Jonathan Kay on George W. Bush's legacy in Iraq: Credit where credit is due

Discussion in 'Politics' started by Deutschbag, Sep 2, 2008.


    It's hard to imagine a U.S. leader more universally loathed among Canadians than George W. Bush. Last month, while writing a feature about the upcoming changing of the guard in Washington, I interviewed a dozen leading Canadian pundits on the subject. Not one of them - including the conservatives - had a kind word to say about the outgoing president. "I'm pro-U.S.," one name-brand right-wing scholar told me. "But I think Bush is the worst U.S. President in 90 yrs ... It's New Orleans, Bush's style, his arrogance and, yes, stupidity."
    In the long run, history will be kinder. Bush's legacy will be based not on his intellect, nor on what becomes of New Orleans. It will turn on his signature project, the war in Iraq. Though the war itself was a mistake - at least in the clumsy, thoughtless way it was fought - an extraordinary new book has convinced me that Bush deserves enormous credit for turning the tide in what might have otherwise become the single greatest military disaster in American history.
    The Strongest Tribe by Bing West is a masterpiece of battlefield reporting. West was on the front lines when American troops beat insurgents back block-by-block in Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad. He describes the failures of planning and strategy that pushed Iraq to the brink of anarchy in 2004 and again in 2006 - and the strategic changes that brought the nation back to some semblance of normalcy in 2007 and 2008.
    But The Strongest Tribe is more than just a book about war. It is also a book about the limits of freedom and democracy - limits that Bush didn't appreciate when he predicted that sovereignty and elections alone would herald Iraq's salvation.
    West, a Vietnam vet and lifelong military analyst, interviewed 2,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. He studied their tactics firsthand during raids and patrols, taking careful notes on what worked and what didn't. What worked, West observed, were classic secure-and-hold counterinsurgency tactics - whereby a town would be cleansed, room-by-room if necessary, of killers; and then garrisoned. He also found that smart battalion commanders were quick to cut power-sharing deals with Sheikhs: It was the only way to get local co-operation.
    But from late 2003 through late 2006, Bush's generals went on a different path: Under the direction of Don Rumsfeld, they wanted Iraq to be a quick in-and-out war, with a small U.S. military footprint. Classic counterinsurgency was dismissed as a form of peacekeeping.
    The White House and the Pentagon were skeptical of local deal-making, as well. All power and money had to be routed through Iraq's provisional central administration, which Washington was desperate to prop up, and then Iraq's own sovereign government.
    The result was disastrous: Without perqs to dispense, American commanders were unable to recruit local allies. And without local allies, they had no way to tell who was a terrorist and who wasn't. Even the world's best army can't fight an invisible enemy.
    What's worse, the "democratic" government elected by Iraqis turned out to be a corrupt, kleptocratic cabal of cynical Shiites - a tyranny of the majority that lorded over the country's disaffected Sunnis. In 2005, U.S. troops uncovered a torture center for Sunnis run by Iraq's Interior Ministry. Until recently, influential government ministers were in open alliance with radicals such as Muqtada al-Sadr.
    It turns out that neither freedom nor democracy, by themselves, can cure a society of its pathologies. In a nation like post-Saddam Iraq, the ballot box becomes just another tool for warring groups to express their murderous hatreds.
    All this went over Bush's head. To the American public, he spouted slogans attesting to his (quite literally) theistic faith in the power of liberation. "For four years, Bush had substituted self-certitude for strategy, thereby avoiding the long hours of study the complexities of Iraq demanded," West writes in a particularly cutting passage. "[The President] had strong faith, saying, 'I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom' ... A family in Baghdad may want freedom; how American soldiers could deliver that freedom required the proper strategy. It was not a gift."
    But then something amazing happened: This man of unbreakable faith changed his mind.
    Speaking to the American people on January 10, 2007, Bush announced a 20,000-strong "surge" in U.S. force levels in Iraq - with most of the new troops being used to secure key Baghdad neighbourhoods. The new American strategy also would permit American commanders to make local alliances with tribal leaders from the Sunni Awakening movement.
    The move ran totally counter to the erstwhile dream of a quick military and political hand-off to a democratic Iraqi government - but it worked: As West demonstrates with his detailed reporting, the surge, and the modifications in strategy it permitted, have brought about a dramatic drop in violence over the last year and a half. The Iraq campaign is now on the cusp of victory.
    What makes Bush's decision especially admirable is that it came with no short-term political payoff: Both Bush's generals and a majority of the American public initially opposed the surge. But Bush authorized it anyway, applying the same type of gut instinct that led him into his earlier, disastrous mistakes.
    Yet Bush rarely gets credit for this decisive exercise of his powers as commander-in-chief - except by close students of the Iraq War, such as West. At a time when six in 10 Americans wanted troops levels reduced, Bush jacked them up instead - for no other reason except that he thought it was the right thing to do. It was an extraordinary example of true leadership.
    Critics of Bush often use hysterical moral language to attack the man: evil, Nazi, warmonger, monster, tyrant. History, I believe, will judge him in more nuanced terms. Bush is, in a phrase, a reckless optimist. His unwavering faith in the goodness within human beings and the redemptive power of freedom led him into a bloody and unwise adventure, one that resulted in the slaughter of untold thousands of innocent Iraqis. Yet that same sense of moral courage also led him to stand by the unfinished project when the lives of millions more hung in the balance. But not for Bush's bold January, 2007 decision, there is no telling what sort of hell would by now have engulfed Iraq.
    When we consign this man to the history books, let's be sure that both sides of the story get told.

