Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What about Bush?

Over at Reason there's a discussion going on about the most overrated and underrated Presidents of all time. It's pretty predictable, with snarky libertarians taking the piss out of Reagan (liked for his economics, hated for his foreign policy) and Lincoln (who expanded wartime executive powers).

This got me thinking about President Bush. Commentators have speculated on what his legacy will be. Of course, a certain contingent will always find him the worst President of their lifetimes or even of all time. For the all time-worst I would pick James Buchanan, the man who directly proceeded Lincoln. If Lincoln overstepped his bounds and did unconstitutional things to win the war or squash dissent, Buchanan failed his oath of office by tacitly allowing secessionists to maneuver themselves into positions that would make some military confrontation inevitable for his successor.

But I digress. Now certain people are worried that if Iraq succeeds, Bush will be seen as a genius and that his history will be whitewashed. Exactly what a successful Iraq looks like is also up for debate. What I know is this: Iraq will not be settled within Bush's term. It will definitely be up to the next President to finish it in whatever way they do.

So what will Bush's legacy look like? I think history will record him thusly:
Immediately following 9/11, Bush enjoyed ridiculous levels of support (92%!). No human could maintain that level. If Jesus was President he couldn't keep his approval rating that high. The problem is not that his ratings fell afterwards but how ready Bush was to spend that political capital in divisive areas and how quickly it vanished.
The invasion of Iraq has three parts: convincing the public, winning the war and holding the territory. Convincing the public seemed to go over pretty well at the time. Approval for the war was about as high as any other modern-era war at its start. Bush seemed to be too much in a hurry though, which made it appear that he was set upon invading even if there were no weapons of mass destruction or a program to make them - which was the case that an obviously uncomfortable Colin Powell presented to the American public.

Once engaged, winning the war was easy. With the US military apparatus as it is now, I could even have won the war. I'm not saying I have any military skill, I'm saying that the US military is the best at what it does in the entire world.

Holding the territory and making something out of it is where Bush's legacy truly hinges. I think history will remember him thus: whatever the US ends in Iraq, Bush pursued a policy - even in the face of on-the-ground failures and much criticism - that very nearly made it impossible for any change in strategy to make anything of Iraq.

The point at which Bush's Iraq strategy changed most noticeably was after the 2006 midterm elections, which were heavily about Iraq and in which Bush received a "thumpin'". American have generally been most satisfied with government when the executive and legislative branches have belonged to different parties. While some would argue that the current congress had been relatively do-nothing, I think that the effect of a big loss, no matter how it was followed up, changed Bush's plans for Iraq. He substituted in new people who were not committed to the 'it will be easy' view of things. The new policy was slower, more pragmatic, more willing to make concessions.

If this is the policy that stabilizes Iraq and creates a democracy there, it won't be recorded as some massive work of genius on Bush's part. The policy congealed over literally three years, lacked real coherence until midway into the 'surge' and was produced more by events than by Bush's central planning.

I think this will be the legacy view of President Bush - that during his second term (especially since 2006) he saved Iraq from his own first term. Someday way into the future, archives will be available that will tell us exactly who knew what about Iraq and when. That will settle the debate about whether Bush's war pitch was a lie, and what the original goals for invading Iraq were. Until that time, I'm not worried that he'll be unduly canonized. There is no doubt that the Bush presidency has had far-reaching effects on the world, but if the War on Terror is not similarly pursued by the next President, Bush's terms may seem more of an aberration than a epoch-making event.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The war on terror. Right! It need not be lying to the American public to invade and occupy Iraq with horror of horrors Cheny and Rumsfield at the helm. It might have proceeded with the rightful war in Afghanistan, with all the support and military might needed, and investigative clout to actually "find" Bin Laden and at least slow down his terrorist spin-offs. It might have proceeded with appropriate methods taken and paid for with U.S. dollars to make our country more safe here, everything from inspections on goods coming into our ports and waterways, to airport patrol, to border patrol and how about using some of our really innovative technology to
identify just who these terrorists might be, what kinds of threats,bombings and plans they are exploring.

But no...we got THE MAN who said "bring it on," cowboy style, someone who thinks he has been put here in the Presidency God to "save the world from terrorists," and earn himself and his buddies a good bit of oil revenue as well.

He will be seen in history as a loser who became a "leader" because of his father's influence and because the rigid right knew they could manipulate him and get their agenda pushed forward. He should have stayed where he belonged, on his ranch cutting brush and not sending 4,000 men and women to lose their lives in a war he refuses to admit is stalled and cannot possibly turn out well for Iraqui's or Americans.

another mother who can't wait until he's gone!