Having once had the highest approval rating going back to Truman, George W. Bush
left office with an appalling 34 percent approval rating – the same as Jimmy
Carter. He could not attend the Republican Party’s 2008 National Convention for
fear of hurting the party’s election chances.
With the recent opening of
his Presidential Library, Bush’s approval rating hit a seven-year high of 47%,
but that was downplayed as a trend of Americans looking on their presidents more
fondly after they’ve left office. And intense disapproval of Bush’s handling of
a number of issues, including the war in Iraq and the economy,
When al-Qaida attacked America, only a few months into Bush’s
presidency, I had just begun my freshman year of college.
One of the
things I remember most from that formative period of my life is people who had
voted for Al Gore saying, “Thank God George Bush is president.” As time passes,
I believe that’s what people will remember.
AFTER 9/11, experts said it
was “not a question of if but when” another such attack would occur. But it
didn’t. That’s quite astounding for a country like the US which has so many
vulnerabilities, as illustrated so recently by the Boston Marathon bombings.
Given massive terror attacks around the world, organized Islamic terrorists
certainly haven’t lost interest, but instead failed in their attempts to attack
They failed because president Bush committed the United States to
a seemingly unwinnable war which had to be waged all over the world against not
only people but against an idea itself. Bush brought the fight to the enemy with
wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and military operations everywhere. Bank accounts
were frozen. The Patriot Act was enacted. An ultimatum was issued to states that
harbored, funded and tolerated terrorists that they were “either with us or
A more polite, defensive strategy of hiding behind the
oceans and peeking out to launch tomahawk missiles or to conduct limited
humanitarian campaigns could not have succeeded and would have emboldened the
terrorists further, giving proof to their claim that America was a paper tiger.
With his aggressive strategy, Bush not only reminded the world that the US is a
sleeping giant enemies should think twice before awakening, but kept America
President Bush also infused the War on Terror with America’s
founding vision, the spread of liberty. As historian Gordon Wood has noted, in
revolting against British rule, Americans saw themselves as leading a “worldwide
struggle for the salvation of liberty itself.” In its global struggles of the
past hundred years, America brought its vision of liberty to bear.
declaring war on Germany, president Woodrow Wilson said America would fight to
make the world “safe for democracy.”
Even before America entered World
War II, FDR made America into the “great arsenal of democracy.” In winning the
Cold War, Ronald Reagan led Americans to stare down the “evil empire.”
declaring that advancing freedom would be a primary goal of the War on Terror,
president Bush continued that tradition.
Believing that a region of the
world which is in many ways stuck in the 7th century would embrace
Anglo-American liberalism may have been overambitious, but affirming that
Americans were fighting a just cause in keeping with their core principles was
important for fighting the War on Terror and for how America continues to
As many in Israel have come to realize, a nation which
is not confident of its cause will ultimately bend to pressure and make tragic
mistakes. Even if it cannot rid the world of tyranny, the US is the pillar of an
international order in which all nations benefit from relative stability and
If America loses the will to fight global terrorism or stand
against “evil empires” or members of the “axis of evil,” the world order could
crumble with disastrous consequences for us all.
In his eight years at
the helm, president Bush kept America confident in its cause.
may now see the Iraq War as misguided adventurism, but they still see themselves
as a force for good in the world, perhaps, as their ancestors thought, the last
force for good.
KEEPING WITH his world view, president Bush committed
America to the cause of Israel, for which I, as an American who is now also an
Israeli, am doubly thankful. I disagreed vehemently with the road map, his
endorsement of the Gaza Disengagement and the Annapolis Conference, but I can’t
imagine a president who believes in Israel’s cause and who views it with
friendship as genuinely as Bush did.
He rejected Arafat, the terrorist.
Where the Clinton administration spoke of “evenhandedness” and played the
unbiased referee between its ally and the terror organization it helped empower,
Bush repeated over and over, “Israel has the right to defend itself” through the
toughest years of terror Israel has ever faced.
While it may be easy to
view Bush’s support as the mere continuation of a process which can be traced to
Johnson, Reagan or AIPAC, Bush took the “special relationship” to the next
level. Reagan had been friendly to Israel but often chastised it, while Ford and
Bush I had exhibited outright hostility. Bush virtually rid the Republican party
of such hostility and replaced it with diehard support.
Republican support for Israel and by the mere fact that Bush himself, an
American’s American, was so supportive of Israel, a political situation was
created whereby a politician’s commitment to Israel is seen as a test of that
politician’s loyalty to America itself. This brick wall of American support for
Israel which Bush erected no doubt shaped President Obama’s position, if not his
personal views, on Israel. It has enabled the USIsrael relationship to endure
despite the undeniable friction between the two countries throughout Obama’s
The final act for which we owe Bush a great debt of gratitude
is his execution of TARP – the bailout – by which Bush saved the American
economy from complete collapse. He did so without hesitation though it earned
him the scorn of many free-marketers.
The irony of Obama’s continued
laying of blame on economic policies from “the eight years before I took office”
is that like 9/11, the meltdown was a crisis of disastrous proportions the seeds
of which were sown long before. Just as Bush ditched his “humble” foreign policy
and rose to the occasion to defend us after 9/11, so too did he, in his own
words, “abandon... freemarket principles” to do what was necessary when
financial ruin threatened.
GEORGE W. Bush was delegitimized at every step
of his presidency. From being accused of having “stolen” the election (though
independent recounts have shown that Bush still would have won), to being called
a racist on national television by an immature celebrity, to the claim that he
lied to the American people regarding weapons of mass destruction in order to
wage the Iraq War, on which, it has been said, Bush’s legacy will
“History will judge us” was the refrain Bush, Tony Blair and many
conservatives had throughout the war. At the opening of his presidential
library, Bush maintained that attitude, saying, “History will ultimately judge
the decisions that were made for Iraq....”
No WMDs were found, nor was
the mission accomplished with the fall of Saddam Hussein, but perhaps the
assumption that Bush will be judged mostly on the Iraq war is itself wrong. Bush
was not a perfect man, but he led America in times of great crisis with moral
courage. He secured America from another 9/11, he saved it from another great
depression and renewed its commitment to its founding values. For all that, I
believe history will judge him kindly.
The writer made aliya in November