POLITICS AND WAR….Matt Yglesias says that George Bush has done a lousy job of preparing the American public for the difficulty, cost, and length of the job we have to do in postwar Iraq:
Elizabeth Bumiller writes that the president needs to do a better job of selling the American people on the need to get the job done in Iraq. I agree. But let’s note that I don’t think this is a failure per se on the part of the administration. Rather, it’s a result of the fact that the administration is working at cross-purposes with itself.
On the one hand they need to convince the American people that success in Iraq is very important, and that succeeding will require the expenditure of a very large sum of money. On the other hand, for political purposes they want to convince the American people that everything is fine in Iraq and that the administration made no significant mistakes in its pre-war planning and calculation.
I think that’s true, and I think it’s the White House’s incessant political calculation that’s at the heart of this problem. I’ve said several times that one of my problems with Bush is that he’s never willing to take a political risk for something he believes in, and the reply from conservatives is usually along the lines of, “Invading Iraq was incredibly risky! Al Gore wouldn’t have had the guts to do it.”
But that misses the point. Starting the war wasn’t actually risky at all. War is usually popular, and no recent president has gotten in trouble for starting a war. The American public has been in favor of invading Iraq for years, and Bush just took advantage of that.
But what he wasn’t willing to do was risk his popularity by telling some hard truths: the occupation would be long, it would be hard, it would be messy, it would be costly, and we would probably do it pretty much alone. His lack of courage in this regard was one of the reasons I turned against the war ? after all, even if you think Saddam Hussein needed to be removed, what’s the point of doing it if you’re not willing to expend the political capital to do the job right? ? and he’s still stuck in the same rut. Karl Rove tried to play this game a little too close to the vest, and I think he blew it. Honesty would have been a better policy from the start.
On another subject, Matt seems to imply here that perhaps Tom DeLay would have been a better president than Bush. Or at least a more competent one. Matt, can I please just beg that you never say something like that again? I’m probably going to have nightmares tonight….