IT'S LEGACY time. As the Bush administration winds down, the race is on to shape how future generations will view the past eight years. The president himself seems keenly aware of the clock, declaring his intention to grab that most elusive brass ring, peace in the Middle East, before he leaves office. Former officials are not waiting that long, publishing memoirs about the Bush years before the Bush years are over. Former CIA chief George Tenet, top Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith, Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith and White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan have all penned best-selling insider accounts in the past year. While some kiss and tell more than others, all seek to cast old events in a new light. Setting the record straight has become the most important and popular game in town.
So just what will the Bush foreign-policy legacy be? Over the past several months, I have put this question to more than a dozen leading academics and senior foreign-policy officials from the past three presidential administrations. What I found was surprising. Although the harsh judgments of Bush's performance will most likely endure, so too will his grandest foreign-policy idea: that democratizing the Middle East is the best way to combat the root causes of terrorism and the surest road to peace. For all the criticism of Bush's foreign policy, both John McCain (R-AZ and Barack Obama (D-IL) embrace the president's "freedom agenda." America's forty-third president may go down as one of the most criticized in American history, but his grand strategy will undoubtedly set the course of American foreign policy for the next administration, and possibly the next generation.