Misunderestimating Bush and Cheney

November 4, 2013 Topics: The PresidencyPolitics Regions: United States

Misunderestimating Bush and Cheney

Mini Teaser: George W. was no puppet of his Vice President—and for better or worse, we're still living in the world he built.

by Author(s): Christian Caryl

BAKER HAS done a tremendous job of knitting together the disparate strains of a complex and multilayered narrative. For all its density, the book proceeds at a beach-read velocity that makes it a pleasure to peruse. Especially enjoyable is Baker’s commendable urge to puncture many of the easy myths that still surround the Bush years. (Baker rightly points out that Bush administration hard-liners were not the only ones who genuinely believed that Saddam still had a WMD arsenal, though he also shows how the White House’s determination to prove its case ended up distorting the intelligence and, thus, the case that it made to the world.) Anyone who reads it will come away from this account with their understanding of the period greatly increased—which, after all, is just what a history like this is supposed to accomplish.

It hardly comes as a surprise that a book of such vast scope should leave its share of loose ends. Despite his detailed treatment of the causes of the Iraq War, Baker is a bit too offhanded about its ultimate consequences. He dutifully mentions the number of U.S. and Iraqi dead and essentially leaves it at that. But that really isn’t enough. He doesn’t touch upon how the invasion and its aftermath devastated Iraqi society, vastly strengthening Iran’s position in the region and creating a whole new generation of battle-hardened jihadis who will bedevil the United States for years to come. (Many of them are currently fighting in Syria.) Nor does he dwell on the lingering damage to the U.S. military, the many thousands of U.S. service members left disabled or the immense cost to the American economy. As far as the latter is concerned, some recent estimates put the total at some three trillion dollars—money that might have come in handy during the recent (and continuing) economic unpleasantness. Nor, indeed, does Baker spend quite as much time as he might have on the economic policies of Bush and Cheney and the measures they took that increased the nation’s vulnerability to the shocks that led to the Great Recession. If he can manage to flesh out some of these darker aspects of the Bush-Cheney legacy in later editions, Baker might well claim to have written the definitive account of the period. Even in its current form, though, his book is a remarkable achievement.

Christian Caryl is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute in London and a contributing editor at The National Interest and Foreign Policy.

Pullquote: There is no evidence that Cheney ever succeeded in persuading Bush to adopt positions that he wasn't already inclined to accept; there are, however, quite a few cases where Bush defied him.Image: Essay Types: Book Review