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Kevin Bayona: Bush legacy hinges on his war on terror

Posted: May 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.

The 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush, was recently honored with the dedication of the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

The museum will cover everything about his time in office, from the hanging chads that clinched the election for the Republican in 2000 to the Sept.11 attacks, to Hurricane Katrina, the financial meltdown, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Global War on Terror.

But let’s be honest with ourselves — George W. Bush’s legacy will be all about how historians interpret the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recently I wrote a column about America’s most recent invasions/occupations, for which I received a great deal of passionate feedback. Many readers believe President Bush was a horrible president who lied to the American people and launched two invasions to enrich his oil tycoon buddies (although no evidence for this exists).

Others believe President Bush did what needed to be done to defend America and avenge the atrocities that befell our country almost 12 years ago.

I think I have made it clear that I am generally inclined toward the latter, but I think it would be useful to talk about the legacy of one of the most controversial presidents in modern history.

How will historians truly come to understand George W. Bush’s presidency, and how will future generations judge the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror?

When I wrote about the American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, I discussed them in the context of America’s long and complex history of intervention abroad, most of which is almost entirely unknown to most Americans.

Sadly, this lack of understanding of American history has negatively affected the way in which Americans process the practice of foreign policy.

Most Americans can tell you about World War II (the good war) and the Vietnam War (the bad war). All subsequent wars have been compared to these two experiences — and unless a particular conflict feels and looks like the former, then it must obviously be like the latter.

This distorted perception has fueled much of the distaste for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and given way to an incredibly myopic understanding of what President Bush tried to accomplish in Southwest Asia.

I always loved the term "Global War on Terror" — although I will admit it is not as menacing as "Overseas Contingency Operation" which President Obama prefers — but I also think the term hides the real purpose behind President Bush’s foreign policy.

Like many historians, I believe future historians will be much kinder to the 43rd president than his contemporaries have been.

President Bush loved to talk of freedom and liberty, and I think his foreign policy was a reflection of his convictions — on a global scale.

The world needs a benign international environment to operate and grow.

The United States must assume de facto constabulary duties to create such an environment.

Let me put it this way — the United States faces a dangerous world — and such a world requires security. America’s soldiers must move into the dangerous parts of the world and create security and peace out of chaos and violence.

Robert Kaplan (the author of "Imperial Grunts") writes passionately about how American soldiers from Colombia, to the Philippines, to Afghanistan and Iraq refer to these areas as "Injun Country," making an apt comparison to the settling of the American West during the 19th century.

Our world also needs a healthy global economy. A global economy requires political stability. Political stability requires security, and so goes the logic.

The United States must work to actively engage politically unstable states to unleash the forces of political pluralism and unfettered markets.

I have always held the belief that global capitalism has done more to alleviate poverty than any other force in the world. Global capitalism must have a structural security skeleton in order to survive.

Dr. Thomas Barnett (author of the Pentagon’s New Map trilogy) calls it a "Military-Market Link." He suggests there must be a superior "Leviathan"-type power to impose security.

Once security is established, one may commence with setting rules by which men will govern themselves and their economies.

Rules will attract capital from foreign investors, and this capital will allow the creation of the essential infrastructure for extrapolating the necessary resources for a vibrant economy.

The exploitation of resources will serve as the root of economic growth, which in turn will create stability and markets. Functioning markets, as we have seen in the West, will bring lasting peace and prosperity.

This process illustrates a stunning course upon which the United States must inevitably be willing to embark.

I believe if George W. Bush had sold his vision to the world in this way, he may have had far fewer detractors.

Hopefully future historians will come to appreciate what the former president tried to do — maybe his new library will begin a new conversation about the reality of his legacy.

Kevin Bayona is a Valencia resident. He earned a BA in international relations and political science from Fairfield University, studied global affairs at New York University, and is a member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.


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