George W. Bush: The Case for Greatness

Great Presidents are defined by their times.  In the study of public address and great American rhetoric, scholars speak of an exigence -- the necessities of a moment.  For President Bush, there may not be a clearer indication of the defining moments of his time and the basis for understanding his potential greatness as an American President.   

Even President Bush's detractors must agree that September 11, 2001 was defining moment of Bush's two terms as President.  That fateful day witnessed the first attack on U.S. soil killing nearly 3,000 Americans in a brazen act of terrorism that leveled the nation's two largest buildings and set fire to the nation's military cornerstone.  Out of that incomprehensible tragedy, President Bush began the building of his legacy.  

Here again few detractors maintain much vigor on the question of the war in Afghanistan.  The war was conducted swiftly and with low casualties on respective sides.  The Taliban were removed from power, elections were held, a constitution was put in place and Al Qaeda was damaged and on the run.  That war was significant in removing one of the most profoundly misogynist governments in human history that showed a peculiar delight in assassinating alleged female adulterers in the soccer stadium at Kabul.  The Taliban government had a habit of interfering with international food aid deliveries to such an extent that tens of thousands of people died of hunger under their rule.  Many thousands more were in danger in the winter of 2001 until President Bush removed the Taliban government and restored the flow of American and international food aid.  

Of course the main contention to claims of failure is the Iraq war.  The war is argued to be founded upon false claims about weapons of mass destruction.  Moreover, the war was poorly conducted and killed too many innocent people.  The WMD claim misses and deceives the public into believing that Saddam Hussein never had WMD.  In fact, Saddam used WMD on his own people when he committed a policy of genocide against the Kurds of northern Iraq.  Little is said of how from the moment of the invasion, the northern Iraqi Kurds indeed greeted the US invasion as liberation and welcomed the end of the genocidal tactics exerted by Saddam Hussein.  Dozens of older WMD were found in Iraq despite media claims to the contrary.  The disappointment for the Bush administration was a failure to find an active and contemporary program building the weapons today.  Older dangerous weapons were in the Iraqi arsenal and those details can easily be found in the Duelfer report.  Detractors maintain that the Iraq war has been a failure due to the massive casualties-- nearly 4000 US soldiers. 

Critics conveniently forget that foremost Senate critic Carl Levin predicted that no fewer than 10,000 American soldiers would die in the first six months in Baghdad combat alone.  The fact that US combat losses have been so low is a testament to the quality of the US military action.  American military forces trained and equipped a national police force and army which is now highly rated and respected by the citizens of Iraq.  Then Senator Joseph Biden incorrectly predicted that this army would not be able to conduct any of the three successful democratic elections held in 2005.  Those elections were better attended than any American election.

President Bush's critics tagged him as too prone to war and unwilling to use diplomacy.  His list of diplomatic achievements is arguably more impressive than his war record: the return of a US spy plane and pilots shot down over China, the containment of North Korea in six party talks that Hillary Clinton has confirmed will continue as US policy, the removal of Libya's chemical weapons program, the end of genocide in southern Sudan that killed more than 2 million people in the 1990s, the removal of the murderous Charles Taylor from rule in Liberia and replacing him with the first female president on the continent of Africa, pulling Pakistan and India back from the brink of nuclear war in 2003, the coordination of more than 60 nations in global interdictions of illegal arms trade, improved bilateral relations with the second largest nation in the world-- India. 

Each of these diplomatic achievements accentuates overall successes in bringing the electorates of foreign nations closer to the American political orbit.  This success again stands in sharp contrast to allegations of his critics.  Elections in all of the following countries removed leaders opposed to President Bush and replaced them with leaders more sympathetic with Bush's foreign policy:  France, Germany, South Korea, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia, Albania, Lebanon, Australia, Canada and Italy.  The populations of more than 350 million people moved closer to the American orbit of politics not further away while President Bush was in office.  

None of these nations can match the affection for President Bush found on the continent of Africa where again detractors are hard pressed to dispute the astounding successes of the President.  He increased foreign aid to the continent more than any president in history.  His emphasis on AIDS and malaria reduced harms of two epidemics that have decimated the continent.  Rarely noted in the press, his work on the continent of Africa may be his most lasting international legacy. 

In sum, President Bush recognized the intrinsic insecurity of a world in pain that lashed out at the United States in 2001.  In response, the president constituted a policy to bring perpetrators to justice, liberate the oppressed to systems of democratic governance, and aided efforts to diminish the scourges of disease and ethnic conflict.   The results of this are not only apparent in the lack of attacks on our homeland.  They are apparent in the changes that we can see in the world today.  President Bush's legacy will mark him as a Lincoln standing at a global Gettysburg-- prepared to wage war in the midst of severe public criticism for the sake of the greater good.

Ben Voth is an associate professor of Communication at SMU and director of speech and debate programs
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