The Imperial Presidency

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Iraq, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

Good NY Times review of two new books: DEAD CERTAIN: The Presidency of George W. Bush, by Robert Draper and THE TERROR PRESIDENCY: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration by Jack Goldsmith.

The first book, "Dead Certain" is probably the more interesting in that the author, Robert Draper, had a lot of access to President Bush and his aides, including six private interviews with the President.  The premise of the book is not that the President is stupid, but intellectually uninvolved.  He believes what he believes, and nothing will move him off the mark, including things like facts.  As the review explains:

Bush knows he is right. When facts turn out to get in the way, he brushes them off. When “Mission Accomplished” turned sour in Iraq, when various supposed bench marks of success did not stop the bloodshed, the president remained utterly confident of victory. He was sure, Draper writes, that “history would acquit him.”

These are some of the words Draper uses in discussing Bush: “certitude,” “intransigence,” “his obstinate streak,” “compulsive optimism.” “I truly believe we’re in the process of shaping history for the good,” Bush told Draper early this year. “I know, I firmly believe, that decisions I have made were necessary to secure the country.”


The way Bush sold the country on going to war against Iraq is well traced by Draper in quotations from speeches in late 2002. Saddam “is a man who would likely team up with Al Qaeda,” Bush said on Nov. 3. Later the same day: “This is a man who has had contacts with Al Qaeda. … He’s the kind of guy that would love nothing more than to train terrorists and provide arms to terrorists.” The next day: “Imagine a scenario where an Al Qaeda-type organization uses Iraq as an arsenal.” And repeatedly, Draper says, Bush used the line: “This is a man who told the world he wouldn’t have weapons of mass destruction, promised he wouldn’t have them. He’s got them.”

Draper says bluntly that “Bush wasn’t relying on intelligence to buttress his claims of Saddam’s dark fantasies of plotting attacks on America with Al Qaeda, or of direct contact with Al Qaeda. For no such intelligence existed.” But the scary talk worked. In time millions of Americans believed, in the teeth of reality, that there were Iraqis on the planes that struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

He provides another example, showing that that lack-of-fact-based certitude extended to Cheney:

Draper has a telling quotation that I had not seen before. Vice President Dick Cheney is trying to persuade Dick Armey, the Republican House majority leader, who was skeptical about a war on Iraq, in a private meeting in September 2002: “We have great information. They’re going to welcome us. It’ll be like the American Army going through the streets of Paris. They’re sitting there ready to form a new government. The people will be so happy with their freedoms that we’ll probably back ourselves out of there within a month or two.”

Yup.  The Iraqis would throw roses at us, and we would be out of there in a month or two.

An abysmal ignorance of Iraq and Islam underlay such beliefs. The Economist, which still doggedly supports the Iraq effort, wrote recently (in an article not about Bush but about former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose support for the war had some calling him Bush’s poodle), “Only an historical illiterate would have assumed that the divided Iraqis were bound to thank their invading liberators and coalesce in democratic government.” One has to wonder whether George W. Bush had heard about the division between Shiites and Sunnis when he decided on war.

They say that "a little knowledge" is a dangerous thing.  The Bush Administration’s reliance on their beliefs, rather than evidence and facts and information, proves the veracity of this maxim.  They are not stupid; they are ignorant — the difference being that a stupid person cannot comprehend the facts staring him in the face, and an ignorant person doesn’t see the facts staring him in the face.  In Bush’s case, the ignorance was willful.  We need to remember that as we hear the war drums beat for military action against Iraq.