Most Americans may well have taken it as an insult that George W. Bush, of all people, sought yesterday to lecture them about American history. It can be argued that the former C student, and current steward of one of America's signature foreign policy disasters, is ill-qualified to pose as an historian, but such trifles hardly deter the Decider.
So he proceeded, in his VFW speech, to suggest that all will be well in Iraq if only we would commit ourselves to stick it out and build a democracy, just like we did in Japan 60 years ago - somehow overlooking the fact that (a) Japan was a longstanding nation-state with none of the violent sectarian strife that predominates in Iraq, which wasn't even a nation until the British artifically created it in 1920, (b) the surrender of Japan capped a war that was universally supported on the U.S. home front, with mass sacrifice and higher taxes, (c) the military occupation of Japan was similarly supported on the home front, and it was sustained by a conscripted U.S. army that never had to worry about being stretched too thin, or about being trapped in the midst of a civil war.
But Bush is apparently free to continue his ahistorical lecture series, because it's clear that the Republicans on Capitol Hill still don't have the moxie to cross him. Witness John Warner's behavior today.
This afternoon, I received a series of breathless emails (CNN, PBS, Fox, among others) about how the Virginia senator/ranking Armed Services Committee Republican/ex-Marine and ex-Navu secretary/old bull of the GOP establishment was breaking with Bush, and demanding that the president begin troop withdrawals from Iraq.
In other words, a big story. But, at Warner's press conference, here's what he actually said:
"(I support) the need to send a sharp and clear message throughout the region, to the United States, and one that people can understand. I think no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th (of September) that, in consultation with our senior military commanders, he’s decided to initiate the first step in a withdrawal of our forces. I say to the president, respectfully, pick what ever number you wish. You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly in 160,000- plus, say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year. That’s the first step. Let the president establish the timetable of withdrawal, not the Congress. Under the Constitution, as commander in chief, he has that authority. He need not lay out a totality of a timetable. I would advise against it...
"That simple announcement of a single redeployment of some several thousand individuals under the military tradition — first-come, first-served in Iraq, first to depart — you’ve got to be careful how those selections — they can pick them from various units; put together a group and send them back. Then evaluate, re-evaluate how successful it has been. Then perhaps, at the president’s discretion, select a second date and time for a contingent to be redeployed...Our president holds the key to any U.S. withdrawal. And I think a step as I’ve outlined will make that eminently clear."
So, let us review: He's suggesting the withdrawal of 5000 troops (out of 160,000) - unless Bush comes up with some other number; and he thinks that only Bush should decide on what that number should be, with no congressional input; and he implies that even if Bush opts to ignore his advice, Congress shouldn't do anything about it anyway.
Just another GOP profile in courage, right up there with Senator Arlen Specter's longstanding propensity for talking big and backing down. And that should be a comfort to our uncredentialed historian-in-chief, who yesterday implied that we should never have pulled out of Vietnam, and who neglected to mention that the Vietnamese communists, rather than seeking to spread their ideology across southeast Asia (remember the so-called Domino Theory?), are instead developing a thriving economic market for American capitalism.