L’imitation est la plus sincère des flatteries. Charles Caleb Colton
Et s’ils capturaient brusquement Oussama Ben Laden? Où est-ce qu’ils le mettraient? Reginald Dale (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington)
L’histoire montrera qu’en commun avec le reste de son administration, le gouvernement britannique, les propres généraux de Saddam, les agences de renseignement françaises, chinoises, israéliennes et russes, et naturellement la SIS et la CIA, tout le monde supposait qu’un dictateur meurtrier ne détruit pas volontairement l’arsenal d’ADM qu’il a employé contre son propre peuple. Et s’il le fait, il n’expulse pas alors les inspecteurs de l’ONU en recherchant la preuve, comme il l’a fait en 1998 et encore en 2001. Andrew Roberts
En un mot, il y en a qui ne pardonneront jamais à M. Bush de ne pas avoir perdu une guerre qu’ils avaient tous déclaré ingagnable. William Gurn
Il ne faut pas négocier avec le Hamas tant qu’il n’aura pas renoncé à la violence, reconnu Israël et accepté les accords passés. C’est un absolu. C’est ma position et celle du président élu. Hillary Clinton (secrétaire d’Etat)
La beauté des alternances démocratiques, c’est que quand l’opposition arrive au pouvoir, la critique bon marché et la calomnie ne suffisent plus. Les Démocrates ont maintenant le dossier irakien entre leurs mains. Comme la guerre contre al-Qaeda. Et la panoplie des mesures anti-terroristes avec lesquelles l’administration Bush nous a préservés de tout attentat ces sept dernières années. Charles Krauthammer
En vérité, il n’y a pas de plus grand compliment dans la vie politique que l’adoption de ses propres politiques par un adversaire une fois qu’il arrive au pouvoir. Greg Sheridan
J’ai toujours été partisan dans ma vie politique d’une alliance très proche avec les Etats-Unis d’Amérique, mais que les choses soient claires: au XXIe siècle, il n’y a plus une seule nation qui peut dire ce qu’il faut faire ou ce qu’il faut penser. Nicolas Sarkozy
Ah le bonheur d’être enfin débarrassé d’un monsieur qui en plus avait eu la cuistrerie de gagner une guerre que tous nos bien-pensants, St Obama compris, avait déclaré ingagnable!
Unanimité de la croyance en la présence d’ADM à la veille de la guerre en Irak, rejet du protocole de Kyoto par Clinton, triplement de l’aide à l’Afrique noire sous l’Administration Bush, indéniable succès malgré les ratés initiaux de l’envoi de renforts en Irak comme de la lutte contre Al Qaeda …
Petite remise des pendules à l’heure, via deux éditorialistes australiens.
Qui rappellent, contre nos champions de la désinformation à la mémoire courte, à quel point le président du changement et notoire caméléon habitué des revirements (financement des campagnes, retrait des troupes d’Irak, fermeture de Guantanamo, etc.), a repris en fait l’essentiel (jusqu’à certains membres de son équipe dont – excusez du peu – le secrétaire d’Etat à la Défense !) du bilan du président américain pourtant le plus mal aimé en fin de carrière que Nixon ou Truman …
What went right for Bush
January 17, 2009
THE final word on George W. Bush’s foreign policy belongs, perhaps, to his successor, Barack Obama, who will be inaugurated as president of the US next week. In his most wide-ranging television interview on foreign policy, Obama was asked last week whether he stood by a remark he made in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which has been constantly shelled by Hamas rockets from the Gaza Strip. Obama said that if his town, where his daughters slept each night, was constantly being attacked by rockets he would want to do something about it.
In the light of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, the TV interviewer asked if Obama still felt that way?
He replied: « That’s a basic principle of any country: that they’ve got to protect their citizens. »
Obama was further asked to differentiate himself as strongly as possible from the Bush administration’s policy of supporting Israel. Would he instead be ushering in a bold new policy?
Obama replied: « If you look not just at the Bush administration but what happened under the Clinton administration, you are seeing the general outlines of an approach. »
Good grief! These words should shock every true Bush hater in the world. But wait, there’s more.
Obama’s nominee for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said that the Obama administration would put more emphasis on diplomacy and try to engage Syria and Iran in dialogue. (Just, indeed, as the Bush administration has tried to do.)
But, just like Bush, she and the new administration would not take the military option off the table in dealing with Iran.
