Bush's mistake not to go to war, but to stay there

CanWest News Service
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No wonder George W. Bush isn't looking as sprightly as he did when he landed aboard the USS Lincoln five years ago.
Then it was all "Mission Accomplished," as the banner strung across the flat-top behind him proclaimed. After just a few weeks of warfare, the Taliban had evaporated in Afghanistan and Saddam's regime had collapsed in Iraq. In 2003 Bush could have retired from the field as victor, but he wanted to bring democracy to the region and stayed.
Now he will probably have to retire a loser.
Five years ago, at the high noon of his presidency, Bush appeared to be doing the right thing. Today, as his presidency is winding down, his global policies have fewer and fewer supporters inside or outside the United States.
Some old allies, like Britain's Tony Blair, have withdrawn from the arena altogether. Those who remain or have newly entered, like Canada's Stephen Harper or France's Nicolas Sarkozy, are busy with their own agendas. Bush cannot count on his current allies as reliable supporters on any issue, be it the missile shield, the Far East or the Persian Gulf.
Domestically, his situation is better but also worse. Better, because as president he can implement certain foreign policy items without anyone's support, and worse, because his support at home is even less than it is internationally.
A Democratic presidential candidate wouldn't support a Republican president's foreign policies even if he agreed with them (he doesn't) while the current Republican candidate never much agreed with his party about anything. Oh, John McCain may have supported Bush's "surge" policy in Iraq - or even claimed credit for it - but the old pilot and the young pilot have always flown in different skies.
As November approaches, both parties' candidates strive to distinguish themselves from what they view as a disastrous White House. They do so, even when available choices make it unlikely that either Barack Obama or McCain could do anything very different from what Bush is doing.
The two legs of Bush's foreign policy have been "regime change" and "nation building." One doctrine entails the removal of belligerent tyrannies hostile to America by military intervention; the other envisages their replacement with pacific democracies friendly to the United States.
Everything that occurred in the world during the two Bush-presidencies has emerged from the operation and consequences of these doctrines. The first, being realistic, has been implemented with some success; the second, being unrealistic, hasn't been.
Someone might argue that this oversimplifies things. Even if so, the analysis is fundamentally accurate. Are the lessons of Bush's success and failure understood and taken to heart by either his friends or his enemies? Does Bush himself knows how right he was when he campaigned on a platform of "no nation building" before his first term of office? Those are different questions.
I doubt if Bush understands that his mistake wasn't to go into Iraq but to stay. His critics certainly don't understand it. They think it was a mistake to remove Saddam. They don't see that the mistake was - and continues to be - to believe that if America removes a hostile tyrant, it's America's responsibility to replace him with a friendly democrat. The fact is, it isn't. It may be America's hope and desire, but not its task.

George Jonas writes for CanWest News Service

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  • Jason
    January 18, 2010 - 11:07

    Thanks for clarifying the US's overriding national interest and its interest in oil. I had no idea......I could've sworn we were over there to help the people.

    And redo of Yalta? Are you suggesting we are on the precipice of a third world war?

  • Frank
    January 18, 2010 - 10:53

    The US uses the term of what is in the National interest of America . That is their overiding guiding principle . They have determined that control of the oil pools of the Middle East is in their national interest . Most of the US decisions in that area revolve around the oil . Pulling up stakes and leaving is ,therefore,not in the cards regardless who replaces Mr Bush . Both pres. candidates are going to ramp up the Afganistan war and Obama says he will broaden it to go into Pakistan if he feels it is required . A solution to cease Iran's Nuc program will be implemented which may cause nasty repercussions . The big powers may find themselves doing a rerun of Yalta where they finally just sit down and carve up the Middle East into spheres of influence . IMO