Friday, February 17, 2006

On the Bush Administration

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.

9 comments:

Nicholas Provenzo said...

I wrote this for HBL and I was stunned by the positive feedback I received. I think support for Bush is collapsing among Objectivists —and deservedly so.

* * *

I stand with John Lewis on his point that Bush is not about advancing individual rights domestically or defending America internationally.

The effect of the war has been worse then had it not been fought at all. America is not more secure as a result of Bush's expeditionary campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan when the jihad still survives, when both nations can vote themselves into Islamic republics and when Iran—-the fountainhead of Islam and America's key enemy--remains unchecked.

Objectivists who are sympathetic to Bush argue that he represents both the best and the worst in the "honest American" while his cowboy demeanor depicts the vibrant American spirit. If only. The more realistic appraisal is that that Bush's cowboy persona runs only skin-deep, while his neo-conservatism (a literal cross of both liberalism and religion) has advanced some of the worst ideas to be offered in American politics since the rise of the New Left.

Bush spent months begging the UN for permission for the US to protect its interests, only to couch that interest in sacrificial language. Bush's "Ownership Society" died stillborn for want of a moral argument. The "Forward Defense of Freedom" assumed that the liberty-hating people of the world nevertheless desire freedom and that it is for America to bring it to them. The Bush administration and the Republican congress can't even find the sauce to abolish the NEA, let alone correct any substantive spending injustice--or prevent the rise of new ones. And don’t even ask me about antitrust or fundamental tax reform under Bush.

All the while, Bush has been energizing the wing of the Republican party that seeks to establish theocracy in America. The White House doesn’t call an Objectivist when it has a problem--it calls an evangelical preacher. The Bush presidency is a disaster.
People animated by a revolutionary philosophy such as Objectivism ought to be highlighting these facts and explaining the principles that drive them. This debate goes far beyond the question of which political party can do a worse job--it's a question of what Objectivists have to say about the current state of the world and how we will publicly present our antidote to today's unabated orgy of irrationality and sacrifice.

Blair said...

I've maintained on my own blog, that the Bush team won't go into Iran, because of the similarities between their 'christian' conservatism and Iran's ruling elite. The ensuing 'religious' clash is too much for them to mentally handle. That's why they picked on a thug like Saddam, who is perceived by them to be 'secular' in nature.
There should be little doubt among Objectivists that-none-of our leadership has even the slightest notion of America's founding principles. That's been obvious for decades and is now reaching its climax.
How long we have? Good question.

Gideon said...

Nick,

I did read your posting on HBL and I agree with it. It was very much similar reasoning that has led me to my present conclusion.

Part of what threw me during the last election was the thought of Kerry as President. I think the left is still more obviously evil than the right, though that does not necessarily make it more dangerous in the long term. In fact, one could argue (as John Lewis has) that it makes it less dangerous because fewer people confuse the Democrats with anything good. Still, I think not enough attention was given to the option of not voting for either candidate. I remember you (along with Scott) used to be critical of ARI's criticism of the Bush war effort. I take it that you've changed your mind?

Blair,
there is much truth in what you write. Clearly, the hesitancy to support the Danish cartoons stems from the Bush administration's reluctance to criticise any religion. But on the other hand Bush did initially list Iran as part of the Axis of Evil. I sometimes wonder whether there is a constant battle within the administration between the pragmatic and religious elements. Not that either side is really any good...

It's also not always clear what the religious influence would lead to. Certain segments of the Christian religious right (for example World Net Daily) would support an unapologetic rigorous war against the Moslems. Others such as the magazine Christianity Today just published a cover story about how "Torture is always wrong."

Nicholas Provenzo said...

>I remember you (along with Scott) used to be critical of ARI's criticism of the Bush war effort. I take it that you've changed your mind?

I think I was more critical than Scott, but I don't presume to speak for him.

I thought at the time that if Iraq has the means to threaten the US and invasion is part of a larger campaign to defeat jihad, I support invasion.

