As President George W. Bush’s presidential library opens at Southern Methodist University, National Review Online asked some commentators, historians, and former administration officials to recap the highs and lows of his presidential years.
President Bush’s best moments were when he defied conventional wisdom. Of course the surge in Iraq tops the list. I would add his reaction to 9/11 regarding Middle East policy. Rejecting advice to blame Israel (“they hate us because we’re too pro-Israel”), he correctly saw the repression, absence of freedom, and lack of economic opportunity in Arab countries as the underlying problem. And he included the Palestinians in his demands for freedom and decent government, for which reason he refused to deal with Yasser Arafat.
The worst moments were in 2006: terrible violence in Iraq, the Hamas election victory, the results in our own fall elections, and the continuing fallout from Katrina. But all of that brought out the best in Bush. He was resolute, and cheered up his whole team. The troubles of 2006 brought out the best in his character.
— Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was the deputy national security adviser handling the Middle East in the George W. Bush administration.
It’s one of the ironies of history that a man characterized by unusual integrity and honesty is remembered (at least for now) for having “lied” about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — another triumph of the Left’s historical revisionism. Just add it to the list that includes “right-wing” Dallas being responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the New Deal ending the Great Depression, Al Gore winning the election of 2000, and many others.
George W. Bush made his share of mistakes. He expanded government spending, failed to steal a march on Democrats by proposing health-care reform when Republicans controlled Congress, moved to nominate Harriet Miers for a precious Supreme Court seat, and permitted his Departments of State and Defense to engage in a highly damaging public feud for the better part of six years.
Above all, Bush erred by failing to explain to the American people how our intelligence could have been so wrong about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The lowest moment of his tenure, I believe, was when he presented a “humorous” video to the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner showing the president searching under sofa cushions and in White House closets for the missing WMDs.
His best moments though, were deeply admirable. With a full heart and an open mind, he examined every side of the stem-cell question before making a decision. He found the courage, when the whole world was against him, to order the surge in Iraq. Most leaders don’t have the nerve to do things that poll less than 80 percent support. Remember Clinton, who commissioned a poll about where to vacation?
President Bush did what he believed to be in the best interests of the nation. Most of the time, his policy instincts were good. He withdrew from the ABM treaty, reduced taxes, declined to join the Kyoto charade, shunned Yasser Arafat, withdrew from the International Criminal Court (another corrupt U.N. body), and chased terrorists across the globe.
George W. Bush, vile caricatures notwithstanding, is a deeply honorable, well-read, witty, civilized, and brave man. He’s a darn good artist too. Viciously maligned, he deserves to be honored.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist.
Congratulations, President Bush, on your new Library and Policy Center!
Let’s all celebrate the high points of your eight years. All in all, I’d give President George W. Bush a ‘B’ or ‘B-’ for his presidency. Especially as viewed from today, he looks pretty good. And, remember, I’m a tough grader.
High points: ‘43’ knows that economic growth really matters, both for the macro-economy and for individual freedom, and that tax rates should be cut whenever and wherever possible. And he did it, even when some of our own friends on Capitol Hill were wavering.
He voided the ABM treaty with the Soviet Union, which, of course, wasn’t there anymore, and thus enabled us to move ahead — albeit slowly — with missile defense.
He actually privatized a little bit of foreign aid (but then increased the AID governmental budget significantly, apparently forgetting that the private sector, and the voluntary sector of charities, could do it a lot better).
He was gutsy on the War on Terror, even if some of the details (TSA and other parts of DHS, etc.) didn’t come out right. The surge was vindicated, even if there were/are real questions about overreaching.
He reminded us of the centrality of the traditional family.
So, there were positive decisions and positive policy results in all three legs of the conservative policy stool.
Now for the low points. Lowest, that’s easy: signing McCain-Feingold with the excuse that while he didn’t like it, he’d let the Supreme Court decide on its constitutionality. (A major cop-out, a blow to free speech, and a blow to freedom generally, IMO.)
And, of course, I could mention No Child Left Behind, which certainly didn’t do what should have been done in terms of empowering real people for competitive choice for their kids’ education. There were other concessions to the slippery slope of the welfare state that were disappointing, too.
Why does it matter? Because it’s always important to remember to go back to the Constitution. A real commitment to our principles would give you more of those high points, and fewer cop-outs or wavering.
— Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation.