JAMES S. ROBBINS
One of George W. Bush’s best moments — not really a moment but a series of decisions — concerned launching the surge strategy in Iraq in 2007. Public approval of the war effort had sagged, along with Mr. Bush’s popularity, and he faced an aggressive, newly elected Democratic majority in Congress that solidly opposed the plan. Yet he believed in the strategy and implemented it, ignoring the many naysayers (including Senators Obama, Clinton, and Biden). Mr. Bush’s strong leadership allowed him ultimately to hand his successor a win in Iraq, instead of the loss it would have been had he simply pulled out, as his Democratic opponents demanded.
Ironically, this best moment was necessitated by one of Mr. Bush’s worst moments, the failure to plan for or adequately to understand the postwar environment in Iraq. The series of bad decisions taken when Saddam Hussein’s regime fell in 2003 — including the removal of retired Army lieutenant general Jay Garner as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the radical de-Baathification of Iraq’s government, dissolving what remained of the Iraqi army, defaulting on the pensions of retired officers from Saddam’s service, cancellation of the early transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people, and alienating the Sunni tribal leadership — created the conditions for insurgency to flourish. Had the United States co-opted Iraq’s traditional power brokers and swiftly transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi people the outcome would have been very different, and Mr. Bush’s presidency would not have ended with the lowest sustained public-approval ratings of any president since detailed polling records have been kept.
— James S. Robbins is senior fellow in national-security affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council.
“This world He created is of moral design. Grief and tragedy and hatred are only for a time. Goodness, remembrance, and love have no end, and the Lord of life holds all who die and all who mourn.” These are the words of a man who believed what he was saying, in the aftermath of 9/11, at the National Cathedral, and, pace the Left, did not go on to “demonize a whole religion.” Indeed, at the Washington Islamic Center days later, he called Islam a religion of peace. (You can look it up.) But he also spoke bluntly of Islamic terrorism.
Much as I dislike how presidents have become pastors-in-chief or public theologians, better this than much of what transpired before and after. Because President Bush’s finest moments always came when he attended to — as he often did — the world’s “moral design.” True morality sees reality and acts accordingly. You can see Islam as largely peaceful and still pursue jihadists vigorously.
Bush also brought that sense of the need to protect innocent human life to his decision on embryonic-stem-cell research (partly flawed, but courageous), fighting AIDS in Africa, and immigration reform.
His cowboy swagger sometimes went too far. In an emotional moment, he foolishly dared the jihadists to “bring it on.” And his “we don’t do nuance” remark, a weak joke to anyone who understands Texans, was often thrown at many of us on foreign soil by critics of American foreign policy — an unnecessary gift to opponents.
The Iraq War will always be debated (even though U.N. inspector Hans Blix and several European governments also believed Saddam had WMDs). But for me his weakest day was when he announced he was nominating Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court — a lightweight crony in a period where Court decisions are rapidly changing American society. It still doesn’t compute. In the end, he did the right thing: Sam Alito.
Future historians may yet discover some of this story.
— Robert Royal is the founder and president of the Faith & Reason Institute.