DUBYA’S stock is rising: it might be premature to call it a bull market, but George W Bush is recovering his popularity and esteem to a degree that his notorious comrade-in-arms Tony Blair will never achieve.
Last Thursday, the George W Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of the Southern Methodist University in Dallas was officially dedicated in the presence of all living former US presidents, including Dubya’s father.
A Washington Post poll that day showed that, among registered voters, George W Bush now enjoys an approval rating identical to that of Barack Obama, at 47 per cent. Admittedly, that is hardly good news for a former president, but over the coming years we can expect to see Bush’s rating increase as Obama’s continues to plummet. The clever money is on Barack Obama eventually recording the most unfavourable ratings in American presidential history; only the unconditional support of an ethnically committed bloc of voters has saved him from this fate so far. Dubya, however, has points to his credit as well as to his demerit.
George Bush was always obscured by a cloud of patronising, liberal East Coast, British and European black propaganda; it has long been a maxim among bien-pensants that any Republican US president must be mentally retarded. The fact that the occupant of the White House who most closely fitted that description was a Democrat – Jimmy Carter – remains stubbornly unacknowledged in liberal La La Land. The notion of Dubya as unintelligent and Neanderthal was always a leftist fantasy, bolstered by his own adroit cultivation of a Texan persona and accent to woo the redneck vote. He was educated at Yale and Harvard Business School; his grades at Yale were better than those of John Kerry, the presidential reject who has picked up the baton from Hillary Clinton as the global projector of effortless anti-charisma to shrink still further America’s dwindling influence.
Two phenomena exercised a malign influence on the Bush presidency: the emergence of the neo-conservatives and the bombing of the New York Trade Center. Bush should have had the wit and capability to contain the former; over the latter he had no influence but, carried though he was on a tsunami of American revanchism, he should have calibrated his geopolitical response more intelligently. Even after the terrorist bombings, about 18 months into his first term, Bush was doing well. He had trashed the notion of American adherence to the Kyoto protocols and of a ban on fossil fuel emissions, but imposed reductions on emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and mercury, while championing reafforestation. With fewer foreign policy distractions he might have promoted a wider movement whereby conservation, a naturally conservative instinct, could have trumped “green” environmentalism and its fanatical agenda.
He sensibly rejected the proposed Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that would have disadvantaged America, but agreed to a bilateral agreement on nuclear warhead reductions that saved Vladimir Putin’s face domestically and enabled both the US and Russia to engage in some useful spring cleaning of nuclear stockpiles. Bush also rejected American participation in the ludicrous but sinister International Criminal Court. Where his judgment went disastrously awry, however, was in launching both the Afghan and Iraq wars.
When the Taleban refused to surrender Osama bin Laden, Bush’s response should have been to send in a raiding party to kill him – as was eventually done in Pakistan – rather than embarking on a conflict in Afghanistan such as had historically defeated both Britain and the Soviet Union. The Iraq War was an extravagant act of folly, supposedly predicated on weapons of mass destruction which the intelligence services of San Marino could have told Dubya were figments of the imagination. Today, Iraq is a failed state in all but name, with an extremely uncertain future, and Afghanistan is about to return to Taleban rule, with a consequent humiliation of America (shared by Britain) reminiscent of the Vietnam debacle.
George W Bush had good intentions, but his reputation cannot be divorced from the Afghan and Iraq wars. The tragedy is that, without those lethal distractions, he could have been a memorable president, leading conservatives to victory in America’s culture wars. His razor-edge first-term election win was based on “the economy, stupid”; but his re-election in 2004 saw four million cultural conservatives who had abstained in 2000 come out to help him lead by 3.5 million in the popular vote, with more support than Ronald Reagan in his 1984 landslide. Exit polls in 2004 showed the highest electoral motivation, at 22 per cent, was “moral values”. Those cultural conservatives were let down and demoralised, leading ultimately to the moral nihilism of the Obama administration subverting America today. That was more than a lost opportunity; it was a tragedy.