Thank you, George W. Bush!

Having once had the highest approval rating going back to Truman, George W. Bush left office with an appalling 34 percent approval rating.

George Bush 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
George Bush 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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, remains.
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 the US.
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 against us.”
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 safe.
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.
In 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.”
In 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 perceive itself.
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 commerce.
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.
Americans 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.
In solidifying 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 first term.
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 hinge.
“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 2009.