A literary farewell to Dubya

So Dubya’s gone I suppose. There’s a lot you might say about it. I certainly had something of an odd connection with the man – the number of books we’ve both read.

  • I read Compassionate Conservativism by Marvin Olavsky as a young student in the University of Saskatchewan library. I opened the book to find a foreward written by a certain Governor of Texas, who was President by then. It’s a very inspiring book with beautiful personal stories and also a careful focus on statistics – Olavsky related a story of driving around America from one promising poverty and anti-addiction program to another and telling his son that no matter how much you like the idea of a program always pay attention to the statistics: how many people no longer need the program when they’re done. David Frum himself argued that George Bush’s enormous domestic spending increases were calculated to avoid political battles at home during a war. I don’t think anyone who’s read Olavsky’s book would agree – it was probably more integral to Bush’s governing philosophy than anything. The main message of hope in the book was that shifting federal spending from inefficient and ineffective or even counter-productive bueaucratic programs to the kind of charitable programs Olavsky had found effective – always with a spiritual element which was usually Christian – would finally begin to realize the dreams of Lyndon Johnson’s great society programs. It doesn’t seem to have worked that well. All I can ever remember being said about it has been in the occasional conservative’s column which mentioned that the influence of federal subsidies seemed to be corrupting the efficiency of those programs. Of course there was a great deal of famous criticism from the left that including programs with religious content violated the “separation of church and state”. Interestingly, it was not the conservatives who were focused on the religious aspect rather than the effectiveness of social programs – and in the end the most effective questions raised about mixing private charity and state charity came from conservatives.

  • I own The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky. Dubya read it too and actually interviewed the author for about an hour. Sharansky was a “refusnik” – a Jewish dissident in Communist Russia who was offered leave to go to Israel but refused as long as all Jewish Russians were not allowed to leave. When he finally got to Israel Sharansky arrived wearing a skullcap. He was shocked to find that this was bitterly controversial with criticism from secular Israelis that he was showing submission to religious authorities. Sharansky was simply happy to have the freedom to do so. Sharansky became involved in politics as a member of the conservative Likud party – even referring their current candidate for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu with the affectionate “Bibi” and championed democracy as a solution for Palestinians so vocally that he relates a story of a Palestinian shocked by his good will who said “we always thought the Likud were our enemies, and hated us”. Sharansky’s basic thesis seems to be that the opposite of Communism is flowers and daisies. It would be extremely typical of me to say “look what democracy gave Palestine – Hamas!” but let me interrupt that train of cynicism because it would also be extremely stupid. Palestinians do not have democracy, they have a choice between armed and brutal organizations. “Democracy” is more than a vote and a vote is not something divine. I fear that the Chinese official who said China is one hundred years away from democracy was a lot more sensible. With Palestine it’s really a catch 22. You could say that Edmund Burke’s statement after the horrors of the French Revolution that “the restrictions on a man’s freedoms are to be counted among his rights” rings very true but I think it makes more sense to point out that Hamas and Fatah are restricting Palestine – it is their “democratic” tyranny that needs to be ended. As for Iraq, it’s extremely hard to know now whether it will succeed as a democracy. The naive expectation that it would was something that attracted me to “neo” conservativism more than anything else, and I think there is reasonable hope. And if one Middle Eastern country can succeed as a democracy I have no doubt that the long term effect will be the sum total of Dubya’s legacy. Just in case, I really should buy one of those t-shirts that say how many people Dubya and Lincoln freed and asks the question “George W. Bush. Better than Abraham Lincoln?”
  • America Alone, by Mark Steyn. Dubya got this one signed, to Steyn’s embarrassment. I guess I don’t have much to say about it since I’m a little dissilusioned with Steyn these days, as good as his writing can be. And, as Mark is the Bridgette Bardot of Canada as far as tangling with censorship on certain topics, I’m more than a little proud to own his book too. I still remember the very strange look the people at Chapters gave me when I asked where Steyn’s book was. I’m a patient browser, but I couldn’t find it. They did – and exactly as per Mark’s joshing it was burrowed away on a shelf groaning with books about American “fascists”. At least this one book about America in a Canadian bookstore was written by a Canadian, I should have said.
  • A  History of the English Speaking Peoples, by Andrew Roberts. Interestingly biased, it is almost a work of cheerful Anglo propoganda. Roberts also had this intentionally mischievous habit of reffering to Canada and New Zealand as “dependencies” of the U.S. and Australia – no doubt a bit of a nostalgic kick for him, recalling the days of the British Empire and her dependencies. The most interesting part to me was Robert’s judgement of the political fallout of the Madrid bombings. While Steyn and other conservatives trumpeted the election of the anti-Iraq war socialists after the attack as a failure of will, Roberts notes something I knew about it as well – that the conservative party actually tried to blame the attack on the Basque separatists. This incredible lie was found out before the election – they didn’t deserve to win a single vote. In effect, Steyn did a magnificent job of promoting exactly the interpretation of Madrid that Al Qaeda wanted. And this is why I’m dissilusioned with Steyn. A “clash of civilizations” is exactly what Al Qaeda wanted and the super hawks play right into that. And, in fact, his smarter tack in the War on Terror is exactly what I like about Dubya – see my last paragraphs.

