Christian Caryl’s review of Days of Fire, New York Timesman Peter Baker’s recent history of the Bush #43 era in the National Interest is titled “Misunderestimating Bush and Cheney.” But while fixating on Dick Cheney’s influence on Bush as vice president, at several points, Caryl is misremembering history, particularly here:
One of the most intriguing accounts in the book involves Cheney’s effort, early in 2001, to gut U.S. approval of the Kyoto Protocol, which had been signed by Clinton. Cheney urged Bush to sign a letter that robustly denounced the Kyoto Protocol and rejected the notion of carbon caps (despite a campaign promise favoring carbon caps that actually enjoyed the support of some influential members of his team), then staged an extraordinary end run around the rest of the White House staff.
Kyoto was not approved by the US, and it was never signed by Bill Clinton, the Wall Street Journal noted in this 2005 article:
“The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge,” says British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
He can say that again. India and China, which are exempt from Kyoto’s emissions cuts, have no plans to submit to those mandates any time soon, though China is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The U.S. has also consistently rejected Kyoto. This has been true throughout the Bush years, but it was equally so during the Clinton ones. In 1997, the U.S. Senate adopted the Byrd-Hagel Resolution by 95-0, urging the Clinton Administration not to sign any climate-change protocol that “would result in serious harm to the economy.” In 1998 Al Gore signed the Protocol. Yet President Clinton, who was in Montreal yesterday to scold the Bush Administration for its inaction, never submitted it to the Senate.
Bush can’t reject something that has only been “symbolically” signed, even if the “symbolic” signer is Mr. “Inconvenient Truth” himself. Bush can only reject it when the Senate gets it to him. That never happened, and the AP is dead wrong.
Similarly, Caryl writes:
Baker rightly points out that Bush administration hard-liners were not the only ones who genuinely believed that Saddam still had a WMD arsenal, though he also shows how the White House’s determination to prove its case ended up distorting the intelligence and, thus, the case that it made to the world.
Gee, who else besides the “Bush administration hard-liners” were there “who genuinely believed that Saddam still had a WMD arsenal?”
Hey, remember, these crazy rightwing neocon Rethuglican deathbeasts:
Speaking of Iraq, in his review Caryl adds:
Despite his detailed treatment of the causes of the Iraq War, Baker is a bit too offhanded about its ultimate consequences. He dutifully mentions the number of U.S. and Iraqi dead and essentially leaves it at that. But that really isn’t enough. He doesn’t touch upon how the invasion and its aftermath devastated Iraqi society, vastly strengthening Iran’s position in the region and creating a whole new generation of battle-hardened jihadis who will bedevil the United States for years to come. (Many of them are currently fighting in Syria.) Nor does he dwell on the lingering damage to the U.S. military, the many thousands of U.S. service members left disabled or the immense cost to the American economy. As far as the latter is concerned, some recent estimates put the total at some three trillion dollars—money that might have come in handy during the recent (and continuing) economic unpleasantness.
And a rounding error for the spend-spend-spend and spend some more Obama administration. In any case, back in 2009, shortly before Barack Obama took office, William McGurn, a former chief speechwriter for Bush #43, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Bush’s Real Sin Was Winning in Iraq,” adding that “perhaps the most important reason for this unpopularity is the one least commented on. Here’s a hint: It’s not because of his failures. To the contrary, Mr. Bush’s disfavor in Washington owes more to his greatest success. Simply put, there are those who will never forgive Mr. Bush for not losing a war they had all declared unwinnable.”
As Michael Graham noted in the Boston Herald this past August, at the height of Obama and John Kerry’s for-it-before-they-were-against-it equivocations on attacking Syria because of their own WMD use, wouldn’t Iraq have made a great base for launching any proposed missions into that neighboring country? There was just one problem: “In Iraq, where we toppled Saddam just a decade ago and oversaw three national elections, there isn’t a single American combat soldier left. A fact President Obama has repeatedly celebrated.” Because, you know, Bush, maaaan:
Now imagine the world today — the exploding Egypt, sarin-gas Syria, bombs-in-Benghazi world — if Obama had treated Iraq the way America treated Germany, Japan and Korea. Imagine the Middle East with a fully functioning U.S. military base on the border of Iran and Syria, able to project power right on Bashar Assad and the ayatollahs’ doorsteps.
Alas, we can only imagine …
Syria, as bad as it is, isn’t even close to the greatest foreign policy failure of the Obama administration. It’s a symptom of Obama’s abandonment of the region. And the high (low?) point of that policy was Obama’s decision to abandon the moderate, pro-Western citizens of Iraq to the extremists.
Obama’s withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq will be viewed by history as one of the greatest foreign policy blunders of all time.
Please don’t start the tired “Bush Lied, People Died” nonsense. Forget the faulty intelligence on Iraq’s WMD program. Even if you lie in bed at night sticking pins in your “W” voodoo doll, it’s irrational to ignore the pragmatic value of a U.S. military force in a U.S.-leaning Iraq in the heart of the mess that is Obama’s “Arab Spring” Middle East.
Having 10,000 trained, intelligence-gathering troops bolstering the flagging courage of timid (small “d”) democrats and rattling the nerves of despots and terrorists is a good thing — no matter how we got there.
Back to Caryl’s review of Days of Fire:
Nor, indeed, does Baker spend quite as much time as he might have on the economic policies of Bush and Cheney and the measures they took that increased the nation’s vulnerability to the shocks that led to the Great Recession.
Hmmm, how did that happen? Oh, right:
And I’m not sure if a journalist gets to legitimately complain about the Great Recession, when earlier, he was arguing in favor of Kyoto, which would have accelerated the process enormously. The Atlantic noted last year that skyrocketing gasoline prices after Democrats retook both houses of Congress in November of 2006 also led to the recession — aka, “The Pelosi Premium;” those prices only began to decline when President Bush authorized offshore drilling, a move that was of course quickly rescinded by the Obama administration. (Recall Steven Chu, Obama’s first term Energy Secretary — an Orwellian job title for an Obama staffer– saying “we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” in September of 2008, the month the economy severely retracted, and two months before his boss even won election.)