After watching The Bill Maher Show (which I don’t really like) the other night, I looked up Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Apparently he is very popular, from what I saw on the show he is also a very opinionated, but independent, individual even if I don’t always agree with him. But he has some great points as someone who respects Bush and some of his policies, and yet finds fault where fault is due.
In the end, this fiercely independent blogger endorsed Kerry, and had some interesting things to say for someone supported Bush in this first election.
Any re-election starts with the incumbent. Bush has had some notable achievements. He was right to cut taxes as the economy headed toward recession; he was right to push for strong federal standards for education; he was right to respond to 9/11 by deposing the Taliban; he was right to alert the world to the unknown dangers, in the age of al Qaeda, of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He is still right that democratization is the only ultimate security in an age of Jihadist terror. And when you see women bravely exercizing their right to vote in Afghanistan, you are seeing something that would not have happened without our current president. That moral achievement can never be taken away from him.
Equally, his presidency can and should be judged on its most fateful decision – to go to war against Saddam without final U.N. approval on the basis of Saddam’s stockpiles of weapons and his violation of countless U.N. resolutions. I still believe that his decision was the right one. The only reason we know that Saddam was indeed bereft of such weaponry is because we removed him; we were going to have to deal with the crumbling mafia-run state in the heart of the Middle East at some point; and the objections of the French and Germans and Russians were a function primarily of mischief and corruption. And what we discovered in Iraq – from mass graves to childrens’ prisons and the devastating effect of sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iraqis – only solidifies the moral case for removing the tyrant. The scandal of the U.N. oil-for-food program seals the argument.
At the same time, the collapse of the casus belli and the incompetent conduct of the war since the liberation points in an opposite direction. If you are going to do what the Bush administration did – put all your chips on one big gamble; if you are going to send your secretary of state to the U.N. claiming solid “proof” of Saddam’s WMDs; if you are going to engage in a major war of liberation without the cover of international consensus – then you’d better well get all your ducks in a row.
Bush – amazingly – didn’t. The lack of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq remains one of the biggest blows to America’s international credibility in a generation. The failure to anticipate an insurgency against the coalition remains one of the biggest military miscalculations since Vietnam. And the refusal to send more troops both at the beginning and throughout the occupation remains one of the most pig-headed acts of hubris since the McNamara era. I’m amazed by how pro-war advocates aren’t more incensed by this mishandling of such critical matters. But even a Bush-supporter, like my friend, Christopher Hitchens, has termed it “near-impeachable” incompetence.
I would add one more thing: Abu Ghraib. In one gut-wrenching moment, the moral integrity of the war was delivered an almost fatal blow. To be involved in such a vital struggle and through a mixture of negligence and arrogance to have facilitated such a fantastic propaganda victory for the enemy is just unforgivable. In a matter of months, the Bush administration lost its casus belli and its moral authority. Could they have run a worse war?
Domestically, the record is horrifying for a fiscal conservative. Ronald Reagan raised taxes in his first term when he had to; and he didn’t have 9/11 to contend with. Ronald Reagan also cut domestic spending. Bush has been unable to muster the conservative courage to do either. He has spent like a drunken liberal Democrat. He has failed to grapple with entitlement reform, as he once promised. He has larded up the tax code with endless breaks for corporate special interests; pork has metastasized; and he has tainted the cause of tax relief by concentrating too much of it on the wealthy. He has made the future boomer fiscal crunch far more acute by adding a hugely expensive new Medicare prescription drug entitlement.
He ran for election as a social moderate. But every single question in domestic social policy has been resolved to favor the hard-core religious right. His proposal to amend the constitution to deny an entire minority equal rights under the law is one of the most extreme, unnecessary and divisive measures ever proposed in this country. And his response to all criticism – to duck the hardest questions, to reflexively redirect attention to the flaws of his opponents, and to stay within the confines of his own self-reinforcing coterie – has made him singularly unable to adjust, to learn from mistakes, to adapt to a fast-changing world. In peace-time, that’s regrettable. In war-time, it’s dangerous.
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