Ten years ago this week, and six months after the United Stated launched a preemptive invasion of Iraq as part of the larger War on Terror, President Bush publicly conceded the administration had “no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with” the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States.
At the time, polling results showed that after hearing the administration's push for war, a strong majority of Americans were convinced that ties existed between Saddam and 9/11. Indeed, the Bush White House had not been shy about suggesting the Iraq War was, in part, a war of revenge for the attacks of 9/11. (At least one Fox News host still touts the phony claim.)
Those kind of bold prevarications ultimately led to the collapse of Bush's second term. It was the mishandling of the Iraq War that was likely responsible for Bush becoming the most unpopular departing president in American history. (Vice President Cheney's exit approval rating stood at a staggering 13 percent.)
The black eye that Bush applied to the Republican Party seemed permanent.
Now, after years of often-quiet indifference towards the 43rd president, the recent debate over the use of military force against the Syrian government has unleashed a wave of right-wing commentary about Bush's presidency. And surprise! Conservatives loved it.
Claiming they pine for the days of Oval Office decisiveness, far-right pundits have been rhapsodizing about Bush's glory years and especially his star turn as a national security pro who turned away terror, as well as a foreign policy sage who made the Middle East a safer place. (And don't forget, he ran a nonpartisan White House.)
Missing from the collective rewriting of history? Facts. Like the acknowledgement that more than 3,000 Americans died from terror attacks while Bush was in office, and that his Iraq War ranks among the most costly U.S. foreign policy blunders in recent history. (A decade later, Iraq remains besieged by violence.)
Indeed. What's most amazing about the brash rewriting of history is how conservative commentators boldly hold up the Iraq War (!) as an example of the success President Obama should try to emulate when searching for a solution to the Syria crisis. Not only did Bush apparently win the Iraq War, it was a masterful victory.
“By the time Bush left office,” wrote William McGurn in the New York Post this month, “he'd handed Obama a war in Iraq that had been won.” (Mission accomplished!) Like lots of conservatives, McGurn insists he misses the “decisive” Bush, while quietly ignoring the fact that Bush's decisiveness led to a $1 trillion dollar-plus war that claimed the lives of approximately 4,500 Americans, more than 100,000 Iraqis, and helped wipe out America's budget surplus.
But forget about those pesky facts. The Iraq War stands as “the most magnificent United States foreign policy success in 50 years,” according to Ann Coulter. And Rush Limbaugh assured listeners last week the war “was not a mess” until the media “convinced people it was a mess.” (Liberal bias!)
You don't have to search long to find even former Bush allies who demolish that kind of Limbaugh spin. "[T]he Iraq War was a disaster," noted Bush's chief re-election strategist, Matthew Dowd while appearing on ABC's This Week earlier this year. “We spent over $1 trillion. We lost thousands of lives.”
If you'd prefer a the perspective of a career military man who spent 15 years in the Middle East, recall that retired General Anthony Zinni famously referred to the Bush administration's war strategy as a “brain fart.”
But if, as conservative claim, the Iraq War ended with a stirring U.S. victory, it stands to reason that the intelligence used during the run-up to the war was also airtight, right? It was if you're Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who recently asserted that “The case the Bush administration assembled on Iraqi WMD was far stronger than what the Obama administration has offered on Syria.”
To refute that whopper, look no further than Colin Powell, who as Bush's Secretary of State famously shared the evidence marshaled by the administration to wage war with Iraq. Since then, Powell has been quite clear that “the evidence was deeply flawed,” as he wrote in his 2012 autobiography. (Meanwhile, see also “Curveball.” )
As an Iraq War intel bonus, right-wing media partisans have been claiming the missing WMDs from Saddam's non-existent arsenal - the WMDs that were at the center for Bush's war push-- were actually spirited across into Syria ten years ago and are now at the center of that country's international drama. (That is false.)
When not cheering Bush's Iraq victory built around flawless intelligence, pundits have been heralding his handling of terror. Appearing on Fox News on September 11, Rudy Giuliani belittled Obama's handling of national security, calling it timid. “It seems to me the reason we were safe was president Bush put us on offense,” said Giuliani. “That kept us safe. When we were on defense, I think we invite attacks.”
Of course, “we were safe” under Bush only if you ignore the fact that in 2001, Al Qaeda successfully hijacked four commercial airliners and brought down the Twin Towers and damanged the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000 Americans in one day.
As for the president himself, he has remained mostly out of the public view since leaving the White House, seemingly content to let history judge his presidency. Based on the frantic revisionism now going on in the right-wing press, pundits would be wise to follow Bush's pragmatic lead.