The American Moral Leader

Source: New York Times

George H. W. Bush, the 41st American President, was no ordinary politician or public servant. More than a surviving World War II veteran, Congressman, Ambassador, CIA Director, and Vice President, he was a man who knew the importance of doing the right thing, despite the odds. Whether it cost him political mileage and popularity, though at one time he enjoyed an approval rating of 84%, and whether it meant turning popular opinion against him, he stuck to what he believed was in the best interest of the American people, the American Empire, and, most importantly, democracy.

This is the reason why I think George H. W. Bush is one of the most important Presidents of our times and is surely one of my favorites. He took it upon himself despite strong opposition on Capitol Hill to initiate action against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and managed to build an international coalition. He also showed the world of the right way to do it through the Security Council and withdrew once Iraq surrendered in Kuwait, even though criticized for letting Saddam regime survive in Baghdad, probably unfinished business that his son would complete in 2003.

His realization to do the right thing also guided him to be open to bipartisanship, leading to a number of important pieces of legislation like the Clean Air Act and balanced budget deals despite his unrealistic campaign promise of no new taxes. He was not exactly a libertarian Republican out of touch with fiscal realities, after all, a hint many might get if they revisit his primary run against Ronald Reagan in 1980. He was also instrumental in negotiating the landmark North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement, later to be concluded by President Bill Clinton.

While his approach to domestic issues can be considered rather vague, emotional, and hollow, with perhaps an exaggerated focus on “a thousand points of light,” one which a progressive Democrat could easily destroy as Clinton did in 1992, his vision for the world was unmistakably clear and resolute. Something that the opposition has barely had an answer to since Ronald Reagan. Carrying forward his legacy, George Bush knew what he was doing from the moment he took the oath.

In today’s America that is rapidly falling into the pit of isolationism and nationalism that borders on fascism, the words and actions of President George Bush remain as relevant as they were at the end of the Cold War. A great moment in history, albeit inevitable but one that he worked on in the Reagan administration. He had warned us about the threat of rising terrorism. He had warned us about the threat to liberal democracies. But most of all, he told us about the value of freedom, free speech, and free markets. The ideals of republicanism.

It is important to remember President George Bush because he was a great Republican leader. A party of great ideas that has descended today in petty populism and defending a disgraced Presidency. It is important to remember his stress on a gentler and kinder Republican party in which conservatism need not be synonymous with heartlessness. Today, people are reminded of his Presidency as a time of decency compared to the vicious circus of the Trump administration.

But most important of all, he took action when it mattered. One of the most underappreciated aspects of his leadership was his brilliant foreign policy and its continued legacy in terms of American leadership. He offered his internationalist vision of a new world order that aligned with American values and interests, something which appears to be fading since the end of his son’s term.

Having inherited massive deficits from President Reagan, his fiscal pragmatism, despite his rather misleading rhetoric of “read my lips,” his bipartisan budget deals helped pave way for Clinton’s golden fiscal era of budget surpluses. His letter to President Clinton initiated a beautiful Presidential tradition, indicative of his bipartisanship and fair-mindedness. Many liberals praise him today, but his legacy is still as misunderstood as the more liberal side of conservatism is. That precious centrism is sadly evaporating from the American politics which is giving way to more vicious, albeit passionate, forces on both extreme left and right. What remains underappreciated is the commitment of centrists like him to find the most reasonable path to social harmony and economic prosperity. This talk from Council on Foreign Relations featuring Jon Meacham and John Sununu sheds light on areas often ignored about George Bush.

George Bush for all his qualities and an extremely qualified resume, remained flawed in his handling of domestic affairs, inappropriate in expressing empathy at times, failing to inspire when the economy was down, and being convincing enough to retain the Presidency. However, his name will always remain a shining beacon of a quality that America has been losing for the past decade.

America’s moral leadership.

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The Expectations from President Donald Trump

Source: abc.com

Source: abc.com

A few months ago when the Republican primaries started, I wrote that a Republican presidency was the best possible road for the situation in Iraq and Syria. The suggestion was more for a traditional Republican. Even though I did anticipate a Donald Trump presidency right from the start, it was never something that thrilled me. Of course, a conventional Republican such as Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been a far better choice of leadership in these difficult and almost apocalyptic times in the Middle East.

While apparently handing the complete legislative control to the Republican Party, the American people seem to have reversed the effect in 2008 that made Obamacare possible, things matter more on the foreign front. On the issue of terrorism, President Trump overwhelmingly beat Secretary Clinton, and even had an edge over her on economy and immigration, embarrassingly.

Considering the situation in Iraq and Syria, President Obama’s sheer disregard of the crisis is an abomination and a moral disgrace. With the monotone narrative in the Democratic Party, there is no hope of finding a viable alternative there. Ironically, a President Hillary Clinton would by far have been the most sensible voice in a party with increasingly isolationist tendencies pertaining to Iraq and Syria.

Trump’s main litmus test is going to be economic, of course. One of his greatest campaign promises, and one of his greatest hurdles to pursue an aggressive military policy, and he is expected to hesitate unlike Bush 41 and 43. You cannot claim to know Donald Trump or what he believes in except his love for himself, but you can estimate that when it comes down to it, he is going to be more cautious than you would expect. Contrary to the image of a monster that has been constructed by media in the last quarter or so.

What is important to consider is that Trump’s electorate has not voted for him to take America to another war, even though that may be the need of the hour. President Trump has been elected to improve America’s economic growth, to add jobs, for protecting American traders from the risks of globalization, and to bring manufacturing factories back to the United States.

But if only the economy were the only hurdle in the way of a more responsible foreign and military American policy in Iraq and Syria. With the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad immediately reaching out, the signs for the future are not healthy indeed at all.

Besides, Donald Trump is hardly a traditional Republican conservative. His populist platform and trade protectionism are the residue of his past in the left, with perhaps the issue of abortion being the only one on which he may have appeared to evolve as a conservative. Who knows?

But he is not exactly a Rockefeller Republican either and probably you cannot expect him to respect free trade agreements. The outlook on his domestic policy is scary and his calls for registering Muslims sounds highly inappropriate. He is also likely to block more Syrian refugees from entering. However, it would be difficult to argue that he is not merely following up on his mandate anyway.

While the liberals of the world are mourning the loss of Hillary Clinton, who has the conscience to ask the question about Iraq and Syria? Where were the military forces of the free world when the Peshmerga were struggling to hold Mosul with the fierce battle raging against the Islamic State? Where was the outrage and mourning for the Iraqi Kurds and the Yazidis?

This is where regardless of his personal ideological beliefs, or lack thereof, Donald Trump must rise up to the challenge of dealing with the Middle East situation in a brave and urgent manner. He must do that at least for the sake of his party and even if that means going to war with the legislature. And he must do that without coming under the influence of Vladimir Putin.

 It is undoubtedly unfortunate that an intellectual such as President Barack Obama is leaving office with the situation in the Middle East worsened when he assumed it. It is sad that he has not been able to work to resolve the sectarian tensions in Iraq, which have spilled over into Syria to fuel the bitter civil war. It is sad that he has threatened but never followed up on his red line.

If liberal and responsible leaders are not going to do their job, you have no choice but to count on “demagogues” to bring the task to completion.

Good luck President Trump.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.