a War President?
What George W. Bush loved best about his job was
being a war president.
Playing war, that is, as opposed to making war
like a grown-up.
Remember him strutting onto that carrier in his
little flight jacket?
You never saw Eisenhower, a real general, playing
out his martial fantasies this way.
You can take the drink out of the drunk, but
you can't take the swagger out of a fool.
Compare Bush's eight years to Clinton's, and you
see how much he loved to play the soldier.
No one expected that from a Republican: Reagan
and Bush senior were cautious about betting
America's chips. Liberals used to make fun of
Reagan for picking on tiny helpless nations that
couldn't fight back. Now they are remembering
with pure nostalgia Reagan's invasion of Grenada,
air raids on Libya, and even our 1984 withdrawal
We'll never know how far W. would have gone to
find himself a war because he had all he
needed delivered by air on Sept. 11, 2001. Remember
how people felt in those days?
A friend of mine said, "It was like the aliens
We needed our president to be a hero and made
him into one, even though it was obvious
he wasn't up to the job. He didn't take the first
plane to Manhattan, stand there and say,
"We're coming for you bastards!" Instead he sat
in a roomful of children, reading My Pet Goat,
then dropped off the radar for hours before his
handlers got him ready.
Maybe there's a lesson here: if the president
doesn't cut it in a crisis, we're better off admitting
that to ourselves and telling him so instead
of pretending he's a great leader. When you make a
weakling into a hero, you give him a lot of power.
If we'd kept our eyes open and faced the fact
that Bush reacted badly to 9/11, we might have
been able to ask for a little more detail about his big plans.
Those came courtesy of Cheney and his neocon punks.
What a crew these guys were!
Like their boss, they were also woofers, boasters
-- but of a different variety. Dubya was your
standard frat boy loudmouth, but Cheney, with
his talk about "working the dark side," was more
like the ultimate Dungeons and Dragons nerd.
And you couldn't ask Hollywood to serve up a
goofier selection of dorks than his neocon staffers,
who drifted from the universities to D.C.
the way has-been pop singers switch to country
and western to leech off a new bunch of suckers.
On the one hand, they were scared to death of
Arabs and hated all Muslims. On the other,
they were convinced that every Muslim on the
planet really wanted, deep in his heart, to be
magically turned into an Ohio Republican. That
was their theory: take an anti-American Arab country,
add an invading army, and voila! a nice fluffy
So we poured American blood and treasure into
the Iraqi dust to prove the half-baked theories of
a bunch of tenth-rate professors. The most expensive
experiment in the history of the world, all to
learn something any 10-year-old could have told
them: people don't take to foreign troops on their
streets, and not everybody wants to be like us.
You know those Ig-Nobel awards they hand out to
the dumbest science projects of the year? The
Iraq invasion is the all-time winner. Retire the trophy
with the names of the winning team: Bush, Cheney,
Kristol, Wolfowitz, Feith.
But first came Afghanistan -- "the graveyard of
empires." Every military-history wannabe was conjuring
the ghosts of that Victorian British army slaughtered
by the Afghans, along with all the propaganda we'd
been pushing about the invincible mujahedeen
who'd driven out the Soviets. Looking back, what they
had routed was a dying Soviet state, and they
didn't even manage to do that until we took the risk of
giving them Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. But
all the pundits' knees were shaking about going into the
Afghan haunted house.
We started slow, the way American armies tend
to do, taking a while to limber up. There were weeks
of bombing the Shomali Plain to no visible effect
and a Special Forces raid on Mullah Omar's compound
that was more "Naked Gun" than "Top Gun." Then
Mazar-i-Sharif in the north fell suddenly, and it turned
into the kind of war that Northern Alliance fighters
and fighter-bomber pilots both love: hunting down a fleeing enemy.
The campaign went so well, so fast, that it taught
Bush and Cheney the wrong lessons. They started exporting
democracy to Afghanistan, even hiring a local
Pashtun girl to read the Kabul evening news. When you tell a
big, backwards tribe like the Pashtun that you're
going to turn their whole world upside down for them,
you shouldn't expect them to be grateful. But
we did, setting ourselves up for a whole lot of trouble later on.
Worse yet, Bush's people figured that since Afghanistan,
the tough nut, cracked so easily, their pet project,
a second Iraq invasion, would be a cakewalk.
This time they would do it right, occupying the Iraqi cities
instead of just crushing Saddam's army and withdrawing
like Bush senior did.
Nobody wants to recall what Americans believed
back then. That's OK: I'll remember it. People thought
that Saddam was "connected to" 9/11, and his
agents were going to poison our water, nuke our cities,
and gas our subways. At least they claimed to
believe all that unlikely James Bond stuff. I don't think they
really did. There was just so much revenge momentum
after 9/11 that it had to burst out somewhere.
