Monday, July 2, 2007

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A post I knew I'd have to write sometime before January 2009

Both Matthew Yglesias and Brad DeLong go off on Fred Hiatt's column in the Washington Post yesterday. Hiatt's lament first:

As the Bush presidency implodes, some of its worst policies mercifully will go, too -- including, we can hope, the torture and unregulated detention of alleged enemy fighters that have so discredited the country throughout the world.

But valuable strands of policy also may end up strewn in the wreckage, victims (in varying combinations) of President Bush's ineptitude, inconstancy and unpopularity. Among these are what Bush called compassionate conservatism, now moribund; American promotion of democracy abroad, now flailing; and accountability in elementary and high school education, losing ground as it approaches a major test in Congress.

This prompts the following from Yglesias:
There's just no story here. The Bush administration has almost no positive legacy, and on those areas where good things have happened (NCLB and AIDS funding are the two I can think of) Democrats show every sign of wanting to continue the positive and perhaps make some improvements around the margin.
DeLong goes even further, however:
The policies that were Bush's weren't valuable. The policies that were valuable weren't Bushes--they were either implemented by others or they never got implemented, being for the Bushies at most boob bait for the bubbas who populate the Washington Post editorial board.
Look, let's stipulate that on many dimensions, the Bush administration has implemented policies that border on catastrophic. On other dimensions, there's simply been either benign or malign neglect. I'm not claiming here that George W. Bush has done anything close to a great job. On foreign policy, the issue I care about, the only two president who come close to matching Bush's negatives in the past 50 years are Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson.

With all of this so stipulated, DeLong's statement is simply false. Here are ten policies that team Bush implemented that I would qualify as a) important; b) constructive; c) not simply a continuation of prior policies; and d) not guaranteed to persist in their current form or at current funding levels past 2009:

1) The Millennium Challenge Corporation

2) The Strategic Economic Dialogue with China

3) The Proliferation Security Initiative

4) Our bilateral policy towards India (general warming trend + civilian nuclear deal)

5) Applying the post-Enron brakes on corporate governance regulations (Remember, when it was passed, Sarbanes-Oxley was thought to be milquetoast reform; now it's though to be too onerous)

6) Appointing Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan as Federal Reserve chairman.

7) The Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (I'm being optimistic about Senate passage here).

8) Trying to cut China and India into existing global institutions.

9) Creating the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization in the State Department.

10) Creating the Security and Prosperity Partnership Of North America (I confess that this one's in here mostly to annoy Lou Dobbs).

None of this outweighs the screw-ups in Iraq or New Orleans. But they are policies that suggest Hiatt has a small point. Reflexively rejecting a Bush policy only because Bush proposed it is as stupid as... as.... rejecting Bill Clinton's policies because Clinton favored them (which is pretty much what the Bushies did when they took office in 2001).

Question to readers: what other Bush policies do you want to see maintained?

posted by Dan on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM


China and India get three mentions between them, but how does Bush differ from Clinton on this. Ditto on non-proliferation. And are you quite sure about bilateral FTAs? The one with Australia was awful.

While Bernanke was a good choice, I don't really think Brad or Matt meant to claim that every single appointment made by this Administration was bad. Most have been bad, and some were spectacularly bad.

posted by: John Quiggin on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

The tax cuts!

The deep and total military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Better to kill our enemies on their turf than on ours.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Dethroning a mass murderer in Iraq?

Preventing additonal terrorism in the US (post 9/11)?

Bringing the US out of the Clinton/Bubble recession?

Preventing economic freefall after 9/11? Say what you will but his leadership in the six months after 9/11 was spot on.

Pro-growth tax cuts?

posted by: BlueOx on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Sticking in the foreign policy realm, I would add that our increased relations with Pakistan is a smart policy for the long-term. Certainly we have our differences concerning the lack of democratic institutions and our government will never be satisfied with the uneasy relationship the ISI has with the Taliban and other foreign jihadists, nonetheless how safe would we feel if we had little to no influence over Pres. Musharraf? Would we have captured Abu Zubaydah, KSM, and a number of other Al Qaeda leaders?

posted by: Jeff Dexter on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

I think you are off on numbers 3 (PSI) and 8 (China and India). I'll stick to #3 which I know a bit about. PSI was endorsed by John Kerry in the 2004 election, is slated for increased funding and expansion under Obama-Lugar bills, and endorsed in the UN SecGen's report on proliferation. It is pretty darned bipartisan. While there are still some critics, most are outside of the U.S., or outside the broad political mainstream on foreign and national security policies in the U.S. I'd like to see PSI and the India/China policies continued, and I think they will be regardless of who wins in '08.

posted by: Drew on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

First, I echo Drew's critique of #3. I'm curious, Dan, of whether there's some in particular about the current Proliferation Security Initiative that you like and on which you think another administration would be tempted to overreach?

