« An interesting wind blows in Chicago | Main | Everyone Loves Martians »

May 28, 2006

Bush's Legacy

(Posted by John.)

Kevin and Matt both link to this piece about the increasingly awful picture in Iraq by Nir Rosen.  Indeed, the picture is grim.

It also, of course, illustrates the problem with the "humanitarian" justification for Iraq, that should have been mocked openly since before this war began.

Everyone by now knows that Gen. Shinseki said that the occupation of Iraq would require on the order of hundreds of thousands of troops.  It's important to remember that he was saying this in the context of previous missions the US armed forces had participated in or led in places like Bosnia and Kosovo.  So when he called for a massive occupation force, he was setting the bar for what a "humanitarian" intervention would need to look like.

Rumsfeld and Bush of course chose a different path.  I don't think anyone credibly argued that domestic peace could be maintained with the low-ball occupation force that Bush allocated to Iraq.  What astonished me, leading in to the war, was how many Good Liberals continued to maintain their humanitarian aims despite the overwhelming evidence that Bush was not interested in pursuing those goals seriously.

Matt and Kevin both say that a year ago they both hoped that a orderly US withdrawal from Iraq could have spared Iraq a civil war.  It was my hope that this could happen too, but I was more pessimistic.  The US has lacked even a basic ability to effect productive change in Iraq since at least late 2004, maybe earlier.  In the absence of this basic level of control, continued military presence made no sense.

The result we've seen has been an ongoing, if uneven, Balkanization of Iraqi society.  Hence the calls for international help.  Of course, as with any addiction, the first step is to admit that you have a problem.  Before the world can come to the rescue of the US/UK forces, there needs to be an admission that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake.

This isn't petulance, this is a matter of substance:  Absent an admission of error, international aid would serve to legitimize the occupation, and make other countries complicit.  This has been admitted by both sides - the US sought UN legitimacy for the occupation early on, and the insurgency drove the UN out to strip the US of that same legitimacy.

(The American calls for Canadian help in Iraq were accused of the same motives:  Dressing up the war with the relatively good name of Canada's military was seen by some as a way of putting Iraq in peacekeeping drag.)

This leads us to the answer to Kevin's question:  Who will George Bush blame for his failure?  The first answer is going to be the Democrats, of course.  The second answer, however, is liable to be the international community that the US ambassador to the UN doesn't believe exists.  This disbelief won't stop Republicans from blaming France, Germany, and whoever else they please for the defeat in Iraq.

As an added obscenity, somewhere in there a Republican Senator is likely to blame the Iraqi people for being so "ungrateful" for the US invasion of their country.

May 28, 2006 | Permalink


I've got a bad feeling that Baghdad is going to be Beirut soon, and I'm not sure that there's any way to stop it. It's hard for me to imagine that an American withdrawal could make things much worse. But I guess that's just it though: things could get even worse.

I remember reading a piece in Harper's that said that maybe the best thing for Iraq would be to withdraw and let Iraq have their full-fledged civil war. (It turns out that it was by Edward Luttwak and was adapted from Foreign Policy - which can be found here) The version in Harper's ends like this:

...American forces continue to suffer casualties in combat against factions that should be confronting one another instead. Perhaps what the new Iraqi state needs in order to achieve stability is precisely a certain amount of civil war. Preventing it may impede a natural and perhaps very desirable political evolution. Americans would not today be happier if European Great Powers, horrified by the carnage of our own Civil War, had enforced an armistice between North and South that might endure still between two feeble states. ...
It's hard for me to know what to make of this idea. I'm not convinced that an all-out civil war would result in anything but a division of Iraq, or even worse, a regional war that would involve Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and probably Turkey as well. The latter is obviously a horrible idea, but I haven't decided how I feel about the former.

Posted by: sean | May 28, 2006 3:37:37 PM

What astonished me, leading in to the war, was how many Good Liberals continued to maintain their humanitarian aims despite the overwhelming evidence that Bush was not interested in pursuing those goals seriously.

