In my recent interview with former Secretary of State George Shultz, Shultz pointed to President Bush's pre-emptive doctrine as his most important national-security achievement. It was based on a very important idea, Shultz said, namely that in the shadowy threat of global terrorism, we have to be able to uncover plots before they occur and then take pre-emptive steps to prevent them from happening.
Shultz credited Bush with successfully doing just that, while terrorists have carried out attacks in Great Britain, Spain and elsewhere (including the recent attacks in Mumbai). "We are a harder target," Shultz said, as a result of the elaborate national-security surveillance intercepts that are at the heart of Bush's pre-emptive defense doctrine.
On the economic front, Bush has been dealt a bad hand. He came into office in 2001 with the economy in the midst of a restructuring slowdown when the technology bubble burst, followed by 9/11 that plunged us into a deeper hole.
Bush came into office on a pledge to cut taxes across the board and, perhaps, no tax cuts were better timed to counter the shock waves that hit the country then. We weathered that storm, and the economy grew again in the midst of a housing boom and a historic global expansion that raised U.S. exports to record levels.
But all expansions run into corrections, and the housing and credit bubbles burst, ending Bush's presidency in a recession that has plunged his approval ratings to record lows. All recessions end, and the Bush administration has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at this one, including the stimulus tax rebate this summer, followed by unprecedented bailout interventions in the financial markets by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury. When the economy turns around, it will be on Barack Obama's watch and, understandably, he will get the credit for it -- though Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke at the Fed will have done a lot of heavy lifting under Bush's direction.
When Bush leaves office next month, it will be said that he governed us through some of the most difficult and turbulent periods in our history -- from the war on terrorism to a financial meltdown that was none of his making.
But in the end, it will also be said that "he kept us safe" in the Age of Terror. Now it's Barack Obama's turn.