The Crisis In Syria & The Bush Legacy: A Toxic Gift That Keeps On Poisoning

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Many reasons have been offered for the near-paralysis among the U.S. and its allies in fashioning a response to the thuggery of the Assad regime in Syria. Does anyone really believe that relieving the strongman of a few canisters of nerve gas will make a difference? But the perhaps least discussed reason is by far the biggest: The Bush Legacy, a toxic gift that keeps on poisoning.

I write of course, of the eight-year interregnum during which George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their henchmen, chief among them Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton, used the 9/11 attacks some 12 years go today as a pretense for invading Iraq at the cost of a trillion-plus dollars and 4,400 American and many tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Their actions obliterated a healthy budget surplus, in tandem with tax cuts for the rich tanked the economy and, most importantly in the context of the Syria crisis, plunged America’s standing in the world to an historic low.

The toxicity of the Bush Legacy cannot be underestimated, or as Dubya himself would say, misunderestimated.

It, and not some new found cowardice, is the predominant reason Britain, the U.S.’s most dependable ally in the post-World War II world, and Germany, among other European powers, have turned cold shoulders to Obama’s overtures, as if to say, “Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us.”

“The real reason the vote [in the British Parliament to back Obama] was lost was not so much doubt about strategy as the toxic nature of association with the United States, the idea of being dragged along again like a poodle in a U.S.-led military operation,” Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute told The New York Times. “For Britain’s self-defined status in the world the vote was catastrophic. It has fatally hit the special relationship.”

Combine that with a profound war weariness at home directly attributable to the Iraq war and the mission in Afghanistan, which was repeatedly looted by the Bush administration in service of the Iraq fiasco, as well as a maddening wishy-washiness on President Obama’s part on foreign affairs generally, and you have the recipe for that near-paralysis.

If there is an upside to the Bush Legacy, it may be that the very neocons who are sharpening their knives in anticipation of playing a major role in which Republican will face off against Hillary Clinton in 2016, will find their standing in the party seriously diminished. But there is a downside to that, as well — the neo-isolationists like Marco Rubio now emergent in the party who in their own way are as dangerous as the waterboard crowd.

After all, Assad and other bad guys doing bad things around the world aren’t going to go away. And the United Nations isn’t going to suddenly grow a pair, which means that the next strongman accused of having weapons of mass destruction needs to be dealt with firmly. Like that Saddam Hussein.

Oh, wait a minute . . .

* * * * *

There is more or less a consensus among historians that the worst presidents in U.S. history were Warren G. Harding, Ulysses S. Grant, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Franklin Pierce.

While each of these ignobles left big messes for their successors to clean up (except in the case of Grant, who made an even bigger mess than had Johnson, his predecessor), and even allowing for how different the world stage is today than 60 or 160 years ago, the Bush Legacy is indeed in a league of its own.

If we can be thankful for anything, it is that unlike the unapologetic Cheney and Rumsfeld, whose loathing of Obama is visceral, Bush has kept his pie hole shut about Syria. Some commentators are saying that his refusal to take a stand is cowardly, while I happen to think it is wise.

I give Bush enough credit to believe that he knows he’s a Nowhere Man. And to riff off another rock lyric, most Americans — as well as the world community at large — won’t get fooled again.

20 Comments

  1. Kudos for telling it like it is, Shaun.

    Thank you!

  2. The idiots from the Bush administration are making the news shows calling out Obamama. But, none of the news casters will call out the neocons for their failures. This is what we call “news”. walter Chronkite is ashamed…

  3. A flinty and accurate analysis, Shawn. Just as Vietnam haunted the United States for a generation, the legacy of the trumped-up war in Iraq will not fade for a long time.

  4. Well written and perfectly stated.

    I actually think this is a rare instant in American history where the saying “those who don’t understand the past are doomed to repeat it” doesn’t apply.

  5. At 67 my politics are the result of Vietnam – I have basically never believed anything the government told me especially when it comes to war. The Bush/Cheney cabal created a couple of more generations of that.

  6. Thank goodness for Bush. You can always depend on playing the Bush Card to win your argument.
    Well, here is another writer that is telling it like it is.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09......html?_r=0
    “Obama’s flip-flopping, ambivalent leadership led him to the exact place he never wanted to be: unilateral instead of unified. Once again, as with gun control and other issues, he had not done the groundwork necessary to line up support. The bumbling approach……

  7. Very well said Mr Mullen.

  8. LBJ, Reagan (Iran Contra), GWB, Obama…maybe we just ought tell presidents of all parties and stripes to go suck eggs whenever they get a bug up their butt about military action of any kind.

    I do agree that our current Bush/Cheney/Obama security state, military first approach to international relations is an unhealthy mess. There isn’t a pencil leads worth of difference between the prior administration and this one on many issues, unless you call doubling down on programs like NSA and drones a difference. You can rightly blame Bush, but you can’t give Obama a pass when he follows the same pot hole filled road.