Speaking of overreach, I'm curious about #9. Do you like the our current reconstruction and stabliization efforts, Dan, because you fear, say, a Samantha Power-advised President Obama, would overreach on humanitarian interventions?

posted by: Bill on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

I'd give him a solid B+ for policy in the Balkans. Patient pressure on Kosovo, tactical support for Macedonia on the name issue, careful handover to the Europeans in Bosnia. Multilateral engagement, but with a continued eye towards long-term US goals.

He loses half a letter grade for not doing a bit more, especially on Bosnia. Other hand, it's not an area of prime strategic importance these days, and it's really the EU's business.

If the next President does as well, regional policy will be doing OK.

Doug M.

posted by: Doug M. on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

You missed the link to DeLong - you have the Yglesias link in twice. It should be:

posted by: Martin on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Bush should get some credit for solidifying the US-Japan alliance and bring Australia into the fold. Connect this policy to the improvement of relations with India and you may have the basis of American policy in Asia for a long time to come.

posted by: Vladimir on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Bush should get some credit for solidifying the US-Japan alliance and bring Australia into the fold. Connect this policy to the improvement of relations with India and you may have the basis of American policy in Asia for a long time to come.

posted by: Vladimir on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

In foreign policy the Bush administration has had two notable success that weren't simply continuations of previous policy or no-brainers like engaging with India and China:

(1) Ending Libya's WMD programs and reincorporating it into the world economy.

(2) Pushing Syria out of Lebanon

Of course the Bush administration immediately screwed up number two by egging on Israel in its stupidly counterproductive war with Hezbollah, (which also demonstrated the administration's disturbing inability to learn from its own mistakes in Iraq).

So overall call it 1 1/2 foreign policy triumphs to set against the ongoing disasters elsewhere.

(I would count ending Taliban rule in Afghanistan, but that situation still very much hangs in the balance)

posted by: Steve on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

No Child Left Behind. I wouldn't want to see it maintained as is, but it won't be; it is a major, and generally positive, reform. My guess si that but for Sept 11th he'd have been regarded by histroy as a basically so-so President (but he'd have only lasted 1 term). He is, really, a disaster, though.

posted by: harry b on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Bush has a number of foreign policy successes.

1. He did not get us into war with china.

2. He did not invade brazil.

3. He did not invade france.

4. He did not bomb the UN building.

5. He did not persuade china to call in our debts.

Bush has had a number of domestic successes.

1. He did not destroy Social Security.

2. NCLB has not yet destroyed the public school system, and there's a chance they will be changed before they do destroy the public schools.

3. His Medicaid changes have not yet destroyed Medicaid.

I can probably think of some other successes given time.

posted by: J Thomas on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

Well, Bush's record on trade is worse than Clinton's, comparison to what we're likely to get with a Democratic administration and congress, it may end up looking like a golden era in retrospect.

Along those lines, I'm quite concerned with what the Dems seem likely to do with respect to China and the value of the Yuan. To be honest, I'm afraid of their nationalistic/protectionist tendencies precipitating an international economic crisis. Ditto India and outsourcing.

And I'm not at all sorry about Bush's unwillingness to sign on to Kyoto. I do believe global warming is real, but I'm not at all sold on the Kyoto approach (as opposed to Pigovian carbon taxes).

And with Iraq in the foreground, we tend to forget Afghanistan (and that opponents warned against this action at the time, too -- pointing to the failure of the British and Russians as sure signs that it would be a debacle). Taking down the Taliban so quickly with local allies, a handful of special forces on horseback, and smart munitions was audacious and brilliantly executed.

In general, though, our assessment of Bush is going to depend on what follows his administration as much as what preceded it.

posted by: Slocum on 07.02.07 at 05:27 PM [permalink]

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