During the 1992 Presidential election, Bill Clinton’s campaign team hit on a slogan that was easy to pronounce and just as easy for people to understand: “It’s the economy, stupid!” By that time, the trickle-down economics of the Reagan era had proven to be a ridiculous theory. The fact that President George H.W. Bush had no idea what the price of milk was didn’t help matters, either.
As the Internet has grown and computers have taken on spectacular efficiencies in moving money, global economies have seen financial transactions increase in their speed and societal impact. Fraudulent practices like Bernie Madoff’s exclusive pyramid scheme for the wealthy — or the implosion of the real estate market due to wild gambling with credit default swaps — have caused the fortunes and financial security that many investors and homeowners took for granted to evaporate into thin air.
On December 5, 1996, Alan Greenspan (who was then Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board) asked an audience at the American Enterprise Institute: “How do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?” Although Greenspan’s use of the term “irrational exuberance” has been referred to quite often since the global financial meltdown of 2008, if you really want to see what “irrational exuberance” looks like you should start with this clip from Busby Berkeley’s 1933 movie musical, 42nd Street (in which Ginger Rogers sings one verse of “We’re In The Money” in pig latin):
Need another example? How about Ethel Merman asking “Could You Use Any Money Today?” in Irving Berlin’s 1950 hit musical, Call Me Madam?
The past decade has produced numerous documentaries about the perils of the new global
Tag: George H.W. Bush
During the 1992 Presidential election, Bill Clinton’s campaign team hit on a slogan that was easy to pronounce and just as easy for people to understand: “It’s the economy, stupid!” By that time, the trickle-down economics of the Reagan era had proven to be a ridiculous theory. The fact that President George H.W. Bush had no idea what the price of milk was didn’t help matters, either.
Perhaps you’re familiar with Clarence Thomas, the Long-Dong-Silver-loving US Supreme Court Justice. With a new term recently beginning on the Court, he passed the five-year mark for not only saying nothing of value while hearing cases, but nothing at all.
Yes, you read that correctly — while no US Supreme Court Justice in over two centuries has gone even a single term without speaking from the bench during arguments, Thomas has managed to do it for five in a row.
To quote Stephen Colbert, “the man is a rock… in that he could be replaced by a rock and I’m not sure anyone would notice.”
Sadly, it shouldn’t really come as much of a surprise that if someone were going to set this record, it would be Justice Thomas. He certainly never even approached being “the most qualified” person in the land to sit on the Supreme Court, as President George
This classroom where LBJ once taught grade school is now used by the state Department of Public Safety. (Photograph by Kenny Braun).
This year, Texas marks the “terquasquicentennial” (a.k.a. the 175th anniversary) of its independence from Mexico. To commemorate the occasion Texas Monthly has dedicated its March issue to an insane 6,000-mile journey to 175 places that tell the story of the Lone Star
Heretofore, I have never been a Charlie Sheen fan nor have I disliked him. I’ve been disappointed as have many others with his apparent shallow lifestyle and risk-taking with his career. A career he was blessed to have entree to thanks to his father Martin Sheen’s acting success, not to mention association with his older brother Emilio Estevez, already working in features, who’d opted not to call attention to his father’s fame.
Look, there are any number of actors and producers and writers and directors, as well as politicians and business leaders who’ve had a leg up on those of us who forged our attempts without such aid, knocking on doors, saying “Look at me. Gimme a chance, too.”
Jeff and Beau Bridges, Liza Minnelli, Richard Zanuck, Donald Trump, the Kennedys, Bushes and Udalls all had the help of a family
If, on Presidents Day 2011, I had to rank the last twelve presidents since America became the world’s most powerful empire, in World War II, I’d put them in the following order:
1.Franklin D. Roosevelt: by far and away, in my view, the greatest of all our modern American Caesars — in wisdom, courage, determination, selflessness, judgment and vision.
In the second tier I would rank these three Caesars:
2.Harry S Truman , who truly stepped up to the plate in April 1945, and made the historic decisions that ended World War II and defined the post-war era:
The decision to use the atomic bomb to end the war with the Empire of Japan
The Marshall plan
The Berlin Airlift
The decision to fight back in Korea, tho’ failing to stop MacArthur from crossing the 38th Parallel.
3.Dwight D. Eisenhower, who brought the Korean War to an end, kept the U.S. strong but out of foreign wars (especially during the 1956 Suez Crisis) — and attempted to find a modus vivendi with the Russians (including the second maddest Soviet emperor, Nikita Khrushchev).
A few days before the 1988 election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, I attended a rally on the University of California campus where I was enrolled in my last year of college. Although it was reasonably clear by then that Bush was going to win the election, we still held out hope the Dukakis could somehow make a surprise comeback and bring about the end of the Reagan era. One of the speakers at that rally was the mayor of Santa Cruz, the town where the university was
The Detroit Tigers are retiring the great baseball manager Sparky Anderson’s number 11 this season. “It’s a wonderful gesture,” Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg wrote. “I just wish Sparky could see it.”
Anderson won three World Series — one managing the Tigers, two with the Cincinnati Reds — and passed away this past November. Rosenberg said, “Retiring his number now is the baseball version of waiting until a relative dies to say thank you.”
That’s because it comes sixteen years after Anderson left the Tigers in a bitter feud with owner Mike
There is simply no understanding the prevalence of gun violence in America – as evidenced by the recent attempted assassination of a congresswoman during a mass shooting – without discussing the nefarious role played by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Once an organisation primarily concerned with the education and training of sportsmen, in a coup that came to be known as the Cincinnati Revolt in 1977, hardliners took over the leadership and believed that any gun regulation would take us down a slippery slope to Khmer Rougism.
In the years since, unlike the US in the wake of the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy – or for that matter Australia after the Port Arthur Massacre – the response to senseless gun violence has been to discuss everything from the rhetoric on our airwaves to the weather outside.
But any public conversations regarding restricting who has access to guns has been considered verboten (although, thankfully, this time some cracks are beginning to show).
This is largely because the NRA’s duping its own members, which we’ll discuss below, and coming to the realisation that the real money was in actually protecting the rights of gun manufacturers, which we’ll discuss in Part II of this series.
If the NRA leadership is not radical, they certainly see the benefit in playing radicals on TV in order to enrich their financial benefactors who produce and sell the weaponry of death.
