Fatherly Advice


This excerpt from George H.W. Bush's memoir A World Transformed, in which the ex-prez explains why he opted not to depose Saddam Hussein after Gulf War I, has been making its way around via email for a week or two now, but it's ironolicious enough to be worth posting for those who haven't seen it:

Trying to eliminate Saddam … would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. Apprehending him was probably impossible … We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq … there was no viable "exit strategy" we could see, violating another of our principles. Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.


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  1. Annotation… Exegesis… Fisking…

    The difference is in the subject matter you’re deconstructing and the tone of said deconstruction.

    A good fisking is done with vehemence…

  2. Exegesis should be done with a critical eye. So you are saying that fisking is done with an eye toward personally attacking someone? Sounds like Sullivan. 🙂

  3. Jean Bart sez,

    “I think its also fun to watch Sullivan get snarky about his political “enemies,” that is people like Schoeder who he hates, but who wouldn’t know him from him the cattle of Adam. His petulance is only amusing up to a point, then it bores.”

    Try reading it again but putting the name Jean Bart in for Sullivan and Sullivan in for Schroeder, it’s twice as funny.

  4. To the poster who asked about “Fisking,” an example would go something like this:

    “Trying to eliminate Saddam … would have incurred incalculable human and political costs.” What the elder Bush actually did — call on the Iraqi people to rise up and overthrow “Saddam Hussein the dictator” and then order the enormous American army he had sent halfway around the world to do nothing while the resulting rebellion was crushed — led directly and immediately to tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths, and ultimately to the lingering distrust of Iraqi Shi’as for the United States that is complicating our efforts in Iraq today.

    “Apprehending him was probably impossible … We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq … there was no viable “exit strategy” we could see, violating another of our principles.” This is just one straw man after another, a series of excuses for doing nothing. Now it is necessary for us to occupy Iraq and keep it from dissolving into chaos; twelve years ago it would have been enough to humiliate Hussein, by demonstrating his impotence to stop anything we wanted to do, something that could have been done through many steps short of occupying the whole country. The message we needed to send then was that a leader defying the United States could not expect to survive in office; because that message was not sent our task now is much more difficult. The “exit strategy” the elder Bush pursued did not turn out to be an exit at all.

    “Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations’ mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish.” This precedent was not in fact established, as the subsequent history of Africa and the former Yugoslavia makes clear. The United Nations, divorced from American power, proved absolutely useless in preventing aggression and shocking human disasters in either place — and elsewhere, aggression after the Gulf War was no more or less common than it had been before. A more plausible explanation of why Bush placed such emphasis on international consensus has to do with his desire to avoid upsetting European and Arab leaders he was close to personally. His philosophy of not rocking the boat also helps explain the decision to end military operations after four days — ample documentation exists that a major concern of Bush, Baker and Colin Powell was public reaction to photographs of retreating Iraqi formations smashed by American air power.

    “Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.” This exemplifies the way the elder Bush typically justified the passivity and reactiveness that defined his administration — pointing to the danger of the worst-case scenario, and claiming the feckless course he followed was the only way to avoid it. The truth is that Bush and his team approached the Gulf War with — to do them credit — resolve, but resolve mixed with a sense of dread. Once the stated objective had been achieved Bush’s only concern was to rush the Army home, hold the parades, and coast on his high approval rating to the reelection he clearly expected. His was no forward thinking policy, and because it was not it laid the foundation not only for our situation in Iraq today but for the growth of Islamist terrorism.

  5. Black Bart,

    Funny. Doesn’t work; I don’t set myself up to be an authority or otherwise make a living as Sullivan does.

  6. Interesting that Jean-Bart should be claiming that Sullivan was lying about the missiles that hit the Rashid Hotel being French, because (he says) it was only sourced from an article in The Sun and never corroborated. Is he any relation to a poster also calling himself Jean-Bart who made the same claim in another comments thread on TCP over a week ago and was comprehensively corrected and given links to another source (the NYT)? I think we should be told.

