June 29, 2003

Time Is Brutal to GWB

Time is brutally cruel to George W. Bush, leading this week's Iraq story with a passage showing him as so "disengaged" that he does not even know who he put in charge of the anemic and ineffectual effort to find Saddamist nuclear, chemical and biological weapons:

TIME.com: Who Lost the WMD? -- Jul. 07, 2003: Meeting last month at a sweltering U.S. base outside Doha, Qatar, with his top Iraq commanders, President Bush skipped quickly past the niceties and went straight to his chief political obsession: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Turning to his Baghdad proconsul, Paul Bremer, Bush asked, "Are you in charge of finding WMD?" Bremer said no, he was not. Bush then put the same question to his military commander, General Tommy Franks. But Franks said it wasn't his job either. A little exasperated, Bush asked, So who is in charge of finding WMD? After aides conferred for a moment, someone volunteered the name of Stephen Cambone, a little-known deputy to Donald Rumsfeld, back in Washington. Pause. "Who?" Bush asked...

Posted by DeLong at June 29, 2003 06:55 PM | TrackBack


This is what happens when we elect a drooling imbecile as our commander in chief (Atrios' words not mine). Hopefully the rest of our press corps will get off its knees and continue to expose Bush's laziness to a public that deserves someone much more committed to doing the job than Bush -- how many hours a day does he actually work now? Anyway, it's about Time (no pun intended).

Posted by: Bobby on June 29, 2003 07:20 PM

Yep, President's out of the loop in his own business. Troubling, but expected.

Brad, or somebody, I've got a request. I've been hearing a bit about the recall effort and the countdown to fiscal meltdown in our fine state. For example, Bob Herbert, in tomorrow's NYT, has a piece on Bush's cruelty in which he notes the possibility that a (likely) meltdown here would have reprecussions across the nation. (There was a similar assertion in an open letter appearing in this Sunday's LA Times.)

The fiscal year runs out Monday night (as do many paycheques.). The state is looking at a credit rating downgrade. We have a governor who is incapable of leading the state due to a recall effort led by a group of self-absorbed right-wing psychopaths (how else would you describe people so power-hungry that they couldn't give a damn about the welfare of the state?).

I find all of this unsettling. I'd like some idea of what others think we're looking at.

Posted by: Robert Tennyson on June 29, 2003 08:42 PM

I wouldn't expect Bush to be remotely aware of what is happening on his own staff, but why on earth can't Paul Bremer and Tommy Franks answer this question without brainstorming?

I mean, they DID invade Iraq because of WMD, right...?

Posted by: trevelyan on June 29, 2003 10:51 PM

Can I be of help? The British government's official dossier on Iraq's WMD is available at: http://www.fco.gov.uk/Files/kfile/iraqdossier.pdf

So much weight was attributed to the claim in the dossier that WMD could be used within "45 minutes" of an order being given by the military command in Iraq that this was mentioned no less than 4 (four) times, as readers can confirm. The dossier's contents and drafting were evidently regarded as especially important by the prime minister's office, as the BBC has indicated in its recent report:

"A dossier including the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes was repeatedly returned to intelligence chiefs for changes, the BBC has learned.
A source close to British intelligence has told BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason that Downing Street returned draft versions of the dossier to the [UK's] Joint Intelligence Committee 'six to eight times'.

"He said Prime Minister Tony Blair was involved in the process at one point."

- from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2966636.stm

The little difficulty that has emerged lately here is the continuing mystery of the whereabouts of the WMD when their use was only 45 minutes away from the command being issued. The one credible explanation I have come across is that attributed to President Bush: the WMDs were looted.

I hope this allays concerns.

Posted by: Bob Briant on June 30, 2003 02:50 AM

When trying to decide if Bush, Rumsfield, Rice, Cheney, Powell were deceived by bad intelligence, or were lying, it's good to look at signs like these. The 'WMD guy' should have been a thre-star general, with a direct line to Rumsfield and Franks. If anybody got in his way, except for Franks, that body should have been yanked immediately. The iraqi reactor should have been #1 on a list of sites to be secured. That team (MET Alpha) should't be standing down. That one Ranger battalion which returned shouldn't have, as they'd still be needed (for boder/mountain recon, if necessary). That carrier on which Bush made his photo op should still be there, at the mission hasn't been accomplished. UN inspectors should be in, as well as European NBC people (after all, securing these 'vast stockpiles' is in their interest).

