Justified Nostalgia for George W. Bush

Bill McGurn, who is a gentle soul, published a brief piece yesterday in The New York Post that deserves attention from those of us at Ricochet who have long admired his work. Its focus is a comparison of Barack Obama’s conduct of American foreign policy with that of his predecessor, and in it he makes a number of telling points.

The first of these is that Bush’s policy was coherent. Bill readily acknowledges that his former employer made some mistakes: “Most prominently, these include underestimating what it would take to prevail in Iraq, as well as the way the long war there constrained his ability to maneuver on fronts such as Iran. And yes, there are legitimate arguments that can be advanced against basing a foreign policy on a freedom agenda.”

But, he insists, at least there was a policy, and to make his point, he quotes the following summary from Bush’s book Decision Points:

First, make no distinction between the terrorists and the nations that harbor them — and hold both to account. Second, take the fight to the enemy overseas before they can attack us here at home again. Third, confront threats before they fully materialize. And fourth, advance liberty and hope as an alternative to the enemy’s ideology of repression and fear.

Moreover, Bill adds, Bush actually pursued this policy with great vigor and some success. Where Truman left Eisenhower with a mess in Korea, Bush left Obama with a war won in Iraq, and he put in place the infrastructure needed to keep Al Q’aeda at bay. “Obama,” Bill notes, “has taken full advantage of some of this infrastructure when he felt the need, e.g., the National Security Agency’s terrorist-surveillance program. But even when he talks tough, it’s seldom tied to any purpose larger than domestic expediency. We’re seeing it again right now, with the president denying he set a red line in Syria as he tries to pass the buck to Congress.”

This is foreign policy for the faculty lounge. It’s being advanced by a national-security team made up of men — John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and Joe Biden — who spent their Senate careers indulging the idea that the use of American force is almost always a bad thing for the world. And now they wonder why they are having a hard time selling a strike on Syria.

By contrast, President Bush gave us a foreign policy that was coherent, that met the challenge of the time and that left his successor with vital tools — including drones — that are responsible for the few things Barack Obama has managed to get right in his engagement with our enemies.

Regarding Bush’s policy, he concludes, “You might not agree with it. But it had purpose. And friend and foe alike had no doubt where he stood.”

No on really knows where Obama stands. He seems to want to make an empty gesture vis-a-vis Syria. He disclaims any desire to tip the military balance. All that he wants to do is posture — which is why I suggested on Tuesday and again on Wednesday that the Republicans vote present on the resolution to authorize the use of force against Assad. If all that the President wants is a photo-op, then let him have it — and let his party take responsibility for the consequences of his fecklessness. If, on the other hand, he cannot garner the support of a majority of Democratic Senators and of Democratic Congressmen for such a gesture, that, too, will say something.

Incidentally, on his radio show, Michael Medved brought up my suggestion and asked Paul Wolfowitz what he thought of it. Here is a link. The discussion begins at 8:58.