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By The Wall St. Journal
Jan 16, 2009
Long after George W. Bush boards Marine One next Tuesday bound for Texas, the enduring image of his epochal eight years will be the September 20, 2001 evening a relatively new President stood before a nation traumatized and in mourning.
"We will direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network," Mr. Bush told a Joint Session of Congress. "I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people."
In that moment, he set the standard for the Bush Presidency: To protect Americans from another 9/11 and hit Islamist terrorists and their sponsors abroad. Whatever history's ultimate judgment, Mr. Bush never did yield. Nearly all the significant battles of the Bush years -- the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Guantanamo and wiretapping, upheavals in the Middle East, America's troubles with Europe -- stemmed directly from his response to the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon that defined his Presidency.
By his own standard, Mr. Bush achieved the one big thing he and all Americans demanded of his Administration. Not a single man, woman or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since the morning of September 11. Al Qaeda was flushed from safe havens in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and its terrorist network put under siege around the world. All subsequent terror attacks hit soft targets and used primitive means. No one seriously predicted such an outcome at the time.
The Administration's achievement goes beyond lives saved to American confidence restored. Memories fade fast. Recall the fear about imminent strikes, the anthrax panic and the 98-1 Senate vote for the Patriot Act in the weeks after 9/11. Americans yearned for leadership that this President provided. He calmed the fears and urged tolerance at home, saying on that memorable evening, "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them."
A measure of the Administration's success is the criticism it has drawn as the threat has seemed more remote. Bush-bashing, whether from the netroots, David Letterman or the French, would have no resonance in a country that still feared a terrorist attack. Mr. Bush made a conscious choice to take no chances with American lives, and to live with the liberal backlash over waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
His most controversial and difficult decision, the war in Iraq, was consistent with his post-9/11 doctrine to regard "any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism . . . as a hostile regime" and pre-empt threats to America from rogue regimes and proliferators. The failure to discover WMD gave opponents the opening to claim the war was fought on false premises, but Bill Clinton, Democrats on Capitol Hill and every major intelligence service also believed Saddam had WMD.
Other mistakes were inevitably made, and not merely that "Mission Accomplished" banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Persuasion matters in politics, and Mr. Bush lacked the communication skills to explain his policies well. The Administration botched the early job in post-Saddam Iraq, taking too long to empower Iraqis and failing to anticipate the insurgency. But the successful "surge" -- a decision made against almost universal opposition in Washington -- prevented a U.S. defeat and leaves to Barack Obama a democratic ally gaining strength in a crucial region.
The slow but indisputable emergence of a free Iraq also shook up an untenable status quo in the Middle East, the root source of the terrorist threat. Though Saddam bluffed about his WMD, the U.S. intervention signaled its seriousness to other proliferators. A.Q. Khan's nuclear network, which flourished in the 1990s, was rolled up in the wake of Iraq. Moammar Gadhafi gave up Libya's nuclear program, which was far more advanced than previously thought.
Mr. Bush's Afghan campaign started brilliantly, toppling the Taliban despite warnings in Washington that such "regime change" was dangerous. The ability of al Qaeda to reconstitute itself to some degree along the Afghan-Pakistan border is mainly due to unstable governance in Pakistan -- and will be no easier for Mr. Obama. Mr. Bush's engagement with Islamabad did ease Indian-Pakistan tensions, helped to capture KSM and others, and has allowed U.S. Predators to strike at terror targets inside Pakistan.
In his second Inaugural, the President declared the U.S. would "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." Lebanon's Cedar Revolution came a month later. But the "freedom agenda" ran aground against the Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraq setbacks of 2006 and has never recovered. Still, the idea that freedom and Islam are compatible has been planted and will not be forever contained in the region.
On his own post-9/11 terms, Mr. Bush's biggest failure has been Iran. He outsourced diplomacy to the Europeans and U.N. -- despite his caricature as a go-it-alone cowboy. But these efforts merely gave the mullahs cover and years to build their bomb. The President also indulged Condoleezza Rice's illusion that some grand bargain could be found with Tehran's revolutionary regime. The same could be said for his diplomatic dead end in North Korea.
The President tried smooth talk on Vladimir Putin, with equally poor results. His famous misreading of the man gave the Kremlin confidence to repress its own people and intimidate its neighbors without fear of serious U.S. rebuke. Mr. Bush did stay a stalwart ally to the young democracies in that region, helping keep Ukraine and Georgia, so far, out of Moscow's reconstituting empire.
