Monday, July 16, 2007

Handicapping the Bush Presidency

My good blogging buddy, Angevin13, over at The Oxford Medievalist, posted an outstanding essay yesterday on "Bill Kristol and the Bush Presidency."

Kristol, the founder of the Weekly Standard, is
a principal American neoconservative fighting in the realm of ideas against the Islamo-fascist challenge. Kristol published a concise appraisal of the Bush adminstration in yesterday's Washington Post. He predicts that the Bush presidency will ultimately be successful. What's the source of his optimism? Our success since 9/11 in preventing another attack on the homeland; the fabulous strength of the Bush economy; and the favorable turn of events in Iraq under the Bush surge, the success of which augurs better than the record of any recent point in the engagement. Kristol argues that our ultimate triumph in Iraq will redound positively to the Bush historical legacy.

But let me quote from
Angevin's nice entry, where he goes beyond Kristol to add some additional points of clarity. Angevin argues that "history will eventually view President Bush largely as a success":

Most historians lean left, even the best ones do, but only the very worst view history through their own political lens. Besides, the evidence thus far that Bush has largely been a success, as Kristol notes, is substantial and will be hard to overlook by even the most partisan scholars. I believe most present historians understand, as will their colleagues in the future, that we are in momentous and unprecedented times and, in that light, despite missteps, Bush has comported himself well. Not great, but well enough not to deserve in posterity the vitriol he presently receives from the left.

Surely, I've seen the polls and Bush's quite low approval rating. The administration, no doubt, has made some serious mistakes. Besides substantive mistakes in the Iraq War, the administration's biggest flaw has been - in my view - it's utter inability to communicate clearly, concisely, and coherently and make it's case for, well, anything, really. The problem has as much to do with Bush's personal problem of communication as it does with the administration's own culture as a whole. Bush's own dislike to politic is as responsible for this deficiency as his administration is for its often refusal to come out swinging against opponents.

From day one the administration has gotten beaten up by Democratic partisans - not because Democrats have been right (nay, they've been terribly wrong on just about everything) - but because the Bush Administration has allowed its opponents to define and frame the debate. A more eloquent (and, truth be told, perhaps a more competent) administration would not have allowed such non-issues as the Valerie Plame and Alberto Gonzales affairs to spiral out of control; would not have sat around while questions linger over the legitimacy of the President's clemency toward Scooter Libby; would have better explained the "NSA wiretap" program and the necessity of such a program instead of allowing its opponents in Congress and the media to drum up its supposed illegality and unconstitutionality; would have better educated the American public on the nature of proliferation, and proliferation intelligence, after no WMD stockpiles were found in Iraq; and would have already decapitated the very dangerous attempts by the Democratic leadership to strangle the new counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq by relentlessly pointing out the Democrats' very obvious partisan political motives while simultaneously combating the MSM by actually educating the citizenry on just what the surge entails - something the MSM refuses to do.
Read the whole thing. The Oxford Medievalist is now one of my regular reads. I learn a lot when I visit there. I'm influenced by Angevin's smooth writing, flair for historical detail, and temperance in debate.

By coincidence,
I too posted on Kristol's essay yesterday as well. In that entry I mostly seconded what Kristol had to say, without too much deeper analysis. Yet, in response to Angevin's points quoted above, I cleared out my mental cobwebs a bit, and left these thoughts in the comment thread:

On most of your points, I've commented to the same effect on my page. For example, I've repeatedly noted that Bush's historical record is likely to be favorable. Harry Truman today is generally in the top-ten lists of great American presidents. But Truman's poll numbers were even lower than Bush's when he left office in 1952.

Bush is ridiculed for his use of historical analogies, but the comparison between the early cold war and the war on terror has a lot going for it: We are in a period of international structural transformation; we are in a global struggle over ideology and values; our enemies are ruthless, implacable, and on the march among many poor country's of the third world. Moreover, like the cold war, the war on terror doesn't really have an end point. No one in history or political science predicted the end of the cold war (one or two books looked at how it might come about).

Today, as I've written, some scholars have analyzed how al Qaeda might end, but there will always be anti-Americanism as long as we're number one - and the international system will remain unipolar, no matter what happens in Iraq in the short term. We'll always have strategic challenges to our interests, more nowadays of the non-state variety. The U.S. is not vulnerable, by the way, to military invasion of the homeland, or strategic annihilation from above. We don't do as well in small wars and insurgency, though, and in fact when we take American power to the enemy in the periphery, our Achilles heel of under-effectiveness can be exploited to weaken overall U.S. power (we have command of air, sea, and space through our unparalleled military, naval, aviation, and space capabilities, but putting troops on the ground, threatened by highly unconventional forms of warfare - like IEDs in Iraq - limits our fighting success, and often makes the U.S. look weaker than we are).

That said, I think Iraq in the years ahead, even decades, will consolidate into a stable democracy, lighting the lamp of freedom for more and more peoples in the Middle East. Bush will enjoy an fond historical comeback - much like Reagan's, I would say, though maybe not as deep and loving (Reagan's going to be a top-five president as time goes by, right after Washington, Lincoln, and F. Roosevelt).
Now, in the comments on my Bush post yesterday, Dee, who blogs at Conservatism With Heart, left a few nice points of agreement. She said she can't understand the vitriol directed at the president, and has gotten a lot of flack for her views, including some threats. Pumped up by the pro-Bush posts here and at the Oxford Medievalist, Dee set forth her own principled position on the goodness of the Bush administration in an entry this morning:

Support for Bush is non-existent among liberals and weak among many Conservatives. I've had to endure "so-called" Conservative blogs that have Ron Paul videos on them comparing Bush to Hitler, the Townhall cartoon page being full of Conservative cartoonists making fun of Bush and numerous abandonments of Bush over immigration. As I've taken all of this in I've been stubborn in my support for Bush. I may not agree with him on all the issues but he has done too many awesome things during his Presidency to deserve the treatment that he now receives.

Through all of this the list of names I have been called is endless. I have been called a whore, an idiot and gotten a death wish all for my support of Bush. I realize its a very unpopular view to take right now, that doesn't make it any less right. So when I stumbled upon Bill Kristol's latest column in the Washington Post, entitled,
Why Bush Will Be a Winner, it was nice to see someone else seeing the bigger picture. My take has always been that history will view George W. Bush much more favorably than the polls do now and that is exactly what Kristol points out.
Dee is singing my song here a bit! I've been attacked many times, from both the left and the right, but I've never waivered in my support of this admistration. I'm glad to see Dee hasn't either.

I'm also heartened by thepragmatic support evinced by some of the others visitors to the post yesterday. I especially liked the remarks from Wordsmith, whose points were seconded by a couple of other readers:
I am proud of my President. So many conservatives are angry at him. At the moment, it is easily to "jump on the bandwagon" and pile on. But the President has remained steadfast on "the War", and I will remain steadfast in my loyalty to him, keeping in mind that none of us will ever agree with an elected leader, 100% of the time.
Wordsmith's comments are worthy of his name. He blogs at Sparks from the Anvil, so take a minute to visit there as well (and check the link to Donald Lambro that Wordsmith was nice enough to leave). While you're at it, stop by Gayle's blog, The Dragon Lady's Den, which is always an inspiration when I stop by for a visit. She usually has a lively comment thread going on as well.

Thanks to all the others who have participated in this thread. I'll be blogrolling and linking to everyone in the future. So keep visiting. I'm heartened by all the voices of reason out there, and I'm honored when some of those fine sentiments settle here on this page.

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