Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why They're Not Competitive

Ramirez tells an important truth in this cartoon, but it might be more accurate if he had hooked two more trailers onto the first. One of them should be labelled government regulations and the other labelled executive mismanagement.


The Bush Legacy (Pt. II)

Jeffrey Kuhner of the Washington Times has written an excellent overview of the ideological legacy of the Bush presidency. We began a consideration of it in a previous post by looking at his fiscal and economic record, and we'll conclude today with a summary of where his social (domestic) and foreign policy place him on the ideological spectrum.

From a conservative point of view President Bush's domestic record has been mixed. His Supreme Court appointments (Roberts and Alito) were excellent - save the stumble with the abortive Harriet Miers nomination - but his refusal to do anything much about our porous borders and his willingness to grant amnesty to 20 million illegal aliens put him once again outside the conservative mainstream. So, taken as a whole, his record on the economy, spending, reducing the size of government, illegal immigration, etc. is one that liberals should laud him for but in which conservatives find little to like. Indeed, Kuhner believes Mr. Bush has almost single-handedly driven a stake through the heart of the conservative movement that had been ascendent since 1980:

Mr. Bush's enduring political legacy is the death of the conservative movement. He was not a small-government individualist in the mold of Ronald Reagan. In fact, he was the very embodiment of the "Third Way" fusing cultural conservatism and social liberalism that was espoused but never really implemented by the likes of former President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair: an activist big government combined with a defense of traditional values.

It is on foreign policy, however, that George Bush has secured the gratitude of those on the right and, indeed, should have won the gratitude of the entire nation. Conservatives generally (but not universally) supported the war in Afghanistan and, because, like everyone else in the world, they feared Saddam Hussein's WMD program and despised Saddam's tyranny, they supported the invasion of Iraq. There was disagreement among conservatives on this war, but I think it fair to say that most of them saw both Afghanistan and Iraq, unlike Korea, Vietnam, and Bosnia, as theaters of national interest. But the real source of conservative support for Bush throughout his tenure was his prosecution of the overall war on terrorism. It was because he had such a clear-eyed vision of the threat Islamism poses, coupled with the lack of a credible liberal alternative policy, that led conservatives to ignore Bush's other shortcomings, particularly his inability or unwillingness to rally the country to his side. Once more to Kuhner's essay:

Conservatives did not mount a frontal assault on the Bush administration for one simple reason: the war on terror. Most on the right supported Mr. Bush's foreign policy - and, therefore, they overlooked many of his flaws. Mostly, he was an ineffective communicator. It is not just that he mangled words, displayed a poor vocabulary, and uttered silly phrases such as "strategery" or "misunderestimated." He presided over the most rhetorically inept administration in recent memory - a public diplomacy failure that enabled his opponents to misrepresent his national security strategy and fill the vacuum with lies and half-truths, especially about the Iraq war. It eventually cost Mr. Bush his popular standing at home and abroad, thereby reducing his presidency to rubble.

Mr. Bush, however, was farsighted in foreign policy. He toppled two dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq, liberating more than 50 million Muslims from totalitarian regimes. His actions broke the back of al Qaeda, disrupted countless terrorist cells, and exposed Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's corruption of the United Nations through the massive Oil-for-Food scandal.

There's an irony here. There was a time when it was liberals who championed the oppressed and tyrannized of the world. There was a time when liberals could say, as John Kennedy did in his much-quoted inaugural address, "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Nowadays when a president takes those words seriously liberals execrate him. I suspect that no one was more surprised than George Bush when, after liberating 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq from horrific oppression, the left in this country gave him nothing more than the back of their hand.

But there's more for which the President deserves credit:

Also, his administration dismantled A.Q. Khan's international black market nuclear network. It convinced Libya to abandon its weapons of mass destruction program. It managed to contain rogue states, such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. It forged a path toward an independent Palestine - providing it embraces democracy and renounces terror. Most importantly, it achieved its primary goal: preventing another attack on American soil. Mr. Bush kept the American people safe. And he did this in the face of ferocious Democratic opposition and a hostile mainstream media.

Mr. Bush's central insight is that the key to defeating Islamic fascism is to bring democracy to the Middle East. Arab autocracies have fostered the conditions for a culture of jihadism to take root. Political and economic reform will drain the swamps of Islamist terror at its source. This is why the Iraq war is pivotal to winning the larger war on terrorism: A stable, democratic Iraq will serve as a strategic linchpin for transforming the wider region. The Bush Doctrine is similar to President Harry Truman's containment policy in one crucial respect: Mr. Bush has laid down the foundations for eventual victory - but only if his initiatives are sustained.

Just like Truman, Mr. Bush is a reviled leader. In fact, Truman's popular approval ratings were even lower when he left office than Mr. Bush's. Both men oversaw protracted, unpopular wars (Truman in Korea; Mr. Bush in Iraq). Both men ushered in transformative foreign policies opposed by media elites. Both men alienated key aspects of their base (Truman with economic liberals and Southern Democrats; Mr. Bush with fiscal conservatives and border security Republicans). And both men saw their respective political parties decline under withering partisan attacks (Truman from McCarthyism; Mr. Bush from the netroots, loony left).

Yet Truman is now viewed as a courageous, successful president. His staunch opposition to Soviet communism was vindicated. Mr. Bush's principled stand against Islamofascism will be vindicated as well.

So, what will Mr. Bush's legacy be? Two years ago I thought he had a chance to be one of the great presidents of the last 100 years, but I'm no longer so sure. I think that in too many ways he has acted unwisely and has not even attempted to explain his policies to the people, assuming, apparently, that we would all just understand why he was doing what he was doing with immigration, the surge in Iraq, the bailout and the budgetary deficits. Nevertheless, on perhaps the most important issue of our time, the threat of global terror, he has, despite vicious opposition from his political opponents, acted wisely and heroically. It will be for his farsighted determination to prevail in the most critical conflict of our time - despite ferocious opposition from the media and the Democrats - that he will be most remembered.