Monday, December 15, 2008

The War on Terror and the Bush Legacy

9/11 changed everything. That will likely be the departure point for future evaluations of the Bush presidency by historians and political scientists.

So suggests Kenneth T. Walsh, for U.S. News and World Report: "The ‘War on Terror’ Is Critical to President George W. Bush’s Legacy."

Most Americans still remember Bush's bravura performance three days after the terrorist attacks when he stood on a pile of rubble at ground zero in New York. Brandishing a bullhorn, he promised rescue workers and the nation that he would respond with righteous wrath against the terrorists "who knocked these buildings down."

Some say he missed the chance to unify the country behind larger goals, such as creating a massive volunteerism movement or a campaign to lessen reliance on Mideast oil. Instead, "he called on the country to shop" in order to return to normalcy, says Matthew Dowd, Bush's former political adviser who broke with him over the Iraq war.

(Shopping, of course, might seem a more appropriate patriotic imperative to fight the current credit crisis and deepening recession. Just saying.)

In a very real sense, 9/11 refocused the Bush presidency. Bush committed almost incalculable fiscal and human resources "to wage a global war against Islamic jihadists." The security state was reborn in a way not seen since the entente in the Cold War (and more so). This has raised questions about where to draw the tendentious line between security and freedom. This question will no doubt continue to challenge the in-coming Obama administration.

In the meantime, as Walsh suggests (I think correctly), the war on terror will ultimately define the legacy of the Bush presidency.

Bush's defenders say his aggressive actions to fight terrorism will stand the test of time. "He has kept us safe," says Fleischer. "We have not been hit since 2001. That's a monumental accomplishment."

Touch wood.

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