  7. dc,

    I am the same Jean Bart, and, to be frank, that NYT was never ever corroborated; in fact, as I recall, both relied on “anonymous sources,” and I’ve heard nothing about the issue ever since then.

    Also, as you recall the discussion in TCP quickly revealed that dozens of countries make this particular type of weapon, which was originally designed by the French. All these caveats and bits counter-evidence were never revealed by Sullivan of course.

  8. Typical Frenchman, no sense of humor, unless Jerry Lewis is involved.

  9. (1) The missiles worked; therefore, they were not French.

    (2) Jerry Lewis is not funny even on “The Simpsons.”

    (3) The quote, fisked or not, is irrelevant. “W.” is not your father’s Bush.

  10. Yes, it’s a post-9/11 world, and yes, that makes a difference.

    this is the heart of the problem. what has changed about the world, post 9/11? as an american, the one thing i can see that changed is the level of american paranoia and xenophobia — and that’s really about it. the rest of the planet would operate essentially just the same as it ever did prior, if american political machinery had not responded in this reactionary fashion. 9/11 was not the first act of terrorism, and it will not be the last. (it’s wasn’t even the first act of terrorism against the wtc by this same group, for god’s sake!)

    that some elevated level of action to make america and americans less susceptible to a repeat event was inevitable, even welcome. that it had to include creating a northern ireland in the persian gulf is something else again. everything the elder bush is said to have written there is as applicable today as it ever was. and i don’t for one moment believe it was any more necessary in 2003 than it was in 1991 — especially for the purpose of “defeating” terrorism (as though that could be done) or even restricting it meaningfully.

  11. sorry, that was me at 2:02.

  12. Jean, as you said the original report was in The Sun. As someone pointed out to you a week ago it was corroborated by an NYT article quoting a named Brigadier General. From a quick web search it was also reported by the Washington Post and the AFP. I really think you owe Sullivan an apology.

  13. dc,

    No he doesn’t, as I’ve already stated.

  14. What anon@2:02 said. Furthermore, I’d like to comment on Zathras’s statement that Bush I approached GWI with resolve mixed with a sense of dread. Zathras seems to think that this is at least partly derogatory of Bush I, but I don’t see why. It’s pretty clear to me that any sane person would approach any war that way; war is by its nature a dreadful thing, and if you don’t feel quite a bit of dread at its prospect, you’re probably deluding yourself. And, indeed, Bush II and his advisers by many accounts seem to have been deluding themselves.

  15. Touch?’ Anon. I was being a bit rhetorical, wouldn’t you say?

    George Sr, was right then and is still today, regardless of post 9/11. Pre-9/11 wasn’t some halcyon dream don’t you know? The Warren/Rudman report in ’98 predicted catastrophic terrorist attacks on the US. It wasn’t taken seriously, and we lost 3000 Americans because of it. I can legitimately argue that the real failure was in the transition of power from Clinton to Bush, when anti-terrorism efforts were shelved (can’t deny this) in favor of better red meat for the authoritarian mindset of the typical Bush social conservative. Now that terrorism is on the front burner, it is being stirred sloppily at best, by people who are not prone to taking the long view or thinking 3-dimensionally for that matter (reducing anti-American resentment by spreading the responsibility among other nations). It is no wonder other countries don’t want to help; we have successfully narrowed the Islamist hatred to a narrow beam that is illuminating our country alone.

  16. dc,

    If you actually read the article, you will see that the Brig. General did not confirm that they were French-made.

    Here is the pertinent part:

    “Half the missiles were 68 millimeter, which have a range of two to three miles; the others were 85 millimeter, whose range is three to four miles, Dempsey said. The smaller ones were French made and designed for use by helicopters. The others were Russian. The French rockets, officers said, were quite new, and likely purchased after the arms embargo was in place.”

    You see, Dempsey told the NYT about the size of the projectiles; their nation of origin was related to the NYT by “officers.” Was Dempsey part of this group of “officers?” We can only be left to guess. Nevertheless, its still an unnamed source in my mind if I have to guess if one of the officers were Dempsey or not.