In the 1990s, in a climate of fear and paranoia that produced the Oklahoma City bombing, they were all too happy to refer to the government authority that tries to enforce gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), as “jack-booted thugs”. This led former president George
It’s been twenty years since we went to war in Iraq for the first time. The years have been kind to Desert Storm, which is now remembered as an unalloyed triumph. But was it? The way Desert Storm was shaped, fought and finished revealed tremendous indecision in Washington, half measures on the battlefield, and an inconclusive war termination that sowed the poison seeds of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990 in large part to extricate himself from the debts of the Iran-Iraq War, which had raged from 1980 to 1988. The Americans, Japanese and Europeans had loaned Saddam about $35 billion, the Saudis $31 billion, Kuwait $14 billion and the
If you want to make money in the stock market, buy low and sell high. If you want to get and hold elective office in two-party America, secure your base in the primary and win the middle in the general. As the math-inclined would say, keeping the base on your side is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success. This bit of simple-to-say but hard-to-do wisdom explains why the flap between Obama and the Progressive wing is so important.
A friend of mine recently pointed out most people want their president to do what suits most people — at least most of the time. A president should carefully pick battles where he takes an unpopular view and pushes it through. When a president panders to his base, he risks losing the country.
This thought inspired me to look at history to see how often a president lost the country by playing too hard to the base. I found that more often than not the president “lost the country,” or re-election, by alienating his base rather than pandering to it. To make my case, consider this survey:
To find a case where the president played to his base against the wishes of the country, I had to go all the way back to Herbert Hoover. As the Great Depression deepened, he stuck to his principles, playing to a laissez faire conservative base. The majority wanted more action, and FDR won in a landslide.
Franklin Roosevelt mastered using the base. When he wanted to do something, but knew that the mainstream was not on board, he would tell his contacts in the base, in private, “Make me do it.” FDR had the best of all worlds: the base felt like insiders, they did much of the heavy lifting to persuade the middle, and he did not appear to pander.
I’ll punt on fitting Truman and Eisenhower into this analysis.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated before he could make a full record. But it was clear that in his 1,000 days of governing, JFK used the base to move the middle on issues like civil rights and Medicare, setting up what would have been success in his second term. LBJ realized the gains.
Despite becoming a hero to the base for legislative success on civil rights, Medicare, and the Great Society, Lyndon Johnson alienated the same base over Vietnam. The loss of the base was enough to persuade LBJ not to run for a second term.
Richard Nixon had the base and the middle on his side, and didn’t need the Watergate shenanigans to secure re-election. But as the facts of Watergate came out, even the most loyal of the Republican base turned on Nixon, ending his presidency.
Jimmy Carter lost the enthusiasm of his base with his infamous “malaise” speech. Fifteen months later, he lost re-election.
Ronald Reagan was never comfortable with the Religious Right as a key part of his base, and he never even tried to deliver on their expectations about abortion. But he was too canny a political tactician to openly break with them.
George H. W. Bush notoriously enraged the Conservative base by going back on his “Read my lips: no new taxes” pledge. His action may have been fiscally sound, but it was politically disastrous, enabling Ross Perot’s third-party candidacy to gain enough altitude to allow Clinton to win his first term with only 46% of the popular vote.
In hindsight, the Progressive base is less and less enamored of Bill Clinton’s record. But at the time, Clinton was able to persuade the base that they were better off with him than letting his presidency go down. Clinton won re-election decisively, while Congress stayed firmly in the hands of his Republican opposition. As Clinton’s anointed successor, Gore was less able to placate the base. Just as Perot’s third-party candidacy sunk G. H. W. Bush’s re-election prospects, Nader’s third-party run helped deprive Gore of victory.
George W. Bush started off with impeccable mastery of the base in his first term, using their enthusiasm to move the middle on issues like tax cuts and the Iraq War. Never before did so many opponents so willingly vote for policies they previously, and subsequently, viewed as disastrous. But after his 2004 re-election, hubris set in, as Bush believed that his political capital was strong enough to win his plan for partial privatization of Social Security. The base balked, for both philosophical and political reasons. The Bush presidency never recovered, with the loss of Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008.
Which brings us to Obama. Progressives are livid over the tax cut package negotiated by the White House and the Republican leadership. The deeper issue in their mind is that the relatively modest stimulus benefits do not justify the enormous price tag ($900 billion more to the deficit). But the surface issue, simple and memorable, is Obama’s about-face on letting top-bracket Bush-era tax cuts expire.
Much can happen in two years. The White House counts on accelerating economic recovery by 2012 and hopes that today’s flap with the base will be forgotten. The base would rather Obama’s view prevail, but remains unconvinced that it can or will. Obama has time to cure the breach with his base. So far, he has not demonstrated the inclination to do so.
Unless Obama makes nice to his base, this quick review of history does not augur well for him. More presidencies foundered because the sitting President alienated his base than were lost because of too much pandering to the base. If Obama becomes a one-term president, the irony is that it will be caused more by disaffection in his base than by the efforts of the opposition party. Most victories result from mistakes of the loser — in sports, in battle, and in politics.
The Obama administration and a broad coalition of national security experts believe that ratification of the New START treaty, signed last April between the United States and Russia, would be an essential stepping stone toward their goals of deep nuclear force reductions and global nuclear disarmament. But the administration should be careful about placing too much weight on this “stepping stone” argument as it seeks to win ratification during a lame-duck session of Congress. Even if New START is ratified before the Democrats’ Senate majority significantly shrinks, it will not help advance advocates’ long-term goals unless a lost consensus on arms control fundamentals is rebuilt first, particularly around the principle of verification of arms reductions.
President Ronald Reagan famously noted that the basis of successful arms control is “trust, but verify.” Yet, uncertainty about the nature of post-Cold War U.S.-Russian relations has helped to undermine the Reagan-era consensus on this point.
During the past decade, opposition to verification has alternately been justified on the basis that our relationship with Russia no longer requires it (as was the case with the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty), and on fears that verification is necessary but incapable of detecting Russian cheating (as is the case with New START). The mutually exclusive nature of these arguments suggests that verification opposition has taken on pathological qualities.
This verification pathology is problematic for those who support deep nuclear force reductions because verification is the bedrock of safe reductions. Eschewing verification as we scale down our arsenal is equivalent to playing nuclear Russian roulette with our national security.
That is why New START renews and refines mutual verification. And it is why lead U.S. negotiator Rose Gottemoeller compellingly argues that New START’s verification provisions are among the agreement’s most important elements.
