Writers Posit That Foreign Policy Could Be a Bush Legacy

By Michael Abramowitz
Monday, September 15, 2008

It's an article of faith at the White House that history eventually will look kindly on President Bush for his decision to take the country to war in Iraq, his handling of terrorism and other elements of a foreign policy that have been roundly criticized by most Democrats, many in the foreign policy establishment and some in his own party.

But with four months still to go in his administration, Bush revisionism already is creeping in -- and not necessarily from traditional Bush loyalists.

The past several months have brought several articles from prominent writers and intellectuals questioning the received wisdom that Bush's foreign policy has been a disaster. Whether they overturn that notion won't be known for years, but the essays do suggest there's more ferment about the Bush legacy than is sometimes acknowledged.

One theme is that Bush changed course in the second term, pursuing more pragmatic policies on North Korea, Iran, Middle East peace and global warming. This sentiment was captured by Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria in a cover story -- "What Bush Got Right" -- that argues that although Bush made serious mistakes, the next president should not abandon all Bush's approaches to foreign policy.

"The administration that became the target of so much passion and anger -- from Democrats, Republicans, independents, foreigners, Martians, everyone -- is not quite the one in place today," Zakaria wrote last month. "For whatever reasons, and through whichever path, the foreign policies in place now are more sensible, moderate and mainstream."

David Frum, the onetime Bush speechwriter turned sometime-critic, offered a variation of this theme in the cover story of the latest issue of Foreign Policy: "Lonesome Cowboy: Why You'll Miss Him When He's Gone."

Frum sought to debunk many of the traditional criticisms of Bush's foreign policy, including the claim that the next president will "radically revise" Bush's policies.

"Unlikely," he asserts. "Granted the next president will feel the need to create an appearance of distance between himself and the unpopular Bush. Yet the continuity between Bush and his successor will be strong. A U.S. drawdown from Iraq will proceed more slowly than most expect. Relationships with India, Japan, and Vietnam will continue to grow. The United States will continue to spend much more on military power than all other major countries combined."

Edward Luttwak, an iconoclastic writer on military and national security affairs, has been a sharp critic of the Iraq war. Yet he, too, finds other, more positive attributes in the Bush foreign policy, including what he asserts to be the successful rollback of jihadism around the world.

In an essay for Prospect magazine in Britain, Luttwak calls Bush a "Truman for our times," holding out the prospect that some of his policies, like the 33rd president, will eventually be seen as wise despite his current unpopularity.

Luttwak notes that "one hears well-informed people casually remark that Bush's war on terror has been a total failure" but adds that "one need not be Sherlock Holmes to recall that 11th September was meant to be the beginning of a global jihad."

Instead, Luttwak says, "the global jihadi mobilization, triggered by post 9/11 enthusiasm for Osama bin Laden, was stopped before it could gain any momentum by all that Bush set in motion: the destruction of al-Qaeda training bases in Afghanistan, the killing or capture of most of its operatives, and, most importantly, the conversion of Muslim governments from the support of jihad to its repression."

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