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.

The Deflated Balloon of a Strong Trump Presidency

Source: Independent

After President Obama’s weak reaction to the Russian interference in the Syrian civil war, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the world started wondering about an American leadership on the backfoot. The more hawkish of commentators even saw this as the beginning of the end of the American Empire or at least a President unwilling to further it.

President Obama had his own vision of a multilateral world, which was dovish to the extent that he ended up letting Russia dictate the direction of the Syrian civil war. He was a Wilsonian, albeit one skeptical about American moral superiority, who lacked the will to enforce his vision. A philosopher President who was even skeptical about his own convictions at times. President Obama also failed to follow his own red line for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad for carrying out chemical attacks on his own people by opting to deflect the decision to a vote in Congress. It was no wonder that many hawkish elements, many of them Republicans, were looking forward to a Republican Presidency.

However, everything changed with Donald Trump becoming the Republican frontrunner. Clearly, the American voter had a different mood this time around and was not taking anything from leaders making promises of globalization. With all the populist and anti-globalist rhetoric in the air, there was still one lasting factor traditional Republican view that Trump strongly promoted. The destruction of the Islamic State and deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the leader of the regime in power in Syria.

Trump came across as a strongman to many. Someone who would take tougher stances and establish America’s dominance over the world. However, President Trump’s completely spineless attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and especially dealing the ceasefire in Southern Syria destroys the myth of a strong Trump Presidency. Now, we have an American Empire coming to terms with a precarious position in Syria.

The latest is that the Russia has signed an airbase deal with Syria, solidifying the presence of its troops for at least half a century to come. Instead of moving ahead with confronting the Islamic State, getting rid of Assad and confronting Russia, he reached a ceasefire deal for Southwest Syria with Russia. This development only points toward further military disengagement in the region. He does not seem to have any intention to confront the shrinking American influence either, as he too will apparently kneel before the Russian and Chinese aggression. He is more interested in creating an isolationist America than one leading from the front during the terms of Bush 41 and 43. Just because it will get you the votes in today’s political atmosphere.

It should be a great embarrassment to the Republicans for standing with Trump for his atrocious policies. While they are doing it for purely political reasons, they are going to lose the moral high ground that they are used to taking in front of the public. Politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who remain more concerned about the situation in the Middle East, should be particularly alarmed with the manner of the President they are standing by.

To many, the decline of America started with the election of a pompous narcissistic billionaire like Trump. It actually started with President Obama, elected on an anti-Iraq war mandate, withdrawing the United States from the global theater. To withdraw the role of actively policing the world for American values. While polar opposites ideologically and in terms of personality, both were symptomatic and also representative of the extreme polarization and a direction of international disengagement in American politics.

Supposedly someone with a liberal background, Donald Trump is going all out to pander to the hard-right conservative Republican base that has brought him to power. While those issues are going to cause much unrest domestically, his international stances, such as exiting the Paris Environment Treaty, are only going to undo the American moral leadership around the world.

Donald Trump and the politicians of his kind are taking the people of the United States back to the era of isolation and disengagement. They are taking America to the pre-Wilsonian era, which brought about great ideas such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to reality. Unlike the Republican tradition, they will not be the stalwarts of American moral leadership around the world. They are withdrawing America from the leadership of the world and leaving it in the hands of darker powers.

I know it’s still early days for the Trump Presidency, and given his unpredictable nature, anything is possible in the near future. However, the way he has handled the Syrian civil war so far takes out all the air that inflated the image of his leadership.

The post was published in The Nation blogs.