ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

Why Bush Will Be A Winner

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By William Kristol
Sunday, July 15, 2007

I suppose I'll merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush's presidency will probably be a successful one.

Let's step back from the unnecessary mistakes and the self-inflicted wounds that have characterized the Bush administration. Let's look at the broad forest rather than the often unlovely trees. What do we see? First, no second terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- not something we could have taken for granted. Second, a strong economy -- also something that wasn't inevitable.

And third, and most important, a war in Iraq that has been very difficult, but where -- despite some confusion engendered by an almost meaningless "benchmark" report last week -- we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome.

The economy first: After the bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we've had more than five years of steady growth, low unemployment and a stock market recovery. Did this just happen? No. Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right. Even the budget deficit, the most universally criticized consequence of the tax cuts, is coming down and is lower than it was when the 2003 supply-side tax cuts were passed.

Bush has also (on the whole) resisted domestic protectionist pressures (remember the Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 complaining about outsourcing?), thereby helping sustain global economic growth.

The year 2003 also featured a close congressional vote on Bush's other major first-term initiative, the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Liberals denounced it as doing nothing for the elderly; conservatives worried that it would bust the budget. Experts of all stripes foresaw great challenges in its implementation. In fact, it has all gone surprisingly smoothly, providing broad and welcome coverage for seniors and coming in under projected costs.

So on the two biggest pieces of domestic legislation the president has gotten passed, he has been vindicated. And with respect to the two second-term proposals that failed -- private Social Security accounts and immigration -- I suspect that something similar to what Bush proposed will end up as law over the next several years.

Meanwhile, 2005-06 saw the confirmation of two Supreme Court nominees, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. Your judgment of these two appointments will depend on your general view of the courts and the Constitution. But even if you're a judicial progressive, you have to admit that Roberts and Alito are impressive judges (well, you don't have to admit it -- but deep down, you know it). And if you're a conservative constitutionalist, putting Roberts and Alito on the court constitutes a huge accomplishment.

What about terrorism? Apart from Iraq, there has been less of it, here and abroad, than many experts predicted on Sept. 12, 2001. So Bush and Vice President Cheney probably are doing some important things right. The war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well.

Western Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf's deals with the Taliban are apparently creating something like havens for terrorists, is an increasing problem. That's why our intelligence agencies are worried about a resurgent al-Qaeda -- because al-Qaeda may once again have a place where it can plan, organize and train. These Waziristan havens may well have to be dealt with in the near future. I assume Bush will deal with them, using some combination of air strikes and special operations.

As for foreign policy in general, it has mostly been the usual mixed bag. We've deepened our friendships with Japan and India; we've had better outcomes than expected in the two largest Latin American countries, Mexico and Brazil; and we've gotten friendlier governments than expected in France and Germany. China is stable. There has been slippage in Russia. The situation with North Korea is bad but containable.

But wait, wait, wait: What about Iraq? It's Iraq, stupid -- you (and 65 percent of your fellow Americans) say -- that makes Bush an unsuccessful president.


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