What History Will Say

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Tonight George W. Bush will try to alter the course of a great debate. As Christopher Buckley, a self-described “once-proud — indeed, staunch — Republican” wrote last fall in the Washington Monthly, the debate is engaged every day among historians, pundits, journalists and even normal Americans. Speaking of the current President’s father, Bush 41, for whom he had once worked as a speechwriter, Buckley wrote: “What a wrench it must be for him to pick up his paper every morning and read the now-daily debate about whether his son is officially the worst president in U.S. history.”

Buckley is a satirist, and a funny one, and he is inclined to hyperbole. But in this case he was dead serious.

And that is the President’s great challenge as he goes before the American people to announce his “New Way Forward” in Iraq: on the subject of the now nearly four-year war, Bush isn’t facing a run-of-the mill level of skepticism from an audience split down the middle along the usual partisan lines; he’s confronting the virtual-living room equivalent of a furious mob, a disparate mass of Democrats, Independents and, increasingly, Republicans, all united in their conviction that the war is no longer worth its cost, if it ever was.

And then he’s going to give them precisely what they say they don’t want — more, literally, of the same. More troops, more money, more lives lost or crippled in pursuit of a chimera — that shining city on the Arab hill, a democratic Iraq, free and prosperous.

Presidents have a hard time admitting failure over matters far less grave. They fear a single concession will lead to a cascade of criticism, and demands for more self-flagellation. Imagine how hard it would be for any decent man or woman to admit that a war of choice that has cost more than 3,000 lives and left many more thousands shattered was, in the end, a mistake. Well-intentioned, but a mistake.

Just ask the ghost of Lyndon Johnson.

But that’s what his critics demand that President Bush do — begin to withdraw troops. In other words, give up, and by giving up, admit he was wrong.

Given what we know of this President, and his faith that history will judge him well, he won’t do it. Instead, he’ll give us more. – Jay Carney