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In every measurable way, Barack Obama is the anti-George W. Bush. This Syrian crisis holds a pristinely polished mirror up to Bush's handling of such crises as compared to that of Obama. Make all the Jimmy Carter references you wish, none of the hurled insults seem to bother the sitting president who, unlike Mr. Bush, seems both studious and deliberate; respectful of the lessons of history.

The name “Iraq” was never mentioned.

Five living U.S. presidents appeared at last week’s dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential library in Dallas. Four presidents praised the 43rd U.S. president in whiplash-inducing spins around Bush’s disastrous, failed presidency which turned a $5.6 trillion surplus (source: 2001 CBO estimate) into an $11 trillion deficit, collapsing the U.S. economy to the brink of a second Great Depression, and left America embroiled in two wars, neither of which had any clearly defined objective or exit strategy. Former President George W. Bush is a man personally and directly responsible for the deaths of 4,804 American and coalition forces (source: Casualties.Org) and an estimated 110, 000 civilian deaths (source: Associated Press) as a result of U.S. military action in Iraq. These lives were lost presumably because Sadaam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks (he was not) or planned to use nuclear or biological weapons against us (he had neither). These estimates are roughly 39 *times* the 2, 977 deaths attributed to the 9/11 attacks. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could end up costing U.S. taxpayers between four and six trillion dollars (source: Harvard study published in the Washington Post), failed to capture al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, which President Barack Obama did with a couple of helicopters and eighteen guys. By any rational measure, the presidency of George Walker Bush was a dismal failure and a tragic period for the United States. I was fairly dumbfounded by the choice, made by our four remaining living presidents, to stand there grinning at this man.

The two most impressive things about the day: (1) the surgical skill employed by these presidents, including Bush’s father, in tactfully if not disingenuously avoiding anything resembling truth or accuracy while nibbling around the crusted edges of the Bush Legacy while avoiding the 95% of his presidency which was an absolute disaster and indisputable failure, and, (2) a jaw-dropping exhibit, in the library, which generates apologetics for the president’s Iraq misadventure. The exhibit is a kind of game which allows the visitor to review the internal national intelligence estimates Bush had at the time and see if the visitor doesn’t make the same decisions Bush did. The exhibit is smarmy and manipulative, evocative of Bush’s worst attribute: his stubborn unwillingness to admit his own faults and mistakes. It underscores how petty and defensive the former president has been and apparently still is in defending his presidency, tarnishing an already sullied record that much more by insulting the intelligence of the visitor.

Ironically, we are, this very week, repeating the looming “threat” of a dictatorial Mideast state possessing weapons of mass destruction and the conservative politicians’ drum beat to war. Conservatives love war. They want all the war they can get. Despite Jon McCain’s brilliant 2007 campaign commercial, Safe, McCain has done almost nothing but push for war since having his head handed him by am inexperience black senator in the 2008 presidential race. War, war, war, send the troops, air strikes, calling the president names, pushing for a Congressional censure of the president for not starting yet another war.

That Barack Obama is not George W. Bush (or, for that matter, John McCain), should be patently obvious. Unlike Bush, who seemed to know little about and, thus, learned nothing from history, Obama knows, full well, the Syrian crisis is not so much about Syria as it is about Iran, who is surely watching and measuring the president’s response. Having threatened unspecified “consequences,” Iran, North Korea, China, Russia and others want to see if the president was bluffing. How the president handles Syria—which will surely be a distinct contrast from Bush’s handling of Iraq—will lay the foundation for how the U.S. will likely handle the Iranian nuke standoff, the (completely manufactured) North Koreancrisis,” and the much more likely and dangerous scenario most political scholars know is coming, sooner or later: an American confrontation with China. Seeing the entire globe, as opposed to George W. Bush’s myopic obsession with just a piece of it, I am confident Barack Obama understands how critical his Syrian response is, especially given he boxed himself in by promising there would be one.

All of which makes the Sarin gas “proof” that much more suspicious. Why? Because it’s just that important. This is evidence which could provoke a war. But, we’ve seen this scam before; manufactured evidence, misleading intelligence data, unreliable sources, phonied-up “evidence.” Yellowcake. Aluminum tubes. Crabby Old, Discredited John McCain and his henchman, the similarly ridiculous Lindsey Graham, couldn’t *wait* to rush to a TV camera and begin attacking the president for wringing his hands. We have the evidence! What’s he waiting for?!? Most of that chest-beating has little to do with Obama but is really about Hillary Clinton, about damaging her all-but-certain 2016 presidential run by either goading Obama into embroiling the U.S. in yet another costly an unnecessary Mideast war or by Hillary fracturing her unprecedented coalition of minorities and women by forcing her to come out publicly against an indecisive Obama. McCain and his ilk are taking this “evidence” completely at face value and are ready to rush to war.

