Six months ago the cynicism directed at George W. Bush was astounding, even by partisan political standards: the Palm Beach butterfly ballot debacle led to derisive snorts about Bush having hijacked the election. Those painful gurgles reached a fevered pitch when the newly elected president announced his desire to augment the ABM treaty with Russia and tailor American foreign policy to new threats posed by terrorist states.
As Bush noted at the time, "The ABM Treaty is a product of the Cold War era. It was a time when the United States and Russia were bitter enemies. ... The new threats are ... from somebody who hates [America]."
For this bit of insight, the president was depicted in liberal media outlets as an arrogant buffoon whose unilateralism on issues such as missile defense threatened to fray relations with European partners.
Six months later and even the president's harshest critics are singing a different tune.
No longer are the liberal media outlets labeling Bush a neophyte or snorting about how Gore would be better suited to foreign relations. Gone too, for that matter, are the jittery affectations and wide-eyed gazes that made Bush an easy target for such sniping.
As no less a bastion of liberal thought than the New York Times recently observed, "Many Democrats who once dismissed Mr. Bush as too naive and too dependent on advisers to steer the United States through an international crisis are now praising his and his advisers' performance. Some are even privately expressing satisfaction that Mr. Gore ... did not win."
Bush's transformation began officially when he decided against immediate retaliation on Afghanistan and opted instead for a longer-term strategy to confront the threat posed by rogue nations. His foreign relations team - Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, et al - sagely made coalition building a prerequisite to the military strikes. On this point, Bush realized that there could be no deliberate plan to destroy terrorist networks without the support of the global community. His decision not to go it alone garnered global respect and set the table for broadening the effort beyond the boundaries of Afghanistan.
"Sometimes you need a certain amount of braggadocio in your leaders," effused Representative James Moran (D, VA) in The New York Times. The populace agrees. According to a recent Zogby poll, 72 percent prefer Bush to Clinton during this crisis.
All of which marks a rather remarkable turnaround. Just a few months ago, Bush was derided as an accidental president whose perceived unilateralism on foreign affairs seemed the perfect embodiment of the ugly American. A few months later and the president has united the trans-Atlantic allies along the common goal of rooting out anti-human terrorist networks. Whether he already possessed the innate ability to govern, or simply rose to the occasion, much of America seems in agreement now: President Bush has proved himself up to the task of leading the most powerful country in the world.