Politics and War

POLITICS AND WAR….I’m feeling better after a good night’s sleep, thank you very much, but not any better about our president’s apparent desire to hightail it out of Iraq as soon as possible. As my readers know, I was mildly in favor of the war, then mildly against, and my turnaround dated from the day that W gave that speech to the American Enterprise Institute pledging his commitment to democracy in Iraq.

That’s funny, isn’t it? David Adesnik of Oxblog mentioned once that this speech helped to give him confidence that Bush was really committed to doing the right thing, but it had exactly the opposite effect on me. Not only did it take him six months to give the speech, and not only did he do it only under pressure to show that he cared, but when he did give it, it turned out to be nothing more than platitudes. It sounded fake to me, just political cover rather than a statement of deeply held beliefs.

Compare that to Bill Clinton. He was a master of political jiu-jitsu too ? he played Newt Gingrich like a violin ? but he was also a policy wonk. He listened to Robert Rubin and ran a fiscally responsible government. He said he was in favor of universal healthcare and welfare reform, and he worked hard to deliver on that, even if he did fail on healthcare. He said he was in favor of free trade, and he fought for passage of both NAFTA and GATT. He did the right thing in Kosovo, and then stuck around to try and make it work ? with limited success. And he tried hard to strike a deal between Israel and the Palestinians ? this time with no success at all.

My point? He didn’t succeed at everything he put his hand to ? nobody does ? but he was truly doing things he thought were good for the country, many of them opposed by large segments of his own party. Of course he played politics at the same time, and played it brilliantly, but it wasn’t the sum total of his administration.

But with Bush it seems like politics is everything. There’s nothing he actually cares about fighting for unless it’s for partisan advantage. Even wars are timed for the best possible partisan effect. Where is the man’s soul?

Like I said last night, it’s not surprising that I don’t like him. I never have. But if the whole Iraq war turns out to be just a political show, and there’s no WMD and no democracy and no peace and no commitment, will war partisans stick with him? Is the fact of the invasion itself enough, or will they eventually turn on him if he fails to show a serious commitment to a long-term Middle East policy?

David Adesnik says “May I remind the SecDef that hell hath no fury like an idealist scorned?” Ralph Peters says “It’s astonishing, really, that, after fighting such a dynamic, forceful war, we’ve fallen into moral and practical indolence so readily,” and Phil Carter nods in agreement. And Glenn Reynolds says “Is this stuff getting enough attention at the top? And if not, why not?”

These are all people who supported the war. Are they going to hold President Bush to account?

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation