The Bush Legacy

The Bush legacy goes much deeper than the disastrous, ill-conceived, and abominably managed invasion and occupation of Iraq. Andrew Bacevich explores the war’s ideological underpinnings in a masterful essay published in today’s Boston Globe:

FEW AMERICANS, whatever their political persuasion, will mourn George W. Bush’s departure from office. Democrats and Republicans alike are counting the days until the inauguration of a new president will wipe the slate clean.

Yet in crucial respects, the Bush era will not end Jan. 20, 2009. The administration’s many failures, especially those related to Iraq, mask a considerable legacy. Among other things, the Bush team has accomplished the following:

  • Defined the contemporary era as an “age of terror” with an open-ended “global war” as the necessary, indeed the only logical, response;
  • Promulgated and implemented a doctrine of preventive war, thereby creating a far more permissive rationale for employing armed force;
  • Affirmed – despite the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001 – that the primary role of the Department of Defense is not defense, but power projection;
  • Removed constraints on military spending so that once more, as Ronald Reagan used to declare, “defense is not a budget item”;
  • Enhanced the prerogatives of the imperial presidency on all matters pertaining to national security, effectively eviscerating the system of checks and balances;
  • Preserved and even expanded the national security state, despite the manifest shortcomings of institutions such as the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
  • Preempted any inclination to question the wisdom of the post-Cold War foreign policy consensus, founded on expectations of a sole superpower exercising “global leadership”;
  • Completed the shift of US strategic priorities away from Europe and toward the Greater Middle East, the defense of Israel having now supplanted the defense of Berlin as the cause to which presidents and would-be presidents ritually declare their fealty.By almost any measure, this constitutes a record of substantial, if almost entirely malignant, achievement.
  • There’s more.

    A Gallup poll released today shows that almost half of Americans are “very concerned” that a McCain presidency would be much the same as the Bush presidency. By contrast, 30% of poll respondents said they were “very concerned” that Obama would change Bush’s policies too much.

    But enough of this silly stuff. The big issue that’s consuming all of John McCain’s time and attention right now is the conspiracy he sees (or claims to see) between Jim Webb and Barack Obama to attack his military credentials:

    Now the McCain campaign is accusing the Obama campaign of coordinating with Jim Webb to “attack” McCain’s war service.

    On MSNBC last night, Webb told McCain that he should “calm down” with the use of his military service in the campaign, adding that it was time to “get the politics out of the military.”

    Now the McCain campaign is responding to Webb, arguing that Webb’s comments prove that Obama “can’t control his surrogate operation.” McCain spokesperson Brian Rogers sends us this:

    If you didn’t think this was a coordinated attack on John McCain’s credentials before, it’s clear now that it is. Barack Obama’s surrogates are telling the McCain campaign to “calm down” about attacks on his military record? Seriously? Now somehow Wes Clark’s attacks are John McCain’s fault? It’s absurd. If Barack Obama can’t control his own surrogate operation, how can he be trusted to run the country?

    If McCain reacts this hysterically to Wesley Clark answering a reporter’s question about whether McCain is especially qualified to be president because he was shot down during the Vietnam war and held as a POW for five years, how can he be trusted to make wise decisions when he takes that 3 a.m. call on the red phone?

    Or, what Obama said:

    At a press conference, the Illinois senator was asked what he thought about Clark’s comments, which seemed to downplay the significance of McCain’s military service — he was shot down and held as a POW for five and-a-half years during the Vietnam War — and whether he felt they were similar to the Swift Boat ads used to attack John Kerry in 2004.

    “I don’t think that Gen. Clark, you know, had the same intent as the Swiftboat ads that we saw four years ago; I reject that analogy,” he said, before adding that he had said many times that McCain’s deserved honor and respect for his service to the country. “Now I have differences with him on policy, and I will vigorously debate a lot of the decisions he’s made when it comes to national security that have weakened our capacity to meet the threats and challenges of the 21st century. But that certainly doesn’t detract from his past service to America.”

    He did not answer the first part of the question directly and later Obama, who said he had not spoken with Clark, seemed to bristle when asked why he had not talked with him and whether he felt the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO owed McCain an apology, suggesting voters had more pressing matters on their minds.

    “I guess my question is why, given all the vast numbers of things that we’ve got to work on, that that would be a top priority of mine?” he said. “I think that, you know, right now we’re here to talk about how we can make sure that kids in Zanesville and across Ohio get the kind of support that they need and communities that are impoverished can start to rebuild. I’m happy to have all sorts of conversations about how we deal with Iraq and what happens with Iran, but the fact that somebody on a cable show or on a news show like Gen. Clark said something that was inartful about Sen. McCain I don’t think is probably the thing that is keeping Ohioans up at night.”

    Now, that’s the Obama I remember from primary season! Glad to have him back.

    4 Responses to “The Bush Legacy”

    1. gcotharn says:

      The thing about Bacevich’ analysis, and the reason the left and the right cannot discuss strategies in the WOT:

      the left and right disagree about the what constitutes the threat facing America.

      Since the left and right perceive different threats, the left and right naturally recommend different strategies to meet the different threats.

