With George W. Bush’s popularity back on the rise these days and the Middle East deteriorating under current US leadership, it’s no surprise that people seek him out to discuss American policy, especially against ISIS. The Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom interviewed the former president on a wide range of topics, but The Hill noticed his response to the current disintegration in Iraq. The only way to defeat ISIS, Bush said, was to have boots on the ground — and implied that what has happened in the past year has vindicated his own “surge” strategy in 2007-8:
Q: Is the war on terror currently being waged in the proper way?
“I made a decision, as you know, not to criticize my successors, with an s. I am going to be around a little bit longer — there is going to be more than one successor. The temptation is to try to rewrite history or to make yourself look good by criticizing someone else. I think that is a mistake. I don’t think that is what leadership is all about. I know how hard the job is. I didn’t like it when former leaders criticized me when I was president. Some did, so I decided not to do the same.”
Q: You mentioned ISIS, you spoke about defeating terror. Is it possible to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq without boots on the ground?
“The president will have to make that determination. My position was that you need to have boots on the ground. As you know, I made a very difficult decision. A fair number of people in our country were saying that it was impossible to defeat al-Qaida — which is ISIS as far as I am concerned. They said I must get out of Iraq. But I chose the opposite — I sent 30,000 more troops as opposed to 30,000 fewer. I think history will show that al-Qaida in Iraq was defeated. And so I chose the path of boots on the ground. We will see whether or not our government adjusts to the realities on the ground.”
Two points are worth noting in this passage. One, although Bush insisted that he didn’t want to criticize his successors (plural, he emphasized), there really isn’t any other way to take this other than a criticism of current policy. Bush takes care to frame this initially as “my position” as a way of allowing that there may be more than one potentially successful strategy, but at the end Bush makes his implication clear that the Obama administration has not responded to “the realities on the ground.”
Before we get to the second point, Eugene Robinson agrees with Bush on the first, at least somewhat. The liberal columnist for the Washington Post ripped Barack Obama for not knowing what he’s doing in Iraq, and confusing tactics and logistics for coherent strategy: