Blogs > HNN > Pernicious reasoning by Victor David Hanson

Aug 6, 2007 2:59 pm

Pernicious reasoning by Victor David Hanson

There can be no doubt that past presidents have made mistakes in responding to acts of terrorism against the US. But in this article excerpted on HNN Victor Davis Hanson mistakenly equates their errors with Bush's.

Here's Davis's argument. Reagan, Clinton et al. let terrorists off the hook by not using the full might of the US against them when they attacked us. The result was that the terrorists had an incentive to continue attacking us. Hence the need for a new approach, which President Bush took after 9-11.

Davis is right of course that a new approach was needed after 9-11; given the scale of the attack EVERY president we've ever had including lilly-livered James Buchanan would have responded with force against the Taliban and bin Laden. But it does not follow that the fundamental approach of past presidents was in fact flawed in as serious a way as Bush's policies are.

Davis seems to believe that it is always within the power of US presidents to control events. If only Reagan had responded more forcefully to the attack on the Marines in Beirut UBL wouldn't have drawn the conclusion we were weak. Ditto for Clinton in Somalia. But would we really have been better off if these two presidents had launched invasions of Lebanon and Somalia? Iraq would suggest that invasions of these lands might not have gone as planned.

Clearly both Reagan and Clinton could have designed more effective policies in confronting the Islamist extremist threats we faced even in their day. But to equate their mistakes with Bush's is flawed reasoning. It was not clear in their time what other courses might be pursued. It has been clear throughout Bush's administration that his plans have been based on fairy tale understandings of the Middle East. His flaws have been greater by far.

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