Bush's Decisions

Over Christmas, I took the opportunity to read former President Bush’s new book Decision Points. I did so for two reasons: first, I really wanted to “hear” what he had to say; second, as an American historian, I need to be up to speed on how this former president defends his actions.

Let me begin with what I consider to be its strengths.

The first strength is Bush’s informal writing style. You get the impression this is exactly how he would express himself if you were sitting across the table from him, asking him questions. There is a personableness in the writing that is attractive. You connect with the man.

Second, I appreciate his unapologetic appeal to his Christian faith as his motivation for not only his policies but for all of his life. He does not artificially separate faith from action, personal or governmental.

Third, I highly recommend his chapters dealing with the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror. He takes the reader through that awful day in American history as seen through the eyes of the one most responsible for an American response. One understands how difficult it was for him to know what he should do next, yet he explains clearly why he came to his decisions on how to deal with terrorism. The title of the book is appropriate. He does focus on key decisions.

Probably the most significant decision for his presidency was whether to go forward into Iraq. This chapter is a step-by-step analysis of all the twists and turns of the diplomatic thrust to avoid war, and then the rationale for finally giving the go-ahead. Bush is particularly effective in detailing the actions of Saddam and the manner in which he thumbed his nose at international law and his manifold violations of the conditions he had agreed to at the end of the Gulf War.

Bush also clearly explains why he thought WMDs existed within Iraq. He goes to great pains to document the intelligence regarding WMDs, and just as great pains to show that nearly all congressional Democrats at the time agreed with this conclusion. He includes vote tallies on the congressional resolutions that gave him permission to use the military and identifies key Democrats who favored this action—the very ones who later accused him of lying.

So, as a primer on the rationale for how to conduct a War on Terror, this book is invaluable. I highly recommend these chapters. Even some of Bush’s most vociferous critics have had to come to grips with the necessity of his policies.

It’s on the domestic side of his decisions where I have more fundamental disagreements. He does a fine job of explaining the need for tax cuts and often advocates the vitality of the free market. Yet he then goes on to offer an apologetic for why he had to interfere with the market, especially with the big bailout at the end of his presidency. He says he did it to save the market ultimately, but I don’t find his logic persuasive. I believe he allowed some of his advisors to pull him away from fundamental principles.

Neither does Bush have a great appreciation or commitment to federalism. He sees a need and wants to get the federal goverment involved to solve the problem: No Child Left Behind and the prescription drug bill added onto Medicare are two of the most egregious examples. While I’m sure he is fond of the Constitution, I wish he had been more devoted to following it.

So, yes, I do have criticisms of some of his decisions. Yet one can’t read this book without coming away with a sense of the basic decency of the man. That comes across repeatedly.

George Bush is coming to my university this March as part of our National Leadership Forum. I plan to be there to hear him speak, along with his former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. I will do so with sincere gratitude for his prosecution of a war on terror that is essential to the future of this nation. I will also do so out of respect for a Christian brother who tried to do his best in a very trying time.

Unreasonable Searches

Last week, I was busy writing about the potential Republican presidential candidates, and I felt like I should stay on topic throughout the week, even though a storm was brewing in another policy area—airport security.

I’ve deliberately withheld comment until now, reading as much as I could on the subject, both pro and con. My conclusion is that we are so far off-base in our attempt to be secure against terrorism that we have begun to look ridiculous. More than that, we have become blatantly unconstitutional.

The airport full-body scanners are half of the controversy; the other half centers on the more rigorous “pat-down” procedures now implemented. Let’s start with the scanners.

Two issues stand out, although only one has received sufficient press: the fact that someone is seeing you totally naked and the health question with regard to the radiation. The first destroys all modesty; the second could kill you in the end. Most of the furor has focused on the fact that you are completely exposed, and that is bad enough.

The greater long-term concern, though, in my view, is the health issue. The government has assured us there is no danger. Forgive me if that doesn’t satisfy my intellectual curiosity. I’m supposed to believe the Obama administration that this doesn’t endanger my health? Like I’m supposed to believe that Obamacare is good for the country? I don’t have that much faith.

Well, we can all opt out of the scanners if we wish. All we have to do is submit to a search-and-seizure operation, as if we are suspected criminals. The stories making the rounds this past week are horrifying: a three-year-old girl crying while being “inspected”; a cancer-surviving flight attendant who has worked with an airline for over 30 years being frisked to the point that she had to remove a prosthetic breast. Those are just two of numerous accounts of what should be considered outrages.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)—which has been linked to the terrorist group Hamas—protested at one point and said that Muslim women should receive a waiver from these searches. That demand was ultimately rejected, but it did lead to some humorous possibilities:

We seem to have forgotten that the Constitution does still exist, at least in theory. Here’s the precise wording of the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The italics are mine. This amendment is not just a guarantee that the government cannot enter your house; it also speaks of your person. You are not to undergo any unreasonable search. What we are witnessing currently is not only unreasonable, it is absurd. We have left common sense behind.

Our approach has made no distinction between those who are likely to be terrorists and those who are ordinary citizens. That is ridiculous. Voices have been raised over the past week that we need to profile. There is, whether our political correctness will allow us to admit it or not, a higher probability that one specific group of people are more likely to set off bombs—and your grandmother is unlikely to be part of that group.

Perhaps we should be thankful that it has come to this; maybe it takes outrageous actions to shake us out of our lethargy and demand a change. In the same way that electing Barack Obama to the presidency has awakened an increased desire for constitutional government due to his overreaching, the same could be true in this case.