Absent a strong national consensus on verification, shifting political and strategic contexts will place enormous strain on all future arms control agreements. In 2001, such shifts helped convince President George W. Bush to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Similarly, the 1991 START Treaty, which was negotiated by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and overwhelmingly ratified by the Senate, lost enough support by December 2009 that it was allowed to expire. With it went the existing framework for mutual nuclear arms verification between the U.S. and Russia.
Reestablishing this mutual verification is critical to U.S. national security.
One reason for this is that verification inspections provide us with critical intelligence that would otherwise have been shrouded in mystery. It is much easier to protect U.S. national interests when such information is out in the open.
Moreover, while verification is not a guarantee of perfect behavior, it need not be so. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates has argued, “Russia will not be able to achieve militarily significant cheating or breakout under New START,” in part because of its verification provisions.
Finally, while the United States must never accept constraints that endanger its national security, the constraints imposed by nuclear verifications can have far-reaching benefits for U.S. interests.
The first START treaty is instructive here. Leaving aside unproductive debates about U.S. exceptionalism, the administration of President George H.W. Bush concluded what Ronald Reagan had started, signing the agreement shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union left the United States as the world’s sole superpower. The elder President Bush’s decision reflected a recognition that the constraints of START-I could actually enhance U.S. power by providing the confidence in strategic relations with Russia that was necessary for Washington to turn its attention to emerging threats in the Middle East and East Asia.
Some of these threats remain, with Iran edging closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, and North Korea now possessing a small arsenal. Today, as before, the United States will have more resources to deal with these threats if it increases stability in bilateral relations with Russia. Verifiable arms control agreements will remain a fundamental building block of this stability now and well into the future.
As supporters and skeptics of New START recalibrate in the aftermath of the recent U.S. elections, they should work to find common ground to promote the common good. We were once united on the critical principle of verification. To help preserve the world for future generations, we must unite around it again.
The deficit commission report issued last week is another Saturday night special pressed to the temple of the American middle class.
“Turn over your money and your benefits or your country will die,” the report screams at workers. “You want your country to go bankrupt? No? Then you gotta delay retirement, get less from Social Security, pay more for health insurance and lose your precious few income tax breaks like the one that helps pay your mortgage while the banker is breathing down your neck right now.”
For 30 years, rich conservatives have successfully threatened the American middle class this way, ever since that rich conservative Ronald Reagan converted the White House into a castle.
The result is a country with greater income inequality than during the age of corporate robber barons at the turn of the 20th century. It is a country whose 21st century robber barons, the richest 1 percent of Americans, take nearly a quarter of all income and demand that politicians relieve them of their obligations. The rich — hedge fund owners who rake in billions, Wall Street banksters handed bonuses in the millions, CEOs paid eight-figure golden parachutes after they mess up — insist that politicians place government debt burdens on the middle class, the unemployed, the elderly, the struggling young, people whose income has stagnated for three decades.
The co-chairmen of the deficit commission complied with that mandate from the flush when they recommended the middle class bear the brunt of the cost of reducing the deficit. Simultaneously, conservatives in Congress are acquiescing by insisting on extending tax breaks for the nation’s wealthiest. Those are the very tax breaks that contributed dramatically to creating the debt – the one that the deficit commission now wants heaped on workers’ backs.
This will be the death of the nation’s strength — its successful working class. Without the slightest regret or hesitation, the rich are killing the great American middle, rendering it a casualty of their shirked social responsibilities. Their campaign has been abetted by Republicans since Ronald Reagan. The Gipper contended slashing taxes for the wealthy would increase revenues for the government. Republican George H. W. Bush rightly ridiculed Reaganomics as voodoo.
In the GOP years between the beginning of Reagan in 1981 and the end of Bush II in 2009, the federal deficit exploded as Republican presidents failed to control spending and repeatedly cut taxes for the rich.
Reagan reduced the rate on the richest first down to 50 percent, then to 28 percent. The resulting budget deficit converted the U.S. from the world’s largest international creditor to its largest debtor. And now, the deficit commission sends the bulk of the bill for voodoo economics to the middle class, not the rich.
While Reagan gave the rich those breaks, income inequality increased. The share of total income taken by the richest 5 percent grew from 16.5 percent the year before he took office to 18.3 percent the year before he left. In that same time, the share of total income that went to the poorest 20 percent of households fell from 4.2 to 3.8 percent.
Democrat Bill Clinton fulfilled a campaign promise by increasing taxes on the rich — to a 39.6 percent marginal rate. He balanced the federal budget and left Bush II with a surplus.
Then Bush II squandered it. He gave the rich more tax breaks, accumulated debts larger than all those created by previous presidents combined and worsened income inequality. During his administration, from 2002 to 2007, the pretax income of the richest 1 percent increased 10 percent every year. Over that same period, the median income for working Americans declined and the poverty rate rose.
From Reagan through Bush II, more than four-fifths of the total increase in U.S. income went to the richest 1 percent. Hedge fund owners, whose income is literally in the billions, pay income taxes at 15 percent – lower than the rate paid by their secretaries, who earn far less in a year than any of the top 10 hedgers do in half an hour.
Wall Street recklessness crashed the U.S. economy, throwing millions of middle income earners out of their jobs and their homes. The banksters went to Washington and got politicians to hand them bailout billions, and now those Wall Streeters plan to increase their bonuses — while unemployment remains stuck at 9.6 percent in the Main Street economy.
It is those guys, bankers grabbing year end bonuses totaling two and three times what middle class earners get for a year’s labor; it is the five-home wealthy demanding that the foreclosed-on middle class suffer for the deficit. The rich, who have received the greatest benefits from this society, have no intention of paying their share of this national responsibility.
The deficit, the Social Security shortfall, difficulties with Medicare – they could all be solved if the nation returned to taxing policies that existed under Republican President Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, when the rate on top earners was 91 percent. That was not even the high point. In the mid-1940s it was 94 percent. Generally it fluctuated between 81 percent in 1940 and 70 percent when Reagan began slashing it in 1981.
Those rates may sound confiscatory now, but it’s not like the rich actually paid them after they subtracted out all of their exemptions, deductions, loopholes, special deals, tricks and wiles.
The dozen years in the 1950s and 1960s when the rate on the richest officially was 91 percent is a time considered by many Americans to be among the nation’s greatest for the middle class, a period when American workers could afford to buy homes, send their kids to college and travel across American on vacation.
There’s no talk of that now. Raising taxes on the rich now is considered ludicrous. Ridiculous. The whole Social Security shortfall could be solved if the rich paid taxes on their entire incomes, not just the first $110,000, a break that means the wealthy pay a smaller percentage if their income toward Social Security than the impoverished. But the deficit commission didn’t propose that.
