2009/01/02

Reflection on eight years from Bush's aides

In the WaPo, White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley start off by vigorously attacking the straw man that somehow President Bush was not receiving daily briefings on casualties in Iraq, especially during the high-casualty years of 2005 & 2006. This is something that no one on the left ever charged Bush with. The charge that was actually laid against Bush was that Iraq policy was in complete stasis during these years, that it was frozen in amber, that no one in the Oval Office had any idea of what to do to change anything. This actual, REAL charge is one that Bolten & Hadley do absolutely nothing to rebut.

The excuse offered is:

When asked why the president took so long to shift course after conditions in Iraq had clearly deteriorated, Hadley replied that Bush had a responsibility to keep hope alive for the soldiers, their families and other coalition partners in Iraq even while considering a new strategy.

Obviously "keeping hope alive" meant running around and spouting lots of "happy talk" and expressing confidence and grinning for the cameras. What it obviously didn't mean was getting down to the map room and speaking with people who actually knew something about how to deal with guerrilla wars, but of course this also meant speaking with people who (*Horrors!*) disagreed with the President! Bolten claimed:

"Plenty of times I have said, 'Boy, I think that's a terrible idea,' " he said. "The president is, possibly contrary to public opinion, very good about hearing and wanting contrary advice."

That may be true as far as receiving advice from his fellow Republicans and loyal aides goes, but I got the very distinct impression during the Bush Presidency that the following was entirely typical of how his whole administration dealt with non-Republicans who had contrary advice to offer:

Two groups, the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, sued in 2001 to find out the names and positions of members of the energy task force headed by the vice president that year.
They allege that as Cheney drafted energy policy, he consulted industry executives such as Enron Corp.'s Ken Lay, making them effective members of his energy task force while leaving environmentalists out in the cold.

This tendency today shows itself in the Israeli-Gaza conflict:

Substantively, there are certainly meaningful differences between the U.S. attack on Iraq and the Israeli attack on Gaza (most notably the fact that Hamas really does shoot rockets into Israel and has killed Israeli civilians and Israel really is blockading and occupying Palestinian land, whereas Iraq did not attack and could not attack the U.S. as the U.S. was sanctioning them and controlling their airspace). But the underlying logic of both wars are far more similar than different: military attacks, invasions and occupations will end rather than exacerbate terrorism; the Muslim world only understands brute force; the root causes of the disputes are irrelevant; diplomacy and the U.N. are largely worthless.

The spirit of both the Israeli attack on Gaza and of Cheney's Energy Task Force and of countless examples in between seems to me to be absolutely identical. A "we know best" attitude along with "WHY are you bothering me with pesky things like details, facts and reality?!?!"

Sorry, but I find Bolten's evaluation of Bush, "He's a good decision-maker," to be utterly laughable.

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