After President Obama’s Sunday night speech announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden, there was much gnashing of teeth by conservatives. As is his wont, Obama was not generous with his predecessor in the praise department. It was not until the gripping news accounts in the days that followed that the public learned the degree of continuity between the two administrations in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and how essential were Bush’s detainee and interrogation policies to bin Laden’s death.
I, like other commentators, suggested that Obama, as sort of a make-good, show some magnanimity and invite Bush to the Ground Zero visit planned for today. Obama did just that, but Bush declined. Was that the right call?
To a certain extent, Americans (not just conservatives) may feel deprived of a sort of big hug moment when the two presidents, representatives of the left and right, finally can put the disagreements over the war on terror aside. Conservatives would get the “I told you so moment,” as Obama, the beneficiary of the national security policies Bush implemented, would have to share his glory at the spot where Bush lifted a country up from the ashes.
But ultimately, the joint visit proved unnecessary. The first drafts of history on the front pages of every newspaper in the country this week are crediting the Bush anti-terrorism policies and recognizing that, like Obama, Bush made his own tough calls in defense of his country. So a Bush visit would be gratutious at this point.
In his post-presidency, Bush has stuck to his position that we have ”one president at a time” and avoided commenting on issues, even when his team was falsely and unjustly accused of betraying American values. Many conservatives (certainly former staffers) would have preferred that Bush stick up for his side, but he remained mute. And ultimately both Dick and Liz Cheney filled that role of administration advocate quite ably. Then, too, Bush took the view that history would eventually get it right and his contribution at that point wasn’t required or even productive.
Well, sometimes history needs some help and stories need to be told by those who were there. But in not appearing at Ground Zero, Bush shows uncommon grace. (His spokesman explained that Bush “appreciated the invite, but has chosen in his post-presidency to remain largely out of the spotlight.”) And he also shows supreme confidence that his decisions were the right ones and that fair-minded people in the future will appreciate this. Grace and confidence. Are there any other qualities that better define the 43rd president?