October 15, 2002

Why we should trust Bush

For months I was equivocating on my position regarding war with Iraq, and when I got to school here, I thought it was a bad idea. Recently, though, I have decided to endorse whatever actions President Bush decides to take. What is the reason for this sudden change of heart? I have now realized that George W. Bush is a Republican president, and that every Republican president since America became a world power (post-World War II) has proven a responsible and highly successful practitioner of foreign policy. Therefore, whatever he decides to do is likely to be the right course of action, and the winning one at that.

Recent Republican presidents, upon assuming office and during their terms, have identified clear objectives and carried them out. Dwight Eisenhower pledged to end the Korean War and to keep the United States out of further pointless wars in Asia. He did just that. Richard Nixon promised to get us out of Vietnam, which he did. He and his administration then recognized that the weakened state of America's resolve following the tragedy of Vietnam would prevent America from standing up to further communist expansion. They reacted by recognizing Communist China and improving relations with the Soviets through detente. At a time when no Americans wanted to fight another Vietnam, Nixon eliminated possible flash points.

By the late 1970s, detente had outlived its usefulness. The Soviets were projecting power into Central America, Africa, and Asia, and were building huge stocks of weapons to threaten the unity of NATO. Ronald Reagan's response was to bring the Soviets to their knees by challenging them in proxy wars and in the arms race. The Soviets could not take the pressure, and their country collapsed, the Cold War ending with a bang and a whimper. George H. W. Bush told Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, laid out a timetable and consequences in case of refusal, and backed his words with force.

Contrast Republican success with Democratic failure. John Kennedy blundered us into Vietnam by sending military advisers and backing the Diem regime. Lyndon Johnson escalated the war, despite all the evidence that it could not be won, and micromanaged the conflict from his desk. Jimmy Carter was weak in the face of Soviet expansionism. He also mismanaged the Iran hostage crisis, failing to take any kind of strong, consistent position when Iran committed an act of war against us. Bill Clinton equivocated on Bosnia, failed to take sufficient action against terrorists, and capitulated to Hussein's defiance to weapons inspectors.

These administrations were typified by insecurity, weakness, and abject stupidity, while Republican administrations were typified by consistency, strength and success. Maybe this contrast is because Republicans are more suspicious of non-Americans. Maybe it's because they like guns more. Whatever the reason, even many Democrats will admit that Republicans have a vastly superior record on foreign policy.

I don't mean to make this a partisan thing. I mean, lots of Democrats are legitimately behind Bush 100 percent. Those that oppose Bush are "old-school" Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Al Gore. The thinking of these Democrats mirrors that of their failed presidents—half-measures, a fetish for multilateralism and negotiation, a shying away from backing words with actions, and a willingness to wait for a problem to get out of hand before anything is done about it, at which point the problem is more intractable.

Bush, by contrast, recognizes a threat and is willing to take controversial action to counter it, rallying the country in support of his policy. This is what FDR did, but since he passed, Democrats have never had a president who led in foreign policy, only ones who reacted to polls and political perceptions. Johnson thought the American middle wanted war; in truth they would not have been too upset had Johnson taken advantage of the 1964 Democratic landslide to pull us out of Vietnam, but he was too afraid of damaging his historical reputation to do the right thing. Clinton never saw in his polls a mandate for serious action against the enemies of America during his presidency, so he never took such action. Bush, like FDR, is leading the country, not following. He knows that as time passes and Saddam gains more weapons of mass destruction, he will become that much more difficult to deal with. Bush has pledged to stop Hussein now, rather than waiting for Hussein to become even more intractable or, worse, for a catastrophe.

I realize my argument sounds simple, but I repeat, I was opposed to war very recently. I admit there are compelling arguments for that position. There are arguments for and against any action. Whatever we do is going to involve risk, but I am willing to lay aside my doubts about the wisdom of war because I put my faith in the president and his team of skilled and responsible men and women. The past half-century of history tells us that whatever actions they decide to take deserve our trust and support.