How the Bush Wars Opened the Door to the Left

In the May 2015 issue of Vanity Fair, the well-known leftist political commentator Michael Kinsley published a piece titled How the Bush Wars Opened the Door for ISIS. That piece appears to have drawn virtually no commentary. This post puts a response into that near-vacuum.

Kinsley’s article came to my attention through a link shared by a liberal friend, a former college professor in the sciences. I appreciate many of the things that friend shares. In this case, however, I felt that the article, the friend’s referral, and the absence of critical commentary all suggested that a certain degree of stupidity may have taken hold, in the minds of many who educate the children.

Let us review a few basics. First, a published article — even an admittedly partisan article, which Kinsley’s was not — is not to be forgiven for using the wrong arguments to favor the right side. If you can’t make a persuasive point with logical arguments, you may still win — but you don’t deserve to be endorsed by professors and featured in national media.

Second, an article is supposed to be about the topic suggested in its title. It seemed reasonable to expect that, in this piece, Kinsley would actually go ahead to explain “how the Bush wars opened the door for ISIS.” But he doesn’t. He doesn’t even try. The title is ludicrous.

A somewhat more accurate title would be, “Reviewing the 25 Years of Bush Wars.” But Kinsley doesn’t achieve that either, for two reasons: (1) the Gulf War of 1990 was a competently conceived and successfully managed episode having virtually nothing in common with the wars commenced by George W. Bush in 2003 and thereafter, and (2) because the 1990 war was brief and successful, the U.S. was not further engaged in war in that theater until George Jr. invaded Iraq in 2003. There is no “25 years of Bush wars.” Vanity Fair promises that, in this article, “Kinsley remembers what happened in between” 1990 and today; but he doesn’t do that either. He is essentially silent on events in Iraq and Kuwait for the first half of his supposed “quarter-century.”

Third, an article — especially an article written by a prominent, highly knowledgeable columnist — is supposed to depend upon verifiable facts. Kinsley chooses instead to invent fictions. Yes, Fox News does it. No, that does not make it right for the rest of us. Yes, the crazies will believe whatever you tell them. But no, college professors and other educated readers are not supposed to act like crazies. Far from sharing nonsense like that peddled by Kinsley, they are supposed to be thinking critically and pointing out errors. But they have not done that. If they had, I would not have had to write this post.

Consider, for instance, Kinsley’s claim that “George Bush the Younger decided to finish the job his father had left half done and dispose of Saddam.” George Senior did not try to dispose of Saddam. He did not leave the job half-done. He was a competent thinker with a strong résumé in foreign affairs. It is not clear why his administration gave Saddam Hussein tacit permission to invade Iraq. Possibly he, like his son years later, cynically tried to position himself as a wartime president for domestic political advantage. But George Sr. evidently knew better than to open Pandora’s Box by removing Saddam and destabilizing Iraq. He simply wanted to evict Iraq from Kuwait, and he succeeded handily.

Kinsley likewise claims that George Sr. had a goal of “democracy spreading from Iraq to Saudi Arabia to Syria and beyond.” This is, again, pure fantasy; in his Gulf War, the elder Bush entertained no such goal. If it is fair to smear politicians based merely on family relation, then presumably Hillary — and for that matter Chelsea Clinton and her descendants — will be equally fair game.

What Kinsley has actually written is a liberal Baby Boomer’s rehash of some of the standard liberal complaints about George W. Bush. The liberal complaints have merit. It is preposterous that such a man should ever have been president of this country. But those complaints, and their most ardent proponents, are aging. The absence of commentary on Kinsley’s piece is most likely attributable to its passé content. Nobody cares about that old crap.

Kinsley pooh-poohs “the number of analyses pouring out of Washington think tanks” about ISIS, pointing out that the first major media reference to ISIS appeared only two years ago. Kinsley’s view is that “Washington seems to forget that just about every smart idea for solving one problem creates some hideous new problem.” Is this really how intellectuals should react to the emergence of an extraordinarily successful and destructive new military force in our world? Or is it rather what one should expect from aging Baby Boom liberals who impede progressivism with their increasingly cautious carping?

To Vanity Fair and the like, I say this: if you don’t want the conservatives to keep dwelling on Whitewater and other ancient Clinton scandals, then give it a rest. No matter how smart or smarmy your claims and complaints, the historical fact is that you lost two elections in a row to George W. Bush. You patted yourselves on the back endlessly, and you still lost — and lost again.

Somehow, for years on end, liberal commentators retained so little credibility that they could not even persuade the public to reject one of the worst presidents this country has ever seen. How could so many intelligent and well-informed left-leaning people turn in such an abysmal political failure? Kinsley’s article about the Bush wars provides a clue.

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