Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

01/15/2009 (3:36 am)

Retrospective on GWB

I’ve been planning to write a retrospective summary of the presidency of George W. Bush, but British historian Andrew Roberts beat me to it, and wrote an estimate of how history will view President Bush the Younger that’s pretty much what I was going to say. So, you get to hear his version instead of mine.

The American lady who called to see if I would appear on her radio programme was specific. “We’re setting up a debate,” she said sweetly, “and we want to know from your perspective as a historian whether George W Bush was the worst president of the 20th century, or might he be the worst president in American history?”

“I think he’s a good president,” I told her, which seemed to dumbfound her, and wreck my chances of appearing on her show.

This is the part to keep in mind when you hear the “historians call GWB one of the worst presidents” recitation on PBS or in the newspaper. The take from this vignette is that newsies are cherry-picking historians to find the ones that will say that Bush was the worst President. It’s partisans who say that; Roberts tells us that down the road, when the partisan rancor has settled, real historians will say something different.

Roberts’ argument rests on the correctness of Bush’s response to 9/11, which produced a security mindset at home, and attacks on the Taliban and Iraq and cooperation with capitals around the world to lasso terrorists abroad. He also notes that the recitations of ridicule will fade away, and after review of Bush’s notes and memoirs, the notion that he was an incurious frat boy will be treated like the unsupportable rubbish it’s always been. Also, the conspiracy-laced explanations for the Iraq war will hit the trash, and be replaced by the correct evaluation that Bush was right about most of what Iraq was doing, and where he was wrong, he was consistent with the rest of the world.

The only disagreement I have with Mr. Roberts is that he ignores domestic policy almost entirely, and where he pays attention briefly, he excuses Bush’s stimulus spending. I’ll continue to be a harsher critic of President Bush than Roberts. Eventually, Medicare and Social Security will fail, and when they do, we’ll all see their failure as having been inevitable and predictable, and blame the long string of Presidents who had the opportunity to fix it and did not. George W. Bush will figure high on that list. Also, history often omits details of economic policy, but the Bush legacy of growing the government and piling on the national debt will be remembered.

I’d like to reprint the whole article, but I don’t have permission, so here are a few excerpts:

At the time of 9/11, which will forever rightly be regarded as the defining moment of the presidency, history will look in vain for anyone predicting that the Americans murdered that day would be the very last ones to die at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the US from that day to this…

Sneered at for being “simplistic” in his reaction to 9/11, Bush’s visceral responses to the attacks of a fascistic, totalitarian death cult will be seen as having been substantially the right ones.

Mr Bush assumed that the Coalition forces would find mass graves, torture chambers, evidence for the gross abuse of the UN’s food-for-oil programme, but also WMDs. He was right about each but the last, and history will place him in the mainstream of Western, Eastern and Arab thinking on the matter…

Films such as Oliver Stone’s W, which portray him as a spitting, oafish frat boy who eats with his mouth open and is rude to servants, will be revealed by the diaries and correspondence of those around him to be absurd travesties, of this charming, interesting, beautifully mannered history buff who, were he not the most powerful man in the world, would be a fine person to have as a pal.

Instead of Al Franken, history will listen to Bob Geldof praising Mr Bush’s efforts over Aids [sic] and malaria in Africa; or to Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, who told him last week: “The people of India deeply love you.” And certainly to the women of Afghanistan thanking him for saving them from Taliban abuse, degradation and tyranny…

He was a success in foreign policy, though a disappointment in domestic policy. We were safe in our country because of his integrity and persistence. His was the cleanest government of my lifetime. Worst President in history? He’s not the worst of the 20th century, nor even near the worst in my lifetime; those honors go to Carter and Johnson for sheer incompetence, and Clinton for the felonious mess he dragged us through. Liberals will not admit it today, but we’re going to miss President Bush.

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January 15, 2009 @ 10:26 am #

“Films such as Oliver North’s W”

Did a double take on that line. I checked the link you posted and he has updated it to Oliver Stone.

(Webmaster notes: Oops. Missed that. Thanks, and it’s corrected here as well.)

January 15, 2009 @ 4:16 pm #

GWB was a big disappointment to me, and I voted for him twice.

Phil, although I share your domestic issue concerns with GWB, my two biggest beefs actually fall in the national security arena:

1) OBLIVIOUS TO THE THREAT OF ISLAM … no, the threat is not “just” the terrorists, I am talking about the whole “western civilization threatening ideology masquerading as a religion” known as Islam. Anybody who thinks our only danger is the bomb throwers needs to read “America Alone” by Mark Steyn. That a modern day president could be so clueless as to term Islam the “Religion of Peace” is truly mind numbing. That he was ready to turn over the security of our nation’s ports to a muslim run company (see Dubai Ports) goes beyond clueless, and borders on treason.

Calling this a War On Terror is stupid. We are at war with jihadists. Terror is a battle tactic. By this flawed logic, after Pearl Harbor we should have declared a “War Against Sneak Attacks”. This is a violation of RULE #1 in any war, which is DEFINE THE ENEMY.

