Saturday, January 17, 2009

And Yet...

As we close the books on the Bush Presidency in just a few days, there is much for conservatives and libertarians to regret over the last eight years. I twice voted for Mr. Bush, so you might say that I have little excuse for this hand wringing. As KT points out, the alternative was worser, so I have no regrets about my vote. Still I have a long list of complaints about the last eight years, so I will let fly.

1. No Child Left Behind. Anytime you see a so called conservative teaming up with Teddy Kennedy, you can be sure mischief is afoot. This vast intrusion on local school systems, however well intentioned, is out of the constitutional purview of the federal government. Further, it will retard much needed scholastic experimentation for decades to come.

2. Indifferent support of free trade. In 2002, Bush imposed steel tariffs to buy a few votes in the Rust Belt, showing a total moral indifference to the defense of the principles of free trade. Despite lifting them later, he sent the message to the rest of the world that he didn't really care about the issue, setting back international negotiations.

3. Indifference to the constitution. From foreign wiretaps to Guantanamo, Bush acted as if his commander-in-chief powers trumped the rest of the constitution. While I agree with the policies per se, I disagreed vehemently that the President had the authority to implement them unilaterally. On the foreign wiretaps, of course they have provided valuable intelligence, that's why even Democrats voted for changes to FISA when it came to a vote. So why would the administration lay themselves open to charges of illegality when they could have got this legislation so easily passed. Further, it has been argued that it is too difficult to get judges to approve the needed surveillance. Baloney, if it is that important, then create enough special judgeships to oversee the program. We spend enough on the war itself, spend enough to make sure surveillance is conducted legally. Same for military tribunals and the Gitmo prisoners. Do they deserve to be treated as POWs under treaty? Obviously not, but the President lacks the authority to invent a procedure to deal with unlawful combatants out of whole cloth. When Republicans controlled both chambers, surely he could have gotten the procedures and avoided a smack down from the Supremes.

4. Incompetent execution of the war. I was on active duty when Donald Rumsfeld was selected as Secretary of Defense. I remember his emphasis on re-shaping the military to a smaller force with more emphasis on special forces and air power. I disagreed at the time, and believe events in Iraq have proved me out. While I have no smoking gun, there is no doubt in my mind that we went with too small a force in the initial Iraq invasion. The initial looting became important as a tipping point, letting thugs and terrorists (but I repeat myself) know that we lacked the forces to control the country. Displacing a government will always take fewer forces than maintaining effective control of a nation, and we should have known better. Further, we mindlessly de-Baathisized Iraq, but were left with no one who knew how to manage vital civic services. We have only recently found our footing and not because of the geniuses and cowards in the Pentagon. (I don't use that term lightly, Generals and Admirals have a duty to resign and speak out when the administration is being criminally stupid, but those guys valued their pensions and promotions more than their duty.)

5. Indifference to social security reform. Bush gave up on the ownership society way to easily. He failed to communicate and let constant naysayers Pelosi and Reed get the best of them, even though, by their own admissions, they had no better plan to deal with the Ponzi scheme that is called social security.

I could go one, but these are my chief complaints. Do I blame Bush for the recession? To the extent that it is due to the war and other spending putting us into deep debt, yes. So by this reckoning, it would seem that his was a failed presidency.

And yet....

I'm still not sure. The book "Good to Great" talks about the hedgehog, who only has to know one thing to defeat the much more clever fox. George Bush may be that hedgehog in that he knew this: Allowing the drift of events and opinion in the Middle East to continue unchecked would inevitably bring far greater tragedy to the world than the events of 9-11. Something huge needed to be done, something that only America could do, something that would demonstrate our commitment to democracy as well as serve as a reminder that we remain the most powerful nation on earth. A confluence of events made that something a place and a war called simply "Iraq." Only time will tell if he was able to reverse the course of history. I am certain only of this, on the most important decision he had to make on his watch, George Bush got it right. We hope and pray that Barack Obama will be similarly fated.


  1. Well put! I would add cronyism to the list. Brown, Myers, the immigration secretary whose name escapes me.

  2. Dang, I forgot that moronic prescription drug benefit too.