And so on.

Posted by: Barry on June 30, 2003 04:14 AM

Bush can't pass the buck, and being the commander in chief, he has to take responsibility.

But the point of the article is not that he was too disengaged, it is that he is frustrated with the people immediately below him. His query about Cambone is not an expression of ignorance, it is a protest that the job of finding WMD isn't being given sufficient priority. Bush knows very well who Cambone is.

What I get out the piece is that Bush was not well served by Rice, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. We can argue that he should take responsibility for this mess, but it's unfair and not very useful to portray him as a drooling idiot, which he is not.

Posted by: Jim Harris on June 30, 2003 04:58 AM

"Bush knows very well who Cambone is." Says who? Not the "Time" reporters. They relay the response from Bush to hearing the name "Cambone" as "Who?" Bush may well have been protesting that finding weapons was not being given a high enough priority, but apparently not without some prodding from the press. Bush apparently did not know, at least off the top of his head, who he had put in charge of the weapons search and it took some noodling for his highly placed advisors on Iraq to figure it out.

Posted by: K Harris on June 30, 2003 06:00 AM

I did not read the Time article as saying Bush was disengaged or dumb but rather as being desparate. He HAS to find WMDs but not for national security reasons but rather for pure partisan political reasons.

Posted by: Hal McClure on June 30, 2003 06:41 AM

I don't think characterizing Mr. Bush as a "drooling imbecile" is either very useful or very accurate. A more accurate characterization would be JR Ewing (the TV Texas oilman of Dallas) goes to Washington. Mr. Bush is narrowly focused and cunning. In his narrow ruthless quest to achieve his goals, he overlooks important details and wider considerations that come back to haunt him. Such people are often too clever for their own good.

Mr. Bush is very good at deciding exactly what he wants and then rewarding and punishing people accordingly. However, his "punishments" often cross the line of fairness into the territory of vindictiveness. His downfall comes when people (such as Senator Jeffords) refuse to be bullied into going along. The Iraqis will not be bullied either.

Mr. Bush never accepted as a possible outcome that the Iraqi people would reject American occupation and control of Iraq. Such blind optimism leads to a failure to plan appropriately for negative outcomes. This is what Senator Lugar has been warning about in Iraq for the past year. It is still not clear that the Administration has accepted the reality of the resistance in Iraq and moved to position the US by empowering the Iraqi people. Instead we are stepping up raids and aggression.

Mr. Bush rules with an iron fist and is not used to having people cross him. His reaction is anger and frustration at the failure of his minions. Thus we read of the outburst in Time magazine and potential targets refusing to accept any responsibility that might result in accepting blame for failure and the wrath that follows.

This is not a good management style. When the boss is so vengeful and vindictive, the staff becomes defensive and over-cautious. Survival means moving potential failures onto the desk of someone else, whether or not they are best suited in position and experience to take the duty. This is the limitation of the corporate CEO presidency, especially when the guy at the top thinks like JR Ewing.

Posted by: bakho on June 30, 2003 07:20 AM

Moving on from the point that Bush did know who *had* been running the WMD search, I think it is just fascinating to point out who he then put in charge of the operation: George Tenet, head of the CIA. Recall that, before the war, the CIA was having difficulties concocting WMD scenarios scary enough to justify an invasion, and also knew that some of the evidence being trumpeted in public was just wrong (e.g., the Niger/Uranium fiasco). And more recently, the CIA has been leaking that this administration was spinning intelligence harder than anybody ever has. So now the CIA is being set up as the organization that will now (incompetently?) fail to find the WMD as pay-back for their documented disloyalty. Or something like this.

Man, is this getting pretty twisty.

Posted by: Jonathan King on June 30, 2003 08:08 AM

Let me add yet another un-flattering impression of Bush: I see him as an incompetent CEO. Sure, he's likely a fairly nice guy. But he has no idea how to run a successful company; his idea of leadership is to delegate virtually everything and let the accolades and cash roll in. He has no clue how to change strategies and adapt the business plan; all he can do is tout the same cliche's while the ship goes down.

This is getting rather ugly.

