How Will History Judge Bush?

A few months ago, a friend started a conversation with the words, “now that George Bush is generally agreed to be the worst president in history…”

I have no idea what she said after that, as my mind was reeling. I silently edited the statement: “Among partisan Democrats who ignore Warren Harding, George W. Bush is generally agreed to be the worst president in history.”

But my friend can point to academic support for her claim, because even some historians, who should know better, have been eager to label George W. Bush the “worst president in history.” They would do well to let some history occur before they presume to speak for the ages, and to remember how Ronald Reagan evolved in a few short years from the bumbler of the Iran-Contra scandal into the hero who won the Cold War.

At Pajamas Media, Ron Radosh discusses an academic who is grappling with the issue of Bush’s legacy:

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 Iraq had to be won and 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 close to the center. Check back with me in a decade.

I think it may take longer than a decade, and in any event it will depend on the future course of Iraq and the Middle East. Today, after mismanaging the war for years, Bush can point to a tenuous, fledgling democracy in Iraq. Twenty or forty years from now, if things go well, he may — may — get credit for creating the first stable democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East. And if Iraq becomes a beacon of hope in the neighborhood, the missteps in the early years of the war will become a mere footnote in the history books.

The Perils of Blogging

Like many (most?) bloggers, I crave a bigger audience, and I thought I had found a gambit that might tempt James Taranto to link to me from his “Best of the Web Today.” Yesterday’s BotWT included one of his “Wannabe Pundit” items, quoting a journalist taking a pot shot at the Bush Administration in the context of a non-political article. Here’s the quote, which was from an article about buying Oriental rugs:

“Hizballah has re-armed, Israel could attack Lebanon again at any time, Iran is probably building nuclear weapons, the surge in Iraq is a mirage, and America is falling apart,” reports Time magazine’s Andrew Lee Butters.That’s the bad news. The good news is, you now know how to buy an Oriental rug.

Wait a minute — “the surge in Iraq is a mirage”? In September, even Candidate Obama was forced to admit that the “surge has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams”! My outrage gets my creative juices flowing — I’ll do a chart!! I’ll show how U.S. casualties have declined over the duration of the surge, and I’ll add famous surge quotations!!! It’ll graphically illustrate what a nonsensical statement Butter made!!!! How could he even write such a thing, more than two months after Obama said the surge succeeded?

Well, he didn’t. I discovered this when I was putting the finishing touches on my chart. I just needed the original date of the Butters quote… oops. It was in BotWT yesterday, but apparently the normally careful Taranto didn’t notice that the quote on Time’s website was dated April 18, 2008.

Anyway, there’s the chart. (What, I’m not gonna post it after I go to all that trouble?)

Update — I sent the item to James Taranto anyway, and here is his response:

Sorry about that. I don’t normally use such old items, and indeed I didn’t notice how old it was. However, since I wasn’t making fun of him specifically for the surge quote, I didn’t make an actual error and thus will not run a correction. Feel free to note on your blog that I acknowledge your point, however.

Fair enough — even if the statement were accurate or defensible, it would still qualify as a Wannabe Pundit on the basis of irrelevance to the rest of the article.

Next Up: Obama Derangement Syndrome

As I was writing yesterday about Bush Derangement Syndrome, Pajamas Media was preparing to post an article by Neo-neocon entitled “Avoiding the Clutches of Obama Derangement Syndrome.” Sage advice, as usual:

Yes, there are reasons to fear that Obama has a far left agenda, based on his history, some of his own statements, and his associations. There are even reasons to believe that whether he does or doesn’t have such an agenda himself, he will lack the inclination (or perhaps the backbone) to stop the far left agenda of those with the power to pass bills — in other words, the hugely Democratic Congress and its leaders Reid and Pelosi.

But I suggest that everyone stand back, take a deep breath, and wait. Wait, and observe. It will become clear enough as Obama chooses a Cabinet and advisers. And then it will become even more clear as he takes office and begins the work of government. More clarity will come as he handles the inevitable crises and tests that will occur on his watch.

Her column makes me feel like the cybergods are smiling at me. [Self-absorbed? Moi?] I briefly considered calling my blog “Neo-neo-neocon,” but I thought it might sound derivative. Now we’ve written about similar topics at the same time. As an added bonus, she links to the Wikipedia definition of BDS, where I find that the term originally was coined by… Charles Krauthammer, whom I quote often enough that he has his own tag on my blog.

