Opinion: Obama affirmed Bush’s anti-terror strategy

April 27, 2013


— Clare Boothe Luce liked to say that “a great man is one sentence.” Presidents, in particular. The most common “one sentence” for George W. Bush (whose legacy is being reassessed as his presidential library opens) is: “He kept us safe.”

Not quite right. He did not just keep us safe. He created the entire anti-terror infrastructure that continues to keep us safe.

That homage was paid, wordlessly, by Barack Obama, who vilified Bush’s anti-terror policies as a candidate, then continued them as president: indefinite detention, rendition, warrantless wiretaps, special forces and drone warfare and, most notoriously, Guantanamo, which Obama so ostentatiously denounced — until he found it indispensable.

Quite a list. Which is why there was not one successful terror bombing on U.S. soil from 9/11 until last week. The Boston Marathon attack was an obvious failure, but there is a difference between 3,000 dead and three. And on the other side of the ledger are the innumerable plots broken up since 9/11.

Moreover, Bush’s achievement was not just infrastructure. It was war. The Afghan campaign overthrew the Taliban, decimated al-Qaida and expelled it from its haven. Yet that success is today derogated with the cheap and lazy catchphrase — “He got us into two wars” — intended to spread to Afghanistan the opprobrium associated with Iraq.

As if Afghanistan was some unilateral Bush adventure foisted on the American people. As if Obama himself did not call it a “war of necessity”; and Joe Biden, the most just war since World War II.

The dilemma in Afghanistan was what to do after the brilliant, nine-week victory? There was no good answer. Even with the benefit of seven years’ grinding experience under his predecessor, Obama got it wrong. His Afghan “surge” cost hundreds of American lives without having changed the country’s prospects.

It turned out to be a land too primitive to democratize, too fractured to unify. The final withdrawal will come after Obama’s own six years of futility.

Iraq was, of course, far more problematic. Critics conveniently forget that the invasion had broad support from the public and Congress, including from those who became the highest foreign-policy figures in the Obama administration — Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and Biden.

And they forget the context — crumbling sanctions that would in short order have restored Saddam Hussein to full economic and regional power, well positioning him, post-sanctions, to again threaten his neighbors and restart his WMD program.

Was the war worth it? Inconclusive wars never yield a good answer. Was Korea worth it? It ended with a restoration of the status quo ante. Now 60 years later, we face nuclear threats from the same regime that was not defeated in a war that cost 10 times as many American lives as Iraq.

The Iraq War had three parts. The initial toppling of the regime was a remarkable success — like Afghanistan, rapid and with relatively few U.S. casualties.

The occupation was a disaster, rooted in the fundamental contradiction between means and ends, between the “light footprint” chosen by Gen. George Casey and the grand reformation attempted by Paul Bremer, who tried to change everything down to the coinage.

Finally, the surge, a courageous Bush decision taken against near-universal opposition, that produced the greatest U.S. military turnaround since the Inchon landing. And inflicted the single most significant defeat for al-Qaida (save Afghanistan) — a humiliating rout at the hands of Iraqi Sunnis fighting side-by-side with the American infidel.

As with Lincoln, it took Bush years of agonizing bloody stalemate before he finally found his general and his strategy. Yet, for all the terrible cost, Bush bequeathed to Obama a strategically won war. Obama had one task: Conclude a status-of-forces agreement and thus secure Iraq as a major regional ally. He failed utterly. Iraq today is more fragile, sectarian and Iranian-influenced than it was when Bush left office — and than it had to be.

Like Bush, Harry Truman left office widely scorned, largely because of the inconclusive war he left behind. In time, however, Korea came to be seen as but one battle in a much larger Cold War that Truman was instrumental in winning. He established the institutional and policy infrastructure (CIA, NATO, Truman Doctrine, etc.) that made possible ultimate victory almost a half-century later. I suspect history will similarly see Bush as the man who, by trial and error but also with prescience and principle, established the structures that will take us through another long twilight struggle, and enable us to prevail.

