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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Thursday | July 17, 2003

What to do about George?

By Steve Gilliard

It's about three months too early to call the Iraq policy a complete and utter failure. The Administration could clearly make concessions and bring in the UN and NATO, but given the generally deceitful nature of the Bush and his White House, few countries are likely to trust them to administer anything, much less an Iraq where their men can get killed.

But, as it was so clearly predictable that the Iraq war would morph from conventional combat to guerrilla war, as it had done in both 1920 and 1991, eventually the series of lies used to rush the country into war will be exposed. With that, Bush's problems will explode from the barely manageable to the fatal.

Bush's one asset is his personal character, or more accurately, the illusion of his personal character as an honest, straight shooting man. The reality would be more like a boorish man who is intellectually incurious, but if you've seen Being There, the simplistic statements of mentally disabled gardener Chauncey are turned into political genius, you can understand how the process works. People wanted, no, needed Bush to turn from the callow, incompetent son into a heroic, decisive president. The media were as shell shocked by 9/11 as anyone and Bush's simplistic statements, aided by a coterie of cold warriors and complex men with simple answers, created an image which many Americans embraced.

The problem is that Bush is not a leader. He is a hanger on. He is too proud to follow, and too weak to lead. He can create the aura of leadership, mostly by a stubborn refusal to alter his thinking or by admit error. But when real leadership is required, he simply cannot follow through.

The whole Yellowcake mess, where he allowed CIA Director Tenet, who regardless of your feelings about his competence, to take responsibility for a mess to protect his subordinates, indicates exactly what little character Bush has. The words came from his mouth, no matter who vetted it, he is ultimately responsible, and foisting it off on subordinate is not leadership.

Bush is avoiding the blame for things which are his fault. It is his fault, not the CIA director's, if misstatements get in the State of the Union speech. But then why should Bush suddenly embrace personal accountability after a lifetime of dodging it. He's never admitted his problems with alcohol or drugs, his miserable business record and turned his bad school performance into a sneering joke.

He has no sense of consequence for any of his actions. Despite a lifetime of things not working out, a lifetime of being saved by cronies and friends of his family, he still acts as if he's a self made man. Dana Milbank uses a damning quote in his Washington Post piece today:

Minnesota Public Radio this week quoted Mary Kewatt, the aunt of a soldier killed in Iraq, saying: "President Bush made a comment a week ago, and he said 'bring it on.' Well, they brought it on, and now my nephew is dead."

In the past, similarly stupid statements by Bush have gone unnoticed or uncommented upon, but his "bring it on" comment so unfortunately echoed by Gen. Tommy Franks, rubbed many people the wrong way. Because unilke taunting Osama Bin Laden, there is a real risk to cheap talk about the guerrilla war. It seemed cheap and unneccesary, almost cowardly. John Wayne would never say such a thing. Nor would Clint Eastwood or any of the heroes of America's psychic landscape. It is what the villians say before they are defeated.

Americans, as indicated by an article in today's New York Times, are beginning to wonder if Bush lied.

In Ohio, Iraq Questions Shake Even Some of Bush's Faithful

CINCINNATI, July 16 Jim Stock voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and says that if the election were held tomorrow, he'd vote for President Bush again. But he says he is troubled by indications that the White House used questionable intelligence about Iraqi efforts to buy uranium in Africa to push for war in Iraq. And he wants a fuller accounting.

"I'd like to know whether there was any deliberate attempt to deceive," said Mr. Stock, 70, a retired public school administrator. "My feeling is there was not. But there was an eagerness in the administration to pursue the battle and to believe information that wasn't quite good."

"It's painful to say," he added, "but I don't like where this is coming down."

If there are dark political clouds for Mr. Bush in this largely socially conservative region, they are forming around voters like Mr. Stock. Though they supported the war in Iraq, they now say they are growing uncomfortable with reports that the White House might have used inaccurate intelligence to justify it.

What is lost to many people, especially on the left, but on the Beltway right as well, is the corosive effect of dead and wounded GI's on public opinion. It isn't just about supporting our troops, but the real effect of broken marriages, crippled teenagers, PTSD, which affects the America most people live in. People embrace their cynicism and think Bush can lie his way out of the mess he's created when, in reality, there is no way that the two can be reconciled. Both Truman and Johnson paid for wars without end. Bush will not be an exception to this.

Even if Iraq turned out fine, the lies would still be corrosive. But the combat in Iraq is not lessening, and has the potential to be much worse than it is. We stay in Iraq only of the sufference of the Shia clerics.

In the end, the question will not boil down to if Bush can be defeated, but even if he can run. Bush bet everything on a successful Iraq policy, one which is elusive and lacks all but the most nominal support of our allies. That policy and the arguments used to start the war are now collapsing. Bush has no alternative to offer except success in Iraq. The economy is a shambles, the tax cuts exploded the deficit, without Iraq, he doesn't have much to offer, especially when his personal credibility is questioned.

Niger is the tip of a deep iceberg of lies and lies from the White House ultimately benefit one person, the President. It is only a matter of time before it becomes a story not of what to do in Iraq, but what to do with George.

Posted July 17, 2003 12:51 PM


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