Rarely has a president had to face what Bush faced just eight months into his presidency. The only other times that enemies have attacked American soil were in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and at Pearl Harbor. The 9/11 attacks stunned the nation and called for a determined, forceful response. Bush gave it as he stood on the rubble of the Twin Towers.
He vowed that the people who had perpetrated this terrorism would hear from us soon. Shortly after, he spoke to a joint session of Congress, laying out the case for confronting the evil represented by the 9/11 attacks. And it wasn’t long before the Taliban in Afghanistan were driven from their places of authority.
When Bush then turned to Iraq, his presidency was redefined. Critics called it unnecessary; the far-left accused him of deliberately deceiving the American people with talk of weapons of mass destruction in the country. “Bush lied, people died” was the refrain.
While there can be reasonable disagreements about the wisdom of the Iraq operation, let’s keep a few things in mind:
- All intelligence agencies in the world agreed that Saddam had a weapons of mass destruction program.
- Saddam was giving money to the families of suicide bombers, encouraging the fanatics to continue their actions.
- Iraq had violated all the sanctions laid upon it by the U.N. after the Persian Gulf War and had restricted access for inspectors of its weapons facilities.
- Some Al-Qaeda members were already in Iraq, and it was in the process of becoming another base of terrorist operations.
- The removal of Saddam has now led to a government that is an ally of the United States.
Were there problems in execution? Yes. You don’t brag about “Shock and Awe” before going in; neither do you declare “Mission Accomplished” ahead of time. There was too much optimism about how quickly Iraqis would respond to freedom. They are a different culture; they had no history of self-government. And Bush stayed with the Rumsfeld strategy too long. The surge, which he finally approved, did the job.
Government’s primary responsibility is to protect its people. In the last seven years, the terrorists have been unable to repeat their 9/11 success on American soil. That, by itself, is a primary accomplishment of the Bush administration.