Note:The following is an excerpt from the article "Barack Obama: A Man for All Seasons". Given the latter's length, I felt that Mr. Bush at the very least deserves a separate post of his own.
Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
"Relax," said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!
The Eagles, Hotel California
The Bush Years were marked by a spiraling descent into war, penury and global ridicule of U.S.A. This was an era (hopefully now ending) permeated by what might be called Osama-phobia after the chief cause- the sine qua non- of President Bush’s abject but admittedly involuntary reversal from his first campaign’s now somewhat archaic big-on-morals-and-small-on-government stance. Fear, or more precisely, the fear of Fear, fed into- and authored- every decision he took. (His Vice President, the much more vilified Dick Cheney, didn’t do anything to assuage these fears.)
The two parameters of American Supremacy alluded to by Henry Kissinger in his monumental treatise on Diplomacy- military might and economic prowess- were both put to severe test by the quagmire of the Afghanistan-Iraq double-invasion; Iraq, and a widening and ultimately insurmountable Deficit- the typically American habit of spending more than they earn- that has brought about a global recession.
In the memorable words of the Eagle’s song, Iraq, in effect, became Mr. Bush’s Hotel California: You can checkout any time you like, But you can never leave! Despite his rather premature “Mission Accomplished” glee, the war in Iraq procrastinated indefinitely. From the start, the Invasion of Iraq was doomed: his justification for the invasion- that Saddam Hussein, the then Tirkiti despot of Iraq, possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which he hoped perhaps to use against America in league with Al Qaeda- turned out to be, to put it mildly, untrue; his method of conducting that invasion- against the express wishes of the international community- ended up alienating even America’s closest friends (with the notable exception of Britain’s Tony Blair, who inturn ended up losing his own chair); and his hope that the invasion would somehow usher in an era of democracy in the Middle East wasn’t quite realized to the extent that he had expected.
In the Case of Jefferson v Hamilton
But despite all this, Mr. Bush’s worst enemy wasn’t Osama bin Laden, the Taliban or even Saddam Hussein: it was the American People themselves. No wartime American President with the possible exception of Franklin Delano Roosevelt has for long enjoyed his fellow-citizens’- and the Congress’- unflinching support: despite their rather militaristic national anthem, Americans have never been comfortable with the sight of body-bags of slain soldiers wrapped in star-spangled banners arriving home. At heart, they remain Jeffersonians (after Thomas Jefferson), content to be an island (albeit a rather large one!) blissfully unaware of what’s happening beyond their shores and hoping that they wouldn’t need a government to govern them at all. Let us not forget that when Mr. Bush first emerged on the scene, he too was something of a Jeffersonian in the ideals he so passionately espoused.
But he too, like most Americans, was confronted with a distinctly Hamiltonian reality (after Alexander Hamilton): the almost instinctual need of the American Establishment- Noam Chomsky’s military-industrial complex- to look for new enemies when old ones are gone, as epitomized in the ironically self-fulfilling prophecy of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the New World Order. In this sense atleast, Huntington gave a fresh, new lease of life to Hamilton. And what a lease that was! President Bush, the quintessential Jeffersonian, became a die-hard disciple of Hamilton in what was to be his life’s second epiphany (the first one took him from Booze to the Bible). Of course, it would be wrong to put all the blame on the Establishmentarian Inertia of Washington: Mr. Bin Laden, in all fairness, deserves much of the credit for Mr. Bush’s conversion.
His attack on the Twin Towers (9/11) only amplified Mr. Bush’s innate sense of Christian morality: his world was suddenly divided into black & white, good & the axis of evil, and under the circumstances, Crusade was the logical outcome of Jihad. Morality breeds decisiveness; lack of it makes one indecisive. This is America’s lesson gleaned from its last two Presidents, Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton. I’ve often wondered what Mr. Clinton would’ve done had he been President on 9/11. Sure, he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, WMDs or no WMDs (remember his dilly-dallying on Kosovo, Congo and the rest); he would certainly have ruled out going it alone, without the backing of the world community (God knows, Mr. Hussein counted on that!); he might not even have considered an outright invasion of Afghanistan, toying first with Diplomacy or being content with the destruction of Mr. Bin Laden’s person. But the question that begs to be answered is this: would Al Qaeda be as thoroughly destroyed as it is now; and would 9/11 have been the last terrorist attack on American soil?
With respect to the Bush Years, I offer the following two observations: one, that it was Mr. Bush’s pandering to his Jeffersonian instincts that ultimately led to his failure in Iraq. He wanted to invade Iraq, destroy Saddam and get out as quickly as possible with a minimum of force and cost; the idea that nations don’t just build themselves after being invaded and destroyed didn’t quite cross his Jeffersonian mind (apparently he forgot all about post-second world war Western Europe and Japan, both of which required prolonged infusions of American money, manpower and foresight to rebuild themselves).
The success of the Surge in Iraq- today’s provincial elections have brought true democracy to the Middle East for the first time in history, and Mr. Bush should be given due credit for it- shows that the middle-of-the-road approach is at fault. Had Mr. Bush not been bullied by public opinion and his own mindset to limit the costs to America in the first instance, his country wouldn’t have ended up spending so much- in terms of blood, sweat, toil and money- in Iraq, and thousands of innocent lives might’ve been saved. In short, if he is to be blamed, it should be for doing too little; not too much.
Secondly, I believe it is too premature to pronounce judgment on the Bush Legacy: History will have to wait for things to settle down in Iraq before arriving at any sort of decision; hopefully, it would look more kindly upon the Bush Years than our own generation.
(To see what I mean, take a look at HBO's award-winning mini-series on John Adams, America's mostly-forgotten and much-misunderstood second President.)