December 12, 2008 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Bush's Better World: His Overlooked Successes on Foreign Policy and Security

If you asked Americans to list President Bush's foreign policy and national security accomplishments, you'd likely get some laughs - surely some snarky comments. Perhaps, at best, a short list.

But, in truth, there are a number of great successes. So as the Bush administration gets ready to exit the national and world stage in the coming days, it's time to give credit where credit's due.

It's not just by chance that there hasn't been another terrorist strike here at home since the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the skies over Pennsylvania - more than seven years ago now. While far from perfect in execution, the Bush administration pulled out the stops in fighting terror at home and abroad, which, prior to 9/11, had been considered by many to be little more than a law enforcement problem.

Since 2001, the government has thwarted a number of plots, including conspiracies to blow up airplanes and fuel farms, assault an army base, and attack Los Angeles and Chicago skyscrapers - and surely others.

Internationally, in 2006, the Bush administration helped foil a plot hatched in Pakistan that aimed to bring down about 10 US- and Canada-bound airliners over the Atlantic with liquid explosives after taking-off from the United Kingdom.

If it had succeeded, the attack could have killed more people than the number who tragically died on 9/11.

The Feds have nailed more than two dozen terrorist wannabes right here in the United States since 2001. Treasury froze terror-related finances, making it tougher for terrorists to plan, train and operate.

President Bush also took the fight to the enemy overseas in places like Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda had set up shop in the years prior to 9/11, plotting the destruction of the United States and the establishment of a global Islamist caliphate.

Aiding this success has been a reinvigorated national security establishment, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence and joint intelligence and law enforcement centers.

In Asia, the Bush administration helped the Philippines fight the Abu Sayyaf Group and Indonesia battle Jemaah Islamiya. Both groups have al Qaeda ties - and US and Western targets in their crosshairs.

Ties with Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, have been normalized after years of troubled relations. Japan is now making increasing contributions to international security across the globe.

Fortunately, the Bushies caught North Korea cheating on its 1994 nuclear agreement with the United States. While progress has been glacial, Washington did get Pyongyang to agree to end all its nuke programs.

US-India relations are better than ever due to Bush administration efforts. Even Pakistan is doing a better job recently in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in its border areas with Afghanistan.

Today, Afghanistan is a lot better off: more than 30 million Afghans no longer labor under terrorist Taliban rule. Healthcare access is up; child mortality is down. Six million kids go to school, including nearly 2 million girls who would not otherwise be allowed to.

In Europe, the Bush administration led a charge for NATO expansion, bringing seven former Warsaw Pact enemies into the democratic transatlantic alliance.

The Bush White House also oversaw Kosovo's transition to independence from Serbia, helping to start to close a chapter in the Balkan's long, bloody history.

In the Middle East, Lebanon no longer labors under the yoke of Syrian domination, which ended its occupation after almost 30 years. In Iraq, nearly 30 million people are no longer subject to Saddam Hussein's tyranny.

The surge of American troops into Iraq has left al Qaeda there battered, bewildered and in retreat in what Osama bin Laden said would be the decisive battle in its global jihad. While still dangerous, al Qaeda has suffered a stinging blow.

In Latin America, US ally Colombia has prospered under Washington's "Plan Colombia," a counter-drug and -terrorism program. The narco-terrorist group FARC is reeling from the pressure applied to it by Bogota - with U.S. assistance.

The Merida Initiative in Mexico to fight the drug lords, which are battling each other and the central government in a low-grade civil war, is also a positive development - one which will enhance security north of the border, too.

In Africa, President Bush spent more on fighting HIV/AIDS than any previous American president. As a result, medicine is reaching more than 2 million African HIV/AIDS patients. Anti-malaria programs have gained traction, too.

In a shocker, Libya's Colonel Qaddafi renounced terrorism and gave up his weapons of mass destruction programs, including one for nukes. We now have a Tripoli embassy for the first time in three and a half decades.

President Bush also kept his campaign promise of fielding a missile defense system to protect the American people from the threat of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction from the likes of North Korea and Iran.

First, Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; then in a 2002 agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, both sides agreed to reduce the size of their strategic nuclear forces by two-thirds. Then the military began to field missile defense systems in California and Alaska and at sea aboard US navy destroyers for dealing with North Korea, which joined the once-exclusive nuclear club in 2006.

The Bush administration also signed pacts with Poland and the Czech Republic - with NATO's endorsement - for the building of a missile defense system in Europe, focused on the growing Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile threat.

They also developed the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a voluntary effort consisting of some 90 nations, working together to battle the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

The PSI is credited with intercepting material for Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear programs, which many increasingly believe isn't for peaceful purposes.

It also uncovered and took apart the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network, an international smuggling ring that had been selling nuclear know-how and equipment to North Korea, Iran and Libya - and to who knows who else.

The President also expanded international commerce, concluding more than 10 free-trade agreements (FTA) around the world. (Three additional FTAs are sitting with Congress, awaiting approval.) Trade with Africa doubled.

But free trade can't solve every ill. So since 2001, Washington has nearly tripled international assistance, doubling it in Latin America and nearly quadrupling it to Africa.

We've re-focused aid programs to make sure it gets to the right folks. The Millennium Challenge Account sends help to responsible, accountable leaders and organizations, creating economic opportunity, reducing poverty - and suffering.

Sure, there are still challenges in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China - plus al Qaeda - that the next administration will have to grapple with. The same was true for the Bush team when it took over in 2001 from the Clinton administration.

The fact is international relations is a tough business - and will continue to be. Countries pursue their national interests - often at others' expense, including ours. But the Bush administration has made real progress in advancing our interests during its tenure, especially in preventing another terror attack right here at home - no small feat.

Accordingly, it deserves more credit than the conventional wisdom affords it.

Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense.

If you asked Americans to list President Bush's foreign policy and national security accomplishments, you'd likely get some laughs - surely some snarky comments. Perhaps, at best, a short list.

But, in truth, there are a number of great successes. So as the Bush administration gets ready to exit the national and world stage in the coming days, it's time to give credit where credit's due.

It's not just by chance that there hasn't been another terrorist strike here at home since the 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the skies over Pennsylvania - more than seven years ago now. While far from perfect in execution, the Bush administration pulled out the stops in fighting terror at home and abroad, which, prior to 9/11, had been considered by many to be little more than a law enforcement problem.

Since 2001, the government has thwarted a number of plots, including conspiracies to blow up airplanes and fuel farms, assault an army base, and attack Los Angeles and Chicago skyscrapers - and surely others.

Internationally, in 2006, the Bush administration helped foil a plot hatched in Pakistan that aimed to bring down about 10 US- and Canada-bound airliners over the Atlantic with liquid explosives after taking-off from the United Kingdom.

If it had succeeded, the attack could have killed more people than the number who tragically died on 9/11.

The Feds have nailed more than two dozen terrorist wannabes right here in the United States since 2001. Treasury froze terror-related finances, making it tougher for terrorists to plan, train and operate.

President Bush also took the fight to the enemy overseas in places like Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda had set up shop in the years prior to 9/11, plotting the destruction of the United States and the establishment of a global Islamist caliphate.

Aiding this success has been a reinvigorated national security establishment, including the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the Director of National Intelligence and joint intelligence and law enforcement centers.

In Asia, the Bush administration helped the Philippines fight the Abu Sayyaf Group and Indonesia battle Jemaah Islamiya. Both groups have al Qaeda ties - and US and Western targets in their crosshairs.

Ties with Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, have been normalized after years of troubled relations. Japan is now making increasing contributions to international security across the globe.

Fortunately, the Bushies caught North Korea cheating on its 1994 nuclear agreement with the United States. While progress has been glacial, Washington did get Pyongyang to agree to end all its nuke programs.

US-India relations are better than ever due to Bush administration efforts. Even Pakistan is doing a better job recently in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in its border areas with Afghanistan.

Today, Afghanistan is a lot better off: more than 30 million Afghans no longer labor under terrorist Taliban rule. Healthcare access is up; child mortality is down. Six million kids go to school, including nearly 2 million girls who would not otherwise be allowed to.

In Europe, the Bush administration led a charge for NATO expansion, bringing seven former Warsaw Pact enemies into the democratic transatlantic alliance.

The Bush White House also oversaw Kosovo's transition to independence from Serbia, helping to start to close a chapter in the Balkan's long, bloody history.

In the Middle East, Lebanon no longer labors under the yoke of Syrian domination, which ended its occupation after almost 30 years. In Iraq, nearly 30 million people are no longer subject to Saddam Hussein's tyranny.

The surge of American troops into Iraq has left al Qaeda there battered, bewildered and in retreat in what Osama bin Laden said would be the decisive battle in its global jihad. While still dangerous, al Qaeda has suffered a stinging blow.

In Latin America, US ally Colombia has prospered under Washington's "Plan Colombia," a counter-drug and -terrorism program. The narco-terrorist group FARC is reeling from the pressure applied to it by Bogota - with U.S. assistance.

The Merida Initiative in Mexico to fight the drug lords, which are battling each other and the central government in a low-grade civil war, is also a positive development - one which will enhance security north of the border, too.

In Africa, President Bush spent more on fighting HIV/AIDS than any previous American president. As a result, medicine is reaching more than 2 million African HIV/AIDS patients. Anti-malaria programs have gained traction, too.

In a shocker, Libya's Colonel Qaddafi renounced terrorism and gave up his weapons of mass destruction programs, including one for nukes. We now have a Tripoli embassy for the first time in three and a half decades.

President Bush also kept his campaign promise of fielding a missile defense system to protect the American people from the threat of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction from the likes of North Korea and Iran.

First, Bush withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; then in a 2002 agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, both sides agreed to reduce the size of their strategic nuclear forces by two-thirds. Then the military began to field missile defense systems in California and Alaska and at sea aboard US navy destroyers for dealing with North Korea, which joined the once-exclusive nuclear club in 2006.

The Bush administration also signed pacts with Poland and the Czech Republic - with NATO's endorsement - for the building of a missile defense system in Europe, focused on the growing Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile threat.

They also developed the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a voluntary effort consisting of some 90 nations, working together to battle the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

The PSI is credited with intercepting material for Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear programs, which many increasingly believe isn't for peaceful purposes.

It also uncovered and took apart the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network, an international smuggling ring that had been selling nuclear know-how and equipment to North Korea, Iran and Libya - and to who knows who else.

The President also expanded international commerce, concluding more than 10 free-trade agreements (FTA) around the world. (Three additional FTAs are sitting with Congress, awaiting approval.) Trade with Africa doubled.

But free trade can't solve every ill. So since 2001, Washington has nearly tripled international assistance, doubling it in Latin America and nearly quadrupling it to Africa.

We've re-focused aid programs to make sure it gets to the right folks. The Millennium Challenge Account sends help to responsible, accountable leaders and organizations, creating economic opportunity, reducing poverty - and suffering.

Sure, there are still challenges in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China - plus al Qaeda - that the next administration will have to grapple with. The same was true for the Bush team when it took over in 2001 from the Clinton administration.

The fact is international relations is a tough business - and will continue to be. Countries pursue their national interests - often at others' expense, including ours. But the Bush administration has made real progress in advancing our interests during its tenure, especially in preventing another terror attack right here at home - no small feat.

Accordingly, it deserves more credit than the conventional wisdom affords it.

Peter Brookes, Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First Appeared in the New York Post