Giving Bush Credit
President George W. Bush puts the “lame” into “lame duck.” True, presidents in the last year of their second term don’t often have a great deal of influence, but Bush has been virtually forgotten in the tumult of the 2008 presidential race. When he is remembered, he is usually despised—conservatives feel betrayed by his poor handling of the immigration problem and his spending irresponsibility, and are often disgusted by his poor handling of the Iraq War, while liberals believe that he is the cause of all that is wrong with America. Even those conservatives who defend the president do so in rather a perfunctory way, as though bound by an unwelcome obligation.
In my opinion, those who feel that Bush is responsible for all that is wrong in our government are partially right—in many ways, Bush has turned in a simply dreadful job performance. He has almost indisputably mishandled the Iraq War, both for wholly underestimating the extent of insurgent resistance and for not implementing the surge much earlier. (In addition, there is the fact that we did go into Iraq because of incorrect intelligence—invading Iraq may, in the end, turn out to be beneficial in the War on Terror, but not for the reasons Bush gave. Saddam did not have a budding weapons program, and he had few terrorist ties).
In addition, Bush has done a very poor job at controlling federal spending. He campaigned as a “compassionate conservative,” which maybe should have been a warning sign, and from a fiscal point of view, his presidency has been worse than that of Bill Clinton. He has increased the federal debt by four trillion dollars, and has tacitly supported the current egregiously corrupt earmark system.
Bush has done a great deal wrong, but he has done at least one very important thing right—he has fulfilled his promise to keep Americans safe from terror.
Almost seven years after 9/11, it is hard to imagine the enormity of the challenge facing the country in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. Three thousand Americans had lost their lives and three iconic skyscrapers had been devastated, all courtesy of a band of twelfth century thugs armed with flimsy knives and a childishly simple plan. This was a challenge unlike any other in our (admittedly short) history—we had to fight an enemy wholly invisible within the general population (for pictures of Mohammed Atta and his cohorts show that he looked perfectly normal), yet who could do incredible damage.
Somehow, Bush did it. There has not been a single major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. It is not for a lack of will on the part of radical Muslims extremists—they have hit many other countries very hard. In 2004, Spain was the victim of Islamic terrorists angry about its support of the Iraq War, and England was hit very hard by terrorism in 2005. Meanwhile, the United States (which the radical Muslim world considers the Great Satan) has not had even one major attack.
And this has been accomplished at a very low human cost. Naturally, every military death is a great tragedy, but the 4,500 dead in Iraq and Afghanistan is much lower than most would have predicted in the days immediately following 9/11. In hindsight, many of those deaths could have been prevented, but the fact remains that the death toll of the War on Terror has been extraordinarily low.
Bush has made more than his share of mistakes, and it is doubtful that history will remember him as a truly great president. But for all his flaws, he has had some significant successes as well, successes which should not be forgotten.