    Just my view.

  9. If because of the Bush era fiascoes we are now less likely to repeat them, I would call that a positive effect and not a poison.

  10. Thank-you Shaun for putting words to what many of us have been feeling. The toxicity of the legacy you write about really can’t be overestimated, even though a good proportion of the country (including people who should know better) prefer to either forget it, rationalize, or revise the whole ugly business – and yes, the MSM is also cowardly in their negligence on the subject. Also thank-you for mentioning the tens of thousands of Iraqis who were killed in that idiotic war. Too often when I hear people discuss the subject, their lives are given no mention, as if the fact they aren’t American strips them of any meaning. Lastly, I have to say, it’s deeply disappointing that Obama is the focus of such consuming hate on the right (more toxicity) so much so that energy goes almost exclusively to expressions of ire than of measured consideration of the situtation in Syria. The phenomenon becomes even more obscene when when viewed in the context of the post. Self examination and actual learning can be HARD, even when the lessons should be so easy.

  11. tidbits:

    A paragraph reflecting your view was in my original draft of this post but was deleted as being somewhat off subject. Bottom line: You are correct.

  12. Only one and a half attempts at deflection (so far); your column hit home, Shaun! Now we know why nobody wanted to fight the Soviets over Eastern Europe; humankind can only handle continuous war on a limited regional/tribal basis, apparently.

  13. I give Bush enough credit to believe that he knows he’s a Nowhere Man.

    Of course the damage is done and can’t be undone, so that credit is only noticable when Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton, etc. are mouthing off.

  14. There isn’t a pencil leads worth of difference between the prior administration and this one on many issues …

    A low standard of leadership and wisdom in the white house makes an almost impossible job of being a successful President even tougher. For the last 13 years our Presidents have made it clear that they are doggedly confused. I am saddened for America. Putin appears ready to roll us, again.

  15. Well, I know a lot of people are disappointed in Obama for various reasons and I can appreciate this, but with regard to that “pencil leads worth of difference.. he hasn’t taken us into a bogus war costing thousands of lives and a trillion dollars has he. Nor has he presided over an economy gone off the cliff while doing so. I’d say that’s a pretty significant amount of pencil lead. Funny thing about cynicism, even when it’s warranted it comes at a price. I’m re-reading some old Ray Bradbury short stories right now and just this afternoon came across a paragraph that goes to that point (from “I Sing the Body Electric”):

    “So, for thousands of years, you humans have needed kings, priests, philosophers, fine examples to look up to and say, ‘They are good, I wish I could be like them. They set the grand good style.’ But, being human, the finest priests, the tenderest philosophers make mistakes, fall from grace, and mankind is disillusioned and adopts indifferent skepticism or, worse, motionless cynicism and the good work grinds to a halt while evil moves on with huge strides.”

  16. What he has done — and is flirting with doing to an even greater extent — is expanding the role of Russia and Iran in the area. It will take 8-10 years to secure and remove Syrian chemical weapons. It will likely mean a UN brokered treaty for the Syrian civil war; essentially the UN will be propping up Assad. Lights out for the legit rebels left behind by the west; meaning further attraction to radical rebels. Russia and Iran will be more predominate drivers in the Middle East.

    You could argue (as I have) that Assad is our best option in Syria. And if you could press a button and go back in time you might choose Mubarak, Gadhafi and Hussein. Obama is as equally naïve as Bush. Cost to be determined.

  17. What he has done — and is flirting with doing to an even greater extent — is expanding the role of Russia and Iran in the area…

    The last time I looked Iran IS in that area (and Russia is real close)… That’s where they live, it’s their neighborhood not ours.

    … It will take 8-10 years to secure and remove Syrian chemical weapons.

    And where does the 8 – 10 year timeline come from Donald Rumsfeld or John Bolton?

    This flip-flopping from…

    I am not as interested in the White House winning as I am for America and the world winning.

    … when just the slightest mention that the White House is gaining the upper hand both logically and morally, to direct assaults on the current administration with facts seemingly pulled out of thin air.

    This is all starting to take the fun out of our here to for thoughtful, pleasant disagreements, but hell it’s probably just me… I think I need to take another couple of weeks off for an attitude adjustment. My misguided perspective(s) need a break.

  18. I think I need to take another couple of weeks off for an attitude adjustment.

    I hear what you are saying. Thanks, mate. I think my taking a commenting sabbatical in the name of my own mental health as well as TMV relationships is a good idea. This politics stuff taxing :)

    Heading up to Lake Tahoe for Ironman. Plus, I have some helpful health related advice to share. Don’t want to lose all credibility. Hold down the fort. Peace to you.

  19. KP, I agree with your last two comments, aside from the exact timing. Have a good respite from this mental morass we are in and I will try to defend my end of the fort.

  20. Thanks, dduck.

    Cada loco con su tema …

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