Commentary Magazine


It's a Good Time to Be George W. Bush

Let’s face it, this is shaping up as George W. Bush’s best month in years. The last time the 43rd president enjoyed this kind of vindication was when a bedraggled Saddam Hussein was pulled from a hole in the ground by American soldiers in 2003. All of Barack Obama’s efforts to cast the Bush administration as an immoral stain on American history have not merely collapsed, but collapsed on the heads of Bush’s most public and vocal critics.

Here’s a non-stammering Nancy Pelosi talking about Bush last July: "God bless him, bless his heart, president of the United States — a total failure, losing all credibility with the American people on the economy, on the war, on energy, you name the subject."

Don’t mind if I do. How about national security? It turns out that support for a criminal investigation of Bush policies yielded an important finding after all: Pelosi’s own long-standing agreement with the Bush administration’s toughest measures. On that point she’s in sync with the rest of the country. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp poll found that Americans approve of the interrogation methods Bush okayed by a margin of 50% to 46%. In other words, she didn’t have to go through the condemnation charade to begin with.

Then there’s Iraq. That July interview with Pelosi is quite a goldmine. When faced with a 14% approval rating for Congress, she counters: "Everything I see says this is about ending the war. . . " Well, that’s not happening anytime soon. Everything I see says "ending the war" was as phony as Nancy Pelosi’s outrage. Hillary Clinton went to Baghdad three weeks ago to reassure the Maliki government that the Obama administration will not abandon Iraq. On top of that, Gen. Ray Odierno said the U.S. might "maintain a presence" in some Iraqi cities beyond the scheduled draw-down date if the Iraqis request it. Did Pelosi mean the other war, in Afghanistan? Obama has done an outstanding job of taking that challenge seriously, and for those keeping score, his pick of Gen. Stanley McChrystal (the man who hunted down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq) has met with the gushing approval of Dick Cheney.

And speaking of Dick Cheney: Not only has he proved to be an important and articulate defender of the Bush administration’s national-security policy; his repeated interviews and statements have done Bush the service of drawing fire away from the former president. Bush not only looks wise these days; he looks modest and thoughtful as well. And Cheney’s (denied) request to declassify more CIA interrogation memos explodes the myth of the "most secretive administration in American history."

Let us not forget the Guantanamo Bay detainee facility. For years adduced as a monument to the Bush administration’s disdain for due process and human rights, Gitmo was slated to be shut down by Barack Obama as a first order of business. Today, the posture without a plan has come up against a bi-partisan roadblock. Thursday, the House denied the Obama administration a requested $80 million to close the facility. The Senate’s version of the bill in question contains $50 million for the Pentagon to shutter the place, but the money can only be tapped 30 days after Robert Gates devises a plan to relocate detainees outside the U.S. — so far France will take one. To top it all off, on Friday Obama announced the revival of Guantanamo military tribunals.

On Iran, the Obama administration is veering from its stance of bottomless "respect" and "perseverance." This week Obama set early October as a "target" to determine whether Iran is really deserving of all that extended goodwill. Additionally, the administration has drawn up benchmarks to gauge Tehran’s cooperation in halting their march toward a nuclear weapon. As Robert Kagan put it, "[Obama’s] policy toward Iran makes sense, so long as he is ready with a serious Plan B if the negotiating track with Tehran fails."  The October non-surprise will be the revelation that Bush wasn’t merely neglecting to smile at the mullahs and to ask nicely.

Finally, there’s the strange and frankly unsettling image makeover of the Saudi royals. The Bush family’s alleged intimacy with an extremist monarchy formed the very backbone of the anti-Bush industry. Yet, upon taking office Barack Obama commented on the bravery of King Abdullah and went on to virtually adopt the Saudi Peace Initiative as American policy. The administration is also seriously considering sending released Guantanamo detainees through the Saudi "jihad rehab" program. A week ago, "60 Minutes" aired a prime-time broadcast praising the same absurdity. The free pass Barack Obama gets on his all-encompassing embrace of Riyadh leaves the score of anti-Bush best sellers and documentaries looking a little less than credible.

President Obama, and the country at large, is finding out that George W. Bush’s most controversial policies were not born of ideological delusion, American arrogance, or missionary zeal. They were imperfect but sound (with the exception of our ties to Riyadh) responses to complicated threats. But the validation of the last president runs a very distant second to the most compelling aspect of all this: the drama over CIA interrogations and Guantanamo will hopefully serve to set the administration on a more serious national security course. And it would be helpful if the American public finally dropped moral outrage as the preferred mode of political argumentation.

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