Deal Me In

It's getting hard out there for Bush supporters in the punditocracy, says Eric Alterman. Bill Kristol is one of the last Bush supporters standing.

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It’s getting hard out there for Bush supporters in the punditocracy. Once upon a time, they were the toast of the town: liberating oppressed people with the stroke of a keyboard; gutting Social Security with a bon mot; and wondering aloud, more in sadness than in anger, why it was that anyone who disagreed with them on any of these points “hated America.”

But even Peggy Noonan is casting stones these days; David Frum is barely mentioning Bush in his blog, and then only to criticize him; and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) has been privately saying that Bush “fucked up” the war. On some days it appears that only Bill Kristol has the courage to stand tall. His Washington Post column on Sunday, “Why Bush Will Be A Winner,” set jaws a-dropping all over as he made the case that the president will be remembered as a success.

Kristol starts off his column supposing that he’ll “merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush’s presidency will probably be a successful one.” Well, preposterousness in a pundit is usually deemed to be a positive. But let’s see how well Kristol pulls it off.

He praises the catastrophically expensive Medicare prescription benefit, which was wise, since the ballooning costs have not kicked in yet. And he even has a good word to say for Social Security privatization. He thinks we’re winning in Afghanistan, is plenty pleased with the way Bush is handling Russia, and is even optimistic about—you guessed it—“the surge.” (Its alleged success, he told Brian Lehrer, is “pretty astounding … pretty amazing … pretty fantastic.” Never mind the fact that Thomas Fingar, the top intelligence analyst in the Office of the National Intelligence Director, noted that ‘the surge” “has not yet had a sufficient effect on the violence, [and levels of violence] have not yet been reduced significantly.”

The American Prospect’s Dana Goldstein fact-checked some of the column and wonders “if William Kristol really believes this stuff.” Kristol says he “assumes” the president will deal with burgeoning terrorist threats in Pakistan as though assuming that Bush has not already had seven years to do so and has not “dealt” with other problems in the world by making them worse. He concludes:  “What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president. I like the odds.”

Remember what happened the last few times Kristol liked the odds? There was that interview with “Fresh Air” back in April 2003 when he told Terry Gross, “And on this issue of the Shi’a in Iraq, I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, you know, somehow the Shi’a can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shi’a in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”

Or this one:

On March 1, 2003, Kristol dismissed concerns that sectarian conflict might arise following a U.S. invasion of Iraq: “We talk here about Shiites and Sunnis as if they’ve never lived together. Most Arab countries have Shiites and Sunnis, and a lot of them live perfectly well together.” He also said, “Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president.”

Or this one:

In November of 2002 Kristol promised, “We can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy.”

Or even this one:

On Feb. 20, 2003, Kristol said, “He’s got weapons of mass destruction. At some point he will use them or give them to a terrorist group to use… Look, if we free the people of Iraq we will be respected in the Arab world. … And I think we will be respected around the world for helping the people of Iraq to be liberated.”

What I wouldn’t give to play poker with this guy. (Too bad it’s a war and not a poker game, with you know, people dying and stuff…)

I’d invite Bill Bennett to the game as well. The famed virtue-crat announced on his radio show, “Every candidate for the GOP nomination needs to stand up right now. In fact, I’d urge them to hold a joint press conference and stand up and say a) they support the troops and their mission; b) they believe in giving Petraeus and Lynch and their boys a chance; and c) that they will do everything in their political power to lead us through to victory, rather than retreat.”

David Brooks is also welcome to my game, particularly after I read his explanation that Iraq is “beyond the reach of global summits, political benchmarks, and the understanding of any chief executive.” So we launch a war in a country we don’t understand in which political success is not only beyond our reach, but beyond anyone’s reach. In fact, it’s even beyond measurement. Now there’s a plan.

We could round out the crew with the rest of the Weekly Standard team. Fred Barnes, Stephen Hayes, and anyone with the last name Kagan can surge right into my living room. Hell, I’d even let Dick Cheney play, just so long as he didn’t bring his own cards.

I like my odds.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College, CUNY. His weblog, “Altercation,” appears at, His seventh book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, will appear early next year.

Research Assistance: Tim Fernhol

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Eric Alterman

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