Good as, usual, with good historically-based insights. Here is his view of the political consequences for Bush of the Iraq war.
At this point, are you able to speculate a bit on Bush’s place in history? He is obviously a strong campaigner.
I think a lot is going to depend on the situation in Iraq. Bush essentially has no excuses now: he has a mandate, he has both houses of Congress, and he is in full control of the foreign policy machinery. The war in Iraq is one that he chose, that he planned, that he has led. Bush is going to look pretty good if even two years from now Iraq is more or less pacified, and there is a government that is at least, in some ways, better than Saddam Hussein, and you have an island of stability in the middle of the Middle East. In retrospect he will look like a visionary, and people will forget all the ups and downs. When people now think of the Mexican War, they think about it as this quick, glorious dash. But in fact [President James] Polk had terrible problems during the Mexican War [1846-1848].
You mean politically, at home?
Yes. Politically, at home, there were questions like, “Will those Mexicans ever negotiate?” “Are we stuck in this quagmire?” And this was a war that ended with the United States getting a whole lot of territory. Likewise, if you think about the Filipino insurrection after the Spanish-American War, I think we lost significantly more troops in suppressing that insurrection than we did in the Iraq war. [American casualties in the Filipino guerrilla war are estimated at 4,000 killed and 3,000 wounded]. What’s interesting is that by 1910, even people like Teddy Roosevelt, who himself was an arch-imperialist, were saying that it was a strategic mistake to take the Philippines because it gave us an Achilles heel exposed to Japan. So here you have a war with thousands of U.S. casualties to capture a place that we then basically spent the next 30 years trying to figure out how to get rid of. Yet nobody who supported that war ever paid a political price, and everybody who opposed the war paid a political price. And conceivably, if the war in Iraq goes even reasonably well, Bush looks good.
It is like’s Grant’s famous comment, at Missionary Ridge, when his troops spontaneously began assaulting the Confederate positions: “Well, it will be all right if it turns out all right.” That will be true of Iraq as well, at least politically. We broke it, we bought it, let’s hope it’s reasonably fixable in some reasonable amount of time and that some good comes of the effort.
Bush is certainly not showing any signs of changing his approach, as demonstrated by today’s press conference with Tony Blair:
As [Iraqi] elections draw near, the desperation of the killers will grow, and the violence could escalate. The success of democracy in Iraq will be a crushing blow to the forces of terror, and the terrorists know it. The defeat of terror in Iraq will set that nation on a course to lasting freedom and will give hope to millions, and the Iraqi people know it.
(The rest of the Mead interview is here.)