Transformational Bush

There is no evidence of an operational link between Iraq and Al Qaeda with regard to the 9/11 attacks. But that does not mean that they are unconnected. After the disintegration of communism, the world seemed safe, secure and predictable. 9/11 reminded us that the world remained a dangerous place, that hateful people from across the world could reach out and kill Americans. After 9/11 we became less tolerant of distant dangers, more vigilant.

When Bill Clinton called for regime change in Iraq, he knew Saddam Hussein was oppressive and dangerous, but like other Americans he thought the danger was largely contained in the Middle East. When his Justice Department issued an indictment that talked about Al Qaeda-Iraqi cooperation against the United States and joint efforts on such projects as weapons development, he thought the threat would be against U.S. interests primarily overseas. Had he believed otherwise, he would have taken a more aggressive stance.

Ideas have history and American policies are remarkable consistent even for different political parties. Saddam was an enemy of the United States during the first Bush Administration. He remained an enemy during the eight years of the Clinton Administration. He was still an enemy when George Bush took the oath of office. Given all this history, it is not surprising that Saddam's name came up right after 9/11. It is not like Bush just thought this up. Look at the Clinton era documents I have linked and tell me there is no logic to Bush's assumptions.

By the time of the Iraq crisis, President Bush knew that there was no evidence of an operational link between Iraq and Al Qaeda on 9/11. But he also knew that terrorism flourished because of the instability and democracy deficit in the Middle East. He knew that Osama bin Laden's first complaint against the U.S. was that it stationed troops in Saudi and he knew that troops were stationed in Saudi to hold Saddam Hussein in check. It was not a reach to believe that Iraq was a key objective in the war on terrorism.

President Bush knew that taking action against Saddam was a risk, not only for the country but also for his presidency. But he believed doing nothing or trying to maintain a decaying status quo was a greater risk. There was no risk free option.

Those who count the cost of the war fail to account for the cost of doing something else or doing nothing. The Oil for Food scandal showed how the situation was coming apart. U.S. troops were in harm's way in Saudi because of Saddam. U.S. and UK pilots were in daily danger patrolling the no fly zones and in fact the war with Iraq had never ended. Sanctions were hurting Iraqis, but not Saddam. Every year tens of thousands of Iraqis died because of Saddam's mismanagement and tyranny. So-called peace under a tyrant can be as deadly as war.

Our president made mistakes. There is no life without mistakes. No plan ever works as it is laid out. Adversaries also have brains. They employ counter strategies. They learn and adapt. They have their own surprises.

U.S. troops were not welcomed as liberators in most places. But Saddam's troops didn't fight to the last man either. There were no Stalingrads. The U.S. was not prepared for the aftermath. But the war was over and won faster than most had predicted. The speed of the allied advance prevented one of the biggest fears - the torching of the oil fields, which would have been a real environmental and economic disaster. So far, the feared civil war has been avoided. History will record that some things went better than anticipated and some worse.

George Bush will be called a president who presided over a transition. I believe that he will be seen in the mold of Ronald Reagan, someone whose policies were despised at the time by many of the elites and decried as simple-minded. Like Reagan, he will have been wrong about many details, but right about history's direction. But by then the transformation of the Middle East will be seen as inevitable. Big things are always like that. First they are impossible. Then they are unexpected. Finally they are inevitable.

And the president's critics will claim to have predicted it all.

Posted by Jack at June 29, 2005 9:52 PM