After Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush knew America could no longer tolerate the status quo, that only offense could guarantee security in the wake of this era's peril -- Islamic fascism. Courageously, boldly and at great political risk, Bush -- through Afghanistan and now Iraq -- ignited long-overdue and historic change in the Middle East. Muslims must ask whether they intend to allow extremist elements to act in the name of Islam. They must ask whether Bush -- or Arab tyranny -- causes their poverty, backwardness and lack of freedom.
Bush's critics call him a gunslinger, a moron, a unilateralist, an avenger. It will take time, but expect historians to someday call the Bush presidency transformative.
In the early '70s, a political cartoon in the Cartoon Portfolio from The Wall Street Journal showed a father -- dressed in a suit -- speaking to his son -- dressed in jeans, with long shaggy hair. The caption read, "I may not be able to explain my generation, but what a time you'll have explaining yours!" Someday, Bush's opponents may have to explain their vitriol, their constant denunciation of Bush in language more strident than used for Osama bin Laden.
Take Lancaster, Pa. Bush carried the county during November's election, but presidential contender John Kerry won in the city of Lancaster. In a section known as farmers' market, a baker hung a picture of President Bush. Democratic City Councilman Nelson Polite asked the baker to remove the picture. Why? Lancaster needs, according to the councilman, a "healing period." Councilman Polite said, "I just feel that since it was a close election and the city's so divided, that we should have a healing period." The 54-year-old baker seemed amused by Polite's threatened ordinance, "It's fun. People are coming up to me and supporting me. I've been getting letters and phone calls. Even the Democrats come to me and tell me, 'Don't take that picture down.'"
Hollywood leads the parade in failing to recognize the positive historic power of Bush's vision. Comedian Chevy Chase, hosting an awards ceremony for the liberal People for the American Way, blasted President Bush using F-bombs and other expletives. "President Bush is a dumb f---, and I'm no f---ing clown, but this guy, Bush, started a jihad," said the comedian. " . . . This guy in office is an uneducated, real lying schmuck. And we still couldn't beat him with a bore like Kerry."
Bush assuredly takes comfort that the critics of another visionary -- President Ronald Reagan -- also called him a simple-minded warmonger. While Democratic contender John Kerry gave a phony salute to Reagan during one of the presidential debates, in 1988, Sen. Kerry condemned the "moral darkness of the Reagan-Bush administration." When Reagan gave his "Evil Empire" speech, Columbia University historian Henry Steele Commager wrote (and was widely quoted in many media outlets) that this was "the worst presidential speech in American history, and I've read them all." Anthony Lewis of The New York Times denounced the speech as "primitive." "What is the world to think," wrote Lewis, "when the greatest of powers is led by a man who applies to the most difficult human problem a simplistic theology . . . ?"
Halfway through his first term, a January 1983 New York Times editorial pronounced Reagan's administration a catastrophe: "The stench of failure hangs over Ronald Reagan's White House. The people know it, judging by the opinion polls. Corporate titans know it and whisper disenchantment with a fellow conservative."
Critics derided Reagan's economic policies as "trickle-down." They dismissed his strategic defense initiative by calling it "Star Wars." A 1986 New York Times editorial about Soviet missile strength said, "On a . . . vital matter on which he had had to be briefed to the teeth, then, Mr. Reagan confirmed that he still does not have a firm grip." Later that year, another Times editorial continued the Reagan-as-dummy theme, "Previous U.S. administrations have prompted [Moscow] either to explain or desist from questionable activities through the diplomatic channel for resolving arms disputes. Mr. Reagan's solution is radically different: tear up the rule book. In doing so he removes the grounds for complaint -- and for correction. How does that leave America better off?"
We know history proved Reagan's critics wrong. The Soviet Union -- and the threat they posed -- did, indeed, end up on the ash bin of history. Reagan's tax cuts produced increasing government revenues, and Reagan policies ushered in an era of long-term prosperity. The Reagan years saw explosive job creation and income growth. The economy created 20 million new jobs. Individual and corporate charitable contributions increased.
And now, in a few short months, with minimal casualties, despotic terrorist-supporting regimes no longer exist in Afghanistan and Iraq. Taking the hint, Libya's Moammar Kadafi promptly renounced his WMD program.
Some day -- it may take decades -- historians will look back at this period of American history, and they will salute Bush's courage, steadfastness and vision. It just may take a . . . healing period.