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The Bush Legacy
Following is opinion from both sides...pieces I have collected the past few months.
Sarah Baxter / The Times of London
“ ‘I’d like to be…known as somebody who liberated 50m people and helped achieve peace,’ Bush said in a recent interview….
“Conservatives are already engaging in a fierce battle over Bush’s legacy. John O’Sullivan, a former adviser to Baroness Thatcher who is based at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., writes in the new issue of National Review, a conservative publication, that Bush turned out to be ‘neither a conservative nor a right-wing radical.’
“The best description of Bush, O’Sullivan added, was formulated 100 years ago by the humorist Stephen Leacock: ‘He flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.’
“The article prompted an angry response by Michael Gerson, Bush’s former White House speechwriter, in The Washington Post in defense of the ‘compassionate conservatism’ of his boss.
“Bruce Bartlett, a former Republican treasury official who was ostracized for writing a critique of Bush in his book impostor in 2006, said: ‘Bush is going to go down as one of the worst presidents in history. A lot of conservatives kept their mouths shut at the time because they didn’t want to be crucified like me.
“ ‘I thought Bush would have to go a long way to beat Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover but, at the last minute, he pushed the ball across the line and brought on the new Great Depression.’”
Ivor Roberts / Irish Independent
“(The) challenges to the world order left behind by the Bush years are truly formidable. Paradoxically the war on terror has been highly successful in one area, the area which matters most to Americans. There has been no attack on the United States homeland since September 11, 2001. Not many of us would have bet on that outcome. But according to the Bush administration’s own doctrine, in its national security strategy of September 2002, it claimed to be fighting a war against terrorists ‘of global reach.’ In the name of this war two countries have been invaded and occupied. This declaration of war has given the terrorists the oxygen of publicity they crave and elevated criminals into soldiers for a cause. And, as those of us who lived on these islands know only too well, terrorism didn’t start on 9/11. And as it is a tactic, not an end in itself, is unlikely if ever to go away. Hence, how do you gauge that you have won the war on terror?
“On another level, when I said that George Bush was al-Qaeda’s best recruiting sergeant a few years ago, I was expressing a fairly banal thought. As the inquiries into 9/11 comprehensively demonstrated, Saddam Hussein and Iraq were not involved in the terror attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Nor was al-Qaeda present in Iraq until after the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Now the jihadi genie is well and truly out of the bottle. The countless deaths of Iraqis and U.S. and other allied soldiers at al-Qaeda’s hands since the invasion are just one of the tragically unintended consequences of the Iraq war….
“Elsewhere along the so-called arc of instability, there is precious little satisfaction to be gained at the Bush administration’s performance. Afghanistan, that other major war theater, is proving evermore intractable as the Taliban and al-Qaeda reorganize and rearm from their safe havens in the tribal lands in Pakistan, where the new Prime Minister has been no more successful than General Musharraf in keeping control….
“One of the main beneficiaries of the war in Iraq has been Iran, which now emerges as the regional superpower thanks to the installation in Baghdad of a pro-Iranian Shia-dominated government and all this at the hands of the ‘great Satan’ as the Iranians call the United States. It must seem too good to be true to the mullahs. A government as divided and incompetent as the current one in Iran, which has alienated so much of the population, could be expected by now to have been significantly weakened. Yet the militaristic rhetoric coming out of Washington has united the country in a predictable way under the banner of Iranian nationalism and its right to develop nuclear power.
“Nobody I know thinks that the Iranian government will stop at peaceful uses of nuclear power; on the other hand, can they be entirely blamed for wanting to develop nuclear weapons when so many of their neighbors or near-neighbors have done so? Iraq was certainly on this track in the Nineties. Israel, India and Pakistan are all nuclear states. Syria has ambitions in that direction. Why should Iran be the one out of step? That is of course the view in Tehran. For the rest of us, non-proliferation and the dramatic reduction of all nuclear arsenals remains the preferred option….
“To be fair to President Bush, there has been some modest success with the curtailment of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It looks as though North Korea has disabled part of its facilities, and only six weeks ago the United States removed North Korea from its list of state-sponsors of terrorism. So the Axis of Evil boils down to just Iran.”
Mark Helprin / Wall Street Journal
“The administrations of George W. Bush have…catastrophically (thrown) the country off balance, both politically and financially, while breaking the nation’s sword in an inconclusive seven-year struggle against a ragtag enemy in two small bankrupt states. Their one great accomplishment – no subsequent attacks on American soil thus far – has been offset by the stunningly incompetent prosecution of the war. It could be no other way, with war aims that inexplicably danced up and down the scale, from ‘ending tyranny in the world,’ to reforging in a matter of months (with 130,000 troops) the political culture of the Arabs, to establishing a democracy in Iraq, to only reducing violence, to merely holding on in our cantonments until we withdraw.
