Thursday, April 12, 2007

The President at "Work"

I have just started reading Bob Woodward’s State of Denial: Bush at War Part III. And though it’s far too early to make a definitive statement about either his account of the rush to war in Iraq, or of the Bush Administration overall, one thing is already clear: the theme throughout will be massive incompetence on the part of a President and an administration that simply had no idea what they were getting themselves or their country into when they invaded. Every attempt by professional military men to warn about the need for more troops or more detailed planning, every attempt by professional postwar officials to insist that the Baathists should be retained or that the Iraqi army should be used to maintain law and order and keep armed Sunnis from turning idleness into mayhem, every single such attempt was dismissed, derided, or simply ignored. The main concern throughout, it seems, was either public relations, the domestic political effect of military decisions, or an obsessive concern with putting "yes-men" in key positions to make sure no one disputed the ideological basis for every action.

Worse than this, however, is the feeling one gets from each scene in which the President himself plays a part. That feeling amounts to the horrified certainty that the man-boy playing the part of President of the United States, the alleged leader who controls the most destructive military force ever assembled, is a mental midget with zero reflective ability about the enormity of the task he is faced with, one who concerns himself, almost invariably, not with deep strategic or moral or political questions, but with frat-boy social trivia. One example should suffice.

In the runup to the war, on February 28, 2003, General Jay Garner, the man selected to lead the critical postwar restore-and-rebuild operation in Iraq, is invited to a White House meeting. It is clear from the start to Garner that the President has no idea who he is. Only when Defense Secretary Rumsfeld introduces him with high praise does the President finally nod. Then Garner passes around an 11-point presentation in which he lays out what he thinks are the basic needs he will have to address. He goes through everything, point by point, including the startling admission that his small team was not capable of dealing with at least four critical postwar tasks, including defeating terrorists, dismantling WMD (if ever found), and reconfiguring Iraqi security. No one asks a single question.

Then, as Garner is going into more details about his plan to divide the country into regional groups, the President finally interrupts, asking "Where are you from?" Garner tells him Florida. "Why do you talk like that?" the President persists, trying to place Garner’s accent. Garner admits he was born and raised on a ranch in Florida. "You’re in," says the President, apparently satisfied.

Garner goes on. He talks about using the Iraqi army, some 200,000 to 300,000 of them. Again, no questions, no challenges. He talks about wanting to internationalize the postwar effort. This is the only place Garner feels resistance, discomfort. But still, no questions, no challenges, so he has to figure it out himself: this is to be a U.S. operation exclusively; no outsiders needed. He ends by noting that he will be sending an advance group to the region in 10 days, with the rest to follow. No response, until the President says, "Thank you very much."
Garner can now tell his part in the meeting is done, so he begins to leave, but before he exits, the President catches his eye.

"Kick ass, Jay," Bush quips.

And that was it. From the self-proclaimed leader of the free world, no questions, no request for more specifics, no conceptual clarifications or musings about difficulty, or the challenges to be faced, nothing but "where are you from?" and "why do you talk like that?" and "Kick ass, Jay." Oh, and as Garner waited outside, and the others walked past him, one more quip from the President: "Hey, if you have any problem with that governor down in Florida, just let me know."

If anyone still needs an explanation for why the Bush adventure in Iraq has turned into a fiasco of incompetence and casual destruction and white male hubris, this tiny portrait of the President at "work:" should do very nicely.

Lawrence DiStasi

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