Who Do You Blame for Paris?

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Lance Dutson: George W. Bush's foreign policy was the perfect foil for Barack Obama, and arguably launched him into the presidency. But after 7 years of Obama’s foreign policy, the world is engulfed in the flames of terrorism like never before.

From Libya to Iraq to Syria, this administration has allowed an abstract theory of pacifism to put America at terrible risk. The attacks in Paris must make progressives like you finally see that Bush's aggressive forward stance kept us far safer than “leading from behind.”

Steven Biel: You can't be serious. George W. Bush's "invade first, ask questions later" policy is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.

Left Brain: Steven Biel

Steven Biel is a political consultant and former campaign director at the progressive group MoveOn.org. He lives in Portland with his wife and two kids.

Right Brain: Lance Dutson

Lance Dutson is a political communications consultant, veteran of Maine Republican campaigns, and owner of As Maine Goes. He lives in Falmouth.

ISIS was born the day Paul Bremer--a Bush appointee with no experience in Iraq and who literally didn't even speak the language--was installed as the de facto dictator of Iraq and immediately dissolved the Iraqi army, throwing a quarter million armed, professional soldiers with mouths to feed out of work.

Then Bush installed Shiite sectarian in Nouri al-Maliki, and a couple years later when Assad started massacring Sunnis across the border, boom: You’ve got a massive Sunni army led by former Iraqi generals called ISIS marauding across the region.

That's an awfully big mess your party left for Obama to clean up.

Lance: We can argue whether invading Iraq and saving an entire nation from a torturing dictator who used chemical weapons on his own people was a mistake, but the thing that is indisputable is that America, and the world, is less safe after our precipitous withdrawal.

Steven: Precipitous withdrawal? Before we went in, Cheney said the whole operation would take "weeks rather than months." Besides, Bush set the deadline for withdrawal, not Obama.

Lance: Bush set a timeline--which Obama should have revised if necessary. Instead he created a vacuum in the region that was inevitably be filled by bad actors.

Like it or not, American occupation would have been a far better alternative than what we've got now. ISIS filled a power void left when the U.S. pulled out. Obama’s half-hearted "lead from behind" engagement strategy has not worked.

If the U.S. is going to step into conflict, we need to do it all the way to ensure our blood and treasure isn't spilled simply to open up a vacuum for tyrants and murderers to occupy.

Steven: I hope the American people are listening. You’re saying if Republicans win the White House, the plan is to invade and occupy every failed state with a power vacuum?

You already mentioned Iraq, Syria, and Libya. I assume Afghanistan has to be on the list too. We know you guys are attacking Iran on day one. What else? Maybe Somalia? Sudan? Yemen? Did I miss any?

Lance: I'm not advocating for any occupation at all. I'm saying that leaving Iraq before it was stable was a mistake that was the result of the massive lurch left in American public opinion in the out years after 9/11.

The invasion had bipartisan consensus, but once the U.S. public tired of the war, both Bush and Obama reacted to political pressure rather than what made sense for long-term stability.

Steven: What you call a bipartisan consensus I call a massive campaign of lies to scare the daylights out of the American people with threats of WMDs and smoking gun mushroom clouds.

Lance: Well, in the wake of the Paris attacks, it's critical for us to remember that good foreign policy decisions are never made in the heat of the moment. American military intervention can't be seen as a weekend project.

Steven: It's amazing to me how on one hand you Republicans think the public sector is completely incompetent to do anything--manage health care, educate our children, build a website--and then turn around and act like we can occupy a violent, deeply divided nation of 33 million people no problem without even bothering to learn the language.

Do you have to go into training to achieve that level of magical thinking, or does it come naturally?

Lance: Let's stick to the facts. Planes are blowing up and cities are being attacked. Obama has failed to contain terrorism by leading from behind.

Steven: The truth is, despite the massive mess that Bush and his iron-assed vice president left behind, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil happened on George Bush's watch, not Obama’s. It's actually Obama, not Bush, who has kept us safe, never mind what Jeb! says.

Lance: I think we can both agree that, at the end of the day, the cowards perpetrating these acts are really the only ones to blame.

Steven: Amen to that.