Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Historical obliteration, Bush-style

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I would rarely advise reading anything by Dick Morris, but his latest column in The Hill includes this memorable passage:

Bush faces a stark choice: If he doesn’t begin pulling out [of Iraq], his party will lose the White House, lose Congress by stunning and likely filibuster-proof margins, and his tax cut and education reforms will be repealed. His footsteps will be obliterated from history. It will be as if he never served.

Here's my dilemma. I would like both:

  • the U.S. to pull out of Iraq and
  • Bush to be obliterated from history.
Do I have to make a choice? Morris says yes. Republican senators like Voinovich, Warner, Lugar, and Domenici have already "jumped ship," and many more are likely to follow. These "prophets" -- what an idiotic thing to call them; their belated call for withdrawal hardly makes them prophets, and Democrats and many other Republicans have been calling for it for a long time -- now "realize that Bush needs to begin to pull out to save his party, even if it puts Iraq at risk" -- what an idiotic thing to say, given that Iraq is already well beyond the stage of "risk". Morris is right that these senators are right, but he knows nothing about Iraq, the reality of Iraq, and his motives are morally appalling.

What Morris is saying, however delusionally, is that the Iraq War is not just a good cause but, after all that has happened, all that has gone wrong, a winnable war. And yet his concern is not really Iraq or the Iraqi people but the electoral fortunes of the Republican Party. He advocates withdrawal not because it is a good idea -- which it is -- but because it would benefit the GOP heading into '08. Screw Iraq. Screw the Iraqi people.

Look, if you genuinely support the war, fine -- at least be consistent about it. But to argue, as Morris does here, that the fate of Iraq is less important than the short-term fate of the Republican Party is both irresponsible and repugnant. So much for Powell's Pottery Barn argument. Bush broke it, but there's no need to pay for it, certainly not with Republicans in danger. What matters above all is victory at the polls. And Iraq -- well, Iraq won't win you any elections these days.

Morris argues that "a gradual pullout makes all kinds of sense," but, even here, Morris reveals despicable motivation. As many have argued and continue to argue, withdrawal would be good not just for the U.S. but for Iraq -- the ongoing occupation, and that is what it is, is preventing things from improving and indeed making things worse. But Morris turns to Vietnam:

The lesson of Vietnam is clear: If the public get so turned off on a military intervention, it will force Congress to ban any further involvement, making it inevitable that our enemies win. But if the administration salvages a modicum of public support by way of a prompt but gradual withdrawal, it will preserve the option of re-entry by air or land should an adverse situation arise. We probably could have stopped the North from winning in Vietnam had Congress not banned any air or ground involvement after 1974. We must not fall into the same trap in Iraq.

This is both ignorant and crazy. The clear lesson of Vietnam is not to get involved in such wars. Vietnam was an unmitigated disaster regardless of public opinion, and the north likely would have won no matter what. What Morris is arguing here is that Congress should have permitted Nixon to carry on with the war, and perhaps even to escalate it, long after it had become a lost cause. And his concern here is that Bush will carry on with the war to the point where Congress, evil Congress, will step in and prevent him from returning to the war at a later date. In other words: withdraw now, go back in later; withdrawal to appease the public, and the party, but more war once the opportunity arises.

Oh, how much Morris fails to grasp. He is right about withdrawal, but he gets everything else wrong. Including this: There is no "modicum of public support" for Bush to salvage. He has his supporters still, but his party is abandoning him, finally, and so have the American people.

Returning to my dilemma, I don't think I have to make a choice -- for there is no choice to make. Bush may or may not withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, but his war has already been lost. I would prefer withdrawal to come sooner rather than later, but come it will, eventually, perhaps once Bush leaves office. And if it come sooner, well, fine -- whether for partisan purposes or because it is simply the right thing to do. I'd take that, and it wouldn't much affect the second point. There is no way that Bush will ever be "obliterated from history," "as if he never served". On this, as on everything else, Morris is wrong.

A failure of Bush's scale cannot be "obliterated from history". Regardless of what happens over the next year and a half, Bush has entered Nixon territory. He has been, and will almost certainly go down as, one of the worst presidents in history, a select group of which massive, historical failure is a requirement for membership. It is Iraq, it is so much else.

Oh, yes, Dick, people will remember that Bush served. And they will remember what he did.

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