Monday, January 19, 2009

Fareed Zakaria on Bush Legacy

Fareed Zakaria writes in The Washington Post that defining the legacy of George W. Bush in terms of "keeping us safe" is deceptive.

The Bush administration deserves credit for its counterterrorism policies. But it also must bear the blame for distorting the challenge. Initially unaware of the problem, Bush adopted an exaggerated view of the threat, seeing al-Qaeda as a vast global organization comparable to the Soviet Union. His conception of the war on terrorism implies that the struggle is largely military. It tends to conflate disparate Muslim groups -- with differing and often opposed agendas -- into one monolithic enemy. If this interpretation sounds uncharitable, it is the one offered by the foreign minister of America's staunchest ally, the resolutely pro-American Blairite David Miliband. In an essay in the Guardian last week, he concluded that "the notion [of a war on terror] is misleading and mistaken."

Under Bush, America has been put on a quasi-war footing, has spent billions on "homeland security," has massively complicated its immigration and visa system, has put friction into the gears of trade, has retreated from its open attitude toward foreigners, and has seen its Constitution circumvented. But Bush has kept us safe. I hope that when Barack Obama thinks about the challenges he faces -- the economy, health care, energy, Iraq and Afghanistan -- he does not obsessively focus on the metric of "keeping us safe."

Zakaria has written elsewhere that the Bush administration's response to 9/11 was a "massive over-reaction" with catastrophic results. It used the attacks as a pretext for the implementation of policies long advocated by the paranoid and hawkish Right. It is clear that these policies have fallen on their face. It will take years for the Obama administration to undo the damage to our economy, justice system and international standing.

--Ballard Burgher

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