WaPo's Michael Gerson: Bush Was Not A Neoconservative

September 09, 2011 3:34 pm ET — Walid Zafar

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 gives the war pundits over at the Washington Post another opportunity to explain to us that the Bush administration was right in invading Iraq. Charles Krauthammer, the country's most prolific hawk, remains bullish on the war, writing that "The denigration of the war on terror is the result of our current demoralization, of retroactively reading today's malaise into the real — and successful — history of our 9/11 response." Krauthammer's dishonesty is the result of omission rather than fabrication; he believes that the Iraq war was a triumph and dutifully discards facts that undermine his views.

But Michael Gerson, another one of the Post's many war salesmen, takes the cake for his willingness to create his own set of facts about Bush and Iraq. In a piece titled "The Ugly Gash of 9/11," he writes:

After an extended Arab Spring, the realist practice of supporting favorable autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa seems hopelessly naive. The combined dictatorial rule of 95 years in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya collapsed in the course of eight months, and there is no reason to believe the revolution has ended. Citizen participation always carries the risk of poor choices by citizens. But it is now clear that autocratic and economically backward nations are inherently unstable, and that democratic transitions are the best hope of constructively channeling discontent. Obama has been a reluctant, foot-dragging convert to the democracy agenda. But he is a convert nonetheless.

Criticism of the Bush Doctrine was always based on a distortion — that it was somehow generated by neoconservative ideology. But Bush did not come out of a neoconservative foreign policy tradition. Each element of the doctrine was a response to concrete historical circumstances — the need to protect Americans from violence, the dangerous instability of the Middle East, the imperative of countering hatred with hope. Bush was not an ideological radical, just as Obama is not an ideological turncoat. Any president will be forced by duty to adopt similar views.

Gerson, like Iran-Contra figure Elliot Abrams, connects the Arab Spring to the Bush administration, arguing that the invasion in Iraq motivated the people of the region to overthrow their dictators. Arabs didn't see the benefit of freedom, this simplistic and offensive line of reasoning goes, until George W. Bush showed them how great it could be. That narrative, of course, is nonsense for at least three reasons: (1) Iraq is far from a model democracy and, as a RAND study pointed out, has long been used as an example by Arab autocrats for why transition is a dangerous and unstable process; (2) Arab citizens, not American troops, sparked the Arab Spring's movement for change, unlike in Iraq where it was brought by foreigners; and (3) Bush actively sought out the cooperation of some of today's most reviled dictators — including Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Qaddaffi — in the war on terror.

As the Economist puts it, "The big thing Mr. Bush did in the Arab world was not to argue for an election here or a loosening of controls there. It was to send an army to conquer Iraq. Nothing that has happened in Tunisia or Egypt makes the consequences of that decision any less calamitous."

This brings us to Gerson's most audacious lie.

He tries to strip the neoconservative mantle off the president he loyally served as speechwriter. "Bush did not come out of a neoconservative foreign policy tradition," he says. And it's true. But it is true not because Bush came from some alternative tradition but because before running for president, Bush knew virtually nothing about foreign policy or the world beyond our shores. It was once he was a presidential candidate that he chose a neoconservative foreign policy team comprised of figures who were long itching for a war, especially with Iraq. And Bush chose Dick Cheney to be his running mate, not once, but twice.

These characters (including Gerson himself) led the country into war based on faulty assumptions and cooked intelligence. They deceived us into a war almost a decade ago and are now, on the anniversary of 9/11, still lying — this time about their original lies.