I see that Fox News and top Republicans such as Mitch McConnell are insisting that President Obama credit his predecessor, President George W. Bush, for making possible tonight’s announcement that U.S. troops are no longer engaged in combat in Iraq.
I suppose that’s true, they have a point. You could certainly argue, for example, that if Bush hadn’t committed us to that misbegotten war in the first place, President Obama wouldn’t be making tonight’s speech.
In fact, if Bush hadn’t decided to try to occupy Iraq with far fewer troops than were necessary, ignoring advice from top generals that several hundred thousand soldiers would be needed to do the job right, we might have been able to bring our role to a conclusion years ago instead of now. So they’re right in that sense as well.
And if Bush had understood the nature of the conflict much earlier — if he hadn’t stood in front of that “Mission Accomplished” banner on May 1, 2003 and proclaimed that major combat had ended in Iraq, at a point when just 172 U.S. soldiers had been killed out of an eventual 4,000 — yeah, maybe Obama wouldn’t have to be announcing the ACTUAL end of major combat for U.S. forces on an August night more than seven years later.
If Bush hadn’t stubbornly, blindly insisted year after year that the war was going well, that there was no civil war, that the incompetent Donald Rumsfeld was a great defense secretary, that no change of strategy was necessary because the original strategy was so brilliant — if he hadn’t refused to acknowledge reality until after the 2006 midterms forced him to do so — yeah, maybe Bush himself would have been able to make this speech while he was still president.
But that didn’t happen. For years, Bush tried to halfway it, refusing to commit fully but refusing to withdraw either.
“Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don’t you send more troops?” Bush said in a typical speech in 2005. “If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight.”
Look, I’m not trying to dredge up ancient disputes here, and I’m not looking for another chance to bash the ex-president. He has left office, and history will now reach its own verdict on his leadership and judgment. I’m fine with that. I will also acknowledge, as I have in the past, that the 2007 surge and the change in military leadership that Bush finally implemented were more successful in rebuilding security than I and many others, including Barack Obama, had expected at the time. As I also noted earlier today, Obama doesn’t deserve a huge amount of credit for this withdrawal process, because he has merely followed the timeline set by Bush.
For that and many other reasons, it was perfectly appropriate for Obama to call Bush today as a matter of courtesy, and I hope and expect that the president will treat his predecessor with grace in tonight’s remarks.
All that said, however, it is also impossible to sit silently by while the Republicans try to rewrite a history that remains so fresh in so many minds. The invasion of Iraq was not a triumph of the Bush years, it was his greatest single mistake and probably the single greatest foreign-policy blunder in U.S. history.