Outlook: Bush Will Win

William Kristol
Editor, Weekly Standard
Monday, July 16, 2007; 12:00 PM

"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."

Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol was online Monday, July 16 at Noon ET to discuss his Outlook article.

Why Bush Will Be A Winner (Post, July 15)

The transcript follows.

Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors


William Kristol: Hi, Bill Kristol here, ready to go -- so I'll go to the first question...


New York: Are you aware that these terrorists do not go by the same calendar we do? They are incredibly patient, and just because no attack has occurred since Sept. 11, that is no indication that attacks are not planned. I went to Tashkent in 1971 and spoke to some old men who were Muslim. I asked them how they felt about the Soviets. They answered: "They've only been here 85 years. It will pass." And they were right! So, just because no attacks have occurred I wouldn't crow about it.

William Kristol: I agree that we shouldn't crow, and that the threat remains very real. I'm particularly concerned about the situation in Western Pakistan, where al Qaeda may be having some success in re-establishing a safe haven. It's when the terrorists have a sanctuary where they can plan, organize and train that they're particularly dangerous -- so I imagine we may have to take some action in Waziristan if Musharraf doesn't or won't do enough in the coming months...


Greenbelt, Md.: You have been wrong about every important prediction you have made about the outcome of this war and this presidency -- why should anyone pay attention to you now?

William Kristol: Feel free not to!


Groton, Conn.: Do you see a relationship between the government debt and the continuing economy? Does the government debt bother you?

William Kristol: I think the tax cuts were pretty well-timed, and helped stimulate a strong economy and strong tax revenues, which have now brought the deficit down to about 2 percent of GDP. ... The supply-side tax cuts of 2003 have in particular paid off. ... A strong economy is still the best way to pay off past debt -- and to finance needed expenditures in a time of war.


Cairo, Egypt: There is an article in the Washington Post today about 80 people killed in Kirkuk in a triple bombing. How do you reconcile this, which is hardly unique to today, with your comments? Car Bombs Kill at Least 80 in Iraq (Post, July 16)

William Kristol: Unfortunately, the terrorists remain strong enough to kill civilians -- and they will be for some time to come. That's different from controlling whole towns and areas of cities, which they increasingly are being prevented from doing.


Alexandria, Va.:"First, no second terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- not something we could have taken for granted."

Ever since I bought this tiger-repelling rock I have not been attacked by a tiger, hence the rock is clearly working.

William Kristol: How about, ever since we started more aggressive surveillance and interrogation, and took the war to the enemy, we haven't had a second 9/11. But, I do want to make clear the threat is real, and presumably there will be at some point another attack that gets through. ... Still, I think it's simply true that if you went back and looked at what experts said after 9/11, they would have predicted more success for the terrorists by now.


Alpharetta, Ga.: How do you think the Medicare drug benefit and No Child Left Behind will be viewed a few decades later? Bush definitely didn't adhere to the limited-government philosophy that's marked the right since the New Deal.

William Kristol: I agree that Bush isn't really a small-government conservative. Whether any president actually could govern these days as a small-government conservative is a question. Having said that, I'll certainly acknowledge Bush hasn't been very tough on spending, and that NCLB and the Medicare drug benefit have been problematic from a conservative point of view. I'm not at all sure I would have voted for them if I were in Congress. I think in retrospect Medicare has worked out better than skeptics predicted; not sure about NCLB -- I have my doubts about that.


Pleasant Hill, Calif.: It seems to me that your article is a lot of wishful thinking. The mainstream Republicans (which you're not a part of) are abandoning George every day (i.e. Sens. Lugar, Warner and Specter). Do you not agree that, if come September the mainstream Republicans see their re-election chances being threatened by Bush's Iraq policy, they will force a retreat out of Iraq that George doesn't want? You say you like your odds: Frankly I think the better odds are that you will spend the next four years in dissent once the Dems really take over in 2009 (whether that's a good thing or not will remain to be seen).

William Kristol: We'll see if Bush can beat back the "mainstream" Republicans in September. It's pretty bad to make war policy based on re-election possibilities, if that's what's happening. Plus, will Republicans be better off if they pull the plug on Petraeus and Iraq descends into chaos? Obviously people should do what they think is right for the country with respect to the war -- but as an electoral matter, it would be defeat in Iraq that would lead to an almost sure Democratic victory in 2008. That could happen, of course -- and then, you're right, I'll be (mostly) in dissent (though I've been in dissent a fair amount during Bush as well).


