Monday, January 19, 2009

Kristol: To the End

William Kristol defends George W. Bush’s war presidency to the end.

Many of Bush’s defenders have praised him for keeping the country safe since Sept. 11, 2001. He deserves that praise, and I’m perfectly happy to defend most of his surveillance, interrogation and counterterrorism policies against his critics.

But I don’t think keeping us safe has been Bush’s most impressive achievement. That was winning the war in Iraq, and in particular, his refusal to accept defeat when so many counseled him to do so in late 2006. His ordering the surge of troops to Iraq in January 2007 was an act of personal courage and of presidential leadership. The results have benefited both Iraq and the United States. And the outcome in Iraq is a remarkable gift to the incoming president, who now only has to sustain success, rather than trying to deal with the consequences in the region and around the world of a humiliating withdrawal and a devastating defeat.

The cost of the war in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, has been great. Last Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of all the other activities of the final week of an administration, Bush had 40 or so families of fallen soldiers to the White House. The staff had set aside up to two hours. Bush, a man who normally keeps to schedule, spent over four hours meeting in small groups with the family members of those who had fallen in battle.

There’s one small point that Mr. Kristol has missed: There was no need whatsoever to fight the war in Iraq in the first place. This nation was deceived and manipulated into this war, and all of the “benefits” that accrue to Iraq are poisoned by that glaring fact. All of the families who mourn the loss of a son or a daughter or a father or mother or anyone must know that as well. They should know that their soldier suffered and died in the service of a lie that was planned out long before planes flew into buildings and they were pawns in political games, enabled and encouraged by the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who have no idea what sacrifice and service truly mean and are absolutely incapable of fathoming the horror they have visited on these families, this nation, and the world.

The worst part of it is that they really don’t care. In all of their exit interviews and final press conferences and farewell addresses, nobody — not Mr. Bush, not Mr. Cheney — ever said they were sorry or offered anything more than a passive-voiced “mistakes were made” acknowledgment of the detritus they’ve left in their wake. They will fade into history convinced in their wisdom that they were right, and the hell with what history or reality says. Why should they care? They’ll all be dead. Yes, and so are 4,000 plus Americans and untold numbers of Iraqis. Somehow that doesn’t fit into their little world.

Mr. Kristol can get all somber and sober in his prayers and hopes for the success of the next president, but his enabling and excusing of the last eight years, not to mention the standards he has now set for what constitutes competent and compassionate leadership, should relegate him and his punditry to the back pages of the Pinecrest Tribune, next to the ads for dog-sitters and the T-ball team scores. If there’s one thing I hope that comes with the change in Washington will come higher expectations for commentary and what passes for insight than the prattling and error-riddled nattering of this pompous, smug and arrogant twit.