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


Keith 4 years, 9 months ago

An entire column based on a lie, "he kept us safe". Yes, except for that one time when 3,000 or more died.

rtwngr 4 years, 9 months ago

It was the policies that occurred after 9/11 that kept us safe. Obama did campaign on an "anti Bush policy" platform that he later embraced as President.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 4 years, 9 months ago

Charles, if this column makes you feel better just writing it,Well, great. The rest of the country has their own views and opinions of W. Your column has not and will not change their views. Good luck to ya in your future columns. I tend to go for facts, not wishful thinking and"Spin". Facts are hard to find in your writings these days. Again, Good Luck.

rtwngr 4 years, 9 months ago

I have some fun facts for you Thomas. Bill Ayers helped launch the political life of Barack Obama. They were neighbors, Obama attended functions at the Ayers home and they served on a board or two together in Chicago. This is the same Bill Ayers that planted and exploded bombs in protest of the Vietnam War. He was released on a technicality and never served time for his bombings. His famous quote was, "Guilty as hell, free as a bird. Isn't this a great country?" As far as I am concerned this makes him no better than the two brothers that planted the bombs at the Boston Marathon. He is a criminal and Obama is indebted to this criminal for launching his career. How about them facts?

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Well, a couple of things there.

A quick search shows that Ayers wasn't released on a "technicality", he was released because of the illegal activities engaged in by law enforcement.

And, as far as I can find, his bombings never injured or killed anybody.

If you really think that somebody who protests war by destroying property is the same as people who intentionally kill and injure people, then I think you need to make more distinctions.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 4 years, 9 months ago

Bill Ayers? (YAWN!) That story had no traction 2 Presidential elections ago. Has 0 Traction Now. Is that all you can come up with? Guilty by Association only goes so far! The "Jeremiah Wright" story had more traction than this! Where did it go? Nuff said!

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

I predict the opposite - that Bush will be seen as a poor president, and Obama as a better one.

But, like you, I probably won't be around to see who's right.

verity 4 years, 9 months ago

Thank you, jafs, for correctly using "I predict" rather than stating as fact something one has no way of knowing. Gives you more credibility than a number of posters.

msezdsit 4 years, 9 months ago

Yep, you have to resort to some unknown time into the future because you sure as heck can't defend it now. You are already overtaken by your history makeover.

msezdsit 4 years, 9 months ago

Heres a little history that the future will not have to try to ignore:

The greatest attack against America on American soil happened during the Bush Admistration watch while it was ignoring daily warnings of the attack.

That falls into Krutzy definition of : “He kept us safe.”

Trumbull 4 years, 9 months ago

In my opinion the internet, FaceBook and Twiiter has done more to prevent terrorism than anything else. Since 9/11/01, kids have become more inclined to follow FaceBook than to listen and follow a crazy Jihadist who is hugging his machine gun in a cave somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Lets face it those guys are now old farts who are not as able to pass along there fueds to the younger generations. I say this is a good thing.

This is why sour Krauts opinion piece is meaningless, and sound like a Bush aplogist speech. I do think George Bush may have introduced some meaningful improvements to anti-terror intelligence. I give credit. But I do not think Iraq and Afghanistan has done much to stop terrorisim on US soil. If anything, it only created more enemies who with hope will not pass along this new feud. We totally destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq and created a state of even more chaos there. All on the US taxpayer's dime. Quit apalogizing for this Krauthammer.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Perhaps because many who voted for Obama don't "love" him, they just feel he was the better of the choices available at the time.

That doesn't mean we have to agree with everything he does.

Since we didn't like Bush's policies, why would we like them if/when Obama continues them?

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 9 months ago

Let us not forget that the Iraq war was a war of choice.

Evidence was constructed by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq.

Obama has carefully brought to an end the war of choice that Bush started by lying to the American people and manufacturing justifications.

Bush anti-terror "strategy" was to choose to invade a country that had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks.

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