Defending W.: NRO interviews Stephen E. Knott

Whether the subject is tax policy, Republican recriminations and prospects, or war, George W. Bush remains in the news. Much of the conventional wisdom going in and out of the final presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney focused on Romney’s perceived need to distance himself from the presidency of George W. Bush. A recent book, Rush to Judgment: George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and His Critics, by Stephen F. Knott, a professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, defends the Bush foreign-policy record as nothing to be ashamed of. Professor Knott talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the Bush record.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Two thousand Americans dead in Afghanistan. Do you really mean to defend the “War on Terror”?

STEPHEN E. KNOTT: I certainly defend the constitutionality of Bush’s actions in the War on Terror, which I believe were justified in face of a threat from a terrorist organization determined to destroy “the Great Satan.” And at the policy level, I absolutely believe the invasion of Afghanistan was justified in light of the refusal of the Taliban government after 9/11 to shut down al-Qaeda’s training camps and hand over Osama bin Laden and his cohort. My only criticism of President Bush would be that he should have asked Congress for a declaration of war against Afghanistan. Nonetheless, as Steven Simon, a senior official involved with counterterrorism issues during the Clinton years, put it, “We had other source reporting that indicated he [bin Laden] was thinking in terms of a quote, unquote, ‘Hiroshima’ for the United States. . . . This was a guy whose idea of violence was stupendous.” In light of this, one can understand the resort to waterboarding and warrantless wiretapping. What president, what American, wouldn’t have said the same thing President Bush said to Attorney General John Ashcroft on September 12, 2001 — “Don’t ever let this happen again”? So yes, I defend the War on Terror, and by the way I think that is a far more appropriate name for it than “overseas contingency operations.”...

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