From the day President Bush took office, the long knives were out for him -- in ways they will not (and should not) be out for President-elect Barack Obama. The chattering class saw Dubya as a walking style crime in a cowboy suit. They hit Bush for everything -- for the way he mangled syntax, for the books he read and because he worked out too much.
Note that now that the buff Obama is taking office, stories gushing about Obama's daily workouts flood the channels. Oh, yes, and the same people who belittled Bush for sending troops to war even though he only served in the National Guard somehow do not seem to notice Obama's utter lack of military experience.
To trash Bush was to belong. There was little upside in supporting Bush, even if you had supported his agenda.
Most of the Democratic candidates for president in 2004 and 2008 voted for the Patriot Act -- and then campaigned against it. They voted for the resolution authorizing U.S. military force in Iraq -- then bolted from the war itself. Likewise with No Child Left Behind. Somehow Bush was the guy who looked bad as he withstood the heat while his caving critics preened.
When the Dems were pushing for a humiliating retreat from Iraq and opinion polls supported troop withdrawal, Bush instead pushed for a troop surge that has made all the difference. Vice President-elect Joe Biden -- who voted for the war before he was against it -- visited Iraq last week. While there, he promised the Iraqis that America would not withdraw troops in a way that undermines Iraqi security. Yet that was exactly what his party advocated a year ago.
Does Bush get any credit? No, just as he has received little credit for efforts that have prolonged millions of lives, thanks to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Forget considerable goodwill in India and Africa. His good deeds, you see, don't fit with the prescribed story line that, with Bush in charge, the rest of the world hates us.
Yes, the man also stumbled, and others paid for his mistakes more dearly than he has.
Under Bush's watch, Osama bin Laden evaded capture.
Worse, Bush's slowness in changing strategies in Iraq suggested a presidency in a fetal position when Bush should have been managing the store and demanding results.
Weapons of mass destruction? The CIA believed Saddam Hussein had them.
So did Hussein's lieutenants. I did, too. The conventional wisdom was wrong, but Bush can take comfort in the knowledge that without his efforts, Hussein almost certainly would have outlasted U.N. sanctions, armed himself to the hilt and wreaked unknown havoc in and beyond Iraq.
There is no comfort -- there is no upside -- to be had in the $810 billion Bush bailout. The Bush administration should have been on alert to contain the damage from the housing-price drop and mortgage foreclosures; instead, it allowed the credit crunch to reach a tipping point and roll over the U.S. economy. It was so avoidable. It was like the Katrina trailers all over again -- except this preventable and unnatural disaster left toxic trailers strewn across America.
There's an out-to-lunch sloppiness to the whole mess. It feels as if the barrage of criticism made the Bush engine seize up and stop running the business of the nation.
America's first MBA president turned out to be a poor administrator, more interested in ideas than making the machinery work. He was good at fighting -- and winning -- ideological battles in Congress, but he never demonstrated a commitment to making his own administration deliver as promised. In putting loyalty at a premium, he overlooked incompetence.
How will history judge Bush?
Osama bin Laden once told Time magazine that the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia after the murder of 18 U.S. troops on a humanitarian mission made him realize "more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat." Members of al-Qaida have told intelligence officials they never thought Washington would respond to the 9/11 attacks as ferociously as Bush responded. They expected a few bombs to be dropped, no boots on the ground, a swift withdrawal if casualties mounted -- the usual short-attention span foreign policy that warped Lebanon, the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, the African embassy bombings and the attack on the destroyer Cole.
Bush showed America's enemies a country that does not retreat in fear, does not bomb with impunity, and most important, does not desert civilians or foreign governments that trust us. If you think that doesn't matter, look at Libya, which disarmed its weapons program. And see how much easier Obama's presidency will be because Bush kept the faith.
Osama bin Laden may live, most likely quivering in a cave. And no one thinks America is a paper tiger anymore.
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