December 31, 2007
Man of the Year: President Bush
Think about this for a moment. Who is the one individual who has made the biggest difference in the world in the last year?
That's the main criterion that Time magazine uses when selecting its "Person" every year. To quote, Time editors choose:
the man, woman, couple, group, idea, place, or machine that "for better or for worse, ...has done the most to influence the events of the year."
The answer is pretty obvious. It is President George W. Bush. He is not just Man of the Year. He is Man of the Decade. Whether it was the contested election of 2000, the response to 9/11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the "mess in Iraq," and the surge, the guy in the middle was President Bush. Whether it's the success of the 2003 tax cuts, the mess of No Child Left Behind, or the gigantic expansion of Medicare, the go-to guy is President Bush.
But of course, our objective journalist friends in the mainstream media would die rather than give President Bush the time of day. They figure that by making him "Person of the Year" in 2000 and 2004 they have eaten their broccoli. As composer Richard Strauss said:
"Never look at the trombones. You'll only encourage them."
We certainly wouldn't want to encourage President Bush, now, would we? He might decide to go off and invade Iran.
Many conservatives would like to nominate General David H. Petraeus as Man of the Year, as a reward for commanding a successful "surge" that even the prophetic Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) failed to see in the stars. There is no doubt that General Petraeus' head should be crowned with laurels.
We should remember that it is presidents that appoint generals, and that normally it takes a couple of years of war to find the right general. As often as not, he's commanding a division at the beginning of the war. Think Montgomery, Rommel, Manstein.
Some war winners start even further back in the officer corps. Ulysses S. Grant began the Civil War recruiting a company of volunteers. Eisenhower was a one-star general at the start of World War II. General Petraeus went into Iraq in 2003 as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division
It was Lincoln who picked Grant, Roosevelt who picked Eisenhower, and Bush who picked Petraeus. Let's give credit where credit is due to the president that hired the general.
The astonishing thing about President Bush is that, pace his critics, he has not presided over a White House bunker mentality. He has not held onto policies inflexibly without ever changing strategy when he needed to. He did not go into Iraq without a plan for the aftermath. He did not refuse to face up to his mistakes.
What he did do was to formulate a grand strategy in the aftermath of 9/11 and coolly execute it while all around him everyone started losing their heads over quagmires, blunders, mistakes, intelligence failures, "domestic spying," and civil wars.
When things went wrong and -- earth to liberals -- they always do go wrong all the time in any serious endeavor, President Bush changed his strategy. That's how you do things in the world of grown-ups as opposed to the adolescent world of taxpayer-funded liberal sinecures.
Conservatives are disappointed in President Bush. He hasn't advanced our program of reform as far as we would have liked, and we grumble that Ronald Reagan would have done better. We probably underestimate the achievements of Bush and overestimate the legacy of Reagan. We may come to recognize that Bush didn't do too badly, given the hand he was dealt and the ferocious opposition of the Democrats to any reform of their entitlements.
Sensibly, President Bush has not wasted his troops in fruitless attacks against the entitlement citadels. Indeed, after the skirmishes of the last few years it may be time for conservatives to mention the "R" word, and take the advice of the Duke of Wellington: "to know when to retreat, and to dare to do it."
It takes daring to retreat because it exposes you the scorn of the armchair generals back home. Every army needs time to rest, retrain, and re-equip before a new advance.
That is for the future. For now, in this season of conservative discontent let us appreciate that in President Bush we have a leader who, while lacking the charm of a matinee idol, does not lack for courage, fortitude, coolness under fire, and a willingness to play "big ball."
Yet all of his achievements and mistakes thus far may count for nothing. This holiday season the ship of state is tossing in a perilous mortgage meltdown. Will President Bush manage to navigate the economy through the narrow channel between the Scylla of credit collapse and the Charybdis of ruinous inflation?
If he fails, his name in history will connect with that failure, as Carter connects with Stagflation and Hoover with Depression.
If he succeeds, we'll remember President Bush, Man of the Year, for something else.