Sunday, June 01, 2008

One Historian, at Least, Is Not a Moron

I've previously castigated the 61% of alleged "professional historians" who rushed like cattle to condemn Dubya as the "worst [president] in the nation's history" -- before his term was even complete. It's simply stupid to try to begin to rank a president's performance until decades have passed. (I suppose there are exceptions that prove the rule -- Jimmy Carter springs to mind.)

At all events, Victor Davis Hanson expresses a similar opinion when it comes to evaluating the performance of military leaders:
Q: How many years after a war does a historian need to get a proper perspective?

A: I think it takes a half century.... It takes the death of people, and that’s usually 50 years. In the case of World War II, we had a radical change of heart once Eisenhower passed away and once Gen. Omar Bradley passed away, because they were icons of the American military. If we were to say Bradley was not as good a general as George Patton, that would have been heresy. Patton died right after the war and was caricatured as an uncouth bigmouth. But after Bradley died and there was not the Bradley core of scholars – clients, so to speak – in the military and also in the civilian world, then people began to look at World War II with a fresh start. So you can see that the last two or three biographies of Patton have been very sympathetic. They have started to say that it was Bradley who was responsible for the Falaise Gap (in Normandy); it was Bradley who didn’t have a good plan to restore the Bulge; it was Eisenhower who was na├»ve about Czechoslovakia and Berlin. These questions were not even raised before, because of the enormous stature they held while they were alive. That’s true of every war; you really can’t question in a disinterested fashion because the principals who are still alive have their various spheres of influence. I don’t think we’ll know about Iraq until all the major players are gone.

Now, is that so hard?


  1. Anonymous1:01 PM

    While I largely agree with the principle that we can better judge a presidency after the passage of a decade or more, there are indeed exceptions, and the Bush administrations decision to invade Iraq is one of these exceptions.

    Informed critics, among them many of VDH's peers at the Hoover Institution, identified the precise problem with invading Iraq (most importantly that any successor state would be worse for us than that which we replaced), and these criticisms have unfortunately been prescient in most every particular.

    VDH is, and I'm trying to be nice here, playing in the deep end of the pool without his swim wings when he asserts that:
    "But if Iraq was to win that struggle, then it would be -- by its very presence as a constitutional state -- undermining Iran as well as putting pressure on other countries who don’t have our interests at heart. All we did by going into Iraq was raise the ante; great good can come of it or great evil depending upon how we prevail.

    In the highly unlikely event that Iraq becomes a stable democratic/constitutional republic, it will be a fundamentalist Islamic government. Much more likely, and this holds true regardless of the degree to which we remain involved for the next 4 to 8 years, is national anarchy with local despotism, and then a return to dictatorship, with a possibility of a partitioned Iraq.

    How does any of that undermine Iran or put pressure on countries that "don't have our interests at heart"? And why would one ever expect another country to have our interests at heart anyway?

    And we did far more than "raise the ante" in Iraq, though that alone would be enough to make the action a blunder of historic proportions.
    More than raise the ante, we upset a relatively stable and benign secular status quo and replaced it with an uncertain lottery between anarchy, fanatical Islamic dictatorship, partition, and a very slim chance of another stable Islamic democracy.

    We won't know how much worse off we will be until a new stable equilibrium emerges. But we can say with fairly high degree of confidence that none of the likely outcomes are better than the antebellum status quo. And we know with certainty that the cost of the Bush War measures in the trillions.

    I'll be glad to have my Republican party back when the current aversion to simple concepts like "opportunity cost" and "national self interest" wears off.


  2. Anonymous11:37 PM

    I tried it, but didn't like the taste. :-)

    Prior to our invasion of Iraq, Al Qaeda's operations in Iraq were minimal, and were limited to the separatist Kurdish areas of Iraq. Moreover, their operations were anti-Baath and directed at recruiting Islamists interested in toppling Saddam. We did their job for them. So I'm not sure why Michael Hayden is bragging about "near strategic defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq" given that we did their job for them, and they followed our troops into parts of Iraq where they never would have been but for our invasion. In short we handed them a strategic victory on a silver platter.

    Our current problem in Iraq is not and has never been Al Qaeda, but rather the predictable sectarian violence and anarchy that followed our destruction of Iraqi state institutions and civil society. The Sunni awakening, and the general phenomena of armed ethnic militias, while useful for our stated short term tactical purposes, is a longer term problem. The Sunnis -- favored under Saddam, and relatively more wealthy -- will not voluntarily disarm, and will be in armed conflict with the Shia majority and the Shia government unless and until their privileged status is restored.

    Moreover, and more importantly for our national interest, the editorial is under the mistaken impression that the Taliban have been destroyed. The fact that they have not been destroyed is largely a result of the fact that our military has been involved in a five year snipe hunt in Iraq. The opportunity cost is that the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, are stronger rather than weaker than they otherwise would have been.



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