Few presidents upon leaving office have kept a lower profile than George W. Bush. Where other presidents have sought to bolster or define their legacies, Bush has been content to let history pass judgment on his leadership. When pressed for comment, Bush is emphatic: “There’s no need to defend myself. I did what I did and ultimately history will judge.”
His strategy is an interesting one and one that appears to be paying dividends in rehabilitating his image as a leader and his belief in a strong American leadership presence in the world.
However, the Bush legacy is firmly cemented in the policies he pursued following 9/11 to confront radical Islam. Without question, those decisions were controversial. But is a great clarifier and choices that once seemed misguided can look much different over the arch of history. In that regard, six short years later we now can appreciate that George W. Bush was right about the danger of radical Islam and understood the vital importance of American leadership in confronting it.
Political analyst Dean Scontras articulately summed up this developing appreciation on his Facebook page: “In retrospect, and in contrast to the current occupant, America hopefully now has an understanding of the importance of American leadership in the world — what it looks like, and what it doesn’t.”
Since taking office in 2009, Barack Obama has labored to be the anti-Bush and has succeeded at a great cost to America. Today, the world is in chaos, especially in the Middle East. At a time when American leadership is needed most, the Obama Administration appears dazed and confused. In a recent op-ed, former Vice President Dick Cheney summarized President Obama’s approach to threatening world events as “empty threats, meaningless red lines, leading from behind, appeasing our enemies, and abandoning our allies.”
The situation has devolved to the point that European leaders who once disparaged Bush as an arrogant cowboy now openly wonder if his presidency was the sunset of serious American leadership in the world. Obama saw Bush’s decisiveness as arrogance, while our allies have come to appreciate it as trustworthy leadership. Obama’s detachment reached a fever pitch last summer when Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski angrily quipped that Warsaw’s relationship with Washington was “worthless” in dealing with the Russian-Ukraine crisis.
European leaders were often unyieldingly critical of Bush because it played well with their naïve citizens but those leaders knew they could trust him to keep his word. The opposite is true of Obama. They praise him as a celebrity but know they can’t trust him to lead.
The situation has now grown more serious and has progressed beyond the assessments of European leaders. The rise of ISIS and the re-generation of radical Islam in Iraq and Syria is a direct and deadly threat to the civilized world. Strong American leadership is desperately needed.
The 2014 elections have provided an opportunity for New Hampshire’s delegation to help provide American leadership in the Bush-mold. Last week, Jeanne Shaheen was re-elected to the U.S. Senate and will not stand for election for another six years. Granite Staters can only hope that she will feel more comfortable in breaking from President Obama more frequently and will demand strong leadership in confronting ISIS and threats to American safety.
Additionally, New Hampshire wisely returned Frank Guinta to Congress. Congressman Guinta should seek to specialize in foreign policy or a national security topic, much the same way Sen. Kelly Ayotte has done with Middle East and defense issues. This will not only provide a much needed additional strong foreign policy voice in the House of Representatives but will distinguish and insulate Guinta from getting pinned down on ideological hot button domestic issues that could hurt him in his swing district.
It was only a few years ago that it seemed political suicidal to suggest that following George W. Bush’s model of foreign leadership should be emulated. Yet, that is the type of leadership that is most needed to address current world crisis’s and prevent future ones.
New Hampshire’s delegation will never have as much influence on world events and American foreign policy as the president. However, that doesn’t mean they cannot influence and pressure President Obama in a positive way. The world needs strong American voices they can trust, like they formally had with Bush. If President Obama will not lead on the world stage, than why not Kelly Ayotte, Frank Guinta, and Jeanne Shaheen? How do they want to be judged by history in this time of crisis?
D.J. Bettencourt served as a State Representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 2005 to 2012 and was the House Majority Leader for the 2011-2012 legislative term. He currently works as the Director of Development and Community Relations at the Salem Animal Rescue League and serves on the Economic Development Action Committee in Salem, NH.