While we did not vote for President Bush, we were pleased when he prevailed over Al Gore in the post-election chaos. In many respects Mr. Bush has proved himself able – a man for this season. But as midterm elections approach, his record is neither flawless, nor, on certain critical issues, remotely conservative.
War and peace now define the Bush presidency. Tragically, the president has painted himself into a corner with Saddam Hussein with his own relentless bellicosity. If he now retreats from his stated policy of preemptive war, he risks his political survival.
It didn’t have to be this way. In the weeks following 9/11, President Bush was superb, both salving the nation and rallying it to action. His focused military campaign against the Taliban regime, which had given sanctuary to the al-Qaeda murderers, was brilliant and decisive. So too was his assembly of an international coalition against the terrorists. Then, inexplicably, with the war against al-Qaeda far from finished, the president shifted course, setting his sights on a wider war against an “axis of evil” – three nations with no discernable connection to the 9/11 attacks.
Likewise, after a strong start, the president faltered in the Middle East. He was correct and courageous to spell out his early commitment to a viable Palestinian state – understanding that a just resolution of the Palestine problem has now become a vital American interest. But then the president’s clear vision became clouded by Sharonistas in his administration who echo the Likud party line. The result: a peace process in tatters and much of the Arab world a hotbed of anti-Americanism and a spawning pool for terror.
On immigration, the issue that will define the culture of America’s future, the Bush record fares no better. Rather than heeding the 9/11 firebell in the night, the president still shows greater concern for the feelings of Presidente Fox than for the security of his own countrymen. His stance confounds his own political interests, for an ever-expanding, often dependent, immigrant underclass is an unlikely repository of future Republican voters.
On domestic policy, compassionate conservatism is proving an expensive addiction, presenting American taxpayers with bottom lines indistinguishable from Clinton budgets. Under President Bush, the Department of Education takes cues from Ted Kennedy, agricultural handouts grow faster than the crops they subsidize, and his Department of Homeland Security threatens to expand federal control beyond previous liberal contemplation.
But the record is not all failure, for by turns the president has shown flashes of strong and often innovative leadership. Early in his tenure, the Bush White House delivered its promised tax cut and has since sent Congress solid, if sadly undefended, judicial nominees.
Equally admirable are Bush’s repeated refusals to compromise American sovereignty. From the Kyoto Treaty to the International Criminal Court to missile defense, President Bush has put the world on notice that he will defend this nation’s interests.
We also applaud his America First stance on imported steel. By imposing 30 percent tariffs, Bush declared his conviction that no great nation can survive the hollowing out of its manufacturing base or indefinitely sustain massive and mounting trade deficits.
Therefore, our review is mixed. President Bush has done some things masterfully, many well. But he could do more, far more. And the question that will indelibly define his presidency remains, as yet, unanswered.
The stock response we give writers inquiring about contributing to this magazine is to look at a few issues, see what we like in terms of length and style, and write us a query note. It would almost go without saying that a small magazine like ours would not be interested in an 8,000 word article replete with footnotes, even one written by a professor with a distinguished academic career.
Paul W. Schroeder’s “Case Against Preemptive War” piece breaks all our editorial rules. Nonetheless, when we happened upon it over two months ago, we knew instantly that it was and would remain the single most important and compelling argument that would be made against the administration’s rush to war against Iraq. Our view of it has not changed, though the debate has expanded and deepened considerably since mid-July.