It is to Bush’s credit that he did not attempt to assert his relevance through a series of dramatic statements. Instead, he concentrated on inching his agenda forward. He also deserves praise for his defence of free trade despite the increasingly protectionist mood of the country.
The Bush presidency will forever be defined by 9/11 and Bush’s response to it. How successful that has been is unclear at the moment. If Iraq is turned round, it will look visionary and Bush will go down as another Truman who defined America’s response to a new threat. However, if Iraqi leaders fail to capitalise on the space created by the success of the surge or American troops are withdrawn too soon the Bush presidency will go down as one of the worst in American history. The tragedy is that Bush’s essential diagnosis of the problem—that closed societies in the Middle East were breeding grounds for extremism—was correct. The problems have come with the tactical implementation of the strategy to reverse this. The danger is that is Bush is seen to have failed it will discredit what remains an essentially correct understanding of the nature of the threat.