  2. It sounds like counterfactual speculation to me, but hey, credit can be negative too. :p

    Well, good read.
  3. "Billy Mumphrey was guilty only of being a cock-eyed optimist"...- Seinfeld

    Does this writer steal all his lines from sitcoms?

    The better question is, why would anyone care what some guy named Johnathon Kay says?

    Oh, I get it, he's an armchair warrior? Who is this?

    I'm glad he thinks its a good investment to bribe local gang warlords to rumble or not, it sounds like he probably enjoyed "West Side Story" very much too.

    You see that was staged as well.:D
  4. So according to the author Bush's legacy, when speaking about Iraq, should be the surge? I don't get it. Yes there may be a massive drop in Iraqi violence since the surge but I hardly think that this one stage of the Iraq war should overshadow the thousands of dead American soldiers, thousands of dead civilians, blatant deception, the Abu Ghraib torture saga, etc, etc.
    I think it would be a stretch to say that W. Bush has moral courage. Was it moral courage"or just plain stubbornness that allowed Bush to continue to use failed policies for so long?
    That's laughable. It's an act of true leadership to try and solve an immense fuck up? I call it doing your job!
  5. You mean General Betrayed-US? Gosh, all these government shills seem to be in agreement on how wonderful they's gotta be true!!!!!


    Find a source that is not on the Pentagon's teets.

  6. Lying about what?

    and I can see you are a kind of guy.

    I'm sure General Petraeus knows some stuff about whats going on in Iraq.
  7. I have always felt this way about Bush.

    We needed to be in Iraq. Sure, the alleged weapons of mass destruction were never found but the fact remains that Saddam was a horrible leader to allow to remain in power. He slaughtered thousands of his own state's citizens. He would send twenty thousand dollars in cash to the families of suicide bombers in Israel. We know for a FACT that during the Gulf War he both had and used chemical weapons. He was one of the worst rulers we have seen in history. He needed to be removed from power.

    The worst thing Bush did was listen to Rumsfeld. The guy had no clue what he was talking about once we entered Iraq. He was the one that strongly supported the dissolution of the Iraqi army. Those same people, out of work because of the American invasion, trained with weapons and explosives, then became the backbone of the insurgency. This was Rumsfelds doing, his idea. Bush just didn't ask enough questions.

    This is simply one example, and I digress. The point is, yes, he has had many blunders. He is not the best president we have had, not by a long shot. But he's not the worst as many people like to claim.
  8. Again people miss the point that America were the ones who helped Saddam's WMD's and his WMD programs.

    Saddam was our ally for various reasons. H.W. Bush repeatedly ignored warnings and reports from government agencies that Saddam was using chem. weapons on the Iranians and Kurds, Saddam was exploiting dual use technology to further his weapons programs among other things. The reasoning that Saddam was a bad guy doesn't hold for me because there are hundreds of "bad guys" around the world. We just so happened to single out one that was of our own making, has one of the largest oil reserves in the world and basically had no real military capability among other things.
  9. I'd like to imagine (oh geez :rolleyes:) that what one administration does has no bearing on what the next chooses to do... But sadly, I think you're right. They're all Presidents of America.
  10. During the transition there are always policies that are adopted and ones that just get lost. Most people think that it was the Reagan admin. that initiated support for the mujahedeen in Afghanistan but really it was started under Carter and embraced by Reagan's team. Extraordinary rendition was originally initiated by Clinton to send suspects to Egypt to be interrogated/tortured. It was outlawed in '98 but was reinstated with W. Bush. One policy that was lost in the transition between Clinton and W.Bush was Richard Clarke's plan to go after al-qaeda.
  11. In your opinion then, how much of the Bush Administration's novelty software will be run in Obama's hardware after the election?
  12. I think it's impossible to tell for sure, especially since we don't know exactly who the key players would be and their connections to specific industries/corporations.
  13. Aww, damn it. What good is the past if we can't read the future with it?

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