Emily Wilson is a senior fellow at the CATHA Military Studies Program at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before taking on the conservative commentator post, Wilson was a Middle East affairs advisor to both President George W. Bush and then President George W. Bush. Her writings are often quoted in national publications such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
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Wilson has always maintained that hawkish foreign policy is necessary, but she has also criticized the media for being too quick to condemn the Bush administration’s handling of the post-9/11 wars. She said that conservative commentators were missing the boat in the way they presented the facts of the wars. She cited the fact that conservative media outlets had not jumped on to the bandwagon decrying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I wish that they had,” she said, “but they didn’t.”
As it turns out, plenty of conservative publications did indeed jump on the bandwagon criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of the post-9/11 wars. In fact, after bin Laden was killed in a U.S. raid, a number of conservative outlets published articles blaming the Bush administration for failing to respond quickly and aggressively to the threat posed by al Qaeda. But that same chorus of criticism did not stop former Vice President Dick Cheney from traveling to Pakistan to meet with Pakistani officials to discuss a new round of bilateral talks with the Taliban. Not only did the former vice president dodge questions about whether he thought the talks would succeed (which they might, indeed), but neither the Democrats nor Republicans were willing to stand up in support of the Bush administration’s efforts.
Wilson is hardly a liberal. In fact, the only major magazine she has written for in the past decade is now owned by the Koch brothers, who are staunchly committed to deregulation and free-market capitalism. It is therefore no surprise that her website features articles by noted contrarians such as Heritage’s Edwin Noland and Koch Industries’ James Scrushby.
There is a glaring lacuna in the criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the post-9/11 terror attacks, one that any conservative commentator who is even moderately liberal must address. The problem is that conservative commentators have consistently painted the administration’s response to the attacks as weak and ineffective. Most notable was George W. Bush’s handling of the response to the attacks on America, which critics described as overly aggressive and characterized by vague promises and assurances. Even the most cursory analysis of the record reveals that this was an aberrant and unfortunate approach to a difficult situation. George W. Bush inherited a world that had been shattered by the September 11th attacks, which resulted in a tragic loss of life and a changed political and international scene.
By comparison, President Bush’s initial response demonstrated a clear sense of purpose. He quickly and explicitly sought to capitalize on the attacks to rally support for his re-election campaign and to project a strong American presence around the world. During this crucial period in the history of the United States, there was clearly a consensus among Americans that the country needed a strong leader to steer it out of its troubled waters. George W. Bush did that and much more. As a result, he was rewarded with two terms in office as the most powerful conservative commentator in the country.
The problem with this approach, however, is that this conservative template has since been adopted by various other conservative commentators. To the consternation of many a conservative blogger, the New York Times has recently pointed out that many prominent conservative columnists have adopted the “blitz style” of commenting. These columnists offer blistering criticism of the Bush administration and press officials without providing any specific recommendations for change. This approach has been condemned not only by liberal columnists but also by leading conservative thinkers. The complaints range from the seemingly petty to the outright racist.
This trend is troubling. In a country that is now led by a white-hating demagogue, it is difficult to see how any conservative commentator can remain relevant. But it is perhaps the larger current problem with which we are confronted – the inability of modern conservative thought to take criticism on board and use it to build a better future. The complaints are valid. If conservative commentators wish to continue to provide meaningful contributions, they have to be willing to take on the most severe forms of right wing criticism head on.