Bush has handled the impact of 11th September better than expected, but his agenda has been suprisingly unaffected by the traumaby Anthony Dworkin / January 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
“George Bush: is he ready to lead America?” That was Al Gore’s attack line in the final days before last year’s presidential election. The biggest doubts over Bush’s suitability for office concerned his inexperience and lack of knowledge about the world. On the campaign trail, an interviewer had ambushed Bush by asking him to name the leader of Pakistan (among other countries); Bush couldn’t. During the first presidential debate, the moderator asked Bush for an example of how he had dealt with an unexpected crisis. Bush talked about an outbreak of severe flooding in Texas and the way he had comforted a family whose house had been swept away.
A year into his term of office, Bush’s response to the terrorist assault of 11th September-the greatest crisis the US has faced in decades-has defined his presidency to the exclusion of almost everything else. Against expectation, the test of fire has salvaged Bush’s reputation in the US, not undermined it. Before the attacks, he had already lost momentum. He had campaigned on a promise to end partisan squabbling in Washington, yet the ideological shrillness of his administration had caused the defection of a moderate Republican senator and handed control of the Senate to the Democrats. Bush’s aides were complaining that his presidency seemed small.
Now, three months later, Bush has led his country through a war that enjoyed nearly universal support at home. In terms of US objectives, the conflict has gone well. After a shaky start, Bush has found a language and a style that seem to be what the American public is looking for in its time of trauma. He has also, in the tradition of wartime leaders, made himself very powerful. His administration has put in place a sweeping set of security measures that circumvent the usual oversight of Congress and the courts.
In the US, even Democrats now argue that Bush has risen to the occasion, displaying hitherto concealed focus and depth. At home, Bush enjoys the benefit of the doubt that Americans generally give their commander-in-chief during wartime. But with the advantage of distance, it is possible to come to a more balanced judgement about the way Bush and his team have responded to the attacks. It is also possible to see more continuity between his administration’s policies and general outlook before and after 11th September than is generally recognised.
George Bush came into office…