A poll by the Pew Research Center found that Mr. Blair was the world leader Americans trusted most (Mr. Bush ranked second), respected by 83 percent of Americans, and he was also highly esteemed in countries as diverse as Australia and Nigeria. More interesting, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair took very similar positions over the last couple of years, and both exaggerated the Iraqi threat — and yet Mr. Blair is perhaps the leading statesman in the world today and Mr. Bush is regarded by much of the globe as a dimwitted cowboy. Or, as an Oxford don put it to me after perhaps too much sherry, "a buffoon."
The main reason is that the White House overdosed on moral clarity.
Mr. Bush always exudes a sense that the issues are crystal clear and that anyone who disagrees with him is playing political games. This fervor worked fine in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and in proper doses, moral clarity is admirable. But too much hobbles policy-making and insults our intelligence.
Mr. Blair stands with Mr. Bush on Iraq but acknowledges the complexity of the issues.
Without vigorous and free debate, Milton writes, real thinking and real piety will wither away, to be replaced by mere mechanical, cowardly adherence to doctrine...he urges that God created a multitudinous world, and it is not for man to narrow its splendor. "No man who hath tasted learning but will confess the many ways of profiting by those who, not contented with stale receipts, are able to manage, and set forth new positions to the world. And were they but as the dust and cinders of our feet, so long as in that notion they may yet serve to polish and brighten the armoury of Truth, even for that respect they were not utterly to be cast away."
Mr. Bush is not the dummy his critics perceive. My take is that he's very bright in a street-smarts way: he's witty and has a great memory for faces, and his old girlfriends speak more highly of him than many women do of their husbands. But he's also less interested in ideas than perhaps anybody I've ever interviewed, and his intelligence is all practical and not a bit intellectual. Nuance isn't his natural state, and yet he gives us glimmers to show he can achieve it.
The last time Mr. Bush seemed genuinely to wrestle with an issue was the summer of 2001, when he acknowledged the toughness of the stem cell debate. He showed an impressive willingness to puzzle through stem cell policy and seek a compromise.
If Mr. Bush had pursued that same model of policy-making into Iraq, then we would not have alienated our allies or bungled postwar planning because of rosy assumptions.
Best New Blog finalist - 2003 Koufax Awards
A non-violent, counter-dominant, left-liberal, possibly charismatic, quasi anarcho-libertarian Quaker's take on politics, volleyball, and other esoterica.
Lo alecha ha-m'lacha ligmor, v'lo atah ben chorin l'hibateyl mimenah.