To be sure, some are widely viewed as successes. The reconstructions of Europe and Japan are most prominent. Israelis appreciate American support.
Currently, however, it is more timely to think about the negatives coming from Washington.
The Vietnam War is currently in first place on the list of disasters, but there also will be votes for George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, Barack Obama's Cairo speech demanding equality and democracy throughout the Middle East, and the Kerry campaign to force accommodations by Israelis and Palestinians.
We should expect each of the accused presidents and other worthies to have advocates among the scholars. Those enamored of John Kennedy have been claiming for decades that he was bound to withdraw from Vietnam, and that the damage came from Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Others cite the Cold War context to justify Kennedy's beginning the heavy American involvement, but there is wide agreement that damage done to Americans and Vietnamese was far greater than any accomplishments. That conclusion gains weight from the hindsight that begins with current relations between the US and Vietnam.
Among the arguments about Obama's speech will be those already heard about the development of democracy taking time, and that the deaths of Arab Spring (with Syria so far in the lead with over 130,000, and Libya somewhere in second place) are simply the costs of progress. Some say that a presidential speech in the major Arab capital could not possibly be held responsible for what happened subsequently.
Iraq is warming up to what may be an even more destructive civil war than Syria's. The accounting in difficult, insofar as it has happened in stages, and may now only be reaching the point of organized elements battling the army of what claims to be the government. Somewhere in the account will be between 150,000 and more than a million deaths since George W. Bush's invasion of 2003 and the destruction of the existing government. Saddam's regime was cruel and threatening to others, but produced nothing like the death toll resulting from subsequent violence among Iraqis and other Muslims coming to help the various clusters of fighters.
Analysts see connections between the most recent violence in Iraq and the spread of civil war from Syria into Lebanon.
Some connect the upsurge of aggressive Islam to American sponsorship of Jihadists against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. By such an account, that led eventually to 9-11, and later to events in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia, Mali and Nigeria.
Any simplistic conceptions are confused by different factions claiming affiliation with al-Qaida fighting one another in Iraq and Syria.
So much for the development of democracy throughout the Middle East. Either it is very slow, the cost very high, or it is not possible where Islam dominates, and perhaps especially in a period when aggressive elements in Islam are ascendant and competing with one another.
It's easier to lay blame than to substantiate all the connections that could be asserted.
Historians may be brilliant in connecting dots, but the linkages they put on their pages are only the abstractions from reality that they perceive. The craft is more art rather than science, and can be pulled apart by analysts who start at different points ideologically, who focus on the the problems of weighing each of the many events and underlying conditions that contribute to what happens, and see nuances or major differences between countries. The Middle East, even more than the Middle West, varies from place to place.
Somewhere below the radar on my desk is Central America. The drug appetites of Americans have something to do with it. We can argue whether Americans or American foreign policy has contributed more to the most recent problems below the Rio Grande.
Of the candidates for presidential disasters considered here, the Obama-Kerry (or Kerry-Obama) campaign to produce peace is the furthest from being a clear failure. Yet it has the potential for causing significant harm, both to Israel and Palestine, and perhaps to Jews elsewhere. By forcing high profile confrontation, Obama's Secretary of State is risking frustration, an escalation of violence, and moving backward from what had been significant incremental progress in the economic development of the West Bank and an easing of Israeli security controls.
Also at risk is the status of Israeli companies, institutions, and individuals who have been involved in many countries, but are vulnerable to those who accuse them of compliance with all that is evil.
If Obama and Kerry fail, some are projecting a increase in the campaigns to demonize Israel. Jews will participate in those campaigns, but larger numbers of Diaspora Jews may be among those to suffer. Israel's vulnerability will depend on how it reacts.
All that is worth worrying about, but it is too early to be anywhere close to certain.
There are scholars convinced about Israel's aggression. In their view, its alleged violation of Palestinian rights, and stubborn refusal to withdraw from what it has stolen are responsible for the impasse hereabouts.
To be fair to my American friends, relatives, and my own personal roots, we should recognize that the United States suffers from the malady of all great empires. Its reach goes beyond places that its leaders understand, no matter how many advisers with how much formal education they employ. Each of the regions it wishes to control or influence has its own politics, with individuals no less concerned than Americans to control their own destinies. Egos and insensitivity to human costs are no monopoly of Americans who reach high office. The literature of political science and history suggest that they appear among leaders everywhere.
Currently America is at the top of the heap, and it can claim accomplishments as well as failures. Here the concern is with failures, along with the admission that success or failure is a matter of dispute.
With all that, no one should expect Israelis to accommodate others by going quietly into the dustbin of history.