Historians, by definition, are students of history, not current events. Of course, today’s current events are tomorrow’s history, but we are usually too close to today’s news to view it in its larger context. It is up to the historians to sift through all the evidence, long after the fact, and make sense of the details.
That’s why Bush has not been too concerned about his negative polling numbers throughout his two terms. On the issue of the Iraq War, in particular, he knows that the whole story hasn’t been written yet, and when it is, history will be kinder to him than his contemporary critics.
That more measured study of the Iraq War is already underway. Historian Arthur Herman has a lengthy piece at Commentary that recounts the history leading up to the decision to invade Iraq. His conclusion: If Bush had not invaded Iraq, some American President eventually would have had to do it — ironically, probably either Al Gore or John Kerry.
Whatever one wants to say about the conduct of the Iraq war, going to war to remove Saddam Hussein in 2003 was a necessary act. It should and could have been done earlier, had not the Clinton White House, which understood the need, not wasted the opportunity through timidity and bluster. If, after 9/11, Bush had then blinked in his turn, he might indeed have found himself out of office by January 2005, and someone else would have had to tackle the job under much more disadvantageous conditions.
To judge by his unequivocal pronouncements pre-2003, and as improbable as it sounds now, that someone might well have been Al Gore, the erstwhile hawkish Vice President who had championed the Iraq Liberation Act, or indeed John Kerry, who back in 1998 told Scott Ritter that containment of Saddam was not working and that the time had come to use force. If Bush had failed to act, either one of these two men might have come to office in January 2005 publicly prepared to deal with the “gathering threat” that his predecessor had unaccountably allowed to grow larger and closer and ever more virulent.