Jewish World Review August 31, 2004 / 14 Elul, 5764
President Bush, Iraq and the election
The conventional wisdom is that President Bush's handling of Iraq is a major negative on his re-election resume, which he must explain and justify during his convention speech.
I recognize that Democrats and the media have successfully created the perception that Iraq has been a disaster. But despite the many problems there, I reject that conclusion.
President Bush was not only justified in going to war against Iraq; he had a duty to do so. All the world's intelligence services, not just our own, were convinced Saddam was developing WMD. He repeatedly violated U.N. resolutions, defied weapons inspectors and filed a phony 12,000-page WMD compliance report, thereby deliberately failing to meet his burden of proving he had destroyed the WMDs we know he once had and used. He shot at our planes in no-fly zones, harbored terrorists and subsidized the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. He had connections with Al Qaeda (I didn't say with 9-11) and had an abiding hatred for America, on which he had declared war, lest we forget.
As for the prosecution of the first phase of the war, it was virtually flawless, as wars go. We removed Saddam in short order, with a minimum of casualties, and with precision-smart bombs designed to minimize civilian casualties and collateral destruction.
We then began to rebuild the infrastructure and help Iraq transition to self-rule. All kinds of positive things have occurred there every day from feeding the people to improvements in education things you rarely read about in the mainstream media. We have helped democratize a brutal, tyrannical regime in the Middle East. Is that not headline-worthy? Is that not something a president should be able to boast about in his re-election bid?
Not so fast, you say. We are in a quagmire now. We didn't anticipate the second phase of the war. "President Bush didn't," says John Kerry, "have a plan to win the peace" whatever that means.
Even President Bush, say his critics, is now admitting he made serious mistakes in failing to anticipate the resistance we would face after the first phase of the war. But let's look at what he actually said.
He told Time magazine, "I was convinced you were trying to force me to say it was a mistake to go into Iraq, which I wasn't going to do. … Had we had to do it over again, we would look at the consequences of catastrophic success being so successful so fast that an enemy that should have surrendered or been done in escaped and lived to fight another day. I couldn't have sat down and said to you, 'By the way, we're going to be so victorious so quickly that we'll end up having to fight another third of the Baathists over the next year in order to bring liberty to the country.'"
Yes, the president said he didn't anticipate that our incredible military success would result in the religious fanatics collapsing into the cities and then mounting a second phase of resistance. But as I read it, he's also saying that no one could have anticipated this unfolding of events. And indeed, no one could have.
Even if we had anticipated that international terrorists and local religious fanatics would try to disrupt our effort to rebuild and democratize Iraq, what could we have done to avoid it?
The assumption seems to be that we could have avoided American casualties if we'd better planned. But we've been engaged in this second phase for over a year now, and we're still sustaining casualties. Doesn't that alone tell you that we couldn't have avoided all casualties no matter how well we planned?
Our armchair quarterbacks constantly hold our intelligence agencies and our military to impossibly high standards. No matter how much we always want to blame ourselves, we are not going to be able to prevent all terrorist attacks or all war casualties. We are up against an enemy with no conscience, which targets civilians, uses civilians and Mosques as shields, and engages in urban guerrilla warfare. No matter how prescient our planning, we still would have had to face the same enemy using the same tactics.
If, as a people, we don't have the stomach to endure the inevitable difficulties we've faced in Iraq, how will we have the will to endure the war on terror over the long haul? We've got to quit beating ourselves up and re-orient ourselves to the difficulties of war.
In the meantime, let's reject the media line that Iraq is an asterisk on President Bush's foreign policy resume and cut him a little slack.
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