Welcome Reader

I suppose it is kind of preposterous that one imagines himself important enough to write down his opinions for others to read. Chattering superciliousness is one of the most infuriating things about academics and so-called intellectuals, generally, who feel compelled to share their thoughts. But here it goes, anyway.

When President Bush is Right

by Michael E. Berumen 1-20-05

The certain and unreflective mind of George W. Bush is not always wrong, as some of his critics almost instinctively insist. Indeed, as with most healthy people of middling mental powers, the President is correct more often than not. However, he is occasionally mistaken on some large matters, and there is evidence to suggest that he finds it difficult to admit or learn from his mistakes, though, contrary to what some have said, he has shown that he can. His reluctance to learn and his lack of introspection, coupled with the fact that he is the most powerful person in the world, definitely give one pause. I myself believe it was a mistake to reelect him and that we would have been better off with John Kerry. Now we will never know one way or the other. With that said, being an optimist, I remain hopeful that the President's second term will bear fruit for both the nation and the world.

Some have likened the President's determination to overthrow the tyrannical regimes of the Taliban and Saddam to Winston Churchill's standing as a bulwark against Hitler's Germany. This is a great stretch, both in terms of relative dangers faced by Churchill, the latter's having gone for years without support from the public and his own party, and also in the very different personalities and intellectual make-up of the two men. One thing he does share with Churchill, however, is a dogged certainty in his beliefs, and a sometimes remarkable willingness to take political risks, even at the expense of his popularity. These characteristics can lead to disaster, as they did on more than one occasion in Churchill's long and storied life, or they can have very desirable effects, as they did when, nearly alone, Churchill inveighed against an implacable and evil foe, eventually rallying his nation and the free world to defeat him.

President Bush is quite correct about two very important things, namely, that we would be more secure if democracy were to take root everywhere in the world, and that individual freedom is everyone's inalienable birthright. The presence of democracy does not guarantee either liberty or pacific intentions, as history has shown. However, history also shows that the latter are more likely to flourish when the governed are sovereign. President Bush almost certainly did not arrive at these insights through any sort of philosophical ratiocination. His beliefs in these principles are grounded in faith rather than in knowledge, as is the case with many of his views. His faith-based temperament is quite problematical, to my mind, and even dangerous when he is mistaken; however, his tenacious adherence to principle is also useful, even admirable, when he is correct, as he is in his views about the importance of both democracy and liberty.

The President is also right about something else. The United Nations is ineffective and weighed down by moral torpor, if not downright corruption. He is also right to believe that consensus, while desirable, is not always attainable in the pursuit of just ends. Indeed, popular opinion can even be at odds with the moral choice. One need only inspect our own history on slavery and civil rights for the veridical evidence of this truth. The United Nations, which gives equal voice to genocidal dictatorships, has no moral authority on matters of human freedom and dignity, and it has proved lethargic and unreliable on matters of international security. This is not to say it is beyond improvement or useless, but the President is correct to not place our welfare, or, for that matter, the world's, in its hands.

The President was wrong in being too cavalier about the opinions of difficult but important allies in "old Europe," even the insufferable French. With Iraq, it was a mistake to not complete the weapons inspections in accordance with the inspectors' proposal and to exhaust diplomatic efforts with our friends , which might have enabled more of them to offer their tacit consent. And whilst the popular Colin Powell has positioned himself as an innocent voice in the wilderness, the fact remains, he was utterly ineffective as an international diplomat. I rather doubt we would have gained much more in the way of participation, though, for save a few of them, most notably Britain, the Western European nations have little appetite for sacrifice. In any case, it is simply a fact that the ham-handed way we handled things did considerable harm to our standing in he world, even amongst our friends, not simply the leadership, but much more importantly, with the populations of these countries. It will take hard work and time to recover from these diplomatic blunders.

President Bush was right to attack and overthrow the Taliban. His rationale and timing for going after Saddam were mistakes, however, though the assessments that he was dangerous, that we needed to get rid of him, and that it was critical to begin democratizing the Middle East were quite on the mark. The administration's early handling of Afghanistan, the search for Osama bin Laden, and the post-war reconstruction of Iraq were deeply flawed, and in the latter case, many lives were lost unnecessarily. However, with the exception of finding bin Laden, things would now seem to be improving, indeed, perhaps they have even been put on the right track. The President and his administration deserves criticism for their early performance, to be sure; however, they also deserve praise for what is going on now, including what would appear to be a successful transition to self-government by both Afghanis and Iraqis.

Bush's critics are simply mistaken in believing that the world is not better off by having a more democratic Afghanistan and Iraq. Democracies are much less likely to go to war with other democracies. Moreover, with bedrock protections of individual rights built into their nations' constitutions, pluralism will flourish, people will be free to express themselves and exercise their beliefs, and minorities will be protected from both individual tyrants and even the tyranny of the majority. Freedom of commerce, the corollary of individual freedom, will also serve to eradicate widespread poverty. As a result of these things, the despair, intolerance, and hatred that have nourished oppression and terrorism will diminish. What is more, these countries will stand as exemplars to other nations in the Islamic world, thereby creating a more salubrious climate for rapid, positive change. I believe the neoconservatives are quite right in this belief, though it was naive of them to believe this result will come overnight and without great cost.

That a heavy price has been paid for these things by Americans, Afghanis, Iraqis and others is undeniable; however, our energies should not be sapped by disgruntlement over how things happened or what we imagine, but do not know, would have been done better by another President. Yes, the ends do not necessarily justify the means, as is often said, but they sometimes do. It is sometimes necessary to avoid a greater evil through a lesser one. Moreover, the ends are sometimes such that it is worth taking risks, making sacrifices, and even making mistakes in their pursuit.

What agitates many of President Bush's critics is that his main reason for attacking Iraq seems to have been conveniently forgotten, and the emphasis has been placed on different ends altogether. Primary emphasis in justifying the war was originally given to Saddam's great stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, and now it turns out he did not have them. Today, the President and his cadre speak of freedom and democracy, as though those were our principal causes at the outset of the invasion. Of course, the U.S. Congress would not have approved going to war had those been the primary reasons, let alone the only ones. It was not that the President and others never mentioned these matters as having importance, but they clearly were not the causis belli for either public or congressional consumption.

On the other hand, one certainly could cogently argue that, little by little, when we can and where we can, freedom and democracy do represent legitimate reasons to act, even at a cost of lives, not only for the greater good of the inhabitants of other nations, but for our own security. Of course, it is very difficult, if not impossible to arouse popular support for going to war over such abstractions. Indeed, it took an attack on our shores before it was politically feasible to declare war on Japan and Germany. With the kind of foes and weapons we face today, however, we must defend ourselves against those who would destroy us before they attack, which is a difficult thing for many to grasp. This is the sensible prevention of catastrophe that is required in today's world.

In any case, I do not think we need to wring our hands forever over the fact that our major premise for going to war in Iraq was mistaken, for it was only a matter of time before we would have had to deal with Saddam, anyway; and while there has been a not-so-subtle shifting of emphasis, perhaps even some dissembling on the part of the President and his administration, the fact remains, the sacrifice was clearly not in vain. In this respect, among others, and contrary to what some critics have carelessly suggested, our involvement in Iraq is very different from the war in Vietnam, where thousands of lives were lost for no good reason.

Mistakes, serious ones, were certainly made in the early stages of the war against terror and the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. Let us therefore hope that we have learned some valuable lessons along the way. With this said, we should not lose sight of the fact that the world is very likely a better place than it would have been had we done nothing at all. And one other thing that we should hope for is a very successful second term for President Bush, notwithstanding one's personal preference in the voting booth last year. Much else depends upon it. The President's opponents, and I am certainly one them, should not hope for his failure, for the unacceptable consequence is that our country and, indeed, much of the rest of the world also fails.