No, the rich have succeeded in eliminating as a possibility their paying an increased tax share. Now, the only consideration is cutting their taxes. They didn’t hold an actual Saturday night special to anyone’s head. The rich are snake oil salesmen slick, Bernie Madoff-style schemers. They sold voodoo economics to America, and now they’re intent on making the middle class pay for what that policy has wrought in deficits.
Reagan’s re-election ad was wrong. He didn’t institute “Morning in America.” It was mourning for the once great American middle class.
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This would be less grim to talk about if Bush weren’t still with us. But he is, in every way that matters. The Bush Doctrine lives. No leading American politician can disavow the two key aspects of the Bush Doctrine: that we cannot distinguish terrorists from the countries where they live, and that we must act preemptively against gathering threats before they materialize (propositions contradicting international law). Bush’s memoir is arguably the most important book of the year because it reveals — far better than do books by Charlie Savage, Isikoff and Corn, or Bob Woodward — how he fundamentally reconceptualized the functions of the presidency, the balance of power among the branches of government, and the expectations and obligations of citizens, with lasting effects.
Reviews in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and New York Times treat Bush respectfully — much as a Machiavellian prince would desire to be treated after going into retirement; too often reviewers play Bush’s game by humanizing him, or treating him with humor, or safely relegating him to history. But Bush truly was a transformative president, among the rare few, and we deceive ourselves — as many in the commentariat continue to do, as with Maureen Dowd’s light-hearted mockery of him — if we consider him an anomaly, a rare eruption of a virus that won’t repeat itself. This book’s ideas will have resonance with a large segment of the population, and a notable number among the elites; we need to study Decision Points (Crown, Nov. 9) seriously, as onerous a task as it may be, if we are to make sense of the perpetual aura of crisis that has enveloped America, and why we seem to be stuck on a self-destructive path.
Decision Points is a classic recipe for a benign dictatorship, a uniquely American form of dictatorship, to be sure — from its rigid understanding of morality (good versus evil) to its distorted valuation of life (only American lives matter; Bush is not concerned about the loss of civilian life in the countries he attacked) — that gives comfort to many in a time of economic and cultural stress.
The beauty of the Bush philosophy of governance is that it creates and accelerates those very conditions of stress (radical economic inequality promoted by tax cuts for the wealthy and concomitant cuts in public services for the less well-off) that then provide fertile ground for popular acceptance of measures intended to further worsen conditions for the subject class. An example would be to purposely inflate the housing bubble and then use the succeeding bailout to further enrich the wealthy elites at the cost of the average worker. Or to execute a reckless Medicare drug expansion plan, catering to pharmaceutical companies and knowing it would lead to insolvency, to set the stage for drastic future cuts in Medicare — and other entitlements, while they’re at it. The same principle applies in foreign policy, such as in retreating from Bill Clinton’s tentative rapprochement with Iran and North Korea as Bush’s first order of business, demonizing these countries as evil, and then setting in motion offensive strategies once those countries predictably react. The principle is evident in attacking and occupying Middle Eastern countries, then justifying the war on terror by pointing to the increased radicalization ensuing from the invasion.
Decision Points reveals the blend of personalities within Bush that makes for a rather unique combination, a big reason for his enormous impact. The faux Western/cowboy personality (derived from Reagan, but extending much farther in Bush’s case, setting up West Texas’s American virtues against the corruption of the East Coast elites) is his persona of choice, along with high doses of the decisive commander-in-chief (he relishes this role, and there is something for psychologists to ponder with regard to his avoidance of active military duty and his great passion for relating to soldiers and their devastated families as protector and comforter). Another favorite persona is the perpetual crisis manager; he reveals that his favorite question to world leaders was: “What keeps you up at night?”
Other elements of his personality contribute to the anti-intellectual populist appeal: he struggled with drinking and will be open and honest about it, like anyone else bent on self-improvement; he doesn’t ever question the foundations of religion, it’s enough that Billy Graham takes him aside one day and asks him if he’s “right with God”; and he reduces the honor and dignity of the presidency to not having affairs with interns, rather than anything involving public policy.
He makes every decision by the gut, and is keen to inform us that he usually goes for the most aggressive of the three options (they’re always three) presented to him, because he’s convinced of the morality of his fight for good versus evil: It’s also very clear from this book that Bush was definitely heading down the path of military action against Iran, until he was thwarted by the NIE report asserting that Iran had dismantled its nuclear weapons program: He sure lets on his hankering for it.
All of these constituent personas make for an imitable template of the populist-authoritarian president, with the added charm, in Bush’s case, of having had to transcend his patrician upbringing (a more patrician background is hardly imaginable) by self-creating the instinctive/demagogic character to which, he thinks, the military in particular responds ecstatically — especially when he’s sending them off to die in large numbers.
Actions ought to be judged not by results, but by intentions (a religious value); and since intentions, in the case of the chosen elite, are opaque, they ought not to be explored too deeply. This point is emphasized by Bush’s accounts of his father always offering “unconditional love” toward his son, whether it’s after he pours “vodka in the fishbowl and…[kills his] little sister Doro’s goldfish,” or whether it’s after he can’t find the WMD in Iraq or the war is spiraling out of control. On the eve of the Iraq war, the father comforts the son: “You are doing the right thing…. You made…[the decision] with strength and compassion…. ‘I love you more than tongue can tell.’” Generally, we think of the deity as issuing unconditional love; clearly, Bush’s expectation is that the populace (like his father) should grant him unconditional love, because he wants to protect us.
How much does Bush believe what he says in Decision Points? At one level, everything. One cannot merely put on an act beyond a certain point, and the conviction — to go to war without justification, or to decide to torture prisoners — must be palpable for policies to stick among subordinates. At another level, nothing. How can he possibly believe any of his justifications? Surely, he’s trying to get ahead of historians, despite his persistent dismissal of historians as a class: “If they’re still assessing George Washington’s legacy more than two centuries after he left office, this George W. doesn’t have to worry about today’s headlines.”
This book should revive the discussion of the influence of neoconservative Straussians (Wolfowitz, Perle, Kristol) that was dominant around the time of the start of the Iraq War: is there a higher truth for the elite and a more accessible one for the masses? The Straussians, to simplify, hold among other things that religion is an instrument to organize the masses around unity of national purpose, whose final aims can only be known to the real elite. There is much in Decision Points to hint that for Bush, Christianity is just such a necessary Straussian (or Machiavellian) tool; one doesn’t detect in the book the religious zeal of a passionate convert, and the Christian morality is applied too selectively (to unborn children, or frozen embryos dedicated to stem cell research, rather than the actual living) and infrequently.
