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Max Boot On President Bush And Majority Leader Reid And The War

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I interviewed Max Boot today (transcript here and audio here.)  He had many crucial observations on the war, but here is the meat of the interview:

HH: Now my next question is really a political question, but it goes to the comprehensive section of your article in the Weekly Standard about the turn from the Abizaid/Casey strategy to the Petraeus strategy, or Petraeus/Mattis strategy if you want to call it that, and that is did Bush impose the strategy on Abizaid and Casey? Or did he and Rumsfeld ask them, and accept their idea of the best approach. Both great men, great warriors, great American servants, but where did that strategy come from, Max Boot?

MB: I think the strategy sincerely came from General Abizaid and General Casey. I think President Bush was clear all along that he would take the best military advice that he could get, and that was the advice that he was taking, and it was a well intentioned strategy, it was the light footprint approach that Rumsfeld was in favor of, that Abizaid and Casey were in favor of, which basically thought that the less we did, the better, and the more the Iraqis would step forward to take control of their own affairs. That was a perfectly reasonable strategy, but it simply failed, and we know it failed, and so it was time to try something different. And you know, frankly, I wish President Bush had tried a different approach earlier, because I think it had been apparent earlier that that strategy wasn’t working, but better late than never, and finally, he decided to change his defense secretary, to change his commanders on the ground, to try something different, and that’s what we’re doing now, and I think it’s incredibly important that we give General Petraeus and his team a chance to at least try to be successful, and to show what they can do over the course of at least a year or more without reaching to any premature conclusions about how the new strategy will work out.

HH: Well, far be it for me to play Max Perkins to Max Boot, but I would love sometime to read your assessment of how a president in this age, and in this war, what degree of intrusion has to occur between the political leadership and the military leadership, because of course, Johnson was too much, Lincoln was too little, you know, it’s hard to do the Goldilocks thing here, Max Boot. As you look back at Bush, has he been too passive in this?

MB: I think he has been too passive, and this struck me in an Oval Office meeting that I and a few other writers had with him back in last fall, where he kept talking about all the mistakes that Lyndon Johnson made, and what he basically took away from the Vietnam War was that presidents should not micromanage the fight. And okay, there’s some truth to that, but that, you know, presidents also have to make sure that they’re getting the best strategy and the best generals. And if their generals are not implementing a successful strategy, they have to be willing to change. And I think President Bush finally woke up to the need to do that sometime around last fall, but I wish he’d done it a little bit earlier, because if we’d change courses earlier, I think it would have been easier to make greater progress. But even now, I don’t think that the war is lost by any stretch of the imagination. I think there is still a decent chance that we can salvage a good outcome in Iraq, if we just stick with the strategy that we’re implementing now.

HH: Now Max Boot, this week, I’ve talked to Lawrence Wright, Fred Kagan, to Melanie Phillips, author of Londonistan, and a lot of people who understand the war, both in Iraq and globally. And what they say, and what you say and what you write just doesn’t add up with what Harry Reid has said. And in fact, yesterday, a former Republican Congressman, Bob Schaffer, brought me back the paper from this week in Afghanistan, the Daily Outlook, it’s the only English speaking paper in Afghanistan. The headline above the fold was Iraq War Lost in quotes, says Democrat leader. Do the Democrats not understand this war? Or are they putting politics simply ahead of it?

MB: You know, that’s a very good question, and it’s just so incredibly irresponsible for the majority leader of the United States Senate to make a proclamation like that, and it makes you think, you know, if we’ve lost the war, who’s won it?

HH: Yeah.

MB: You have to think about that, and is he saying that al Qaeda has won this war? Is that something that we can be happy about if that is in fact…I don’t think that’s the case, but if he thinks that we’ve lost it, does that mean that we’re going to cede ground to people like Muqtada al Sadr and the leaders of al Qaeda? You know, I just don’t think it’s true from the perspective of what’s going on, on the ground. We haven’t lost. I mean, things are grim in many parts of Iraq, but there are also signs of progress. But unfortunately, when the majority leader of the United States Senate says the war is lost, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because if our political leadership has lost faith in the fight, it’s going to be very hard to continue.

HH: Well, I called it a telegram to the Taliban. Does the enemy read this and follow this, in your opinion, Max Boot?

MB: Oh, absolutely, and I think there’s this very na


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