"If all the planets come into alignment, the people of the world hold hands and share a Coke (and a smile), and pigs fly...."
Now, assuming Bill Kristol isn't smoking crack, he had to know that his column suggesting a positive legacy for G.W. Bush was drivel.
Let's look at the broad forest rather than the often unlovely trees. What do we see? First, no second terrorist attack on U.S. soil -- not something we could have taken for granted. Second, a strong economy -- also something that wasn't inevitable.No second attack occurred during Clinton's years either, but that didn't stop Bush and friends for blaming him for 9/11. Kristol also argues, "What about terrorism? Apart from Iraq, there has been less of it, here and abroad, than many experts predicted on Sept. 12, 2001" - he's dissembling. Maybe some experts anticipated a larger increase than we've experienced, but you still don't build a legacy by having terrorism increase. (Just like you don't balance a budget by having a smaller deficit than the absurdly large one you initially forecast.)
As for the strong economy, well, Kristol wrote that weeks ago and maybe the "housing bubble" issue is overblown. As for the economy, he is speaking from a position of privilege - not where most Americans are coming from. But even assuming the economy doesn't slide into recession, no, you don't get a glowing legacy for creating a context where the people who are supposed to appreciate your accomplishments don't feel any benefit. If we are fortunate enough not to have a recession and things turn around for the average voter, it's unlikely to occur before 2008 and Bush's successor will take the credit.
And third, and most important, a war in Iraq that has been very difficult, but where -- despite some confusion engendered by an almost meaningless "benchmark" report last week -- we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome.Let's be honest here. If Bush's surge plan fails, he will be blamed. If it succeeds, it will be during his successor's Presidency and his successor will take the credit. And even before we reach the issue of success or failure, Kristol qualifies his projection of what "victory" for Bush would mean:
And then he could leave office with the nation on course to a successful (though painful and difficult) outcome in Iraq. With that, the rest of the Middle East, where so much hangs in the balance, could start to tip in the direction of our friends and away from the jihadists, the mullahs and the dictators.Overlooking the "and if pigs could fly" wishful thinking, setting things on a path to where somebody else's administration will oversee the benefit? How many Presidents does Kristol credit with "winning the Cold War"? The guy who is in the Oval Office when good things happen tends to get the credit for those good things, no matter what came before.
Recall when Kristol, caught off-guard on the Daily Show, described Bush's Iraq policy as his having driven us into a ditch? Then, as now, he insists that the guy who drove us into the ditch is going to get us out. But how many years do we need to spend bouncing around in the ditch before he finally admits, "Bush isn't much of a driver."
Jackson Diehl is less grandiose in his projections, but when comparing him to Kristol that's damning him with faint praise. Noting what he describes as "aims ... utterly different from those with which Bush began his second term [such as the 'Freedom Agenda'", Diehl notes that the Bush Administration is focusing on possible solutions for the Israel-Palestine conflict and North Korea. Here, if news reports are correct, I will give Condoleezza Rice some credit for her approach to Israel-Palestine - she is reportedly attempting to reverse the traditional (and always doomed to failure) approach of spending years negotiating over minor details, suggesting that an agreement should contemplate what the final Palestinian state would look like.
Diehl doesn't mention that, choosing instead to focus on what he apparently believes are positive signs, such as Olmert's apparent willingness to enter into a "declaration of principles" (whatever that would be worth), and that Mahmoud Abbas (who is desperate for international support in the conflict between Hamas and Fatah, and who is also desperate for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions) to "work on the 'declaration of principles'". Wow... If all goes well, we might end up almost back where we were after the Oslo Accords. Diehl all but promises us that this will go nowhere - "Yasser Arafat wasn't ready to conclude a deal, even on the generous terms that Israel then offered (and Olmert now rejects)." This was generous? Diehl believes that the Palestinians can be pressured into accepting less?
I am reminded of old pop lyrics... Joplin's (really, I should say Kristofferson's), "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose" - maybe for the Palestinians the last seven years have been an example of Bush's "freedom agenda" in action. But then there's Dylan's "When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose". Diehl presents a callow expectation that the Palestinians will agree to even less than a revival of Barak's "generous" offer that they give up more land, control of their borders and airspace, any real claim to Jerusalem, and the "right of return". When you talk to people who observe the conflict you tend to hear the comment, "Everybody knows what the final settlement will look like, with a border that pretty much follows the Green Line and the Palestinian 'right of return' limited to their new state." I think the expectation that you can get any traction with a "declaration of principles" that offers less than that is naive.
Diehl also suggests that the U.S. may achieve a breakthrough in North Korea, with "a full disclosure ... of of the nuclear bombs and related materials it has been accumulating and hiding for the past two decades" To the extent that this happens, I expect that as soon as Kim Jong Il deems it appropriate he will be right back to blocking inspectors and developing a nuclear arsenal. If the Bush Administration actually achieves "A deal to dismantle bombs and other nuclear facilities could be done by the end of the year", and that deal is verifiable and sustainable, I will give it the credit that it is due. But if North Korea gets concessions while simply postponing its development of nuclear weapons for a few years, it's no basis for a legacy. Even if it works, putting the Korean conflict back into the state where it was fifteen or so years ago is not much of a foundation for a legacy.
I can understand why some people want to cast Bush's presidency in a more positive light, or hope that in his last eighteen months he'll suddenly start pulling rabbits out of his hat, but I suspect his legacy will be one of failure.