Another way to look at the book — and this only enhances the Straussian reading — is as a peek into the mind of Big Brother himself; the Orwellian subtext is pervasive throughout the book. Bush is still dead certain of the rightness of all his major decisions, and his concern is often with presentation, how he ignored some basic public relations dynamic that he ought to have grasped. Decision Points is rife with these propaganda principles: address the public at the simplest possible level; repeat a few basic phrases until they become the truth; never show weakness and deal with opponents ruthlessly; direct popular anger toward subversives (those who don’t grasp the struggle of good versus evil); connect with the people always at an emotional, not rational, level; reduce language to its basic syntax, fracture it, reorganize it in chaotic/fractal terms so it becomes immune to logical analysis; preempt opposition, value secrecy for its own sake, take aggrievement of the privileged to unprecedented levels.
The chief executive/commander-in-chief need not have a complex emotional life to explicate. This has always been Bush’s modus operandi: act as if the surface is all that matters, as if probing the deep waters of one’s own psychology serves no purpose. It’s yet another mockery of the East Coast elite, who presumably have deep inner lives, subject to discussion. Thus Bush takes us through his early life rather quickly, in one chapter. He always had a great relationship with his father; there is no question of competition with him. He takes his privileged education for granted and so should we: “As the days at Andover wound down, it came time to apply for college. My first thought was Yale. After all, I was born there. One time-consuming part of the application was filling out the blue card that asked you to list relatives who were alumni. There was my grandfather and my dad. And all his brothers. And my first cousins. I had to write the names of the second cousins on the back of the card.”
His network of patronage needs no commentary. He brazenly elides over the question of going AWOL during his Texas Air National Guard service: “When I entered politics, opponents used the gaps in the system to claim I had not fulfilled my duty. In the late 1990s, I asked a trusted aide, Dan Bartlett, to dig through my records. They showed that I had fulfilled my responsibilities.” What he tells us about the lost decade — of booze and drugs in Houston — after graduation from college is that he was determined not to settle down: “I had pledged that I would spend my first ten years after college experiencing a lot and not getting tied down.” How he got the cozy deal with Harken Energy, bailing him out of his business losses, and the deal for the Rangers’ stadium (“we designed a public-private financing system to fund the construction of a new stadium”), are not things we need to understand in detail.
Decision Points should revive interest in psychoanalyzing Bush’s character, as inevitably any dominant ruler who has acquired a messiah complex must be analyzed; this felt like a luxury during the Bush years, when psychoanalysis of him almost seemed to legitimize his wars and brutal divisions, but this is no longer the case. At every step, the son seems to want to outdo the father, and does it by way of truly psychopathic belief in his own entitlement. He is uniquely prepared, as the son of a president and the grandson of a Senator, with an unassailable family, to lead the country in the fight against good versus evil. He felt a “calling” to run for president. Any doubt about this was clarified in church one day, as pastor Mark Craig of Dallas spoke of God’s call to Moses to deliver the Israelites, Moses’s skepticism, God’s reassurance, and Mark Craig’s declaration that “the country was starving for moral and ethical leadership.” His mother tells Bush, “He is talking to you.” We ought to forgive the prince his indiscretions; he has redeemed himself manifold by answering the call to serve the nation, by embodying its highest principles and values.
The psychoanalytic impulse, however, remains risky, because it personalizes Bush and his violations of domestic and international law, when our concern ought to be with the institutional basis for potential future violation. Another authoritarian — someone on the order of Sarah Palin — will have different distinguishing features; this kind of analysis ought to clarify, not distract from, the structural problems.
Compassionate conservatism was Bush’s mantra during his campaign and his early years in office. For the international arena, it morphed into the “freedom agenda,” whereby despotic countries, particularly in the Middle East, would follow the free-market model and become Americans-in-training (Bush often speaks of old Europe versus new Europe, the “young democracies” of Eastern Europe which understood his fight against evil better than the leaders of old Europe like Schroeder and Chirac). Compassionate conservatism was capitalism’s charity arm; faith-based mercy dispensed in the form of paltry redeemable vouchers at capitalism’s back door, not too many questions asked: “Faith-based programs had the potential to change lives in ways secular ones never could.” It was the antithesis of the rationalized social welfare state, an attempted return to premodern dispensation of patronage and tutelage, a gross violation of individualism. The freedom agenda works in similar idiosyncratic fashion; the Bush Doctrine instructs the commander-in-chief which countries represent gathering threats, whose evil leadership must be replaced by good.
All this would be risible, if it weren’t still more or less our official doctrine. Have we disavowed Bush’s messianic declarations of global war to end evil in his 2001 and 2002 speeches, the 2002 National Security Strategy, and the second inaugural address? The Bush Doctrine is premised on zero tolerance for real or imagined terrorism (we have to be successful 100 percent of the time, they only have to succeed once). For example, Yemen (because of opinions issued there, or bomb parcels sent from there) is a growing target of the freedom agenda; and perhaps Iran will be, in a future administration. It is an open-ended warrant for the elite to pursue ends for which there are no cost-benefit calculations; there is no accountability for the success of the mission other than the gut feeling that freedom needed to be defended.
So the prince has received an ideal training in the moral values of his people, he has been divinely chosen to serve (the Supreme Court’s decision, from which Bush is utterly detached in this book, as if it all occurred in a mortal realm with which he is not familiar), and only the moment of crisis is needed for him to burst into full bloom, as the consummate leader (decider) that he is, seizing authority from the people who have presumptively delegated all of it to him by their act of election.
The most shocking thing about this book is how Bush presents himself as pouncing on the entire Bush Doctrine without prior deliberation, without any occasion for the solicitation of opinion or the consideration of alternatives. Even as he is scuttling around the country on Air Force One on 9/11, he knows with certainty that terrorism must be fought as a war, not as a police action (instantly redefining himself as a wartime president), that countries where terrorists live must be treated the same way as terrorists themselves, and that this is a new kind of war (as he explicitly instructs Condi and his other advisers on the first day). In fact, this is not some retrospective narration, because the war footing and the articulation of the doctrine did indeed commence immediately.
