Bush’s Determinism and the Rule of Law

"Bush's Determinism and the Rule of Law," Harvard Crimson, 4 June 2009.


Every once in a while I feel obliged to do my alma mater Fair Harvard a favor by showing the world that not everyone here is morally naïve and politically correct. I am grateful to The Crimson for providing the opportunity and wish only that Harvard’s faculty and administration were as diverse politically as it is.

Nonetheless, I begin from a recent Crimson editorial deploring the loss of America’s international reputation under the Bush administration. Reputation for what? I ask. A reputation for being agreeable and nice, or for acting strongly and successfully? No foreign policy move so far of President Obama has done more for our reputation than ordering the very humane shooting, with no interrogation, of three pirates.

The Bush administration certainly lost its reputation, as we saw clearly in the elections of 2006 and 2008. The administration’s opponents, who did their utmost to drag it down, now point to the result with unconcealed satisfaction, as if they were little innocents in the matter. But I do not believe that the American electorate turned against President Bush merely because they were misled by his opponents. They were misled by their own judgment. They thought him incompetent for starting an unnecessary war and then losing it; the problem was not that he acted illegally or wasn’t nice. In its impatience the electorate underestimated Bush’s determination and the resourcefulness of the American military. By the time the surge had brought victory in Iraq, the American people had made up their minds, and with Bush-like stubbornness, weren’t about to admit that they had been wrong.

Perhaps this analysis shows too much relish for successful violence and underestimates the power of goodness. I do not want to be dismissive of “American values.” But, again, what are they? It seems clear that both rule of law and strong executive power are American values because both are settled in our attitudes. Our country favors “due process” in almost everything and believes in the rule of law even to the point of excessive legalism. But we are also a “can do” country that wants results, is always ready to cut through formalities, and often calls its official philosophy pragmatism. These American values are in conflict but we hold them both nevertheless, as can be seen in our Constitution.

Harvard Crimson