  17. dc,

    And this is what the Washington Post stated:

    “The 40 rockets in the launcher included 20 that appeared to be French-made and designed for use with the Alouette helicopter, Army officers said. The other 20 missiles appeared to be Russian-made, the officers said.”

    More unnamed sources. BTW, the Alouette III helicopter (which is likely what he is referring to) ceased production in the mid-1980s and France doesn’t use them anymore. So if these were French missiles, then they weren’t exactly top of the line.

  18. Why does the origin of missiles really have to do with this discussion? Does it say that the French were selling arms to the Iraqis despite the international embargo? Probably. Righteous indignation and anger is warranted and yet, I can’t help but feel that we shouldn’t be the sitting ducks in that country in the first place. And furthermore: Like the US has never illegally sold arms to unsavory governments. Please.

  19. What does … not Why does. Sorry, typing in haste.


  20. Steve in Co,

    France did not sell weapons systems to Iraq post-1990; there has yet to be one piece of corrobrated evidence that states so.


    Of the articles you link to, the only one which hints that Dempsey said they were French missiles, the AFP article, only does so at best obliquely.

  21. yeh, denying that the french sell arms to terrifyingly backwards and violent governments strikes me as a bit of delusional denial, no offense to jb or any frenchman — it makes as little sense as denying that essentially all governments who can do the same. even if you embargo some as your enemies, you sell to others who you would call your allies or yet others who you perceive to need for some other purpose. it seems clear to me that the french and others correctly viewed iraqi arms sales as an opportunity overlooked by the americans.

  22. … and all of that is, of course, completely off the point of the thread. 🙂

  23. mak_nas,

    Well America is the world’s largest arms dealer, not the US. And as I stated before, the missiles in question are made in dozens of coutries. They are a relatively old design, and easy to produce.

    If you read Sullivan’s article, his point, as he implies, was that France is supplying the Iraqis in effort to kill Americans and aid the Ba’athists. Which is absolute hogwash.

  24. The story about French rockets was also in the NY Times. Have you asked them for a retraction?


    I posted this link in the discussion list of the original story, where you also apparently ignored it.

  25. so, the old man was wrong about Saddam. It’s a good thing his son is smarter

  26. If anything, Iraq was a greater threat in 1991 than it is today. After 12 years of economic sanctions, Iraq’s military capability had dwindled to a fraction of what it what when it invaded Kuwait. It’s ridiculous to believe that we had to invade Iraq now, but could forego invasion in 1991 when it posed a much bigger threat. I certainly didn’t trust Saddam Hussein, and I believe he was interested in developing nuclear and biological weapons, but I don’t think he got very far in either area. What the war in Iraq has cost the U.S. is loss of a very important precedent of unified action against aggressors under the sponsorhip of the U. N., a policy considered important by the elder President Bush, but demolished by the younger. As for terrorism, I think the war will unleash more terrorism than ever, because of intensified hostility toward the U. S.

  27. Yoohoo,

    See my comments above about the NYT article; as well as the Washington Post article, and the AFP article.

  28. surely, jb, the united states is the big kid on the block in trading arms. and the missiles may very well have been manufactured in detroit. that doesn’t mean the french government views its own considerable arms exports with some moral component. it just means it hasn’t been able to unseat the americans in this department.

    i don’t understand your implicit (and persistent!) attempt to present the french government is some sort of brighter moral light than that of any other nation. i know you surely aren’t that naive about your government — or government generally.

  29. mak_nas,

    Someone has to defend France against the Francophobes here. 🙂

  30. Jean Bart, point me to your all-knowing web site where you dispense facts and wisdom!

    Seriously though, innuendoes aside, it would not be at all surprising if French weapons ended up in Saddam’s hands. Weapons cross borders readily, and it wouldn’t mean the French government had anything to do with it. I’m holding out to hear the explanation of it, but I am not having a knee-jerk reaction that it’s not true.

  31. mak_nas,

    More generally, what’s changed is that, as is usual in wartime, Americans feel a patriotic duty to rally around the “Commander-in-Chief” and turn off their bullshit detectors for the duration.

