The American Conservative
November 20, 2006 Issue
Next week Americans will vote for candidates who have spent much of their campaigns addressing state and local issues. But no future historian will linger over the ideas put forth for improving schools or directing funds to highway projects.
The meaning of this election will be interpreted in one of two ways: the American people endorsed the Bush presidency or they did what they could to repudiate it. Such an interpretation will be simplistic, even unfairly so. Nevertheless, the fact that will matter is the raw number of Republicans and Democrats elected to the House and Senate.
It should surprise few readers that we think a vote that is seen—in America and the world at large—as a decisive “No” vote on the Bush presidency is the best outcome. We need not dwell on George W. Bush’s failed effort to jam a poorly disguised amnesty for illegal aliens through Congress or the assaults on the Constitution carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism or his administration’s endorsement of torture. Faced on Sept. 11, 2001 with a great challenge, President Bush made little effort to understand who had attacked us and why—thus ignoring the prerequisite for crafting an effective response. He seemingly did not want to find out, and he had staffed his national-security team with people who either did not want to know or were committed to a prefabricated answer.
As a consequence, he rushed America into a war against Iraq, a war we are now losing and cannot win, one that has done far more to strengthen Islamist terrorists than anything they could possibly have done for themselves. Bush’s decision to seize Iraq will almost surely leave behind a broken state divided into warring ethnic enclaves, with hundreds of thousands killed and maimed and thousands more thirsting for revenge against the country that crossed the ocean to attack them. The invasion failed at every level: if securing Israel was part of the administration’s calculation—as the record suggests it was for several of his top aides—the result is also clear: the strengthening of Iran’s hand in the Persian Gulf, with a reach up to Israel’s northern border, and the elimination of the most powerful Arab state that might stem Iranian regional hegemony.
The war will continue as long as Bush is in office, for no other reason than the feckless president can’t face the embarrassment of admitting defeat. The chain of events is not complete: Bush, having learned little from his mistakes, may yet seek to embroil America in new wars against Iran and Syria.
Meanwhile, America’s image in the world, its capacity to persuade others that its interests are common interests, is lower than it has been in memory. All over the world people look at Bush and yearn for this country—which once symbolized hope and justice—to be humbled. The professionals in the Bush administration (and there are some) realize the damage his presidency has done to American prestige and diplomacy. But there is not much they can do.
There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country’s reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth this Nov. 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen—in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur—as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq.
We have no illusions that a Democratic majority would be able to reverse Bush’s policies, even if they had a plan to. We are aware that on a host of issues the Democrats are further from TAC’s positions than the Republicans are. The House members who blocked the Bush amnesty initiative are overwhelmingly Republican. But immigration has not played out in an entirely partisan manner this electoral season: in many races the Democrat has been more conservative than the open-borders, Big Business Republican. A Democratic House and Senate is, in our view, a risk immigration reformers should be willing to take. We can’t conceive of a newly elected Democrat in a swing district who would immediately alienate his constituency by voting for amnesty. We simply don’t believe a Democratic majority would give the Republicans such an easy route to return to power. Indeed, we anticipate that Democratic office holders will follow the polls on immigration just as Republicans have, and all the popular momentum is towards greater border enforcement.
On Nov. 7, the world will be watching as we go to the polls, seeking to ascertain whether the American people have the wisdom to try to correct a disastrous course. Posterity will note too if their collective decision is one that captured the attention of historians—that of a people voting, again and again, to endorse a leader taking a country in a catastrophic direction. The choice is in our hands.