“Over the centuries, America has succeeded because we have always tried to maintain the decency and the honor of our first president”
– President Bush, Feb. 19th at Mount Vernon, Va.
President Bush said those words and others during a speech on Monday commemorating President’s Day and the 275th birthday of America’s first president, George Washington. The purpose of his speech was to inexplicably link two strange bedfellows: the Revolutionary War and the war in Iraq. The president also likened his own will to win to that of President Washington. It appears that Bush, in the effort to distance his war in Iraq from Vietnam comparisons, has turned to our nation’s fight for independence. He wants to convince Americans that giving the Iraqi people their independence is what George Washington would have wanted. Historically speaking however, the president could not have been more incorrect with such a declaration.
Let me clarify that I do not want to diminish the war in Iraq in any way, only to debunk Bush’s assertion by pointing out the stark differences between a nation fighting for its independence and fighting for someone else’s independence. On the surface, Bush’s comments about the resolve and courage of Washington can’t be refuted – all the historical evidence is there to support it. But the fact that Bush would publicly compare these two wars is almost sacrilegious.
”Today, we’re fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life,” Bush said, “we remember that the father of our country believed that the freedoms we secured in our revolution were not meant for Americans alone.”
Actually, no. Washington was one of the staunchest isolationist presidents in history, and he would cringe at the thought of a foreign nation being given access to the same freedoms that he fought for. In his farewell address Washington said that American relations with Europe were “to have with them as little political connection as possible . it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics.” Does that sound like a president who believed in freedom for everyone? In fact, as soon as the Revolution was finished, Washington severed his alliances with France because he didn’t want to get dragged into any more conflicts. Luckily, when the French Revolution began in 1789, America was spared from a ten-year commitment.
Bush’s comparisons of the “overwhelming odds” faced in being outnumbered in every battle and the war being on the “brink of disaster” can only apply to the war Washington fought and not the one Bush is waging. Without a doubt, 130,000 trained soldiers fighting a hidden enemy is a lot different than 250,000 volunteers facing the world’s best-trained army in the British. Bush also compared the two wars as “a test of wills.” Granted, the Iraq mission is in danger of going south very quickly, but Bush has yet to deal with the same set of circumstances as Washington: multiple mutinies and desertions, near death in the snows of Valley Forge and the fact that a significant percentage of the American colonial citizens hoped for a British victory.
Washington as a general was what Bush could only hope to be as president. When he was nominated for the job by John Adams, his appeal came from his ability to unite an army of men. Bush believes in power grabs; Washington was the one who, when the revolution was over, retired and relinquished his command to civilians – a precedent that still stands today. Washington changed the Revolutionary War’s outcome by improving the army. Maybe Bush should fix his too.
There is one way that Bush could actually follow in Washington’s footsteps though. In the same way that historian David McCullough has called the Revolution “nothing short of a miracle,” Bush could pull off the Iraq miracle.
Kevin Bunkley is an LSA junior and a member of the Daily’s editorial board.