I think Daniel Larison is misconstruing the point I was making in this piece on Bush's potential rehabilitation. I wrote:

... for history’s judgment to turn favorable, America’s intervention in Iraq eventually needs to come out looking like a success story rather than a folly.

This seems improbable, to put it mildly. But the crucial word here is eventually. The Bush administration has often seemed bent on vindicating, in the short run and by force of arms, Francis Fukuyama’s famous long-term prediction that liberal democracy will ultimately triumph. Now Bush’s hopes for vindication depend on the Middle East’s following a gradual, Fukuyaman track toward free markets, democratic government, and the “end of history.” And just as crucially, they depend on American troops’ staying in Iraq for as long as it takes for that to happen. If these events come to pass—if the Iraq of 2038 or so is stable, democratic, and at peace with its neighbors, and if American troops have maintained a constant presence in the country—no one should be surprised to hear hawkish liberals as well as conservatives taking up the idea that George W. Bush deserves a great deal of the credit.



To which Larison responds:

There is something a bit strange about this paragraph. If Bush’s hopes for vindication rest on the old long-term evolution towards the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism, which will, if we believe Fukuyama, happen because there are no viable rival doctrines or systems that can compete with these things, and the attempt to force that vindication through the war in Iraq was the wrong way to promote this, how exactly does it aid in Bush’s vindication over the long term to keep American forces in Iraq? Either Fukuyama’s long-term argument about the effects of modernisation is basically correct, in which case the U.S. does not need to maintain a neo-colonial steward role in shepherding Iraq towards continued modernisation, or it isn’t, which raises the prospect that liberal democracy and capitalism will not endure in Iraq without a perpetual American presence propping up an alien and artificial system that will collapse as soon as we leave. The latter alternatve is neither realistic nor desirable, and the former theory is almost certainly false, but in either case vindication by Fukuyama’s long-term theory necessarily means that a continued U.S. presence is unnecessary, just as the war was actually unnecessary in the first place on the terms most favourable to Fukuyama’s original argument, or Fukuyama is wrong and our forces will have to stay there indefinitely, which is not a politically or militarily viable possibility.



I may not have expressed myself as precisely as I should have. My point was not that the combination of a gradual upward ascent in Iraqi affairs (which I consider a stronger possibility than Larison does, being more sympathetic to the Fukuyaman thesis and more encouraged by recent developments in Iraq than he) and a long-lasting American presence in that country would actually vindicate Bush's decision to invade that country; it was that the combination of favorable developments in Iraq and a constant U.S. military presence would provide grist for the American tendency to take the credit for good long-range outcomes and ignore the blunders and crimes along the way. (Hence my remark later in the piece that "if LBJ or Nixon had only found a way to prop up South Vietnam until the 1990s, they might have been forgiven the outrageous cost in blood and treasure, and remembered as Trumanesque heroes rather than as goats," which was emphatically not intended as a vindication of either President's Vietnam policy.) As I said, I think this tendency is generally a bad one, not least because it often rests on logical fallacies of the sort that Larison takes apart above. But that doesn't mean it won't be potent enough to redeem the seemingly unredeemable reputation of our current President.

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