With his public approval where Harry Truman's stood when he left office, George W. Bush gave his last press conference yesterday.
And like that predecessor he often identifies with, Bush showed a Trumanesque defiance of his critics -- and a Trumanesque failure to understand what ruined his presidency.
He denounced protectionism, as he has with dismissive contempt since he went to New Hampshire a decade ago. But nowhere in his defense of free trade was there any explanation for how Middle America lost 3 million manufacturing jobs in his first term and a million more in the last year.
Nowhere does there seem an awareness that the ideas he absorbed at his father's knee and the Harvard Business School had resulted in the de-industrialization of his country, an enormous and growing dependency on Japan, China and Asia for the essentials of our national life, and, now, for the borrowed money to pay for them.
Someone once defined tragedy as what happens when a beautiful theory collides with a fact. And this is what has happened every time a great empire -- be it the Spanish, British or American -- embraced free trade as its salvation.
President Bush says it was freedom that prevailed when he rejected the pleas of weak-sister Republicans and backed the surge. But what spared us a debacle in Iraq was an infusion of 30,000 combat troops, an uprising against the murderers of al-Qaida and a U.S. decision to buy off the Sunni tribes, a strategy besieged empires have pursued for centuries.
Nor does there appear in Bush's self-assurance any awareness of the cost of his Freedom Agenda. In Iraq, it is 4,000 U.S. dead, 30,000 wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead, millions of refugees, a pogrom against an ancient Christian community, and a strategic victory for Iran and its Shia allies across the Middle East. When last heard from, the Ayatollah Sistani -- the chief Shia cleric in Iraq, who has welcomed Iranian but not American visitors -- was calling for Muslims to stand up against Israeli criminality in Gaza.
Like Woodrow Wilson before him, Bush appears to believe that the nobility of his goals -- expanding freedom and bringing an end to tyranny in our world -- validates and will sanctify his decisions.
Like Wilson, he is a utopian. He fails to understand that idealism has its delusions and disasters.
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