Bush’s Military Legacy

In the latest stop in his “legacy tour,” President Bush spoke at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania earlier today.

Choosing the War College for the one of the last legs of Bush’s victory limp is deeply ironic. As Dan Froomkin notes, “more than a month before the U.S. invaded Iraq, the War College published a prescient report — Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario — that the White House essentially ignored.”

As James Fallows wrote for the Atlantic in 2004, the report warned of ethnic and regional tensions, advised that Iraqis would quickly turn against an occupying force and set out a 135-item checklist of key tasks that might have avoided disaster.

Then, in December of 2003, the college published a scathing report saying the war in Iraq was not only distracting from the real war on terror, but that Bush was pursuing an “unrealistic” quest that might lead to wars with states posing no serious threat.

Bush nevertheless chose the War College as the site of a major speech about the war in May 2004 — a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to reverse the growing tide of public discontent over a campaign that had turned increasingly violent.

But the real purpose of siting the speech at the War College was to allow Bush one of his final opportunities to bask in the reflected glory of the United States military. Throughout his presidency, Bush has made much of his role as commander-in-chief. He has regularly used the accoutrements of soldiery to cultivate an image of himself as a “war leader.” This is pretty unseemly for someone who, when he was of age, used his family’s connections to avoid combat in a war he claims to have supported. But it’s even more so given that few, if any, American leaders in history have more poorly served America’s military than George W. Bush.


As Center for American Progress senior fellow Lawrence Korb said in congressional testimony in July 2007, “America’s ground forces are stretched to their breaking point.”

Not since the aftermath of the Vietnam War has the U.S. Army been so depleted…The Army is severely overstretched and its overall readiness has significantly declined. As Gen. Colin Powell noted last December [2006] well before the surge, the active Army is about broken, and as Gen. Barry McCaffrey pointed out when we testified together before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April [2007], “the ground combat capability of the U.S. armed forces is shot.” The Marine Corps is suffering from the same strains as the Army, and the situation for the Army National Guard is even worse.

A March 2008 survey of military officers conducted by Foreign Policy and the Center for a New American Security found that “the U.S. military is ‘severely strained’ by two large-scale occupations in the Middle East, other troop deployments, and problems recruiting.”

“They see a force stretched dangerously thin and a country ill-prepared for the next fight,” said the report, ‘The U.S. Military Index,’ which polled 3,400 current and former high-level military officers.

Sixty percent of the officers surveyed said that the military is weaker now than it was five years ago, often citing the number of troops deployed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush is of course right to praise the service of America’s fighting forces. But it’s also important to recognize that, in exchange for volunteering to put their lives on the line, the men and women of our military enter into a bargain with the American people. They sign up based upon the understanding that they and their families will be taken care of, and that their sacrifice will not be thrown away in unnecessary wars and grinding occupations to implement unrealistic schemes sold with dishonest arguments. George W. Bush has violated this bargain. That is a part of his legacy that he cannot escape, no matter how many flags he stands before.