I’ve got to admit that I agree with a lot of this piece by Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley. Although I’ve disagreed with him in the past, he always writes good stuff. Here’s a sampling of what I liked about this piece:
If he [President Bush] had acknowledged with a bit of grace what everyone assumes to be true — “that the administration was blindsided by the postwar challenge in both these countries” this would have cut off a politically damaging debate that will now go on through the election campaign. And he would have won all sorts of brownie points for high-mindedness. Instead, he and his spokesfolk will be defending a fairly obvious untruth day after day through the election campaign.
After all, Bush either knew we’d be spending this kind of money for two or more years after declaring victory — and didn’t tell us — or he didn’t realize it himself. Those are the only two options. He deceived us, or he wasn’t clairvoyant in the fog of war. Apparently, Bush would rather be thought omniscient than honest, which is a pity, since appearing honest is a more realistic ambition.
This is not meant to be a partisan observation. Bush’s predecessor was, if anything, a more flamboyant liar. What’s going on here is something like lying-by-reflex.
As readers of MO will know, I don’t have a problem with the cost of the war. In government spending terms, it’s not really as significant as some are trying to make out considering the fact that we’re AT WAR. I simply wish that we (America) would be more up front about what we’re doing in Iraq (fighting our enemies, establishing order, and building a “hub” from which the war will continue to be prosecuted, as well as protecting the flow of oil) and how much it’s going to cost (more than anything ever). Trying to nickel-and-dime our way through fighting in and rebuilding of places like Iraq won’t work, and constantly coming back and asking for a little more cash will start to irritate even the most devout supporters.
I don’t have a problem with the spending for this war. I wouldn’t have a problem if he had asked for $187 billion instead of just $87 billion. I demand to see returns on the money, of course, but the cost in dollars of this fight isn’t of overriding concern to me. And I’ll ask again. What does the dollar amount have to do with what we’re doing? If Bush had asked for $7 billion instead, would everyone have jumped up and said “Yes! This is a LOT cheaper than I thought it would be! Let’s do it again somewhere else!”? The money argument is, um, bankrupt. I suggest we dramatically increase the spending on the war, but offset the increases with dramatic cuts in other parts of the national budget. This is WAR.
But by taking this approach, Bush is leaving himself and the country in general open to very valid criticism for the way we’re presenting what we’re doing. Spell it out. Americans aren’t as dumb as they usually act. I think most of us realize that the war against terror is a necessary, just cause. I think most of us support what we’re doing, even if some oppose the invasion of Iraq specifically. No one wants to go back to what we were doing before 9/11/01.
Now, I don’t agree with all of Kinsley’s comments. In particular, he once again brings up this:
While apologizing to the citizenry, Bush could win even more brownie points, at almost no cost, by apologizing specifically to his predecessor. Bush ridiculed Bill Clinton’s efforts to follow up military interventions with “nation building.”
He said pretty much the same thing in early April. Please forgive me if I simply cut and paste my response from then as my response for today:
It probably would be nice [to apologize about the ‘nation building’ comments]. And if anyone in politics ever did anything for the sake of being nice, Bush might actually do it. Maybe. But in 2000, remember, we were all looking back at Haiti, at Kosovo, and at a humiliating withdrawal from Somalia after many lost the stomach to win. We weren’t looking ahead toward four hijacked airliners and thousands of dead American citizens in September of 2001. President Bush, and the rest of America, has learned some hard lessons in the past year and a half, and our eyes are opened to the possibilities, even the probabilities, of more terror in the years to come. Bush would probably have used different words if he had known then what he knows now. Regardless, the question doesn’t explain anyone’s opposition to the war in Iraq. It’s merely partisan, which is just politics, and petty, which is just pedestrian.
I support Bush. I support what we’re doing. I support how we’re doing it. I just wish we’d present it a bit more honestly. I think we’d have fewer troubles with other countries if we just owned up to our actions instead of working double-overtime in a transparent attempt to spin them into gold.