The war Bush is winning

Nile Gardiner:

On much of the world stage, President Bush has been widely reviled as one of the worst U.S. leaders of modern times, and it is hard to think of an American president who has received a worse press since Richard Nixon.

To his critics, who are legion on both sides of the Atlantic, the war in Iraq has been a monumental disaster, at a cost of more than 4,000 American lives and at least $500 billion. They see the war on terror, with the notorious Guantanamo prison camp as its symbol, as a catalyst for radicalizing tens of millions of Muslims that has made the United States a pariah in the Middle East.

The war in Afghanistan, they argue, is going badly in the face of a resurgent Taliban, the cost of Washington pouring most of its resources into Iraq. Bush, the theory goes, failed to keep his eye on the ball, weakening the fight against al-Qaeda through his supposed obsession with Iraq. He is also accused of undermining America's standing in the world, adopting a unilateralist foreign policy and refusing to work with its Allies.

Some of the criticism of Bush's foreign policy is fair. The early stages of the occupation of Iraq were poorly handled and there was a distinct lack of post-war planning. America's public diplomacy efforts have been poor or even non-existent, with little serious attempt to combat the stunning rise of anti-Americanism. More recently, Washington's failure to stand up more aggressively to Moscow after its invasion of Georgia projected weakness and indecision.

Much of the condemnation of his policies though is driven by a venomous hatred of Bush's personality and leadership style, rather than an objective assessment of his achievements. Ten or twenty years from now, historians will view Bush's actions on the world stage in a more favourable light. America's 43rd president did after all directly liberate more people (over 60 million) from tyranny than any leader since Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Widely seen as his biggest foreign policy error, the decision to invade Iraq could ultimately prove to have been a masterstroke. Today the world is witnessing the birth of the first truly democratic state in the Middle East outside of Israel. Over eight million voted in Iraq's parliamentary elections in 2005, and the region's first free Muslim society may become a reality. Iraq might not be Turkey, but it is a powerful demonstration that freedom can flourish in the embers of the most brutal and barbaric of dictatorships.

The success of the surge in Iraq will go down in history as a turning point in the war against al-Qaeda. The stunning defeat of the insurgency was a major blow both militarily and psychologically for the terror network. The West's most feared enemy suffered thousands of losses in Iraq, including many of their most senior commanders, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abu Qaswarah. It was the most successful counter-insurgency operation anywhere in the world since the British victory in Malaya in 1960.

The broader war against Islamist terrorism has also been a success. There has not been a single terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, and for all the global condemnation of pre-emptive strikes, Guantanamo and the use of rendition against terror suspects, the fact remains that Bush's aggressive strategy actually worked.

Significantly, there have been no successful terrorist attacks in Europe since the July 2005 London bombings, in large part due to the cooperation between U.S., British and other Western intelligence agencies. American intelligence has proved vital in helping prevent an array of planned terror attacks in the UK, a striking demonstration of the value to Britain of its close ties to Washington.

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The decision by Bush, with Blair's support, to sweep the Taliban out of Afghanistan was a brilliant move, one that not all U.S. presidents would have taken. A weaker leader would have gone to the United Nations Security Council and sought a negotiated settlement with Kabul. It was a risky gambit that was vindicated by a stunning military victory in the space of a month, with a small number of U.S. ground forces involved.

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Bush's decision to remove Saddam Hussein from power will make it less likely that rogue regimes, Iran and North Korea included, will seek to militarily challenge American power. The memory of the invasion of Iraq and the unequivocal message that sent is by far the most effective deterrent to Tehran developing a nuclear weapon.

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I think Bush's domestic critics have made it more likely that rogue states will challenge the US again, by challenging the legitimacy and the actuality of the liberation of Iraq and the significance of the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq. These domestic critics have given hope and comfort to rogue states like Iran and Syria as well as North Korea. They have made it more likely that someone like Obama will be challenged, because there is less fear of him than President Bush.

It is hard for me to contain my disgust for the anti war pukes in this country who have demonized President Bush and ignored the war crimes of our enemies. I have no respect for their point of view.

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