There's an ongoing debate among Objectivists as to how to evaluate President Bush and his administration. It is not necessarily an easy topic to reach a definitive conclusion about, as there are various conflicting strands of evidence that have accumulated about Bush since he was first elected in 2000 and yet more since his reelection in 2004. In a rough way, one group of Objectivists may be termed critical supporters of Bush, in the sense that they regard Bush, his administration and strategy, as a generally positive force, perhaps the most positive that can be expected within the present culture, despite the many criticisms that can be made of his individual policies.
Among these one can list the folks at The Intellectual Activist, including Robert Tracinski and Jack Wakeland, who, in a recent article for TIA Daily entitled "President Bush Represents the Virtue and Vices Typical of the Honest American" wrote that Bush is "an honest defender of our nation." Wakeland's starts out the article with a plea to fellow Objectivists:
The idea that America is going to lose the war with Islam by ideological corruption is a grave injustice to the man elected to decide our nation's war policy. Objectivists should criticize George Bush for the errors and the sins in his war policy, but we should recognize him as the honest and persistent warrior that he actually is. We should never allow ourselves to vilify such a man--not a man who fights for us.Another notable Objectivist who arguably falls into this camp is Harry Binswanger, who recently wrote at least in partial defense of Bush and Conservatives in general on his mailing list (HBL) . While he thought Bush's efforts were inadequate, they could not be entirely dismissed as worthless.
The members of the other side of this argument think that Bush does not have any truly redeeming values and thus is, in fact, hurting the cause. They may be termed the critical detractors of Bush and include Scott Holleran of the Concord Crier, Prof. John Lewis of Ashland University, as well as Craig Biddle of new journal The Objective Standard and Yaron Brook, director of the Ayn Rand Institute. Holleran wrote last Thanksgiving that "the President's lowest approval ratings are a thin silver lining, since it shows there is hope if Americans realize we are losing the war and our individual rights and many do." John Lewis recently argued on HBL that the foreign policy mess that Bush has created is worse than what the left might have done. Brook has a long record of criticising the Bush administration's war effort in his lecture appearances. Biddle opposed the reelection of Bush in 2004.
I must admit my own view of Bush has changed substantially over the years. Initially, I did not think much of him. He seemed to be another pragmatic Republican, lacking anything resembling principles. During the 2000 primaries, I thought he was better than McCain, who couldn't stop talking about sacrifices. During the 2000 election, Bush rose somewhat in my estimation, since he stood for a number of issues that I supported including lower taxes, less regulation, drilling in Alaska, and opposition to nation building, which had become a feature of the outgoing Clinton administration. Gore, on the other hand, looked and acted positively scary and his actions since his loss have not made him any less scary. But Bush's initial time in office before September 11, 2001 did not make him seem particularly impressive. His handling of the downing and capture of our spy plane over international waters near China was not to be an opportunity for him to rise to the occasion.
Then came 9/11. I must admit my own thoughts were very much confused at the time. I wanted very much to believe that the seemingly patient and deliberate efforts of the President in Afghanistan would work. His speeches at that time seemed to support an adequately forceful policy against the terrorists and their state sponsors, although it was clear even then that there was much equivocation involved. And even when force was used, it was always less force than seemed to be appropriate, given the magnitude of the attack on us.
Then followed the seemingly endless diplomatic effort to get the world on our side with respect to the Iraq war. Never mind that Iran was the number one sponsor of terror even according to the State Department. Iraq was going to be the next target. There was a case to be made that Iraq needed to be taken out. Iraq certainly had terror connections and either had or was attempting to rebuild its weapons of mass destructions (WMD). And of course, Iraq had never completely submitted to the requirements of the 1990 Gulf War and was shooting at our planes on a daily basis. So in early 2003, Bush lauched a US dominated coalition into Iraq.
Again, while there were early successes in terms of the speed of the operation, it was clear that our military was again restrained in the amount of force they could use. We were altruistically freeing the Iraqi people from the evil dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and thus we were only after the leadership. In the aftermath of the downfall of the regime, in light of the terrorist insurgency that followed, it became clear that a country cannot be ruled by 50-odd people alone. And, new, other hostile forces appeared on the scene, forces that had previously been suppressed by Hussein but were nevertheless equally opposed to us. These forces, such as Muqtada al-Sadr's Shiite fundamentalist militia were supported by Iran, who still appears to have been one of the major beneficiaries of our efforts in Iran.
To make a long story short, presently I'm very skeptical of Bush's war efforts. There are some who argue that the replacement of Colin Powell with Condoleeza Rice should have put the President more firmly in charge of the State Department. They claim that some of the diplomatic games in the first administration were the result of Colin Powell's influence. But it seems in the second administration under Rice the reverse has happened. The President, no doubt partly weakened as a result of the mess in Iraq, has taken a very conciliatory diplomatic tone lately. We are not likely to see much more pretend unilateralism from him.
Yet, am I now a critical supporter or a critical detractor? I would say that my highest point of support for the Bush administration came right after 9/11 and has been steadily declining since. I did support him during the last election. Yet, he seems to have done little right and some things really wrong since his reelection, even though (or because) his party controls the two houses of government. I honestly think I would have trouble voting for him again and I'm seriously wondering whether I'll vote Republican in the next election. So, yes, consider me in the critical detractor camp.