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Bush Derangement Syndrome

There are many reactions one could have to the news that American servicemen were exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq and then denied appropriate medical care. Anger, outrage, and a desire for accountability in government all might fit the bill.

In some corners of the right, however, the feeling the New York Times story elicited was one of sweet vindication. The left—a category apparently broad enough to extend from Code Pink to Charles Duelfer, the man the Bush administration chose to investigate Iraqi weapons programs—was wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and George W. Bush was right.

The left lied, people could have died.

Some conservatives concluded that even the New York Times story on the Iraqi weapons was intended to further this nefarious agenda. The blogger Gabriel Malor writes, “This NYTimes piece has an overarching political goal: to cement forever the lie that the Iraq War was directed solely at stopping an active weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq.”

Perhaps the Bush administration’s own warnings about mushroom clouds and Iraqi nuclear weapons coming “fairly soon” might have contributed to that impression. In a 2002 speech in Cincinnati, for example, President Bush used the present tense when describing the Iraqi government and WMD: “It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”

But the Bush administration, including the president himself, ultimately conceded they did not find what they were expecting in Iraq. And they didn’t claim the weapons they did find as vindication—quite the opposite.

Outside the fever swamps, the debate was never over whether there were ever any weapons in Iraq at all—Saddam Hussein’s 1980s WMD track record was well known—but whether there remained any threat that justified a new military adventure right in the middle of a war against the people who actually attacked the United States on 9/11.

Since Barack Obama became president, conservatives have become much more willing to acknowledge the mistakes of the Bush years. But the recent Iraq news reminds us that old habits die hard.

Reading a story that raises important questions about how faithfully our government is discharging its obligations to those who serve in the military, the first impulse of some conservatives was to think of political narratives and defending a favored president’s legacy. Perhaps we’re all Alinskyites now.

Columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote during the Iraq War about “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” which he defined as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush.”

Bush Derangement Syndrome produced an equal and opposite reaction among some conservatives, turning too much of the right into an extension of the White House spin machine. Seeing so many liberals conscript themselves into similar duties for the Obama administration should have snapped conservatives out of it.

It is easy to forget in the daily back-and-forth of partisan politics, but some issues are bigger than the (often ephemeral) success or failure of any particular administration. A movement that cannot see beyond the immediate political prospects of its most prominent officeholders will lose the credibility it needs to accomplish its longer-term goals.

Given that the United States has essentially returned to war in Iraq under Obama, it is particularly important for conservatives to remain clear-eyed about what’s really at stake here. Serving as an auxiliary of Dubya’s presidential library is not the overriding concern.

Whether Saddam would have resumed serious weapons programs in the event the international sanctions regime collapsed—a possibility highlighted in the same Duelfer Report that refuted Bush administration prewar claims—and how great a threat this would have beyond his own borders will long remain the subject of debate.

But before we conservatives seize on such alternate scenarios in order to hang a second “Mission Accomplished” banner around Bush’s neck, we should consider some things that are not in dispute.

The only Americans harmed by the weapons in question were injured during the Iraq War itself. And jihadists only got control over these weapons after the war had replaced one Iraqi regime with another.

Many of the things we went to war to prevent have ended up happening, with war itself playing a role.

If this is vindication, I’d hate to see what failure looks like.

W. James Antle III is editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation and author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?

about the author

W. James Antle III, contributing editor, is the Politics Editor at the Washington Examiner. A former senior writer at TAC, Antle also previously served as managing editor of the Daily Caller, editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation, and associate editor of the American Spectator. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Antle has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and NPR, among other outlets, and has written for a wide variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Politico, the Week, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Daily Beast, the Guardian, Reason, the Spectator of London, The National Interest and National Review Online. He also serves as a senior adviser to Defense Priorities.

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