The Vindication of George W. Bush

This week at Hofstra University, academics and political experts are gathering to discuss the meaning of the presidency of George W. Bush. President Bush remains an enigmatic yet vital figure in American politics. For liberals, he is the antithesis of good policy and for many conservatives, he represents undue political compromise to be avoided. This highly conflicted sense of 2001-2009 in the American presidency, jeopardizes not simply the history of one President but a larger sense of how success is achieved in politics and how the 21st century might become far more benign and positive than anything we might presently imagine. President Bush was remarkably successful in agendas surrounding global genocide. Those successes and our present efforts to recover that accurate history constant the prelude to a potential end of genocide as a reasonable global norm like we see presently with groups such as ISIS.

The essence of rejectionism surrounding President Bush is generally found in 2007 shortly after Bush’s party lost in a landslide the 2006 Congressional elections. In 2007, Bush’s popularity in Sudan and America was identical: 30%. In many respects, that was insightful to how we begin to recover a proper understanding of his policies. Propaganda in Sudan and the United States led to profound misunderstandings of his actions in a war on terror initiated after the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington DC. Incredibly, on the same continent of Africa, the president was emerging as an incredibly popular figure -- with approval ratings of 70 and 80 percent. These figures were likely tied to effective foreign policy that reduced the incidence of AIDS and malaria rather dramatically from the opening of the 21st century. This popularity was especially striking in parts of Africa with significant Muslim populations -- clarifying how the United States can fight a war on terror without declaring a war on Muslims. 

The nation of Liberia represents a powerful case study in this larger sense of President Bush’s success on the continent of Africa. This week, we celebrate the near eradication of Ebola cases in Liberia -- with just one case reported in the past 21 days. It is a staggering thought for a disease that has killed more than 10,000 in West Africa and even spread as far as the United States and unleashing a measure of hysteria around the world. Liberia was an important epicenter for the disease and the impressive rebound leading to a control of the disease. American troops were deployed by President Obama months ago into Liberia in order to help slow the spread of the disease and control it. The continent’s first female president is sovereign in Liberia -- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She was educated at Harvard. Imagine if Liberia were not governed by a benign leader like Sirleaf but an authoritarian genocidaire. Indeed, in 2003, Liberia was led by a genocidal leader -- Charles Taylor. Taylor was responsible for the deaths of 250,000 Liberians -- more than 25 times the number killed by Ebola. His radical generals were infamous for murdering children on the battlefield, carving out their hearts and feeding them to loyal troops as a public incitement to further genocidal brutality by the regime. How would the United States or other world organizations have handled the Ebola epidemic of Charles Taylor were still in power? It is quite likely that such authoritarian circumstances would have made the Ebola outbreak exponentially worse and we would not be monitoring the end of the outbreak today. 

President Bush’s difficult decision to deploy troops to Liberia in July of 2003 in cooperation with African Union military forces was essential to changing the sovereignty and genocidal practices of Liberia. The decision was made against the harsh backdrop of existing deployments by the U.S. in Afghanistan the new front in Iraq in March of 2003. The world knows little of this decision and it adds to a general false meme that military action by the United States never makes life better -- it always makes things worse. But the easier decision to deploy troops today was paved by the difficult decision of deployment in 2003.

That cherished notion held to closely by our intellectual culture confuses the path forward against genocide. Military action does work. In fact, President Bush outlined the counterfactual in his 2007 State of the Union speech when he explained what would happen if the U.S. withdrew from Iraq prematurely: 

“If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger.”

This was undoubtedly a difficult point to make in the aftermath of Congressional elections that seemed to repudiate the president’s leadership and pressure him to withdraw troops from Iraq. But the founder of ISIS -- Abu Bakhr al-Baghdadi would ultimately be released from American custody in Iraq in 2009 to do exactly as President Bush predicted. 

The awkward intellectual reality we face to do is to realize that the reason Japan has not restored its deadly genocidal imperialism to the continent of Asia and the reason North Korea has not expanded its eliminationist darkness to the rest of the Korean peninsula is a now archaic premise of American foreign policy: sometimes military force does work. President Bush was never able to promise more than a vacation from the genocidaires of Afghanistan and Iraq, because our intellectual leaders at home preach a doctrine of pacifism that protects genocidaires abroad. The proper understanding of the war on terror recognizes that the same necessity that sent the American military on a mission to sack Islamic pirate bases near Tripoli under President Jefferson is the same rationale necessary today. Pretending that the ultimate evil is American or Israeli troops confronting violent supremacists is aid and comfort not only to America’s enemies but the enemies of innocent humanity. 

Ben Voth is an associate professor and director of debate in Communication Studies at Southern Methodist University. He is an advisor for the Bush Institute at the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.  He is also an Africa Studies interdisciplinary scholar in the Dedman school at SMU.  He is the author of a book on these questions entitled: The Rhetoric of Genocide:  Death as a Text. 

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