This week, Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States. So now the governing begins -- along with the resurrection of George W. Bush's reputation.
Candidate Obama promised to pull all the troops from Iraq within the first year to 16 months of his administration. President Obama intends to retain Bush's secretary of Defense, Robert Gates -- a man who supported Bush's courageous decision to "surge" and send 30,000 troops, an action that then-Sen. Obama opposed while predicting its failure. When, post-surge, violence in Iraq dramatically declined, candidate Obama refused -- for a long time -- to credit the surge, later pointing to the lack of Iraqi "political reconciliation." But the supposedly nonexistent political reconciliation produced a U.S.-Iraqi agreement -- supported by Gates -- for troops to remain until 2011.
Candidate Obama claimed George W. Bush "shredded" the Constitution. But as president-elect, Obama nominated former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder to serve as attorney general. Holder, in a 2002 CNN interview, agreed with the Bush administration's position that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to terrorist detainees! "One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners," said Holder, "is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located. It seems to me that given the way in which they have conducted themselves, however, that they are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war."
Holder also supported the Patriot Act, first passed in the Senate 98-1. The Senate renewed it in 2006 with support from then-Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Both versions included the much-condemned "library provisions," which allow federal agents -- after authorization from a "secret" court -- to obtain suspects' records from businesses, libraries and bookstores during terrorism probes.
Two months ago, the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled unanimously in support of legal warrantless searches of Americans overseas. "The Fourth Amendment's requirement of reasonableness -- but not the Warrant Clause -- applies to extraterritorial searches and seizures of U.S. citizens," wrote the judges. The panel of judges justified "sustained and intense monitoring" as reasonable, given the "self-evident need to investigate threats to national security."
Candidate Obama promised to shut down Guantanamo Bay immediately, and the new President recently reiterated his intention. But the closure may take some time -- possibly a year -- as the administration faces the reality of what to do with the estimated 245 detainees, many of whom represent serious threats. Countries claiming "abuses" at Gitmo refuse to take any of the detainees, including those from their own countries.
Between 30 and 60 of Gitmo's detainees, according to the Bush administration, returned to the battlefield upon their release. When Obama closes Gitmo, what about the "rights" of detainees held in prisons in Afghanistan? As the new administration works through these issues, Bush's choices won't seem so arbitrary, for they were good-faith decisions made in gray areas -- with the goal of keeping the country safe.
Candidate Obama criticized the Bush administration for "neglecting" the "peace process" between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The world now condemns Israel for its "disproportionate" military action in Gaza. But back during the 2006 parliamentary election in Gaza, one of Hamas' candidates was a woman named Miriam Farahat. Palestinians call her Umm Nidal, Mother of the Struggle, for she lost three sons in campaigns to murder Israelis. A Hamas recruitment video features Farahat showing her 17-year-old son how to kill Israelis and telling him not to come back. He murdered five Jewish students. Another son was killed when the Israeli air force blew up his vehicle, which was carrying Qassam rockets. Farahat celebrated his death: "I am so proud. I wish I had more sons to offer." The Palestinians elected her. President Obama will soon arrive at the same position as did Bush -- that would-be "peace partner" Hamas seeks, above all, Israel's "obliteration."
Obama promised -- before larding it up with conditions -- to sit down without preconditions with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Last year, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran's military and most of its banks for continued nuclear activity. Ahmadinejad calls for Israel's destruction. Iran arms and assists both the Shiite Hezbollah and the Sunni Hamas. Obama will come to regret that "cowboy" Bush did not do more to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuke, even though Vice President Joe Biden once threatened the impeachment of President Bush had he taken military action.
Many historians long ago called the Bush administration a failure. President Obama's actions suggest that he now holds a different view, if only privately.