    Americans, normally the most anti-authoritarian and skeptical people in the world, forget how to be Americans in wartime. Given the fact that governments everywhere lie their populations into war and use “patriotism” and manufactured enemies as a way of manipulating public loyalty, war is the one time it’s most vital that people view “their” leaders’ statements with a jaundiced eye. But instead, it’s the time when they are least likely to ask hard questions.

    Hmmm… Maybe that’s why “our” leaders find it useful to get us into wars so much of the time.

  32. lol — fair enough. for love of country, then!

  33. Couldn’t agree more JGC. But you know, when the next terrorist attack in the US occurs, it will not be blamed on this administrations policies, but on those who opposed them.


  34. mr carson, i could not agree more. it might be unfair of me to characterize the mainstream american as significantly more paranoid or xenophobic that they were before (although many are). it is perhaps more fair to say that a (misguided?) sense of responsibility to the whole has allowed these more radical opinions to resonate in a vacuum of more responsible voices.

  35. Why is this excerpt “ironilicious”?

    Bush Jr’s foreign policy is not a continuation of Bush Sr’s (although, ironically, the anti-war left likes to claim it is). That the two differ is not surprising.

    As for Bush Sr.’s predictions — the “human and political costs” have, to date, been extremely low. We aren’t occupying a “bitterly hostile land”. We didn’t act “unilaterally”. The only part that holds up is that we did, indeed, occupy Iraq, and did so in violation of precedent, and without the United Nations. All three of these things were goals, not side effects.

    Bush Sr.’s foreign policy — loosely summarized as “do whatever it takes to keep the Saudis happy” — was a fiasco from start to finish, although naturally most Republicans won’t admit it. Leaving Hussein in place in 1991 cost Bush the election in 1992, and rightly so.

  36. It was irresponsible & wrong to leave Hussein in power the first time around. The Iraqis in the south and the Kurds were openly revolting, expecting us to back them. Instead, we backed out after an arbitrary 100 hours (?!) and let Saddam kill ’em. It was a betrayal of the worst kind.

  37. what also holds up, dan, is that we have no exit strategy — at least not one as well defined as the one we have for, say, korea.

    and i’d rethink your observations on bitter hostility. even the iraqis who may concede the invasion has benefitted them are growing more and more bitter and hostile by the day as we refuse to give iraqis a meaningful self-government. the truth is that hostility and bitterness among our ALLIES there may well boil over into full-fledged opposition and insurrection well before any american proconsul deems the iraqis “ready” for self-rule. they view us as a means to an end — i.e. freedom and/or control — and they would much rather see the end than any perpetuation of the means.

    human and political costs vary by point of view, as well, but one must admit that the world is now a very different place — and far more so because of american reaction to 9/11 than the event itself.

  38. To Jean Bart et. al.:

    Disagree with Andrew Sullivan all you want. But please spare us the barely disguised bigotry. Sullivan’s sexual orientation has, literally, nothing at all to do with this debate. It’s beyond me why you’d choose to raise the topic here, except as the last fallback position of an immature or insecure debater who’s out of better ideas.

    I am honestly astonished to find this much unchallenged homophobia on a supposedly libertarian website. Tell me Jean Bart, what’s the libertarian position on whom other people may or may not have sex with? Since when did that become any of your business?

    No need to reply. I think I know the answer.

  39. i think i’ll have to hand out the reverend jesse jackson memorial award for outstanding perceived political incorrectness where none exists now. was hoping i wouldn’t have to today…

  40. Right, gotcha. “Don’t listen to Sullivan, he’s just a dirty fag! And stop being so defensive!”

  41. Slippery Pete,

    Its a means of questioning the crediblity of the guy. In fact, if anyone was the anti-homosexual attack dog, it was Sullivan, who constantly berated the “morality” of homosexuals who did not tow his particular line regarding how homosexuals should be. When he got caught doing exactly what he lambasted others for doing, he was rightly ridiculed for being a hypocrite – it had nothing to do with his sexual orientation, and everything to do with his hypocrisy. Just like putting the smack down on Rush has nothing to do with his drug habits, and everything to do with his hypocrisy.

