2010/11/27

Reviewing "Decision Points" - G.W. Bush's memoir


Dan Froomkin, one of the better critics of G.W. Bush during those dark years when he was in office, focuses on two particular items that Bush addresses in his memoir: The "decision" to go to war against Iraq and the decision to torture detainees. I was especially amused by one part of the decision on torture from another Froomkin piece on June 2009:
Comey describes how he and some of his colleagues had "grave reservations" about the legal analyses being concocted for Cheney. And he accurately predicts that Cheney and other White House officials would later point the finger at the Justice Department during the investigations that would inevitably ensue once the administration's actions were made public.

Indeed, in one e-mail, Comey describes an exchange with Ted Ullyot, then Gonzales's chief of staff: "I told him that the people who were applying pressure now would not be there when the s--- hit the fan. Rather, they would simply say they had only asked for an opinion."

And in Bush's justification for ordering torture:
"Because the lawyer said it was legal," Bush replied. "He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do."

Following illegal orders is not just a bad thing in itself, there's a high probability that you'll get tossed to the sharks or thrown under the bus if the people you're carrying out illegal acts for find that they're feeling the heat for the acts that you performed for them. Froomkin goes over the many Bush and Cheney assertions that torture "worked" (That is, that acts of torture resulted in the obtaining of useful information) and finds each and every time that, well, they're simply assertions that after all this time, remain completely unsubstantiated.

The only clear benefit that Froomkin can find for torture under Bush is that it provided clear (even if obviously coerced) "confessions" that helped to make the case for launching the Iraq War. As he points out, both Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell used the "confession" coerced out of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi by Egyptian authorities to make speeches in which they declared that they had "proof" of the danger that Iraq posed. Of course, neither man saw fit to inform the public as to where exactly this information came from and, as a consequence, how reliable this "confession" truly was.

Did Bush make a "decision" to go to war against Iraq? Froomkin points out that in order for there to have been a real decision, there needed to be an alternative course of action that might have been chosen in preference to what actually happened.
Prados wrote that the cumulative record clearly "demonstrates that the Bush administration swiftly abandoned plans for diplomacy to curb fancied Iraqi adventurism by means of sanctions, never had a plan subsequent to that except for a military solution, and enmeshed British allies in a manipulation of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic designed to generate support for a war."
That's right: There never was another plan. And therefore -- ironically enough, considering the title of Bush's book -- there never was an actual "decision point" either. There were some debates about how to invade Iraq, and when, but not if.
I took part in what I believe was the first anti-Iraq War demonstration. It was in September 2002, in the same month when Bush made his "We gotta git Saddam afore he gits us" speech at the UN. I very clearly remember that none of the speakers at the march nor any of the people carrying signs made or even suggested anybody else make, any attempt to communicate with the President and to try and convince him to change his mind. I believe we all reached the same conclusion, that Bush had absolutely and unequivocally made up his mind and that he was going to invade Iraq, period.
As another reviewer points out:
The structure of “Decision Points,” with each chapter centered on a key issue—stem-cell research, interrogation and wiretapping, the invasion of Iraq, the fight against AIDS in Africa, the surge, the “freedom agenda,” the financial crisis—reveals the essential qualities of the Decider. There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened. Suddenly, it’s over, and there’s no looking back.

Also, I found this description to be all-too-accurate:
Here is another feature of the non-decision: once his own belief became known to him, Bush immediately caricatured opposing views and impugned the motives of those who held them. If there was an honest and legitimate argument on the other side, then the President would have to defend his non-decision, taking it out of the redoubt of personal belief and into the messy empirical realm of contingency and uncertainty.

Yep, I remember the pieces about "Some say...", the phrase that signaled to readers and listeners that Bush was about to drag out the rhetorical device of a straw man to make his argument of the moment.
Campaigning for Republican candidates in the 2002 midterm elections, the president sought to use the congressional debate over a new Homeland Security Department against Democrats.

He told at least two audiences that some senators opposing him were "not interested in the security of the American people." In reality, Democrats balked not at creating the department, which Mr. Bush himself first opposed, but at letting agency workers go without the usual civil service protections.

And it's almost amusing to run across this statement about trying to decide whether to go to war against Iraq:
During this period, Bush relates, “I sought opinions on Iraq from a variety of sources.” By coincidence, every one of them urged him to do it.

Yeah, funny how that happens when you've absolutely made up your mind to do something and when you have a limited circle of advisers, everyone you speak with just
happens to have reached the same conclusion! One of the Bush vacations that really stuck me as wildly irresponsible was in August 2003. It was becoming clear that the Iraq War was transitioning from a straightforward military-to-military battle followed by a more-or-less peaceful occupation regime and turning into a situation more like what Mao Zedong described as "protracted war" where the objective is to outlast a technologically-superior foe. Had Bush drawn around him a more heterogeneous set of advisers, had he been listening to something other than a bunch of "yes-men" or "loyal Bushies," he would have spent that August hunkered down in the map rooms and consulting with people who knew something about guerrilla wars. Instead, he just treated that month as simply another vacation and twiddled his thumbs on his Texas ranch for a month while the Iraq situation deteriorated.

More on Bush's dodgy language:
Bush writes in the memoir: "No one was more shocked or angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction. I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do."
[...]
And Bush of course never actually tells us who he's angry at, or what exactly sickened him. He's certainly not willing to say that he was angry at himself, or that going to war was a sickening mistake.
It's most curious that the Republican Party constantly speaks of personal responsibility and how important it is and how Democrats don't observe it, but for Bush, just about everything that went wrong appears to have been somebody else's fault. He says "My bad" for purely rhetorical mistakes, things like the "Mission Accomplished" banner on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) or for saying "bring 'em on" in response to a question about the emerging Iraqi insurgency. But when it came to really serious misconduct on his part:
In fact, Dubya and his ghostwriters’ version of the Plame-CIA outing is even more curiously incurious than Packer suggests. Condensing the lengthy investigation and Libby’s trial to roughly a paragraph, Bush faithfully cites the GOP talking point that Richard Armitage was Robert Novak’s source in exposing Plame, so special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald shouldn’t have bothered investigating anything or anyone else… and then blithely notes that he refused to pardon the convicted Libby because his lawyers unanimously agreed the verdicts were justified. [emphasis in original]
Bush's book just came out a little while ago, but as Froomkin points out, the traditional press corps, "The Village" as the blogger Digby calls them (The Village and how they're responding to Sarah Palin), is doing its collective best to ignore, downplay and paper over Bush's crimes and the immense damage that he did to this country and to the rest of the world. They shouldn't be allowedto get away with that. If the US doesn't place Bush on trial and then imprison him, we risk a reprise of the temporary imprisonment and national embarrassment of Augusto Pinochet in 1998. From a piece on Bush and torture:
Tom Porteous, the UK Director of Human Rights Watch said, “There is no point having international justice for petty African dictators if you can’t apply it to the leaders of powerful countries like the US."

Porteous is right. For justice to not simply be "victor's justice," something that the winners get to apply to the losers, it has to apply to the "Leader of the Free World" as well.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hate your entire review. biased and pointless.

Rich said...

I cheerfully agree to the biased part, though I didn't make anything up in order to make my points. Pointless? Don't agree at all. Bush belongs in jail for his numerous crimes.