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Citing History, Bush Suggests His Policies Will One Day Be Vindicated

The argument was muddied by subsequent events, however, including news that Israel has been talking indirectly since 2007 with Syria, which the United States has designated as a state sponsor of terrorism. The comparison was also undermined by the Bush administration's negotiations with states such as North Korea.

Some historians are particularly critical of Bush's frequent references to Truman, who had an even lower approval rating than Bush amid opposition to the Korean War. They say Truman's place in history is elevated by his roles in leading the victory in World War II, creating institutions such as the United Nations and implementing the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild Europe.

"The only connection between Harry Truman and George Bush is that they left office with low opinion numbers," said historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University. "That's a very thin reed."

There are dissenters who argue that liberal scholars have let their politics influence their views and that it is too early to render a verdict on Bush. "We're still arguing about Grant, for goodness' sake," said Vincent J. Cannato, a history professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "If all historians are thinking one thing, you have to think something's wrong."

Most agree, however, that Iraq will be central to any future assessments. In his critical book about his time as Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan recounts a conversation in 2003 when "the story line was first emerging among the media that the outcome in Iraq would determine his legacy more than anything else."

"I asked Bush about this," McClellan writes. "He quickly and confidently replied, No. The war on terror will determine my legacy and how Iraq fits into that will determine my legacy.' "

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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