence of his ideological "trifecta:" de regulation, tax reduction, and profligate spending. For seven years the simpleminded Bush ideology has been to solve all problems by reducing government surveillance of the marketplace, cutting taxes, and throwing obscene amounts of money at the military. This sapped the vitality of the American economy and created a pervasive ethos of greed and self-indulgence.
The next President will have to begin the arduous process of reversing the Bush-era policies: increasing government surveillance and regulation, raising taxes on the rich and powerful, and cutting wasteful Federal expenditures. Most importantly, he or she will have to change the atmosphere in the United States, inspire Americans to believe they must do more for their country than "go shopping."
If the conflict between funding a redirected war on terror while dealing with a recession isn't a difficult enough problem, the situation facing the next President will be made worse by three other circumstances. The first is the necessity for massive reinvestment in America's "infrastructure." Our transportation system desperately needs repair, as does our domestic infrastructure: schools, housing, and health services. Over the past seven years, the Bush Administration shredded the social safety net while supporting policies that diminished the number of meaningful jobs in the US.
The second critical circumstance is the challenge for Americans to dramatically change their use of fossil fuels. One of the factors that have caused the recession is inflation resulting from increased energy costs. The public needs to switch from oil to other methods of powering our vehicles and we all must begin using public transportation -- a switch that will require massive new investment in our transportation infrastructure.
The third disturbing circumstance is global climate change. We must modify our lifestyles because we are running out of fossil fuel and our prodigious use of gasoline-powered vehicles is accelerating global warming.
Think about it. The next President will be asked to hold military spending constant while changing defense priorities and to deal with a recession by cutting taxes while at the same time massively increasing investment in America's infrastructure. On the face of it, this sounds like an impossible challenge. It's no wonder people ask, "Who would want to be President?"
What all these problems have in common is the necessity for the next President to challenge the American people. The absolute imperative is that he or she must tell them the truth about what needs to be done to protect our democracy, and inspire them to make the sacrifices that are required for the common good. To be successful, the 44th President must adopt different policies and strike a radically different tone than did George W. Bush. The next President must be more than a successful politician; they must be a true leader.