Bush’s Legacy, in Three Stories

Bush’s presidency has two very distinct parts—his international presidency, and his domestic presidency. His domestic agenda has largely failed; even early legislation which was deemed a success, such as No Child Left Behind, is showing signs of sliding into the realm of grand flop. But Bush, who is (even by admission of his supporters) inordinately preoccupied with what his own legacy will be, stakes his highest hopes for a Rushmore-worthy legacy on his international presidency.

Bush would like more than anything for his legacy to read something like, “The man was brave and bold enough to start the Middle East on its road to stability and peace.” He calls himself a war president, and a National Security president, and often delivers his speeches on the war in front of a captive military audience.

But even if—and, let’s face it, it’s a big sodding if—the Iraq venture can eventually be determined a success, I’m beginning to wonder if he still won’t have done more, in the end, to damage America’s national security than strengthen it…because, much like his presidency, there are two components to the endless war on terror—what’s happening half a world away, and what’s happening domestically. The domestic concerns are not just that civilian support for the war is waning, but also a loss of support among the troops, their families, and—here’s where the long-term problem really lies—among potential troops. It’s no secret that the military is having recruitment problems. And although the Bush administration likes to blame “defeatism,” statements like Congressman Jack Murtha’s, in which the decorated Vietnam war veteran who served in the Marines for 37 years explains that he would not join the military today, might better be classified as pragmatism—an honest explanation for why enlistments are down.

And, by the way, Mr. President, the troops and their families aren’t blaming Mr. Murtha for their disillusionment. Or the anti-war crowd. Or withdrawal advocates. Or Democrats. Or liberals. Or anyone else you’re desperate to charge with the blame. They’re looking squarely at you. It turns out that many of the people who are willing to die for their country aren’t quite so keen to die for your agenda—and they’re beginning to realize the two are not one and the same.

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