Daily Star & LA Times & Newsweek – 2006-11-09 09:05:19
Bush’s Latest Critics Are the Very People who Led Him to War
Editorial / Daily Star
(November 08, 2006) — US President George W. Bush has been alternatively described as stupid, brilliant, deceptive, naive, bold, incompetent, visionary, maniacal and criminally insane. It will likely take decades before historians can produce an accurate assessment of the man who has arguably led a sea change in US foreign policy.
One of the key issues upon which Bush will be judged is his decision to go to war on Iraq. Already the American public has evaluated him on this issue in the mid-term elections, which were broadly viewed as a referendum on the increasingly costly and deadly war. The invasion of Iraq, while first welcomed by a vengeful and frightened US public in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, has come under increasing criticism.
Even the war’s “architects,” and those who strongly made the case for the invasion, are now voicing criticism over how it was handled. According to an article by David Rose in the November issue of Vanity Fair, many of the war’s most avid supporters have now turned on Bush, charging that their schemes for a free Iraq were undermined by incompetence in the White House. Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman and others who pounded the war drums prior to the invasion have laid blame for the Iraq quagmire squarely on Bush for his failure to successfully implement their vision.
But Perle, Adelman and other war-cheerleaders cum critics have not acknowledged that their vision was myopic and that their grandiose schemes were riddled with flaws. Adelman famously argued in an article in the Washington Post in February of 2002 that “demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.”
Similarly, Perle told journalist John Pilger in 2002 that “if we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war … our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” Ignoring the fact that many of their predictions have turned out to be wildly wrong, Perle, Adelman and others insist that Bush is ultimately to blame for the failure of the policies that they advocated.
But many of the thousands of articles, policy papers and recommendations that war advocates produced shared a common characteristic: a lack of understanding about the Middle East.
Looking back on many of the arguments that they advanced, it seems as though they were trying to export democracy to Boston, not Baghdad or Basra. Policy recommendations that have no basis in knowledge are a form of adventurism that risks advocating dangerous missions with unforeseen consequences — as has happened in Iraq.
Perhaps Bush is not entirely to blame for the disaster that is Iraq. After all, the president cannot be expected to be fluent in every language and familiar with every historical and cultural detail of every region.
But Bush is at fault for ignoring the warnings of Middle East experts and relying heavily on the policy pundits who have now turned against him. He should have realized that you can’t engineer a foreign society without the basic tools of understanding.
Fighting over Who Lost Iraq
Andrew J. Bacevich / Los Angeles Times
(November 7, 2006) — With various neoconservative notables acknowledging in a forthcoming issue of Vanity Fair that the Iraq war is a disaster, the debate over “who lost Iraq?” has begun in earnest. As was the case with Vietnam, this argument promises to be bitter and protracted. As with Vietnam, the outcome of the debate will have a large effect on the future course of US policy.
The protagonists divide into three broad groups.
The Bush dead-enders. Although dwindling in number, President Bush’s defenders will ascribe failure in Iraq to a loss of nerve, blaming media bias and liberal defeatists for sowing the erroneous impression that the war has become unwinnable. Bush loyalists will portray opposition to the war as tantamount to betraying the troops. Count on them to appropriate Ronald Reagan’s description of Vietnam as “an honorable cause.”
Updating the “stab in the back” thesis, they will claim that a collapse of will on the home front snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Baghdad as surely as it did in Saigon.
The buck-stops-at-the-top camp. Adherents of this second view are currently in the ascendant, attributing the troubles roiling Iraq to massive incompetence in the Bush administration. In a war notable for an absence of accountability, demands for fixing accountability are becoming increasingly insistent.
Parties eager to divert attention from their own culpability are pointing fingers. Senior military officers target Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Congressional Democrats who voted for the war and neoconservatives direct their fire against Rumsfeld and Bush.
The theme common to all of these finger-pointers: Don’t blame us; the Bush team’s stupidity, stubbornness and internal dysfunction doomed the American effort.
