The politics of war

Heads of StateUnrest, Conflicts and WarGovernmentIraqTerrorismPoliticsGeorge W. Bush

Today, Townhall.com's Hugh Hewitt and the American Conservative Defense Alliance's Doug Bandow assess the domestic politics of foreign war. Previously, they re-imagined the War on Terror, pondered the meaning of Osama bin Laden, assessed the state of national security on the sixth anniversary of Sept. 11 and debated the Petraeus report.

Bush: A modern-day Harry TrumanBy Hugh Hewitt
Doug,

Do you agree with this statement by the Atlantic's Robert Kaplan?

The idea that Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are front men for the administration is ludicrous. Until he took the job as overall ground commander in Iraq, Petraeus was a favorite of liberal journalists: the Princeton man who enjoyed the company of the media and intellectuals, so much so that he was vaguely distrusted by other general officers who envied the good ink he received. As for Crocker, he is a hard-core Arabist, a professional species that I once wrote a book about: He is the least likely creature on Earth to buy into neoconservative ideas about the Middle East. Neither of these men are identified with the decision to go to war. If I had to bet, I'd say that Crocker especially would have been against it, like his other Arabist colleagues. Thus, these men have no personal stake in proving the president right. They and their staffs are much more likely to provide a balanced analysis of the reality in Iraq than senators and congressmen looking over their shoulders at opinion polls and future elections. As Petraeus said, "I wrote this testimony myself," meaning, the White House had nothing to do with it. Watching them brief Congress Monday, I came away convinced that they made a better impression on the public than anyone else in the room.
What Kaplan is underscoring is that the advice President Bush received on the surge from the beginning has been the military's best advice, and he continues to follow it. This is what the anti-war absolutists of both left and right refuse to understand or credit: There's a war going on, and Bush has consistently sought and followed the advice of the Pentagon's leadership, including its senior military leaders. Either you want a president to do that, or you don't. We tried Vietnam on the LBJ model of micromanaging, and it didn't work. The surge, by contrast, is working.

No war is easy, and hard wars drain support from presidents, as happened to Truman in Korea. Americans rightly hate to see their finest soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed and wounded, and they grieve with the families of the fallen and the injured.

But retreat in the face of this enemy is not an option, just as it wasn't an option when North Korea and China waged an even bloodier war against us. President Bush is reprising the Truman role now, and will leave office only marginally more popular than Truman, but as Norman Podhoretz argues in his superb new book "World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism," Bush has done what needed to be done and will continue to do so through the end of his eight years as president.

George Bush has already been president during a time of "hot" war longer than any president in American history, and despite the enormous strains and a first-of-its-kind political opposition at home, he has persevered in the course of victory. I hope you and other critics eventually awake to the fact that Bush has done what needed to be done, that the mistakes he has made are like the mistakes all presidents make in all wars, and that we were fortunate to have him in the Oval Office on 9/11 and in the job through the first extremely trying years of the long war.

Hugh Hewitt is the executive editor of Townhall.com and a nationally syndicated talk-show host whose show can be heard in more than 100 cities across the United States. He blogs at HughHewitt.com and his most recent book is "A Mormon In The White House?: 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney."


History will judge Bush harshlyBy Doug Bandow
Hugh,

I respect Gen. David Petraeus and his judgment. But I believe he underestimates the political difficulties that undercut any military successes. He says he doesn't know if the administration's escalation has made us safer; I believe it has not.

Of course, had President Bush listened to his military advisors at the start, we might not be facing catastrophic failure today. When Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki testified that a large occupation garrison would be necessary, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz dismissed his concerns and pushed him into Pentagon deep freeze.

The administration ignored sound military advice because it was living in an ideological fantasy world, in which Iraqis would cheerfully submit to rule imposed by the U.S., there would be no insurgency, and rival factions would circle campfires singing Kumbaya. "Stuff happens," Secretary Rumsfeld declared after looting swept liberated Baghdad. It happened because the administration chose hope over experience in designing its Iraq policy.

But when the president was criticized for ignoring military advice, administration supporters cited Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill to argue that civilian leaders had to make an independent decision. That's true -- but George Bush is no Lincoln or Churchill.

Indeed, administration behavior has been remarkably deficient.

Certainly the left, as you note, has oft been irresponsible. Yet after 9/11, the president and his supporters shouted down anyone not affirming that America was attacked because it was beautiful. Suggesting that sound policy required understanding our enemies was said to be blaming the victim. Those advocating that Congress debate presidential proposals for expanded power were accused of endangering the republic.

The same phenomenon recurred over the war in Iraq. Rather than confront the most serious arguments for war, many left-wing administration critics wandered into fevered conspiratorial swamps, blaming Halliburton, for instance.

However, the administration and its advocates encouraged the erroneous impression that Iraq was involved in 9/11. They ignored contrary intelligence in painting Saddam Hussein as more dangerous than Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao Tse-tung combined. They charged opponents of invading Iraq with being pro-Hussein. They tarred war opponents --whose warnings, like that of Gen. Shinseki, proved to be far more accurate than their own -- with epithets such as "appeaser."

The administration's arguments have not improved as the conflict has metastasized. War advocates have repeatedly downplayed setbacks and made fanciful claims of progress -- that the insurgency was in its "last throes," for instance.

The president continues to make the absurd claim that U.S. forces are battling insurgents in Iraq to avoid fighting them in America. The administration has responded to criticism of its botched war management by claiming that holding it accountable would hurt troop morale. War supporters have ignored strong evidence that the conflict is encouraging the very terrorist activity worldwide which you cite.

The last six years have not proved ennobling for the American republic. For this the president will bear much of the blame when history renders its judgment.

Doug Bandow is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of "Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire."

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