Neo describes how the deployment of derangement can backfire:

Once again, I want to emphasize that we are not talking about mere policy disagreements here. We’re talking about demonizing and trashing a person, ascribing to him the worst motivations possible and imagining conspiracy theories everywhere.

I think this happened to a certain segment of the right with Bill Clinton. It was never anywhere near as widespread as BDS later was, but CDS existed and was a slow poison that may have contributed to the later development of BDS on the other side.

Criticism, even harsh criticism, has a valid role in a political system that draws strength from the clash of ideas. I try to avoid the temptation to lapse into name-calling, although sometimes I succumb when it comes to targets on the political margins, such as Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and Obama’s unholy trinity of Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright and Tony Rezko.

But the Presidency is different. Like it or not, an American President is a symbol of our country, and demonizing him diminishes all of us. I’m all in favor of expressing criticism in strong terms, but I have nothing but scorn for the kind of mentality that leads someone to say, “Bush [Obama] is not my President.” Actually, he is.

Bush Derangement Syndrome and the Surge

Peter Wehner, writing in Commentary, does the best job I have seen of chronicling the sordid history of liberal opposition to the surge. For paragraph after relentless paragraph he replays the mockery from the left, from before the surge even started until long after its success was clear.

Anti-surge rhetoric died down only when even Barack Obama — who won the Democratic nomination in part because he was seen as the “purest” advocate of surrender in Iraq — finally had to admit in September that the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

Wehner wrestles with the question of why so many on the left continued denying the reality unfolding before their eyes:

A generous interpretation is that by the end of 2006, many liberals had made a definitive good-faith judgment that the Iraq war was irretrievably lost. This then became the filter through which they viewed all later developments. Once convinced of the impossibility of substantial progress, never mind a decent outcome or an actual victory, they could not help receiving good news as anomalous and/or inherently unsustainable.

But the generous interpretation may be too generous, and also condescending. Reasonable and responsible adults are expected to assess the solidity of their convictions against the available evidence and in light of changing circumstances. Even at the time of the surge’s announcement, when things were going quite badly, should responsible adults not have been able to entertain the possibility that, given the enormity of what was at stake in the war, a fundamentally new approach merited at least a degree of support, however hesitant or conditional?

Instead, many pronounced the new approach a failure even before it was tried. Still worse was that they continued to pronounce it a failure even as the evidence began to amass that it was succeeding. Even those few who (like Richard Cohen and Joe Klein) eventually admitted they were wrong about the surge itself continued to insist they were right about the war. Others stuck more and more zealously to their original position the more it became falsified by reality. They, and not the President, were the ones who were truly “doubling down” on their bet—as if a decent outcome in Iraq threatened their entire worldview.

Wehner doesn’t actually use the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” but he describes it:

For some liberals, hatred of the President was clearly so all-encompassing that they had developed a deep investment in the failure of what they habitually dismissed not as America’s war but as “Bush’s war.” To an extent, this passion was driven by merely partisan considerations: Iraq had become a superbly effective instrument with which to bludgeon Republicans. It had helped the Democrats take control of both the House and the Senate in 2006; might not a thorough “Republican” defeat in Iraq lastingly reshape the political landscape in their favor?

This is, admittedly, an unpleasant line of speculation, and those foolhardy enough to venture upon it have been loudly condemned for questioning the patriotism of their political adversaries. But patriotism is not the issue—judgment is. When politicians acting in good faith misjudge a situation, nothing prevents them from acknowledging their error and explaining themselves. For the most part, we await such acknowledgments in vain.

My “favorite” BDS bumper sticker is the one I saw nearly every day when I was still commuting into New York, on a car usually parked a few slots ahead of mine. The sticker is pictured above — if you’re reading this via RSS, the sticker plays off the ill-advised “Mission Accomplished” proclamation, except the word “Mission” is crossed out and “Nothing” scrawled above it.

It’s deeply offensive not just because it dishonors the sacrifice of the troops, but because it does so in a way that is transparently, objectively false.

Removing Saddam Hussein from power is not “nothing.” One can argue that it was not worth the cost. One can argue that it was not an appropriate use of American military power. One can even argue, although it’s getting harder, that the Iraqi people would be better off if we had left Saddam alone. I disagree with all of those assertions, but there are substantive arguments that can and have been made for them. Well, for the first two anyway.

But the notion that “nothing” has been accomplished is… well… deranged. Thankfully, Obama has shown signs that his own case of Bush Derangement Syndrome is in remission. Soon it will no longer be “Bush’s war” — it will be for Obama to win or lose. I hope the success of the surge will allow him to continue the responsible draw-down of forces that has already begun.