On Hamas, she said: « You cannot negotiate with Hamas until it renounces violence, recognises Israel and agrees to abide by past agreements. That is an absolute. That is my position and the president-elect’s position. » It is also one of the most contentious positions of President Bush, Democrat Obama’s Republican predecessor.
Then there is the US prison in Guantanamo for terror suspects. Obama has pledged to shut it. Indeed, Bush wanted to shut it, too. But Obama’s people now say that doing so might take a year or more, because, like Bush, Obama will face the dilemma of what to do with intractably dangerous people whose countries of origin either won’t have them back under any circumstances or would be likely to torture or kill them if they did take them back.
It would be wrong to suggest there is no difference between Obama and Bush in foreign policy. But from the moment that Obama’s hawkish, almost neo-conservative foreign policy essay appeared in the US journal Foreign Affairs in July 2007, it has been clear that the continuity in US foreign policy from Bush under Obama would vastly outweigh the change.
Indeed, Obama is the American Kevin Rudd, though, with no disrespect to our Prime Minister, Obama is more glamorous and better looking.
But, like Rudd, Obama is likely to engage in some powerful symbolic gestures while keeping much of his predecessor’s policies in substance.
Obama is even keeping some of Bush’s key personnel, most remarkably Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and some key Bush administration figures in the National Security Council.
Obama acknowledges the success of the Bush troop surge in Iraq and wants to imitate it in Afghanistan.
In truth, there is no greater compliment in political life than for a political opponent to adopt his predecessor’s policies once he gains office.
All this is the opposite of the popular stereotype – parroted nowhere more faithfully than in the Australian media – of a bumbling, incompetent Bush producing a train wreck of a foreign policy requiring profound remedial action. So great is the emotional prejudice against Bush – on display again in a remarkably silly essay by Don Watson in the January issue of The Monthly magazine – that it is almost impossible to get a serious, rational, dispassionate discussion of the Bush foreign policy legacy.
But it is time to take serious stock of what Bush has meant for foreign policy. From an Australian perspective, it is necessary to distinguish different parts of the Bush time in office.
There is Bush’s record on issues of special concern to Australia, such as Asia and trade policy, and Bush’s incredible increase in aid for Africa. But there is the big question mark over the Middle East and the lack of action on global warming.
It is necessary to distinguish, too, between Bush before 9/11 from Bush after 9/11, also to distinguish the first George W. Bush term from the second, for they were very different.
None of these complexities normally figures in the celebratory denunciations of Bush constantly emanating from pundits and opinion panjandrums across the world.
One important reality check came from Walter Russell Mead, the Henry Kissinger fellow at the US Council for Foreign Relations, in a recent lecture to the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne.
Mead is in no sense a Bush partisan or neo-con. He is a non-partisan voice of great elegance and sophistication in US foreign policy. Speaking just after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, and in the midst of the global financial crisis, he asserted that he was an optimist about the international scene. He advanced five reasons for his optimism.
One: Financial and banking crises are a regular and perhaps inevitable part of the capitalist system. But the US and the world always recovers from them and life goes on, generally with a better understanding of the way economies work and often, therefore, a better regulatory system.
Two: The failure of Osama bin Laden and his project throughout the Islamic world. This is most evident in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs there saw the US in a sense at its worst – given the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the mismanagement of the early part of the occupation – and al-Qa’ida potentially at its most appealing as the leader of resistance against Western domination. And yet in the Iraqi Sunni awakening, they rejected al-Qa’ida and chose partnership with the West.
Three: The rise of Asia. Mead rejects the intellectually constipated notion that China’s rise equals America’s decline. Instead he thinks that Asia is producing numerous big powers – China, Japan, India – that will naturally balance each other and always seek the involvement of the US as a further balancing and stabilising force.
Four: The enduring strength of American soft power. But how can this be? Surely Bush’s global unpopularity has permanently ruined America’s standing in the world? Not at all, Mead argues. One election, the triumph of Obama, and suddenly the world loves the US again.
European magazines recently at the centre of anti-Americanism declare that we are all Americans now and that Obama is the president of the world.
But if anti-Americanism is so easily banished, was it really such a powerful force? Another possible explanation (and here I am not quoting Mead) is that much anti-Americanism is exported from the US itself and reflects not much more than the visceral hatred of Bush by The New York Times class.
The New York Times itself is reprinted all over the world and its attitudes and disdains aped by faux sophisticates from Brussels to Balmain.
