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A damning portrait of President Bush
Harun ur Rashid
Possibly no other US President during his tenure has seen so many books released which are critical of his administration, as has President Bush. Among others, seven books that have been released in 2003- April 2004 in the US provide a scathing disapproving report card for President Bush that he does not need during the year of his bid for re- election. Each book in its own way exposes the misrepresentations, weaknesses and failings of the President.
The books are: The Lies of G.W. Bush by David Corn (Crown Publishers, New York); Lies, And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken (Dutton, Penguin Group, USA, Inc.); The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind (Simon & Schuster); Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke ( Free Press); Bushwhacked by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose ( Wakefield Press); Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush by John W. Dean
(Little Brown & Company) and Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster)
The first book, The Lies of G.W. Bush, authored by David Corn, the Washington editor of The Nation reveals and examines the deceptions at the heart of the Bush Presidency. In its Introduction, the author writes: " George W. Bush is a liar. He has lied large and small, directly and by omission. He has mugged the truth, not merely in honest error but deliberately, consistently and repeatedly."
As a journalist, the author is of the view that all American Presidents have lied but George W. Bush has relentlessly abused the truth. In a scathing indictment of the President and his inner circle, he is able to detail and substantiate that the Bush administration has knowingly and intentionally misled American people to advance its own interests and agenda.
The agenda include (a) mischaracterising intelligence and resorting to arguments to whip up public support for war in Iraq, (b) misrepresenting the provisions and effects of the supersized tax cuts, (c) offering misleading explanations about the September 11 attacks, (d) misrepresenting about connections to corporate crooks and (e) presenting disingenuous claims to sell controversial policies on the environment, social security, stem cell research, missile defence and abortion.
Reviewers of the book have described it not a partisan whine, but a carefully constructed, fact-based account of the Bush administration. With wit and style, the author explains how the President has managed to get away with it until now.
The second book, Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them is a provocative and funny book. The author in the introduction of the book claims that "God chose him to write this book" satirising President Bush's entry in the White House that the President described "for a reason" to do God's will.
The book attacks the Bush administration as the most right wing one in memory and also exposes the right-wing news media for its hypocrisy. He argues that President Bush told lies about weapons of mass destruction and tax cuts. On weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Franken asks a number of questions: What did the President know? And if not, why didn't he know? If, as may be the case, the President did not understand his intelligence briefings, why didn't he ask to have them explained to him?
On tax cuts, the President repeatedly said during the campaign, "The vast majority of my tax cuts go to those at the bottom." Franken argues that the tax cuts help the rich and not the poor. He claims that the Bush administration squandered the surplus of the budget, ravaged the environment and has alienated the rest of the world.
The third book, The Price of Loyalty is the story of Paul O'Neill's tenure in the Bush administration as Secretary of Treasury, the top economic job in the government. O'Neill during his tenure took detailed notes of cabinet meetings and left with 19,000 pages of documents. The documents were made available to the writer Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, who wrote the book (authorised by O'Neill) that provides a rare insight into the decision-making processes in the Bush White House.
O'Neill had an impressive career before he joined the Bush administration. Vice-President Dick Cheney offered him the key job after President Bush won the elections. He was the Chief Executive of Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa). The President sacked O'Neill just after 23 months because he opposed tax cuts.
Suskind tells O'Neill's story like a non-fiction novel, from his first day in office to his last day. O'Neill found that it was impossible to have a rational exchange of ideas in cabinet meetings. O'Neill remembers, at a National Security Council meeting 10 days after Bush's inauguration that National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet were emphasising Iraq's importance as a destabliser in the Middle East.
O'Neill found that the incurious President was so opaque on some important issues that top cabinet officials were left guessing his mind even after face-to-face meetings. O'Neill's impression of the President sitting in White House meetings is like "a blind man in a room full of deaf people" (later he wanted to retract the statement because it became a controversial centrepiece that distracted from the centre of focus of the book ).
The fourth book, Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke, the former chief of counter-terrorism in the White House and a veteran White House insider for ten years, appears to be a devastating attack on the President's performance on war on terrorism before the September 11 attacks.
Clark claims that (a) President Bush and his aides misread the threats facing the US. This, he states is because officials ignored what their predecessors from the Clinton administration had told them about terrorism and (b) President Bush has undermined the war on terror by unnecessarily attacking Iraq that in fact has strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic militant movement worldwide.
Richard Clark reveals that he and his staff gave the National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice (his boss) a chilling run-down of al-Qaeda's global operations including evidence that its "sleeper cells" were operating inside the US. But according to Clarke, at the end of the session Rice was skeptical. To Clarke, her facial expression "gave me the impression that she has never heard of the term Al-Qaeda before".
Clarke urged Rice to take his plan to fight Al-Qaeda to the top members of the Bush cabinet that January (2001). It would take several months before Clarke's plan made its way through the senior-level meetings. The January report went to the cabinet only on 4th September, only a few days before 9/11, and thus too late to avert the tragedy that happened on that day.
Clarke wrote: " My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, either didn't believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there was an urgent problem." According to Clarke, the administration was stuck in a cold-war mentality that saw long-range missiles and rogue states as the most immediate danger and because they were completely and mistakenly fixated on Iraq.
Ms. Sibel Edmonds, a former translator with the FBI, in an interview with the Independent, a British newspaper, corroborated what Clarke wrote about the neglect of threats to terrorism by the Bush administration. From the documents she translated, she said that there was sufficient information in the northern spring and summer of 2001 to indicate an attack was planned. She further reportedly added that there was general information about the use of aircraft and that an attack was just months away.
