Bush Derangement Syndrome and the Surge

Peter Wehner, writing in Commentary, does the best job I have seen of chronicling the sordid history of liberal opposition to the surge. For paragraph after relentless paragraph he replays the mockery from the left, from before the surge even started until long after its success was clear.

Anti-surge rhetoric died down only when even Barack Obama — who won the Democratic nomination in part because he was seen as the “purest” advocate of surrender in Iraq — finally had to admit in September that the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

Wehner wrestles with the question of why so many on the left continued denying the reality unfolding before their eyes:

A generous interpretation is that by the end of 2006, many liberals had made a definitive good-faith judgment that the Iraq war was irretrievably lost. This then became the filter through which they viewed all later developments. Once convinced of the impossibility of substantial progress, never mind a decent outcome or an actual victory, they could not help receiving good news as anomalous and/or inherently unsustainable.

But the generous interpretation may be too generous, and also condescending. Reasonable and responsible adults are expected to assess the solidity of their convictions against the available evidence and in light of changing circumstances. Even at the time of the surge’s announcement, when things were going quite badly, should responsible adults not have been able to entertain the possibility that, given the enormity of what was at stake in the war, a fundamentally new approach merited at least a degree of support, however hesitant or conditional?

Instead, many pronounced the new approach a failure even before it was tried. Still worse was that they continued to pronounce it a failure even as the evidence began to amass that it was succeeding. Even those few who (like Richard Cohen and Joe Klein) eventually admitted they were wrong about the surge itself continued to insist they were right about the war. Others stuck more and more zealously to their original position the more it became falsified by reality. They, and not the President, were the ones who were truly “doubling down” on their bet—as if a decent outcome in Iraq threatened their entire worldview.

Wehner doesn’t actually use the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” but he describes it:

For some liberals, hatred of the President was clearly so all-encompassing that they had developed a deep investment in the failure of what they habitually dismissed not as America’s war but as “Bush’s war.” To an extent, this passion was driven by merely partisan considerations: Iraq had become a superbly effective instrument with which to bludgeon Republicans. It had helped the Democrats take control of both the House and the Senate in 2006; might not a thorough “Republican” defeat in Iraq lastingly reshape the political landscape in their favor?

This is, admittedly, an unpleasant line of speculation, and those foolhardy enough to venture upon it have been loudly condemned for questioning the patriotism of their political adversaries. But patriotism is not the issue—judgment is. When politicians acting in good faith misjudge a situation, nothing prevents them from acknowledging their error and explaining themselves. For the most part, we await such acknowledgments in vain.

My “favorite” BDS bumper sticker is the one I saw nearly every day when I was still commuting into New York, on a car usually parked a few slots ahead of mine. The sticker is pictured above — if you’re reading this via RSS, the sticker plays off the ill-advised “Mission Accomplished” proclamation, except the word “Mission” is crossed out and “Nothing” scrawled above it.

It’s deeply offensive not just because it dishonors the sacrifice of the troops, but because it does so in a way that is transparently, objectively false.

Removing Saddam Hussein from power is not “nothing.” One can argue that it was not worth the cost. One can argue that it was not an appropriate use of American military power. One can even argue, although it’s getting harder, that the Iraqi people would be better off if we had left Saddam alone. I disagree with all of those assertions, but there are substantive arguments that can and have been made for them. Well, for the first two anyway.

But the notion that “nothing” has been accomplished is… well… deranged. Thankfully, Obama has shown signs that his own case of Bush Derangement Syndrome is in remission. Soon it will no longer be “Bush’s war” — it will be for Obama to win or lose. I hope the success of the surge will allow him to continue the responsible draw-down of forces that has already begun.

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