Five: The enduring dynamism of US society. No candidate ran in the US presidential election in 2008 as the status quo candidate.
I find Mead’s arguments pretty convincing. If there is even a glimmer of truth to them, they suggest that the world Bush created was not altogether and entirely as evil as contemporary reviews suggest.
From Australia’s point of view, at any rate, the Bush presidency was overwhelmingly successful.
What are the core Australian national interests that Canberra would always want a US administration to protect? Surely three would be: a stable security order in the Asia Pacific; the integrity of the international trading system; and the health of the US-Australian alliance.
On all three, Bush was outstandingly good for Australia. Bush’s success in Asia is simply undeniable, and Rudd, among many others, has often acknowledged it. Michael Green, the former Asia director at the NSC under Bush, has in several important articles collated opinion poll data about the US in Asia. It turns out that Asia is the one region in the world where the US’s poll ratings are higher at the end of the Bush administration than they were at the beginning.
This was anything but inevitable. When Bush was first elected, the fear du jour of the international know-alls was that Washington and Beijing would find themselves in confrontation. Then in April 2001 a US reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet collided and the US plane had to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island. The world held its breath. Here was the confrontation all had feared.
In fact, the Bush team handled the ensuing days of tension, while the Chinese temporarily held the American air crew hostage, with great sophistication, calm and restraint.
It was a sign of things to come. The US-China relationship has never been better managed than over the past eight years. China has grown wealthy as a result of the good relationship. At the same time, Washington’s management of Taiwan has been masterful. It has maintained its security guarantee for Taiwan but consciously and effectively reined in its independence aspirations and managed downwards its independence vote.
The biggest success for the US was India, where it negotiated a new nuclear co-operation agreement that will help the transformation of Indian industry, and incidentally do more than almost any single act of government policy anywhere to counter greenhouse gas emissions. But most importantly it cements the new strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi.
The US also reinvigorated its alliances with Japan and South Korea. Both contributed substantial troop contingents to Iraq. At Australian urging the Bush administration also revived its relationship with Indonesia. All of this is of the greatest possible benefit to Australia and is a powerfully positive framework for the Obama administration to inherit.
On trade, it is true that the Bush administration was unable to complete the Doha round of trade liberalisation. But it never walked down the path of renewed tariff protectionism. It never played the protectionist card against China; will Obama be as good on this score? And it negotiated free-trade agreements with Australia, South Korea, Singapore and a slew of South American countries.
On the US-Australia alliance, the Howard government got everything it wanted from Washington, from profoundly important new intelligence-sharing arrangements to unrivalled technological access. These arrangements have been institutionalised and act as great force multipliers for Australia. The Rudd Government has sensibly consolidated them and they will be in place for the Obama administration.
Undoubtedly the hinge point of the Bush administration was the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Many of those who now oppose the military aspects of the US’s response supported them at the time. Indeed, The New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, admittedly the most air-headed of all significant North American columnists, once wrote of then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that he was sexy and charismatic.
Bush’s mainstream opponents agreed with his decision to intervene in Afghanistan, and Obama is pledged to stay the distance there. Iraq remains the great divider of opinion.
This is no place to rehash all the Iraq arguments but what is absolutely clear is that everyone involved in Iraq policy, in every relevant nation, believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. They believed this partly because Saddam wanted them to, and partly because no other explanation of the facts made sense. But it is legitimate to criticise Bush for a wrong judgment on Iraq; it is not legitimate to say he lied his way into war, as Bush critics have to acknowledge that the WMD beliefs were nearly universally held.
The greatest and most justified criticism of Bush arises from the mismanagement of the early years of the Iraq occupation and the dreadful scandal of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. On the flipside, Bush gets all the credit for the subsequent troop surge, which was opposed by his key advisers and which has given Iraq a chance to emerge independent and semi-democratic.
The other great criticism of Bush is that he failed to wield the brilliant and powerful individuals of his national security team – Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Rich Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice – into a coherent team.
The second Bush administration was much less internally divided than the first and ran a consultative, cautious, centrist policy, concentrating on winning the wars it was involved in.
If you believe that global warming is the surpassing issue of the day, then Bush did not do enough to combat it, though it is clear the Kyoto Protocol was a flawed instrument for attacking this problem and there was never support for it in the US (remember Bill Clinton had recommended against its ratification).
