Thoughts on Karl Rove’s Defense of Bush

[Commentary]

Karl Rove wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled “Bush Was Right When It Mattered Most.”

He starts by saying that critics distort Bush’s record, then goes into his 10 Defenses of Bush.

  1. Bush was right to go into Iraq.  Bush was right about the surge.  Iraq is doing better, becoming a democracy.
  2. The Bush Doctrine is reasonable.  Preemption works.  Bush’s changes to intelligence and defense, as well as the PATRIOT Act, were good decisions.
  3. The reason that some people don’t support some of Bush’s policies is that they forgot 9/11.
  4. Rove defends Bush’s unilateralism in regard to combating AIDS in Africa.
  5. By Bush cutting everyone’s taxes, the U.S. grew for a solid year.
  6. While disputed, Bush restrained spending.  (Specifically “domestic nonsecurity discretionary spending”.)
  7. Bush modernized Medicare, saving money therein.
  8. No Child Left Behind was a good decision.
  9. Bush’s anti-abortion stance and Supreme Court picks were right.
  10. Bush didn’t sink to the level of throwing back insults that were leveled at him by Democratic leaders.

Commentary:

Bush gets a bad rap.  By no means was he a perfect president.  Many have argued that he is a terrible, if not the worst president.  I doubt that he’s on the bottom of the list, but I certainly think he should be criticized and analyzed.  That being said, Bush has done some good things that end up going unnoticed by most, due to lack of objectivity caused by  visceral antipathy.  Intelligent analysis requires more objectivity than lumping everything Bush does into the ‘bad’ or ‘neutral’ category.  Even Obama, in the midst of the campaign, strongly praised Bush’s AIDS in Africa work.

  • Bush was right to go into Iraq.  Bush was right about the surge.  Iraq is doing better, becoming a democracy.

I was in favor of the war in Iraq.  Now, I question it, based on both the faulty intelligence and a greater understanding of the ethnic chasms that have been exacerbated by the war.  But neither of those are as important as the fact that the war was mishandled.  The surge was necessary because we did not send in enough troops to do the job properly at the beginning.  Security was shoddy enough to allow for looting of the National Museum of Iraq, as well as a myriad of other problems at the beginning.  The dream that we would be greeted as liberators caused a lot of errors in initial planning.  The buck stops at the President.  Whether he was right to go in, whether he made right moves later on, he sure messed up the middle.

  • The Bush Doctrine is reasonable.  Preemption works.  Bush’s changes to intelligence and defense, as well as the PATRIOT Act, were good decisions.

When people think about the Bush Doctrine and preemption, they generally focus on Iraq, but it equally applies to Afghanistan.  One the ideas in the Bush Doctrine is that we should attack those that harbor terrorists.  The Taliban did not directly attack us, but they harbored those that did and were not willing to give them over immediately.  Considering the massive support for the invasion of Afghanistan, perhaps the American public does agree with some level of the Bush Doctrine.  But in the case of Afghanistan case, it was a lot more clear-cut and defined.  

When looking at the Iraq War, faulty intelligence becomes a central argument against preemption.  When one is attacked by a sovereign nation, a la Pearl Harbor, it becomes a lot easier to retaliate, as the culprit is clear.  In terrorist attacks, such as 9/11, linking the ties by intelligence comes into play.  In a situation with Iraq, where there was no attack on the U.S. and the only necessary justification is a worry, manipulation of information becomes a very valid concern.  If the Bush Administration willingly conveyed false information to convince Congress and the American people of the validity of the Iraq War, they should be held accountable.

Another tenet of the Bush Doctrine is the spread of democracy.  The problem is, it isn’t necessarily in the best interests of the United States and therefore hasn’t been encouraged, except in specific situations.  Our allies in the Middle East are either Kingdoms (e.g. Jordan, Saudi Arabia) or governments that are only democratic in name (such as Egypt).  The main opposition in Egypt, for example, is the Muslim Brotherhood, which is an outlawed political party.  The Muslim Brotherhood wants the Koran to be the central guiding point for government.  Given the choice between a lack of democracy and a chance of an Islamic Republic of Egypt, the U.S. seems to be willing to not push too hard for democratic reforms in Egypt.  And Hamas, a terrorist organization, was democratically elected in 2006, which did not cause any cheering by any Western countries.  

