Bye to Bush; hello to Obama: Jeff Jacoby’s column of 1/21/09

Background.  Jacoby’s goal is to write a gracious goodbye to Bush and a hello to Obama.   He laments the partisan bickering and lack of civility, and claims that those on the left never gave Bush a chance.  He agrees with Bush that Bush’s Presidency may be viewed more positively by history.  He also claims that the war in Iraq was a victory for the U.S.   This latter claim is the basis for my response.

 

Dear Jeff,

I am one of those who believes that Bush is the worst President in my lifetime, much worse than Nixon, albeit more likable.  I will leave it up to historians to determine whether Bush is the worst U.S. President ever, or whether Buchanan or Harding win this distinction.   

However, my major disagreement with your column today was not your judgment of Bush but your assessment that the war in Iraq “appears to be ending in a clear victory for the United States … an infinite improvement over the dangerous hellhole he inherited in 2001.” 

I agree that the situation today is much better than I (and most others) feared it would be two years ago, and I am grateful for the improvements.  But, at best, the outcome in Iraq can be called a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the costs greatly exceeded the gains.  More accurately, it should be viewed as the largest and more costly foreign policy mistake that the U.S. has made since the Vietnam war.  Let me remind you of some of the costs.

  1. More than 4,000 U.S. military have been killed.
  2. Approximately 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed according to many estimates, with some estimates running much higher.
  3. The total cost to the U.S. is at least $1 trillion, and serious economists (notably, Joseph Steiglitz) estimate the total cost at $3 trillion.
  4. Over two million Iraqis fled Iraq because of the war.  More than a million others were displaced within Iraq because of sectarian violence.  Iraq has largely lost its middle class.
  5. The remaining Iraqis do not (in general) view their country better off now than it was under Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was one of the most ruthless dictators of our time and one who was reviled within Iraq.
  6. The war and other Bush policies caused America to be hated passionately within the Muslim world and led many America-haters to join terrorist groups.  It has also made many of our own allies dislike and fear us.  
  7. In his war against terror, Bush undermined some parts of the international order including the Geneva Conventions. 
  8. The war made it much more difficult for the U.S. to put its full efforts into destroying Al Qaeda.
  9. Our efforts in Iraq have made it much more difficult for us to put efforts into Afghanistan, and the Taliban has made a resurgence. 
  10. It is likely that Iraq’s government will be more friendly to Iran than to the U.S.   

Jeff, when you say that the situation today is “an infinite improvement” over the situation in 2001, you are dead wrong.   You are ignoring (or seriously undervaluing) all the bad effects of the war. In making this claim, you undermine your own credibility.

Regards, Jim

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