In praise of restraint: George H.W. Bush's Iraq war policy is a model for today's leaders

That the second Bush administration ran into the very same problems — the very same ones — that the first Bush administration had analyzed so well a dozen years before underscores the importance of some of the most essential, if unheralded, qualities of presidential leadership: caution and restraint. Tempting as it might have been to go on to Baghdad itself, in 1991, George H.W.’s limited strategy — and the ensuing containment of Iraq — saved countless American and Iraqi lives.

For all the second-guessing about the senior Bush’s judgment on Iraq, the troubles encountered by his son speak for themselves: An estimated 4,563 Americans have been killed, and more than 32,000 wounded. The comparable Iraqi figures are far higher, of course. Then there is the multitrillion dollar cost to U.S. taxpayers, who will be footing the bill for the second Gulf War until mid-century. The cost to America in terms of squandered prestige and reputation is harder to quantify, but it has hardly been insignificant.

All of this isn’t so much a criticism of George W. Bush for the tremendous damage his decisions wrought — though he certainly deserves it — but an appreciation for very similar damage that his father was able to avoid.