2) BORDER SECURITY … Border security is still a COLOSSAL problem, ask anybody who lives near the Mexican border. The Canadian border isn’t getting the required scrutiny either. Hey George, whatever happened to that fence that actually got mandated by law?

January 15, 2009 @ 4:24 pm #

I agree with most of these comments with a few qualifications.

The thing he did that probably made me the angriest was fail to consistently and reasonably articulately make the case for and defend his actions. There is a grace in being the type of person who prefers to let one’s actions speak for oneself, and I truly feel as if his seeming reluctance to engage his enemies was often due to wanting to preserve the dignity of the Presidency. Sadly, that is not enough in this day and age, particularly for a conservative or Republican.

I hope you are right about how history will judge him. I am not so sure. Liberals are proving to be very adept at rewriting history to suit their template. Why will anyone believe Mr. Bush was a charming, well mannered student of history when “W” is the pop culture record on the subject? Who will actually read and report on those diaries and spread this information to the public? And who will care when it’s time for American Idol to come on?

I disagreed with him vehemently on his policies on immigration. Nevertheless, I will say that I do not believe he was catering to the left. He is who he says he is. I did not agree with him on a number of other things, but he was honest and genuine, and I believe anyone who listened closely to him pre-election would not have been surprised by anything he did as President.

Best wishes, President Bush, and thanks for your service.

January 15, 2009 @ 6:57 pm #

Do none of you realize that Mr. Bush couldn’t “consistently and reasonably articulately make the case for and defend his actions,” even if his actions hadn’t been the simplistic reactions of a schoolyard bully?

Do you not hear Bush’s constant struggle w/ the English language? The lickspittle Roberts, who is no doubt grateful to Bush for drumming up business for Roberts’ previous book, must realize that someone whom he calls “literary” would have learned how to speak after much less reading than Bush claims, yet he continues to polish Bush’s apple w/ patently absurd statements.

January 15, 2009 @ 9:29 pm #

Do you not hear Bush’s constant struggle w/ the English language?

Nope. He has the language down pretty well. He struggles to put his thoughts into words. This is not uncommon. It suggests his processing style is not auditory. Given his reading/processing ability, he’s probably a pure visual learner. I’m betting his memos were very succinct and direct. He also probably reads very, very quickly, since he does not subvocalize (say the words inside his head as he reads.) I’m also betting he has a tin ear for music.

…the simplistic reactions of a schoolyard bully?

I’m interested in hearing you defend this interpretation of Bush’s actions, as “reactions of a schoolyard bully.” Please avoid the words “obvious” or “obviously.” Explain precisely.

January 15, 2009 @ 9:37 pm #


I don’t think he was oblivious to the threat of Islam. Calling this the “war on terror” rather than “the war on Islam” or “the war on Wahabism” was a necessary public relations move, to avoid phrases that could be interpreted as “Crusades, opus 13.” The Middle East is still, to this day, sensitive about the Crusades, believe it or not.

The government can do little to affect the spread of Islam; that’s mostly a local issue rather than a national issue. They did what they could given the times. The Iraq war was an attempt to defuse the time bomb of the Muslim world; by creating a prosperous, free Muslim republic, he raises the possibility of personal improvement in the minds of Muslims all over the Middle East. This in turn leads them in the direction of moderation, and turns their rage away from the US and the West, and towards their own governments.

Will it work? Hard to say; it’s the only governmental strategy I’ve ever heard that has even a prayer of working. The other thing that could make a significant difference is Christians evangelizing the Middle East; the US government cannot be involved in this directly.

I completely agree with you on the borders, however, and I would LOVE to hear GWB explain what was really in his head concerning that topic. I honestly don’t have a clue what he was after.

January 16, 2009 @ 2:22 am #


I think the term needs to be “The War Against Jihadists” or “The War Against Jihad.” This is the most accurate terminology, and places the focus squarely on what is driving the opposition, namely, their desire to spread Islam all over the world by the method of jihad.

I must take issue with your rationale:
“… was a necessary public relations move, to avoid phrases that could be interpreted as “Crusades, opus 13.”

Western civilization is in a fight for its very life against Islam. Watch what happens to Europe in the next twenty years. Our deference to muslim sensibilities must not impair our vital need to define the enemy.

This news story shows how this “necessary public relations move” is fueling a head in the sand philosophy that is polluting our very ability to save ourselves.


Finally, this country has paid far too high a price in blood and treasure just so Iraq could form a sharia compliant government. We made a horrible mistake allowing sharia into the Iraq government, and should have insisted on a completely secular framework. The chance of a sharia compliant government resulting in your hoped for “prosperous, free Muslim republic” is unlikely, and a very bad bet made with our soldiers lives and our taxpayer money. This is another result of Bush not having a good understanding of what Islam is all about.

