Jonah Goldberg

When it comes to nation building, President Bush is a hypocrite, at least according to most liberals, mainstream journalists and all professional Democrats. The argument goes something like this: Bush opposed "national building" during the presidential campaign. He now supports nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ergo: The "W" in George W. Bush stands for Whypocrite (the "W" is silent, of course).

Now, by my lights, Bush needn't be a hypocrite. First of all, the nation building he opposed during the campaign was the sort of stuff Charles Krauthammer has called foreign policy as social work - propping up countries such as Somalia, Rwanda and other places where America has absolutely no strategic interest whatsoever. Nation-building efforts in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan, are hardly irrelevant to our national security interests. Rather, they're central to it.

Also, couldn't Bush simply have changed his mind? After all, he did say many, many times that September 11 changed everything - including the assumptions that guided our foreign policy for decades.

America was arguably opposed to nation building until the lessons of WWII's aftermath and the beginning of the Cold War made rebuilding Japan and Germany seem like a good idea. Now, in the aftermath of 9-11 and the Iraq War, building a stable and democratic Iraq seems like a good idea.

Considering how so many people call Bush a rigid ideologue, you could say he deserves some credit for having the flexibility and common sense to abandon preconceived notions to fit new circumstances.

Whatever, let's just say, for the sake of argument, that President Bush is a hypocrite. Well, so are his critics.

In politics, charges of hypocrisy usually cut both ways. For example, during the Florida folderol, liberals screeched bloody murder about the alleged hypocrisy of a conservative Supreme Court committing "judicial activism" to the cheers of Republicans.

Never mind the merits of the case (I think the decision was sound), the charge of hypocrisy was in itself hypocritical. After all, liberals have promoted and celebrated judicial activism for decades. Suddenly, when the court did something the liberals didn't like, they whined about judicial activism.

What's going on now with the debate over "nation building" is even more rank. For more than a year, Democrats scorned the White House for trying "nation building on the cheap" in Afghanistan.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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