In a televised farewell speech from the White House, outgoing President George W. Bush said he always tried to act in the United States' best interests during his eight years in office.
Bush used his last speech behind the presidential podium to tell Americans that throughout his eight controversial years in office, he had followed his conscience and done what he thought was right.
There had been good days and bad days, he said, but every day he was "inspired by the greatness" of the United States and its people.
Those people are not giving Bush high marks as he steps down. The 43rd president is leaving office with the lowest approval rating, 34 percent, since President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974.
Following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bush's approval rating was 90 percent. Much has happened in the nearly eight years since that event to define Bush's time in the White House.
In his 13-minute, nationally televised address on January 15, Bush acknowledged his two-term presidency did not always go as smoothly as he would have liked, but he asked the American people to give him credit for making "tough decisions."
"Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks. There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I've always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right," Bush said.
"You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I have made," he added. "But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions."War On Terror
Bush's presidency started, and finishes, at times of deep crisis in the United States. Bush had been in office less than a year when terrorists launched coordinated attacks on New York and Washington -- the worst attack on U.S. soil since World War II. Nearly eight years later, he is leaving office with the country in its worst economic crisis since the 1930s.
This speech was his chance to offer his version of his performance as president. He focused on his foreign-policy decisions to wage two wars and said the United States "had taken the fight to the terrorists."
"Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored Al-Qaeda and stoned women in the streets, to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school," Bush said.
"Iraq has gone from a brutal dictatorship and a sworn enemy of America, to an Arab democracy at the heart of the Middle East and a friend of the United States."
One of the most controversial aspects of Bush's presidency has been his policy on the treatment of prisoners captured by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Renditions to "black sites," or secret prisons, in third countries, long detentions without charge, and interrogation methods viewed by many as torture became the hallmarks of Bush's "war on terror."
His many critics hold him responsible for losing the United States' moral standing in the world and squandering the goodwill people felt toward the country after 9/11.
In his speech, Bush acknowledged his detractors but insisted that his policies had worked. "There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions," he said. "But there can be little debate about the results: America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil."
While that's true, it is also true that during Bush's tenure terrorist acts around the world have increased, Iran has strengthened its position in the Middle East, North Korea has continued to hide its nuclear activities, anti-American sentiment has bolstered recruitment by extremist groups, and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has become a porous crossing for terrorists seeking safe harbor.
As is traditional in farewell speeches, Bush offered some advice to his successor. He said although the United States is "safer than it was seven years ago," the most serious threat remains another terrorist attack. Bush warned that the United States' enemies are patient and determined to strike again, and cautioned the next president against "letting down the country's guard."
Gloomy Economic Forecast
In reality, polls show that most Americans are far less concerned about another terrorist attack than they are about losing their job, pension, or house.
The United States is currently in the grips of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, and President-elect Barack Obama has warned that even with an aggressive stimulus plan, things are likely to get worse before they get better.
When President Bill Clinton gave his farewell speech to the country in 2000, he said he was leaving the country "on track to be debt-free" by the end of 2009.
As Bush leaves office, the national debt stands at $10 trillion.
Some might say that staggering figure casts doubt on Bush's claims that he "safeguarded" the U.S. economy. But Bush defended his actions to bolster the country's financial standing.
"When challenges to our prosperity emerged, we rose to meet them. Facing the prospect of a financial collapse, we took decisive measures to safeguard our economy," Bush said. "These are very tough times for hardworking families, but the toll would be far worse if we had not acted."
Bush ended his brief farewell by saying he had a "thankful heart," and that his time as president was "the privilege of a lifetime."
Then he left the podium and walked away for the last time.
Key moments from George W. Bush's two terms as U.S. president Photogallery