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Bush's Legacy

Reader comment on item: Bush's Middle East Hopes [and His Failures]

Submitted by Gil Bindelglas (United States), Jan 18, 2008 at 20:31

Dr. Pipes,

While many of your observations of the Bush Administration's Middle East policies are accurate (anti-Americanism is on the rise, poor execution in Iraq, Hamas' ascent in Gaza), I believe your assessment of his short and long term achievements to be an incomplete one.

Despite its heavy cost in lives, dollars and U.S. prestige, the invasion of Iraq has yielded numerous short term benefits (and yet to be determined long term ones). The most obvious being the removal of Saddam. Other benefits include Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, Libya's move to end its WMD programs and, if one believes the accuracy of the NIE's latest report, Iran's compliance in halting its nuclear activities. Separately, though "Islamism" might be on the rise throughout the Muslim world, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. presence is most palpable, a substantial and concerted effort by the populace is afoot to spurn the Islamists (there has been a strong backlash against both al-Qaida in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan) in favor of U.S. backed alternatives.

In addition, when speaking of terrorism, the real fact is that there hasn't been another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. (For those of us who lived in Manhattan on and after 9/11, not a day went by when there wasn't a terrorist scare. It was unthinkable at the time that the nation would go a month without an attack, let alone six years.)

Part of this must be attributed to Bush's policies (e.g., destroying terrorist bases in Afghanistan, removing a major benefactor in Saddam, encouraging terrorists to fight U.S. troops in Iraq rather than in Manhattan or Los Angeles, and other measures, such as the Patriot Act, improved coordination among intelligence agencies, etc.). Even the issue of rising anti-Americanism can be diminished when taken in the following context: Under the previous administration, when the U.S. was supposedly loved by the rest of the world, numerous major terrorist attacks were launched against the U.S. (World Trade Center attack in 1993, the 1996 Khobar Tower attacks, the 1998 embassy attacks in Africa, USS Cole in 2000, not to mention massive training camps in Afghanistan).

Since 9/11, the world seems to hate us, but we are, arguably, safer. As the Israelis might agree, I'd rather be alive and hated, than loved and dead. (That being said, as Bush embarked on his bold strategy, he could have, and should have, had a better communication strategy vis-à-vis the rest of the world. More significantly, he might have been foresighted in anticipating and avoiding the fallout from his policies.)

Finally, it is premature today to total the balance sheet of the Bush presidency. The real test of Bush's legacy will be the state of the world 5-10-15 years from now. If elections in Iraq and Afghanistan become routine (not to mention in the rest of the Arab world) or if those nations prosper economically and socially, and the terrorism threat abates, then his overtures at reshaping the region will have been a resounding success. If, on the other hand, the region descends into more chaos and terrorism continues unabated then this experiment at promoting democracy and western liberalism will have succumbed to an ignominious end.


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