Bush did neither significant harm nor significant good to the UN. That body’s impotence and fatal moral confusion long predate him. But consider Africa. In his first term, Bush tripled US aid to sub-Saharan Africa. That’s right, the US under Bush was giving three times more to Africa than it was under Clinton. And the increases kept coming during Bush’s second term, so that if Obama continues the rate of increase, US aid will again be doubled by 2010.
Now how does that fit into the conspiracy theories about Bush? Was he pandering to the African-American vote? Was there a secret neo-con objective? Does Cheney have relatives there? Or could it be that Bush was trying to do some good?
It’s too early to judge the Bush project in Iraq. But I am sure that, overall, history will judge Bush much more kindly than today’s commentators do.
Bush will outlast his critics
November 13, 2008
Greg Sheridan rightly gives George W. Bush high marks:
Bush was an immensely successful president in Asia. When Bush was first elected there was great fear of a conflict between the US and China. Instead, Bush from the start pursued a steady, productive and stable relationship with China… He had a much better China relationship than Bill Clinton did.
Similarly, the US-India nuclear deal, which symbolises the entire new strategic relationship with India, compares in historical import with Richard Nixon’s opening to China. Likewise with Japan. Bush encouraged Tokyo to become an independent strategic partner within the framework of the US alliance. This removes the crippling psychological burden of strategic client status for Japan and, by making the US-Japan alliance militarily reciprocal, enormously strengthens the US position in North Asia…. More generally, Bush was always ready to take Australian interests into account…
Much of history’s judgment of Bush will turn on Iraq and Afghanistan. This column, in what is certainly a minority position, believes the Iraq operation was the right thing to do on the basis of the information available and Bush was courageous to do it. More recently, Bush defied all his advisers to implement the troop surge that turned Iraq from a catastrophe to a chance of success.
This President, infinitely more complex than his reviews would suggest, will have a better place in history than most of his critics.
Exit Bush, Shoes Flying
The Washington post
January 16, 2009
Except for Richard Nixon, no president since Harry Truman has left office more unloved than George W. Bush. Truman’s rehabilitation took decades. Bush’s will come sooner. Indeed, it has already begun. The chief revisionist? Barack Obama.
Vindication is being expressed not in words but in deeds — the tacit endorsement conveyed by the Obama continuity-we-can-believe-in transition. It’s not just the retention of such key figures as Defense Secretary Bob Gates or Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, who, as president of the New York Fed, has been instrumental in guiding the Bush financial rescue over the past year. It’s the continuity of policy.
It is the repeated pledge to conduct a withdrawal from Iraq that does not destabilize its new democracy and that, as Vice President-elect Joe Biden said just this week in Baghdad, adheres to the Bush-negotiated status-of-forces agreement that envisions a U.S. withdrawal over three years, not the 16-month timetable on which Obama campaigned.
It is the great care Obama is taking in not preemptively abandoning the anti-terror infrastructure that the Bush administration leaves behind. While still a candidate, Obama voted for the expanded presidential wiretapping (FISA) powers that Bush had fervently pursued. And while Obama opposes waterboarding (already banned, by the way, by Bush’s CIA in 2006), he declined George Stephanopoulos’s invitation (on ABC’s « This Week ») to outlaw all interrogation not permitted by the Army Field Manual. Explained Obama: « Dick Cheney’s advice was good, which is let’s make sure we know everything that’s being done, » i.e., before throwing out methods simply because Obama campaigned against them.
Obama still disagrees with Cheney’s view of the acceptability of some of these techniques. But citing as sage the advice offered by « the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history » (according to Joe Biden) — advice paraphrased by Obama as « we shouldn’t be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric » — is a startlingly early sign of a newly respectful consideration of the Bush-Cheney legacy.
Not from any change of heart. But from simple reality. The beauty of democratic rotations of power is that when the opposition takes office, cheap criticism and calumny will no longer do. The Democrats now own Iraq. They own the war on al-Qaeda. And they own the panoply of anti-terror measures with which the Bush administration kept us safe these past seven years.
Which is why Obama is consciously creating a gulf between what he now dismissively calls « campaign rhetoric » and the policy choices he must make as president. Accordingly, Newsweek — Obama acolyte and scourge of everything Bush/Cheney — has on the eve of the Democratic restoration miraculously discovered the arguments for warrantless wiretaps, enhanced interrogation and detention without trial. Indeed, Newsweek’s neck-snapping cover declares, « Why Obama May Soon Find Virtue in Cheney’s Vision of Power. »
Obama will be loath to throw away the tools that have kept the homeland safe. Just as he will be loath to jeopardize the remarkable turnaround in American fortunes in Iraq.