It’s time to rethink the whole anti-terrorist strategy when it comes to the airlines. Are there any elected officials capable and willing to take on this task? If they take their oath seriously to defend the Constitution, they will step forward and shoulder this responsibility. In the meantime, it’s up to the people at large to make it known that this policy should not be tolerated.

A 9/11 Remembrance and Reflection

On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was on my way to Patrick Henry College where I was a professor of history. Before arriving at the college, I stopped at a gas station. One of the other customers came up to me and informed me in a rather vague way that a plane had hit a building in New York City. I have to admit that didn’t sound all that bad to me—I assumed it was a small plane, I had no idea it was the World Trade Center, and I had no reason to believe it affected me in any direct way.

Yet his manner indicated there might be something more to it, so I turned on the car radio to find out if this was anything significant. Reports were sketchy, but I gradually realized it was bigger than I thought. When I got to the college, a prayer meeting already had begun over the incident, but we were largely in the dark about details. One of the problems was that there was no television in any of the rooms where we could watch the drama unfold. Trying to get news on the Internet also was difficult—it seemed to have slowed to a crawl.

My wife was on her way to a store close to Dulles Airport, but she soon grasped the enormity of the situation when all the stores began to close for the day. Of course, the plane that smashed into the Pentagon took off from Dulles that morning. That made it even more real; we used Dulles for our flights all the time. It made our next trip to Dulles for a flight a little more sobering.

I didn’t see any video of the actual events until sometime in the afternoon. Then I was glued to the television for hours. Living just outside the DC area made us feel more vulnerable than if we had been in our home state of Indiana, for instance.

For me, what took place that day was literally an act of war. I recall saying that to my American history class. This really was the modern Pearl Harbor, only worse. Few Americans in 1941 were aware of what Pearl Harbor was and Hawaii was not yet a state. In 2001, everyone knew New York, and the image of the Twin Towers was quite familiar.

Now they were no more—destroyed by an enemy that wanted to take down the one nation that stood in its way as it sought to impose its religious ideology on everyone.

The unity at the time seemed real. Flags appeared everywhere. Congressmen and senators stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.” Yet I never was convinced the unity was genuine, and with each passing day that put 9/11 further from our minds, my analysis proved correct.

Rather than viewing this as an act of war, the political Left shifted ground and thought of it as merely a crime to be handled through the judicial system. Today, there is little understanding on the Left of the true nature of the evil that exists in radical Islam. They are more concerned with being sensitive to the extremists and not making them angry.

Here is what the Left needs to understand: they are inherently angry, and nothing we do will satisfy that anger. They will stop at nothing to try to destroy those they hate. And they hate us.

The false ideology that dominates the political Left blinds them to the false ideology that seeks to devour them. I’m reminded of a poignant quote from Whittaker Chambers in his classic book Witness as he tried to warn the society of his day about the evil of communism:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

Are we at that same place today?

At Southeastern University, where I currently teach, a group of students from the College Republicans planted 2977 American flags in the ground to commemorate those who died on 9/11. It was a moving sight.

Not many people showed up for the remembrance, but those who came felt it deeply. The sad thing is that the new crop of college freshmen has no real significant memories of that day. They were too young to be impacted in the way I was. What does this portend for the future? I will do my part to remind them that an enemy does still exist and that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. I only hope they are open to that message.

Needed: Backbone

I know we are a nation of religious liberty. That means the government cannot tell any of us how to worship. I not only accept that, but I believe it’s the best way to handle this issue. Biblically, civil government has no authority to tell us what to think or believe. This is the proper understanding of “separation of church and state” [words that come from a Jefferson letter and not found in the Constitution, by the way].

But just because government is not given the authority to set up a state religion, that doesn’t mean we figuratively put our heads in the sand and conclude that all religions are equally beneficial for the country. Take Islam, for instance. While I know there are many Muslims who don’t wish to fly airplanes into buildings or carry out jihad, the religion itself easily tends to move in that direction. At the very least, it should make us pause before we advocate its proliferation.

Whether it’s the memory of 9/11, the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber, the Times Square bomber [notice any similarities here?], or the jihadist who massacred people at Ft. Hood, radical Islam is a threat to America and must be treated as such.

The latest outrage, in my view, is the permission given by the authorities in New York City, all the way up to Mayor Bloomberg, to build a mosque at Ground Zero. While the talk is of “healing,” the truth is something else. Check out this editorial by National Review on why allowing this to be built is the height of foolishness.

Tolerance is a Christian character trait; stupidity is not. At times, our desire to be tolerant is downright intolerable.

This indicates something very amiss in the heart and soul of America. A nation with no backbone is a nation ready to be destroyed. It doesn’t have to happen, but we’ll need to develop that backbone soon to avoid disaster.

Immigration, Terror, & the Coming Elections

The primary reason for civil government is to protect the people of a nation. That’s one reason why the illegal immigration issue is so important. Yet what is our president doing about it?

It’s almost as if he wears blinders. Well, he does actually—they’re the result of his ideology.

There’s also the threat from Iran, which, during the campaign, candidate Obama called a “tiny” nation that we shouldn’t worry about. Isn’t it time he started worrying? If he does, he may have to reverse some of his actions.

Closer to home, we were fortunate that Faisal Shahzad didn’t know what he was doing when he tried to take out Times Square.

That’s not what I would call a “policy.” Of course the adminstration would argue that’s not its approach—it just appears to be. They are on the alert to find the real terrorists.

Yes, those homegrown Tea Partiers are a menace to a government that is as detrimental to the republic as the BP oil spill is to the coastline.

The November elections certainly will be crucial. Obama will have to work his magic once again.

I’m just praying he will be as effective as he has been in the latest round. God save the republic.