Myth-making about the American president seems to have already begun
Sitting at a CII summit, listening to Brent Snowcroft — a former US national security advisor — give a history lesson to the audience (which included the president of CII, a former air chief, and leading defence experts), I wondered why he was engaging in this futile exercise. After all, if anyone understands that there has been a fundamental adjustment in world politics following the end of the Cold War, it was the people in that room. But then I read between the lines.
General Snowcroft had been NSA during Bush senior’s term. His speech made one point: the US is not used to being a superpower and because the nature of war has changed — it is no longer confined to battles between states — allowances for mistakes need to be made. Disingenuous, I thought, given that Bill Clinton did not end up earning the wrath of the world community for unilateral wars carried out under false pretences. But an alarm bell sounded in my mind. Just as Clinton became obsessed with his legacy at the end of his presidency, it is now time for the current president to make strategic moves so that he does not for ever remain as the man who went into war without an exit strategy and destroyed America’s economic surplus in the bargain.
So, here we are. The stage is being set. Snowcroft seems to be giving us the first rough draft of a George Bush mythology, by painting him a world leader in tumultuous times. It is an apologetic stance; the question put to you is, how can Bush be expected to have measured up to everyone’s expectations as the world undergoes this acute fundamental adjustment and when different regions have their own needs?
Now pay closer attention to this troop surge in Iraq. Prime Minister Maliki, it is reported, does not want it but Bush’s spin doctors claim it is responding to Iraqi demands. If Bush wanted to salvage his legacy, should he not try and end the war in Iraq? Good question. But the answer, unfortunately, is no. Vietnam had a harsh lesson for the US: that withdrawal from a thankless war, which cost the country many young lives, could be political suicide. The failure in Iraq can be passed on to the next president — and if Bush is very lucky, it will be a Democrat president.
So what will his legacy be? It is going to be crafted slowly, carefully, until he leaves office. There is no re-election. So actions taken now have a different purpose. Watch and learn. If anything, Bush has taught us that the media can be controlled.