Hi! How is everyone?
You know, when last week's Newsweek magazine arrived at my doorstep, and I saw that the cover article was entitled, "What Bush Got Right", I think I literally groaned out loud.
"Here it comes," I thought, "The revisionist history written by conservative Bush apologists who are going to try to make it seem like Bush was a misunderstood genius in his own time."
But then I noticed that the article relating to the headline was written by Fareed Zakaria, and my interest was piqued a little. Zakaria does a lot of foreign affairs reporting and analysis for Newsweek, PBS, and CNN, and I've found him to be a writer who has a tremendous knowledge and understanding of foreign cultures and their attitudes towards the U.S. as well as a pretty keen insight as to how America's constantly changing role in the world community impacts other countries.
Anyway, when Zakaria said Bush had gotten some things right, I have to admit that my curiosity was aroused.
And the article, as it turns out, was pretty good. Zakaria went ahead and pointed out that Bush has made a number of very serious gaffes in terms of foreign policy and in terms of protecting America's status as a respected leader among nations (the Iraq War, the manner in which the Iraqi people were initially dealt with during the occupation of Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, the roll back of civil liberties for both American citizens and "enemy combatants", his policy of isolating hostile nations and refusing to engage in dialogue with them, etc.). Zakaria also pointed out, however, that Bush's policies have changed and evolved over time. Bush started his presidency with an apparent determination to try to tear down or reverse almost every policy that Bill Clinton had laid down before him (which resulted in a full fledged invasion of Iraq instead of missile or air strikes and economic sanctions, a termination of relations with North Korea after labelling them as part of "the Axis of Evil", etc.). As his presidency progressed, however, Zakaria noted that Bush had begun to take on a more pragmatic tone. North Korea has been taken off the list as an Axis of Evil and political discussions have resumed with that country, hearings are now being held for detainees at Guantanamo (perhaps of questionable legal value, but at least some progress has been made), we've made attempts at keeping some sort of discourse going with Iran, and now, today, U.S. and Iraqi negotiators are saying they have reached a tentative agreement that would have American troops out of Iraq by 2012. This seems to be quite a policy shift from earlier assertions by the Bush White House that the setting of any timetable for withdrawal would only "lend aid and comfort to the enemy" by letting them know how long they had to sustain themselves before they could make a move to regain control of the country.
Overall, the U.S. seems to have shifted away from its unilateral, "go it alone" approach and moved toward a policy that involves more unilateralism and engagement with both allies and hostile (or semi-hostile) nations (some of this may arise from a more pronounced role for Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State and less of an emphasis on Vice President Cheneyas a foreign affairs policy advisor).
Zakaria's point (and I'm not just inferring this- he lays this out pretty specifically) is that as hard-headed (and oftentimes foolhardy) as Bush was during the first half of his presidency, he has learned some things in terms of what kind of policies are actually effective and produce results when dealing with other nations. It would be a shame for our next president to go in and tear down all of Bush's current foreign affairs policies (some of which have been gained through hard-earned experience) without closely examining them to see which ones might actually be working (after all, this is the mistake that Bush made when he entered the White House determined to tear down all of Clinton's policies).
Anyhoo, I just saw that headline this morning about setting a timetable for troop withdrawal, and it reminded me of Zakaria's article and his argument that Bush has actually been learning from his mistakes and making progress in terms of becoming a more effective president. Maybe the guy would have gotten the job figured out if we gave him 3 or 4 more terms (oh my lord, that sentence made me shudder even as I wrote it).