David Frum March 27th, 2003 at 12:00 am
my book on President Bush was published in the United States, I was interviewed
by a British journalist about the relationship between Bush and Blair.
asked me what these two very different men could possibly find to talk about,
and I suggested religion. He visibly winced. “You don’t think they pray
together do you?” “You say that,” I answered, “as if it
were worse than showering together.” “I suppose I would find that
people distrust George W Bush’s public religiosity. They don’t much care either
for his verbal stumbles, or his lack of concern about global warming, or his
indifference to the UN.
dislike is bad news, and not just for Mr Bush. The low regard for him in
Britain is weakening the Anglo-American alliance, on which the peace of the
world has depended for nearly 90 years.
there are also grounds for hope that now the British will come to change their
I went to work for Mr Bush in January 2001, I found that the better I knew him,
the more I liked him.
Britons continue to believe that he is not merely occasionally tongue-tied, but
downright stupid. When pressed to explain how he has managed to function as an
effective chief executive, these critics reply that he gets good advice, as if
advice came in envelopes labeled “good advice” and “bad
Bush’s mind is not crammed with facts and figures. But he has tremendous focus.
He can instantly separate the essential from the inessential. And he has the
presidential temperament, the moral courage to make decisions and stick to
war leadership is defined by three characteristics that you would not normally
expect to see together: boldness, moderation, and persistence.
Mr Bush has had to make a wartime decision, he has opted for the boldest
choice. He decided to fight Hezbollah as well as al Qaeda and Iraq as well as
the organised terrorist groups. He sought the overthrow of not only the Taliban
but also Saddam. He is pushing not for any Palestinian state, but for a
democratic Palestinian state.
may regard these choices as over-ambitious. But they bespeak a president who is
willing to take risks and who is mindful of a fact that some more articulate
presidents never absorbed: doing nothing or doing too little is often the
riskiest choice of all. While Mr Bush sets big goals, he is willing to advance
on them by a slow and careful route.
months elapsed between the “axis of evil” speech and the opening of
the ground campaign in Iraq, 14 months in which Mr Bush won resolutions from
both Houses of Congress and waged a five-month campaign to win two UN
resolutions endorsing military action.
not at all clear that, say, a Democratic president would have been able to move
mood in the US was red-hot and angry in 2001 and perhaps the greatest of all of
Mr Bush’s gifts to his country was his guidance and restraint.
Bush’s advisers remember his father’s experience. The elder George Bush tumbled
from 89 per cent approval after the Gulf War to 37 per cent of the vote in
1992, the worst Republican showing since Barry Goldwater. The elder Bush’s
defeat is usually attributed to too much focus on foreign affairs, and many of
the younger Bush’s advisers urged him in December 2001 to avoid his father’s
fate by swiftly downshifting the war on terror and turning instead to a
domestic agenda. He has refused, come what may.
decision to go to Baghdad was characteristic Bush boldness.
decision to integrate the humanitarian campaign for the Iraqi people into the
military operation was characteristic Bush moderation. And the decision to
proceed unrattled by the inevitable reverses and disappointments of war is
characteristic Bush persistence.
too were not at the start over-impressed with George Bush. But as they have
come to appreciate his virtues, they have learned to make their peace with his
faults. If this Iraq war ends in the victory we all want, British people should
open their minds to reconsider their opinions.