Obama opposed the war. But the war is all but over. What remains is an Iraq turned from aggressive, hostile power in the heart of the Middle East to an emerging democracy openly allied with the United States. No president would want to be responsible for undoing that success.
In Iraq, Bush rightly took criticism for all that went wrong — the WMD fiasco, Abu Ghraib, the descent into bloody chaos in 2005-06. Then Bush goes to Baghdad to ratify the ultimate post-surge success of that troubled campaign — the signing of a strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq — and ends up dodging two size 10 shoes for his pains.
Absorbing that insult was Bush’s final service on Iraq. Whatever venom the war generated is concentrated on Bush himself. By having personalized the responsibility for the awfulness of the war, Bush has done his successor a favor. Obama enters office with a strategic success on his hands — while Bush leaves the scene taking a shoe for his country.
Which I suspect is why Bush showed such equanimity during a private farewell interview at the White House a few weeks ago. He leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor — and his country — well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush’s policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.
Bush’s Real Sin Was Winning in Iraq
January 20, 2009
In a few hours, George W. Bush will walk out of the Oval Office for the last time as president. As he leaves, he carries with him the near-universal opprobrium of the permanent class that inhabits our nation’s capital. Yet perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on.
Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.
Here in the afterglow of the turnaround led by Gen. David Petraeus, it’s easy to forget what the smart set was saying two years ago — and how categorical they all were in their certainty. The president was a simpleton, it was agreed. Didn’t he know that Iraq was a civil war, and the only answer was to get out as fast as we could?
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the man who will be sworn in as vice president today — didn’t limit himself to his own opinion. Days before the president announced the surge, Joe Biden suggested to the Washington Post he knew the president’s people had also concluded the war was lost. They were, he said, just trying to « keep it from totally collapsing » until they could « hand it off to the next guy. »
For his part, on the night Mr. Bush announced the surge, Barack Obama said he was « not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq are going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. »
Three months after that, before the surge had even started, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pronounced the war in Iraq « lost. » These and similar comments, moreover, were amplified by a media echo chamber even more absolute in its sense of hopelessness about Iraq and its contempt for the president.
For many of these critics, the template for understanding Iraq was Vietnam — especially after things started to get tough. In terms of the wars themselves, of course, there is almost no parallel between Vietnam and Iraq: The enemies are different, the fighting on the ground is different, the involvement of other powers is different, and so on.
Still, the operating metaphor of Vietnam has never been military. For the most part, it is political. And in this realm, we saw history repeat itself: a failure of nerve among the same class that endorsed the original action.
As with Vietnam, with Iraq the failure of nerve was most clear in Congress. For example, of the five active Democratic senators who sought the nomination, four voted in favor of the Iraqi intervention before discovering their antiwar selves.
As in Vietnam too, rather than finding their judgment questioned, those who flip-flopped on the war were held up as voices of reason. In a memorable editorial advocating a pullout, the New York Times gave voice to the chilling possibilities that this new realism was willing to accept in the name of bringing our soldiers home.
« Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave, » read the editorial. « There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. » Even genocide. With no hint of irony, the Times nevertheless went on to conclude that it would be even worse if we stayed.
This is Vietnam thinking. And the president never accepted it. That was why his critics went ape when, in a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he touched on the killing fields and exodus of boat people that followed America’s humiliating exit off an embassy rooftop. As the Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti noted, Mr. Bush had appropriated one of their most cherished analogies — only he drew very different lessons from it.
Mr. Bush’s success in Iraq is equally infuriating, because it showed he was right and they wrong. Many in Washington have not yet admitted that, even to themselves. Mr. Obama has. We know he has because he has elected to keep Mr. Bush’s secretary of defense — not something you do with a failure.
Mr. Obama seems aware that, at the end of the day, he will not be judged by his predecessor’s approval ratings. Instead, he will soon find himself under pressure to measure up to two Bush achievements: a strategic victory in Iraq, and the prevention of another attack on America’s home soil. As he rises to this challenge, our new president will learn that when you make a mistake, the keepers of the Beltway’s received orthodoxies will make you pay dearly.