“A credible foreign policy is one in which you initially establish your credibility, establish your principles by which you would govern and stand strongly by them, so that over time, the people will begin to say-in the world-say, well, we can’t change him, let’s join him and try to solve problems.” This is George W. Bush speaking to the Wall Street Journal‘s Kimberley Strassel in an interview dated Saturday. There’s a lot to admire in this statement.
The best moment of 2008, as far as Dubya is concerned, is a perfect reflection of this resolve to do the right thing: his refusal to bend to calls for global financial regulation last month. He invited the G-20 to Washington in the middle of a worldwide panic, let 19 other world leaders talk for a few hours, and then ignored what they had to say about putting in place a world government for banks, investment houses, hedge funds, and assorted financial institutions. It was a magnificent display of statecraft that the world will soon come to appreciate. You have President Bush to thank that Nicolas Sarkozy and ten thousand European regulators are not now running your neighborhood bank.
And what was the worst Bush moment of this year? In my book, it was when Dubya let Vladimir Putin “stand strong.” The Russian strongman provoked the Georgians and invaded their country. President Bush may or may not have been able to stop the Russians from grabbing Georgian territory, but he definitely let Putin humble the Atlantic Alliance. The response of the United States and NATO was, in a word, abject. Putin – not Bush – was the one who let it be known that he could not be changed. And so he won, and the international community lost. Along with the Georgians, we will bear the consequences, perhaps for years.
Bush, in a few words to Ms. Strassel, has laid out the principles by which America should engage others, especially now that autocrats are working to remake the world in their own image. In these consequential times, the President will be judged by the sentiments he expressed so well a few days ago – as will his successors.