|By Sean Kerrigan
November 8, 2010
After two years of near silence, former President George W. Bush has emerged from self imposed exile to promote his new book Decision Points, which many say paints a picture of a compassionate, moderate and overall much more likeable figure than many commentators remember from just two years ago.
Liberal commentator Maureen Dowd of the New York Times admitted that while Bush's book was “utterly selective,” it provided an image of a “president we all wished him to be: compassionate, bipartisan, funny, charming, instinctive, independent, able to admit and learn from mistakes — and a good dad.”
While Dowd admits she isn't ready to push for a constitutional amendment to put Bush back in office, her conciliatory attitude is common and natural. The presidency isn't just a political leadership position; it's also a position that emanates national pride. We want to believe in the president's character because it means we also believe in ourselves.
You want him to be your dad. Admit it.
Bush taken outside of the partisan context, comes across as a generally likable guy. John Kerry could have initiated world peace, solved the energy crisis and put a man on the sun, it doesn't mean anyone wants to drink a beer with him.
So clearly the restoration of the Bush legacy is in full force and it's probably going to succeed to some degree. Historians will be especially forgiving if Iraq becomes a strong ally in the region and the entire experience becomes a net positive for the United States. But is that truly fair? Should we judge a president simply on the final result, or should we assess what he knew at the time and make judgments based on those decisions?
Consider the propaganda campaign during the run up to the Iraq War.
Senator Hilary Clinton said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and voted to authorize the Iraq War. Her husband and former President Bill Clinton agreed. John Kerry who would run against Bush two years later agreed and voted to support the war as well.
A number of other prominent Democrats said that Saddam certainly had an active arsenal of weapons. Minority speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi said, “Saddam Hussein certainly has chemical and biological weapons. There's no question about that.” Senator Joseph Biden--“we know he continues to attempt to gain access to additional capability, including nuclear ability.” The senator went on to say that Saddam might be able to develop nuclear weapons in less than two years.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.
The bottom line is that Americans are not stupid. We had good reason to buy in to the big lie that had been perpetrated by almost every side. There were anti-war politicians and protesters, but few directly addressed the quality of the intelligence gathering.
Americans can be forgiven for their ignorance. How many of us could withstand the suggestive power of a lie that big? But Bush should have been above it all; he should have surveyed the situation and been able to make a clear decision about the validity of the intelligence.
I suspect that the culture in the White House at the time contributed to the president's decision to go to war, but a true leader should be able to sniff out an ideological plot or manipulation before it escalates in to an unnecessary conflict.
In 20 or 30 years, historians may consider President Bush a good president, perhaps even a great one, but it will be based not on a rational decision backed up by a steady hand, but by the capability of our military to fix a horrible quagmire. Bush shouldn't get credit for their sacrifice.