Posted by: Jonathan on June 30, 2003 08:20 AM

Totally agree Jonathan. Look at this kid's history in leadership positions. Don't start about 9/11 either- we haven't caught Bin Laden, we can't even seem to build a case against the '20th hijacker', first-responders are still not adequately funded to deal with terrorist attacks and he is trying to squash the public release of the government investigation about what happened on Sept 11th. I also believe if Mr. Ed was President of the United States after an event like 9/11 the public would have rallied around the horse- so I don't think boy wonder had any part in uniting the country. In fact, if you are a cynical enough, you might say he thanks God that Sept 11th happened and perhaps saved him from a mediocre, one-term presidency with a big asterix beside his name in the history books because of the Florida Fiasco.

He delegates because he is a silver-spoon yokel who never worked for anything his entire life. Delegating to him is second nature. He has always coasted through life relying on his family name and riches.

I hope he enjoys the fires of Hell.

Posted by: ErolOtis on June 30, 2003 08:36 AM

Well, we all know Time is just a bunch of lefty pinko partisans, right? I mean, really, can you trust them?

Does the right need to hear this message from the National Review, Rush, or the Wall Street Journal op-ed page before they begin to listen?

Posted by: verbal on June 30, 2003 09:17 AM

I don't know why so many people call him a nice guy. Whenever his private words are overheard he's usually calling somebody a name. He is constantly smirking in his speeches over people he's had killed. I prefer to appproach grim work grimly, but he seems to enjoy executing women and the retarted. He a hard-ass. That's more his appeal (as it was Reagan's) rather than his falsely percieved "niceness".

Posted by: LowLife on June 30, 2003 09:23 AM

Bakho. Obviously all of this goes out of public view, so who knows, and it is difficult to avoid speaking in generalities. But I think that people often fail to distinguish between Bush the man (who I think is lazy and uncurious/an empty suit/a spoiled brat who thinks that he is entitled to anything whatever wants immediately (hence his reaction in the Time magazine article)/without much thought or substance as to the consequences of his actions, etc., etc.) and his handlers, especially Karl Rove, who *are* quite cunning politicians, rule with an iron fist, etc. In fact, that's why I think Brad's Topkapi Palace comparison is perfect.

Everything you said to support the vindictive J.R. Ewing thesis could very easily describe the collective action of Bush's minions under orders from Karl Rove, and is completely compatible with the type of person I described above.

Instead of actually being a "CEO president," maybe Bush himself is really just a characature of one -- what we may have is the spoiled rich man's son playing CEO, pretending, at the necessary times, to look like he is engaged by asking questions with a tough voice and an imperious manner. But maybe in person, one finds that Bush is asking questions whose answers anyone, who was actually engaged or even curious about the basics of what's going on, would have known long before. People often say that Bush is not interested in details, but not knowing who is in charge of WMD is worse than a detail (I wonder what Bush didn't know about his own tax plans, plans for social Security and Medicare, etc.). It could be that this guy does not know what is going on around him, and, worse yet, he is not even curious.

I think the point is that Bush's minions are the ones who have been in charge from day one of this administration, since Bush himself was not mentally fit in the first place to take in and analyze the vast amounts of information required to do the job, and now the minions are completely out of control. Unfortunately we do not have a president president who knowledgable enough or intelligent enough to do anything about it.

Anyway, I do not think that I am underestimating Bush himself. And I would never underestimate the effectiveness of his political team.

Posted by: Bobby on June 30, 2003 10:04 AM

Good for Time magazine. Maybe Americans will start to feel a little freer in criticising this administration.

The question is, have the republicans built a propaganda machine that will guarantee a victory for this incompetent in 2004?
They have the money
They have the media especially radio and TV.
They have an army of "serious thinkers" to offer expert opinion on why everything the Republican Party proposes is great.
They have angry wing-nuts like Rush and Anne, and now Justice Scalia, (Did anyone read his disent? A very very ugly mind) to shout down anyone who tries to offer a different opinion.

I just hope the Democratic nominee has iron guts and the best brains behind him (her in 2012 ok?) that America can muster.

Posted by: Scott McArthur on June 30, 2003 10:58 AM

Bobby, part of the Bush game is to separate Bush the person from Bush policy and Bush political moves. Do not make the mistake of disconnecting Mr. Bush from knowledge and responsibility for everything that happens in his administration.

Bush was at one time the leader of his college fraternaty. If you think of the WH as one big Frat House, then maybe you get the picture. There is one set of rules for how to treat those that are in the House, another set of rules for wannabe pledges and yet another for competing Frats and of course a set of rules for everyone else.

