Book Review: Granting Bush Presidency Its Due

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

Book Review: Granting Bush Presidency Its Due


Byline: Joseph C. Goulden, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In Rush to Judgment, the most prescient evaluation of the presidency of George W. Bush comes from Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University in Canada. Mr. Troy told the author, One of the biggest challenges in assessing Bush's presidency is the fact that his greatest achievement may have been a negative one - preventing a repeat of 9/11. How do you prove that? That is an important methodological challenge to historians and politicians, and an important substantive question in evaluating George W. Bush.

Alas, Mr. Troy's caution about rushing to a premature judgment has been ignored by what passes for the best and brightest of American historians - a sorry lot, in the main - who spent eight years subjecting Mr. Bush to one of the more virulent campaigns of recrimination ever experienced by a U.S. president.

Stephen F. Knott, a professor of national security affairs at the United States Naval War College, lays out these critics' briefs in a provocative book that, while not intended as a defense of the Bush years, argues that these scholars, from the very beginning, abandoned any pretense of objectivity in their critiques and seemed unwilling to place Bush's actions in a broader historical context. He disavows any attempt to defend the entire Bush record, writing that I was as frustrated as any American with the weapons of mass destruction fiasco and Bush's failure to respond robustly to the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

But he makes a strong case that, when compared to the measures of earlier wartime presidents - especially Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt - Mr. Bush followed long-established precedents regarding the use of presidential authority.

Mr. Knott qualifies as an expert on the subject. He has written a splendid analysis of Alexander Hamilton, who was an early proponent of the necessity of strong executive powers. His several book-length works on covert operations during the course of American history - must reads in intelligence schools - buttress his views.

He quotes approvingly John Locke, one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, who wrote in his Two Treatises of Government that the executive has the power to act according to discretion, for the public good, without the prescription of the Law, and sometimes even against it. Many things there are, which the law can by no means provide for and those must necessarily be left to the discretion of him that has the executive power in his hands.

Mr. Knott singles out for especial scorn Sean Wilentz, who has become an icon of sorts for the leftist claques that dominate both academia and the media. In April 2006, a low point in the Bush presidency, when 82 Americans were killed in Iraq, Mr. Wilentz published an essay in Rolling Stone titled The Worst President in American History? (An honest editor would have deleted the question mark.) The cover depicted the president looking somewhat like a monkey from the Wizard of Oz, wearing cowboy boots and a dunce cap and sitting in a corner while having a time out.

Mr. Wilentz made the sweeping claim, Until the 20th century, American presidents managed foreign wars well, including those presidents who prosecuted unpopular wars.

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