Bush's Fantasy World
America isn't hated abroad. It's beloved. Anyone who believes that America is viewed in a dim light abroad is an even dimmer bulb. Yes, it's too bad that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction. Actually, to be more precise, it's something of a disappointment. But, by the way, Iraq is now a democracy. Whether it will survive as one, of course, is the question. But it's one, after all, that future presidents will have to answer. Was the federal response to Hurricane Katrina a failure? Nah. Thirty thousand people were rescued. Anyone who says different is engaging in niggling criticism.
So it went at what President Bush called the "ultimate exit interview." Holding one of his rare press conferences, Bush bristled at most implied criticisms, while acknowledging error in a few places. The Decider was the Defier.
At least Bush was consistent. Even as the Israelis and Palestinians battle and the economy tanks, he refuses to see anything but the upside. Bush has always believed in the faith-based foreign and domestic policy that he has faithfully followed. He seems to think that setbacks are simply to be construed as obstacles to test his mettle and fortitude. Given enough zeal and willpower, any problem can be solved or overcome.
Too bad it hasn't worked out that way. The Washington Post, for example, reported that there has been essentially no growth in the economy over the past eight years. It isn't simply Democrats, but also a number of economists attached to the McCain campaign who have come to this dismal conclusion. Small wonder that Bush is calling upon the GOP to practice compassion. He needs it for himself.
His foreign-policy record is no better. Another Post report, buried in the paper, serves as an object lesson in what's gone wrong over the past eight years. It seems that the United States has built a $3 million Khyber Border Coordination Center that's supposed to promote intelligence sharing among Pakistan, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces. But it isn't happening. The Afghan and Pakistani officers, it seems, are unable to interpret the information being channeled back to their fancy computer screens. So they spend their days playing solitaire or watching wrestling matches. Further more, we learn, "none of the U.S. officers at the Khyber Center speaks Dari, Pashto, or Uru, the local languages." Oh, well, it's no big deal. It's only the war on terror, after all. But didn't Bush say that winning it was the central challenge of our time?
Poor Barack Obama. He's the dutiful student who has to clean up the mess left behind by the dumb jock. Bush's deep wisdom for his successor? "There'll be a moment when the responsibility of the president lands squarely on his shoulders," he explained.
How Obama will handle his responsibilities is, of course, an open question. Already the Democratic party is chafing at the thought of having to defer to a president, which explains why windbags such as Senators John Kerry and Tom Harkin are taking potshots at his economic plan. Republicans should be ecstatic about the potential fissures among Democrats, as the lefties demand not big government (which Bush did more than any president in recent memory to promote), but socialism overnight. Still, it seems safe to say that the irresponsibility of the Bush administration, chronicled in the latest Vanity Fair, which quotes Lawrence Wilkerson, a former aide to Colin Powell, as referring to Bush as a "Sarah Palin-like President," will not be continued by the Obamaites.
It's the things that Obama doesn't do that may be his most important accomplishments. Not staying in Iraq, not keeping Guantanamo open, not insulting allies, not engaging in false braggadocio, not pretending that everything is going swimmingly and so on. There is another contrast. Bush pretended that he could master history. Instead, it mastered him. Obama, who visited the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, has been paying deference to history. But when he becomes president on Tuesday, he will make it.
Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.