Many reasons have been offered for the near-paralysis among the U.S. and its allies in fashioning a response to the thuggery of the Assad regime in Syria. Does anyone really believe that relieving the strongman of a few canisters of nerve gas will make a difference? But the perhaps least discussed reason is by far the biggest: The Bush Legacy, a toxic gift that keeps on poisoning.
I write of course, of the eight-year interregnum during which George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their henchmen, chief among them Donald Rumsfeld and John Bolton, used the 9/11 attacks some 12 years ago today as a pretense for invading Iraq at the cost of a trillion-plus dollars and 4,400 American and many tens of thousands of Iraqi lives. Their actions obliterated a healthy budget surplus, in tandem with tax cuts for the rich tanked the economy and, most importantly in the context of the Syria crisis, plunged America's standing in the world to an historic low.
The toxicity of the Bush Legacy cannot be underestimated, or as Dubya himself would say, misunderestimated.
It, and not some new found cowardice, is the predominant reason Britain, the U.S.'s most dependable ally in the post-World War II world, and Germany, among other European powers, have turned cold shoulders to Obama's overtures, as if to say, "Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us."
"The real reason the vote [in the British Parliament to back Obama] was lost was not so much doubt about strategy as the toxic nature of association with the United States, the idea of being dragged along again like a poodle in a U.S.-led military operation," Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute told The New York Times. “For Britain’s self-defined status in the world the vote was catastrophic. It has fatally hit the special relationship.”
Combine that with a profound war weariness at home directly attributable to the Iraq war and the mission in Afghanistan, which was repeatedly looted by the Bush administration in service of the Iraq fiasco, as well as a maddening wishy-washiness on President Obama's part on foreign affairs generally, and you have the recipe for that near-paralysis.
If there is an upside to the Bush Legacy, it may be that the very neocons who are sharpening their knives in anticipation of playing a major role in which Republican will face off against Hillary Clinton in 2016, will find their standing in the party seriously diminished. But there is a downside to that, as well -- the neo-isolationists like Marco Rubio now emergent in the party who in their own way are as dangerous as the waterboard crowd.
After all, Assad and other bad guys doing bad things around the world aren't going to go away. And the United Nations isn't going to suddenly grow a pair, which means that the next strongman accused of having weapons of mass destruction needs to be dealt with firmly. Like that Saddam Hussein.
Oh, wait a minute . . .
* * * * *
There is more or less a consensus among historians that the worst presidents in U.S. history were Warren G. Harding, Ulysses S. Grant, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Franklin Pierce.
While each of these ignobles left big messes for their successors to clean up (except in the case of Grant, who made an even bigger mess than had Johnson, his predecessor), and even allowing for how different the world stage is today than 60 or 160 years ago, the Bush Legacy is indeed in a league of its own.
If we can be thankful for anything, it is that unlike the unapologetic Cheney and Rumsfeld, whose loathing of Obama is visceral, Bush has kept his pie hole shut about Syria. Some commentators are saying that his refusal to take a stand is cowardly, while I happen to think it is wise.
I give Bush enough credit to believe that he knows he's a Nowhere Man. And to riff off another rock lyric, most Americans -- as well as the world community at large -- won't get fooled again.