For a President charged so often with tarnishing alliances, the state of our friendships is also worth revisiting. The world didn't gang up against the "unilateral" U.S., Jacques Chirac's efforts notwithstanding. On the contrary, though you won't hear this from the media, relations with Europe are stronger than at the beginning of the Bush years. France, Germany and the U.K. -- aware of the rising threat from Russia and their own shortcomings -- are eager for U.S. support and leadership, out of self-interest if not any deep love.
In Asia, the Bush Presidency began with a crisis with China over the downing of a military aircraft, but U.S.-China ties have since been friendly and stable. Mr. Bush's biggest achievement, also overlooked, is the new alliance with the continent's leading democracy, India. This relationship will help future Administrations check Chinese ambitions -- as will strengthened friendships with Japan, South Korea and Australia.
The postmortems on Mr. Bush's foreign policy inevitably note his comment in the 2000 Presidential debate about "a humble nation," disinclined to act abroad, to paint him as the unlikely revolutionary. The future President's more telling statement in that debate came in response to a question about what principles would guide him. He said he'd ask himself: "What's in the best interest of our people?"
A clear conception of national interest shaped his response to the great security challenge of the early 21st century. After the Clinton decade in which al Qaeda and proliferation went unchallenged, the Bush Presidency had to scramble to defend against a terror threat that with WMD could kill millions of Americans. His decision to fight this as a "war," and to marshal the means attendant to war, has been controversial and expensive. But like Harry Truman's decisions at the onset of the Cold War, we suspect more of his policy will survive than his many critics now admit. (See here, for starters.)
The world remains a very dangerous place. Yet thanks to Mr. Bush's post-9/11 willingness to act decisively, and at the risk of his own popularity, Americans are safer today than on September 10, 2001.
By Andrew Roberts
Posted 15 Jan 2009
"I think he's a good president," I told her, which seemed to dumbfound her, and wreck my chances of appearing on her show.
In the avalanche of abuse and ridicule that we are witnessing in the media assessments of President Bush's legacy, there are factors that need to be borne in mind if we are to come to a judgment that is not warped by the kind of partisan hysteria that has characterised this issue on both sides of the Atlantic.
The first is that history, by looking at the key facts rather than being distracted by the loud ambient noise of the
24-hour news cycle, will probably hand down a far more positive judgment on Mr Bush's presidency than the immediate, knee-jerk loathing of the American and European elites.
At the time of 9/11, which will forever rightly be regarded as the defining moment of the presidency, history will look in vain for anyone predicting that the Americans murdered that day would be the very last ones to die at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the US from that day to this.
The decisions taken by Mr. Bush in the immediate aftermath of that ghastly moment will be pored over by historians for the rest of our lifetimes. One thing they will doubtless conclude is that the measures he took to lock down America's borders, scrutinise travellers to and from the United States, eavesdrop upon terrorist suspects, work closely with international intelligence agencies and take the war to the enemy has foiled dozens, perhaps scores of would-be murderous attacks on America. There are Americans alive today who would not be if it had not been for the passing of the Patriot Act. There are 3,000 people who would have died in the August 2005 airline conspiracy if it had not been for the superb inter-agency co-operation demanded by Bush
The next factor that will be seen in its proper historical context in years to come will be the true reasons for invading Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in April 2003. The conspiracy theories believed by many (generally, but not always) stupid people – that it was "all about oil", or the securing of contracts for the US-based Halliburton corporation, etc – will slip into the obscurity from which they should never have emerged had it not been for comedian-filmmakers such as Michael Moore.
Instead, the obvious fact that there was a good case for invading Iraq based on 14 spurned UN resolutions, massive human rights abuses and unfinished business following the interrupted invasion of 1991 will be recalled.
Similarly, the cold light of history will absolve Bush of the worst conspiracy-theory accusation: that he knew there were no WMDs in Iraq. History will show that, in common with the rest of his administration, the British Government, Saddam's own generals, the French, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies, and of course SIS and the CIA, everyone assumed that a murderous dictator does not voluntarily destroy the WMD arsenal he has used against his own people. And if he does, he does not then expel the UN weapons inspectorate looking for proof of it, as he did in 1998 and again in 2001.
Mr. Bush assumed that the Coalition forces would find mass graves, torture chambers, evidence for the gross abuse of the UN's food-for-oil programme, but also WMDs. He was right about each but the last, and history will place him in the mainstream of Western, Eastern and Arab thinking on the matter.
History will probably, assuming it is researched and written objectively, congratulate Mr. Bush on the fact that whereas in 2000 Libya was an active and vicious member of what he was accurately to describe as an "axis of evil" of rogue states willing to employ terrorism to gain its ends, four years later Colonel Gaddafi's WMD programme was sitting behind glass in a museum in Oakridge, Tennessee.
With his characteristic openness and at times almost self-defeating honesty, Mr Bush has been the first to acknowledge his mistakes – for example, tardiness over Hurricane Katrina – but there are some he made not because he was a ranting Right-winger, but because he was too keen to win bipartisan support. The invasion of Iraq should probably have taken place months earlier, but was held up by the attempt to find support from UN security council members, such as Jacques Chirac's France, that had ties to Iraq and hostility towards the Anglo-Americans.
History will also take Mr. Bush's verbal fumbling into account, reminding us that Ronald Reagan also mis-spoke regularly, but was still a fine president. The first
MBA president, who had a higher grade-point average at Yale than John Kerry, Mr. Bush's supposed lack of intellect will be seen to be a myth once the papers in his Presidential Library in the Southern Methodist University in Dallas are available.
Films such as Oliver Stone's W, which portray him as a spitting, oafish frat boy who eats with his mouth open and is rude to servants, will be revealed by the diaries and correspondence of those around him to be absurd travesties, of this charming, interesting, beautifully mannered history buff who, were he not the most powerful man in the world, would be a fine person to have as a pal.
Instead of Al Franken, history will listen to Bob Geldof praising Mr. Bush's efforts over Aids and malaria in Africa; or to Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, who told him last week: "The people of India deeply love you." And certainly to the women of Afghanistan thanking him for saving them from Taliban abuse, degradation and tyranny.
When Abu Ghraib is mentioned, history will remind us that it was the Bush Administration that imprisoned those responsible for the horrors. When water-boarding is brought up, we will see that it was only used on three suspects, one of whom was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda's chief of operational planning, who divulged vast amounts of information that saved hundreds of innocent lives. When extraordinary renditions are queried, historians will ask how else the world's most dangerous terrorists should have been transported. On scheduled flights?
The credit crunch, brought on by the Democrats in Congress insisting upon home ownership for credit-unworthy people, will initially be blamed on Bush, but the perspective of time will show that the problems at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac started with the deregulation of the Clinton era. Instead Bush's very
un-ideological but vast rescue package of $700 billion (£480 billion) might well be seen as lessening the impact of the squeeze, and putting America in position to be the first country out of recession, helped along by his huge tax-cut packages since 2000.
Sneered at for being "simplistic" in his reaction to 9/11, Bush's visceral responses to the attacks of a fascistic, totalitarian death cult will be seen as having been substantially the right ones.
Mistakes are made in every war, but when virtually the entire military, diplomatic and political establishment in the West opposed it, Bush insisted on the surge in Iraq that has been seen to have brought the war around, and set Iraq on the right path. Today its GDP is 30 per cent higher than under Saddam, and it is free of a brutal dictator and his rapist sons.
The number of American troops killed during the eight years of the War against Terror has been fewer than those slain capturing two islands in the Second World War, and in Britain we have lost fewer soldiers than on a normal weekend on the Western Front. As for civilians, there have been fewer Iraqis killed since the invasion than in 20 conflicts since the Second World War.
Iraq has been a victory for the US-led coalition, a fact that the Bush-haters will have to deal with when perspective finally – perhaps years from now – lends objectivity to this fine man's record.
Andrew Roberts's 'Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West' is published by Penguin
By The Wall St. Journal
Jan 16, 2009
Ever since the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program was exposed in 2005, critics have denounced it as illegal and unconstitutional. Those allegations rested solely on the fact that the Administration did not first get permission from the special court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Well, as it happens, the same FISA court would beg to differ.
In a major August 2008 decision released yesterday in redacted form, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, the FISA appellate panel, affirmed the government's Constitutional authority to collect national-security intelligence without judicial approval. The case was not made public before yesterday, and its details remain classified. An unnamed telecom company refused to comply with the National Security Agency's monitoring requests and claimed the program violated the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on search and seizure.
But the Constitution bans only "unreasonable" search and seizure, not all searches and seizures, and the Fourth Amendment allows for exceptions such as those under a President's Article II war powers. The courts have been explicit on this point. In 1980, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held in Truong that "the Executive need not always obtain a warrant for foreign intelligence surveillance." The FISA appeals court said in its 2002 opinion In re Sealed Case that the President has "inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information" and took "for granted" that "FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."
