Regular Swamp readers will have noticed that I have been on a bit of a hiatus of late. My mother died suddenly and two weeks ago. While I’m still immersed in family issues, I couldn’t watch the flood of GOP responses to President Obama’s speech on Libya go through my inbox unremarked. I received statement after statement hammering Obama for either involving the U.S. in Libya or not consulting Congress before he did.
“When American men and women in uniform are sent into harm’s way, Americans and troops deserve a clear mission from our commander-in-chief, not a speech nine days late,” Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in a statement after the speech. “President Obama failed to explain why he unilaterally took our nation to war without bothering to make the case to the U.S. Congress.”
Reading such statements from one George W. Bush’s most loyal congressional allies, I couldn’t help but ask myself: What would W. have done?
In early 2005, I attended a meet-and-greet with a handful of other reporters with Bush in the Oval Office. The session was typical for Bush, who liked to know the reporters covering him (ironically, such sessions are rare in the current White House, unless you’re a former magazine reporter writing a
suck up book). I had already been covering the White House for more than a year, but Bush had suspended the meetings during his reelect.
So, there we were and Bush was explaining why he chose various works of art – in particular a bust of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower, Bush said, was a very different President behind the scenes than more people realized, which prompted me to ask the President how he wanted to be remembered and how he thought he would be.
“My first biographers won’t have voted for me,” Bush joked. But then he said something that surprised me. I’d always thought he’d like to go down as the man who brought “American values” back to the White House, or at least as the guy who took steps to prevent America from ever being attacked again in the wake of 9/11. Instead, he talked about how he’d like most to be remembered for his belief that democracy was possible in the Middle East. “Not just in Afghanistan or Iraq or Palestine, but across the Middle East,” he said. In the long run democratizing the Middle East, he argued, would be the only way to win the war against Islamists. After all, liberal democracies do not go to war with one another. And he firmly believed that the seeds of democracy he was sowing would spread.
Though he hasn’t weighed in on Obama’s action in Libya, I can’t help thinking that this is an action that Bush would have supported if he were still President. It fits clearly into his goal of democracy in the Middle East (and saves him the trouble of sending in ground troops to achieve it).
So it is with some irony that I saw his former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, bashing Obama on ABC. “The first thing you have to do,” Rumsfeld told Jake Tapper, “is recognize…the mission has to determine the coalition. The coalition ought not determine the mission.”
And Obama firing back, that unlike some presidents, he doesn’t go to war unilaterally.
It’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison with any Bush military action since Bush rarely limited himself to enforcing a no-fly zone when it came to military action. But I can think of plenty of times that he failed to consult Congress – or his own party – before leaping into an issue: surely Cornyn still bears scars from his role in immigration reform? Not to mention Social Security reform, TARP, auto bailouts… Some Republicans are still smarting from how Bush and Tom DeLay rammed through the Medicare prescription drug program. So when I ask myself, What Would W. Have Done in Libya? I find the answer is pretty much what Obama did.