    Next thing you will do is accuse me of being an anti-semite I suppose.

  42. Slippery Pete,

    In other words, Sullivan was nailed to his petard.

  43. “I can legitimately argue that the real failure was in the transition of power from Clinton to Bush, when anti-terrorism efforts were shelved (can’t deny this) in favor of better red meat for the authoritarian mindset of the typical Bush social conservative.”

    Steve in CO…..

    You “can’t deny” that the failure was in the “transition”? What?
    There isn’t an iota of evidence that Clinton took any terrorism seriously in eight years. He wouldn’t pay a political price and, simply, wasn’t interested.
    Come back to earth Steve. I’m not going to claim Clinton should have forseen 9/11 but please don’t try and pass the fiction along that Clinton was “on top” of the terrorism threat at any level. He never mentioned it and no one in his administration has ever come out and claimed they had a clue as to the threat. Again, I’m not condemning them for not seeing it but suggesting Bush was “warned” by that crew is simply a joke.
    Clinton didn’t care, didn’t want to know and wouldn’t have spent the political capital to do anything even if he did understand the threat.

  44. JAG,

    Terrorism wasn’t a major issue for Bush, at least publicly, prior to 9/11, either. Didn’t your President spend the entire summer “deciding” the stem cell debate on his ranch?

  45. Point of language: the expression is not “towing the line” like pulling a rope, it’s “toeing the line” like standing in formation.
    I’ve seen this mistake made three times on three websites today, and I can’t keep still any longer.

  46. excitableboy,

    I had wonderned which it was; English is not my mother tongue. I appreciate the correction. 🙂

  47. JAG, you misunderstand what I meant by (Can’t deny this). It is a fact that Ashcroft (political appointee if there ever was one), shelved ongoing counter-terrorism plans, and cut its budget in order to devert those resources to fighting the self-created-through-prohibition menace of drugs and that oh so evil pornography.

  48. “what also holds up, dan, is that we have no exit strategy — at least not one as well defined as the one we have for, say, korea.”

    I think the strategy is: 1) have the Iraqis draft and ratify a Constitution, and 2) have them elect leaders.

    After that, I’d be very surprised to see U.S. soldiers in Iraqi cities.

  49. Actually, I believe “toeing the line” is a reference to early English boxing rules, not to standing in formation. A line was drawn on the ground, and both fighters had to keep one foot touching the line. Also the origination of the term “toe to toe.” As these were bare-knuckle bouts, with no maneuvering allowed, you can imagine how brutal they were.

    What, exactly, is our exit strategy for Korea? How can you have an exit strategy in a situation like Korea or Iraq where so many critical factors are beyond your control?

    The whole obsession with plans and strategies is badly misguided, in my opinion. What you need are principles and goals, and operational flexibility to meet those goals. “Master plans” have a way of getting in the way. Constant demands for master plans are a sure sign of the bureaucratic mentality.

  50. R.C. is a Likudniks shill. Somebody at Reason grow a set of balls and check his IP address. All it will cost is dollars dollars$$$ from your neocon masters.

  51. Andrew Sullivan has already fisked this bit of prose at The New Republic website. (It was the piece de resistance of a moronic Andy Rooney piece.) Of course, it made some sense back at the time it was written. In other words, it wasn’t that silly at the time, as quoting it today and thinking you’re making a point is.

  52. Yes, Andrew Sullivan – that paragon of virtue and true. 🙂

  53. Two things you learn early in the blogosphere:

    1. Andrew Sullivan is usually wrong.

    2. If someone calls it a “fisking,” you can skip it.

  54. I didn’t support the invasion of Iraq in the 90s and do support it today. I not only find this consistent, I find it obvious.

  55. I see the second and third posts have figured out how to argue without actually going into content.

  56. Kind of like saying “Andrew Sullivan has already fisked this” without providing a link?

  57. Maybe a stupid question, but I have to ask: what is “fisking”?


  58. Maybe a stupid question, but I have to ask: what is “fisking”?


  59. Andrew Sullivan also stated, using the The Sun as a source for goodness sake, that the missiles that hit the hotel Wolfowitz was staying in were French. As far as I can tell, this story was never ever corroborated, and Sullivan never retracted this outright lie.

