Politics and Governance

Bush is No Batman, Unless Batman is Two-Face

The twin towers not rebuilt, bin Laden not brought to justice, Al-Qaeda not destroyed: just a few key failures, among so many, of George W. Bush's presidency.

When confronted with such a reality, members of the Bush Administration prefer to stick to a three-word response; "history will judge" has become their ultimate brush off of criticism. Instead of admitting to their mistakes, the members of the Bush Administration tell us that in hindsight Bush will be recognized as one of the most underestimated presidents in U.S. history.

Adrew Klavan, a popular novelist, went as far as to compare Bush to Batman, who has preserved the freedom of an ungrateful people and has never taken credit for it.

"Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand," wrote Klavan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

"Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past."

"When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves," Klavan continued, "it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness."

President Bush, unlike his critics, according to Klavan, has shown his "fortitude and moral courage in this time of terror and war."

And no, Klavan is not being facetious. He is not borrowing his propagandist punch lines from Mein Kampf either. Klavan is simply presenting his view of President Bush as a vilified superhero who is not going to be recognized while in office. And when out of office, who knows?

Bush himself is less sanguine about his post-presidential chances to be viewed as Batman. With less than 100 days left in office, he has been scrambling to save his eight-year legacy. In foreign policy alone, members of his administration have made a number of significant changes. They have been negotiating with North Korea, toying with the idea of establishing a first-in-30-years diplomatic presence in Iran, and speaking of "time horizons" for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

Despite Bush's panic-stricken attempts at scrambling for resurrection, however, his chances of becoming a hero in the eyes of many Americans may be better than he realizes.

If Barack Obama gets elected, for example, and, as promised, gradually withdraws troops from Iraq, deep ethnic, regional, and sectarian divides in that country, no longer contained by an American military presence, could provoke a civil war.

Under such developments, the public media, an influential framer of public opinion, will likely blame Obama for a surreptitious withdrawal of American troops and accuse him of having poor judgment and a lack of military understanding. Bush, on the other hand, will get some positive media coverage for reducing violence in Iraq while in office, causing an upward movement in his approval rankings. As a result, the article by Klavan, comparing Bush to Batman, will get more publicity, and some of the estranged republicans will regret breaking away from the flock. Dick Cheney will give us his signature half-smile and mumble "I told you, history will judge."

As unfortunate as it is, the media suffers from attention deficit disorder. It is impulsive, forgetful, and easily distracted. When and if violence breaks out in Iraq after a troop withdrawal, very few of media outlets will mention the original fallacy of going into Iraq. They will have forgotten not only that this particular decision caused the unleashing of the conflicting coalitions in the first place, but also that Iraq was undeservingly invaded based on weak, insufficient, and, to some extent, fabricated proof of Saddam Hussein's ties to terrorists and his ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Such media coverage will not be fair, but it is certainly likely, given the media's goal of presenting a simple message and screaming headlines. Precedents are abundant.

Ronald Reagan, for example, because of his "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall" comment and other similar tough-on-the-Soviets remarks, gets credit for managing and winning the Cold War. George H.W. Bush, on the other hand, despite his remarkable achievements such as securing loose nuclear weapons on the post-Soviet area and brokering an inclusion of East Germany in the NATO alliance, still lives in Reagan's shadow. Presidents such as John Kennedy, who forced Soviets into the race to the moon (thus bankrupting them), or Jimmy Carter, who militarily supported Afghani mujahedeen in order to push Soviets into that destined-to-fail conflict, are also completely underestimated in their efforts to bring the Cold War to an end.

So just as Reagan's legacy was helped by an undeserved credit for victory in the Cold War, Bush's legacy could be somewhat restored by an undeserved and also false credit for keeping the peace in Iraq.

Despite possible future temptations to turn Bush into Batman, however, we should avoid falling into such a trap and try to stay on message here. Regardless of the outcome of the war in Iraq, we should never forget that this war should not have even been authorized; that when Bush is gone, bin Laden is still going to be at large and Al-Qaeda will still be alive and well. We should also remember that the World Trade Center, a symbol of American greatness, will still not be rebuilt, leaving an empty space as a reminder of Bush's failure as a U.S. president.

So no, Mr. Klavan, Bush is no Batman and he never will be. With Iraq staining his already dubious legacy, he looks more like Harvey "Two-Face," who flipped a double-headed coin for his country's future and proceeded with the wrong war in Iraq, leaving the right war in Afghanistan for a future president, hopefully a true hero, to handle.

Anna Cherkasova

Anna Cherkasova is a dual degree master's student in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She is also studying Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and plans to graduate in 2009.


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