Blaming Bush

Daniel Larison, who doesn’t much like me, is nevertheless correct in saying that the Bush administration deserves the blame for its failures, including the “calamitous” decision to invade Iraq. It is not “Bush Derangment Syndrome” to say that the Iraq invasion was a very bad idea, or to say that, if it was a good idea, the execution was blundered. And if you don’t blame the Commander in Chief for a disastrous military adventure . . . well, whatever happened to, “The Buck Stops Here?”

In the run-up to the war, my opinion was like that of Nicias toward the Sicilian expedition, feeling that the Alcibiades-like arguments offered for the invasion were false and that the policy was unwise. But, like Nicias, I felt that if the U.S. did invade (and by Labor Day 2002, that decision had clearly already been made) victory was the only acceptable outcome. In other words, “Let’s win this ill-advised blunder of a war!”

No nation has ever benefitted from military defeat, and I draw a bright line between (a) the I-told-you-so recriminations of those who wisely opposed the invasion before it began, and (b) the dishonorable glee of those who don’t even bother to disguise their desire for American defeat.

America is too big, too rich and too powerful to safely disarm. We cannot assume the sort of inert, cowardly pacifism that dominated England in the 1920s and ’30s without inviting aggression. The alternative to American strength is not “world peace,” but rather the removal of any meaningful constraint on the imperial appetites of America’s enemies.

That the Bush administration misused American strength is, I think, inarguable. But let us not obscure the distinction between criticizing bad policy and wishing ill to one’s own nation. Hatred of neoconservatism, I fear, has blinded some of my friends to the importance of this distinction. Yes, the disaster in Iraq has discredited neoconservative foreign policy, but the discrediting of bad philosophy is not a sufficient cause to celebrate American military defeat.

I think it unlikely that any U.S. administration will ever again undertake a foreign adventure with as little caution as the Bush administration undertook the invasion of Iraq. But I still want our troops to achieve victory in Iraq.

(Cue outraged demands that I define “victory.”)

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