FISA established a process by which certain domestic wiretaps in the context of the Cold War could be approved, not a limit on what wiretaps were ever allowed. Though the decision applies only to the stopgap FISA measure in place between 2007 and 2008, it sets a precedent.
For all the political hysteria and media dishonesty about George W. Bush "spying on Americans," this fight was never about anything other than staging an ideological raid on the President's war powers. Barack Obama ought to be thankful that the FISA court has knocked the bottom out of this gambit, just in time for him to take office.
By J. R. Dunn
Jan 20, 2009
There is one thing certain to go through Barack Obama's mind during the inauguration: at one point or another, while glancing at George W. Bush, he will consider the treatment that Bush got as president and hope to God he suffers nothing even vaguely similar.
It can be stated without fear of serious argument that no previous president has been treated as brutally, viciously, and unfairly as George W. Bush.
Bush 43 endured a deliberate and planned assault on everything he stood for, everything he was involved in, everything he tried to accomplish. Those who worked with him suffered nearly as much (and some even more -- at least one, Scooter Libby, was convicted on utterly specious charges in what amounts to a show trial).
His detractors were willing to risk the country's safety, its economic health, and the very balance of the democratic system of government in order to get at him. They were out to bring him down at all costs, or at the very least destroy his personal and presidential reputation. At this they have been half successful, at a high price for the country and its government.
Although everyone insists on doing so, it is impossible to judge Bush, his achievements, or his failings, without taking these attacks into account. Before any serious analysis of the Bush presidency can be made, some attempt to encompass the campaign against him must be carried out. I hope no one is holding his breath.
It's quite true that other presidents have suffered baseless attacks. Lincoln was generally dismissed as an imbecile, an unwashed backwoodsman, and an orang-outang (as they spelled it then). There exists an infamous Confederate cartoon portraying him with devil's horns and one foot on the Constitution. Next to no one at the time could have foreseen the towering stature Lincoln would at last attain.
Richard M. Nixon probably stands as the most hated president prior to Bush. But that was largely thanks to a relatively small coterie of east-coast leftists and their hangers-on, angered by Nixon's early anti-communism (which had become more "nuanced" by the time he took office, as the 1970 opening to China clearly reveals.). Nixon had the support of most of the country, the famed "silent majority", during his first term, and if not for his own personal failings, he would unquestionably have prevailed over his enemies. Difficult though it may be to believe, Nixon was only one paranoid slip away from being considered a great or near-great president
With Reagan, the coterie was even smaller and more isolated. His enemies continually underestimated him as a "B-movie actor" (which, by the way, showed a serious misunderstanding as to how the old studio system actually worked), and were just as continually flummoxed by his humor, his intelligence, and his unexcelled skill at communication. As the outpouring of public emotion surrounding his state funeral made clear, Reagan today stands as one of the beloved of all modern presidents.
Bush is alone at being attacked and denied support from all quarters -- even from many members of his own party. No single media source, excepting talk radio, was ever in his corner. Struggling actors and comics revived their careers though attacks on Bush. A disturbed woman perhaps a half step above the status of a bag lady parked outside his Crawford home to throw curses at him and was not only not sent on her way but joined by hundreds of others with plenty of spare time on their hands, an event covered in minute-by-minute detail by major media.
At least two films, one produced play, and a novel (by the odious Nicholson Baker, a writer with the distinction of dropping further down the ladder of decency with each work -- from sophisticated porn in Vox to degrading the war against Hitler in last year's Human Smoke) appeared calling for his assassination -- a new wrinkle in presidential criticism, and one that the left will regret. And let's not forget that tribune of the voiceless masses, Michael Moore, whose Fahrenheit 911 once marked the end-all and be-all of political satire but today is utterly forgotten.
While FDR was accused of having engineered Pearl Harbor (as if even an attempted attack on the US would not have been enough to get the country into WW II in real style), no president before Bush was ever subjected to the machinations of an entire conspiracy industry. The 9/11 Truthers, a mix of seriously disturbed individuals and hustlers out to pull a profitable con, accused Bush and his administration of crimes that put the allegations against Roosevelt in the shade, and with far less rational basis. These hallucinations were picked up the mass media, playing the role of transmission belt, and various fringe political figures along the lines of Cynthia McKinney.
