Lesson Learned?: When Touting Iraq War Success, Biden now Gives Bush Credit

Vice President Joe Biden gave some credit to former President George W. Bush Monday, in a rare nod to a man Biden and other officials in the Obama White House have continually bashed, signaling a possible change in the White House’s public statements, at least about war strategy.

Biden was in Iraq over the Fourth of July weekend and said that the American people will be able to see Obama’s Iraq policy as successful. He added the White House “will be able to point to it and say, ‘We told you what we’re going to do, and we did it,’” Biden said in an interview with Politico Monday.

And then he said Bush can take part in that, “I sound corny, but I think America gets credit here in the region. And I think everybody gets credit, from George Bush to [President Obama],” said Biden.

The compliment, albeit small, was a shift from Biden’s assaults on Bush war policies, or his claim earlier this year that Iraq would actually be one of the Obama administration’s greatest achievements. The Iraq war was something both Biden and President Obama in the past said was unnecessary. That opposition was a hallmark of their campaign strategy in 2008.

Michael O’Hanlon, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution, suggested the shift is a positive move. “VP Biden is being very statesmanlike,” he said.

Former Bush Press Secretary and Fox News contributor Dana Perino responded to Biden’s comments and his recent trip to the region. “The truth is, the strategy was laid out by President Bush and it was carried out by our brave troops, led by a superb general, with cooperation from the Iraqis. Sometimes all we do is pick on the Iraqis when they deserve a lot of credit for the turnaround. However, Vice President Biden was right to prod them on forming a government - he absolutely was right to do that and I hope it helps.”

At a Dallas fundraiser in March, Biden took a more negative tone about the former administration in front of a friendly Democratic crowd, "We inherited a cynical republic." Biden said. "And I can't blame them. Eight years of collapse, eight years of being misled about wars."

While Biden or other administration officials will likely still take some jabs and blame Bush for the country’s economic woes, now that this White House has picked General David Petraeus to take over the war in Afghanistan -- the same man Bush tapped to turn Iraq around -- this may be setting the stage for the White House to give Bush more credit on Iraq and Afgahnistan.

The Obama administration selected Petraeus to run the Afghanistan war when General Stanley McChrystal resigned after he and his staff made disparaging remarks about the administration in a magazine interview.

Bush similarly turned to Petraeus in a time of need to help change the course of the Iraq war when violence was crippling the region in 2006 and 2007.

Petraeus implemented a surge strategy -- an increase in U.S. troops -- that then-Senators Biden and Obama opposed. Biden and Obama often said on the campaign trail that they would swiftly bring an end to the war. Obama often boasted that he had opposed the war since 2002. As senator, Biden had voted for sending troops in, but later said it was a mistake.

This February Biden said that the Iraq war would be one of the biggest successes for the current White House.

“I am very optimistic about -- about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration.” Biden told CNN’s Larry King on February 10.

Four days later in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” while still slamming Bush, Biden gave a smidgeon of praise, and seemed to have realized he needed to give the previous administration some credit.

When asked if the war was worth it, Biden answered, “No, I don't think the war was worth it in the sense that we paid a horrible price, not only in loss of life, the way the war was mishandled from the outset, but we took our eye off the ball…I think we're handling it very well, the Iraqis are handling it well. And we build on the positive things that the Bush administration had initiated, and we have jettisoned those things that were negative.”

That same day on CBS’ “Face the Nation” he responded to the question of whether Bush deserves a mention. “Well, sure. I'm happy to thank George Bush. I like (laughs) George Bush. But I think the thing -- and all the, if you go back and think about it, we've been on so many of your programs, it was constantly, 'what is their political plan?'” Biden said.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney also weighed in that day, “So if they're going to take credit for it, fair enough, for what they've done while they're there, but it ought to go with a healthy dose of "Thank you, George Bush" up front and a recognition that some of their early recommendations, with respect to prosecuting that war, were just dead wrong,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

As for more accolades in the future, Perino isn’t so sure, “[It] is hard to say. I think that in the long run, President Bush will get credit for making the tough decision to send more troops and to change the strategy to protect the population first and to win their trust. Whether the White House can swallow hard enough to give President Bush any credit out loud remains to be seen.”

O’Hanlon said more of this tone would be good, “We need more of this kind of thing in American politics, even if it's not to be expected that often in the heat of campaigns (and thus it's not surprising that Mr. Biden would sound a bit different now than he did then [on the campaign trail]).”