May 30, 2024

Bush (41) vs. Bush (43)

David Broussard writes, regarding the situation in Iraq, that:

How would things have been different in 1991 if President Bush (41) had decided to “stay the course” and “finish the job” and rolled the 600K coalition troops right into Baghdad?  We will never know for certain. Likely we would have spent years rebuilding the country, fighting an insurgency, and saying that we made a mistake.

I think that an apt historical comparison would be like the end of WWI and WWII.

One of the primary lessons of WWI that the Allies applied in WWII was that Germany (and Japan) must unconditionally surrender.  Then Secretary of State Marshall embarked the US on its greatest triumph of nation building.  The US invested in Germany and Japan to the tune of trillions of dollars for decades and the result is two stable liberal democracies that are the second and third most powerful economies in the world.

to say that President Bush (43) took on too much is like saying that FDR took on too much in fighting the Nazis in 1941.  The only real difference is that in 1941 people still believed in the ideal of freedom and were willing to pay almost any price, and now we only believe in our freedom and are willing to pay almost nothing.

This is an interesting discussion.  I’m not sure I buy the analogy, though.

Consider the relative strength of Germany’s army after WWI and before WWII.  History shows that they were much, much stronger in 1938 than they were at the end of WWI.  The same can’t be said of Iraq whose military in 2002 was a shell of its former self.

Germany was down and out for more than a decade after “the war to end all wars”, but Iraq wasn’t really hurt immediately after the first Gulf War and Hussein continued to be a plague on the region because of this.

Hindsight shows that Bush 41 should have driven the troops – all of them, from every nation – into Baghdad, secured the borders, and begun to work from there.  As you say, that’s easy to recognize now.

The initial question – which Bush was right? – is of no importantance whatsoever as the answer can have no practical effect on the world.  But for the sake of fun, I’ll give my two cents worth, which is that both were wrong.  41 erred on the side of a quick peace and tried to play nice with people who, in the end, can’t be trusted – Saudi, et al.

43’s mistake was arrogance.  If he’d brought his father’s force to Iraq we wouldn’t be having this discussion now.  Iraq would be, within reason, safe, secure, and more or less functioning while Iran would be wondering what’s coming at them rather than taking the offensive.

Therein lies a clue to a better 20th century analogy than Germany.  In what other country did we go to fight with too few men, with insufficient support at home, and for dubious reasons based in part on mis-information against a determined, ideologically-driven enemy who lurked among the civilian population and was heavily supported from an opposing power?

Vietnam.  And we all know how that turned out.

DB says that “The only real difference is that in 1941 people still believed in the ideal of freedom and were willing to pay almost any price, and now we only believe in our freedom and are willing to pay almost nothing.”

Recall, however, that FDR was driven to engage the enemy by a direct attack.  By December 1941 we’d already watched England get pounded into rubble for nearly an entire year and done virtually nothing.  Only when the threat to America became tangible did we act.  Not so in Iraq where no such threat existed.  The spin failed because people, even self-absorbed Americans, know the difference.

He also says “We could say that its too hard to instill democracy…or that the Iraqis need to learn to protect themselves and fight for their own freedoms. We could say that they weren’t ready to democracy or that you can’t impose freedom on people.”

We could, because all of these things are true.  What is needed – whether James Baker’s commission is doing it or not remains to be seen – is a hard, cold look at the facts on the ground.  If we’re supported by the Iraqi people, if we can break the terrorists’ backs within 2 years, and if the Iraqis can then govern and defend themselves, then we should do it.  Otherwise it’s time to pull the plug.

Vietnam should have taught us that.  Americans do believe in freedom for people in other countries.  But we’re not willing to pour blood and billions into the ground tilting at ideological windmills, not when the people for whom we’re nominally fighting don’t seem to appreciate the sacrifice.

A reader of my blog recently put it to me this way:

“two-thirds of the world could give a rats a– about democracy — all they want is to scrape together enough beans and rice to fend off starvation one more week.”

Maslow, of course, would agree.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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