Bush Looking For Answers Or Grasping At Straws?

Ken AshfordBush & Co.Leave a Comment


At the nadir of his presidency, George W. Bush is looking for answers. One at a time or in small groups, he summons leading authors, historians, philosophers and theologians to the White House to join him in the search.

Over sodas and sparkling water, he asks his questions: What is the nature of good and evil in the post-Sept. 11 world? What lessons does history have for a president facing the turmoil I’m facing? How will history judge what we’ve done? Why does the rest of the world seem to hate America? Or is it just me they hate?


And yet Bush does not come across like a man lamenting his plight. In public and in private, according to intimates, he exhibits an inexorable upbeat energy that defies the political storms. Even when he convenes philosophical discussions with scholars, he avoids second-guessing his actions. He still acts as if he were master of the universe, even if the rest of Washington no longer sees him that way.

"You don’t get any feeling of somebody crouching down in the bunker," said Irwin M. Stelzer, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute who was part of one group of scholars who met with Bush. "This is either extraordinary self-confidence or out of touch with reality. I can’t tell you which."

Who says it can’t be both????

By the way, today marks the fourth anniversary of a phrase that will go down in infamy.  On July 2, 2003, George W. Bush was asked about the rising casualty rates in Iraq.  His response?

…anybody who wants to harm American troops will be found and brought to justice. There are some who feel like that if they attack us that we may decide to leave prematurely. They don’t understand what they’re talking about, if that’s the case.

Let me finish. There are some who feel like — that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring them on.

Four years later, here’s one soldier’s take on "Bring ‘Em On":

Today, in 2003, President Bush declared his brash challenge to insurgents in Iraq, and to this day, it still sticks in my mind as the single biggest morale buster in the course of the war.

I was in Iraq when the president said these words. As you can imagine, internet access wasn’t an everyday thing. A few days after the President made his challenge, I logged on, and the first thing I saw was that he uttered these words. My head was spinning and I was sick. He said what??? We had just lost a number of soldiers, including one who had his head blown off. How could anyone say "Bring them on?" How could our Commander in Chief be so detached from what we were going through?

That’s the point, I later realized. It’s really easy to say "Bring them on" when all you know about the war is limited to some video-game-like graphics in the situation room, and waging war is reduced to moving pieces around like it was Stratego. Go to any arcade, and you’ll see kids playing some shoot ’em up game, taunting each other with cries of "Bring it on!" as they’re getting blown up on screen. It’s easy to say when something isn’t real to you.

It’s always somewhat tough for a President to truly appreciate what’s happening on the ground, that’s true. But that’s why Presidents, for the most part, have relied on their commanders on the ground to give them a clear idea. Had the President asked any of his commanders if "Bring them on" was a smart thing to say, I have no doubt that each and every one of them would have explained to him the losses we were taking, and how hard it was on our troops, and that such a statement wouldn’t just be hurtful to morale, but would only serve to stoke the fire of the insurgency and place our troops in greater danger.

But, as we know now, the President didn’t listen to his commanders on the ground. Rather than realize his mistake, and fix it by truly keying in on what his commanders were telling him, and running things past them, the President is still not listening. The escalation of the war in Iraq is the policy equivalent of "Bring them on." The refusal to engage in serious diplomacy, and fire up the economic and political engines in Iraq, is just another slap in the face to the troops and commanders.