10.16.2005

Iraq and Bush's Legacy

Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations has written an interesting article indicating the way of thinking about the historic people and events.

The full op-ed:

Bush Knockout is Premature

Author: Max Boot

October 13, 2005
Los Angeles Times

Commentators are writing George W. Bush’s political obituary. And why not? Things do seem pretty grim for the president, with surveys indicating that public disapproval (53 percent in Real clearpolitics.com’s poll of polls) outweighs support (42.2 percent) by a hefty margin.

The top item on his second-term agenda—Social Security reform—has no chance of passage. His party is mired in scandal, with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and ex-federal procurement czar David Safavian under indictment. Charges of cronyism and incompetence swirl around the White House. Even conservatives are jumping ship over Bush’s spending binge and his nomination of a total nonentity—an empty blouse—for the Supreme Court.

None of it matters.

The best analogy is to Ronald Reagan’s administration. In the middle of his second term, the Gipper was mired in the Iran-Contra scandal. Conservatives were disenchanted over his unwillingness to cut domestic spending and his willingness to deal with the new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. In the 1986 midterm election, Democrats regained control of the Senate. The next year they torpedoed Robert Bork’s nomination to the high court, leading Ronald Reagan to appoint Anthony Kennedy, who has earned right-wing ire.

Yet, all these setbacks turned out to be mere footnotes to the Reagan presidency. By the time he died, Reagan was universally lauded for winning the Cold War and reviving the economy.

Likewise, Bush’s legacy will not be defined by who he put on the Supreme Court, how he responded to Hurricane Katrina or what he spent. Posterity will look at the bottom line—his record on peace and prosperity. And what will it find?

First, despite an accumulation of woes, including a devastating hurricane and soaring oil prices, the U.S. economy remains robust. The latest statistics put growth at a healthy 3.3 percent, unemployment a low 5.1 percent and inflation an inconsequential 3.6 percent. On all but inflation, the United States is outpacing other industrialized countries. The euro area, for instance, is growing at a paltry 2 percent, and its unemployment rate is a hefty 9 percent. The economy is generally outside a president’s control, but Bush’s tax cuts helped produce our enviable record.

The second point, which is obvious but needs restating, is that there hasn’t been any sequel to 9/11. None. That probably will change before long, but it’s still pretty amazing that four years after 9/11 the United States has not experienced any terrorist attacks on its soil (with the possible exception of the anthrax letters), while other countries that are lower-priority targets—including Britain, Spain and Indonesia—have suffered terribly. Some of it may be because of sheer luck, but Bush nevertheless deserves credit for aggressively fighting terrorism and keeping the United States safe—at least for now.

If things continue on their current trajectory, he will also earn kudos for defeating the Taliban and creating a democratic government in Afghanistan.

The situation is harder to judge in Iraq. There is no shortage of negative indicators, from lack of electricity to a surfeit of suicide bombings. Yet, there is also cause for optimism. All indications are that most Iraqis, including many Sunnis, plan to vote Saturday and that they will approve a new and relatively liberal constitution. Critics claim it will lead to the dissolution of Iraq, but it could just as plausibly create precisely the kind of federalist structure needed to keep disparate ethnic groups together without a dictator in Baghdad.

In any case, the ability of Iraqis to work together, however imperfectly, in a democratic government represents considerable progress in a country traumatized by years of Baathist tyranny. Another positive sign is the growing competence of the Iraqi army, which is taking a bigger hand in military operations from Baghdad to the western border.

There are no guarantees, but if the United States remains committed to Iraq for the long term, the odds tilt heavily in favor of our democratic allies and against the jihadists whose indiscriminate violence is alienating almost everyone. Perhaps for this reason, 78 percent of Iraqis expect their situation will improve in a year’s time, according to the International Republican Institute poll, and only 10 percent think it will get worse. If their expectations pan out, Bush may yet be able to rescue his reputation from its current doldrums.

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