Conservative Bloggers Debate Bush

Steve Bainbridge is quite frustrated with the Bush Administration so far, arguing that the war in Iraq has been a boondoggle that has diverted us from more important objectives and that the Republicans in general have spent money like drunken sailors.

We control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and (more-or-less) the judiciary for one of the few times in my nearly 5 decades, but what have we really accomplished? Is government smaller? Have we hacked away at the nanny state? Are the unborn any more protected? Have we really set the stage for a durable conservative majority?

LaShawn Barber does her best Smokey Robinson impression and “second[s] that emotion.”

Steven Taylor sympathizes, too, but argues that there’s only so much a president can do given the national political climate:

[T]he institutional structures of our national government so lend themselves to pork barrel spending that there is little hope that either party will ever take control of Congress and then actively work to contain spending in any serious fashion. The only solace I have in regards to the Republicans versus the Democrats is the Republicans are willing to cut taxes, while the Democrats are not so disposed, and are more likely to raise them, plus continue to spend. As such, we have the Spend Party and the Spend a Lot Party, we do not have any Spend Less parties.

Meanwhile, Michelle Malkin’s guest blogger Bryan Preston has a long point-by-point refutation arguing that things are a whole lot better than Bainbridge thinks and that Bush is more conservative than Ronald Reagan in many ways.

On the other side of the aisle, Kevin Drum, who more or less agrees with Bainbridge’s criticisms, is under no illusion that Bush is weakening the conservative movement.

Drum and Preston are quite right that Bush is, judging from policy rather than rhetoric, demonstrably more socially conservative than Reagan. On the fiscal side, Taylor hits the nail on the head: The nature of our system (435 House Members serving 435 districts and up for re-election every two years plus 100 Senators representing the interests of 50 states) is such that the courage to pursue fiscal austerity is quite unlikely to manifest itself, let alone persist for any length of time.

The war in Iraq has gone on much longer and consumed far more resources than I would have liked or predicted three years ago. If a stable, democratic Iraq emerges from this mess, it will certainly be worth far more than the price paid; if it doesn’t, then maybe not.

I would remind Bainbridge and others, though, that the bulk of the problems have come from the post-war “nation building” phase rather than from the quick war which took out the despot Saddam Hussein or the ill fated WMD boondoggle. If the war is ultimately a failure, it will be because of an overly ambitious agenda to reshape the Arab Middle East, not flawed intelligence on the nuclear program or miscalculations as to the danger posed by Saddam.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    Good post. I might question your cause-&-effect:

    If the war is ultimately a failure, it will be because of an overly ambitious agenda to reshape the Arab Middle East, not flawed intelligence on the nuclear program or miscalculations as to the danger posed by Saddam.

    The flawed intel and miscalculations were how the war was sold to America. I suppose a different president might have been able to remove Saddam, look around and go “oops, no WMD” and leave the premises, but Bush wasn’t him. (Okay, sure, “he,” but it sounds funny.)

    Plus, our utter failure to plan the postwar led to the insurgency, which then placed a substantial burden upon us to provide stability in Iraq. The PR consequences of doing so by setting up Saddam II were likely insurmountable.

    So I think coming up empty-handed on the WMD’s was partially the cause of the emphasis on nation-building. Granted, Wolfowitz & his ilk were for the latter all along, but I think the WMD fiasco put their ideas up front, faute de mieux.

  2. DC Loser says:

    Do you really believe that the “ambitious agenda to reshape the Arab Middle East” was an afterthought? Back when you all thought the war was over it was trumpeted as a GWB legacy for posterity. Now it’s the red headed stepchild.

  3. James Joyner says:

    DCL: No, it was certainly at least on par with “regime change/WMD” as the motivation for the war.

    My point is merely that the main criticism of Bush from the MoveOn.org crowd have to do with the “Bush lied” business about WMD and so forth whereas that part of the war isn’t what went badly.

    The more rational “poor planning for the aftermath” argument is one I quibble with at the margins but is not the one that seems to have most people in a froth.

  4. spencer says:

    Trying to divide the two components of Iraq and claiming they are not related is a dishonest appraisal of the situation. You do not take over a country without thinking about what you do next. Many of us that opposed the war, including me, opposed it because we believed or expected the situation to end up like it has — a protracted insurgency that weakened the US.

    The question now is how do we clean up the mess without massively harming the ability of the US to influence events in the region and conduct a rational foreign policy where the rest of the world does not look at the US as some ignorant cowboy who should not be trusted to weild its great power.

    Watching this war evolve over the last couple of years made me feel like I did when the police called me in the middle of the night to come get my teenager that had done something stupid. You still love the kid, and will do anything to keep the incident from ruining his life, but you know the rules have to change and you can not trust the kid like you did before.

  5. Bush is bankrupting the conservative movement

    Conservative lawblogger Stephen Bainbridge is getting a lot of what they call in Washington “strange new respect” for his strongly-worded criticism of the President’s international and domestic policies. While liberals like Kevin Dr…

  6. McGehee says:

    The flawed intel and miscalculations were how the war was sold to America. I suppose a different president might have been able to remove Saddam, look around and go “oops, no WMD” and leave the premises, but Bush wasn’t him.

    And that would have resulted in Saddam being back in power within a couple of months.

  7. Anderson says:

    And that would have resulted in Saddam being back in power within a couple of months.

    I’m guessing you mean a Saddam-like dictator, since obviously we would’ve kept Saddam in our custody if we had little faith in the incoming gov’t.

    My position on democracy in Iraq was/is that if the Iraqis want democracy, they’ll get it for themselves, & if they don’t, we can’t lead ’em to it. “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think,” as Ms. Parker said.

    So removing Saddam & his cronies, keeping the army intact, and letting the Iraqis sort out what would happen next, might’ve been messy, but as compared to the insurgency, that’s less & less of an objection.

  8. I am not a fan at all of Bainbridge. Honestly, he is the most overrated blogger in the entire blogosphere. His political instincts are always off. He is too fickle when the going gets rough. He opposed Social Security reform.

    He’s a waste of bandwidth.

  9. anjin-san says:

    Really, would anyone really give a rat’s ass if Saddam was still in power?

    The mullahs are in power in Iran, hard at work on real, not phantom, WMD. There is a genuine lunatic in power in North Korea, he has WMD and is hard at work on delivery systems. We do billions of dollars of business with a very ugly totalitarian regime in China. Lets not even talk about Africa.

    Is the world better off/safer then it was when Saddam was in power? Its pretty hard to even argue that Iraq is better off, given the current carnage.

  10. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s a surprise to Bainbridge that Bush isn’t a small-government conservative? Pfui! Would President Gore or President Kerry been better for small-government conservatism? Double-pfui! The time to oppose Bush was in 2000. You go to war with the president you have (and make no mistake, whether we’d invaded Iraq or not we’d still be at war).

  11. Anderson says:

    His political instincts are always off. He is too fickle when the going gets rough. He opposed Social Security reform.

    Well, if he opposed SS “reform,” I’d say his political instincts are better than, oh, George W. Bush’s.

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