Bush: The Lord North of Today
by Leon Hadar
I've been spending so much time in recent months reading and writing
about US President George W Bush, his neoconservative advisers and
the mess in Iraq, I decided to take some time off these current
topics and read a very well-written and very well-researched life
history of one of America's Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton.
I had to read only a few pages of the massive biography by Ron Chernow
Hamilton, Penguin Books, 2004) before I was transported
from the late 18th century to the start of the 21st century, to
Bush, the neocons and Iraq.
is how Hamilton, in an impressive and shrewd insight into the psychology
of power, described the futile efforts by the then British prime
minister, Lord North, to suppress the insurgency by the American
colonists against the occupying imperial power: "The premier
has advanced too far to recede with safety; he is deeply interested
to execute his purpose, if possible – in common life, to retract
an error even in the beginning is not an easy task. Perseverance
confirms us in it and rivets the difficulty – to this we may add
that disappointment and opposition inflame the minds of men and
attach them still more to their mistakes."
Hamilton saw it, the punitive measures taken by the British could
not defeat the scrappy and opportunistic strategy pursued by the
insurgents. "The circumstances of our country put in our power
to evade a pitched battle," Hamilton advised his American compatriots.
"It will be better policy to harass and exhaust the soldiery
by frequent skirmishes and incursions than to take the open field
with them, by which means they would have the full benefit of their
superior regularity and skills."
know how the American Revolution ended. The British continued to
dig themselves into a deep hole from which they were able to extract
themselves only after a long and costly war. It's not surprising
that historian Barbara Tuchman in her classic work The
March of Folly illustrated the tendency of governments to
act stubbornly and perversely against their own interests by using
the loss of the American colonies by the British as a case study.
was amazing about the entire situation was that the British Parliament
had many opportunities to defuse the situation before independence
became a rallying cry of the Americans. Out of ignorance and arrogance,
and despite the warnings and advice of any number of competent men
on both sides of the Atlantic, the British leaders refused to do
so, and thus the colonies were lost.
as the Bush administration's effort to "stay the course"
in Iraq is demonstrating once again, to "retract an error even
in the beginning is not an easy task" and the disappointments
that the administration has been experiencing in Iraq almost on
a daily basis as well as the growing opposition to the war at home
only seems to "inflame the minds" of Bush and his aides
and "attach them still more to their mistakes."
amid turmoil in Washington over Iraq and a dramatic erosion in the
support of the American people, Bush vowed over the weekend that
"we will stay in the fight" until victory in Iraq, rejecting
critics' calls for a troop pullout timetable and insisting that
"progress" was being made in Baghdad.
remarks amounted to a response to one of the most hawkish Democrats
in Congress, Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha, who urged
the administration last Thursday to pull out US forces as soon as
it could be done safely, estimating that it would take about six
months. At the same time, there were also growing indications that
many Republican lawmakers have lost their confidence in the administration's
strategy in Iraq and were worried that the rising costs of the war,
in terms of life and money, would make it difficult for them to
win reelection in the mid-term Congressional elections next year.
leading Republican, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Vietnam War
veteran, has blasted the administration's policies in Iraq and has
called on the White House to admit its mistakes there and take steps
to retract them.
it should be noted, is also considering running for the White House
in 2008 and he seems to believe that the antiwar stand could help
him strengthen his political and electoral base.
was dismissed by the White House as a liberal like Fahrenheit 911
moviemaker Michael Moore. But if anything, Murtha projects all the
characteristics of a public figure with whom voters in Red States
should fall in love: a conservative nationalist and a war hero who
feels most comfortable drinking beer with a bunch of swearing blue-collar
someone like him is willing to challenge War President Bush and
to call for a withdrawal from Iraq reflects the political problems
that the White House could face in the coming months.
can't be won militarily. It's got to be won politically," Murtha
Bush and his aides were continuing to describe Iraq as a pivotal
battle in the war against Islamic radicals who, they say, want to
use Iraq as a launching pad towards a totalitarian empire stretching
from Spain to Indonesia.
pointing to the coming Iraqi elections in December, Bush was insisting
that "Iraq is making amazing progress from the days of being
under the thumb of a brutal dictator." But that is clearly
not the view of the American people and large segments of the political
CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll last week said 63 per cent of Americans
oppose Bush's handling of the Iraq war, and 52 per cent say troops
should be pulled out now or within 12 months. Moreover, most Americans
now believe that the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake.
the same time, a poll conducted by Pew Research Center and the Council
on Foreign Relations suggest that most Americans think that the
US should "mind its own business internationally and let other
countries get along the best they can on their own."
consensus runs very much contrary to the Bush administration's rationale
for maintaining a US military presence in Iraq and the Middle East:
the need to spread freedom and democracy in the region.
would argue that this erosion in public support for the war and
the political concerns in Washington – not to mention the lack of
international backing for the project (Korea and Italy are planning
to withdraw their troops from Iraq) – should force Bush to retract
the Iraq error and change course.
won't. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have "advanced too
far to recede with safety." They know that their historical
"legacy" is tied to the war in Iraq and that to withdraw
from that country would be an admission that they failed – big time.
So as Hamilton would have predicted, they prefer to continue muddling
through in Iraq for another three years even if that means leaving
a mess in Iraq to the next president, even if he or she is a Democrat.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.