Bush versus Bush
The debate over the Iraq war is essentially over. I think theres a fair chance well win, says Brent Scowcroft to Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker. But look at the cost.
Scowcroft was the first President Bushs national security advisor, his best friend, and a hawk in the first war on Iraq. But that war was waged for the specific and limited purpose of driving Iraq out of Kuwait, not regime change that would topple Saddam Hussein and entail a long occupation of the country with a bitter guerrilla war.
The first Bush administration refrained from silly talk of Iraq posing a threat to the United States, of mushroom clouds, and of spreading democracy in the Middle East. It was guided by a certain conception of American interests, not Israeli ones.
In fact, the neoconservatives who would later call for an apocalyptic World War IV beginning with Iraq but then widening to destroy the whole Axis of Evil, from Libya to North Korea, were very unhappy with the first Bushs narrow war aims. They complained that he hadnt finished the job by sending U.S. troops all the way to Baghdad. But the elder Bush and his circle had foreseen the kind of mess that the younger Bush has gotten into, and they avoided any risk of it.
Today the neocons still doggedly support this war, but their tune has changed. They arent reminding anyone of their happy predictions of a cakewalk and a warm welcome for the American invaders. If the war had followed their forecasts, they would be celebrating now and taking bows, along with credit for success. Meanwhile, their critics who opposed the war would be forced to admit error and falling into an abashed silence.
But none of that is happening. The American death toll has passed 2,000 several times the number killed in the first Iraq war and, more important, its accelerating as the Iraqi resistance develops new tactics. Many American soldiers alive today will soon die.
The senior Bush didnt try to foster delusions in the public as his son did, and he didnt want to be deluded himself. He trusted Scowcroft and other advisors to shoot straight. The younger Bush seems addicted to propaganda not only does he utter it, he insists on hearing it.
Condoleezza Rice was angry with Scowcroft for his public criticism of the new Iraq war in the Wall Street Journal. How could you do this to us? she reportedly demanded.
That simple, visceral question speaks volumes. It doesnt care whether Scowcroft was trying to serve the country, to save lives, or to prevent disaster; it cares only about what he was doing to us, the current administration.
You have to wonder how the two presidents, father and son, are getting along. The son has spurned the fathers example as well as his advice. Which one is entitled to say, I told you so?
Goldbergs interview with Scowcroft implies that there is tension and distance between father and son, as well as between members of their policy teams. Ones clear impression is that they rarely speak to each other now.
Not that the first Bush administration was motivated by humanitarian impulses; it preferred self-interest to lofty ideals. But the younger Bush has served both badly. Maybe he is finally learning to listen to his father, and to his fathers generation.
The old man never embraced three types of people who form the sons political base conservatives, Christian evangelicals, and the neocons. His neglect, even defiance, of these groups may have cost him reelection in 1992, but it saved him from folly in the Middle East.
Ironically, the dramatic contrast between father and son may wind up enhancing the fathers historical reputation. Nearly everything the younger Bush does only makes the elder Bush look better. Even conservatives, who felt betrayed by the father and thought the son was one of us, are finally realizing that the son has violated their principles worse than the old man ever did.
The younger Bush and his team didnt want to hear bad news. But by refusing to listen to it yesterday, they ensured that theyd be getting a lot more of it today.
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