For some strange reason, the conventional wisdom — at least as defined by media pundits and think-tank talking heads — maintains that Republicans hold an edge over Democrats when it comes to commanding the military and conducting foreign policy.
The record, however, suggests otherwise:
• Osama Bin Laden escaped capture or death in Tora Bora on President Bush’s watch. And the ranks of the Taliban in Afghanistan have since swelled from a low of about 3500 to as high as 20,000 today.
• US forces “won” the war in Iraq (remember MISSION ACCOMPLISHED?) but lost the peace. Notwithstanding the recent welcome-but-limited reduction of violence in the now ethnically cleansed neighborhoods of Baghdad — which is unrelated to the “surge” — American forces face what appears to be a seemingly endless occupation of Iraq.
• Now comes word that World War III is not imminent, as Bush said it was just several weeks ago. Iran, according to a National Intelligence Estimate (that’s a consensus of all 16 US spy agencies), suspended its efforts to build nuclear weapons four years ago. Oops.
If the Democrats had exhibited such a level of unqualified incompetence, the Bible-thumping fundamentalists among the Republican set would be christening them Koran-kissing Islamists.
The real issue here is not incompetence, though the record has shown the Bushies, from Vice-President Dick Cheney and departed secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld to former national security advisor and current secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, to be military incompetents.
The real issue is honesty. Just as Bush lied five years ago about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction to justify the invasion of Iraq, so has Bush been lying about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program in an attempt to stampede the US into military action against that country.
How long has Bush been lying? It is hard to say for sure. A good case can be made that it’s been going on for the past five or six months. That’s when the nation’s spies began re-evaluating the intensity of the Iranian nuclear threat. In all probability, Bush knew the Iranians were not on the verge of nuclear capability by October, when he issued his coming-world-war warning.
The operative questions, of course, are: what did Bush know? And when did he know it? If Bush did not know that his own spies were rethinking their assessments, then he was, well, pretty dumb . If he did know, he was exceedingly dishonest.
Whatever the answer, dumb, dishonest, or both, it is shocking, depressing, and outrageous that decisions about life and death, war and peace — or, to put it more accurately, even more war and even less peace — can be made with such casual arrogance.
While the news about the lack of an immediate nuclear threat from Iran is welcome, it is hardly a reason to breathe easily. The medieval-minded mullahs who rule Iran pose a very real threat to Israel, to American interests in the Middle East, and — by virtue of Iran’s ability to further destabilize the oil-rich, politically fragile region — to international economic stability.
But by further damaging America’s already strained credibility with whatever few international friends it still has, the Bush administration has made the vexing job of corralling Iran disturbingly more difficult. It is another disgrace for an already discredited president.