October 21, 2005
Bush's Flaws Should Not Obscure His Major Triumphs

By Quin Hillyer

"That beautiful son of a b---- was right!"

So said Ernest Borgnine's "Mr. Rogo" character at the end of "The Poseidon Adventure," speaking of the just-martyred preacher played by Gene Hackman, as Borgnine realized that the preacher had indeed led them to safety despite Rogo's constant criticism.

Several years from now, honest Americans will be saying much the same thing about the leadership of President George W. Bush on the most important decision of his presidency: the war in Iraq.

Like Hackman's preacher character, our president has made some mistakes, stepped on toes, made himself at times unlikable.

But also like Hackman, the president's key insight was and still is correct, his steadfastness admirable in the face of hostile criticism.

The critics sounded unhinged even before Iraq: As early as nine days after 9/11, breathless columnists were warning against getting into a "quagmire" in Afghanistan.

Then the critics claimed that Afghanistan obviously had been child's play all along, but that we shouldn't dare go into Iraq without another resolution from the United Nations.

So we got the U.N. resolution, and the critics said we shouldn't go in anyway.

When we did go in, all the "quagmire" talk started again, and The New York Times treated us to near-daily editorials giving, in its own words, "gloomy assessments" on the war to overthrown Saddam Hussein.

Every time the Bush-led effort met with success, the critics moved the goal posts without so much as a single admission that their earlier warnings were unfounded.

Bush was incompetent because we couldn't capture Saddam -- until we did.

Bush "lied" about Saddam having harbored terrorists -- even though we found a whole terrorist training camp called Salman Pak, and even though the main terrorist about whom Colin Powell warned (Abu Masab al-Zarqawi) did indeed turn out to be there in Iraq, intent on beheadings and a jihad that continues to this day.

The critics said the parliamentary elections last January would be a mess -- until they went off without a hitch.

Then they said the temporary parliament would never be able to produce a constitution -- until it did.

Finally, the overall Bush vision was bolstered not once last week, but twice, in a fashion everybody would consider absolutely dramatic if the major media hadn't given them short shrift.

First, U.S. intelligence services released a letter to terrorist al-Zarqawi written by Osama bin Laden's top deputy. Point by point, the letter confirmed what Bush had said all along: that al-Zarqawi and al-Qaida had long-standing ties, that the "insurgency" in Iraq was far more a foreign-led jihad than it was native unrest, that the jihad in Iraq is vastly unpopular among the majority of Iraqis, and that even the al-Qaida leaders themselves say that "more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media."

Second, the Iraqi people turned out in huge numbers to vote on the proposed constitution, which garnered an overwhelming majority nationwide and even passed, apparently, in two Sunni-majority provinces.

And the election was conducted safely under the protection of native Iraqi personnel, without American military taking the lead.

The American critics had predicted, of course, that the elections would be unsafe without major use of American troops, and that Sunni-majority provinces were an even-money bet to vote the charter down.

Still the naysayers say the American effort is failing. "Another Viet nam!" they say -- and so does the al-Qaida letter to al-Zarqawi.

Never mind that in Vietnam the enemy was supplied by a communist superpower, and never mind that in Vietnam more than 5,000 Americans were dying each year.

In Iraq, however, the enemy has no superpower support, and fewer than 2,000 Americans (still, of course, nearly 2,000 too many) have given the last true measure of devotion.

What those nearly 2,000 Americans (and the many wounded in battle, and the many thousands who served without casualty) have accomplished has been tremendous: 1) Overthrowing one of the two most dangerous dictators on Earth. Saddam Hussein is on trial right now. 2) Through the example of Saddam, frightening another dictator, Muammar Ghadafi, into giving up his nuclear weapons program. 3) Introducing, step-by-step, a constitutional republic into Iraq, the cradle of civilization. 4) Serving as the vanguard for the Bush Doctrine, which is the name given the policy of supporting freedom and republican government wherever it can take root.

That last accomplishment is particularly noteworthy.

An observer would have to be will fully blind -- like much of the American major media -- not to credit the Bush Doctrine, and the Colin Powell/Condi Rice diplomacy, for playing a large part in inspiring democratic reforms in Ukraine, formerly Soviet Georgia, Lebanon, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iraq and even in some ways in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

None of which is to deny missteps aplenty by this administration. The original post-war planning for Iraq was a travesty of confusion, in-fighting and incompetence; the failure to use more troops to help seal the borders with Syria and Iran was utterly indefensible.

On the domestic front, our big-spending president might as well be named Lyndon Baines Bush for his vigorous expansion of government (example: the outrageously expensive Medicare drug program) and his dangerous aggregation of executive power.

Now comes the inexplicable nomination for the Supreme Court of Harriet Miers -- a good lawyer but one under-qualified for the position -- a choice that pleases no constituency but which has sent the conservative media and grassroots into open revolt.

As shown with the Miers choice, the president's arrogance and insularity are bad Achilles heels.

The longer his administration lasts, the greater the number of people who won't acknowledge his successes as they happen, because more and more people start to think of him as an SOB.

More's the pity. More is the likelihood that credit will come only in retrospect. But historians one day are likely to say that on the biggest subject of Bush's presidency, on the biggest decisions he has made on that subject -- and especially on his central insight that democracy must be defended, expanded, and nurtured -- the beautiful SOB was right.

Quin Hillyer is an editorial writer for the Mobile Register, where this column first appeared. Readers can send e-mail to qhillyer@mobileregister.com.

Quin Hillyer

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