Blogs > Cliopatria > George "Jimmy Carter" Bush

Jan 2, 2005 9:49 pm

George "Jimmy Carter" Bush

I have found myself thinking a lot about Jimmy Carter's failures lately. Why? Because more and more the Bush administration seems to have failed in the same way Carter failed.

To be sure they were very different leaders. Where Carter often seemed weak, Bush has often seemed strong--at least in the way he carries himself, and also in the way the public perceives him.

But in the way both men grappled with the chief issues of their time they were very similar.

Carter faced 2 challenges as president. 1. Inflation. 2. The energy crisis. As historian Burton Kaufman observed, the policies Carter adopted to deal with both challenges were at odds, dooming both. Carter's solution for the energy crisis was to raise prices to reduce the demand for energy. Unfortunately, of course, raising prices for energy led to higher inflation. The more he succeeded at limiting energy demand by raising energy prices the further away he got from achieving his other goal of reducing inflation. Shifting back and forth from one problem to the other gave his administration its reputation for seesaw fecklessness. One minute he would be harping on the evils of energy dependence, the next on the evils of inflation, never seemingly realizing that his policies were at war with each other.

President Bush has escaped a reputation for seesaw fecklessness but in fact his policies also suffer from this dreaded weakness.

He came into office determined to reform the military and hired Don Rumsfeld to do the job. So far so good. Rumsfeld was the right man for the job having served at the Pentagon a generation earlier. Dovetailing with the goal of Pentagon reform was Bush's insistence that the military not engage in nation-building. Rumsfeld's killing machine would be used to kill people and not restore democracy in Haiti or separate war lords in Somalia.

But then came 9-11, which prompted Bush to embrace nation building. This was an obvious and well-intentioned goal and any president would likely have adopted the same goal under the circumstances. 9-11, if it proved anything, proved that failed states like Afghanistan cannot be left to wallow in their own misery. For such states--at least those afflicted with Islamist-leaning groups--are spawning grounds for terrorism.

But once Bush reached this conclusion he should have got himself a new secretary of defense. Rumsfeld was no longer the right man for the job. What now was needed was a military that could nation build, not a military that could simply knock off enemies and leave.

But like Carter, Bush could not see the contradiction in his own policies.

We are living with the consequences of that myopia.

comments powered by Disqus