Friday, September 14, 2007

What to Make of Bush

Here's my thinking, and beware, it's longwinded.

There are really two wars taking place. One war is a global conflict being fought with diplomacy, covert operations and good old fashioned violence. This is the misnamed "War on Terror" and it’s being fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, Kashmir, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, France, the U.K., Denmark, and the United States. It’s going to last for many, many years. It predates George W. Bush and in most places has nothing to do with Bush, American policies, Israel, Abu Graib, oil, or any of the usual root causes.

The other war is a narrow, hyper-partisan culture war that is limited to the urban centers of the United States. It's a tribal thing based more on personal identity than rational thought. Sure, complex arguments and proof points are deployed to support one side or the other but the goal is not to change minds but to inflict damage on the other tribe and validate your own tribe's positions. This is all fun and games when you're young and powerless but it's destructive and corrosive when the stakes are high.

Actual war is a zero sum game. What hurts us aids the enemy and vice versa.

So is criticizing Bush policy unpatriotic? Of course not if the intention is to steer the policy toward a more effective way of defeating the enemy. But if you don’t believe there is an enemy, or worse, you believe that the U.S. government is the enemy, then you’ve crossed the line. You’re on the other side. And that’s the antithesis of patriotism.

From the beginning, George Bush has had to fight the real war against real enemies and at the same time fend off the home-grown tribalists whose goal was to delegitimize his presidency (as is always their goal when the president is from the opposing "tribe.") Bush's mistake was to think that 9/11 actually changed the game and that he could bring the tribalists along with him in a fight against our common enemies.

To his credit, Bush didn't treat the Islamofascist threat as a law enforcement issue as had every preceding administration. You could see the policy forming in plain view. On 9/11 he said he would bring the perpetrators to justice. A week later the policy had changed to “ending failed states.” The Taliban regime was the first of these states to end.

Now remember where we were back then. American flags were flying all over the East Village and Adams Morgan. Neil Young had just recorded “Let’s Roll”, surely his first pro-war song. Bush had the highest approval rating ever recorded (92%). And despite warnings, small, agile U.S. forces had liberated an “unconquerable” country with minimal casualties. And they were greeted with flowers.

This was all incredibly good for Bush. But what’s good for Bush (even if it happens to coincide with what’s good for America generally) is bad for the tribalists. Michael Moore, you may recall, was anti-war even back during the Afghanistan campaign. So was Gore Vidal and of course Noam Chomsky.

Recall also that we were already at war with the failed state run by the Hussein dynasty. The terms of the 1991 ceasefire included the requirement that he declare and destroy his weapons of mass destruction. In 1991, he declared to UN inspectors that he had an offensive biological warfare capability of among other things:

“5,000 gallons of botulinum, which causes botulism; 2,000 gallons of
anthrax; 25 biological-filled Scud warheads; and 157 aerial bombs.”

These are WMDs. They existed. He declared them. UNSCOM’s mission was not to find undeclared WMDs, it was to confirm the destruction of those WMDs that were already there. Hussein failed to declare their destruction. Why? Who knows. But that mistake cost him his life.

So, was the President lying when he said:

“What if Saddam fails to comply, and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made?

Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction.

And some day, some way, I guarantee you, he'll use the arsenal. And I think every one of you who's really worked on this for any length of time believes that, too."

Perhaps he was lying. But the president who said that was Bill Clinton. And he said that when he made regime change in Iraq the official policy of the United States. It wasn't a lie. It was conventional wisdom.

It's common to say these days that there are no easy options with Iraq. The same was true in 2002/3.

What was Bush supposed to do after 9/11 . . . allow Hussein to continue to undermine the sanctions regime? We now know it was even worse than anyone could have guessed. The Oil for Food program was the largest financial fraud in history. Members of the UN Security Council received payoffs. The sanctions were failing and diplomacy was compromised.

Should he have maintained the status quo? That would have meant enforcing a no fly zone indefinitely which, by the end of the Clinton Administration had expanded to include bombing of ground targets and frequent civilian casualties. Recall also, that the world (except for the UK) strenuously objected to the U.S.’s “unilateral” enforcement of no fly zones.

Should he have ignored Hussein? Iraq had already violated dozens of UN resolutions. The regime continued to collect tens of billions of petrodollars, enough to buy off major governments and enough to fund weapons programs he had already declared were his intention. His sons were already taking up positions of power to ensure a dynastic regime for generations to come. And his regime was already known throughout the world as a barbarically cruel fascist dictatorship. Moreover, we were still at war with Iraq and they had already violated the ceasefire many many times.

In the post 9/11 world, how could any president ignore Iraq?

To his credit, Bush didn’t ignore the problem. He enforced the UN resolutions and the regime change policy. And his solution wasn’t just to knock off the dictator and steal the oil but to give Iraqis a shot at self-determination. That was an idealistic bonus. At the same time he upset an unacceptable status quo and surrounded the far more threatening Iran with coalition forces. And by the way, the troops were again greeted with flowers.

Could he have done a better job? Of course. He could have articulated the mission over and over and rebutted the domestic tribalists who saw (and still see) any Bush failure as a success for their tribe. He could have sent twice as many troops, or half as many troops. He could have prosecuted the Baathists or partnered with the Baathists. He made difficult choices without the luxury of hindsight that his critics enjoy.

I don’t agree with all his decisions but I believe they were made in good faith with the welfare of the United States in mind. I don’t think his tribal critics have anything in mind but the defeat of Bush even if that means the defeat of the U.S. in the Iraq campaign of the Long War. For being of the other tribe, he has earned the inevitable scorn of partisans who would still hate him if he was Nelson Mandela.

The Bush haters are not just people with differing opinions than his. They are on the other side. They want to damage him even if it means damaging the country.

But this sort of hate is not anything new. Listen to the rhetoric from the Democratic Convention:

"(he is a) worse tyrant and more inhuman butcher than has existed since the days of Nero ... The man who votes for him now is a traitor and murderer... And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

That was the Democratic Convention of 1864 back when Abraham Lincoln was “the worst President ever,” when we were mired in an endless war with no exit strategy, and when the justification for it had changed from saving the union to freeing the (insert N word here), as the Copperhead antiwar Dems were prone to saying at the time.

Is Bush perfect? No. Are we living in dangerous times? Yes. Do I hope and believe the United States will prevail in the struggle against Islamofascism? Absolutely.

Dissent can be patriotic, but nowadays the highest form of dissent seems to be patriotism. And I mean old fashioned, Stephen Decatur-style patriotism. Back in the day he gave a toast saying, “To our country. May she always be right. But our country right or wrong.”

Sadly, I can’t imagine anyone saying that these days.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes the highest form of patriotism occurs when you call out liars like Bush for what he truly is -- a traitor to the American people.

I don't like to be so harsh, but sometimes you just have to say the obvious. Bush knew about "911" well before it occured. His administration ignored the data mining by Able Danger and later tried to destroy the members of this team for coming forward.

I'm as patriotic as they come.

Bruce W. Cain

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and sometimes the highest form of patriotism is to focus your vicious hatred at America's actual enemies rather than at your domestic political rivals.

We're all Americans pal.