George W. Bush seems to have decided that the most dignified option was to stay away from events commemorating Osama bin Laden's end. That choice may well be recorded among the best decisions he ever made.
Calls persist however, in shall we say, "certain circles" for Barack Obama to give Bush more credit for the elimination of Osama bin Laden, over two years into Obama's presidency. Just as MSNBC (and, apparently, I,) will never tire of Bush bashing, Bush apologists shall remain unrelenting in their desire to paint a man who ranks on paper as one of the worst presidents in U.S. history as something more than the affable-but-in-over-his-head trust fund baby he will likely be remembered as.
As a defense mechanism for people with a deeply-ingrained dislike of Obama, these rationalizations are not going to go away. Instead of acknowledging facts that do not reinforce their worldview, most people tend to instinctively discard unpleasant truths, formulate competing theories (in this case, "it was really, somehow, Bush,") and then go searching for facts. Never mind the glaringly obvious -- that George W. Bush couldn't in eight years catch Osama bin Laden and that, in fact, his policies on intelligence gathering looked a lot more like those of the opposition well before the time he left office.
Many bent on denying or diminishing any sort of Obama victory have argued that it was Bush's torture polices that secured the information that eventually led to bin Laden's capture. That claim is completely untrue, of course, but how is someone who only watches Fox News or listens to Rush Limbaugh to know a thing like that? After all, the echo chamber exists for the sole purpose of defending prejudices from reality. It's a profitable enterprise, as you can imagine.
The unsurprising success of right wing media coupled with the more shocking failure of the Obama administration to effectively communicate its positions (virtually all of Obama's other failures have been drearily predictable,) has left the Republican Party completely unmoored from that bothersome anchor, reality. Meanwhile, Democrats' persistent rhetorical reticence has allowed the Fox News bubble, time and again, to envelop the national conversation. We're all inside the bubble, now.
While we're here, we're going to have to play by right wing rules. So let's do the one thing Democrats have become really, really good at: give them what they want. Whenever someone asks for it, let's give full credit to George W. Bush for his handling of Osama bin Laden and the "War on Terror."
A fair-minded person can see that George W. Bush does deserve some credit for recent positive developments in the Middle East. The military and intelligence organizational infrastructure that eventually located bin Laden underwent a great many changes on Bush's watch, no doubt helping to facilitate the death of bin Laden. I will even go an extravagant step further and say that it is not outside the realm of possibility that Bush might one day be celebrated as a hero in Iraq... a long, long time from now. (Ironically, his role in the worldwide financial collapse has a great deal more to do with the democratic uprisings in the Middle East than any intentional U.S. policy could have, but that's not really hero material.) And, after the September 11, 2001 attacks, there were several foiled terror plots under Bush's oversight.
The problem is that those are the most flattering facts that Bush apologists have to work with without the luxury of inventing their own. If we are really going to give credit where credit is due, there are a great many more unpleasant truths that will have to be acknowledged, as well.
Before we even get to Bush, we'll have to start by giving Republicans in Congress the credit they've been due since around 1998, when their resistance to anti-terror and specifically anti-Osama bin Laden operations became so pitched that they actually accused Bill Clinton of ordering missile strikes on bin Laden to cover up the much more important matter of the Lewinsky proceedings. (Never mind those bombings the president kept blathering about.) The sheer nerve it took to accuse Clinton of an unhealthy obsession with bin Laden, even as the administration's counter-terrorism campaign foiled large-scale attack plots, is to be marveled at.
Let us also not forget to give special mention to the anonymous scumbag Republican operatives who then distorted Clinton's campaign against bin Laden into a series of "Clinton hearts terrorists" chain emails claiming that it was he, not Republicans, who was too distracted by the scandal to focus on terrorism.
As soon as Clinton left office, however, credit shifts almost entirely to George W. Bush. Bush set aside Clinton's "unhealthy obsession" with bin Laden and departed from the previous administration's focus on terrorism, abandoning his predecessor's weekly meetings on the topic.
What the heck: let's be especially generous and finally, finally, give George W. Bush just a little bit of credit for allowing the greatest failure of national security in American history to happen on his watch. That's pretty impressive in a country that has gone through civil war. Let's also give him credit for turning that unprecedented failure into a successful re-election campaign -- a true masterpiece of both politics and vulgarity. That is not to say that either is really his fault, mind you, or the fault of anyone but those who orchestrated and carried out the attacks. I have no doubt that the same thing would have happened if a Democrat had been president: the horrific attacks still would have taken place and the Republicans still would have made it their entire 2004 campaign.
And believe me, they would say it had been the president's fault. The president would probably have had to resign or not run for re-election. The Republican nominee's slogan would have most likely been something just slightly less subtle than "on their watch."
It's distasteful and perhaps unfair as hell, but if Republicans are insisting on full credit for Bush's role, 9/11 itself certainly must be part of the deal.
Next, we'll give Bush credit for his response. Eventually standing up and leaving that classroom to address the issue just eight minutes after being informed that the country was under attack was, well, better than waiting nine. And congratulations, Mister President: No children died of fright when you politely excused yourself. Seven and a half minutes earlier, I'm not sure we could have said the same.
Let us not forget to also credit Bush with the policies that turned a massive outpouring of goodwill from even America's most hated enemies into worldwide resentment from even our closest allies. Let's give him credit for authorizing the notoriously ineffective torture and abuse methods that galvanized our enemies and helped them recruit a whole new generation of terrorists. And, oh yes, did not lead us to Osama bin Laden. And then there's that rollback of civil liberties that still doesn't seem to have had any perceptible benefit.
Don't forget also to give him credit for the long stretch of blunders and lies that cumulatively gave us the Iraq war, its immediate aftermath, and an oil-rich country left feuding over basic home electricity.
Yes, if his apologists keep demanding it, let's give George W. Bush every bit of credit he is due.
But do remember that "killed Osama bin Laden" doesn't quite make the list.
[Note: Minor copy edits were made and the words "all of" were added to the title of this post after it was first published.]