In today’s Wall Street Journal, former Cheney staffer John Hannah argues that George W. Bush deserves more credit for what is happening in Iran. Hannah thinks that the fact that there were protests against the Iranian government during Bush’s term proves that Bush’s belligerent stance toward Iran worked. Interestingly, Hannah doesn’t cite a single Iranian who agrees with this. On the other hand, many Iranians have said that Bush’s hard line policies and bellicose rhetoric, specifically his 2002 “axis of evil” speech, were terrible for Iran’s moderates.
One of those is Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Sane’i, a key clerical supporter of the Green movement. Reacting to the “axis of evil” speech shortly after it occurred, Sane’i said that “a great injustice has been done to the supporters of democracy and freedom and true Islam due to Mr. Bush’s speech.”
Another is Iranian reformist parliamentarian Ismail Gerami-Moghaddam, who said in 2007 that the speech “led the Iranian people to grow increasingly skeptical of American slogans. In another sphere, our political rivals … attacked us. They said sympathizing with a country that puts us in the ‘axis of evil’ will take you down a dead-end road, and they were actually correct.”
Meanwhile, in World Affairs Journal, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen uses his preferred argumentative strategy of just making things up to present Bush’s war on terror as a huge success. In a particularly egregious instance, Thiessen writes that “as the Bush administration ratcheted up pressure on the enemy, terrorist violence across the world plummeted,” citing a “study by the IntelCenter [that] examined the 63 ‘most significant’ attacks launched by al-Qaeda and its affiliates over a period of nearly 10 years”:
It found that by mid-2007 the number of Islamist attacks across the world had declined by 65 percent from a high point in 2004 — and fatalities were down by more than 90 percent. The bottom line: The Bush administration’s strategy of staying on offense worked.
The IntelCenter study (pdf) Thiessen cites, however, specifically excluded “attacks that occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other insurgency theaters.” This is like touting a drop in the crime rate by specifically ignoring areas where crime has shot up.
On this point, in January Assaf Moghadam reported in West Point’s CTC Sentinel (pdf) that, since 1981, Iraq suffered some 1,067 suicide terrorist attacks (a number that has gone up since the report was published) which accounts for more than half of all suicide attacks since 1981.
The sheer volume in which this tactic has struck Iraq is even more impressive since no suicide attacks were recorded in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
This is what Bush’s strategy of “staying on offense” has meant for the Iraqi people — years of suicide attacks, reprisal attacks, and waves of sectarian cleansing that have utterly transformed the face of the country. It’s important to understand that luring terrorists to Iraq to blow themselves up in markets and mosques wasn’t some tragic side-effect of Bush’s policy, it was in fact a goal of Bush’s policy, one that Marc Thiessen is proud of.
Leaving aside the spinning of the Bushies, which is to be expected, the evidence we have strongly indicates that the extremists themselves perceive Obama and his policies as a far greater threat than Bush’s.
Al Qaeda-linked theorist Abd al-Aziz al-Julayyil recently wrote (translated by Thomas Heghammer) that “The most important fruit of Bush’s policies was the wake-up call it produced among Muslims in terms of realizing the true nature of their enemy, reviving the creed of loyalty toward Muslims and dissociation from infidels, and raising the flag of jihad in several battlefields.” Bush’s policies also resulted in “infamy suffered by America on the world stage and the demise of its false discourse on human rights; in the world’s eyes America itself became a proponent of oppression and a threat to human rights.”
But, according to al-Julayyil, Obama’s approach is “weakening [Muslims] enmity toward America and makes them more positively inclined toward her future policies. It is numbing them, reducing their hatred toward infidels, and making them stop fighting.”
It’s interesting that the only people who can be found to speak up for Bush’s policies are former administration hands and conservative movement pundits. The people who were the objects of those policies, however, disagree in almost every respect.