Friday, July 04, 2008

What Bush Hath Wrought

By Andrew J. Bacevich
July 1, 2008

FEW AMERICANS, whatever their political persuasion, will mourn George W. Bush's departure from office. Democrats and Republicans alike are counting the days until the inauguration of a new president will wipe the slate clean.

Yet in crucial respects, the Bush era will not end Jan. 20, 2009. The administration's many failures, especially those related to Iraq, mask a considerable legacy. Among other things, the Bush team has accomplished the following:

# Defined the contemporary era as an "age of terror" with an open-ended "global war" as the necessary, indeed the only logical, response;

# Promulgated and implemented a doctrine of preventive war, thereby creating a far more permissive rationale for employing armed force;

# Affirmed - despite the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001 - that the primary role of the Department of Defense is not defense, but power projection;

# Removed constraints on military spending so that once more, as Ronald Reagan used to declare, "defense is not a budget item";

# Enhanced the prerogatives of the imperial presidency on all matters pertaining to national security, effectively eviscerating the system of checks and balances;

# Preserved and even expanded the national security state, despite the manifest shortcomings of institutions such as the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff;

# Preempted any inclination to question the wisdom of the post-Cold War foreign policy consensus, founded on expectations of a sole superpower exercising "global leadership";

# Completed the shift of US strategic priorities away from Europe and toward the Greater Middle East, the defense of Israel having now supplanted the defense of Berlin as the cause to which presidents and would-be presidents ritually declare their fealty.

By almost any measure, this constitutes a record of substantial, if almost entirely malignant, achievement.

Bush's harshest critics, left liberals as well as traditional conservatives, have repeatedly called attention to this record. That criticism has yet to garner mainstream political traction.