Running Against Bush

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In recent months, conservative commentators have devoted countless words to the American media's open bias in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama. Although there is no question that their criticism is accurate, it is wrong to root that bias merely in the media's leftist sympathies.

The American media's pro-Obama bias is also the consequence of their misrepresentation of outgoing President George W. Bush's record in office. And that misrepresentation, too, cannot be ascribed merely to the leftist sympathies of the media. For the media are not the source of that misrepresentation, Bush is.

Bush's record in office is the key issue in the campaign. The outgoing president's abysmal approval ratings in his last two years in power caused both parties to recognize that to win the election, their candidate had to distinguish himself as much as possible from the current occupant of the Oval Office.

In selecting Sen. John McCain as their party's nominee, the Republicans adopted this approach. Throughout his long career in Congress, McCain has served as the consummate party outsider. Yet, in his own way, and now to his detriment, he has also been loyal. And so until recently he avoided attacking Bush outright, preferring instead to ignore him.

But by ignoring the president, McCain gave Obama full freedom to define Bush's presidency in the manner that best advanced his electoral prospects. And Obama's success in defining Bush has enabled the Democratic nominee to set the terms of debate on the central issue of the campaign: how America finds itself in the situation it now finds itself, and what policies should be adopted to improve it.

Obama has successfully cast Bush's presidency as a repeat of Ronald Reagan's. Obama has portrayed Bush's foreign policy as a reenactment of Reagan's muscular, pro-American foreign policy, which was based on Reagan's belief in American exceptionalism and his willingness to disregard what America's enemies and erstwhile allies thought of US actions. Obama has also portrayed Bush's economic policies as a reenactment of Reagan's policies of free market capitalism characterized by deregulation and tax cuts.

Obama has claimed that European and Muslim estrangement from the US; the increased strength of the insurgency in Afghanistan; Russian aggression; the resilience of the insurgency in Iraq; Iran's unimpeded drive toward nuclear weapons; and every other major US foreign policy problem are the consequences of Bush's embrace of Reagan's foreign policy approach. Obama claims that the financial crisis, too, is a consequence of Bush's Reaganesque tax cuts and his general embrace of supply-side economics and the conservative preference for limited government.

By so defining Bush's record in office, Obama has been able to make a case for his own policies, which are diametrically opposed to those he ascribes to Bush.

THERE IS only one problem with Obama's description of Bush's record. It is utterly false.

During his first term, Bush's foreign policy was raft with internal contradictions and intellectual confusion. Books have been written about the two competing factions in Bush's inner circle. Vice President Richard Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld championed a Reaganesque model of statecraft. And opposing them, secretary of state Colin Powell pushed for a UN-centered, European-style foreign policy more similar to the one adopted by Bush's father.

Throughout his first term, Bush refused to side with one or the other of the factions. Instead he tried to simultaneously implement two mutually exclusive foreign policies. His indecisiveness rendered his foreign policy intellectually incoherent and doomed much that he did to failure. Bush's speechwriters were evidently more sympathetic to the Cheney-Rumsfeld view and so many of his speeches during his first term echoed Reagan's soaring rhetoric. But on the ground, Bush's policies adhered much more closely to Powell's program.

This intellectual disarray was perhaps nowhere more evident than in Bush's refusal to define the enemy in the war. The men who attacked the US on September 11, 2001, were more than simply terrorists. They had a plan and a cause: They were Muslim jihadists. And they were not the ideological fringe of the Islamic world. Their beliefs are propagated by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and are advanced in the most prestigious academies in the Islamic world.

By claiming that the enemy in the war is generic "terror" rather than a worldview embraced by millions of people throughout the Islamic world, Bush made it impossible for his advisers to develop a coherent strategy for war. He also denied the American people the tools necessary for understanding either the meaning of the struggle or the necessity of fighting it. He deprived the public of the basic intellectual framework for understanding for instance why he decided to imprison terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

Bush's two-headed foreign policy made it difficult for the public to recognize that the war being waged against the US and its allies in Iraq is not simply an Iraqi struggle, but a battlefield in a regional war fueled by neighboring regimes. His intellectual confusion blinded him to the fact that his democracy agenda was harmed, not advanced, by holding popular elections in which jihadists – whose views and aspirations are inimical to the notion of human freedom – were permitted to participate.