I knew a lot of "Good Liberals" who simply resigned themselves to hoping for humanitarian relief when it became apparent that war was, quite simply, inevitable. I don't know that I knew anyone (not that I'm suggesting they don't exist; just not in my immediate circle) who supported the war for that reason. It was more supporting the hope of an admittedly unlikely silver lining.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | May 28, 2006 3:47:34 PM

"Who will George Bush blame for his failure?"

Iran? We are not done yet.

"It was more supporting the hope of an admittedly unlikely silver lining."

It was pretty cynical on my part. Iraq was the closest to Taiwan or South Korea of the ME nations, and getting exclusive development contracts from a secure, healthy, productive Iraq could have been insanely profitable. A Dell plant in Baghdad could have sold billions of PC's. I thought Bushco were smarter than that, or maybe I misunderstood their intentions. Like turning Taiwan into Afghanistan. What a waste.

Re:Nir Rosen. I hope nobody thinks Haditha was some kind of exception. It may the the worst case, but there is plenty of evidence that US soldiers are deliberately killing unarmed Iraqi civilians each and every day.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 28, 2006 4:20:55 PM

A Massacre of Iraq Civilians What Else is New ...Swopa of Needlenose cites a Reuters article

"Word that U.S. Marines may have killed two dozen Iraqi civilians in "cold-blooded" revenge after an insurgent attack has shocked Americans but many Iraqis shrug it off as an every day fact of life under occupation."

On your third tour, you don't wait to get shot at. A classic form of "Battle fatigue". It ain't their fault. The shrinks, after doubledips in Korea, recommended limiting combat to 30 days continuous and 90 days lifetime. The tours in Vietnam were designed around that study. Everybody knows this stuff, so I assume the WH is overstressing soldiers intentionally.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | May 28, 2006 4:36:36 PM

138k (or whatever we have there now) is on the order of hundreds of thousands. I think Shinseki was a little more specific. :-)

Posted by: Drew Miller | May 28, 2006 4:38:59 PM

I feel quite certain that Bush and the rest of the proponets of the war will blame folks who opposed the war for stabbing our noble troops in the back and preventing what otherwise would have been a glorious victory in Iraq.

Posted by: Jonathan Korman | May 28, 2006 6:44:25 PM

The "ungratefulness" of the Iraqi people lament has already been given a test ride by Daniel Pipes.

Posted by: robertl | May 28, 2006 7:43:50 PM

"I knew a lot of "Good Liberals" who simply resigned themselves to hoping for humanitarian relief when it became apparent that war was, quite simply, inevitable."

Ditto. I wasn't sold on the war, and was pretty convinced it was all based on chewing gum & bullshit a week up to. But I figured if it was inevitable, something good and "humanitarian" might come out of it.

I was right on the first part, wrong on the second.

Posted by: Dustin | May 29, 2006 8:52:31 AM

The sectarian battles, Sunni v Shia v Kurd, and the ethnic cleansing in some of the major cities (and many villages) appear to be ignored by US forces now.

It's also clear that DoD intends to withdraw the US troops into the permanent bases we've created, 'turning over' (abandoning) the cities to Iraqi forces which are increasingly sectarian and religiously controlled.

If the awful reprisals between the Sunni and Shia turn into a more overt - Beirut-like - civil war, which seems increasingly likely, can we accept the moral and political shame that would be involved by having 100,000 US troops nearby in safe bases while a civil war ensures?

There would be no good purpose being pursued by this reaction of internal withdrawal except to reinforce throughout the mideast that the US objective was to make Iraq a satellite state (including the oil) after both (or all three) Iraqi religious sides committed genocide against each other.

I see little continued positive role being performed today by the US forces in Iraq, and no role at all that's defendable if things get worse internally. It's time to declare our objectives have been met and get the hell out of Dodge before we are guilty of ignoring a genocice that we enabled.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 29, 2006 12:46:31 PM

In response to Jim - that sounds like exactly what the US military is doing: get out of the way and let the Iraqi factions fight to a draw.