January 16, 2009 @ 2:34 am #

Lets write this on the grave stone of the W’s administration:


January 16, 2009 @ 5:17 am #

Ken –

I used “War against Jihad” for a while, but it is wildly inaccurate, I’m afraid. “Jihad” merely means “struggle,” and to many Muslims it refers to the war against the sins of the flesh, the struggle to become holy or completely devoted. Those who view it this way, we want to keep neutral, not make enemies of them.

The particular form of Islam that seems to motivate most of the anti-West violence is the Wahabist branch, which happens to be the sect in which the Saudi royal family worships. However, “war against Wahabism” (which I use in my writing) still declares war on a religious sect, and invokes images of the Crusades, not to mention that it makes enemies of the Saudis, and I think the government prefers to keep the war against the Saudis unspoken. The Left was not wrong in pointing out that the Saudis are a potential enemy; they were wrong in thinking the government does not understand this, and they were dead wrong in using this as an argument against the Iraq war.

The article you linked to is accurate. However, to assign that particular blindness to the realpolitik of avoiding overly religious-sounding labels is unfair. The President is President of a nation that largely wants to lay down and let Islam walk over us. He has to mount the defense with perhaps 30% of the nation understanding it, but he needed to remain President of 100% of the nation. This requires finesse.

I’ve written some about importance of Evangelical Christianity in understanding and resisting the spread of Islam. Islam was turned back from Europe by fervent Christians (albeit perhaps not particularly pure ones,) and if it’s going to be turned back again, it will probably be turned back by Christians again. See my essay, The New Muslim Invasion. To take a page from your “War College” article, it’s not enough to know the enemy, we also must know ourselves.

January 16, 2009 @ 8:20 am #

I wish I had more time to write these days.

First, the war on ‘terrorism’, which specifically excluded INTRAnational acts by the way, is a rational extrapolation of the philosophy which gave us all of the Geneva Conventions (GC): that soldiers are the instruments of their respective governments and that they and the citizens of contending nations shouldn’t be held responsible for the policies of their governments. It is a rejection of the philosophy of Total War, the annihilation of one people by another. It takes little reading to discover which of these two philosophies Islam embraces and even codifies.

Terrorists, or ‘saboteurs’ in the GC, are excluded from most protections of the GC precisely because they are to be treated as the enemies of all civilization and not just their victims. The cruelty of the US in the prosecution of the Long War is the only way, and has always been known to be the only way, to suppress Total War.

The GC and its principles has had no greater champion than President George W. Bush, the first western leader to engage such a powerful barbaric foe in centuries.

Second, in the midst of all the other, higher profile, decisions he has made, it is sad to see the brilliance of his policy on embryonic stem cell research unmentioned.

January 16, 2009 @ 9:34 am #


That’s a fine analysis of the philosophy underlying the rejection of total war. Do you have sources for your thoughts? If so, I’d like to read them, as I’ve never come across that particular analysis before, and it’s very sensible.

I’ll add only that “saboteurs” does not really capture terrorism. I prefer to use “pirates.” They fall into the same category in international law, though: “hostis humani generis,” or “enemies of humanity.” I wrote about this back in 2006, after the Supreme Court butchered the law in Hamdan v Rumsfeld.

Sorry about omitting the stem cell issue. I’d frankly forgotten it. Yes, his policy on that matter was thoughtful and entirely correct.

January 16, 2009 @ 11:54 am #


Regarding your comments:

Phil comment …

I used “War against Jihad” for a while, but it is wildly inaccurate, I’m afraid. “Jihad” merely means “struggle,” and to many Muslims it refers to the war against the sins of the flesh, the struggle to become holy or completely devoted. Those who view it this way, we want to keep neutral, not make enemies of them.

If you really believe the “jihad is inner struggle” nonsense you are a taqiya victim, and have been duped. You need to look at this a lot closer. See the following:




Phil comment …

and I think the government prefers to keep the war against the Saudis unspoken.

Maybe this is true Phil, and so what is the price we pay for keeping this war unspoken? I will tell you the price … we allow the Saudis to use their massive petro dollars to infuse their pernicious wahhabi philosophy into mosques all over the world, including, of course the USA … (and we are not supposed to say anything about this???? , uh excuse me if I don’t go along with this suicidal tactic.)

see this:


January 17, 2009 @ 5:10 am #


Here’s how I see it.


Joe H.

January 17, 2009 @ 10:39 am #


I have to characterize virtually every word of that article as mean-spirited delusion. It’s a remarkable testament to the ability of American leftists first to spin the most absurd denunciations of good men, and then immediately to come to believe profoundly their own distortions. I shake my head in amazement… and wonder how what sort of mental gymnastics enable you to accuse me of blind partisanship, while you believe such a tissue of malformed imprecations to have any connection whatsoever to reality.

If you want to discuss any of this, you can begin by providing the factual basis for a statement like this:

Goodbye to the lust for sending off other people’s sons and daughters to fight and kill and die just to show your daddy you’re a real man.

I’ll ignore any comment of yours that occurs before your defense of this. We have to start somewhere. I choose this.

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