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Bush, Rats & a Sinking Ship

By Robert Parry
February 25, 2006

In just this past week, conservative legend William F. Buckley Jr. and neoconservative icon Francis Fukuyama have joined the swelling ranks of Americans judging George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq a disaster.

“One can’t doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed,” Buckley wrote at National Review Online on Feb. 24, adding that the challenge now facing Bush and his top advisers is how to cope with the reality of that failure.

“Within their own counsels, different plans have to be made,” Buckley wrote after a week of bloody sectarian violence in Iraq. “And the kernel here is the acknowledgement of defeat.”

Fukuyama, a leading neoconservative theorist, went further citing not just the disaster in Iraq but the catastrophe enveloping Bush’s broader strategy of preemptive military American interventions, waged unilaterally when necessary.

“The so-called Bush Doctrine that set the framework for the administration’s first term is now in shambles,” Fukuyama wrote Feb. 19 in The New York Times Magazine.

“Successful preemption depends on the ability to predict the future accurately and on good intelligence, which was not forthcoming, while America’s perceived unilateralism has isolated it as never before,” Fukuyama wrote.

While those Americans who always opposed the Iraq War may see this unseemly scramble of Bush’s former allies as a classic case of rats deserting a sinking ship, the loss of these two prominent thinkers of the Right mark a turning point in the political battle over the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

If Bush can’t hold William F. Buckley Jr. – and if even the ranks of the neocons are starting to crack – Bush may soon be confronted with a hard choice of either acknowledging his errors or tightening his authoritarian control of the United States.

Bush’s foundering Iraq policy also raises the stakes in the November elections. Prospects have brightened for those who want Bush held accountable for his reckless deeds and his violation of laws, both domestic and international.

Fortune Reversal

This reversal of fortune is stunning when compared to Bush’s seeming omnipotence in 2002, when he unveiled the Bush Doctrine, and even a year ago when leading U.S. pundits were hailing the President as a visionary leader.

Bush picked his belligerent course in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington. Though the world had rallied to America’s side – offering both sympathy and cooperation in fighting terrorism – Bush chose to issue ultimatums.

Bush famously told other nations that they were either “with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Vowing to “rid the world of evil,” he made clear he would brush aside any restrictions on his actions, including the United Nations Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

Europeans were soon protesting Bush’s treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Muslims were voicing growing hatred for the United States. Though Bush's tough actions were popular with his base, they played poorly abroad.

“It annoys your allies in the war against terrorism, and it creates problems for our Muslim allies, too,” one West European ambassador said in 2002. “It puts at stake the moral credibility of the war against terrorism.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Return to Unilateralism.”]

Bush spelled out his broader strategy in a speech at West Point on June 1, 2002. He asserted a unilateral U.S. right to overthrow any government in the world that is deemed a threat to American security, a position so sweeping it lacked historical precedent.

“If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long,” Bush said in describing what soon became known as the “Bush Doctrine.”

Shortly after Bush’s West Point speech, an article at Consortiumnews.com observed that “Bush’s grim vision is of a modern ‘crusade,’ as he once put it, with American military forces striking preemptively at ‘evil-doers’ wherever they live, while U.S. citizens live under a redefined Constitution with rights that can be suspended selectively by one man.

“Beyond the enormous sacrifices of blood, money and freedom that this plan entails, there is another problem: the strategy offers no guarantee of greater security for Americans and runs the risk of deepening the pool of hatred against the United States.

”With his cavalier tough talk, Bush continues to show no sign that he grasps how treacherous his course is, nor how much more difficult it will be if the U.S. alienates large segments of the world's population.” [See “Bush’s Grim Vision”]

Iraq War

On March 19, 2003, Bush took another fateful step, ordering the invasion of Iraq despite being denied authority from the U.N. Security Council.

After ousting Saddam Hussein’s regime three weeks later, Bush basked in popular acclaim from many Americans. He even donned a flight suit for a “Mission Accomplished” aircraft-carrier celebration on May 1, 2003.

During those heady days, Bush and his neoconservative advisers dreamed of remaking the entire Middle East with pro-U.S. leaders chosen through elections and Arab nations ending their hostility toward Israel.

But Bush’s wishful thinking began to run into trouble. A fierce resistance emerged in Iraq, claiming the lives of hundreds – and then thousands – of U.S. soldiers who couldn’t quell the violence. Instead of contributing to peace, the Iraqi elections deepened the country’s sectarian divisions – empowering the Shiite majority while alienating the Sunni minority.

Surging anti-Americanism caused other Middle East elections to have the opposite results from what Bush’s neoconservatives predicted. Instead of breeding moderation, elections in Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and the Palestinian Authority saw gains by Islamic extremists, including a surprise victory by the militant group Hamas in Palestine.

The United States also has seen its international reputation devastated by reports of abuse and torture in U.S.-run detention centers. Rather than the all-powerful nation that the neocons wanted to project, the United States revealed the limitations of its military might and the incompetence of its administrative follow-through.

This string of catastrophes has now led even prominent conservatives to conclude that Bush’s “stay the course” strategy must be rethought. They see Iraq spiraling toward a civil war with 138,000 U.S. troops caught in the middle

The latest defectors – Buckley and Fukuyama – threaten to pull away even members of Bush’s political base. Buckley is the godfather of conservative punditry, while Fukuyama has been a bright light among neocon theorists.

Now, Bush must decide what to do – admit mistakes and heed the advice of critics – or circle the wagons even tighter and lash out at the growing majority of Americans who think the war in Iraq was a deadly mistake.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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