Sunday, July 23, 2006

Buckley on Dubya

This is about the only way Bill Buckley could ever get favorable coverage by CBS:
"If you had a European prime minister who experienced what we've experienced it would be expected that he would retire or resign," Buckley says.
Asked if the Bush administration has been distracted by Iraq, Buckley says "I think it has been engulfed by Iraq, by which I mean no other subject interests anybody other than Iraq. ... The continued tumult in Iraq has overwhelmed what perspectives one might otherwise have entertained with respect to, well, other parts of the Middle East with respect to Iran in particular." ...
"I think Mr. Bush faces a singular problem best defined, I think, as the absence of effective conservative ideology — with the result that he ended up being very extravagant in domestic spending, extremely tolerant of excesses by Congress, and in respect of foreign policy, incapable of bringing together such forces as apparently were necessary to conclude the Iraq challenge," Buckley says. Asked what President Bush's foreign policy legacy will be to his successor, Buckley says "There will be no legacy for Mr. Bush. I don't believe his successor would re-enunciate the words he used in his second inaugural address because they were too ambitious. … So therefore I think his legacy is indecipherable."
Who can argue? Except for tax cuts, Bush's domestic agenda is ... well, "indecipherable" is a good word. Of course, the 9/11 attack completely re-focused the Bush presidency and the administration's defenders would say that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to the war on terror.

How we got here

It should be remembered that in 2002, when the administration began beating the drums for war with Iraq, the Democrats in Congress insisted on a debate. At that time, the Democrats overwhelmingly endorsed the administration's claims that the Iraqi WMD program and Saddam's defiance of the U.N. were legitimate grounds for war. (In 1998, the Clinton administration had made the same arguments.)

The thing that must be remembered about 2002 is this: The White House and leaders of both parties in Congress expected a cakewalk in Iraq. And, at least so far as conventional warfare was concerned, they were right: From the first bomb until the fall of Baghdad took just three weeks. The vaunted Republican Guards were destroyed (or ran away), the dictator and his henchmen went into hiding or fled the country. U.S. combat casualties in the invasion and conquest of Iraq were about 400 dead; considering that Saddam's armed forces had once been the fourth-largest military in the world, this was not a particularly heavy toll.

The war was a success, but the subsequent peace has been marred by what most call an "insurgency," but which is actually a brutal terror campaign -- roadside bombings and kidnappings. (Very few U.S. casualties in the current phase are the result of small-arms fire, or even mortar attacks.) The terrorists are mostly foreigners, who are recruited, funded and supported by Iran, Syria and al-Qaeda. This is not to say that there are no Iraqis involved. But the Iraqis know that the U.S. forces can't leave until order is restored, so they have an interest in stopping the violence. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, then, are opposed to this terrorism, which is killing more Iraqi civilians than U.S. troops.

What's happening

Iran, Syria and al-Qaeda know that the continued large-scale U.S. presence in Iraq is an irritant, so the terrorists -- backed by outside forces -- are escalating the violence in order to force U.S. troops to remain. Why? So they can inflict a Mogadishu-style humiliation on the United States.

Ever since Vietnam, America's enemies have believed that the U.S. does not have the resolve to sustain military operations long-term, if such operations mean significant numbers of casualties. To these enemies, our unwillingness to fight -- if fighting means U.S. casualties -- is weakness and cowardice.

No less an authority than Osama bin Laden has said that it is this weakness, as exemplified by the U.S. retreat from Somalia after the "Black Hawk Down" incident, that inspired al-Qaeda's belief that it could attack America with impunity. In the Third World, strength is admired and weakness reviled. Because of America's retreat after one battle, we were "a weak horse," and Osama reckoned that the Islamic world would rally behind the "strong horse" of al-Qaeda.
When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.
-- Osama bin Laden, 2001
Whether or not the U.S. invasion of Iraq was wise or good, it has accomplished one thing: It has put American troops on the ground facing al-Qaeda-backed terrorists. Thus, the American military has the opportunity to refute bin Laden's argument, to show that our troops are not afraid to fight in defense of freedom.

This refutation has cost the lives of 2,500 U.S. soldiers -- and the blood of thousands of others wounded -- but this is really a belated payment for more than 40 years of an American foreign policy based on risk-avoidance. The current mess might never have occurred, had it not been for ill-advised actions in Somalia and elsewhere.

Osama's assessment was entirely correct. People prefer the strong horse to the weak horse, and ever since 1968, U.S. policy has put us into the "weak horse" role, at least from the Third World perspective. What Osama did not understand, however, is this: The policies pursued by the American political elite do not necessarily reflect the wishes, interests or character of the American people.

I believe that the American people understand the stakes in Iraq. The American people understand that, if the U.S. military retreats in the face of a haphazard terrorism campaign carried out by a ragtag bunch of young fanatics, this will embolden fanatics everywhere.

Having expended the lives of 2,500 soldiers already, will we not stick it out another year or two -- risking perhaps another 800-1,000 U.S. deaths -- in order to crush the terrorists, and to establish a stable government in Iraq?

Dying for a mistake?

John Kerry likes to talk about war in terms of asking someone to be the last man to die for a mistake. This is foolish. Mistaken or not, wars end in victory for one side and defeat for the other. Having voted to send Americans to war -- back when he expected it to be an easy and popular affair -- Kerry's regrets now are worse than useless. Once war has commenced, the achievement of victory is the only proper object of the statesman.

One might argue that the War of 1812 was a U.S. policy blunder brought about by the anti-British resentments and expansionist ambitions of the "War Hawks," and thus that the last American killed in the Battle of New Orleans "died for a mistake." But New Orleans was a U.S. victory, the war enhanced American prestige in Europe, and the war did, after all, give us our national anthem -- inspired by the bombardment of Ft. McHenry.

Mistakes? I consider the Spanish-American War a folly, and I am still waiting for someone to tell me what good America accomplished by its intervention in World War One. And the 1999 war with Serbia - what was that about? But thinking such foreign adventures a fool's errand does not require me to cheer for American defeat, or to urge that we stop fighting merely because the fighting is difficult and deadly.

War means fighting, and fighting means killing, as Nathan Bedford Forrest once said. If the United States wishes to be as pacifist as Sweden or France, it may be that we may avoid wars in the future ... or not. But I hope that, the next time war fever strikes Congress, someone will speak up to remind them that wars don't always go as planned. Sometimes wars drag on and become unpopular. I hope, before they commit their nation's troops to fight another war, our leaders will be prepared to explain to several thousand American mothers and fathers -- and wives and children -- why their loved ones had to die in some god-forsaken desert or jungle.

It is obvious to me that Democrats like Kerry who voted for the war in 2002 weren't thinking about any of this. They were thinking about the elections, and their own ambitions. Now the Democrats (and not a few Republicans) want to blame the Bush administration for all that's gone wrong in Iraq and pretend that their Monday-morning quarterbacking is "courageous." It's really gutless irresponsibility. If they really believed their own rhetoric, then those who voted for the war but have since turned against it would resign from Congress. But they don't do that, do they?

The only fitting epithet: Weak horses!

-- McCAIN