Jonathan Freedland writes a weekly column in The Guardian. He also publishes in The Jewish Chronicle and lived as a reporter in the United States for several years. Norm Geras featured this essay in a recent blog post.
The following is from an essay in The Montrose Journal Winter 2005-6.
|For a left liberal like me, it is not easy to commit heresy. After all, we are meant to be open-minded free thinkers, unshackled by taboos. Nevertheless there is one thought so heretical, merely to utter it would ensure instant excommunication. I hesitate even to pose it as a question. But here goes. What if George W Bush was to prove to be one of the great American presidents?|
|At first blush, it seems a nonsensical proposition. As I write, Bush’s poll ratings have plunged to the Nixonian depths; one of his top officials, “Scooter” Libby has been indicted on perjury charges, while his closest counsel, Karl Rove, remains under investigation; Bush has botched a Supreme Court nomination; he stands accused of ballooning the federal deficit; images of the dead floating in the streets of a flooded, Katrina-hit New Orleans still linger in the American imagination; and, gravest of all, the death toll of US personnel killed in Iraq is in excess of 2,000. The Bush presidency, even some Republicans predict, will be remembered only as a disaster.|
Why do all these people seem like they’re rehashing the assessments of Lincoln, of Reagan, even of Nixon? Because they are rehashing, that’s why:
|And yet history has a funny habit of messing with presidencies. Ronald Reagan was dismissed as a joke by plenty of Europeans and Brits in the 1980s, yet he is revered in the United States as one of the great occupants of the highest office: the national airport bears his name. Even Richard Nixon, for a quarter century a byword for presidential calamity, has found himself the object of some benign revisionism in the last few years. This new version holds that Nixon was strategically sound on the Cold War and surprisingly moderate at home, and therefore insists that his place in the history books should no longer be reducible to that single word: Watergate. Could the historians of the future take a similar, kindly second look at the 43rd president of the United States?|
And all the laughter in Europe and among the mandarins here didn’t change the broad American opinion about Reagan. God knows they tried. “Amiable dunce,” right?
|Of course, any claim [for Bush] to greatness will depend on Iraq, a word as sure to be engraved on the heart of Bush as Calais was on Mary Tudor’s. Today’s conventional wisdom, taking in every foreign ministry in the world – including most of the US State Department – holds that Operation Enduring Iraqi Freedom has been a tragedy of errors. Based on faulty premises, disingenuously sold and incompetently planned, the mission of 2003 is widely regarded as an abject failure.|
|But the future may not see it that way. The war removed one of the most hated tyrants of modern times, shifting Saddam Hussein from a palace to a prison cell. Couple that with the toppling of the Taliban, a regime of cruelty and brutal philistinism, and Bush’s defenders have a powerful opening argument.|
These things are true, and the rest of what he has to say about Bush’s legacy is hopeful, even compelling.
It will make Clinton gnash his teeth in the outer darkness if he reads that essay. Poor Bill — you can’t always get what you want…
What remains now, in 2006, here at home, is the immigration issue and domestic spending. Political capital doesn’t earn interest, Mr. Bush. Start spending down now, before the elections this year. Just for fun, veto a spending bill. Or three.