“Why Bush Will Be A Winner”

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Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s how the headline reads above Bill Kristol’s piece in yesterday’s Outlook section of the Washington Post. Allowing that he’s exposing himself to ridicule, Kristol decides to take on not just conventional wisdom or the current polls but a growing consensus within his own party by suggesting that Bush’s presidency will be viewed, in future years, as a success (and he does mean the junior Bush, by the way, not the elder). He makes this argument despite what Christopher Buckley last fall called “the now-daily debate about whether [Bush] is officially the worst president in U.S. history.”

Let’s set aside Kristol’s arguments about the economy and the fact that the U.S. hasn’t suffered a domestic terrorist attack since 9/11 and focus on Iraq. His arguments on those points — whether one agrees with them or not — are not unreasonable. But, as Kristol points out, most Americans believe Bush will be judged on Iraq (and most judge him poorly), so arguing that Bush’s presidency will be seen as a success means arguing that Bush’s Iraq policy ends up a success.

Blowing past years of disastrous mismanagement of the war, Kristol says that Bush will ultimately be viewed a winner because “we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome” in Iraq. Now, even if you believed from the beginning that invading Iraq and toppling Saddam was the right thing to do. And even if you’ve never wavered from those convictions. And even if you argued last winter that more troops were necessary and that “surging” was the right thing to do. And even if you insist that there have been some modest — very modest — signs of improvement in a few (not many!) areas of Iraq in the past few months, wouldn’t you be deluding yourself, and testing the gullibility of your readers (given the cumulative experience of the past four-plus years, and all the mistaken predictions you and others had made about how well things were going in Iraq), if you suddenly decided that these few modest signs of improvement somehow proved that a) “we now seem to be on course to a successful outcome”, and b) Bush’s presidency will therefore be judged a success?

What’s next? Promises that Iraqis will welcome new rotations of American G.I.’s with roses? Assurances that the next $200 billion in war costs will be paid with Iraqi oil revenue?