Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Was Bush Right?

Condi Rice has announced that "the Bush freedom agenda won." And it's true: we invaded Iraq, and next thing you know Gaddafi's dead. I think it's a discussion worth having. Especially since there's no way to answer the question.

There will always be revisionists. Even among historians, I imagine it's hard to look back without unrecognized prejudices. So some guy peering over his laptop has even less credibility than that, I suppose. But let's look at what we know:

The centerpiece of Bush's response to terrorism was the invasion of Iraq. Ironically, as it appears President Obama is about to end it (sort of), Rs are lining up at the trough to denounce his decision, saying the mission isn't accomplished. Which, you might think, has implications for those concluding Bush's agenda "won."

His reasons for invading were -- and remain -- malleable. But let's assume it was to sow the seeds of democracy in the Middle East. The immediate reaction around that region was to recoil in horror at the "messy" democracy, as Rumsfeld called it, that was unleashed when we arrived in Baghdad. Our use of torture and detentions became a prime recruiting tool for al Queda. The death and destruction in Iraq was enormous and persists. Was this a credible template for uprisings; something to which other countries would aspire? I don't know. But it's a hard sell, and needs to be made by someone not on the hook for the wreckage, like Condi is.

Interestingly, it was Khadafy's announcement that he'd rid himself of nukes that was pointed to as a monumental accomplishment of our invasion. Hailed as a hero by Bush and all the RWS™, taken off the terrorist list, he even became an object of admiration by John McCain. Strangely, he's also become dead; and the schema that got him -- the US supporting an actual home-brewed revolution as opposed to invading -- was successful in mere months, at a tiny fraction of the cost of Iraq. What, one might ask, inspired the Libyans to do what they did? That we didn't invade them? I can't say; but there's a huge difference in the origins of the end of Kaddafi vs that of Saddam Hussein. Maybe the idea -- as stated by Obama -- that the US would support them without ruining their country was a factor. Who knows?

Obama's speech in Cairo could be more convincingly argued as a catalyst than the debacle of Iraq. It certainly posted the hoc (see below). Maybe, also, the fact that under Obama, we've been picking off al Queda high-ups like clay pigeons, at a rate Bush didn't dare to dream, rendering that group pretty toothless.

The other Bush accomplishment, taking out the Taliban in Afghanistan, which I supported and by the ease of which I was impressed (he used a CIA plan developed under Clinton, doncha know), was abandoned tragically, leaving any lasting favorable international impact in the dustbin. An egregiously missed opportunity, it remains unsolved and probably unsolvable today. Motivator for democracies? Not after the first fifteen minutes, I'd argue.

So, yeah. We invaded Iraq and Qaddafi is gone. Post hoc ergo propter hoc. I'm open to being convinced; but for now, given the fact that Iraq took trillions and an invasion and cost hundreds of thousands of lives and left the country in ruins with governance of the most questionable sort these many years later, it's hard to see it as the model for the "Arab Spring."

And let's not forget what may be the most important factor of all: Mohamed Bouazizi, the man in Tunisia who set himself on fire. That, I think, is a pretty direct cause and effect.

It'd be really interesting to see some sort of legitimate polling of rebels (for lack of a better term) in Egypt and Libya, addressing to what extent and in what way the US invasion of Iraq, as opposed to events in Tunisia, played a role in their revolutionary thinking. I hope it happens, because I'd really like to know.

Meanwhile, as a somewhat relevant aside, I have this to say to those recoiling in horror that Libyans and Tunisians seem to be favoring Islamic parties after their uprisings: what did you expect them to do? Become Scientologists?

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