This morning I spent a few wistful minutes musing about George H.W. Bush and the way that brains don’t always pass from father to kid.
Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in “mission creep,” and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible. We had been unable to find Noriega in Panama, which we knew intimately. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under the circumstances, there was no viable “exit strategy” we could see, violating another of our principles.
Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different — and perhaps barren — outcome. (George H.W. Bush, A World Transformed, 1998)
No shit, pop. Even the great Frum has come to realize that we should pretty much accept a quiet withdrawal and hope that al Qaeda doesn’t fill the void. Credit where credit is due, Frum delivers his blistering acknowledgment of the obvious without once pulling that old rubber-knife-in-the-back gag that kills at Powerline.
Getting back to the Bushes, a decent amount of ink has gone dry cataloguing junior’s oedipal pathologies. Take it from Republican insiders and the Bushes themselves:
By the end of this family history, however, the reader comes away with a sense less of the similarities between George W. Bush and his father, than of their differences, in temperament, governance and attitudes toward religion, diplomacy and decision making. Not only did Bush the younger look to patriarchal figures like Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham for inspiration, but he also determined not to repeat what he saw as his father’s mistakes.
If his father lacked the ”vision thing,” he would preside over a more ideologically driven administration. If his father was a committed internationalist, he would be willing to go it alone. And if the first gulf war had failed to dislodge Mr. Hussein, then the 2003 Iraq war would finish him off.
As Rich Bond, a former Republican National Committee chairman sees it, George W. almost consciously tried to be different from his father from Day 1: ”You might say it was almost exaggerated,” the Schweizers quote him saying. ”I don’t know why because the father and son were very close. But George W. seemed to want to be defined differently from the beginning.”
You can hardly fault the older president Bush for not trying to get the message across that doing the opposite of what dad did is not the same as doing the smart thing. When junior ignored private advice dad tried the more direct approach, using his old confidante Brent Scowcroft as a cut-out:
But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence.
Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict–which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve–in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest.
Even without Israeli involvement, the results could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam’s strategic objectives. At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists. Conversely, the more progress we make in the war on terrorism, and the more we are seen to be committed to resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue, the greater will be the international support for going after Saddam.
To his credit the elder Bush and his confidantes had a better foresight on Iraq than most Democrats. More than that, their realistic skepticism singlehandedly saves rightwing credibility from damage done by the “candy and flowers” Republican leadership. If Scowcroft had not taken his lumps for treason ans pansy-assed liberalism and being objectively pro-terrorist there would not be a credible Republican voice (Pat Buchanan is not credible) who could look back at the martial hysteria surrounding the Iraq war without some degree of shame. Some folks will get points for coming clean before it was cool (I think David Frum’s conversion pretty much stamps that deadline), but we owe credit to the precious few who got it right the first time.
Too bad parenting loses its effectiveness when the kid is 55 and president of the United States. It seems ridiculous to expect a son who challenged his dad to a drunken fistfight at twenty-six to grow into a guy who handles parental criticism well. Heck, let’s throw in spousal criticism and call it a character trait.
All of which brings us to Iraqi PM Nuri Kamalal-Maliki’s speech before Congress on Wednesday. We know that Maliki’s predecessor Ayad Allawi accepted more than a little ghostwriting from the Bush campaign when his turn came to address Congress. God knows the administration obsesses about message discipline almost to the exclusion of everything else. Did al-Maliki get the same kind of ‘help?’ The White House claims ‘minimal help,’ Fred Kaplan thinks otherwise. Let’s go to the tape:
For decades, we struggled alone for our freedom. In 1991, when Iraqis tried to capitalize on the regime’s momentary weakness and rose up, we were alone again.
The people of Iraq will not forget your continued support as we establish a secure, liberal democracy. Let 1991 never be repeated, for history will be most unforgiving.
Zing! Take that, pops! If Maliki didn’t accept that portion from the White House verbatim, he clearly knew how to make junior happy.