January 18, 2009


What went right for Bush (Greg Sheridan, January 17, 2009, The Australian)

One important reality check came from Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger fellow at the US Council for Foreign Relations, in a recent lecture to the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne.

Mead is in no sense a Bush partisan or neo-con. He is a non-partisan voice of great elegance and sophistication in US foreign policy. Speaking just after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and in the midst of the global financial crisis, He asserted that he was an optimist about the international scene. He advanced five reasons for his optimism.

One: Financial and banking crises are a regular and perhaps inevitable part of the capitalist system. But the US and the world always recovers from them and life goes on, generally with a better understanding of the way economies work and often, therefore, a better regulatory system.

Two: The failure of Osama bin Laden and his project throughout the Islamic world. This is most evident in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs there saw the US in a sense at its worst - given the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the mismanagement of the early part of the occupation - and al-Qa'ida potentially at its most appealing as the leader of resistance against Western domination. And yet in the Iraqi Sunni awakening, they rejected al-Qa'ida and chose partnership with the West.

Three: The rise of Asia. Mead rejects the intellectually constipated notion that China's rise equals America's decline. Instead he thinks that Asia is producing numerous big powers - China, Japan, India - that will naturally balance each other and always seek the involvement of the US as a further balancing and stabilising force.

Four: The enduring strength of American soft power. But how can this be? Surely Bush's global unpopularity has permanently ruined America's standing in the world? Not at all, Mead argues. One election, the triumph of Obama, and suddenly the world loves the US again.

European magazines recently at the centre of anti-Americanism declare that we are all Americans now and that Obama is the president of the world.

But if anti-Americanism is so easily banished, was it really such a powerful force? Another possible explanation (and here I am not quoting Mead) is that much anti-Americanism is exported from the US itself and reflects not much more than the visceral hatred of Bush by The New York Times class.

The New York Times itself is reprinted all over the world and its attitudes and disdains aped by faux sophisticates from Brussels to Balmain.

Five: The enduring dynamism of US society. No candidate ran in the US presidential election in 2008 as the status quo candidate.

I find Mead's arguments pretty convincing. If there is even a glimmer of truth to them, they suggest that the world Bush created was not altogether and entirely as evil as contemporary reviews suggest.

From Australia's point of view, at any rate, the Bush presidency was overwhelmingly successful.

What are the core Australian national interests that Canberra would always want a US administration to protect? Surely three would be: a stable security order in the Asia Pacific; the integrity of the international trading system; and the health of the US-Australian alliance.

On all three, Bush was outstandingly good for Australia. Bush's success in Asia is simply undeniable, and Rudd, among many others, has often acknowledged it. Michael Green, the former Asia director at the NSC under Bush, has in several important articles collated opinion poll data about the US in Asia. It turns out that Asia is the one region in the world where the US's poll ratings are higher at the end of the Bush administration than they were at the beginning.

This was anything but inevitable.

...we're gonna need room for one more on Mount Rushmore...

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 18, 2009 7:12 AM
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