I have a feeling that there’s a few more I’m forgetting – I’m thinking either one by Oriana Fallaci or “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. When I heard that Dubya was reading a history of the flu pandemic on vacation I began to suspect that he reads more than I do. And as it happens, don’t google “George Bush reading list” if your identity is at all dependent on your belief that you are better read than him. Richard Cohen has written a pretty good column about it, arguing that Dubya was ultimately in search of affirmation of preset ideas. Certainly, the books I’ve mentioned support that theory, but there’s just too many of them for that explanation to satisfy. Again, don’t google it. I feel shown up.

My last analysis is of Dubya’s tack in the war on terror. There are two tribalisms that he needed to steer between or, to say it better, he needed to steer between a tribal response and a response that doesn’t understand tribalism. A tribal response is simple retaliation – attack the people who attacked you. Al Qaeda was motivated by the belief that the west is a tired tribe that doesn’t have the will to fight back. Nothing succeeds like success and people will tear down an empire for no other reason than that it is being torn down.

Seven years and two wars later, Al Qaeda doesn’t look very successful. The kind of person who would become a terrorist because they are winning has gotten a tribal message – the west will fight.

But a tribal response is also exactly what Al Qaeda was counting on. They have one enemy greater than “the west” – fellow Muslims who don’t see it that way. A tribal response sends the message that it’s us against you, and legitimizes the claims of bloodthirsty radicals to represent Islam. The other message Dubya needed to send was that not only will “our” tribe fight, we don’t think that we are different tribes. One of the first things Dubya did in response to 9/11 was visit a Mosque. To some conservatives this was some kind of stockholm syndrome. But that is only true if you take the terrorists at their word that they represent Islam. Tom Tancredo exemplified this playing into terrorist hands better than anybody when he argued that the U.S. should threaten to nuke Mecca if another attack was successful. Mecca is not the holy land of Al Qaeda – they come from hell. Dubya’s bold solution was to respond to 9/11 with an attempt to bring democracy to the nation the attack originated from, and then to Iraq in the very center of the Middle East. Nothing could be more threatening to the Caliphate wannabes and so they tried to kill Arab and Afghan democracy. Western guns protected the voting Iraqis while Al Qaeda bombs tried to stop them. Their inhuman viciousness to fellow Muslims has taken such a toll that Saddam’s Sunnis turned against them in Iraq, realizing that even from their perspective America is better than Al Qaeda.

Seven years and two wars later, Al Qaeda doesn’t look very Muslim.

That is Dubya’s achievement. And with Barack Hussien Obama taking up those reins, so long as he doesn’t steer right off course, its a one-two punch for the K.O.

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