The fifth book, Bushwhacked by Ivins and Dubose, makes it clear that the political system under President Bush did not go anywhere. Their concern about Bush is not new. In 1999 they lambasted his governorship of Texas and one of their prime themes is that the President has brought the values he practiced in that position to the White House. Having effectively damned the President for failing to report his sale of shares of Harken Energy Corporation in 1990 just before its profits dived, they are understandably skeptical of President's call for a "new ethic" for American business in 2002.
The sixth book, Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush, released this month ( April), John Dean presents a stunning indictment of President Bush's administration. He assembles evidence of its obsessive secrecy resulting from a return to Nixonian Presidency. Worse than Watergate he claims the hidden agenda of the White House is shrouded in secrecy and the Bush Presidency remains unaccountable.
John Dean is no stranger to the White House. He knows what happens behind the closed doors at the White House. In fact he was a "whistleblower" of the Watergate scandal. He acted as counsel to President Richard Nixon and witnessed the dangerous consequences of excessive secrecy, leading to Nixon's resignation in 1974.
The author lays out a blistering case against President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney, revealing among others the following facts: (a) How the Bush administration has exploited the September 11 attacks, while secretly working to scuttle all efforts to discover why America was so unprepared, (b) How Bush's deeply flawed secret decision-making is costing Americans both at home and abroad, (c) How Bush's and Cheney's obfuscation and stonewalling have concealed government business and (d) How Bush and Cheney have taken a Nixonian approach to any efforts of Congress and the news media to check their uses and abuses of power.
Finally the seventh book, “Plan of Attack" released on 19 April, 2004 by Bob Woodward, Editor of The Washington Post. He is the journalist who broke the Watergate story during the Nixon Presidency in the 70s and now has exposed the process of decision-making of the Bush Presidency leading to war on Iraq.
He interviewed President Bush for three and half hours over two days on December 10 and 11 last year. The source of the book is 75 key people in the War Cabinet, the White House, the State and Defence Departments, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Woodward does not drive home any particular political line. He simply advances evidence and lot of it he puts in order. And then he puts it to the players. And they answer.
The bottomline of the book is that it was the politicians rushing army generals into war in Iraq, rather than the other way around. While President Bush was involved in the secret planning of war, he told reporters he was a "patient" man who would carefully weigh all options. Woodward says that President Bush left Congress largely in the dark in July 2002 when he approved US$ 700 million to fund invasion in Iraq by diverting money intended for the fight on terrorism in Afghanistan. The author reveals that the Secretary of State Colin Powell had been hesitant about the Iraqi war and Powell was informed of the decision late, even before it was revealed to the Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar Bin Sultan.
Furthermore the author writes about Powell : " At times, with his closest friends, Powell was semi-despondent. His President and his country were headed for a war that he thought might be avoided, though he himself would not walk away." According to the author, Powell saw in Cheney a "sad transformation" and had "unhealthy fixation" and Powell thought that Cheney "took intelligence and converted uncertainty and ambiguity into fact". The book describes that Vice-President Dick Cheney and Powell were not in speaking terms and Powell referred to Pentagon officials loyal to Cheney as the "Gestapo Office".
The book has put the Bush administration on the defensive. Although Colin Powell disputed the version ascribed to him by Woodward, he admitted that he had a few telephone talks with the author. Many now believe that the war on Iraq was conceived and planned in secret and Powell was " out of the loop". This provides an insight how secretly a decision on war was taken in one of the most open democracies in the world.
Independent Commission to Inquire the September 11 attacks: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, set up reluctantly by President Bush in 2002 as an independent inquiry, is at present in session to investigate whether the September 11 attacks could have been prevented and what the Clinton and Bush administrations did and did not do in respect of threats from Al-Qaeda.
The Commission is reportedly not getting cooperation from the White House and on 7 April, it reportedly identified 69 documents from the Clinton era that the White House withheld from the investigators. These included references to Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden and other issues relevant to the Commission. The Commission's chairman Tom Kean reportedly said: "I've never seen the atmosphere that exists in Washington. Right now it's the nastiest I've ever seen.”
Under pressure from the Commission, the White House declassified on 10th April an intelligence briefing of 6th August, 2001 titled " Bin Laden Determined To Strike Us". It was given to the President as part of his daily intelligence briefing. Many analysts including some members of the Commission have asserted that the contents of the briefing challenged repeated assertions of the White House that it had no specific information that Al-Qaeda was planning to attack within the US. Some members of the Commission now demanded to know why the document was not seen as a warning of the September 11 attacks.
The Commission consists of 10 members, five Republican and five Democrat. The chairman is a former Republican Governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean and his deputy is a former Democratic Congressman, Lee Hamilton from Indiana. The Commission has two interrogators, one is a former Watergate prosecutor and the other is a former Deputy Attorney General under the Clinton administration.
There have been 115 public witnesses at the time of writing and many more in private. Some 800 government officials have answered questions. Thousands of documents have been handed over. Richard Clarke appeared before the Commission on 24th March and so also Dr. Rice, the National Security Adviser on 8th April after great hesitation. The Commission is expected to submit its report on July 26. The American people, in particular the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks, eagerly wait for the findings of the report.
Conclusion: All the books have illuminated a serious problem with President Bush and have explored the dangerous consequences of such misrepresentation of causes of war in Iraq in a perilous age. One wonders whether all the chaos and political instability in the world as a result of unnecessarily invading Iraq would have occurred if President Clinton was in office or the US Supreme Court decision on the Florida voting procedures during the Presidential election in 2000 had been otherwise.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.