I have been alive for 27 years and, of the five presidents I have known first-hand, George W. Bush has not been my favorite. Historically, also, I have to say he would rank near the bottom of my list, somewhere between James Buchanan, who wrung his hands while the Civil War erupted, and James K. Polk, who presided over the "Manifest Destiny" mania that added the northern part of Mexico to the US.
But the presidents I do like have been loathed by many for public and personal reasons. Thomas Jefferson, who imagined a nation of intellectual farmers engrossed in direct democracy at the state level, was staunchly opposed by Alexander Hamilton. Woodrow Wilson, who was the first to imagine "peace without victors" was denied his League of Nations by Henry Cabot Lodge. And Bill Clinton, who I felt did a fair job of representing America, warts and all, was embroiled in controversies related to his personal life.
So it must be said that, while Bush is unpopular at home and abroad, he is still the president of the United States. It would have been swell if Warren G Harding or Calvin Coolidge had managed a trip to independent Eesti in the 1920s. But neither of them - both of whom were also greatly criticized - never made it. It's a pity too, because the visit of an American president is a great opportunity for a country to introduce itself to America, much like the visit of a British monarch was a great opportunity for Estonia to be seen and heard in the UK. That kind of exposure could have worked wonders in the past.
Tomorrow, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Bush will hold a press conference. Bush will most likely make statements that are cryptic and short [during his recent visit to Vietnam he said: "We’ll succeed unless we quit"] but Ilves, who is among the better orators in Europe, will also hold the podium. He will be seen - and heard - on the news worldwide. I don't know what he will say, but I do know that it will be unprecedented exposure for an Estonian president.
So the bottom line must be seen as this. Whatever your thoughts on Mr. Bush, any supporter of Estonia can only see this visit as a success for a country that gave Condaleeza Rice anxiety just 16 years ago. In the first Bush White House, such a visit would be seen as a pipe dream. Today, it's no big deal. And even the Finns are jealous. And please, somebody give W. some Vanilla Ninja kohuke!