OUR 43RD PRESIDENT IS
STILL VERY MUCH WITH US
It’s amazing to see just how durable is that peculiar political/media psychosis which commentator and psychologist Charles Krauthammer termed Bush Derangement Syndrome.
Even after nearly two full terms of Obama-recoveries-that-never-recover and policy-free-Obama-foreign-policies, George Bush still raises people’s blood pressure.
Bush Derangement Syndrome (or BDS) has become positively epidemic as we gear up for the next election cycle. All potential candidates, Democrat and Republican — even W’s own brother — are attempting to distance themselves from what is seen as Bush’s great Iraq mistake (or as it’s expressed more succinctly, “BUSH FAILED!”)
It goes without saying that BDS is especially acute among Democrats, who want to wring all the sympathy they can get out of it. It’s also no surprise that so mainstream a media entity as USA Today would recently build an editorial on the much-bemoaned points that…
“Nearly 4,500 Americans died, tens of thousands more were wounded, and $2 trillion was squandered in a war to destroy weapons of mass destruction that were never found.
“And though the war disposed of a bloody dictator, Saddam Hussein, it ushered in something worse, at least for the United States: A sectarian civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and gave birth to Islamist terrorism, now under the banner of the Islamic State.”
All true, all undeniable, all obvious — except, of course, for the part about giving birth to Islamist terrorism: that existed before we went into Iraq. And, oh yes, the weapons of mass destruction part: Where does USA Today think ISIS (not to mention Bashar al Assad) likely got all the poison gas that keeps showing up?
But no matter. Mine not to quibble.
Bush Derangement Syndrome is indiscriminately infectious. Libertarian icon and GOP presidential prospect Rand Paul is clearly nursing his own case of it. As reported in the Washington Post…
“Paul said that Iraq is a ‘vassal state’ for Iran and that the hawkish members of his party [Read: Bush’s apologists] are wrong — and have been for decades.
“‘Everything they’ve talked about in foreign policy, they’ve been wrong about for 20 years but they have somehow the gall to keep pointing fingers and saying otherwise,’ Paul said.”
The “BUSH FAILED!” meme is heard even from normally balanced commentators, such as Rebecca Hamilton (of the Patheos blog portal), who in what I take as an attempt to be evenhanded, opined recently that Iraq became “the cesspool that birthed ISIS”…
“under the one-two punch of back-to-back bad presidents….
“We were, if anyone cares to remember, supposed to go into Iraq, whip them good, cowboy style, and then go home. What we ended up with was a big mess that set us up for decades of occupation, bleeding out the lives of our young men and women on a daily basis.”
Again true, undeniable, obvious.
There are, of course, those who defend Bush’s actions. In a USA Today counterpoint piece, William Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard argued that…
“Even with the absence of caches of weapons of mass destruction, and the mistakes we made in failing to send enough troops at first and to provide security from the beginning for the Iraqi people, we were right to persevere through several difficult years. We were able to bring the war to a reasonably successful conclusion in 2008.”
And, ironically, Kristol’s points also can be considered true, undeniable and obvious (though historians may differ about degrees and sequences and nuances in our Iraq experience).
It’s not my intention to either defend or criticize Bush’s Iraq decisions. The consequences of those, and of his whole presidency, will be sorted out over time.
Still, we mustn’t forget Kristol’s observation about the condition of Iraq by 2008. Things had become relatively pacified by then, some parts of the country quite secure.
It’s no coincidence that a new president entered office in January of the following year, and the gains made under Bush have vanished in the years since.
But Obama’s fecklessness and a recent CNN poll that shows his approval rating is currently lower than that of his predecessor are grist for another article. What I want to do now is to sharpen the focus on something that’s gotten rather fuzzy in our reflections on Bush’s great Iraq mistake. I mean the why of it all — the perspective, the rationale, the raison d’être by which the decision to go in was made.
Bush’s motivation surely wasn’t oil, per that idiotic charge made in the first wave of criticism…
“NO BLOOD FOR OIL!”
I recall no sudden glut on the U.S. petroleum market, no precipitous fall in gas prices.
And I don’t care to engage in amateur psychoanalysis as regards rivalry between Bush pere and bush fils — which you may remember, was another hot line of speculation.
Did W really feel compelled to top Old Dad, who had left Saddam’s government in place after Kuwait? Was all of it a product of some lingering father-son competition for Mom’s attention?
That’s fodder for the shrinks and the playwrights.
I think what we need to ponder, especially as we approach another moment of great national choosing, is the intellectual/emotional context in which we invaded Iraq. And I propose that it was entirely one of ideas and assumptions that were totally, purely, 100-percent American.
Intel about weapons of mass destruction and/or Saddam’s possible collusion with al Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks were points of evidence with which the case for invasion was built. (And remember, while that case looks shaky now, it was strong enough at the time to convince just about all of our current skeptics, Hillary included.) But while evidence was what made toppling Saddam appear justified, it wasn’t really what made our undertaking seem right.
No. The rightness of the thing was based on the premise that liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam’s tyranny, bringing them democratic government, would not only transform Iraq but change the trajectory of the entire Middle East, opening a new era of freedom for the Muslim World.
We looked with American eyes through the lens of our own history, and thought we recognized the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Unfortunately, after toppling Saddam, we discovered something quite different.
Iraq’s huddled masses weren’t necessarily yearning to breath free. What the members of some masses were yearning for was an opportunity to slaughter the members of other masses. And the worst part was that it became clear only Saddam’s unrestrained brutality had been keeping them from doing it all along.