But even this pales in light of the actions of the New York Times, which on its downhill road to becoming a weekly shopper giveaway for the Upper West Side, seriously jeopardized national security in the process of satisfying its anti-Bush compulsion. Telecommunications intercepts, interrogation techniques, transport of terrorist captives, tracking of terrorist finances... scarcely a single security program aimed at Jihadi activity went unrevealed by the Times and -- not to limit the blame -- was then broadcast worldwide by the legacy media. At one point, Times reporters published a detailed analysis of government methods of searching out rogue atomic weapons, a story that was no doubt read with interest at points north of Lahore, and one that we may all end up paying for years down the line. The fact that Bush was able to curtail any further attacks while the media as a whole was working to undermine his efforts is little less than miraculous.
As for his own party, no small number of Republicans (not all of them of the RINO fraternity) made a practice of ducking out on their party leader. Many refused to be photographed with him, several took steps to be out of town when he was scheduled to appear in their districts, and as for the few who actually spoke out in his favor... well, the names don't trip easily into mind. This naked pusillanimity played a large role in the GOP's 2006 and 2008 electoral debacles. Until the party grasps this, don't look for any major comeback.
And last but not least (I think we can safely overlook the flying shoes, which have been covered down to the last aglet), Bush is the sole American chief executive -- perhaps the sole leader in world history -- to have had a personality disorder named after him, the immortal Bush Derangement Syndrome. Few at this point recall that this was an actual psychological effort at diagnosing the president's effect on the tender psyches of this country's leftists. Was there a Hitler syndrome? A Stalin syndrome? The very existence of BDS says more about the left in general than it does about Bush.
What were the reasons for this hatred and the campaign that grew out of it? We can ask that question as often as we like, but we'll get no rational answer. All that we can be sure of is that Bush's actual policies and personality had little to do with it. Al Gore's egomaniacal attempt to defy this country's constitutional rules of succession merely acted as a trigger, giving the left a pretext to open up the attack. The same can be said about lingering bitterness over Bill Clinton's impeachment. While certainly a factor, it by no means accounts for a complete explanation. After all, did the GOP of the 70s go overboard in avenging Richard Nixon's forced resignation by working over Jimmy Carter? The best course was actually that which they followed, to allow Mr. Peanut to destroy himself.
As in all such cases, Bush hatred involves a number of factors that will be debated by historians for decades to come. But one component that cannot be overlooked is ideology, specifically the ideologization of American politics. It is no accident that the three most hated recent presidents are all Republican. These campaigns are yet another symptom of the American left's collapse into an ideological stupor characterized by pseudo-religious impulses, division of the world into black and white entities, and the unleashing of emotions beyond any means of rational control. The demonization of Bush -- and Reagan, and Nixon -- is the flip-side of the messianic response to Barack Obama.
There's nothing new about any of this. It's present in Orwell's 1984 in the "Five-Minute Hate" against the imaginary Emmanuel Goldstein, himself based on Leon Trotsky. The sole novel factor is its adaptation as a conscious tactic in democratic politics. That is unprecedented, and a serious cause for concern.
Being a Democrat, Obama has little to worry about, even with the far-left elements of his coalition beginning to sour on him. The ideological machinery is too unwieldy to swing around in order to target a single figure. Even if circumstances force him to violate the deeper tenets of his following, personal factors -- not limited to skin color -- will serve to protect him.
For the country as a whole, the prospects are bleaker. The left is convinced that hatred works, that it's a perfect tactic, one that will work every time out. They have already started the process with Sarah Palin, their next target in their long row of hate figures. They're wrong, of course. In a democracy, hatred is not a keeper, as the Know-Nothings, Radical Republicans, segregationists, Birchers, and many others have learned to their eventual dismay. But the process can take a long time to work itself out -- nearly a century, in the case of racial segregation -- and no end of damage can occur in the meantime. One of the byproducts of the campaign against Bush was to encourage Jihadis and Ba'athists in Iraq with the assurance of a repetition of Saigon 1975 as soon as the mad and bad Bush 43 was gotten out of the way. This time, the price was paid by the Iraqi people. But in the future, the bill may be presented somewhat closer to home.
And as for the "worst president in history" himself, George W. Bush has exhibited nothing but his accustomed serenity. Despite the worst his enemies could throw at him, his rehabilitation has already begun (as can be seen , , , and ). He will be viewed at last as a man who picked up the worst hand of cards dealt to any president since Roosevelt and who played it out better than anyone had a right to expect. As Barack Obama seems to have realized, there is much to be learned from Bush, a man who appears to personify the golden mean, never too despondent, never too overjoyed, and never at any time overwhelmed.
Other presidents may encounter the same level of motiveless, mindless hatred, others may suffer comparable abuse -- but we can sure that no one will ever meet it with more equanimity than George W. Bush.