“This confusion has come at the price of transforming the military into a light and hollow semi-gendarmerie focused on irregular warfare and ill-equipped to deter the development and resurgence of the conventional and strategic forces of China and Russia, while begging challenges from rivals or enemies no longer constrained by our former reserves of strength. For seven years we failed to devise effective policy or make intelligent arguments for policies that were worth pursuing. Thus we capriciously forfeited the domestic and international political equilibrium without which alliances break apart and wars are seldom won….
“The counterpart to Republican incompetence has been a Democratic opposition warped by sentiment. The deaths of thousands of Americans in attacks upon our embassies, warships, military barracks, civil aviation, capital, and largest city were not a criminal matter but an act of war made possible by governments and legions of enablers in the Arab world. Nothing short of war – although not the war we have waged – could have been sufficient in response. The opposition is embarrassed by patriotism and American self-interest, but above all it is blind to the gravity of the matter.…
“The country is exhausted, divided, and improperly protected, and will remain so if the new president and administration are merely another face of the same sterile duality. To avoid the costs of a stalled financial system, the two parties – after an entire day of reflection – committed to the expenditure of what with its trailing ends will probably be $1.5 trillion in this fiscal year alone.
“But the costs of not reacting to China’s military expansions, which could lead to its hegemony in the Pacific; or of ignoring a Russian resurgence, which could result in a new Cold War and Russian domination of Europe; or of suffering a nuclear detonation in New York, Washington, or any other major American city, would be so great as to be, apparently, unimaginable to us now. Which is why, perhaps, we have not even begun to think about marshaling the resources, concentration, deliberation, risk, sacrifice, and compromise necessary to avert them. This is the great decision to which the West is completely blind, and for neglect of which it will in the future grieve exceedingly.”
[On Iraq specifically]
“Terrorists will still be able to explode the occasional bomb 10 years from now, but daily life for most Iraqis has returned to commonplace concerns. The economy’s booming and democracy, messy but vibrant, appears to have put down roots.
“Al Qaeda lost hugely, Muqtada al-Sadr’s star is waning. The Baathists are finished and Iraqis are taking ever more responsibility for their own security. The recent status-of-forces agreement between Washington and Baghdad – which the media sought to portray as a U.S. defeat – shows a country on the mend and gaining confidence.
“Our troops are coming home by the tens of thousands. A rump contingent will remain in Iraq for years to come – but facing isolated terrorist incidences, not a complex of insurgencies. And, contrary to another myth, most Iraqis aren’t anxious for us to leave – they just want to own their streets.
“For all of our errors in Iraq, we’ve done a selfless, honorable thing.
“Bush deserved better than the indignity of having shoes flipped at him – serious insult in the Arab world. But the incident’s real message was: Mission accomplished!
“In barely a month, it will be up to President Obama to safeguard a flawed but tenacious president’s hard-won legacy. Let us hope he’ll have the sense to do so.”
Peter Bergen / Wall Street Journal
“(The) probability of a Qaeda attack on the United States is vanishingly small, for the same reasons that for the past seven years the terrorist group has not been able to carry out one.
“President Bush and his supporters have often ascribed the absence of a Qaeda attack on the United States to the Iraq war, which supposedly acted as ‘flypaper’ for jihadist terrorists, so instead of fighting them in Boston, America has fought them in Baghdad. Other commentators have said that Al Qaeda is simply biding its time to equal or top 9/11.
“The real reasons are more prosaic. First, the American Muslim community has rejected the Qaeda ideological virus. American Muslims have instead overwhelmingly signed up for the American Dream, enjoying higher incomes and educational levels than the average.
“Second, though it is hard to prove negatives, there appear to be no Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States. If they do exist, they are so asleep they are comatose….
“Third, when jihadist terrorists have attacked the United States, they have arrived from outside the country, something that is much harder to do now. The 19 hijackers of 9/11 all came from elsewhere…..
“Of the so-called terrorism cases since 9/11, many have revolved around charges of ‘material support’ for a terrorist group, a vague concept that can encompass almost any dealings with organizations that have at one point engaged in terrorism. And in the cases where a terrorist plot has been alleged, the plans have been more aspirational than realistic.
