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Bill Kristol Confuses Fiasco-Fatigue with War-Weariness

March 18, 2014

Politics, it is said, ends at the water's edge. Or at least it did until January 20, 2009.
Sensing yet another opportunity to bludgeon President Obama, the usual suspects on the right have fanned out across TV screens and op-ed pages to blame him for Russian aggression in Ukraine. John McCain, who defended President Bush from "partisan sniping" over the 2008 war America's Georgian allies started, charged that "Obama Has Made America Look Weak." Mitt Romney, who previously declared that Iran "is the greatest immediate threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union," used the Wall Street Journal to decry "The Price of Failed Leadership." McCain and Romney (who as presidential candidates both opposed U.S. strikes in Pakistan to get Bin Laden and top Al Qaeda leaders) were joined by Bill Kristol, who in the Weekly Standard warned against "War-Weariness as An Excuse."
But Americans' opposition to bombing Syria, launching a preventive war against Iran and committing U.S. resources to regions historically within Russia's sphere of influence is less about war-weariness than fiasco-fatigue. That is, the same people lecturing Barack Obama now have been catastrophically wrong at almost every turn, completely mistaken about the need, cost and outcome for the foreign adventures they so aggressively advocated.

Needless to say, you'd never get that impression from Kristol, whose use of terms like "frustrating" and "tiring" makes the Iraq war seem like an ill-timed fart:

Are Americans today war-weary? Sure. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been frustrating and tiring. Are Americans today unusually war-weary? No. They were wearier after the much larger and even more frustrating conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. And even though the two world wars of the last century had more satisfactory outcomes, their magnitude was such that they couldn't help but induce a significant sense of war-weariness. And history shows that they did.
So American war-weariness isn't new. Using it as an excuse to avoid maintaining our defenses or shouldering our responsibilities isn't new, either. But that doesn't make it admirable.

That's an amazing statement coming from Bill Kristol, the Edsel of American national security visionaries. (It's even more amazing that Kristol tried to make his case by approvingly citing a letter to the editor lambasting the idea of war-weariness which stated "Did you serve? Did you volunteer to fight oppression in foreign lands? Did your son or brother or husband? If so, then I understand and sympathize with your complaint...unlike most of those who utter this shopworn phrase.") Americans are fed up with mistakes and lies, world historical calamities where U.S. national security wasn't at stake.
Certainly, after the 9/11 attacks, the American war in Afghanistan didn't start that way. But the Bush administration tried to fight the war on the cheap and made matters worse when it began shifting troops, materiel and intelligence assets in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. As the Daily Beast reminded readers on Sunday, Osama Bin Laden was expecting to die in Tora Bora in December 2001. But the U.S. did not have the forces on the ground to prevent his escape, along with hundreds of AL Qaeda fighters and his top lieutenants to the tribal areas of Pakistan. In March 2002, President Bush downplayed that failure as no big deal:

"So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you...I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

"Nobody in Afghanistan threatens the United States of America," Senator John McCain explained in 2003. Why? Because, as he claimed two years later, "Afghanistan, we don't read about anymore, because it's succeeded." But when candidate Barack Obama announced he would launch strikes within Pakistan to take out Bin Laden and other top terror targets, McCain like President Bush and Mitt Romney vehemently disagreed:

"Will we risk the confused leadership of an inexperienced candidate who once suggested invading our ally, Pakistan?"

What about the confused leadership which actually invaded Iraq? There were no weapons of mass destruction, the proof of which the Bush administration could not allow "to come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Despite the assurances from the likes of Dick Cheney and John McCain, U.S. forces were not "greeted as liberators," and instead quickly became embroiled in a sectarian bloodbath that killed over 4,000 Americans, wounded 30,000 more and drained the Treasury of $1 trillion in a decade. The result is continued carnage and a Shiite-controlled in Baghdad now closely allied with the mullahs in Tehran. Iran won and Iraq was lost the moment the United States began its campaign of "shock and awe."
Despite all of the tough talk from Republicans now, the United States was powerless to prevent Vladimir Putin's occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the August 2008 war with Georgia. (That's why President Bush used almost identical language to Obama's six years later.) So when presidential candidate McCain declared "today we are all Georgians" and Bill Kristol insisted "we owe Georgia a serious effort to defend its sovereignty," Matthew Yglesias rightly warned:

If Kristol really thinks we should go to war with Russia, he's being crazy and irresponsible. If he doesn't think that, then he has no business busting out these Munich analogies. Nowhere in his column does he propose a single concrete step with any meaningful chance of altering the situation - it's all dedicated to mocking doves, but utterly lacking in viable alternatives.

As it turned out, it later became clear just how irresponsible their tough talk had been. As an EU commission and revelations from Wikileaks later confirmed, Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili--our man in Tbilisi--was responsible for starting an "unjustifiable" war with Russia in the disputed territories.
Now, despite grave warning from much of the American and Israeli defense establishments, the likes of McCain and Kristol want President Obama to launch a preventive war against Tehran over nuclear weapons they do not have. They demand increases in U.S. defense spending, despite having opposed any tax increases to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have already cost taxpayers $2 trillion--and will cost $2 trillion more over the next decade. And with Crimea already in Russia's pocket, McCain and company want the U.S. to send weapons to Kiev to help Ukraine--for hundreds of years part of Russia--fight Vladimir Putin.
Sadly for Bill Kristol and mercifully for the rest of us, the American people are largely rejecting his advice. Not so much they are weary of war, but because they are tired of being misled by people like Bill Kristol, people who have almost always been wrong when it mattered most.


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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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