War is Political Hell
Today marks a year since the death of Osama bin Laden, the patron and leader behind the attacks of September 11, 2001. At the risk of politicizing those events, let’s look into how those events have been, well, politicized.
From the beginning, the Bush Administration in particular, and the Republican Party in general, have used the al Qaeda attacks for political advantage. On May 1, 2003, President Bush took a victory lap, in an immense staged event on an aircraft carrier, proclaiming that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” Of course, they hadn’t ended, and things went so badly so quickly that in 2007 the Bush Administration had to engage in a massive “surge” to make up for the disaster of the Iraq war. It was not until August 31, 2010, that a different president, Barack Obama, could honestly declare an end to combat operations in Iraq.
There is a pattern here, not only of Republicans politicizing national security issues, but of President Obama cleaning up foreign policy messes left by President Bush. The response of the Republican Party has been to further politicize these events, and attempt to minimize the successes that Obama had but that Bush couldn’t achieve.
Do remember that the George and Dick’s Excellent Iraq Adventure was itself a political maneuver. We invaded Iraq on false pretenses. There were no weapons of mass destruction, and there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. President Bush pushed the idea, as early as his State of the Union address of January 29, 2002, of an “Axis of Evil”, consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Already, the actual perpetrators of the September 11 attacks were nearly forgotten, except as boogeymen lurking behind whoever the Bush Administration wanted to invade.
Recall that February 7, 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the war in Iraq “could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months,” and “What is, I think, reasonably certain is the idea that it would take several hundred thousand U.S. forces I think is far from the mark.” It was supposed to cost, at most, perhaps a billion dollars, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz declared in Congressional testimony, March 27, 2003, that “The oil revenues of Iraq could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years…We’re dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”
The “Axis of Evil” meme was floated in an attempt to gin up enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq. Not just Iraq, however; the Bush Administration had plans to invade Iran as well. This was naked political calculation (though probably economic also, since the Bush Administration encouraged war profiteering). Even before being elected President, back in 1999, Bush said, “If I have a chance to invade Iraq, if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.” He was convinced that the key to being a successful president was to be a wartime president, and he was going to have a splendid little war, no matter what. September 11 was a distraction, forcing a practice invasion of Afghanistan before he could go after Middle Eastern oil.
But since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were prosecuted with such utter incompetence, Iraq never became the safe and secure beachhead that the Bush Administration wanted to use as a base to conquer Iran, Syria, and perhaps other Middle Eastern countries. Bush did use Iraq as a political tool, however. As only one example: a big theme in the 2004 presidential campaign was to remind the public of September 11 and to use fear of another attack as an argument for reëlection.
Nor was Bush the only Republican to use the September 11 attacks as a political tool. Throughout the Bush presidency, the idea of criticizing a wartime president was held up as an example of disloyal anti-patriotism, bordering on traitorous actions and sedition. It took the folksiness of Joe Biden to call out Rudy Giuliani for basing his entire short-lived 2008 presidential campaign on sentences that contained “a noun, a verb, and nine-eleven.” Republican political gamesmanship over the Iraq war and September 11 was pervasive and nearly omnipresent in our public discourse.
It took President Obama to correct the errors of the previous administration. Today, not a single American soldier is fighting in Iraq. Iran hasn’t been invaded, and has been forced to the bargaining table to deal with its nuclear program. After a promised and successfully-executed period of concentration on the Afghan war — attention, following years of Bush’s neglect, that has now decimated al Qaeda — the President announced a 2014 withdrawal date for troops in Afghanistan, putting the Afghan government on notice that it must step up to see to its own defense.
Perhaps most importantly, a year ago today, Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation ordered by President Obama. Bush declared, on September 17, 2001, that bin Laden was “wanted, dead or alive” — and then Bush promptly stopped worrying about bin Laden, and became “truly not concerned” about him.
Why rehash all this old news? Because it reveals a pattern that still continues. Republicans continue to politicize these events — while accusing Democrats of doing so — and continue flip-flopping as Bush did on the importance of finding bin Laden.
It’s now okay to criticize a wartime president. President Obama is actually being pilloried for not invading Iran, for withdrawing troops from Iraq — perversely also for stealing Bush’s credit for the Iraq withdrawal — and for announcing the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Republicans are even playing games with the death of bin Laden. After the Bush Administration spent seven years failing, Republicans are now trying to downplay the importance of finding and killing the world’s foremost terrorist. That’s when they’re not trying to take credit for it.
This charge comes from the party of “Mission Accomplished” and war profiteering and “a noun, a verb, and nine-eleven.”
Clearly, Republicans don’t want Americans to be reminded of Republican failures and of President Obama’s successes. Foreign policy and the economy are supposed to be Republican strong points. The utter disaster of Republican rule does not stand up well to the successes of the current President — even in the face of unyielding, unstinting, unthinking opposition.
Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. If we allow the Republican Etch-A-Sketch to make us forget the contrast, the next four years will be a replay. Republican policy has not altered a smidgen since the Bush years — if anything, Republicans insist Bush did not go far enough.
If you loved the Bush foreign policy, expect to see a Part Two under a Romney Administration. And expect it to be the stuff of constant political manipulation.
- Bush declares war — for no reason (thenewstranslator.wordpress.com)
- Will bin Laden mean brownie points for Obama? (politico.com)
- Biden Foreign-Policy Counterattack On Romney Highlights GOP Challenge (npr.org)
About dcpetterson (187 posts)
D. C. Petterson is a novelist and a software consultant in Minnesota who has been writing science fiction since the age of six. He is the author of A Melancholy Humour, Rune Song and Still Life. He lives with his wife, two dogs, two cats, and a lizard, and insists that grandchildren are the reward for having survived teenagers. When not writing stories or software, he plays guitar and piano, engages in political debate, and reads a lot of history and physics texts—for fun. Follow on Twitter @dcpetterson