The House exists to serve its members and advance their status and careers. The same is true for the Bush WH. It is designed to pass favors on to supporters as rewards for monetary support. It is an operation that puts cronyism first. Feed the right wing with what they want most, feed the lobbyists, feed the corporate interests, etc. There is no vision of what is the best policy for the country overall, there is only the sense of having the power to grant rewards and favors to those that ante up.

Thus reporters that ante up with cupcake stories and questions get rewarded with perks. Those that play hardball like Helen Thomas get punished. Thus we have all these reports about what a nice guy Mr. Bush is. Well he is nice to the people on his team, to the brothers in his house. However, to everyone else, he is JR Ewing. If your enemy is his enemy, then you can count on JR to get revenge. However, if you are the target, the game changes.

This is not a game that takes a lot of skill to play. The basics are learned in kindergarten and honed to a high level in junior high. Do not doubt that Mr. Bush and not Karl Rove is in charge and calls the shots. Karl Rove is just his Tomas de Torquemada.

Posted by: bakho on June 30, 2003 12:18 PM

Well, I don't think I can say anymore except that I think that the scenario you describe in the last three paragraphs, which looks right to me, is consistent with the story of the idiot and his ruthless handlers being in charge that I told above.

I do think that the perception (or fact I would say) that Bush himself is an idiot does amazingly protect him personally from being held accountable by the press for his administration's actions -- there at least used to be a perception in the press that if Bush got it wrong on WMDs, it could not be his fault and it must be because someone perhaps in the intelligence community or elsewhere mislead him. I think that if the guy is a complete idiot this should make the situation for him worse and more deserving of coverage and criticism by the press.

If Bush really were a conniving genius, I don't see why he thought in the first place that there was any advantage to looking like a weak-minded fool in public (look at what the press did to Gerald Ford or Dan Quayle) -- but somehow, by the 2000 election and even more so now, it turned out miraculously to be a good bet.

Posted by: Bobby on June 30, 2003 01:01 PM

Scott McArthur writes:
> The question is, have the republicans built a propaganda
> machine that will guarantee a victory for this incompetent in
> 2004?
> They have the money.
> They have the media especially radio and TV.
> They have an army of "serious thinkers" to offer expert
> opinion on why everything the Republican Party proposes is
> great.

Forecasting an election 17 months in advance is generally pretty tough. That said, I think there are some general truths.

1) If the Republicans ever do *not* have the money, they are toast. The new twist (if it's even that new) is that Karl Rove and company are insisting that they should have all of the money. That does make things a lot tougher for challengers, unless this fact can itself be turned into a political point.

2) Great media is nothing you can really depend on. Maybe these days there is enough systematic bias in gigantic media outlets to matter, but the media has always run with what sells. If flags sell, you'll see flags. If sex scandals sell, you'll see those. If the economy is in bad shape, there's ways to make that stand out. If we continue to lose 2-3 soldiers per week in Iraq and there are telegenic protests over there, this will eventually become a big story.

3) When it comes down to it, nobody much listens to pundits, so it really doesn't matter very much what they say.

It's easy for me to generate George Bush victory scenarios and
George Bush defeat scenarios. Bush will win if the economy recovers strongly, in spite of alsomst anything else. Bush will lose if the economy tanks, again in spite of almost anything else. If the economy stays just the way it is now, I don't think this would be sufficient to get him re-elected, so he would have to pin his hopes on continued good press for his foreign policy and military achievements. I think this could be very dicey for him. Rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan will take much longer than anybody in the administration would like, and that means there are way more opportunities for disaster than for continued victory. Additional invasions could lead to similarly speedy military victory, but then even more stress on occupation forces. The current situation just leaves so many ways for things to go very wrong. I'm not sure whether or not any of the possible disasters will happen before 2004, but if they do, it would take more than money to win the race.

Posted by: Jonathan King on June 30, 2003 02:14 PM

Jonathan King writes: "Great media is nothing you can really depend on."

Bah. Bush can depend on it.

I just saw MSNBC's theme/titles treatment for 2004.

They're calling it "Battle for the White House" with a rather militaristic feeling, I thought. There's a big white star in the graphic that reminded me of the ones on old tanks or planes in WWII.

Posted by: Jon H on July 1, 2003 12:44 PM
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