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February 11, 2011

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Tom

I just want to point out (again) that everyone supported Bush after 9/11. It was the deception and torture and face-palming rhetoric and diplomatic gaffes and, and, and ... that people hated the most about Bush. I really would like to see evidence of all of these supposed mainstream leftists that weren't in favor of spreading democracy. If anything, conservatives have been and still are skeptical of the goal of spreading democracy in the middle east (just watch any Fox News coverage of recent events).

Anyway, kudos to everyone whose vision is a brighter and more democratic future for oppressed peoples everywhere!

Nathan Smith

The slogan "reality-based community" was one of the left's sneers at the Bush administration. It contrasted their supposed "realism" with Bush's "ideological" freedom agenda. In arguing in favor of the Iraq War, again and again I found people of a sort of multicultural left persuasion saying that we shouldn't impose Western-style freedom on the Middle East, that they had the kind of government that was suited to them and we couldn't understand it or change it. I'm not sure what Tom means by "deception" here; if it's "Bush lied because there were no WMDs" the answer of course is that they thought there were. "Face-palming rhetoric" is also opaque to me, and I'm not really sure what "diplomatic gaffes" are meant but in any case they would hardly be grounds for hating. No, they hated Bush because of the Iraq War, because they refused to accept the possibility that a war might liberate a people from tyranny and make possible the establishment of a democracy. It's not such a difficult thing to understand, but if you've adopted moral/cultural relativism, you won't be able to understand it. And also, you might be unwilling to make sacrifices for the benefit of others. Still, I think it's true the left didn't oppose democracy in the Middle East *per se*; they just failed, with honorable exceptions like Tony Blair, to support it much. They didn't, for the most part, say "Three cheers for Bush's aims but we have some quarrels with his methods." For the most part, they totally scorned and repudiated him.

It's also true that some of the strongest opposition to Bush's freedom agenda came from conservatives all along, and now, too, some of the right seems to be skeptical of or even outright hostile to the Egyptian revolution in a way the left isn't. It's Bush and the neocons that are enjoying some vindication now, not conservatives as a group. How much vindication is not clear and will depend on the subtle question, far from clear now and on which there is never likely to be much consensus, of the extent to which the Iraq precedent triggered/inspired/shaped the Egyptian revolution, and of course how well the Egyptian revolution works out.

Nathan Smith

It occurs to me that W and Obama are turning out a bit like Reagan and Bush Sr. Reagan/W defies autocracy; Bush Sr./Obama come into office just in time to see the autocrats start to fall.

Nato

I think Nathan really sells Bush Sr. short. He handled a very difficult time with incredible deftness. He made mistakes, of course, but I really think it's a case of 20/20 hindsight.

I want to offer a possible clarification: the "deception" part seems (from my perspective) to pertain most directly to 1) the preposterous association between Al Qaeda and Saddam to which none of the intelligence services lent much credence but on which Doug Feith's OSP insisted* 2) the lies about torture 3) the untruths about military funding**. I don't know if they really believed things were going as well in Iraq as they pretended in 2004, but it was obvious to those of us in the community that things were unravelling and that the "Former Regime Elements" had long since become something else.

Granted, leftists of a certain stripe are always already convinced that the US acts only for empire and that war is never better than the alternative. So far as I can tell, those people are pretty pissed at Obama right now; hardly less so than they were at Bush. I suppose they didn't listen to anything Obama said, but that's how it goes with that sort.

But people *in general* turned away from the Bush administration when they felt they were being deceived. And I think it's reasonable to think they were. The WMD thing gets played up a lot, but it's just a part of a whole, and on its own I wouldn't even think much of it. Certainly it was never a big part of my feelings about the war per se.

I should also, finally, note that the more I understand about what happened, the more I think Bush himself was a basically decent man with fairly good instincts. The problem was that the experts*** with which he surrounded himself (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz et al.) went off the rails and he wasn't equipped or disposed to catch it until they had done tremendous damage. In the last two years of his presidency, with Cheney less active, Gates having replaced Rumsfeld and most of the other enabling figures either gone or sidelined, Bush seemed to do a pretty good job.

*Now, it may well be that those who created the OSP really believed its conclusions, but the deception would be that its conclusions were the conclusions of the intelligence services. Certainly Powell has said he feels he was mislead.

**This one is probably more my personal bugaboo than anything else, but (for example) Rumsfeld's explanation for why units weren't getting up-armored vehicles was so blatantly false that it was a joke in my unit. Add that to all the other shenanigans and it seems to me that the administration wasn't minimally forthright about costs and cost-control.

***I'm not being sarcastic here. They are genuinely brilliant experts. The problem was (I believe) that they were too sure of their groupthink consensus and used their bureaucratic mastery to circumvent processes that exist to prevent the exact sort of outcome that eventuated.

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