Now that President George W. Bush is out of office, America will start taking a more objective look at him. When the real history of our days is written, he will surely be considered one of America’s great leaders.
For one thing, George W. Bush is the only post-World War II president who won a major war. History will decide if it was wise or not for the U.S. to go to war against Iraq. But that war was not just President Bush’s war. It was America’s war, authorized by 296 House members and 76 U.S. senators, and the president’s duty was to win it. Americans are proud people who love their country and won every military conflict—until the wars against communist expansion. In 1776, 1782 and 1812, the Americans faced Great Britain, the most powerful empire in the world at that time, and they came out victorious every time. In 1846 Mexico attacked the United States and was soundly defeated. In 1898 the United States decimated the belligerent Spanish fleet and forced Spain to sue for peace. Toward the end of World War I, in which over 40 million Europeans were killed, the United States quickly put together an army of four million and became instrumental in defeating the German aggressor. During World War II, President Truman won an outstanding victory against the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis. Afterward, he and his fellow Americans rebuilt their vanquished enemies, and that made the United States the uncontested leader of the world.
Unfortunately, that was it. Two U.S. presidents were unable to win the war in Korea, and three others butchered the war in Vietnam. Consequently, some Americans began turning against their country’s own wars. By 1968, anti-Vietnam War protesters in the U.S. numbered almost seven million. They came to regard their government, not communism, as the enemy. That damaged the U.S. foreign policy consensus, poisoned domestic debate in the US, and built a credibility gap between the United States and the rest of the world that is today still wide and deep.
At the beginning of our war in Iraq, President Bush followed in the steps of his post-World War II predecessors, and also bungled the war. But he woke up and stood strong against the members of the U.S. Congress who could not remember that war was a matter of life and death and that it could not be approved today and disapproved tomorrow. The war in Iraq was not a popular war—no war has ever been. But now Iraq, on its way from tyranny to a sui generis democracy, is a model for that part of the world, and America is a victor again for the first time in over half a century.
History will also credit President Bush with demolishing the appeasement policy toward dictators practiced by his last two democratic predecessors. Tyrants loathe appeasers. On April 12, 1978, I was in the car with my former boss, communist dictator Ceausescu, driving away from the White House. He took a bottle of alcohol and splashed it all over his face, after having been affectionately kissed by President Carter in the Oval Office. “Peanut-head,” my former boss whispered disgustedly. I will also never forget the memorable day of July 1979, when President Carter affectionately kissed Leonid Brezhnev on both cheeks during their first encounter in Vienna. Or the days in 2000 when Yasser Arafat, an unrepentant terrorist who received his orders from the KGB—and from my Romanian DIE—got the red carpet treatment at the White House. But that was then. On December 14, 2003, the whole world clapped when U.S. soldiers pulled a scruffy looking, scared Saddam Hussein out of the rat hole he was hiding in. Muhammad Qaddafi, another bloody tyrant, got the message, and he immediately surrendered his nuclear and bacteriological weapons.
Restoring respect for the United States flag is another major achievement President Bush should be given credit for. After World War II the American flag became an international symbol of freedom and democracy, and the communist intelligence community, to which I belonged in my other life, used the unpopular Vietnam War to obliterate that belief. “Blue Star” was the code name of that operation, which enjoyed huge success among European leftists. Unfortunately, a few spoiled Americans, who could not even imagine what life under communist terror might be like, also started regarding the Stars and Stripes, not the hammer and sickle, as their enemy. An outbreak of American flag burning and other forms of flag desecration erupted around the world. Over 1,000 such cases were prosecuted in the U.S., igniting strong demands to adopt a constitutional amendment making the desecration of the U.S. flag a crime. But President Bush restored the respect for the U.S. flag the old-fashioned way: he and every member of his cabinet started wearing it on their lapel, and most of the country followed step.
Two days after September 11, 2001, my wife and I landed in Berlin. We were having lunch with friends at the enormous KaDeWe department store, and I wandered off to get some food for dinner. The manager came up to me and asked if I was an American, noticing the American flag on my lapel. “Champagne for everyone,” he ordered, when I told him I had just flown over from the U.S. “Without America and the Airlift, we would now be speaking Russian,” he explained. Now more and more people around the world once again see the American flag as the symbol of freedom and democracy.
Protecting America from international terrorism is another outstanding accomplishment of President Bush’s. Before he took office, the U.S. was repeatedly hit by terrorists. The devastating car bomb attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut (241 servicemen killed), the destruction of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (301 killed, over 5,000 injured), and the attack on the destroyer USS Cole (17 killed) are just some of those hits. A few months after President Bush was inaugurated, 2,998 people were killed in the infamous suicide attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon. But, once again, that was it.
Only weeks after September 11, President Bush started a devastating war against al-Qaeda, and he was also instrumental in reorganizing our intelligence community to face this 21st century plague. No other terrorist attack on the U.S. has taken place since then, although other countries—Great Britain and Spain among them—had been hit hard. This is another achievement for which President Bush has yet to be given the credit he deserves.
The 2008 Democratic National Convention was entirely focused on denigrating President Bush. Even some Republicans have not been kind to him. President Bush did, indeed, leave a lot to be desired. No American president has ever been perfect. But defending the security of the United States and its prestige around the world is the first and foremost task of any president, and history will certify that President Bush accomplished it exceedingly well.
I paid with two death sentences—from Romania—for the privilege of becoming an American, and I have dedicated my new life to helping defend this unique country. In 1988, when I became a U.S. citizen, I closed the few words I spoke as a sign of my gratitude with the last paragraph of “The American Creed” by William Tyler Page, a descendent of Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and of the tenth U.S. President John Tyler, who for many years served as president general of the United States Flag Association: “It is my duty to my Country to love it; to support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.” That is exactly what President Bush did.