    I think its also fun to watch Sullivan get snarky about his political “enemies,” that is people like Schoeder who he hates, but who wouldn’t know him from him the cattle of Adam. His petulance is only amusing up to a point, then it bores.

  60. We’re not in the “post-cold war” world, we’re in the “post-9/11” world. Apples and oranges.

  61. Fisking is the act (or attempted act) of taking apart an article or argument line by line. The Fisker quotes parts of the piece and gives related analysis. While I suppose people have been doing this for centuries, it’s now commonly done on the internet and was done enough on the leftist pieces of Robet Fisk that it’s now named after him.

  62. Kent,

    Sounds like something sexual. Wasn’t Sullivan busted for trying to have sex with strangers after he screamed about how unsafe the gay community was? He was sort of “Rushed,” eh?

  63. To anon at 12:09 PM – did you mean to say that you still don’t support the invasion or are you saying that you think it’s obvious that we should have invaded Iraq this time around even though it wasn’t a good idea the first time?

    Because in my mind, George Bush I’s comments are extremely valid still. Too bad his kid didn’t read his father’s memoirs and realise their wisdom in this case.

  64. To misquote an earlier thread: It all depends on the definition of “fisking.”

  65. Apples and oranges.

    Hmm…Bush the Elder talks about the improbabability of capturing Saddam, the danger of occupying Iraq, the lack of “exit strategy”, and destroying the precident of international response to aggression, but this has no bearing whatsoever on the current situation and you’d be a fool to think so.


  66. Doesn’t matter. All warmongers are fascists. Simple as that.

  67. War mongers also tend to be authoritarians. And knuckleheads to boot. What I don’t like especially about those who supported this fiasco in print is their telling use of strawmen and the outright mischaracterization of the opposition.

    Not all who opposed this neo-con fantasy were commie pinko beret wearing America haters. Of course, those who fit that description objected to it out of course, but there were many who objected who were very much patriotic America-lovers.

  68. I just read the Sullivan pece, and IMHO he does an effective job of fisking Rooney, but not the George HW Bush passage. Bush Sr.’s “what if” looks very prescient right now, though I still think that W did the right thing.

  69. So what makes fisking different from exegesis?

  70. Yes, it’s a post-9/11 world, and yes, that makes a difference. So why are we in Iraq, instead of, say, I don’t know … how about Saudi Arabia? About a dozen of the 9/11 terrorist were Saudis, and exactly zero were Iraqi.

    Hell, for that matter, how come we’re not paying much attention anymore to Afghanistan, where al Qaeda is re-establishing its presence? Or Pakistan, where al Qaeda has a significant presence without any resistance from our supposed allies in government (and where odds are Osama is hiding)?

    If we’re serious about a war on terrorism, shouldn’t we start with the terrorists who attacked us?

  71. I thought irony was dead:

    >>What I don’t like especially about those who supported this fiasco in print is their telling use of strawmen and the outright
    mischaracterization of the opposition.

    >>Not all who opposed this neo-con fantasy

  72. So let me get this straight . . . George H.W. Bush predicted, basically right on the money, exactly what would happen if we invaded Iraq and that is not relevant?

    Wow. I supported the invasion of Iraq because I felt it was innevitable–we would have to face off against Saddam Hussein and his illegal WMDs some day. But I had feeling then (since confirmed) that threat wasn’t imminent and we could have afforded to wait to build a broad coalition. Also, the idea that we would carve out an oasis of liberalism in the Arab world, and start a “reverse domino effect” spreading liberty throughout the region seems to have been naive. The Bush people are so arrogrant, inept, and blinded that they will never be able to establish democracy there. Read Luttwak’s piece in yeserday’s Times Op-Ed to get an idea why we have so few troops there and what the consequences of that are.

  73. Hey look everyone! It’s a “Nobody” from antiwar.com using name-calling and red herrings to distract from the actual argument!

    Color me surprised.

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