This really ought to give us pause. Bush speaks again and again of the “fog of war” that day, yet during that opacity, far from his staff, he presents himself as being able to formulate the complete doctrine as it stands to this day: “We are at war against terror. From this day forward, this is the new priority of our administration.” The conflation between terrorists and the countries where they live is crucial because it gives the military targets to attack; otherwise, how could war be pursued? Bush already knew on the first day that “this new doctrine overturned the approach of the past, which treated terrorist groups as distinct from their sponsors. We had to force nations to choose whether they would fight the terrorists or share in their fate. And we had to wage this war on the offense, by attacking the terrorists overseas before they could attack us again at home.” In short, this revived open-ended military offensives into the infinite future. At last, Bush had found his mission; he rhapsodically tells Andy Card that day, “You’re looking at the first war of the twenty-first century.”
The ruler bonds with his people by instinct. He can make absolute decisions of war and peace, without any consultation with his countrymen. On the day of the attacks: “I told Don that I considered the attacks an act of war…. I planned to mount a serious military response.” How did he know there would be countries to attack? The prince identifies, at the gut level, with the bloodlust of the people; Bush recounts getting turned on by the workers at the World Trade Center site telling him, “George, find the bastards who did this and kill them,” or “Do not let me down!” or “Whatever it takes!” Invariably, the people he meets appreciate the prince’s sacrifices of their family members, and encourage him to continue the war, or volunteer to serve themselves. At Walter Reed, a soldier in the Special Forces Unit with a lost leg says, “Don’t feel sorry for me, Mr. President… Just give me another leg so I can go back in.” The wife of a Marine tells him: “If he had to do it all again, knowing he would die, he would.” There is of course the anomaly of Cindy Sheehan, who comes to resent Bush for having had her son killed, but Bush, in his compassionate mode, forgives her anger (“if expressing her anger helped eased her pain, that was fine with me”).
In the rest of the book, he is able to defend any policy of his — the search for the missing WMD in Iraq, the torture of prisoners, the failed war in Afghanistan — simply by claiming that he did it to protect the American people, which is his first and foremost duty. Again, this would be a matter primarily of historical interest, but there has been no signal that this is no longer the reigning presumption. Candidates for both parties in 2008 were repeatedly pushed to the wall during the debates on precisely this point: how far would they go to take preemptive action? The only answer that can satisfy — given the presumption that a commander-in-chief will be considered a failure if a single American life is lost to terrorism — is that there can be no bounds to preemption, including annihilating nations deemed to pose a threat with nuclear weapons.
The prince cannot be challenged as others competing for office can; his sense of entitlement won’t allow it. If anyone assails Bush’s character, he will be outraged, as is standard protocol with the Bush family. Bush glides over his nasty campaign against John McCain in 2000: “McCain ran an ad questioning my character by comparing me to Bill Clinton. That crossed a line. I went on the air to counterpunch.” He doesn’t say how he counterpunched, but we all remember. What was the most disgusting moment of his presidency? That Kanye West said Bush didn’t care about black people after Hurricane Katrina. After setting into motion a wave of xenophobia that continues to affect millions of immigrants, and after implementing economic policies that have impoverished millions of African Americans, what really gets him is Kanye West’s statement.
What bothers him is not that he didn’t invest in the infrastructure to prevent Katrina, or that he didn’t mobilize the federal government adequately, but that he made a public relations error by not stopping in Baton Rouge and just flying over flooded New Orleans on his way to Washington. What bothers him is not that the nation was in turmoil after the Supreme Court awarded him the presidency, but that “a few pockets of protestors” lined Pennsylvania Avenue for the Inaugural parade. What bothers him is not the number of people without health care in this country, or the innocents killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, but whether “a frozen embryo [is] a human life.” (Straussian ethicist Leon Kass of the University of Chicago advised him: “We are dealing with the seeds of the next generation.”) What bothers him is not that the whole Iraq adventure was misconceived, but that we didn’t show the Iraqis we could protect them early on.
Decisions in government need not be made according to any known social policy matrix. The same is true in the diplomatic field. Bush again and again gives examples of how he came to trust people, always on a trivial basis. “When [Tony and Cherie Blair]…agreed on Meet the Parents,…Laura and I knew the Bushes and Blairs would get along.” Along with this mystical certainty, the burden to prove innocence is always on the other side — the non-white, the non-American — rather than the prosecutor of the case. Again and again in Decision Points, Bush suggests that if others (Iran with its nuclear weapons program, Saddam Hussein with his WMD) don’t have anything to hide, why don’t they come clean? And if they don’t come clean (“the only logical conclusion was that he was hiding WMD”), based on his zero tolerance policy, he has every moral right to invade that country and kill its people in retribution. Later, if the party is found not to be guilty (if Hussein didn’t have WMD), the attacker is exonerated, because of his duty to act preemptively. Then the casualties are blamed on the other party: “There was one person with the power to avoid war, and he [Hussein] chose not to use it.” Repeatedly, Bush says of those he attacked that they chose war. By his logic — and we are not free of this logic yet — they did.
The crisis mode puts the president in a position of unassailable dignity, and he becomes immune to criticism. There isn’t always a red alert, but there’s always an orange alert, and to that extent democratic discourse suffers. As for the eight years of manipulation, Bush concludes: “Some critics charged that we inflated the threat or manipulated alert levels for political benefit. They were flat wrong.” To judge the success of the Patriot Act, Bush offers the flawed example of the Lackawanna Six, representative of the “small-town dupes” intelligence agencies have typically caught since 9/11. But when the war is fought at such an absolute level of certainty, then the results of legislation cannot be rationally evaluated; after all, if there is the minutest chance of catching a real terrorist, we cannot question maximally intrusive authority such as the so-called “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (it was “essential to keeping the American people safe”). The prince’s superior moral judgment allows him to remove prisoners beyond the routines of ordinary justice, so he makes his lawyers determine that “al Qaeda did not meet the qualifications for Geneva protection.” The prince can torture anyone “to protect the country,” so he “approved the use of the interrogation techniques” (waterboarding). “Damn right,” he tells George Tenet when Tenet wants to know if waterboarding is allowed. He can order assassinations (such as of Saddam and his sons) on his say-so; we’re not free of this either.
