The Swaggering Idiot Returns:
George W. Bush Emerges From Artistic Exile to Rehab His Disastrous Legacy
George W. Bush is back, and he's concerned that the foreign policy catastrophes
he helped create aren't being fixed
By Simon Maloy
April 28, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Salon"
-Arguably the best thing George W. Bush ever did for his party was to keep quiet
in the years following his presidency. Winning elections in a political
environment shaped by Bush’s legacy – a bloody and unpopular conflict in Iraq
and a cratering economy – was difficult enough. The last thing Republicans
needed was W. out in the public eye smirking and drawling about staying the
course. So he exiled himself to the ranch in Crawford and took up painting.
But Bush’s political hermit act couldn’t last forever. His
brother’s likely entrance into the 2016 presidential race guaranteed that we’d
hear from him sooner rather than later, and it’s only natural that after years
of self-imposed silence, Bush would feel the urge to get out there and talk
politics again. And so this past weekend, Bush spoke to a Republican donor
conference in Las Vegas about the Middle East and
served up some harsh critiques of his successor’s foreign policy. It was
classic Bush, in that he seemingly refused to consider for even a moment that
much of what we’re dealing with in the Middle East are the unintended
consequences of his own epic policy failures.
According to a transcript of Bush’s remarks provided to
Bloomberg’s Josh Rogin, Bush came down hard on Barack Obama for ruining all the
good work he and his administration had done in Iraq:
Bush then went into a detailed criticism of Obama’s
policies in fighting the Islamic State and dealing with the chaos in Iraq.
On Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops in Iraq at the end of 2011,
he quoted Senator Lindsey Graham calling it a “strategic blunder.” Bush
signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to withdraw those troops, but
the idea had been to negotiate a new status of forces agreement to keep U.S.
forces there past 2011. The Obama administration tried and failed to
negotiate such an agreement.
It was a “strategic blunder,” according to Bush, because he’d
made everything right in Iraq with the surge, which he offered up as a great
example of commander-in-chiefing: “When the plan wasn’t working in Iraq,” Bush
said, “we changed.”
That’s a sanitized retelling of how the surge came about.
The “plan” in Iraq had not been working for years, as evidenced
by the ever-rising death tolls of
and Iraqi civilians.
But Bush, as you might recall, was something of a stubborn man, and he
stuck with the “plan,” insisting all along that it was working, even as
the country fell apart before our eyes. Also, anyone who questioned the
“plan” was immediately slimed by Bush, Karl Rove, and/or Dick Cheney as
a traitorous, terrorist-appeasing, cut-and-run coward. The surge
happened in 2007, four years after the war had begun and shortly after
the political damage wrought by “staying the course” had cost the
Republicans control of Congress in 2006.
surge itself failed to accomplish its primary goal of enabling political
reconciliation amongst the factions within the Iraqi government. The
regime the Bush administration left in Iraq was
hopelessly corrupt and presided over by a
wannabe authoritarian strongman who repressed Iraqi Sunnis to
consolidate his own power. But according to Bush, forcing the Iraqis to
agree to a residual force of a couple of thousand U.S. troops would have
kept the sectarian government in line and kept a lid on the violence – a
fanciful notion that was contradicted by the entire history of the
Iraq war up to that point.
Bush also had a few words on the bad hombres of the
Bush said he views the rise of the Islamic State
as al-Qaeda’s “second act” and that they may have changed the name
but that murdering innocents is still the favored tactic. He
defended his own administration’s handling of terrorism, noting that
the terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who confessed to killing Wall
Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, was captured on his watch:
“Just remember the guy who slit Danny Pearl’s throat is in Gitmo,
and now they’re doing it on TV.”
The Islamic State and Al Qaeda are actually
two distinct entities who don’t like each other all that much, but
if we must go by this dodgy framework, then the Islamic State is
actually Al Qaeda’s third act. The first act was just plain old Al
Qaeda. The second act was Al Qaeda in Iraq, which didn’t exist until
George W. Bush invaded Iraq and gave regular Al Qaeda the chance to set
up a new franchise. The Islamic State grew out of Al Qaeda in Iraq, and
the group’s sophistication
owes much to the fact that the Bush administration disbanded Saddam
Hussein’s army and made freelancers out of Hussein’s intelligence
officers, who took their talents to the various jihadist movements.
Anyway, one could go on and on in this vein. It’s
silly to think that Bush would ever cop to the enduring failures of his
disastrous Iraq adventure, but he at least had the good sense to keep
his mouth shut. Now he’s out there defending the Bush record and letting
it be known that he’s very concerned about how all the catastrophes he
helped author are playing out.
Simon Maloy is Salon's political writer. Email him at email@example.com.
Follow him on Twitter at @SimonMaloy.