An interesting thesis from the New York Times’ resident conservative, Ross Douthat: George W. Bush may have made or contributed mightily to some big messes, but he did have the guts/guile/good sense to embrace solutions to those messes. Douthat writes:
America has had its share of disastrous chief executives. But few have gone as far as Bush did in trying to repair their worst mistakes. Those mistakes were the Iraq war — both the decision to invade and the conduct of the occupation — and the irrational exuberance that stoked the housing bubble. The repairs were the surge, undertaken at a time when the political class was ready to abandon Iraq to the furies, and last fall’s unprecedented economic bailout.
Both fixes remain controversial. But for the moment, both look like the sort of disaster-averting interventions for which presidents get canonized. It’s just that in Bush’s case, the disasters he averted were created on his watch.
There is no doubt that the surge salvaged a situation in Iraq that had been devolving into a Vietnam-like morass. And President Obama’s vacillation on strategy in Afghanistan is, if nothing else, a testament to just how difficult a decision the Iraq surge must have been to make.
The bank bailout is less recognizable as salvation at this point in time, but a few things are beyond dispute. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, a scholar of the Great Depression, believed that a lack of monetary-policy intervention is what turned the 1929 stock market crash into our nation’s worst economic free fall rather than “just” a recession — and he resolved to do anything but sit idly by. And, just over a year after Lehman Brothers failed and financial markets panicked world-wide, serious people are declaring that the recession may well be over, at least technically speaking.
George W. Bush was not a president renowned for his humility or, as Douthat notes, his willingness to listen to contrary opinions. But if we end up leaving Iraq with our honor and having birthed a relatively stable democratic government, and if our economy does break its tailspin without reaching the depths that many had feared, history will remember Dubya a bit more kindly than many people today could fathom.