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President Bush, the Surge, America & Second Chances

When a leading liberal pundit and frequent Bush-critic writes that it’s “no longer a close call: President Bush was right about the surge,” we know that the success of the surge has passed from established fact to conventional wisdom.

Not just that, it says something that distinguishes the outgoing president, that, at least on matters of national security, George W. Bush is a man who learns from his mistakes.  And the two different stories from Iraq, apparent failure in 2005-06 but success in the two years after that helps us see our nation as the land of second chances.

As I read Ancient and European history, I note how many armies forfeited military advantages through strategic or tactical blunders.  Occasionally, they recover from their “self-created” setbacks, but more often than not, these mistakes lead to eventual defeat (and sometimes and even dismemberment of nations or empires).

Just over two years ago, it seemed we were losing in Iraq.  We had won the initial stages of the war, but had not effectively adjusted our strategy to meet the changing circumstances on the ground.  European moralists (or one of their imitators in American universities, think tanks and on liberal editorial boards and blogs) writing about the war (as many of them did) in 2006 (and into 2007 and even ’08), would have defined our “adventure” in Iraq as a failure caused by an arrogant assumption of a bellicose Administration confident that military might alone were enough to secure success.

Americans, however, believe that we can turn a failure into an opportunity and even success.  We are, to be sure, not the only ones to believe this, but it is a defining aspect of our character.  We don’t see one failure as determinant of the final outcome.

Not believing that the deteriorating state of the war ensured defeat, George W. Bush, against great odds and much opposition, shifted course in Iraq, perhaps the boldest move of his Administration.  As a result, his new strategy, dubbed “the surge,” effected in Charles Krauthammer’s words “the most dramatic change in the fortunes of an American war since the summer of 1864.

There is a lesson in this.  And not just for political leaders.  It applies to our own lives as well.  It suggests that when we’ve made a mistake or suffered a setback, we too can turn things around just as President Bush and General Petraeus did in Iraq.

We’re Americans.  We believe in second chances.  One mistake does not necessarily doom us to failure.  To paraphrase George Eliot’s maxim “It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” it’s as if we believe it’s never too late to succeed where once you have failed.

Related:  We’ve won in Iraq, but will W get any credit? Will McCain?



  1. Great posting Dan. My only additional comment is to note that Beinart is rewriting history a bit in his piece. He has already forgotten that he, like countless other liberals and Democrats in 2008, believed Saddam had WMD and vocally supported the invasion of Iraq.

    They now all blame Bush for THEIR mistake of support as well.

    I felt I should point that out.

    Comment by Bruce (GayPatriot) — January 19, 2009 @ 10:09 am - January 19, 2009

  2. We have a strange notion of redemption in this country.
    Instead of seeing how Bush learned from his mistake and corrected it, it’s all about the new messiah who has done nothing who will save us all and take credit for ending this war.
    He doesn’t even have the decency to say we won.

    Conservatives are willing to give people a second change – because we know that to err is human. But liberals never do, they remind Mormons of their sin of polygamy from 150 years ago, and George Bush for actually going out and fighting our enemies.

    I know I’m kidding myself, but I’m hoping all this idol worship will end on Wednesday when obama actually becomes the ‘one president at a time’.
    Meanwhile Egypt and Europe have ‘brokered’ a cease fire between Israel and Hamas, how nice of them, now obama can concentrate on the economy – on the backs of all the real tax payers.

    Comment by Leah — January 19, 2009 @ 11:15 am - January 19, 2009

  3. Overall an excellent post. One has to wonder why some libs are softening their criticism of the outgoing President Bush, such as willing to admit the surge has worked. I suspect it is because they won´t have him around to kick anymore. If John McCain had won the White House they would have have nim around to kick since their mantra was ¨four more years of Bush.´ and Bush 3. So far I have not heard conservatives refer to Obama as Clinton 2, or four more years of Clinton. His choice of Holder, who holds Jimmy Carter in high esteem has to make one wonder what kind of a Justice Department he´s going to have. What is even more worrisome is the support of Senators Mel Martinez and Hatch. During the Clinton years I´ve heard Senator justify his votes for the liberal nominees to the Supreme Court, as the president should have the judges he wants. Very few Democrats feel that way. Pat Leahy and Joe Biden certainly don´t subscribe to that line of reasoning for Republicans. GHW Bush couldn´t get a confirmation for Robert Bork. GW Bush had to resort to a recess appointment of Bolton as Ambassador to the UN. Even after a year of stellar performance the Dems indicated they would not confirm him.

    Despite Obama´s rhetoric about turning a new page and forgetting the past, Nancy Pelosi´s Congress doesn´t want to. After they pass a couple of bills they´re going to waste taxpayer dollars and their precious time holding hearings and investigations of Bush, Cheney and former AG Alberto Gonzalez.

    Comment by Roberto — January 19, 2009 @ 12:57 pm - January 19, 2009

  4. “One has to wonder why some libs are softening their criticism of the outgoing President Bush … . I suspect it is because they won´t have him around to kick anymore. If John McCain had won the White House they would have have nim around to kick …”

    Good point. Also, probably, they are too enraptured with their Messiah to care any more.

    I’d also like to point out that there are other previous military actions, under other Presidents, that are good examples of *true* failures.

    Comment by DoorHold — January 19, 2009 @ 3:49 pm - January 19, 2009

  5. […] President Bush, the Surge, America & Second Chances […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » What Obama can learn from Captain Sullenberger — January 19, 2009 @ 6:21 pm - January 19, 2009

  6. Roberto,

    I refer to Obama’s stated plans as ‘Carter II’

    i know if he succeeds on destroying medicare advantage it will do more harm than good

    Comment by The Livewire — January 20, 2009 @ 7:28 am - January 20, 2009

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