May 5, 2011
The Sacrificial Presidency of George W. BushBy Paul Kengor
"Yeah, we waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed," former President George W. Bush told an audience in Grand Rapids, Michigan in June 2010. "I'd do it again to save lives."
When Bush said this a year ago, the howls from the left weren't as loud as usual. And why would they be? The "angry left," as Bush called it -- and felt it more acutely than anyone bestriding the planet -- didn't care much anymore. Waterb oarding had been a tool for the left's purposes: to demonize and defeat Bush. It had usefulness just as Iraq once had. It had gotten the Democrats not only a gigantic Congressional majority but also the presidency, ensuring $800-billion "stimulus" packages, ObamaCare, nationalization of GM, and decades more of Roe v. Wade. In the ultimate progressive coronation, waterboarding, like Iraq, like Gitmo, like Abu Ghraib, like so much more, enabled the election of the most anti-war, anti-Bush, and generally most left-wing of all Democratic presidential candidates, Barack Obama.
And so, when Bush made no apologies for waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed last June, the normal hysteria was a mere din.
Further tempering the usual shouting were the suddenly cooled voices of mainstream Democrats, who, though not as far to the left as the extremists in their ranks, still read the New York Times as if it were Gospel, or their daily bread. These Democrats are governed by the anonymous power of emotion and the fads and fashions of the moment -- and by what had been their party's only definable operating principle: If Bush was for it, they were against it.
They had been against practically everything George Bush did from 2004 to 2008. I never saw anything like it. As someone who studies and teaches history, foreign policy, and the Middle East, I watched in great frustration as Democrats opposed things they had always supported when their guy was commander-in-chief, and no doubt would again, once back in the White House. They slammed away at George W. Bush, scourging the man, roasting and toasting and turning and skewering, politically crucifying him. It was ugly -- and so unjust. Finally, after eight years of Bill Clinton, we had a president who cared not a whit about polls, completely giving himself for what he believed was right, and liberals torched him.
Still, Bush quietly carried his cross, turning the other cheek, accepting the torment, sacrificing his presidency for what he thought was best for his country and citizens. He could've closed Gitmo. He could've stopped the "enhanced interrogation" of detainees. He could've stopped waterboarding. He could've picked up and packed up and abandoned Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush hung in there, devoting himself to preventing another 9/11. Even many Republicans fled him, especially those who for bizarre political/psychological reasons subject themselves to corrosive doses of CBS, NBC, ABC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Many of those Republicans emailed me daily, taking the bait, constantly panicked by the latest unsubstantiated silliness spun on the liberal gristmill to feed the mainstream media's anti-Bush appetite. The accusations would have been laughably stupid if not so viciously sad.
Did it work? Oh, you bet it did. Going into the final year of his presidency, Bush had the worst approval of any president since Truman, somehow below even Carter and Nixon. Everyone was against him.
But President George W. Bush carried on, resigned to the fact that he would leave office unappreciated. Even as the left hopped and hollered and twitched and poked all around him, he retained the War on Terror policies that would one day allow the left's guy in the Oval Office, Barack Obama, to secure the signature foreign-policy success that most of us knew would redound to Bush's successor. The moment arrived on May 1, 2011, when a jubilant President Obama was able to announce to the world, in a statement with at least 14 first-person references, that Osama bin Laden was dead. Those 14 self-references were 14 more than any Obama thanks to Bush. (Bush got one mention from Obama, a nod for not declaring war against Islam after 9/11.)
Of course, anyone with common sense, and not ruled by partisan emotion, understands that Bush's policies made the capture possible. They were the same polices that Senator Obama and an ever-enraged left employed to take down Bush.
"We obtained that information through waterboarding," stated Congressman Peter King (R-NY) shortly after Obama's historic announcement, confirming what conservatives figured. That information, said King, "directly led us to Bin Laden."
King told Fox's Bill O'Reilly:
[Y]ou mentioned the fact that we obtained ... vital information about the courier for Osama. We obtained that information through waterboarding. So for those who say that waterboarding doesn't work, who say it should be stopped and never used again, we got vital information which directly led us to bin Laden. ... It came from an overseas prison where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was being interrogated. Waterboarding was used, and it was during the interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, through waterboarding, that this information was learned."
Naturally, "progressives" immediately pounced on King's statement, which cannot be permitted to be true. You can count on the Times to work super-hard on that one (click here). They cannot credit Bush, which is an unbearable, unsustainable notion in the left's mental universe.
And yet, as even liberal sources from the Times to the Washington Post are forced to concede, it was the totality of the things the Bush administration did, including interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which led to Osama. Even if, as some liberals are claiming, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed divulged key information under "standard interrogation" after he was waterboarded, obviously the mere thought of another waterboarding worked wonders in making him talk.
Because of that, and more, bin Laden now follows a legion of Islamist ghosts extinct because of a process begun by George W. Bush. The 9/11 architect joins a roster of Hall of Terror corpses that include Saddam Hussein, Uday Hussein, Qusay Hussein, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Abbas, Abu Nidal, and more. They're all dead. It's a world vastly better than the 9/11 world first confronted by George W. Bush, not unlike the vastly improved post-Cold War world that Democrat Bill Clinton inherited after two terms of Republican Ronald Reagan.
And now, the headlines of history -- which the political left writes via media, academia, Hollywood, and the publishing industry -- will read "Obama Got Osama."
But how? That's the story behind the headlines. With the help of everything Bush had done. Heck, Bush may have gotten Obama not only Osama but a second term. And liberals wonder why conservatives find it bitterly difficult to credit President Obama?
For that matter, will the left credit Bush? Will there be a public confession or apology or commendation for this man they pilloried, who helped make possible the triumph enjoyed by the president they revere -- the political messiah to the Bush devil? No. There's no faith, hope, or charity.
"Life takes its own turns, makes its own demands, writes its own story," said George W. Bush four months before 9/11. "[T]he greatest rewards are found in the commitments we make with our whole hearts -- to the people we love and to the causes that earn our sacrifice."
For George W. Bush, the sacrificial presidency continues.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.