The conspiracy theorists. Even before the United States invaded Iraq, critics on the far left and far right charged that powerful groups operating behind the scenes were promoting war for their own nefarious purposes. Big Oil, Halliburton, the military-industrial complex and Protestant evangelicals said to be keen on defending Israel all came in for criticism and even grassy-knoll-style paranoia.
None of these putative masterminds, however, attracted anything like the attention devoted to the neoconservatives. It’s true that throughout the 1990s neocons clamored for a showdown with Saddam Hussein. In the eyes of their critics, neoconservatives in power, such as Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of Defense, and those inhabiting the fringes of power, such as political journalist William Kristol, conspired to hijack 9/11 in pursuit of their own obsessions. And, voila, the country landed in a quagmire.
As the endgame in Iraq approaches, the score-settling promises to get downright ugly. Those who observe this spectacle will need a strong stomach.
Still, whatever their political inclinations, Americans should welcome this debate. At a bare minimum, the eruption of blame and backstabbing will offer considerable entertainment value.
To read (on the Vanity Fair website) that neoconservative David Frum, former White House speechwriter and author of a fawning tribute to Bush, has discovered that “the president said the words, he just did not absorb the ideas,” is simply a hoot.
More substantively, the purging of political elites infesting Washington always has a cleansing effect. Figuring out “who lost Iraq?” ought to provide the occasion for throwing out more than a few rascals who hold office and discrediting others — a process that will no doubt get a kick-start with today’s midterm elections.
With luck, those surviving will be at least momentarily chastened, perhaps giving rise to an Iraq syndrome akin to the Vietnam syndrome, and which at least for a while will save us from another similar debacle.
We should not kid ourselves that political sniping of the sort now in evidence will yield conclusive answers. These are merely the preliminaries. But let the preliminaries begin — so that we can work our way forward to the main event. It cannot fail to involve Americans more generally and to pose fundamental questions about 21st century governance, this nation’s real role in a globalized world and the illusions about American power and prerogatives that spawned the Iraq war.
Andrew J. Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His latest book is “The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.”
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
The Boys Are Back in Town
Howard Fineman / Newsweek
WASHINGTON (November 8, 2006) — President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy is now in the political equivalent of receivership — a bankrupt project that is about to be placed in the hands of the worldly-wise pragmatists who surrounded the president’s own father. Think of them as receivers in bankruptcy, looking for ways to salvage America’s military and moral assets after a post-September 11 adventure that voters (and most of the rest of the world) concluded was a waste of blood and treasure.
Here’s another analogy: the Shakespeare histories and tragedies in which battlefield mayhem ends with a restoration of order in the person of the Respected Nobles. In this case, these are the old royals from the Castle of Bush the First: a coterie of commercially minded globalists (as opposed to those ideologically minded globalists, the neocons) who have spent their lives as advisers and friends of former president George Herbert Walker Bush.
The man who is about to be isolated in the White House is not the president, but Vice President Dick Cheney — the last neocon left. Elbowing him aside now, as Donald Rumsfeld departs the scene, are people such as former secretary of State James A. Baker III and now — as Rumsfeld’s replacement at the Department of Defense — former CIA director Robert M. Gates. They are loyal liegemen of Bush 41, and they bring to an analysis of Iraq decades worth of diplomatic and intelligence-community experience. They come from and inhabit a world of gray, not the black-and-white universe of good and evil that Bush 43 has occupied for years, especially since 9/11.
In a sense, the whole story of the internal conflict leading up to the war in Iraq, and a good bit of the backbiting since, has been about a subterranean and never-ending war between the Old Boys of the CIA and the State Department (the “pragmatists” for want of a better term) and the White House and Defense Department “Vulcans.” The pragmatists believe in commerce above all, and in an America that survives through the cold-eyed view that our country has no permanent enemies and no permanent friends—only permanent interests.
Now they are in charge, having been handed one of the biggest military, diplomatic and public-relations messes in recent American history. Gates and Baker—and other pragmatists such as Brent Scowcroft — have been called in over the objections of Vice President Cheney.
He knew what the arrival of Gates and the Old Boys means. It means that the pragmatists have won the battle for the president’s attention. Now let’s see how the president responds, and what, together with the Democrats, they can do about Iraq.
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