Washington: Hypothetically now, if is turns out that the surge does not have any positive effects in Iraq come September/October, what do you think will be the course of action? Do you think a troop draw-down will go into effect immediately following that?

William Kristol: Yes. If there's no improvement at all, it will be very, very difficult to sustain any support for the war, and the debate will be about how to get out.


Falls Church, Va.: Hi Bill. I am a big fan of both you and your father. Thank you for taking my question. Based on your article, a successful Bush presidency is to a large extent based on his delivering the 2008 presidential election to a Republican. Which candidate is the most viable to both be passed the Bush torch and win the general election?

William Kristol: Thanks. A successful GOP candidate in 2008 would have to both continue what's good about Bush but also be different (because, even if my sunny prognosis is right, it's unlikely Bush will be wildly popular by election day 2008 -- so it won't be like his father running to succeed Reagan). The good news for Republicans is that none of the leading Republican candidates can be blamed for the mistakes of the Bush administration -- none has been part of it. McCain's been a critic, Giuliani and Thompson have been out of office since 2001 and 2002, and Romney was a governor. So they'll have a chance to make their own case against the Democratic nominee, more than would be the case if, say, a vice president were running to succeed Bush.


Germantown, Md.:"Still, I think it's simply true that if you went back and looked at what experts said after 9/11, they would have predicted more success for the terrorists by now."

How about thousands of infidels killed and wounded in Iraq? You don't think they consider that a success?

William Kristol: They've lost an awful lot of people in this war too -- and from their own statements don't sound too confident.


Arlington, Va.: I presume that you give President Clinton full credit for "keeping America safe" from a terrorist attack in the homeland for the duration of his term, following the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center?

William Kristol: I think neither President Clinton nor the GOP Congress (nor the Bush administration in its first several months) did enough to go after al-Qaeda abroad nor to strengthen us at home. But I certainly supported Clinton's aggressive actions when he took them, e.g. in Sudan and against Saddam in 1998.


St. Paul, Minn.: Mr. Kristol -- though I couldn't disagree more with your positions, I do see you on TV a lot and you seem like a nice guy. Nevertheless, despite your talk about all the "unlovely trees" in Iraq (no doubt all destroyed now by IEDs), how do you square your argument with the simple fact that people do not like this president, they do not like the war, and they want out sooner rather than later?

William Kristol: You're right that a strong majority disapprove of Bush, and most want out of Iraq sooner rather than later, as you say -- but maybe that doesn't mean they're right. Why make arguments if you're just going to defer to majority public opinion -- which could of course change, as it has before?


Washington: Well-written Outlook piece -- and I really, really hope you are right. I'm not a big fan of President Bush and find him uninspiring, but I think the U.S. must win in Iraq and I hope Bush finds a way to do it. How would you rate him as a war-time president compared to other presidents in office during wars?

William Kristol: Some real strengths and real weaknesses. Strengths: clarity of purpose, resolve. Weaknesses: deferred to his Secretary of Defense, didn't challenge or correct a strategy that wasn't going well quickly enough and didn't mobilize the nation enough (e.g. increase size of military) after 9/11, when it became clear we were in for a long struggle. Really hard to rate him until we learn more about choices he faced and constraints he may have had to operate under, disasters he may have averted that he gets no credit for, etc.


Alexandria, Va.: Do the anthrax letters not count as a terrorist attack because the targets mostly were Democrats or because you wouldn't be able to use the disingenuous argument of no terror attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11? And as a follow-up, when there is another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, will you use it as an argument to advocate attacking some other countries, or as proof that the Bush administration is incompetent?

William Kristol: I don't think we know the source of the anthrax attacks. If there is another attack -- and there are and have been, after all, attempted attacks -- I would advocate responding by attacking that group and denying them sanctuary if we haven't done that already. No one can stop all attacks -- and my defense of the Bush Administration doesn't turn on this -- but I that think if Bush has made basic mistakes, it will turn out to be that he wasn't aggressive enough in going after terrorists and their sponsors, not the opposite.


William Kristol: And on that neocon-like note, I'll sign off ... thanks for reading and participating.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company