It’s long been an open secret that George W. Bush has little regard for Donald Trump. It’s hard to blame our previous Republican president for that stance, as our current Republican president hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory over the course of his brief political career. Nevertheless, after Bush gave an address in New York City that’s been widely interpreted as a rebuke to Trump’s distinctive brand of nationalism, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, for the simple reason that had there been no Bush, there’d be no Trump. I realize this must sound like an oversimplification. But as I consider the many ways the Bush presidency has shaped and constrained all that’s come since, I find it hard to conclude otherwise.
To be sure, the former president did make a number of worthy points on Thursday. Bush denounced what he sees as a resurgence of isolationism in American public life, observing that “American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places, where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs, and drug trafficking tend to emerge.” I think he’s absolutely right. Moreover, I’m inclined to agree with his defense of U.S. engagement in the wider world, up to and including “the confrontation of security challenges before they fully materialize and arrive on our shores.”
What I found extraordinary, however, was that in a speech littered with references to Russia and China and to the ongoing challenges facing European democracies, Bush never saw fit to utter the word Iraq.