As with majority of conservative commentary on Iraq over the last few months, Bush’s speech at the National Defense University today was almost completely focused on how much better things are now in Iraq than they were a year ago, with no substantive comment on the effects of the Iraq war on U.S. national security.
The reason for this is that, even in the most charitable interpretation, the U.S. military has been able suppress a fire which was allowed to rage out of control because of the incompetence of its commander in chief.
As the president recognized in his speech, the new reality in Iraq is largely the result of “the tribes in Anbar…growing tired of al Qaida’s brutality,” which “presented us with an opportunity to defeat al Qaida.” Let’s think about what this means: Because of the chaos created by the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, Al Qaeda was able to come in to Iraq (where they didn’t exist before) and carry on a years-long campaign of mass murder against Iraqi civilians, such that Iraqis eventually turned against Al Qaeda. To suggest that this represents any sort of policy success is to make a mockery of the English language.
In case you’d thought that the least five years had added any intellectual heft to the president’s worldview, here’s his description of the “ideological battle” which we are fighting in the Middle East:
We must show the people of the broader Middle East a better alternative to a life of violence and despair, and that alternative is freedom. History shows that people who are given the choice between freedom and tyranny will ultimately choose freedom. And history shows that freedom will yield the peace we all want.
Quite right. Likewise, people who are given the choice between a tray of freshly baked brownies and a kick in the groin will ultimately choose the brownies. But given the choice between a kick in the groin and multiple amputations, most would choose the kick in the groin. Similarly, given the choice between tyranny and chaos, most people would choose tyranny, which at least offers order. After five long years in Iraq, it’s staggering that Bush still insists on defending his Iraq policy with these sorts of simplistic choices. Of course we’d like other to live in freedom, but Bush gives no indication that he understands that this is more complicated than removing bad governments and installing good ones.
There will be difficult moments in the work ahead, yet we can have confidence in the outcome. With faith in the power of freedom, we will transform nations that once harbored our enemies into strong and capable allies in the war on terror. With faith in the power of freedom, we will prove that the future of the Middle East belongs not to terror, but to liberty. And with faith in the power of freedom, we will leave behind a safer and more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren.
“Faith in the power of freedom?” How about “with smart national security policies that don’t waste trillions of dollars and kill tens of thousands of foreigners by turning their countries into open-source laboratories for terrorism while making America hated around the world,” for a start? Call me crazy, but I don’t think America should rely on faith-based national security.
Any forthright accounting of the the Iraq war must recognize that it has been a disaster for American interests. It has set the cause of freedom back throughout the region, as governments and populations have recoiled from the chaos resulting from Iraq’s “liberation.” It has produced countless other negative consequences with which we and our allies will have to contend for decades to come. As we noted last week, Bob Woodward’s new book paints a picture of a president who was unable and unwilling to level with the American people — or really with himself — about the reality of what he had gotten us into in Iraq. It’s important to remember that this is not ancient history, and Woodward’s Bush is not just a character in a book. He’s still president, and today’s speech showed that he’s still not up to it.