Did George W. Bush Save America?

By Ofer Israeli

A year or so after his leaving office seems like a good opportunity to evaluate the George W. Bush presidency. Unanimously, the war against terrorism declared by Bush following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks was the most significant act taken by his administration. It has also, for better or worse, strongly shaped American politics and foreign policy ever since. Along with the actions and counteractions the declaration itself initiated, and alongside the troublesome results of the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush declaration also changed the course of history, successfully confronting a serious but hidden threat to the US. Clearly, if there is a single act that placed America back on track as the world's leading power, it is that declaration.

Recognizing their Lilliputian international status, while correctly understanding the complexity of world politics, Islamic militant organizations such as al-Qaida tried to circuitously achieve their ultimate goal: "...bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy." Their manner of action is totally different from the simple cause-effect understanding prevalent in Western society.

Following the Soviet Union's collapse, al-Qaida and its ilk launched repeated attempts to uproot US hegemony. The US response was very moderate, sidestepping its opponents. This was the case after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and on US troops in Mogadishu in 1993, on the US military office in Riyadh in 1995, on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and on the USS Sullivans (that failed) and the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The logic behind this demeanor was the hope that a moderate response might reduce the growing hostility toward the US. However, the US failure to respond to its challengers was perceived as a sign of weakness.

Osama bin Laden assumed that the magnitude and consequences of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks - still the most destructive in human history - would craftily enable al-Qaida to attain its ultimate goal. In al-Qaida's eyes, the collapse of the World Trade Center and the process that would follow should have had a "butterfly effect," creating a change in existing patterns. Its impact would hopefully cause a global economic collapse and accomplish al-Qaida's ultimate goal of uprooting the leadership of the US.

After theTwin Towers' ashes had settled, Bush, relying on his instincts, accurately assessed the enormous danger. Instead of following the traditional pattern of linear thought that relies on past experience, Bush tried a novel course of nonlinear thinking. The Bush response of declaring war against terrorism came as a shock. It completely shifted the behavior of the US, which then started to play as an aggressive power.

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Consequently, once again the hidden and manifest forces in the system moved toward the US and not against it. Ultimately, this caused a great shift, clearly pushing the strategic pendulum back in favor of the US. Bush's new strategy, broadly criticized by many, did bring about several harmful unintended consequences. In particular, this strategy has been one of the causes of the current financial deficit and the Iranian threat. Bush's successor, President Barack Obama, must deal with these.

However, Bush also changed the face of history. The American people, who still believe in the vital role the US is playing as world leader, should be grateful to this man. A more moderate response would probably have pushed the US toward the desperate destiny of past empires, which collapsed completely and left the world stage.

The writer is a visiting researcher at the Center for Peace and Security Studies within Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. He teaches international relations theory and foreign policy decision-making at the University of Haifa, Tel Aviv University and the IDF Academy.

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