The Jay Leno appearance didn’t bother me. Filling out a NCAA bracket for ESPN was kind of cool. But a $500,000 advance for a book deal? Had Bush done something similar, we’d all be braying about gross dereliction of duty. Granted, context matters, and so far the Obama Administration is nowhere near Bushian levels of incompetence. And yet we still don’t have a coherent bank plan. The economy continues to tank. And I’m left wondering why Obama is so consumed with antics more suited to the campaign trail or a post-presidential goodwill tour than a harrowing first-term presidency.
Tag Archives: Bush
To follow-up on my earlier post, I think liberal and libertarian accusations of creeping totalitarianism are as obnoxious and counterproductive as the histrionics of their conservative counterparts. Yes, John Yoo’s skewed interpretation of the Constitution is downright scary, and yes, the Bush Administration’s approach to detainee treatment and warrantless surveillance was Kafka-esque. But we certainly weren’t living in a dictatorship circa 2004, and there ought to be some context for these discussions. Put another way: Bush may have created a number of dangerous precedents for an unscrupulous successor to exploit, but if he was a despot, he would rank as one of the most ineffective autocrats in history.
Elsewhere: And if you’re looking for some context, Daniel McCarthy will gladly point you in the right direction.
Buried in Mike Pence’s mindless Washington Times broadside is this foreign policy gem:
We must develop new strategies for strengthening our armed forces and homeland security, and be willing to oppose any effort to use our military for nation-building or progressive social experimentation.
You have to wade through several layers of Republican-speak to get to the real goodies – “strengthening our armed forces” is standard national security boilerplate; “progressive social experimentation” is undoubtedly a reference to gays in the military – but Pence’s explicit criticism of “nation-building” is definitely a shot at the Bush Administration. The fact that saying “invading Iraq was an absolutely disastrous idea” out loud is still political poison for any ambitious Republican is pretty disheartening, but at least Pence grasps the depth of Bush’s foreign policy failure.
The only problem with Pence’s framing is that he leaves the door open to basically any military intervention not premised on explicitly humanitarian goals. I can’t say I find this particularly surprising, but I’d venture that post-invasion Iraq minus the occupation would still be pretty horrific. So perhaps Pence should re-examine his premises.
Andrew Sullivan fisks Kristol’s latest on torture and presidential pardons. Obviously, I don’t want to see anyone implicated in torture get away scot free, but focusing on lower-level implementers – rather than the policymakers who implicitly or explicitly authorized their actions – strikes me as a bad idea. CIA agents who participated in waterboarding were probably operating under the assumption that what they were doing was both legal and necessary. The same goes for the NSA analysts who wiretapped phone calls without prior judicial authorization. Given the climate of political urgency immediately following 9/11, I think most low-level implementers should benefit from some legal latitude.
So in one sense, at least, Kristol is right. A public witch-hunt that hones in on a few hapless CIA agents misses the larger issue of the Administration’s complicity. As a matter of pragmatic politics, I also think going after a few big fish would be less divisive than the alternative. Low level bureaucrats following orders in the wake of an unprecedented national tragedy are actually pretty sympathetic figures. Bush Administration flacks who had access to the requisite legal background and were responsible for implementing an abusive interrogation policy, on the other hand, are not only more guilty, they’re also easier targets. Going after low level scapegoats is usually the path of least resistance, but Bush’s legacy of incompetence has laid the groundwork for holding people accountable. After eight years of disastrous mismanagement, an unforgiving public is a lot less likely to extend the benefit of the doubt to Administration higher ups.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has some harsh words for critics of democracy promotion:
I’ve seen too many peoples dismissed as not ready for self-government. First it was Asians, and then Latin Americans and Africans were there for a while. I know for a while black Americans were, too.I’ve seen it said, well, you know: They’re illiterate; how could they vote? And then you see in Afghanistan people line up for long, long lines. Because somehow they know that making a choice matters.
This is the Bush Administration’s last gasp. Raising cultural, political, and social objections to democracy promotion is now the equivalent of racism. Never mind the fact that the past eight years have validated nearly every criticism of the Administration’s “elections at all cost” strategy.
This should go without saying, but it isn’t racist to point out that certain cultural contexts are extremely inhospitable to a liberal, egalitarian political tradition. Democracy did not develop in the United States overnight. Our political system represents the culmination of a extremely long process. The fact that the majority of stable democracies are Western countries is a testament to the importance of certain cultural precursors. It may be unfortunate that people in the Middle East aren’t acclimated to our political tradition, but for the foreseeable future, it’s an immutable fact of life that will continue to impede liberalization. This doesn’t mean that Arabs are intrinsically stupid or barbaric or deserving of another barrage of cruise missiles – it just means that we should be more judicious about imposing our own political institutions overseas.