Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

Bush’s Quagmire, and Ours

Even the most determinedly partisan critics of the Bush administration have been taken aback lately — dumbfounded is more like it — by the spectacular unraveling of the administration’s Iraq strategy. For all the doubts about the wisdom of the president’s plans, few of us thought they would collapse this utterly or this fast. Now that it’s happened, hardly anyone knows what to say.

Sure, there were naysayers warning all along that the president’s war plans were inadequately thought through. There were European leaders insisting that the rationales for war — chiefly Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs and links to terrorism — were not sufficiently proven. There were pundits who warned that going in without United Nations backing would weaken the war’s legitimacy in international eyes, experts who fretted that Iraqis would not necessarily rally to America as a liberator, scholars who predicted that an invasion might inflame rather than dampen worldwide Islamic rage against America. There were military strategists who questioned the timing and size of the American-led force. At the extremes, there were Bush-bashers who believed the entire enterprise was beyond the ken of a president they still considered a bumpkin.

Deep down, though, most of us figured the president and his advisers must have had some idea what they were doing. There was a presumption, rooted deep in our culture as a nation, that anyone smart enough to capture the reins of government must be smart enough to wield them.

Now that the American invasion has turned out to be a clueless blunder into a bottomless quagmire, there’s a natural temptation for critics to gloat. Bush sold himself to Americans after September 11 as the tough cop who would chase down the terrorists wherever they were hiding and restore the nation’s security and honor. It turns out his threats were not just empty but dangerous. Taking on Saddam didn’t intimidate terrorists everywhere but rather inflamed them, emboldened them and brought them pouring into Iraq. Now the terrorists are stronger than ever, and we’re stretched across the Middle East like sitting ducks. For those who still can’t think of Bush without picturing hanging chads and butterfly ballots, there’s a grim satisfaction in the president’s quandary.

But the quandary is not the president’s. It’s ours. We, the American nation, sent our troops into Iraq, like it or not. Those soldiers dying every day as the fighting continues are not Republicans or Democrats, neoconservatives or new-age liberals, but American soldiers. If Iraq is broken, we’re the ones who broke it. Now it’s up to us to fix it.

There are wrong ways to do that, such as continuing the arrogant, unilateralist path we’ve followed up to now. And there are right ways to do it, such as bringing in the U.N. to share power and getting serious about rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure. We need to understand the elusive nature of terrorism and begin rebuilding the alliances that can isolate the terrorists and dry up their support bases. We need to accept the limits of power and the power of limits.

What isn’t an option is picking up and leaving, as if we could end the war by pretending there is no war. The forces threatening America today, whether in Baghdad or Bali, are the enemies not just of Republicans but of all Americans — and indeed, of the entire free world.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.