In Bush's second term in office, and particularly since the Republican defeat in the 2006 Congressional elections, Bush abandoned the intellectual incoherence of his first term in favor of a full embrace of Powell's policy preferences now championed by his successor, Condoleezza Rice. Throughout his entire first term, and due to his refusal to adjudicate between two contradictory foreign policy visions, Bush failed to adopt any policy toward Iran. After the 2006 Congressional elections, Bush embraced the Powell-Rice policy of European style appeasement. This has been demonstrated most recently by his stated plan to open a US embassy in Teheran.

Bush's wholesale adoption of the Powell-Rice appeasement policy is also reflected in his policies toward North Korea and the Palestinians. And this week, according to statements by White House officials, he stands ready to apply it toward the Taliban, with whom he is considering opening ties.

In Bush's last two years in office, the only surviving remnant of the Cheney-Rumseld Reaganesque foreign policy has been Bush's counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. And in spite of its military success, the fact that this policy is contradicted by the president's policy everywhere else casts doubt on the durability of America's victories on the ground.

BUSH'S ACCEPTANCE of the Powell-Rice foreign policy doctrine has not been widely recognized. In large part this has been due to Bush's own refusal to tell the public that he has in fact embraced appeasement. Moreover, his reluctance to come clean with the public has been exacerbated by the media's denial of the change.

Whether due to blindness fed by an underlying hostility toward the president, or to ignorance of the significance of Bush's policies, the media have failed to report that Bush's policies today are a repudiation of the ideals and policies Bush gave voice to in his speeches during his first term. Those effectively repudiated speeches were the embodiment of Reagan's foreign policy doctrine.

The same pattern has been followed in popular characterizations of Bush's economic policies.

Aside from his tax cuts in his first term – cuts that include a "sunset" provision rendering them temporary measures rather than enduring tax reforms – Bush's economic policies during his two terms have been anything but Reaganesque. Bush has vastly increased the size of the feder
al government, and he has introduced massive new regulation into the US economy.

Emblematic of Bush's eschewal of Reagan's legacy on both foreign policy and economic levels is his newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The establishment of this new position – and the large bureaucracy supporting it – was how Bush chose to contend with US intelligence agencies' failure to foresee and prevent the September 11 attacks.

But like most failures in governance, the failure to anticipate, uncover and prevent those attacks was not due to an absence of bureaucracy. Rather, the failure stemmed from the ideologically-driven unwillingness of the directors of the FBI and the CIA to recognize the threat of al-Qaida and focus their efforts on tracking and capturing al-Qaida members and sympathizers. The proper response to that failure would have been to fire the heads of those agencies and replace them with people who understood the nature of the threat and were capable of contending with it.

Instead Bush decided to increase the size of the government, add a new layer of bureaucracy to the failed intelligence community and staff it with people of the same mindset as those who had failed to anticipate, expose and prevent the September 11 attacks. Not surprisingly, the newly appointed, ideologically uniform bureaucrats continued to underestimate the threats of jihadists and to fail to pay attention to any new significant trends in other areas.

It was this failed bureaucratic groupthink that produced the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear weapons program last year. That report, with its demonstrably false assertion that Teheran ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, scuttled all of Bush's efforts to use economic sanctions to dissuade the Islamic Republic from building nuclear bombs and pulled the rug out from under any plan to take military action against Iran's nuclear installations in the event of the sanctions' failure.

So, too, led by officials of limited intellectual curiosity and blinding ideological cowardice now sitting atop a new bureaucracy, US intelligence agencies failed to anticipate or prevent Russia's invasion of Georgia.

Bush's establishment of the behemoth Department of Homeland Security was yet another attempt to solve a personnel problem by creating yet another department. And just as the National Intelligence Directorate has failed to solve the problems it was created to contend with, so the Department of Homeland Security has simply continued the same failed immigration policies and domestic intelligence policies that caused the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the FBI to fail to identify and arrest the September 11 hijackers.

In short, both in foreign and domestic affairs, Bush's record is completely at odds with Reagan's record in office. Indeed, his policies have been far more similar to those that Obama – who runs as the anti-Reagan – promises to advance than to those that Reagan adopted.