Everybody wanted payback. It's natural. But most
of the time, in your average democracy, cooler heads
are in charge. Not this time. Bush and his team
were foaming at the mouth far more than the average citizen.
It was like a crazed sheriff trying to talk a
lukewarm mob into a lynching frenzy. With the help of people
who should have known better -- I'm looking at
you, Colin Powell -- he got his way.
That, in the short version, is why George W. Bush
is about to leave office the most unpopular American
president in history. You can spin Iraq a hundred
different ways, but it still comes up bad news because
once the dust settles, the Iranians are in control
of the whole region, and they didn't have to fire a shot.
We destroyed their old rival for them.
It's a simple story: we crushed Saddam's army,
occupied the cities, and then acted like the whole country
would turn itself into a neocon fantasyland.
Paul Bremer's cult kids were talking tax reform while the Iraqi
army they had sent home unemployed was busy digging
up the weapons they had buried in their yards.
Bush's counterinsurgency policy was pretending
there was no insurgency then pretending it was just
Saddam's "deadenders." When Saddam's capture
at the end of 2003 didn't slow the insurgency,
Bush's defenders stopped acting like they knew
what was going on and just settled for blaming
the Iranians -- as if it was a nasty surprise
that Iran, the country that openly hates America most in
the whole world, might get involved in anti-American
operations when we occupied Iraq right next door.
People ask what our counterinsurgency strategy
was before the surge. Easy: we had none. We were doing
nothing but offering the insurgents moving targets.
A standard operation for the occupation force in those
dark days was patrolling through an alien Sunni
neighborhood, waiting for an IED to go off under the lead
vehicle or for an RPG or small-arms ambush. When
that happens, conventional forces have a grim choice:
do nothing, withdrawing while the locals snicker
at your dead and wounded, or open fire on everyone in sight.
Either way, the insurgents win. If you withdraw,
they've hit you with impunity and gained respect in the
neighborhood. If you open fire on the slums,
you kill civilians and make enemies.
Effective counterinsurgency means not relying
on massive firepower the way conventional forces are
trained to do. The idea is not to fire until
you know exactly who you're up against. It's the opposite of
shock and awe. It's discipline and patience.
Gen. David Petraeus implemented a set of reforms usually
called the surge, though they were about tactics
more than reinforcements. All he really did was initiate
overdue standard counterinsurgency doctrine.
He integrated U.S. units with Iraqi forces then sent them
out into the neighborhoods. You can't run any
kind of counterinsurgency plan without good street-level
intelligence, but Bush's people wouldn't admit
that there was an insurgency, so they wouldn't commit to
learning about it. Their style was to ignore
it and hope it would go away.
That's why Afghanistan went well in the early
stages: we didn't go in trying to turn the Afghans into
democrats, but trying to crush the Taliban and
al-Qaeda. In Iraq, Bush was dreaming from the start,
so the whole effort was doomed.
The surge worked about as well as any good counterinsurgency
effort could. We know a little about the
enemy now, and there's less violence because
all the neighborhoods had already been ethnically cleansed.
Baghdad is now a Shi'ite city. There are a few
Sunni enclaves, but the Shia rule the city and the country,
with the Kurds fortifying themselves up north
and wishing they could saw their territory off and relocate it
somewhere in mid-ocean.
That's what Bush's trillion-dollar investment
in Iraq has bought. Meanwhile, if you look at the rest of the
world map, you get a real shock. Regions like
Latin America and Central Asia that eight years ago were
American protectorates in all but name have turned
against us while we were distracted with Iraq.
Many times, the real winners are countries that
manage to stay out of a war, the way England benefited
by not getting sucked into the Thirty Years'
War. Iran is much stronger now, and so is Russia.
The Russians, who seemed to be in their "throes"
when Clinton left office, just slapped down Georgia,
one of our few remaining allies among the old
Soviet states, and there wasn't a thing we could do but grumble.
It's no puzzle: we pretended a goon was a hero,
let him play out his foolish fantasies about remaking
the Middle East, and wasted our strength on a
losing effort while the rest of the world drifted out of
our power. Our leader was a laughingstock around
globe, and he made America the butt of the world's
contempt. But Bush got his wish -- he was a war
president and then some. The rest of us were the casualties.
Gary Brecher is the author of "The War Nerd" (Soft
Read more of his work at eXiledOnline.com. ©
2008 eXiled Online All rights reserved.
This story is from http://www.alternet.org/story/107321/
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