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.