Why spend american resources training Iraqi police when the militias will do a better job for nothing?

As far as responsibility goes - looks like the elected Iraqi government will take the fall for that: 'Inability to rein in paramilitary' charge already took out Jaafari...

Posted by: mike | May 30, 2006 8:46:18 PM

Bush legacy clear as Mudd

Some people are best remembered by an idiom—like, “Your name is mud,” which means, “You are not popular.” The term “mud” (slang) was defined as “a stupid twaddling fellow,”—e.g. “And his name is mud!”—according to a dictionary published by John Badcock c. 1823.

The idiom became popular in 1865 soon after the assignation of President Abraham Lincoln. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, broke his leg while jumping to the stage from the balcony after shooting Lincoln at the Ford Theater. Booth escaped. In the early morning hours, 30 miles south of Washington, D.C., Booth arrived at a farmhouse owned by Dr. Samuel Mudd, who knew nothing about the assassination. Dr. Mudd treated his injury and provided him with a pair of hand-made crutches. Booth paid Mudd for his services and departed.

Days later, Mudd was arrested by the United States Government on charges of conspiracy and aiding Booth in Lincoln’s assassination. Court testimony against Mudd revealed he was a sympathizer and member of the Confederate underground during the Civil War and abusive toward his slaves. Mudd was found guilty and convicted to life imprisonment at Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas 70 miles from Key West. The phrase, “Your name is mud(d),” is attributed to Dr. Mudd.

Allan Pinkerton, Abe’s personal body guard before becoming President, claimed Booth would have been foiled had he been in charge of Lincoln’s security that night. Pinkerton founded the National Pinkerton Detective Agency, from which the idiom “Pirvate Eye” derived. Everybody knows “Pinkerton” and remembers his business logo and slogan: “We never sleep” printed underneath a human eyeball.

And everybody knows that “D-Day” is the idiom for the Battle of Normandy in June 1944. And most folks understand the term “McCarthyism” as the Second Red Scare when U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy trampled civil rights to flush out communism in the late 1940s through mid-50s.

The phrase “Black Tuesday” refers to October 29, 1929, the day panicky stock holders tried to pull out of the market all at once, which led up to the Great Depression. This idiom, “Black Tuesday,” like, “Your name is mud,” has a dual meaning. “Black Tuesday” also refers September 11, 2001—most people world-wide just refer to it as nine-eleven.

The idiom “bushwhacker” was used to describe a method of guerrilla warfare during the Civil War. The people doing the attacks were called “bushwhackers.”

As I reflect on idioms of yore, undoubtedly our culture will invent an iconic moniker that will depict the last five years—and events yet to come—in the United States of America. We’ve always been a culture of slogans: Prosperity for America's families; Compassionate conservatism; Leave no child behind; Real plans for real people; Reformer with results. But idioms don’t describe an ideology as cleverly as they depict reality or define a legacy.

It’s premature to label this administration, just yet. Because even with a Democratic stronghold things will get worse before they get better. There’s more shock-and-awe to come as we stay the course before we can cut-and-run from Iraq, before the mission is accomplished, victory achieved, as we continue to move forward.

Slogans are like points of light, eventually they loose all luster and burn-out. But idioms like Black Tuesday, D-Day, or the Red Scare period of fear and suspicion, will survive for generations, because they best describe the ineffable, the unbelievable.

But I wonder, what idiom will be invented to describe the legacy of George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States? Will his name be mud!?

After many appeals, and for his exemplary work as a physician-inmate, Dr. Mudd was granted a pardon by President Andrew Johnson, and released from prison after serving four years. Mudd returned to his farm in Maryland and continued his medical practice. Subsequent to his release, several appeals by his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, were made on his behalf to clear his name, fait accompli. His name will always be Mudd.

Posted by: Michael Thessen | Jan 16, 2007 12:49:45 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.