Now, in the intervening years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Bush administration is simply unwilling to meet jihad head on—it will not attack the jihadists either morally or militarily beyond anything more than a half-measure.

My view: The administration is fighting WWIII as if it was Vietnam or Panama.

>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.

I hadn’t read Jack Wakeland’s article—but oh, what prose! George Bush persistently fights for us, you ungrateful Objectivists.

Spare me. There’s a reason Objectivists have zero influence in politics. The conservatives reject Objectivism’s key tenets—and George Bush is their leader.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

> think I was more critical than Scott, but I don't presume to speak for him.

I meant I was less critical of ARI for its stand on the war.

Gideon said...

>My view: The administration is fighting WWIII as if it was Vietnam or Panama.

Yes, I agree. Actually the Wakeland article is worse that what my excerpt suggests. Here's another excerpt:

To say that George Bush's efforts at national defense are worse than nothing--something I hear way too often from Objectivists--is worse than factually false. If you follow the implications of this falsehood to claim that America is losing, you are doing our enemy's work. The enemy is far too weak to win on the battlefield. His can only win by reducing the effectiveness of our efforts by conning us into altruist mercy--and then hoping we'll become too weary and disgusted with the futility of the ineffective efforts; too weary and disgusted to remember what we're fighting for; too weary and disgusted to stay on the field of battle.

Before you trumpet each small failure in the American war effort, remember you're a part of the enemy's battle plan. Before you minimize each small success in the American war effort, remember whose side you are on.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

I am doing the enemy's work if I think Bush is weak?

Gimmie a turban and call me Al Qaeda—-the Wakeland quote ranks as one of the most asinine statements I’ve heard in years.

Myrhaf said...

My support for Bush has weakened dramatically. I considered voting for Kerry, but when he said terrorism is a matter of law enforcement, not war, that pushed me over to Bush. Kerry's mentality is what got us in the mess we're in.

I've long maintained that the Republicans have a secret weapon: the Democrats. Every time I get disgusted at the Republicans, I look at the Democrats and think, "Well, at least the Republicans are sane." But I'm now at the point that I think we'd be better off with a Democrat president. We would not be any less safe. We might be even safer without the illusion that our government is fighting a serious war against militant Islam. And we would be better off domestically with gridlock.

Gideon said...

Myrhaf wrote:
I've long maintained that the Republicans have a secret weapon: the Democrats. Every time I get disgusted at the Republicans, I look at the Democrats and think, "Well, at least the Republicans are sane."

I couldn't agree more -- that's always been my attitude and I think superficially this will always be true, because with all their faults, Republicans still cling to some basic middle class values, whereas Democrats are pulled ever more in the direction of nihilism. Middle class values (even steeped in religion) will always look better than nihilism. That's pretty much also why I did vote for Bush in the last election.

Myrhaf also wrote:
But I'm now at the point that I think we'd be better off with a Democrat president. We would not be any less safe. We might be even safer without the illusion that our government is fighting a serious war against militant Islam. And we would be better off domestically with gridlock.

I agree we would probably not be any less safe with the Democrats but I also don't see how we would be better off. We had eight years of Clinton with multiple foreign policy disasters and nothing useful from the Republican side during that period. My attitude right now is, as Ayn Rand put it, "it's earlier than you think" -- there's a limit to the lesser of two evils (and there's also a limit to what we can hope to achieve electorally with our current numbers). If we're faced with a choice between Bush and Kerry, the protest of abstention is the best option. What is gained by supporting either of these [insert favorite curseword here]? It's still much too early for national political action, certainly in presidential elections. Perhaps there's some point in active participation during the primaries where there's a chance to attempt to get better candidates to vote for, but I doubt it. The current political scene is still too far removed from where we need it to be.

As radicals for capitalism we ought to stay principled. That doesn't mean we can't support individual policies of either side here and there but nothing can be gained by supporting the disastrous mess of the presidential candidates that we've been presented with recently.