Wednesday, January 02, 2002

I've been feeling queasy these past few weeks and I think I know why - I'm starting to like George W. Bush. His Presidential performance post September 11th has been impressive - resolute and focused - and it's made me see him in a whole new light. Granted, I still believe he bullied his way into office via Florida (though probably no worse than Kennedy grabbing his election via Chicago). And I fear he'll end up a tool of the far right, backing Ashcroft's dirty work re: abortion, morality laws and the rest of that agenda. But as I've watched the Afghanistan campaign unroll, I've been thankful he and his team are in charge. Yes, C. Powell probably has a lot to do with the success, but GW put him in the job and backed him up, so credit is deserved.

Some thoughts about the war up to now which I find interesting:

1) America has taken great pains to involve and credit Afghan fighters every step of the way. Sure, it benefits us by keeping our losses low, but it also boosts the ego of the country we're trying to help. Who knew the US military could be so low-key and generous in giving credit? The result? America's popularity has sky-rocketed among Afghans. We are generally loved in a nation where our army is staging a war (and occasionally bombing civilians by accident). That hasn't happened since 1945.

2) Not involving many countries in the war itself was brilliant. It minimized confusion and the need to share decisions with allies. It took pressure off friendly nations who's citizens might not want to go to war alongside the US. And it allowed the responsibility of peacekeeping to naturally fall on the shoulders of nations who weren't there for the fight (ie: Turkey).

3) Surprise...we've become friends with Russians. Good grief, why didn't we think of that before? It goes to show that one only needs a good enemy to help sort out who should be (or needs to be) our friends.

I know, the war's not over. Many bad things can still happen. The Afghans could still turn on us in a heartbeat. Our allies could fall by the wayside. Russia could give us the cold shoulder and throw in its lot with China. But if GW actually finishes the job in Afghanistan, removes US troops promptly and helps a new Afghan government succeed, American might finally rinse away the bad taste of Vietnam from its collective foreign policy memory.

In Wednesday's NY Times, Thomas Friedman thanked Bush for his war planning, but faulted him for an oil-based energy policy and as a a result, wished Gore had won the 2000 election.(Let's Roll). I can't go that far. I don't think Gore would have done a bad job in this situation, but I doubt the Republicans would have supported him the way Democrats have supported Bush. If the Clinton administration was any clue, the far right probably would have blamed the bombing on Gore and impeached him (or at least dragged him through the courts for being such a know-it-all about all things foreign). I do wish GW could forget his oil patch heritage and help the US break its dependence on oil. But that's probably asking too much right now.

For quite some time, my conservative friends have been saying GW isn't a frat boy idiot. He's a skilled moderate who leads like a CEO - delegating responsibility to those who know their jobs. I'm starting believe that maybe...just maybe... that might be true. What's most interesting is GW's winning over people like me by doing the very things he promised NEVER to do when running for office. He's getting deeply involved in foreign policy. He's nation building. He's making the US Army the world's good cop. He even added a new tax to pay for airline security costs (it's hidden as a fee - airplane passengers must ante up an additional $2.50 per flight). Post September 11, he finally appears to understand that the US can't be isolationist. We are the biggest, most powerful nation in the world. We have responsibilities and GW is stepping up the plate to fulfill some of those responsibilities.

Will he keep it up? I don't know. But for now, I'm giving GW the benefit of the doubt.

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