AND THIS is the great irony of the campaign season. By failing to accurately represent his policies to the public, Bush invited Obama to misrepresent his record and so wrongly ascribe Bush's failures to policies he never adopted – much less implemented. By failing to correct Obama's misrepresentation of Bush's actual record, McCain has allowed Obama to characterize him as the candidate who would continue the Bush presidency, when the fact is that the small-government policies and the relatively robust foreign policy positions that McCain has adopted render him the candidate most unlike the sitting president.

If Obama wins the elections on Tuesday, his victory will find its roots not in media bias, but in Bush's insistent misrepresentation of his record as president.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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  • marcel cousineau 10/31/2008 at 13:37

    I think you have to add that if Bush had not so damaged the Conservative wing of the Republican party Obama would not now be so close to the presidency.
    The Republican In Name Only McCain is more of a Democrat.Was he the best candidate that the Republicans could place in nomination ?
    Of course not.
    Bush has singlehandedly destroyed the Republican/Conservative wing of the party and this was all planned to bring America into the New World Socialist Order.
    If you watched closely how things remained the same in the Bush Administration after Clinton you could see how the voters were scammed by this two party charade.
    It’s not too hard to see where President Bush’s two terms in office veered off onto it’s cursed and failed path.I believe it was June 24 ,2002 when he proclaimed his vision of a Palestinian state that he would work hard to bring to reality.
    Truly the 2 state agenda is a curse upon Israel as it will never bring any real peace,and has only weakened and endangered this small nation.
    It is the Arabs who should have surrendered their land for peace as they have more than enough to give unlike Israel.
    Since the time Bush called to disembowel Israel everything he has touched or attempted to do has been cursed.
    Iraq is a waste of billions and a failure when you add Islam and Christians fleeing Mosul to the accomplishment.
    Malaki may very well throw the emperors army out before 2009 and draw even closer to Iran.
    Another example of the Bush curse.
    Secretary Rice is coming to Israel in early November to push the presidents cursed agenda down Israel’s throat and so I expect more economic upheavel and natural destruction upon a cursed America, and of course I expect that we will have another cursed leader who assumes to curse Israel with the Clinton,Bush,Obanga Road Map agenda.
    America is cursed,finished,kaput no matter who is elected and we shall see that unlike politicians ,God keeps His promise to Abraham.
    Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:
    And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
    And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
    Genesis 12:3

  • vinny 10/31/2008 at 16:47

    You are so accurate, Caroline.
    Bush gave excellent speeches, but his policies on the ground were a disappointment. Powell was a snake throughout the 1990’s and this decade. If not for his efforts, Iraq would have been liberated during the 1st gulf war and Clinton might never have come into the white house. Most recently when he started denouncing McCain, was his true comming out moment. Powell should be retired from public life and Rice too.

  • vinny 10/31/2008 at 16:51

    I disagree with you on blaming Bush only for republican troubles. There were enough republicans in the senate and congress, who disgraced themselves with corrupt and inept conduct. They deserve to be thrown out of office. I only wish that real conservatives were there to take over.

  • Marc Handelsman, USA 10/31/2008 at 18:48

    The outgoing President will let historians define his legacy, because a balanced perspective will give a better analysis. Senator Obama is using the last few days to “close the deal” on why he should be “Number 44.” Senator McCain will need a miracle to beat Senator Obama next week. If Senator Obama wins, it will prove he ran a better campaign. Conversely, if Senator McCain becomes President, it will allow the unique American experience to continue without neo-liberal ideologues. And Israel will have a better friend with a McCain Administration.

  • marcel cousineau 10/31/2008 at 19:03

    The president is elected to lead and he sure did.
    He led the charge to reward the Islamic terrorists wageing war against Israel and never missed an opportunity to do so at Israel’s expense !
    This is not the fault of the Senate or Congress.
    The buck stops with the Commander in Chief and with his failed and cursed leadership the corrupt legislature followed him off the cliff.
    Lets face it ,no matter how hard you attempt to spit shine him he still comes out a large turd.

  • charles soper 11/01/2008 at 0:20

    Thanks Caroline for the clarity of this incisive piece.
    If this rumour is true ( it will form the crowning and most damning indictment of Bush’s time in office.