“If Al Qaeda can’t get people into the country, doesn’t have sleeper cells here and is unable to garner support from the American Muslim community, then how does it pull off an attack in the United States? While a small-bore attack may be organized by a Qaeda wannabe at some point, a catastrophic mass-casualty assault anything along the lines of 9/11 is no longer plausible.
“This is not to say Al Qaeda is no longer a threat to our interests. It has of course regenerated itself on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan since 9/11, and as the 2005 attacks on the London subways and the foiled 2006 plot to bring down airliners leaving Heathrow Airport showed, it remains a grave danger to Britain.
“In addition, Al Qaeda’s inability to attack the American homeland for the foreseeable future does not then mean that it can’t kill large numbers of Americans living overseas. If the 2006 ‘planes plot’ had succeeded, British prosecutors say, as many as 1,500 passengers would have died, many of them Americans.
“The incoming Obama administration has much to deal with, between managing two wars and the implosion of the financial system and car industry. But the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the United States in its early stages by Al Qaeda is close to zero.”
“Bush did get passed some arguably constructive bipartisan legislation – the education-accountability law, the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. But, like his predecessor, Bush has personal characteristics that Americans on the other side of the cultural divide absolutely loathe.
“He liberated Iraq from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and, after an agonizingly long period of muddle, seems to have achieved success – the establishment of a stable and at least somewhat democratic and friendly government in the heart of the Middle East.
“He set in motion an astonishingly generous program to combat AIDS and an effective foreign-aid program in Africa. Building on the work of the Clinton administration, he has established close ties that amount to something like an alliance with a rapidly growing India. Our relations with most European nations, with Pacific allies like Japan and Australia, and with the Latin American giants Brazil and Mexico are good, for all the carping of their chattering classes.
“Yes, problems remain. Our symbiotic economic connection with China may seem tenuous, and the prophecies that economic growth would produce a more benign regime have yet to be fulfilled. Bush plainly misjudged Vladimir Putin, whose Russia seems more menacing and expansionist than almost anyone expected. We have failed to stop North Korea from getting nuclear weapons, and we seem to be failing to stop Iran’s nuclear program, as well.
“But this is far from the most threatening world America has ever faced. Compare 1940-41, when Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin were allies and in control of most of the landmass of Eurasia.
“ ‘All political careers end in failure,’ said the British parliamentarian and classical scholar Enoch Powell. It is not a thought congenial to Americans.
“But of course, when we think harder about our great leaders, we see that they left big problems unsolved. George W. Bush’s critics, like Harry Truman’s as he prepared to leave office in 1952, seem to want him to admit he has failed. But Bush, like Truman, appears to understand what I think our history actually teaches: that, contra Enoch Powell, our triumphs are never as complete as they seem, and our setbacks never as dreadful.”
Charles Krauthammer / Washington Post
“What the president did note with some pride…is that beyond preventing a second attack, he is bequeathing to his successor the kinds of powers and institutions the next president will need to prevent further attack and successfully prosecute the long war. And indeed, he does leave behind a Department of Homeland Security, reorganized intelligence services with newly developed capacities to share information and a revised FISA regime that grants broader and modernized wiretapping authority.
“In this respect, Bush is much like Truman, who developed the sinews of war for a new era (the Department of Defense, the CIA, the NSA), expanded the powers of the presidency, established a new doctrine for active intervention abroad, and ultimately engaged in a war (Korea) – also absent an attack on the United States – that proved highly unpopular.
“So unpopular that Truman left office disparaged and highly out of favor. History has revised that verdict. I have little doubt that Bush will be the subject of a similar reconsideration.”
Peggy Noonan / Wall Street Journal
[In talking about a recent Washington, D.C., Christmas party]
“There was no grousing about John McCain, and considerable grousing about the Bush administration, but it was almost always followed by one sentence, and this is more or less what it was: ‘But he kept us safe.’ In the seven years since 9/11, there were no further attacks on American soil. This is an argument that’s been around for a while but is newly re-emerging as the final argument for Mr. Bush: The one big thing he had to do after 9/11, a single thing he absolutely had to do, was keep it from happening again. And so far he has. It is unknown, and perhaps can’t be known, whether this was fully due to the government’s efforts, or the luck of the draw, or a combination of luck and effort. And it not only can’t be fully known by the players at all levels of government. They can’t know, for instance, of a potential terrorist cell that didn’t come together because of their efforts.
“But the meme will likely linger. There’s a rough justice with the American people. If a president presides over prosperity, whether he had anything to do with it or not, he gets the credit. If he has a recession, he gets the blame. The same with war, and terrorist attacks. We have not been attacked since 9/11. Someone – someones – did something right.”