A favorite myth in the liberal press for the past decade — with Maureen Dowd, for example — has been that Bush was a puppet, and that Cheney, or other dark forces, were the puppet-masters; or that Bush’s Oedipal conflict with his father propelled him to take risks. This myth should be put to rest once and for all with Decision Points. Bush compares himself to Harry Truman, who laid the institutional foundations for the national security state that lasted all through the Cold War. He always saw his mission in comparable terms: “I made it a high priority of my second term to turn those tools into institutions and laws that would be available to my successors.” Just as Truman is still with us, more than sixty years after the inauguration of the national security state, Bush will be with us for the duration of this indefinite war. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he was the primary creator of the perpetual-war state. Similarly, in the domestic arena one of the goals of the ideologues supporting Bush was to starve the beast (of government) by passing fiscally unsustainable tax cuts and ratcheting up military spending at the same time. So Bush casually observes: “The so-called surplus had vanished in ten months” (without noting that he made it vanish).
Decision Points reveals that Bush was fully aware of reorganizing America’s empire in a world without the Cold War’s convenient flash points: “We had to take a fresh look at every threat in the world.” The state’s primary function became redefined as absolute global military superiority (he was making those moves even before 9/11), with zero tolerance for a single casualty in the homeland. About Iraq he glibly concludes: “The region is more hopeful with a young democracy setting an example for others to follow” (in fact, women were quite liberated in the prosperous, secular Iraq of the 1970s). The reality of increased radicalization due to his policies throughout the Middle East is ignored; the perception in the homeland is all that needs to be managed. Bush gets it backward by saying, “If these fanatics had not been trying to kill Americans in Iraq, they would have been trying to do it elsewhere.” Bush’s most breath-taking ambition may have been to universalize the Bush Doctrine — to favored countries, of course. If other desirable countries felt threatened by terrorism, they too could act preemptively.
Framing governance as a matter of ethical leadership leads to grave risks; we ought to be suspicious of this tendency in any future candidate for president. Absolutism in morality — and when candidates run for high office on an ethical basis, there can be little hope of nuance — leads to distortions of ordinary language; we need to figure out how to salvage words like war, terrorism, extremism, torture, threat, life, courage, cowardice, aggression, and negotiation from the pit of moral absolutism into which they have fallen.
The utilitarian calculus familiar from the Clinton presidency is much more in accord with liberalism; unfortunately, the messiah complex (“Millions…[of innocent children] would soon be counting on me to protect them,” Bush observes) has burrowed deep into our political vocabulary, and the 2008 election was a contest between versions of messianism. What will we do in the event of the next terror attack? Will the Bush mode be reactivated? Democrats endorsed the war on Iraq, the war on domestic dissent, and the curtailment of liberties–as Bush is keen to point out again and again, and rightly so.
At a time when dissent could have mattered, nobody in the establishment fundamentally disputed the language of war (“Tom Daschle…issued one cautionary note. He said I should be careful about the word war”); the liberal elites supported the Afghanistan invasion as a just war (even though, as Peter Singer has pointed out, that war fails to meet the criteria of a just war, since, for example, the option of negotiating with the Taliban for the extradition of al-Qaeda fighters was never seriously explored); and even now there is bipartisan consensus that America became a different place after 9/11. Immediately after 9/11, Bush knew that it was al-Qaeda because “intercepts had revealed al-Qaeda members congratulating one another in eastern Afghanistan.” Intelligence agencies still operate with a preemptive mentality, with heavy costs for individual liberties; should we as a nation think about deciding to take some casualties, rather than give up freedoms? That discussion has never happened. Should terrorism be understood from a utilitarian calculus? If not, why not? Every other public issue is susceptible to utilitarian analysis; shouldn’t there be some rational matrix of costs and benefits here too?
Bush’s stunted moral development (stalled at about age fourteen, for a particularly unintelligent boy) is perceptible everywhere on the political landscape; he’s us, in more ways than we’d like to admit; and there’s no getting away from him. When Bush issued his ultimatum, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” and announced that “in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment,” the country’s elites agreed; do we still agree? Bush knows he’s not alone. As he says about the Afghan war, “I strongly believe the mission [to build a functioning democracy] is worth the cost. In the fall of 2009, President Obama stood up to critics by deploying more troops, announcing a new commitment to counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, and increasing the pressure on Pakistan to fight the extremists in the tribal areas.” Similarly, Obama’s economic policies were locked into place by Hank Paulson in the fall of 2008; the favorable treatment of banks follows Bush’s paradigm.
Bush’s transformative success speaks to the breakdown of the political system. The range of Bush’s legislative victories, especially in his first few years, is awe-inspiring; his strong-arm tactics are apparently what the political system most respects. Obama has a hard time getting a fair Keynesian stimulus passed; on the contrary, after the midterms, the pendulum is swinging again to Bush’s fiscal policies, and will become more evident in future deficit reduction proposals. The principle of Guantanamo, as of rendition, is secure, and there is no clear exit from Afghanistan.
Just one year before the publication of “Obama’s Wars,” Bob Woodward became a player in his own book-in-progress. He morphed into his true identity: Warrior Bob. Actually, there’s an even deeper persona, Agent Woodward–but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
In June of 2009, Woodward traveled to Afghanistan with General Jim Jones, President Obama’s National Security adviser, to meet with General Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of forces there. Why did Jones allow this journalist to accompany him? Because Jones knew that Woodward could be counted on to deliver the company line–the military line. In fact, Jones was essentially Woodward’s patron.
The New Republic’s Gabriel Sherman wrote at the time that
In September of last year, McChrystal (or someone close to him) leaked to Woodward a document that essentially forced President Obama’s hand. Obama wanted time to consider all options on what to do about Afghanistan. But the leak, publicizing the military’s “confidential” assertion that a troop increase was essential, cast the die, and Obama had to go along. Nobody was happier than the Pentagon–and, it should be said, its allies in the vast military contracting establishment.
The website Firedoglake chronicled the developments in a pungent essay:
This episode highlights a crucial aspect of Bob Woodward’s career that has been ignored by most of the media. Simply put, Woodward is the military’s man, and always has been.
For almost four decades, under cover of his supposedly “objective” reporting, Woodward has represented the viewpoints of the military and intelligence establishments. Often he has done so in the context of complex inside maneuvering of which he gives his readers little clue. He did it with the book Veil, about CIA director William Casey, in which he relied on Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a rival of Casey’s, as his key source. (Inman, from Texas, was closely identified with the Bush faction of the CIA.) The book was based in part on a “deathbed interview” with Casey that Casey’s widow and former CIA guards said never took place.
