Dunsmore: Defending Bush Legacy

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(HOST) In the final days of his presidency, George W. Bush has been vigorously defending his legacy.  This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore, a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, offers his view of what national security issues Mr. Bush is leaving behind for his successor.

(DUNSMORE) Although it is among the most secretive in memory, there have been at least a dozen books on the Bush administration based on significant insider information. Mostly these books were not written by ideologues or Bush’s political opponents, but by highly respected journalists. Books such as Fiasco by Thomas Ricks and State of Denial by Bob Woodward portrayed George Bush’s conduct of the war in Iraq as ranging from detached to clueless. The latest offering by David Sanger of the New York Times will also do nothing to bolster the Bush legacy. His book is The Inheritance – the World Obama Confronts and Challenges to American Power.

One piece of news in Sanger’s book, which was the lead story in last Sunday’s Times, demonstrates the highly tenuous nature of  relations between the United States and Iran. According to Sanger, last year Mr. Bush declined a request for American assistance in an attack that Israel was planning on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israel had asked Bush for a number of special bunker-busting bombs – and it wanted American permission to overfly Iraq, which is the shortest route between Israel and Iran.

I would guess the story came from the Israelis – who probably want Iran to believe that Israel is seriously considering such an attack. And the report was likely confirmed by the Pentagon – where both the top generals – and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates – are strongly opposed to bombing Iran. Whether America was complicit or not, they believe an attack by Israel on Iran would almost certainly drag the United States into a third Middle East War.

While The Inheritance doesn’t rehash the Iraq War, the thesis of the Sanger book is that total preoccupation with Iraq created or seriously aggravated the several major crises now primed to explode on the new Obama administration.

In addition to the Iranian nuclear threat, Iraq is far from resolved. The Taliban is growing stronger again in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda is operating freely in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Pakistan itself very shaky. The North Korean nuclear threat has increased under the Bush watch. And, of course, we have seen in the bloody scenes from Gaza that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle has taken another dramatic turn for the worse, largely because of American neglect.

In summing up, Sanger writes that Bush’s foreign policy "…has left us less admired by our allies, less feared by our enemies, and less capable of convincing the rest of the world that our economic and political model is worthy of emulation."

Even if there weren’t a global economic crisis to address, for all its talent and best intentions, the Obama administration faces huge national security challenges. And while we all fervently hope the new President will  be able to prevent another great depression – and avoid still more war – a failure on either front could well be the true legacy of the Bush administration.

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