January 25, 2009

Column of the Day: Bush’s Real Sin Was Winning in Iraq

From William McGurn, in last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal (bolds are mine), has a parting thought on George W. Bush’s departure:

As he leaves, he carries with him the near-universal opprobrium of the permanent class that inhabits our nation’s capital. Yet perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on.

Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.

Here in the afterglow of the turnaround led by Gen. David Petraeus, it’s easy to forget what the smart set was saying two years ago — and how categorical they all were in their certainty. The president was a simpleton, it was agreed. Didn’t he know that Iraq was a civil war, and the only answer was to get out as fast as we could?

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the man who will be sworn in as vice president today — didn’t limit himself to his own opinion. Days before the president announced the surge, Joe Biden suggested to the Washington Post he knew the president’s people had also concluded the war was lost. They were, he said, just trying to “keep it from totally collapsing” until they could “hand it off to the next guy.”

For his part, on the night Mr. Bush announced the surge, Barack Obama said he was “not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.”

Three months after that, before the surge had even started, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pronounced the war in Iraq “lost.” These and similar comments, moreover, were amplified by a media echo chamber even more absolute in its sense of hopelessness about Iraq and its contempt for the president.

….. As with Vietnam, with Iraq the failure of nerve was most clear in Congress. For example, of the five active Democratic senators who sought the (presidential) nomination, four voted in favor of the Iraqi intervention before discovering their antiwar selves.

As in Vietnam too, rather than finding their judgment questioned, those who flip-flopped on the war were held up as voices of reason. In a memorable editorial advocating a pullout, the New York Times gave voice to the chilling possibilities that this new realism was willing to accept in the name of bringing our soldiers home.

“Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave,” read the editorial. “There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide.” Even genocide. With no hint of irony, the Times nevertheless went on to conclude that it would be even worse if we stayed.

This is Vietnam thinking. And the president never accepted it. That was why his critics went ape when, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he touched on the killing fields and exodus of boat people that followed America’s humiliating exit off an embassy rooftop. As the Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti noted, Mr. Bush had appropriated one of their most cherished analogies — only he drew very different lessons from it.

Mr. Bush’s success in Iraq is equally infuriating, because it showed he was right and they wrong. Many in Washington have not yet admitted that, even to themselves. Mr. Obama has. We know he has because he has elected to keep Mr. Bush’s secretary of defense — not something you do with a failure. ….

The hope is that Barack Obama won’t bungle his way into losing what George Bush and the US military won.

His two terror-sympathetic moves noted here on Thursday are not good omens. Whether he intends them to be terror-sympathetic is not the point; the odds, based on history, even recent history, are that they will work out that way.

Previous moves made by the US military and the Bush Defense Department have already turned out to have been terror-sympathetic:

Two men released from the US “war on terror” prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have appeared in a video posted on a jihadist website, the SITE monitoring service reported.

One of the two former inmates, a Saudi man identified as Abu Sufyan al-Azdi al-Shahri, or prisoner number 372, has been elevated to the senior ranks of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, a US counter-terrorism official told AFP.

….. The Defense Department has said as many as 61 former Guantanamo detainees — about 11 percent of 520 detainees transferred from the detention center and released — are believed to have returned to the fight.

The latest case highlights the risk the new US administration faces as it moves to empty Guantanamo of its remaining 245 prisoners and close the controversial detention camp within a year.

Perhaps these were moves were made with the best of intentions. Too bad; it’s the results that count, and in this case they were horrible.

So why would Obama repeat them, especially if the remaining Gitmo prisoners might be on balance more dangerous than those who have already been let go?

We must hope against hope that the influences of Obama’s documented relationships with terrorist sympathizers and terrorist supporters don’t prevent him from doing what is necessary to keep us safe (the linked post doesn’t even include domestic terrorist and “family friend” Bill Ayers, whose influence surely should not be discounted).

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