An American Eagle in Autumn; President Studies Lincoln, FDR Wartime Presidencies
Byline: Barry Casselman, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
It is the final political season for President Bush. After November, he will begin the process leading to the day in January 2009 when he will become irreversibly a former president on the United States. But his season as president is not yet over. He has two and a half years to preside over the American government, regardless of the results this November.
Mr. Bush faces momentous difficulties. Many Americans still do not realize the extent to which the United States is locked into a protracted and dangerous war with Islamofascism.
After we were attacked on September 11, U.S. public opinion overwhelmingly favored the pursuit of our attackers in their base in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush and his advisers realized, however, that this would not solve the new long-term threat now posed by an enemy determined not only to remove our presence from the Middle East and destroy Israel, but also intent upon humiliating and overwhelming Western culture with an aggressive and feudal totalitarian culture of their own.
A war was initiated in Iraq to remove a bestial dictator and to change this totalitarian nature of the Middle East. Virtually everyone concedes Saddam Hussein's cruelty, but many in the United States and most in Europe resisted the boldness and risk the president took to alter the chemistry of persistent feudalism in the Middle Eastern Islamic world.
Unfortunately, Mr. Bush at the outset muddled his true purpose with dire warnings of so-called "weapons of mass destruction," which were not found after the war. What we did find was absolute evidence of a regime so venal and cruel that it is difficult to understand how it was able to persist for so many decades.
Opponents rightly contend that even destroying this unspeakable regime was not alone worth the risk we took, the lives we have lost, and the huge expense we have made. But the president and his advisors had a much larger strategic purpose. They saw the necessity, given the ominous aggression of the terrorists, to change the nature of the Middle Eastern political landscape which had been altered primarily by a vast and seemingly unending infusion of cash from the sale of its petroleum resources to the rest of the world. This infusion permitted Middle Eastern regimes to arm themselves with sophisticated weaponry and to pursue the acquisition of nuclear weapons. It is instructive to point out to Western apologists for these regimes that they did not use their new economic resources to provide civilian infrastructure, universal education and health care to their populations, including the long-suffering Palestinian refugees in their midst.
His opponents continue to demonize Mr. Bush. But I continue to think his strategic vision is the best one, and the risk he took was a valid one. The struggle is not over in the Middle East, contrary to the perennial naysayers, but it is a time when outcomes are uncertain and our purpose is not transparent. The president and his advisors, principally Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tried to follow up their successful military campaign with minimal military force. I think this was mainly due to their lack of personal military experience. Colin Powell's doctrine of "overwhelming force" in hindsight (and in the foresight of military history) was much more likely to succeed.
But given the chance to reverse our policy through the presidential election on 2004, American voters chose, intuitively, to continue the president's course. The fact is that wars are not easily and neatly fought. From Manassas to the Battle of the Bulge to Viet Nam, there are battles lost and grievous mistakes made. It has been this way as long as we have records of history.
Only 16 years after we unilaterally withdrew from Viet Nam, world communism collapsed. It did not collapse from war on a battlefield, but it did collapse from the determination of Western democratic capitalism to contain it until it fell apart from its own economic contradictions. …