Regarding the PATRIOT Act, to only blame Bush is to not understand checks and balances.  First, it went through Congress, who did not wholly scrutinize it, given the immediate post-9/11 dynamic.  The PATRIOT Act has undergone some changes over its existence, based on outcries.  Hopefully, it will continue to be reformed based on public criticism.  Perhaps it was an overreach and over-reaction, but it is one that is fixable and has been comparatively benign in the face of other U.S. decisions based on the confluence of security and paranoia, such as the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans.

  • The reason that some people don’t support some of Bush’s security policies is that they forgot 9/11.

While it should not be taken to extremes, there is logic to the Benjamin Franklin quote:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

‘Temporary’ is also a key word.  The heightened emotion and feeling of a need for immediate action were not the ideal circumstances to inhibit freedoms.  Perhaps more distance is a better vantage point to be able to enact a balance between liberty and permanent/improved safety.

  • Rove defends Bush’s unilaterism in regard to combating AIDS in Africa.

As mentioned earlier, even Obama has defended Bush’s policies for AIDS in Africa.  “The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief” (PEPFAR) has received minimal criticism, with the main critique being that 1/3 of prevention spending is required to be spent on abstinence-only programs.  I wholly disagree with abstinence-only education and intend to write a more detailed entry on it at a later time.  Given all of the resounding support for the program and the improvement of some of its flaws (such as beginning to allow generic drugs, instead of only branded ones), this should be given more credit than it has been.  (PEPFAR Watch is the leading website covering the program.)

  • By Bush cutting everyone’s taxes, the U.S. economy grew for a solid year.

A negligible point, given the fact that the economy is in shambles.  Rove vaguely acknowledges that there are economic problems.  Here’s the main point on this:  homeownership was raised to such a pedestal that it began to matter less whether or not people could afford a home, allowing for lax oversight.  And there is a downside to the materialism that causes people to up and up their credit.  We’re feeling that downside now.

  • While disputed, Bush restrained spending.  (Specifically “domestic nonsecurity discretionary spending”.)

Again, a bit negligible.  We’re involved in two wars.  Wars cost a lot of money.  If you have to keep buying big screen TVs, it’s not so important if you’re avoiding buying a couple packs of gum.  Plus, a great, great deal of money is being  spent on the financial crisis.

  • Bush modernized Medicare, saving money therein.

On January 14th, 2009, Bush’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, was quoted as saying that “Medicare is drifting toward disaster.”  Doesn’t sound like enough was done with Medicare.

  • No Child Left Behind was a good decision.

Accountability for schools is a good thing and some people think NCLB was a step in the right direction, giving a standardized way to find under-performing schools.  It has also been criticized for not having enough funding or flexibility, as well as accusations of  “teaching the test” and not caring about under-performing or gifted students.

It should be noted that while it was based on a proposal by Bush, it was co-sponsored by Democrats, Rep. George Miller and Sen. Ted Kennedy.

  • Bush’s anti-abortion stance and Supreme Court picks were right.

The former cannot be seen objectively.  If you’re pro-choice, he’s wrong.  If you’re pro-life, he’s right.  As for Supreme Court picks, it’s similar, but perhaps a bit nuanced.  Roberts and Alito do not seem to be Scalias, but they are by no means liberalizing influences on the court.

  • Bush didn’t sink to the level of throwing back insults that were leveled at him by Democratic leaders.

Good for him.  He also didn’t really seem too intent on compromising with the Democratic Congress either, which could be seen as a greater insult than off-handedly calling someone a ‘loser’ (as Harry Reid did).  But it’s arguable.

—————-

Conclusion:  While some think Bush’s legacy is going to be one of a failed presidency, I think that historians will eventually see it as more nuanced.  I’ve said it before: I think the fact that there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 should/will be be seen as a bigger deal than the current perception.  Beyond that, a renewed focus on political humanitarianism is a positive development, as well as the beginning of real changes to education.

Bush was not popular because he didn’t listen to the electorate or to many people outside of his little circle.  That circle became smaller and smaller as he abandoned the ideals of economic conservatism.  Whether he was right or wrong on any myriad of issues, he certainly will never be remembered as a consistently popular president.

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