Clare Boothe Luce liked to say that "a great man is one
sentence." Presidents, in particular. The most common "one sentence"
for George W. Bush (whose legacy is being reassessed as his
presidential library opens) is: "He kept us safe."
Not quite right. He did not just keep us safe. He created the
entire anti-terror infrastructure that continues to keep us safe.
That homage was paid, wordlessly, by Barack Obama, who vilified
Bush's anti-terror policies as a candidate, then continued them as
president: indefinite detention, rendition, warrantless wiretaps,
special forces and drone warfare and, most notoriously, Guantanamo,
which Obama so ostentatiously denounced until he found it
Quite a list. Which is why there was not one successful terror
bombing on U.S. soil from 9/11 until last week. The Boston Marathon
attack was an obvious failure, but there is a difference between
3,000 dead and three. And on the other side of the ledger are the
innumerable plots broken up since 9/11.
Moreover, Bush's achievement was not just infrastructure. It was
war. The Afghan campaign overthrew the Taliban, decimated al-Qaida
and expelled it from its haven. Yet that success is today derogated
with the cheap and lazy catchphrase "He got us into two wars"
intended to spread to Afghanistan the opprobrium associated with
As if Afghanistan was some unilateral Bush adventure foisted on
the American people. As if Obama himself did not call it a "war of
necessity"; and Joe Biden, the most just war since World War II.
The dilemma in Afghanistan was what to do after the brilliant,
nine-week victory? There was no good answer. Even with the benefit
of seven years' grinding experience under his predecessor, Obama got
it wrong. His Afghan "surge" cost hundreds of American lives without
having changed the country's prospects.
It turned out to be a land too primitive to democratize, too
fractured to unify. The final withdrawal will come after Obama's own
six years of futility.
Iraq was, of course, far more problematic. Critics conveniently
forget that the invasion had broad support from the public and
Congress, including from those who became the highest foreign-
policy figures in the Obama administration Hillary Clinton, John
Kerry, Chuck Hagel and Biden.
And they forget the context crumbling sanctions that would in
short order have restored Saddam Hussein to full economic and
regional power, well positioning him, post-sanctions, to again
threaten his neighbors and restart his WMD program. …