Typically, Woodward uses information he gets from his main sources to gain access to others. He then gets more secrets from them, and so on down the line. His stature–if that’s the word–as a repository of this inside dope has been key to the relentless success machine that his media colleagues have perpetuated. The New York Times review of his Obama book laid out the formula:
In Obama’s Wars, Mr. Woodward, as usual, eschews analysis and commentary. Instead, he hews to his I Am a Tape Recorder technique, using his insider access to give readers interested in inside-the-Beltway politics lots of granular detail harvested from interviews conducted on background, as well as leaked memos, meeting notes and other documents. Some of this information is revealing about the interplay of personality and policy and politics in Washington; some of it is just self-serving spin. As he’s done in his earlier books, Mr. Woodward acknowledges that attributions of thoughts, conclusions or feelings to a person were in some cases not obtained directly from that person, but from notes or from a colleague whom the person told–a questionable but increasingly popular method, which means the reader should take the reconstructed scenes with a grain of salt.
And then, thanks to all this attention, and even with that grain of salt, the book went to #1.
But might there be more to Woodward and his oeuvre than just questionable work practices? Well, let’s see. Woodward granted former CIA director George H.W. Bush a pass by excluding him from accounts of Iran-Contra, which occurred while the notorious intriguer was vice president under the notoriously hands-off Ronald Reagan. (When I asked Woodward about this for my book Family of Secrets, he replied, “Bush was…What was it he said at the time? I was out of the loop?”) Later Woodward got exclusive access to H.W.’s son. He spent more time with George W. Bush than did any other journalist, writing several largely sympathetic books about his handling of Iraq and Afghanistan before playing catch-up with prevailing sentiment and essentially reversing course.
Now, for a bit of cognitive dissonance. Woodward’s signature achievement–bringing down Richard Nixon–turns out not to be what we all thought. If that comes as a surprise, you have missed a few books, including bestsellers, that put pieces of this puzzle together. (My book, Family of Secrets, has several chapters on the real Watergate story, but there are others that present detailed information, including those by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, James Rosen, Jim Hougan and others.)
Here’s the deal: Bob, top secret Naval officer, gets sent to work in the Nixon White House while still on military duty. Then, with no journalistic credentials to speak of, and with a boost from White House staffers, he lands a job at the Washington Post. Not long thereafter he starts to take down Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, Woodward’s military bosses are running a spy ring inside the White House that is monitoring Nixon and Kissinger’s secret negotiations with America’s enemies (China, Soviet Union, etc), stealing documents and funneling them back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They then give what they stole to columnist Jack Anderson and others in the press.
That’s not the iconic Woodward of legend, of course–so it takes a while for this notion to settle in the mind. But there’s more–and it’s even more troubling. Did you know there was really no Deep Throat, that the Mark Felt story was conjured up as yet another layer of cover in what became a daisy chain of disinformation? Did you know that Richard Nixon was loathed and feared by the military brass, that they and their allies were desperate to get Nixon out and halt his rapprochement with the Communists? That a bunch of operatives with direct or indirect CIA/military connections, from E. Howard Hunt to Alexander Butterfield to John Dean–wormed their way into key White House posts, and started up the Keystone Kops operations that would be laid at Nixon’s office door?
Believe me, I understand. It sounds like the “conspiracy theory” stuff that we have been trained to dismiss. But I’ve just spent five years on a heavily documented forensic dig into this missing strata of American history, and I myself have had to come to terms with the enormous gap between reality and the “reality” presented by the media and various establishment gatekeepers who tell us what’s what.
Given this complicity, it’s no surprise that when it comes to Woodward’s latest work, the myth-making machine is on auto pilot. The public, of course, will end up as confused and manipulated as ever. And so things will continue, same as they ever were. Endless war, no substantive reforms. Unless we wake up to our own victimhood.
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If those recently-declassified documents from the early days of the Bush administration haven’t convinced Americans that Bush planned the Iraq War long before September 11, 2001, maybe Newt Gingrich can.
It was just weeks after George W. Bush took office in January, 2001, that the former Speaker of the House told me and a handful of others that the new president had confided in him his intention to send U.S. troops into Iraq.
I was employed by Fox News Channel at the time and had been assigned to produce a series of specials with Mr. Gingrich. It was during a taping session for the first of those specials, “Dangerous Places,” that Gingrich casually made the revelation.
We had set up in a quiet, unused section of Fox’s Washington, D.C., bureau. Throughout the morning, Mr. Gingrich interviewed a number of defense and foreign policy experts about potential hot spots around the globe where nuclear weapons might come into play. Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and former U.S. Ambassador Morton Abramowitz were among those who appeared in the special.
We conducted the interviews one-on-one, Mr. Gingrich and a single guest discussing each of the hot spots: the Koreas, India-Pakistan, the Mideast, Iraq and several others. We would break after each interview as the subsequent guest emerged from make-up and took his or her place on the set.
During one break, Mr. Gingrich, who, as always, seemed relaxed and in his element as he spoke, held court about a recent audience he had had with the new President. He liked Mr. Bush, whom he found to be more down-to-earth, more direct, than his father, and whose time in office, Gingrich assured us, would bear no semblance to the elder Bush’s presidency.
In conclusion, Gingrich declared, “We’re going back (into Iraq) to finish the job his father started.”
The line was delivered not as a mere impression that Gingrich had taken from his talk with the new president but, rather, with the certainty of fact: George W. Bush intended to send U.S. troops into Iraq to bring Saddam Hussein down — the “job” that, in the view of Mr. Gingrich and other foreign-policy hawks, George H. W. Bush misguidedly had left undone ten years earlier in Desert Storm.
It was also eight months before the September eleventh attacks.
Now we learn that, just days after that remark, in one of his first policy meetings with senior administration officials, President Bush set them to the task of preparing for just such a war. No wonder the former Speaker was eager to recount the conversation. He had been one of the first people Bush let in on his plan to attack Iraq.
I wish that we had captured Mr. Gingrich’s remarks on tape, but coming as they did between interviews, the camera was down. It is possible that Gingrich’s lapel microphone was still hot, but there’s little chance that the raw sound from that shoot still exists.
Fortunately, though, there were others present, including the camera crew we had hired for the shoot. At least one of the people listening that day tells me that he can attest to my account of what Gingrich said.
Then, of course, there is Mr. Gingrich himself. During all three of the specials we did together, he impressed me as intellectually honest: strong in his views but willing to consider and even embrace others. Just as he had assessed the newly-elected president, I found the former Speaker to be nothing less than a straight shooter.
Surely, with the release of these documents, he now sees the significance of his conversation with Mr. Bush.
So, I ask Mr. Gingrich to come forward and publicly settle this matter — this divisive question of when George W. Bush actually decided to wage war on Iraq — once and for all.
It would be one of the most honorable acts an American statesman ever performed for his country.