Over at the National Post, I try to assess Bush’s legacy. The full article can be read here.
The wreckage that Bush has left is there for all to see, so much so that even erstwhile supporters like David Frum, who wrote some of Bush’s most memorable speeches, acknowledge that this has been a “failed presidency.” The stock market is in free fall, the largest banks and automotive companies are on the verge of bankruptcy and begging for government handouts, New Orleans is still a shadow of its old pre-Katrina glory, the nation persists in mortgaging its future to its old Cold War foe Red China, Islamic radicals continue to launch bold attacks on allies like India, violence is on the rise in Afghanistan, and Iraq (although slightly more stable than before) remains a tinderbox ready to explode.
Didn’t Bush get rid of Saddam Hussein? Isn’t like in Iraq improving now?
To answer these questions, we have to look honestly at the real costs of the war. Firstly, the case for war was based on sensationalism and lies (“weapons of mass destruction”) that undermined global confidence in the United States. Secondly, the brunt of the war has been borne by the Iraqi people, who have been tortured, displaced and killed in countless numbers. Finally, the recent lessening of violence in Iraq has been purchased at a high price: in order to secure calm the United States has been arming local militias from all the major ethnic groups. These groups are now biding their time but there is every reason to believe that once the United States leaves we will see a return to savage internecine warfare.
It says something about the moral callousness of the West that we so seldom think of Iraqi casualties. As of today we know exactly how many American soldiers have died in Iraq (4207) but we have only the roughest idea of how many Iraqis have been killed. The lowest plausible estimate is in the 100,000 range, but higher figures (half a million or more) are much likelier to be accurate. Add to that more than 2 million refugees. Nor should we forget the tortures at Abu Ghraib prison, where American soldiers tormented Iraqi mothers by sexually assaulting in their presence their sons and daughters.