George Bush, who once criticized Ronald Reagan’s approach to terrorism, is now making a desperate grab for the former president’s coattails.
In August, Bush said that, because of Reagan’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of a Maine barracks in Beirut killed 241 Americans, “[Terrorists] concluded that free societies lack the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy.”
But two months later, with his poll ratings dropping to levels Reagan never saw, and with public support for the Iraq occupation collapsing, Bush traveled to a the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, where he declared with a straight face that, “we are answering history’s call with confidence and a comprehensive strategy.”
Comparing himself with Reagan, Bush said of the former president: “He recognized that freedom was opposed by dangerous enemies. And he understood that America has always prevailed by standing firmly on principals – and never backing down in the face of evil.”
Returning again and again to his “stay-the-course” theme, Bush announced that, “The key to victory lay in our resolve to stay in the fight till the fight was won.”
He did not, of course, announce a strategy for pulling anything akin to victory out of a quagmire that former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, a Republican stalwart, compares with the Vietnam imbroglio in an article penned for the forthcoming edition of Foreign Affairs magazine. Connecting Bush with another former president, Laird suggests that the current commander-in-chief is repeating the mistakes of Richard Nixon by keeping U.S. troops in a fight where there appears to be no obvious benchmark for defining victory and no plan for bringing U.S. troops home. Some kind of exit strategy is needed, contends Laird, because, “Our presence is what feeds the insurgency (in Iraq), and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency.”Bush and his supporters has repeatedly dismissed calls for an exit strategy, suggesting that any announced plan for withdrawing U.S. troops would make Iraq more chaotic and make America more vulnerable.
But Ronald Reagan, the man Bush was trying so hard to associate himself with during his visit to California Thursday, took a different view. And even some Republicans are beginning to make that point. In a remarkable October 7 speech delivered on the House floor, Representative Ron Paul, a maverick Republican from Texas who has long been critical of Bush’s misguided approach to fighting terrorism, invoked Reagan’s legacy as part of a call for withdrawal.
Supporters of the war in Iraq, as well as some non-supporters, warn of the dangers if we leave. But isn’t it quite possible that these dangers are simply a consequence of having gone into Iraq in the first place, rather than a consequence of leaving? Isn’t it possible that staying only makes the situation worse? If chaos results after our departure, it’s because we occupied Iraq, not because we left.