It is perhaps ironic that the left wing has settled on the characterization of President George W. Bush as a megalomaniac, obsessed with power and willing to trample on anyone or anything to achieve his evil aims. Ironic because it is President Bush's refusal to even forcefully counter his critics, let alone trample on their right to criticize him, that has allowed the left to build its portrayal. George W. Bush is a man obsessed not with power, but with duty – the old fashioned notion that leaders have a responsibility to lead, whatever the consequences to them personally. It is a testament to the deep seated nature of this belief in him that in eight years as president he has garnered so many enemies on the left, and disappointed so many allies on the right.
George Bush came to Washington pledging to change the tone, to unite not divide. He arrived, however, after a bitter and bruising election contest in which liberals and Democrats concocted myriad ways to try and steal the election from under him, in broad daylight and with the consent of the courts. Foiled in their efforts by the Supreme Court, the left vowed that Bush was not their president, and set out from day one to illegitimize him. But if he could not change the tone in Washington, President Bush did not let the tone change him. Displaying more class and grace than his adversaries combined, Bush never engaged in the hyper-partisan bickering, much to his supporters chagrin. That is not to say that he did not engage in the political process. He did, and many times outmaneuvered and defeated Democratic opposition both when it was in the minority and the majority. He did it with a smile, not a snarl. And they hated him all the more for it.
Of all the decisions that President Bush made, the most consequential will forever be those made in the prosecution of the War on Terror – chief among them the decision to invade Iraq. Forged by the September 11th attacks, Bush acted in what he believed to be the best interest of the nation. He relied upon intelligence that previous presidents had relied upon in determining that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and he concluded that his duty as president required him to act to prevent those weapons from being handed over to the people who had murdered 3,000 Americans on home soil. The failure to find significant stockpiles of weapons was a surprise to everyone but those critics on the left, who despite citing the existence of those weapons in their speeches before voting to support the war, were sure that Bush had known all along that they weren't there. "Bush lied, people died!" was their war cry, even as Bush's was "Bring em on!" "Dead or alive." and "Let's roll!"
There can be no doubt that there were mistakes in the planning and execution of the Iraq War strategy. There are in every war. For a time there seemed to be a real chance that the United States might be driven from Iraq in defeat and disgrace. But rather than yield to political expediency, Bush doubled down on Iraq, and unleashed a new strategy, commanded by a brilliant new general, that has won the victory in Iraq that validates the original decision. President Bush would be due a little bragging. But that is not his way. He has celebrated his vindication quietly, meeting in secret with the families of hundreds of the fallen, and personally contacting the family of every single one of the more than 4,000 brave men and women who served him, and the mission he gave them, to the last.
He was reelected by a majority in 2004, but still the left would not accept him. Democrats complained of a stolen election in Ohio, and lamented a swing of 50,000 votes that would have made John Kerry president. President Bush took his election victory and immediately set out on an effort to fix an increasingly strained and slowly going bankrupt Social Security system. Democrats refused to acknowledge the problem and obstructed the proposed solution, demagoguing all the way that Bush wanted to privatize the program. Abandoned even by members of his own party, which still controlled the Congress, President Bush had to accept the only major defeat of his presidency at the hands of the Democrats.
Like the first year of his first term, the first year of President Bush's second term was marked by a national tragedy, only this one was a natural disaster. The winds of Hurricane Katrina had scarcely stopped blowing when radical environmentalists began to blame the wind and rain on Bush, citing his refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocols. When the tragic pictures of New Orleans flooded and news of the pitiful conditions trapped residents were enduring got out, the media in its haste to blame someone, anyone, turned to its favorite target, President Bush. The federal response to Katrina could have been more robust; but the failure of the city and state governments to make adequate preparations for the storm, or even to evacuate the citizenry, was never fully explored. Likewise, one of the greatest rescue efforts in history, the rescue of some 30,000 New Orleanians from rooftops and attics, conducted largely by federal assets, was never applauded.
More than any other president in American history, President Bush was the subject of media scorn and derision for most of his term. The mainstream press exposed his secret programs, gave voice to his most shrill critics, amplified questions about his motives, and even publicized forged documents to try and prevent his reelection. Here, Bush was willing to push back from time to time. But he never sustained any of those efforts long enough or loudly enough to overcome the sheer volume of false, misleading, and uncharitable material published against him. But he attended all their dinners, and made the appropriately self-deprecating jokes. Because, ultimately, it did not matter to him what they wrote about him. What mattered was his duty.
No one who was alive on September 11th, 2001, would have thought that the United States would not be attacked again in the next seven and a half years. That it has come to be is all to President Bush's credit, and it will be his enduring legacy. The terrorist surveillance program, aggressive interrogations, Guantanamo Bay, enemy combatants, the PATRIOT Act. All are decisions that Bush made in order to protect the country from further attacks, and all have been derided by civil liberties activists and Democrats as illegal invasions of privacy, shredding the Constitution, and the establishment of a police state. They have all have been unqualified successes. President Bush vowed that another September 11th would never happen on his watch, and he made sure of it.
A true dispassionate history of the Bush Administration will not be written for a generation. Time must pass to let emotion settle out of the mixture. When it is written, it will almost certainly judge George W. Bush to have been a fundamentally decent man who strived to do his duty and did not shirk the responsibilities of leadership, often at great political cost. He will be remembered as a president who prevented another terrorist attack against great odds, while freeing 50 million Muslims from oppression. And he will be remembered for having received no credit for any of it while he was in office. There will come a moment, much sooner than anyone now believes, when the country will collectively miss George W. Bush – when an old fashioned leader is required. On that day, Mr. President, you will finally have earned a measure of the respect that you were denied in your years in the White House. Thank you, sir, for a job well and faithfully done.
Cross posted at AOL's Political Machine