The evidence of Sarin gas is, at this writing, specious at best. An actual deployment of Sarin would more likely to have wiped out entire neighborhoods if not entire towns or villages—not merely one or two people. The individual documented cases of Sarin have a whiff of make-believe about them, as if Assad is testing Obama’s will or sources outside (or even possibly inside) are trying to force Obama’s hand.

The emerging consensus seems to be that President Obama is most likely to move in a direction similar to his handling of the crisis in Libya, but is not willing to go it alone or to rush into anything. Obama seems to be attempting to put Russia and possibly China in a box. Either state could end this human disaster in Syria with a phone call. Assad would fall if either nation would simply stop standing in the door. Achieving that seems the smartest move for our president.

The lasting damage of Iraq is this: last week, President Barack Obama was presented with alleged evidence of Assad having used Sarin gas on his own people. Obama would likely prefer to present this evidence to the U.N. in an effort to put Russia in a headlock and embarrass the cold –blooded Vladimir Putin to put an end to the Syrian slaughter by withdrawing his protection from Assad, thus clearing the way for coalition action against him. But, the U.N. fell for this once before, with the trusted voice of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Bush’s folly in sending Powell down there with discredited and manufactured evidence has kneecapped Obama to the extent skepticism will likely loom large over Obama’s attempts to coalesce the U.N. into taking action.

In every measurable way Barack Obama is the anti-Bush. This Syrian crisis, arriving on the tenth anniversary of George W. Bush’s legacy-destroying “Mission Accomplished” speech, holds a pristinely polished mirror up to Bush’s handling of such crises as compared to that of Obama. Make all the Jimmy Carter references you wish, none of the hurled insults seem to bother the sitting president who, unlike Mr. Bush, seems both studious and deliberate, respectful of the lessons of history. America going it alone, rushing into Syria, would be a disaster and this president knows it. Moreover, Barack Obama following John McCain’s strategy would be politically disastrous. If I wanted John McCain’s strategy, I’d have voted for John McCain. America rejected John McCain, rejected Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. The president should not be following their lead. If McCain had even one working brain cell he’d understand that; he’d realize the more he flaps his gums, the less likely it is that Obama would move in his direction. Obama likely sees McCain, who rarely misses an opportunity to bitch about the president on these talking head shows—doesn’t this man have anything better to do?—and thinks, well, now I know what not to do. Quietly lobbying behind the scenes would likely be much more effective than ineffectual grandstanding, but that’s pretty much all McCain does these days—go on talk shows and bad-mouth Obama. And we’re paying him nearly two hundred grand a year to do that.

The Hand-Off: President George W. Bush welcomes President Elect Barack Obama (Jan. 7, 2009).

Whosestory HIStory

This landmark anniversary of the Bush Legacy has become the greatest challenge of the Age of Obama. The real threat isn’t Syria, but is the global collection of diseased, irrational thugs running these nation states. A literal handful of people—we’re talking, maybe, ten or less—unhinged, unreasonable, ignorant, jingoistic men in North Korea, Russia, China, Iran and other places, are all watching to see what moves this president makes in the post-Bush era. What’s fascinating about it all: nobody really knows what Obama will do (or is already doing and we don’t know about it yet). Bush was clumsy and obvious, ignoring Iran’s nuclear program and North Korea’s escalation while hunting down Sadaam for no definable strategic or diplomatic goal. At a defining crossroad of his presidency, Barack Obama must find a way to do what George W. Bush was simply incompetent at: lead. Leadership always involves risk. The real risk to Obama is not in attacking Syria but in taking the hits from idiots like McCain and Graham for patient deliberation, which is undervalued by stupid people. And, yes, that includes the vast majority of Americans who’ve been brainwashed by TV to expect instant solutions to complex problems. Bombing people is easy. Threading the needle in such a way as to send clear messages to Iran, North Korea, Russia, China and others is a much more difficult task, something of which George W. Bush was far too incompetent, irrational and immature to even conceive.

All of which presents an appropriate opportunity to review the history of George W. Bush with the goal of our never having to repeat it.

Christopher J. Priest
28 April 2013

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