We live, clearly, in a time of change. For most people my age, President Bush has been the dominant figure for about as long as we’ve paid any attention to politics. And for many of my generation, he has been the touchstone by which to judge our own views about the world, as well as an inspiration for defiance and rebellion. Indeed, to countless Americans, President Bush has become the embodiment of all that is wrong with the world.
This view will change.
Now, I don’t pretend to ignore his many mistakes in office. Only blind partisanship could provoke one to make the case that Bush has been a perfect president. But it would equally partisan—and more vitriolic—to ignore his successes.
In the wake of 9/11, virtually no one would have guessed that we could go over seven years without a terrorist attack. We have, in effect, batted a thousand on that very important front. This is no small accomplishment.
On the other hand, many pontificated that our first retaliatory measure—invading Afghanistan—was doomed to certain disaster. Despite the warnings that we were charging headfirst into the “graveyard of empires,” catastrophe has not followed. The situation there certainly isn’t perfect and our mission there clearly isn’t complete, but Afghanistan has not become a Middle Eastern Vietnam.
Nor, for that matter, has Iraq. Admittedly, the mistakes made both during the invasion and in its aftermath were many. I do not believe that Bush was personally at fault for a great deal of them, but I do believe that he delegated to the wrong people and demanded little accountability in return—and that, certainly, is a substantial problem. The buck, after all, stops here.
But while we came close to defeat in the sands of Iraq, those days are behind us. By nearly any metric—American casualties, sectarian killings, political participation, functioning government—the situation in Iraq has improved drastically in Iraq. Victory is now well within sight. And so when the chips were on the table, when America was against the ropes, President Bush chose the right strategy and the right man to lead it.
Granted, it would have been preferable to have the right plan from the get-go, but Bush still deserves a measure of praise for his handling of the war. Yet, he has not received commensurate commendation—or anything close to it—for Iraq’s miraculous turnaround. In fact, it seems that every other car here in Palo Alto is adorned with bumper stickers screaming “End this War!” or “US out of Iraq now!” If the locals had their way, one imagines, the American military would have to lay down its arms and roll out the red carpet for Al-Qaeda, just to prove that President Bush had been wrong all along.
This fanaticism will change.
In time, President Bush will be vindicated—to some extent—by history. He will not, I am sure, go down as the greatest leader of his time. But nor will he be remembered as the worst. He will be remembered as a man who presided over a turbulent time in history, and left office with a decidedly mixed record.
This nuance, however, is completely absent in the perceptions of his successor. Rather, our new president, Barack Obama, is hailed at home and abroad as a savior in the making, as the answer to very non-sectarian prayers.
In a sense, these “true-believers” are setting themselves up for disappointment. The world is at least as challenging as it was in 2001—more so, in fact—and an untested, unchallenged leader with no executive experience is set to lead us forward. He will inevitably fail to meet the impossibly high expectations.
And so many individuals’ views of the world will change.
For the millions of my generation who have defined their beliefs in opposition to President Bush, the world will grow more complex. No longer will the simplistic view that ‘Dubya’ is the personification of idiocy or even evil hold such tremendous weight. They will find, rather, that their own hero is human after all, with human faults. No longer will they believe that all Republicans are ignorant, backwoods yokels with hate-filled hearts, or that all Democrats are saints of the utmost wisdom and justice (again, in the most non-sectarian of senses).
At least, not so many will. The more rational among my peers will instead realize that the world is a complicated place, that life is full of legitimate tradeoffs, and that there are good motives, ideas, and individuals on both sides.
And so my generation will change.
I hope that this transformation will soon take place, that naïveté will be replaced by true wisdom, and that The Stanford Review will serve as a guiding light for our own community.
Ironically, we, too, are in the midst of a transition. You see, this issue will be my last as Editor-in-Chief. The time has come for our traditional mid-year changing of the guard. The remainder of the school year will mark the forty-second volume of The Stanford Review, and I have every hope that it will be as successful as its predecessors.
Indeed, for over two decades, The Stanford Review has enriched and diversified the political discussion on this campus. We have helped make Stanford University a marketplace of ideas, rather than a cartel of liberalism. And during my volume, I believe, we have done so in a manner that has been professional, perceptive, and persuasive.
This, however, will not change, even as I pass the torch.
I am fully confident that both the leadership and the staff of The Stanford Review—now, and for years to come—will continue this rich and vital tradition. We will hold true to our motto, “Fiat Lux,” and serve a beacon both to the world inside Campus Drive and to the one beyond it.
So though change may be occurring all around us, I close my final Editor’s Note with naught but reassuring words for this paper and, more importantly, for our nation: we shall endure.