Yesterday, I commented on the assessment of the respected (at least at one time) radical-leftist historian Eric Foner that George W. Bush is undoubtedly the worst president in American history. Foner was so anxious to “mail in” that assessment that he neglected to mention the one issue that, depending on future developments, actually could cause objective historians to give President Bush low marks — the war in Iraq. But let’s compare Bush to some other post-World War II presidents when it comes to waging, or not waging, war.
In early 1950, the Secretary of State fails to include South Korea in his statement of what comprises America’s Pacific defense rim. A few months later, Joseph Stalin, who had vetoed a North Korean invasion of South Korea earlier, gives North Korea the go-ahead. The North Koreans invade. The U.S. is surprised and unprepared. Indeed, the Secretary of State had recently told Congress that no such invasion would likely occur.
The North Korean invaders rout the South Koreans and capture Seoul. U.S. forces intervene and eventually turn the tide, creating the prospect that North Korea can successfully be invaded. The president believes that China won’t enter the war, but China does enter, forcing U.S. troops to retreat. The commander of our forces in Korea (a legendary general) wants to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese, but the president refuses and removes the commander. A long stalemate ensues. Domestic support for the war evaporates and a new president makes the peace. North Korea remains intact and now has nuclear weapons making it, nearly everyone agrees, a serious threat to the security of the region and of the U.S. In three years of combat, approximately 40,000 Americans are killed.
John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon
Not long after his botched invasion of Cuba, a young president begins a substantial U.S. involvement in South Vietnam in order to save a friendly government from being overthrown by communists. His successor escalates the war substantially, and that president’s successor continues to wage war for more than five additional years. By the time it is over, approximately 60,000 Americans have been killed and South Vietnam has fallen to the communists.
Iran, a staunch ally of the U.S., faces revolutionary pressure, the most vigorous of which is exerted by Islamic fanatics. The Shah of Iran looks to his long-time friend, the U.S., for support. The president shows nothing but comtempt and appears indifferent at best to the Shah’s survival. The government, totally demoralized, loses its will to remain in power. The Shah falls and, predictably, the Islamic fanatics end up in control.
The new regime takes U.S. embassy personnel as hostages. Now it is the U.S. president who is demoralized and lacking will. Eventually, he orders an absurd rescue plan that fails utterly, bringing even further humiliation on our country. Almost 30 years later, the Islamic fanatics remain in control. They sponsor terrorists and deadly anti-western militias throughout the Middle East. They apparently are close to developing nuclear weapons.
Yet another group of anti-western Islamic fanatics is training thousands of terrorists in Afghanistan, and we know it. Terrorists launch a series of strikes against the U.S. — the World Trade Center, Khobar Towers, U.S. embassies in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole. The terrorists training in Afghanistan are behind most if not all of these attacks. The president does essentially nothing in response. Offered several opportunities to take out the leader of the terrorist group, he declines. Later he will blame his inaction on various U.S. agencies under his control, and on the fact that taking action would have engendered criticism, since he had evaded the draft. Soon after the president leaves office, the Afghan based terrorists launch an attack on U.S. soil that kills approximately 3,000 American.
George W. Bush
Following the deadly attack against the U.S., the new president quickly brings down the regime in Afghanistan that allowed the terrorists to flourish, and routs the terrorist group there. Next, he turns to the regime in Iraq. That regime has been sponsoring terrorism for years and has engaged in the mass murder of its own citizens. It has invaded two of its neighbors, one of which is a U.S. ally. Our intelligence community believes with near unanimity that the regime possesses weapons of mass destruction. It also believes that it is capable of developing nuclear weapons in short order.
The president, strongly supported by Congress, orders an invasion. It proves to be one of the most successful military operations in our history. After toppling the regime and quickly rounding up many of its leaders, the president declares that the mission is accomplished and that major combat operations have ended. He is wrong. An insurgency develops. Although the U.S. enables the Iraqis to hold unprecedented democratic elections, enact a constitution, and elect a government of their choosing, the U.S. has not been able to quell the violence caused by the insurgency and by sectarian conflicts. So far approximately 3,000 Americans have been killed. The deaths continue at a rate of about 50 to 100 per month.
* * * * *
The fate of Iraq has not been settled and the broader consequences of our action there are not yet clear. But based on what we know now, it’s difficult to argue that events in Iraq prove President Bush to be, comparatively speaking, even a bad modern-day president, much less our worst president ever.
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CORRECTION: President Bush didn’t declare “mission accomplished.” He stood near a banner that said that.
Some readers have also said that “mission accomplished” referred to the mission of overthrowing Saddam which had (and has) been accomplished. Perhaps. But it certainly was not the case that major combat operations had ended.
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