Tuesday, June 24, 2008


David Brooks says that in hindsight, Bush is the greatest war president since William McKinley.

In fact, when it comes to Iraq, Bush was at his worst when he was humbly deferring to the generals and at his best when he was arrogantly overruling them. During that period in 2006 and 2007, Bush stiffed the brass and sided with a band of dissidents: military officers like David Petraeus and Raymond Odierno, senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and outside strategists like Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Jack Keane, a retired general.

Bush is also a secretive man who listens too much to Dick Cheney. Well, the uncomfortable fact is that Cheney played an essential role in promoting the surge. Many of the people who are dubbed bad guys actually got this one right.

In other words, Bush is at his best when he’s doing exactly the opposite of how he said he was running the war; by listening to the generals on the ground.

Now it’s Mr. Brooks’ turn to wax philosophical:

The whole episode is a reminder that history is a complicated thing. The traits that lead to disaster in certain circumstances are the very ones that come in handy in others. The people who seem so smart at some moments seem incredibly foolish in others.

As we used to say in high school, that’s deep. Actually, it’s not history that’s complicated; it’s the people who are making it without any regard as to what their legacy will be (i.e. a “war president”) are the ones who get it right most of the time because they aren’t thinking about history. And if the best thing you can say about Bush is that he actually got something right, that’s not exactly something to brag about.

Life is complicated. The reason we have democracy is that no one side is right all the time. The only people who are dangerous are those who can’t admit, even to themselves, that obvious fact.

Yes, and it was George W. Bush who, when he was asked about what he would say was his biggest mistake, he replied that he couldn’t think of one. Now was that a display of the arrogance that brashly overrode the generals and forced the surge to through, or was that a display of the dangerous because they can’t ever admit that they’re not always right? That’s complicated.