Published January 16, 2009
The Bush presidency was a successful one and will be viewed so over time.
The primary responsibility of the president is to keep American citizens safe. By that standard alone, President Bush has achieved success.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when virtually everyone assumed we'd be hit again, Bush put the United States on a war footing. He mobilized the entire federal government, including the military, Homeland Security, the Treasury, the FBI, our intelligence agencies and more.
We have not been attacked since.
The Iraq war was marked by serious mistakes early on, but Bush — facing gale-force political winds — changed strategy in January 2007. Iraq is now on the road to success. The outcome is not certain, but a peaceful, self-governing nation in the heart of the Middle East will change the region's political culture.
Al-Qaeda is in the process of suffering a humiliating defeat. Militant Islam is on the defensive throughout the world, with the masses and key figures turning against it. This is an enormously consequential shift — and Iraq is largely responsible for it.
Progress in Afghanistan is difficult, as you'd expect from one of the world's poorest nations. But a brutal regime was deposed, terrorist training camps have been shut down, the leaders are democratically elected, and women and girls have gained unprecedented rights.
Our relationships with many nations — India, Japan, China, Australia, Canada, Poland, Britain and the Czech Republic — have been as good or better than ever. The political leadership in Europe is more pro-American today than when Bush took office. And no president has done as much for the African continent. The AIDS/malaria initiatives are two of the most effective and humane assistance programs in history.
During the Bush presidency, Libya dismantled its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. A vast nuclear proliferation network, led by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, was dismantled. The Proliferation Security Initiative limited the spread of WMD. Our nuclear weapons stockpile was halved five years ahead of schedule. And free trade agreements, which open new markets, have multiplied.
On the economy: In 2001, Bush inherited an economy heading toward recession, followed by 9/11. These were twin blows. By providing the largest tax cuts in a generation, Bush helped spur more than 50 consecutive months of economic growth, more than 8 million new jobs, real GDP grew by more than 17%, and after-tax per-capita income increased 12%.
Then an economic crisis hit. Bush had pushed for greater regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally chartered mortgage finance companies. Bush's efforts were thwarted by Congress, including key Democrats. If Bush's reforms had been adopted, the damage would have been contained. And when the financial markets were close to collapsing, Bush stabilized them and kept a nasty recession from turning into another Great Depression.
Among Bush's other notable achievements: two outstanding Supreme Court justices; championing a culture of life; the most far-reaching education reforms in decades, which have led to higher test scores and a narrowing of the achievement gap; a 25% reduction in teen drug use; and reforming Medicare by adding a prescription-drug benefit and increasing competition and choice into the system. The drug-benefit plan is wildly popular among seniors, and the costs are almost 40% less than originally expected.
Like other presidencies, Bush's two terms in office were far from flawless; human imperfection, an untidy and dangerous world, and a vast federal bureaucracy ensured that.
But facing unprecedented challenges to our nation — including three a once-in-a-century crises (the attack on our homeland, Hurricane Katrina and the financial meltdown) — George W. Bush kept a steady hand on the wheel.
He guided us through turbulent waters. He is also a man of grace and good character. Like Harry Truman before him, Bush will be honored in history.
— Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to President Bush, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He wrote at the request of the White House.