Neocon wet dreams and the judgment of history

Sputtering to the finish line, George W. Bush will go on national TV tonight to give his farewell address. Based on his recent press conference and interviews, we’ve already gotten hints of how he intends to spin his legacy. As Tracy Dingmann put it, “He slumped, he squinted, he contorted his face and mocked his detractors with a fake whiny voice… In summing up his eight years in office, Bush was proudly unreflective.”

Ahh, but it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. Certainly not the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And Bush’s foreign policy — that was to have been his supreme triumph.

Of course, that’s the way it wasn’t.

In the prologue to his book, They Knew They Were Right – The Rise of the Neocons, Jacob Heilbrunn opens with what the Bushies of 2003 expected us all to be reading today about how history would be judging the W Years. Here is the way it wasn’t:

As George W. Bush prepared to leave office in January 2009, he was able to look back with profound satisfaction on his record in foreign affairs. Derided as a simpleton by liberal elites in 2000,he had pulled off stunning victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. In particular the Iraq war, by common consent, had turned Bush into one of the most popular and revered presidents in American history… Even many Europeans, who had fervently hoped that the United States would stub its toe in Iraq, had come around to acknowledge Bush’s sagacity. To their amazement, the Iraq war had not only been a “cakewalk,” as Bush’s champions predicted, but also vindicated their vision of spreading democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

For one thing, U.S. troops rapidly secured the numerous weapons of mass destruction that Saddam had been secreting, including, most sensationally, centrifuges that suggested he was well on his way to constructing a nuclear weapon that would have allowed him to threaten Israel. Pacifying Iraq itself had proven relatively easy; like the Germans after World War II, most Iraqis greeted the U.S. troops not as occupiers, but as liberators…

Nor was Iraq experiencing any problems with its economy. Within months, it had begun to prosper. As Paul Wolfowitz – since promoted to secretary of defense – had predicted in congressional testimony, oil revenues were paying for the reconstruction of Iraq…

As a result of these momentous changes, U.S. popularity was at an all-time high around the globe. During his last trip as president to Western European capitals, Bush had basked in the applause of the locals… In England, former prime minister Tony Blair was now seen as rivaling Gladstone in historical significance.

(short pause while the angel chorus swells)

Politically Iraqis had rapidly established a thriving constitutional democracy, headed by the former exile Ahmed Chalabi… Despite some grumbling from hard-line Shiites, Chalabi established close ties with Israel, which was grateful for an Arab ally, and ensured that Iraq formed a bulwark against Iranian ambitions. Iran, flanked by two democracies, had announced that it was terminating its nuclear program…

Perhaps the figure who enjoyed vindication most, vindication most was Vice President Dick Cheney. It was Cheney who had pushed Bush to embrace the war… just as Bush and Cheney had predicted, the Middle East was transformed almost overnight from an incubator of terrorism into a bastion of democracy… The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, too, had all but expired. Hamas, like Hezbollah, was unable to obtain outside support and had reluctantly agreed to abandon the Palestinian right of return and fully recognized Israel.

Well, we know how it really turned out. The boys up on Mt. Rushmore won’t be getting more company any time soon. History’s a bitch.

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