Ensuring a Legacy

Ensuring a Legacy

Mini Teaser: Bush will never run for office again. He should concentrate on applying his doctrine, not on defending his decisions.

by Author(s): Kim R. Holmes

The president should work with Congress to get TPA approved before it expires in June, ratify the agreements concluded with Peru and Colombia, hold the line on new trade barriers and advance agreements with Panama, Ecuador, South Korea, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates. When the Farm Bill comes up for renewal, the president should refuse to sign it unless it demonstrates global leadership on trade by reducing agricultural subsidies, something the developing world would applaud.

If Congress turns hostile to trade, the president can still take the wheel and transform trade policy for the future. Currently, no single U.S. agency has authority over all facets of trade policymaking and implementation. If foreign companies want to do business with Americans, they have to deal with various agencies, mechanisms, policy tools and rules. Just as he has transformed the federal homeland security structure, President Bush should streamline our complex trade structure. Breaking down stovepipes would indeed be a legacy initiative. He could begin by making the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative a one-stop shop for all conduct and development of trade policy, mandating that the office eliminate all redundancies and do a better job matching policy tools with policy objectives in each country, as well as evaluating results.

There are also things the president could do to ensure that U.S. foreign aid promotes political and economic freedom. More aid isn't one of them; donor nations have sent trillions of dollars to help poor countries, with little success. He should focus U.S. assistance on countries that have adopted policies that promote economic growth and development, and press Congress to greatly reduce the number of foreign assistance earmarks that undermine that effort.

Finally, there must also be a plan that will do a far better job explaining to Americans why we must maintain our historic commitment to the spread of economic and political freedoms in a world increasingly hostile to them. There is no greater advocate for the idea and practice of freedom than America, so it is up to all of us-not just the president-to champion it or risk losing the internal compass that gives our every effort meaning.

Positive presidential legacies in foreign policy are rare things. Some presidents leave nothing behind. Others bungle things, making the country worse off. Still others make modest accomplishments that are overturned by their successors. The most successful were the ones who grasped the essence of a crisis and rose to the occasion to meet it. That was what Truman and Eisenhower did when they established a containment strategy that lasted for a generation. And that was what Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush did when they won the Cold War.

Whether George W. Bush achieves the hallowed historical status of a Truman or Reagan depends on his leaving a lasting legacy of freedom and prosperity. To do that, he must figure out how to marry his obvious strength of fortitude with a newly developed flexibility toward his longstanding goals. All too often in the later years of their terms, presidents confuse tactics and goals, feeling the need more to defend what they've done than to decide what must be done next. President Bush should not make this mistake. He will never run for office again. He should be less concerned about defending his decisions than about getting better results. It is on the latter that his presidency will be judged long after his current critics are dead and gone.

Kim R. Holmes is vice president of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation and director of its Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies. Previously, he served as assistant secretary of state for International Organization Affairs.

Essay Types: Essay