Fri, 16 Jan 2009 03:16:21 +0000 – Tonight we saw the real George W. Bush, liberated to speak from the heart, about what's truly in him. It's a good heart, and a good manner. But not-so-good policies--and not-so-good results.
He was gracious to his own family, and gracious to the Obama family. And at the end of his speech, he paid proper tribute to unheralded American heroes who deserve some heralding.
To start, he likes to link everything in his foreign policy to 9/11. It has, indeed, been more than seven years since an attack on the American homeland, and that's a signal achievement. The president was right to take firm steps to safeguard the homeland, shrugging off all the criticism he has received from ACLU-types ever since. And so he was certainly correct tonight when he said that we should "resist complacency."
Nobody can accuse Bush of complacency. The questions revolve around his judgment.
After 9/11, he was not content to just defend--and avenge--America. But within weeks after those attacks, with American forces on the ground in Afghanistan, he detached himself from the effort to capture or kill Usama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, those two key 9/11 figures. His focus had wandered elsewhere; to this day, those mass killers remain at large.
Bush has embraced the theory that the way to make the U.S. safe is to transform the planet, at least those parts of it that aren't free--which, of course, is most of the planet. As he said tonight, "Security and prosperity at home depend on the expansion of liberty abroad."
Well, actually, no, that's not true. America became a free country in 1783 when most of the world was enslaved, and that sad tyrannical reality has been true during all of our history. There are myriad evils in the world, and yet America is endangered by terrorists and armies and weapons, not by mere despots.
To think otherwise, and to act otherwise, is to condemn America to endless war abroad. It was John Quincy Adams who warned against such interventionist folly in his famous speech on July 4, 1821, in whichthe sixth president declaredof the young republic:
"Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy."
Those last words, "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy," have been ignored by subsequent presidents at their own peril--and America's peril.
But when the U.S. president declares that freedom is universal, well, that's a potential blank check for universal foreign wars. His rhetoric notwithstanding, Bush didn't do any of that: not in Russia, not in China, not in Burma, not in Cuba, Venezuela, or anywhere in Africa. Instead, his "freedom crusade" foundered in Iraq. Yes, the Surge worked, but it worked to stabilize Iraq, not to democratize it.
And yet the basic premise of Bush's foreign policy--the notion that freedom leads to peace and good relations--is simply not the case. Hitler was elected. Ahmadinejad was elected. Hamas won its election, the one the Bush administration insisted upon, over Israeli objections.
When Bush brought up "moral clarity" as an imperative tonight, echoing the lofty language of his second inaugural address in 2005, he reminded us that politics and evangelism must and should always be different things. And when he said that "good and evil exist in this world, and between the two, there can be no compromise"--well, actually, there's compromise all the time. That's why we aided "the evil empire," the Soviet Union, in its fight with a worse evil empire, Nazi Germany, during World War Two.
If Bush had truly been focused on securing American peace and freedom, he would have invested much more in missile defense and border security, including an impermeable fence across the U.S. frontier with Mexico. But he didn't.
On the positive side, Bush rightly took credit for appointing good judges; Americans stand to benefit from the jurisprudence of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito--to name just two of the many fine judges Bush appointed--for decades to come.
And although Bush didn't mention it tonight, he deserves enormous credit for holding the line against Kyoto-Treaty-type foolishness. If the 44th President actually believes in, and acts upon, all the misinformation that his Green advisers are putting into his ear, that will be a quick way to start making Bush look, by comparison, like a great steward for the economy.
And as for the economy, Bush felt the need to defend his bailout program, even as Republicans, no longer "drinking the Kool-Aid," are rising up against it. As Grover Norquist--who opposed the bailout from the get-go--observes, Bush will be remembered alongside Herbert Hoover. That is to say, he will be seen as a second Republican president who, after a financial crash, opened the door to the federal bank vault and then departed the scene, leaving his Democratic successor to spend all the money.
Bush likes to say that he kept his principles during his eight years in Washington. Perhaps so. But during his presidency, we all got a chance to see those principles as he applied them--and more to the point, we got a chance to see how they worked out in practice.