I’ve proposed before that, given our swift and dazzling military victory, they’d be clearing Bush’s space on Mount Rushmore, except that he tried to bring democracy to a country totally unprepared for it, whose cultural foundation couldn’t possibly have sustained it.
Bush and his advisors made an honest — completely American — mistake. It’s a mistake, moreover, that might look naïve now, but that underscores the uniqueness of our nation’s founding and our singular political experience as a people.
Maybe this was a lesson — that America truly is different — which we needed to learn (albeit it at a high price). As the late ABC Radio commentator, Paul Harvey, used to say, “It is not one world.” We’ve certainly found that out — the hard way.
But what would have been the better path? That’s a line of conjecture one rarely hears from those eager to slam W, or even just to distance themselves from him.
I doubt we could have gone along indefinitely enduring Saddam’s abuse and watching him butcher his own people. (Remember his gassing of the Kurds?)
Would we have been wiser to cultivate Saddam? Buy him off? Make him somehow our ally?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is often cited, especially by Democrats, as a man of boundless ideals. At the same time, he’s said to have had a gift for tempering his ideals with a most discomfiting political pragmatism.
When asked about the cruelty and viciousness of the late Anastasio Somoza, then dictator of Nicaragua, FDR is reported to have quipped…
“He may be a sonofabitch, but he’s our sonofabitch.”
Should we — could we — have made Saddam our sonofabitch?
It’s true that the fall of his regime strengthened the Iranians. It’s true that the fracturing of Iraq has brought us ISIS.
But what would have been the cost of working out a marriage of convenience with Saddam? What would we have had to tolerate? How much villainy would we have had to permit him — and, consequently, how much criticism would we have had to bear?
Would it even have been possible to make such an arrangement? More to the point: Would it have been something our American sense of political morality could have found acceptable?
Yeah, yeah, you can tell me how hypocritical we’ve been in the past. I know we linked ourselves to Stalin’s Russia in order to defeat Hitler. I know we’ve propped up other sonofabitch dictators and tin-pot tyrants around the world. I even know there was a time when we had high hopes for Saddam and gave him tangible assistance.
I also recall that such U.S. support of corrupt, oppressive Middle East governments was one of the loudest complaints heard during that brief and illusory “Arab Spring.”
Nevertheless, if we did all this hypocritical stuff before, should we have tried it again?
Maybe we were trying to do that, behind the scenes, I don’t know.
Had we succeeded, would it have been preferable to war? Is this what Bush’s critics would have recommended (that is, if they hadn’t been as convinced as he was that war was necessary)?
Once more — I am not defending the path Bush chose. Actually, I too question whether going into Iraq was a mistake. But in all honesty, I can’t imagine what better alternative Bush might have chosen. I doubt a better alternative existed.
Much as I love reading Rebecca Hamilton’s stuff (and I quote her frequently), she’s wrong about George Bush.
W wasn’t a “bad president.” He was a president who had to make a tough choice between lousy alternatives.
Well…that’s what presidents do, I suppose.
Bush made his choice, and he made it for all the best American reasons.
Perhaps it’s those reasons — our traditional American assumptions — on which we should reflect before the upcoming election.
This charming graphic is a perfect illustration of Bush Derangement Syndrome. It’s currently being circulated on Facebook by a lefty group called Occupy Democrats, and shows George Bush at his 2005 State of the Union address, along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (who is currently facing sex-related allegations).
You can infer the group’s point of view from how Bush, Cheney and Hastert are labeled — and the anti-GOP message, of course. An accompanying caption asserts (among other things) that this was a…
“time when America had invaded a sovereign nation for its oil by lying its way into a contrived war which Bush charged on the nation’s credit card.”
There’s that oil thing again. Bush Derangement Syndrome just never ends.
Here are links to the USA Today editorial, which calls on everyone to admit that going into Iraq was a mistake…
Writing in, The Week, Paul Waldman, senior fellow with the George Soros-funded Media Matters for America, goes beyond the old “Bush Lied, People Died!” chant, analyzing the propaganda campaign mounted by the Bush Administration to convince the American public that attacking Iraq was necessary…
“It might be possible, with some incredibly narrow definition of the word ‘lie,’ to say that Bush told only a few outright lies on Iraq. Most of what he said in order to sell the public on the war could be said to have some basis in something somebody thought or something somebody alleged…”
In other words: what the intel suggested at the time.
As for “propaganda,” what was new about that? Have you ever seen those “Why We Fight” films produced for the government during World War II by the great Hollywood director Frank Capra? They were undeniably pro-war “propaganda.”
But read Waldman’s piece at…
And then check out Bob Woodward’s debunking of the “Bush Lied” charge (yes, that Bob Woodward, of Woodward-and-Bernstein fame) on Fox News…
“I spent 18 months looking at how Bush decided to invade Iraq … lots of mistakes, but it was Bush telling George Tenet the CIA director, ‘Don’t let anyone stretch the case on WMD.’ And he was the one who was skeptical,” Woodward told host Chris Wallace.”
Just to show how hard it is for people to maintain even a minimal sense of historical perspective …
A recent survey of 7,000 students found that George Bush is considered one of the most “evil” people in the world. He even topped Joe Stalin in the listing.
I don’t know if this study reflects Bush Derangement Syndrome, but it clearly says something about the current state of education — and not just in America. Students were surveyed in 37 countries.