In these matters of temperament, completely apart from political beliefs, you can see Bush as the opposite of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, and also of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. I argued nine years ago that even if George W. Bush served only one term as president, his legacy would be large and disastrous. Still, since leaving office he has been an honorable contrast to other members of his team, notably his vice president and first secretary of defense.
I said that Al Gore deserved credit for an early anti-war stand. A reader in Maryland writes:
You forgot Robert Byrd:
Before: "If the United States leads the charge to war in the Persian Gulf, we may get lucky and achieve a rapid victory. But then we will face a second war: a war to win the peace in Iraq. This war will last many years and will surely cost hundreds of billions of dollars. In light of this enormous task, it would be a great mistake to expect that this will be a replay of the 1991 war. The stakes are much higher in this conflict."
During: Today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned. Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. (March 19, 2003)
After: Of the more than 18,000 votes he cast as a senator, Byrd said he was proudest of his vote against the Iraq war resolution. (June 12, 2006)
Back to the Bush family. The message I quoted from a liberal supporter of the war said that one honorable reason to invade Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate the first President Bush. A reader replies:
I was struck, though, by this quotation from your "liberal hawk" and "avowed leftist":
I think just the assassination attempt on Bush 41 is plenty all by itself--what kind of country are we if we let another country's leader pull something like that with impunity?One trouble with this is that the assassination attempt on Bush 41 was always dubious and has been pretty thoroughly discredited by now. Another is that the US has attempted, sometimes successfully, to assassinate leaders of other countries -- notably Castro, whom the US tried to assassinate many times. Would [this hawk] agree, I wonder, that Cuba would be justified in invading the US in retaliation? If not, kind of country is Cuba if it lets another country's leader pull something like that with impunity? Obviously that is a rhetorical question, whose answer is "a small, weak, and thoroughly menaced country that knows it couldn't bring the invasion off." But morally, by this standard, a Cuban invasion of the US would be completely justified....
Which reminds me: Obama's opposition to the war, mentioned by your reader CJ, is highly disputable. I was always criticial, myself, of the whole 'quagmire' argument directed by many American liberals against the Iraq war: it'll cost (us) too much, it'll last too long, it'll cost too many (American) lives. Imagine a Soviet politician who'd argued against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on those grounds; or a Japanese who'd argued against the attack on Pearl Harbor, or against Japan's imperial conquests in Asia, on the grounds that it would last too long and cost too much, and Japan would become stuck in a quagmire. What American would hail such people for their great wisdom and insight into world affairs? Usually we condemn the USSR and Japan for their aggression against other countries, but only "hippies" would condemn the US for aggression.
In the run-up to both Iraq wars I knew some opponents and protesters who argued that, contrary to the promises of our leaders, these wars would not be cakewalks and would last longer and be bloodier and more expensive than we were being told. I told them that I hoped they were wrong, because they were effectively hoping for a long, bloody, costly war. I preferred that as few people died or were hurt as possible, and that there were other better reasons to oppose those wars. When they thought about it, they tended to agree with me.
Having myself made a "quagmire"-style argument before the war, I naturally think that such a perspective was a useful reason to oppose the war. Let's spell it out. Much of the stated case for war was in two parts: (1) Saddam Hussein is evil and dangerous, and (2) there is a quick and feasible answer to that question. I was saying about part (2): No, there is not a quick and feasible answer. In cases of life-or-death imminent existential threat or emergencies like Pearl Harbor, questions of practicality don't matter. But they sure do in a "preventive" war of choice -- which I hoped we would not launch.