  • Amerisrael 11/01/2008 at 1:19

    Mike Huckabee has the best position of support for Israel of all the candidates. He is the only one on record as opposing the false delusion of “Roadmap” appeasement. Pledged to not raise taxes, no amnesty for illegal aliens. I’m convinced that Fred Thompson deliberately acted as a spoiler in the South Carolina primary, cutting into Huck’s support just enough to allow McCain to pull ahead with a 3 point lead. Thompson did the bidding of the Republican establishment led by Bush and Rice to bring Huck down. They wanted to bring him down cause he opposed this ramming a Palestinian state down Israel;s throat.

  • Dan 11/01/2008 at 6:38

    I’m a Conservative Republican, who voted for the twit twice.
    I can’t even stand to see his face on television.
    What he did to my party, is simply appalling.

  • bobby 11/01/2008 at 7:35

    please what “massive new regualtions..” has bush introduced aside from Homeland and Intelligence..the economy melt down started with housing and with clintons deregulations and carter clinton and the left e.g. Community Reinvestment Act forceing high risk loans to gain voters ..I agree on the ‘appeasement’ business ..bush and rice and when elected BO will throw Israel under the bus with BO’s granny —yet Jews in the US will vote in droves for him – by the way instructions in Hebrew are not helpfulo to many of us

  • Bill K. 11/01/2008 at 8:14

    Would you consider running for President in 2012, assuming we’re still around at that point?
    Seriously, you have once again hit the nail on the head with your postmortem on the Bush Administration. In the future Bush will be viewed as a President that failed intellectually to comprehend the corrupt nature of Islamic totalitarianism, with Iran as the main offender, and that he lacked moral certainty to act decisively against it. He has systematically betrayed everything he was once assumed to have stood for.
    I disagree somewhat with your characterization of Reagan’s “muscular, pro-American foreign policy”, at least in regard to Iran. The Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon was almost certainly the work of Iran and their Hezbollah minions. Reagan ordered a bombing retaliation against Hezbollah for this attack but his pro-Arab Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger refused to carry it out. Reagan was dumbfounded by this treachery but did not fire Weinberger as he should have. In any case an attack of this magnitude was an act of war which a one-time bombing was pathetically inadequate to avenge. It should have led, as Carter’s American Embassy crisis should have led, to the destruction of an Islamic Iran.

  • malcolm 11/02/2008 at 4:52

    A great interview with Dr. Arieh Eldad

  • davis,br 11/02/2008 at 11:45

    Sometimes Caroline, I would that you were not quite so obviously correct in your assessments and analyses.

  • marcel cousineau 11/02/2008 at 22:39

    “The outgoing President will let historians define his legacy, because a balanced perspective will give a better analysis.”
    The rantings of a delusional fool in denial.
    I know it’s hard to face the truth head on but your willingness to drink the Kool-Aid for your demi-god is not admirable but insane.
    There is no reason to wait when all the evidence is before us and any rational mind can see that those who looked to Bush and trusted him were hoodwinked by the craftiest of devils who appeared as an angel of light.
    Of course Bush is to blame for the economic melt down as he is to blame for his treacherous batrayal of Israel as with his out of control spending and his incredible arrogance.
    I sure do hope he does not pull an Olmert trick to remain in power any longer.
    A McCain will be as bad for Israel as an Obama as they will both push equally hard the same Road Map to hell as the turd Bush has.
    The first step to recovery is to admit you were snookered and quit making excuse after excuse or pushing for a later revision of history to fit your fantasy.

  • Cantbelievemyeyesandears 11/04/2008 at 4:34

    In evaluating G.W. Bush’s foreign policy – actual vs rhetorical over the 8 years, all roads lead to Saudi Arabia. From letting the bin Laden family fly out of the US on 9/11, to numerous statement of “our Saudi friends” to learning that Saudi Arabia is a “partner for peace” concerning Israel, I think we have the loose bolt in the machine that makes it screech and jam. The US has never struck hard against Saudi Wahabism, growing Saudi money and influence in the West, nor human rights abuses….Perhaps, W’s dad’s relationships with the Saudi’s carry an unfathomable weight which effects a dwarfing of even the strongest of Ws moral wishes.
    Domestically, it is interesting to note that a recent issue of Time Magazine suggested he might be remembered as a somewhat Liberal President


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