There is a strange symmetry between the Bush hatred that emanated from the Left and what the writer John Avlon calls “irrational Obama exuberance.” Barack Obama has not spent one day as President, yet his admirers speak and write as if he has not and will not do anything wrong. I agree with Avlon that Obama’s centrist Cabinet choices have encouraged confidence in his ability to tackle our country’s problems. But when President Obama steps into the oval office, like any other President who is a human being, he will call some shots incorrectly, and polls will reflect disillusionment among his followers.
If you consider Obama the closest man can get to God, you are probably among those who think that George W. Bush is the closest man can get to being the devil. As Canadian journalist Robert Fulford writes in The National Post, “liberal Americans who see the Republicans as the party of the devil have enjoyed eight years of intense self-righteousness.” These are about to end, thankfully. As Obama takes over our nation’s helm, hopefully more reasoned opinion will prevail on the question of George W. Bush’s legacy as President.
Speaking about this himself, the President told an interviewer that he would like to be known “as somebody who liberated 50 million people and helped achieve peace,” and as a person “who first and foremost, did not sell his soul to accommodate the political process.” He would like to be known as a leader who “rallied people to help their neighbor, that led an effort to help relieve HIV/AIDS and malaria on places like the continent of Africa; that helped elderly people get their prescription drugs and Medicare as part of the basic package.”
Whether or not Bush’s hopes are fulfilled will only be told by future historians. Today’s academy has already reached its own judgment. A year or so ago, the eminent historian Sean Wilentz wrote a cover story for Rolling Stone, in which he called Bush “the worst President in all American history.” Most of his colleagues readily agreed with his call.
Bush and his defenders have good reason to be angry at Wilentz’s premature verdict. As Fulford points out, the President created the $30 billion Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, and extended it this year with a $48 billion to end the number of people being treated in Africa to three million and to train 140,000 health care workers who specialize in HIV prevention and treatment. Thus Bush changed our nation’s involvement in Africa in a positive fashion. The rock star and activist Bob Geldorf openly acknowledged this, pointing out that Bush “has done more than any other president” for Africa. But yet, as Fulford writes, “it’s unlikely that one in a 100 of [Bush's] fellow Americans know about it.”
Most important of all will be acknowledging Bush’s role in keeping America free of terrorist attacks since 9/11. If we look at what has taken place in Britain, Spain and now India, we must realize that the various terrorist networks have certainly been trying, and had their efforts not been stopped, might have been successful.
Alexander Moens, a political scientist who has written a book titled The Foreign Policy of George W. Bush, told journalist Kevin Libin that “there is evidence…plots were disrupted and people were killed that indicate that other attacks were in the making.”
And then there is Iraq. To the Left and the antiwar activists, the very entry into the war and the toppling of Saddam Hussein was unnecessary, wrong and immoral. Evidently, leaving one of the greatest contemporary tyrants and butchers of his own people in office was not a problem. And although intelligence turned out to be deeply flawed, the spurious charge that “Bush lied us into war” has no mettle. Virtually every major Democrat saw the same intelligence as the Bush administration, and made the point over and over that Saddam had violated all United Nations sanctions, and was set to put WMDs into operation in the near future.
As Professor Moen points out, Bush’s “ability to actually stay convinced that Iraq had to be won, when nobody else in the world agreed with him…is an aspect of his strong leadership that people will respect more over time.” One can argue that when Bush leaves office, Iraq will be on the way to forging an actual democracy; the war will have been effectively over and Al-Qaeda will have been defeated.
This is not to say that critics are incorrect when they attack the serious mishandling of Iraq after Saddam’s ouster. No one can justify Abu Ghraib, the excesses in interrogation techniques and the sanction of actual torture, or the problems at Guantanamo. Nor can one fail to be critical of the President’s inability to explain to the American public why they should support Operation Iraqi Freedom .
Future generations will have to assess the final outcome. If Iraq does emerge as a democracy in the Middle East, joining Israel as a state pledged to democracy in a sea of tyrannies, then future historians will see the President in a more favorable light than their contemporaries seem to do today. Whatever their conclusions turn out to be, I have one prediction: Bush’s position in the rankings of American Presidents will have risen at least close to the center, if not higher. Check back with me in a decade.