Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Strange Leadership of George W. Bush

For almost six years we have watched a president driven by the public relations expediencies of the moment and obsessed with winning, no matter what the cost. That side of his presidency has much to do with his accumulating failures. But another part of Bush's failures is that his presidency has been consumed by the contradictions of his own strange and poor defined right wing philosophy. We have a president who doesn't believe in peace-keeping but who sets aside money for permanent bases. We have a president who talks about bringing democracy to the Middle East but who lies his way into war, spends his first six months privatizing Iraqi businesses and his second six months authorizing torture at places like Abu Ghraib but who sporadically allows some democratization activity and some rebuilding while seemingly puzzled why the average Iraqi is not enthusiastic about an American occupation that had no end date.

We have a president who likes to think of himself as a war president but who seems sluggish when it comes to seeing himself as the leader of the free world despite all his talk about freedom, democracy and American greatness. We have a president who early on called himself a compassionate conservative but who is unable to act on the first part of that equation. When the terrible tsunami of December 26, 2004 hit several countries including Indonesia, Bush hardly paid attention until any number of people in Washington pointed out not only the serious need for help those countries needed but the likely goodwill that helping them would bring. After enormous public pressure, Bush finally sent a mission.

Bruce W. Jentleson of the TPM Cafe had a post a few days back about that other disaster nine months later:
In September 2005 I was talking with a prominent Indian general-diplomat. “I am a friend of the United States,” he said. “I don’t always agree with all your policies but believe that the world needs your leadership. What, though, am I supposed to tell my people about Hurricane Katrina? In our part of the world natural disasters hit all the time; plenty of tsunamis, not just the 2004 one that grabbed the world’s attention. For us the most basic responsibility of government is to help people in such situations. How much of a model of democratic governance can you be when you did so little for people in need in your own country?”

It is a simple fact that the world is turning to the United States less and less for leadership, largely thanks to George W. Bush. No one is asking the United States to solve all the world's problems but the lack of leadership that Bush shows is unlike anything we have seen since we became the leader of the free world in the 1940s. Almost every president has had lapses or made mistakes but none have seemed so disconnected from the events and the world as George W. Bush has been.

Forget the failures of Bush for a moment. What's important to understand here is that there are consequences when our leaders don't think through their actions or even their own indifference. What is tragic is how often Bush is not driven by doing the right thing but rather driven by whether it will improve his image, and even in that case he's often been slow to act, and when he does act, his attention is too often devoted to photo opportunities. Is this who we have become as a nation? Was it just an illusion that we once strived for, or least admired the attitude: what can we do to help? Or, what can we do to improve things? When did we change to a philosophy that Bush so perfectly exemplifies: what's in it for me?


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

It appears to me the whole U.S. network of collective-security partnerships built over decades has been neglected and allowed to decay. And beyond that, close diplomatic ties with other, generally supportive countries have gone slack.

Many of these required a certain level of enthusiasm and personal support by our president. Under George W. Bush, all that's mostly gone by the wayside.

Also, who likes dealing with know-it-alls, especially secretrive, devious ones with a track record that looks like a train wreck in slow motion?

11:31 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

So Bush shines on other world leaders because that's all he knows to do. They in turn shine him on hoping to delay real decisions until the sanity of the United States returns.

Larry Wilkerson is an expert on the national security framework and very much is talking about these things the way you are. Good points.

2:21 AM  

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