Paul  Kengor

I’m not the first to make this analogy. I recall an intriguing May 2003 piece in the London Times by Tim Hames, who searched for a presidential analogy to the current president. Was Bush another Woodrow Wilson? Was he somehow Rooseveltian? No, opined Hames, if Bush bears comparison it is with Harry Truman. Truman, says Hames, was a slightly accidental president mocked by elites. He immediately faced globe-altering developments: the end of World War II, the advent of the bomb, the superpower confrontation. He looked into the eye of a storm that would stir for decades. He had to lay the groundwork for a long war with many pauses and disappointments. “[Truman] had to shape foreign policy on the hoof,” averred Hames, “invent institutions at home and abroad to match new circumstances, set precedents and draw lines in the sand.”

Like Truman, Bush built new bureaucracies to handle new realities, such as an Office/Department of Homeland Security, sought massive defense expenditures, and enunciated grand new national-security doctrines. Truman established containment and his NSC produced the 1950 document NSC-68. Bush initiated preemption and his NSC produced the 2002 National Security Strategy. Hames noted it was Truman, the man from Independence, who claimed a statesman is a politician who has been dead 10 or 15 years.

George W. Bush’s long-term strategy for the Middle East is to plant the seeds of a wider democratic revolution—starting in Iraq and Afghanistan—that eventually produces a “democratic peace,” one utterly crucial to taming the region before WMDs are easily available to theocratic regimes. I believe his long-term plan for the Middle East is our only hope in stopping the region from ultimately wreaking havoc on itself, America, and the world—a literal life-or-death proposition. The big question is whether it will work, and whether the costs to get there are worth the price. No one knows—and the public is largely oblivious to the plan, particularly because of that terrible failure of this administration to communicate.

Bush has acknowledged that if he is vindicated in the Middle East, it will not happen while he is president, nor even in his lifetime—like Truman, who died nearly two decades before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

George W. Bush has reconciled himself to the reality that he will leave the White House an unpopular president. Call me sentimental, but I find something admirable, even moving, about the man’s stoic ability to do what he feels is right and to put country, and even the world, above himself. The most unpopular president in modern history?—so be it. He quietly, humbly does nothing to toot his own horn, with no concern for legacy and no team of handlers trying to make him look good.

Like the man from Independence, Missouri, the man from Midland, Texas will be content with no ticker-tape parade, and (likely) with never living to see the fruits of his labor.