HE WHO DARES, WINS: How many ex-presidents can say that they successfully prosecuted two foreign wars while at the same time presiding over a recovering economy? I'm not a historian, but I play one on TV, and I'd venture to say "none". If circumstances cooperate, W could go down as one of the most accomplished American presidents in history, and the question is, why? Shortly after 9/11, Bill Clinton lamented that the terrible attacks didn't occur during his watch and that he had missed out on a great opportunity for historical significance. Aside from the baseness of this perspective, I wonder if it's even true. Clinton had opportunity enough to confront evil (what with the first attack on the WTC, the embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, and more) and yet he chose not to.
The difference between Clinton's response to terrorism and Bush 43's is partially related to ideology -- but only partly. The Democrats always wail and moan when the character of their politicians is called into question, but I believe that a difference in character is at the true root of the difference in action between these two presidents. Whereas Clinton appears to have been primarily concerned with building a legacy for himself and securing the political fortunes of his party, Bush has been willing to risk both of these considerations in order to protect the United States and to advance the cause of freedom. It is easy for a cynic to look at the current situation and say that the results of Bush's actions clearly benefit both his legacy and his party, but 18 months ago it was not at all obvious how this War on Terror would unfold, or what it's conclusion would be. Even now the war is not over, but with two important battles behind us the end is taking shape, and looks ever more certain with every passing day.
But our present was a not a foregone conclusion immediately after 9/11, as the Democrats can attest to. Theirs were the loudest voices decrying the risks of the course of action that our President had set us upon, and although their fears did not come to pass it was by no means certain that we would prevail as decisively as we have to this point. Nevertheless, W was willing to risk his political future, his reputation, and the credibility of his ideology because he saw that the cost of inaction was higher than the value of these ephemeral concerns. He took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he holds that oath in higher esteem than he does his own reputation. That truth is something that few of our former presidents can lay claim to.