      You like Bacevich’ analysis b/c you and Bacevich perceive similar threats. I perceive a different threat. To me, Bacevich’ analysis is beyond laughable. If I perceived the same threat as you and Bacevich: I might also appreciate his analysis.


      I suspect Barack’s campaign has drawn this lesson from the Swift Boat Vets, i.e.: attack your opponent’s strength.

      Barack’s campaign may not realize the Swift Boat Vets had truth on their side. John Kerry tried to use a false and exaggerated war record to distinguish between his and Bush’ ability to preside over the Iraq War. The combined lies + attempt to use the lies to justify his judgement are what worked against Kerry.

      I argue:
      1) McCain has not lied about his war record.
      2) McCain has not used his war record to try and justify his judgment as a possible President.

      Instead, McCain has used his war record as evidence of his character and of his love of country.

      Character, et al are aspects you want to see in a President, yet they do not justify a man’s candidacy. What McCain has done is very different from what Kerry did, and it’s difficult or impossible to effectively attack. Every time voters see a Dem attack McCain while mentioning his war record, voters are reminded of McCain’s character and love of country. I think what Obama’s surrogates are doing is a losing tactic. We shall see. I could be wrong. I’m no genius in this area.

      It would be rare for a political professional to extemporaneously mention McCain’s military service without coordinating with the Obama campaign. We are now up to seven Dem military veterans who have attacked McCain while mentioning his military service. To me, the Obama campaign is clearly coordinating. I do not believe seven attacks are coincidence. The seven:

      –Bill Gillespie, Dem. candidate for Senate in Georgia
      –Tom Harkin
      –Jay Rockefeller
      –George McGovern
      –Wesley Clark
      –Rand Beers, former advisor to the Kerry campaign, current “informal advisor” to the Obama campaign
      –Jim Webb

    2. gcotharn says:

      I will not always come here and disagree with you. I am just temporarily enjoying visiting and looking around. If you feel it is rude of me, I am happy to immediately stop. I enjoy the conversation. I am not looking to be rudely disruptive.

    3. Kathy says:


      Did I say you were rudely disruptive? I’m happy to have you disagree with me; gives me a chance to sharpen my arguments and examine my assumptions. I don’t think that disagreement is rude, and you have not been rude.

      I enjoy the conversation, too.

    4. Hold_That_Tiger says:

      If John Kerry “exaggerated” his war record how did he win a Silver Star and 2 purple Hearts? The Military doesn’t exactly hand out medals. Why is it that none of the Swift Boat veterans who actually served on Kerry’s boat dispute Kerry’s telling of his actions under fire?

      I believe that the issue with the Swift Boaters was not what Kerry did in Vietnam but what he did when he came home; that is Kerry became a vocal member of the anti-War movement, and what he possibly exaggerated were the stories he told Congress about the murder of Vietnamese Civilians by American Soldiers. Let’s call a spade a spade here. Kerry, son of privilege, who could easily have opted out of Military service, unlike the slacker George Bush or any number of Conservative politicans and pundits, actually did his Military duty and conducted himself honorably in the Military; you can be in disagreement about how Kerry conducted himself when he left the Military, you can resent the way that he leveraged his grandstanding Testimony during the anti-War movement into a Political career, but for god’s sake, don’t dishonor a man who chose to serve when so many others, Rush Limbaugh, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Pat Buchanan, and yes, Bill Clinton, refused to serve.

      As for McCain not using his War record, with all due respect, nonsense, Of Course he has used it, how many times have his surrogates brought up his POW status? Do you really think that his representatives and supporters need to spell out that they think that his captivity has, if not qualified him to be President exactly, certainly proved that McCain DESERVES it. You say that McCain hasn’t used it to justify his judgement as President, yet in the next sentence you say that he has used it to say something about his character…don’t judgement and character go hand in hand? You say that “Every time voters see a Dem attack McCain while mentioning his war record, voters are reminded of McCain’s character and love of country…” Isn’t the unspoken point here, once again, that it is precisely because of his sacrifice, this love of country, that he deserves to be President?

      Why can’t a fellow Military man like General Clark, shot 4xs in Vietnam, respond to a Question put to him by a reporter that he doesn’t think that being a POW proves anything about John McCain’s qualifications to be President. Clark was respectful of McCain’s service as was Jim Webb, a personal friend of McCain’s, BTW. Look, the fact is that McCain is not offering much new as far as policy goes, his same old-same old program of low taxes, deregulation, and the continued pursuit of the Bush policy of military aggression, is not exactly appealing to Americans tired of the failed Bush ideology that has left this country weakened Politically, and economically. All the Republicans have to make the case that the party in power for the last 8 years, the party that has caused all this mayhem, should be counterintuitively returned to power this election cycle is the politics of personal destruction and mountain out of molehill offensives.

      This entanglement with Israel, furthered by the Bush administration, is troubling to say the least; why have we thrown in our lot so throughly with a Sovereign Nation? What exactly is our strategic Interest in defending Israel with no onus on them to settle with the source of unrest in the region, the Palestinians? As long as we continue this blatant bias toward a tiny nation of jews stuck in a sea of millions of Arabs, I see nothing but a continued quagmire for us, and a continued threat from Islamic terrorists.

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