October 17, 2004

Inside This Oval Office, Nobody Tells Bush He's Wrong

As Ron Suskind writes up the story, it sounds like there were ten people or so in the room, nine of whom knew that Sweden had an army. But nobody would back Tom Lantos. One must, at all costs, pretend in public that George W. Bush knows what he is talking about:

The New York Times > Magazine > Without a Doubt: In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored ''road map'' for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

''I don't know why you're talking about Sweden,'' Bush said. ''They're the neutral one. They don't have an army.''

Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: ''Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.'' Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.

Bush held to his view. ''No, no, it's Sweden that has no army.''

The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. ''You were right,'' he said, with bonhomie. ''Sweden does have an army.''

This story was told to me by one of the senators in the Oval Office that December day.... This is one key feature of the faith-based presidency: open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision-maker. Nothing could be more vital, whether staying on message with the voters or the terrorists or a California congressman in a meeting about one of the world's most nagging problems...

This is the form of government adopted by the Ottoman Empire under Sultans like Selim the Sot. It did not work very well then. It does not work very well now.

Posted by DeLong at October 17, 2004 01:11 PM | TrackBack
Comments

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Posted by: Barry Freed at October 17, 2004 01:34 PM

Now I'm really so shrill that only the cynics can hear me;-)


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Posted by: Barry Freed at October 17, 2004 01:36 PM

Now I'm really so shrill that only the cynics can hear me;-)


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Posted by: Barry Freed at October 17, 2004 01:37 PM

Now I'm really so shrill that only the cynics can hear me;-)


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Posted by: Barry Freed at October 17, 2004 01:39 PM

Now I'm really so shrill that only the cynics can hear me;-)


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Posted by: Barry Freed at October 17, 2004 01:39 PM

A more accessible model for the Bush administration than that of Selim the Sot might be found in Japan under Hirohito, with the MidEast as the counterpart to China.

It did not work very well then.
It does not work very well now.

Posted by: jm at October 17, 2004 01:49 PM

Maybe the US is now just another badly-run Texas company. You gotta have -faith- in the CEO, son-- that's what it's all about.

Posted by: Matt at October 17, 2004 02:11 PM

And Lebanese are mythical Irish elves who should be deterred indefinitely in the Keebler workcamp.

Bush is a yuppie, druggie, sot, but a sad one, having had a stroke. The left side of his face, if you watched him closely in his last debate. Maybe that's why he skipped his 2004 medical.

Cut him some slack. Bush is just another bobble-headed duffus cheerleader for America Inc, like his Reagan-meister hero, and his dullard father.

Posted by: Lash Marks at October 17, 2004 02:25 PM

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Posted by: El Gringo at October 17, 2004 03:09 PM

Switzerland doesn't have an army?

The guys who made me put on an uniform and run around with a gun must have been running heck of a scam!

Posted by: Helvet Underground at October 17, 2004 03:20 PM

Switzerland doesn't have an army?

The guys who made me put on an uniform and run around with a gun must have been running heck of a scam!

Posted by: Helvet Underground at October 17, 2004 03:20 PM

Helvet,

Not only does Bush have little grasp of political geography, he doesn't understand what neutrality is, either.

IIRC, both Sweden and Switzerland spend substatially more per capita on defense than most other Europeans do, and the Swedes protect their neutrality by manufacturing their own major weapons systems (combat aircraft, tanks, ships and submarines) even though satisfactory foreign equipment could be bought for far less money. Neutrality isn't pacificism, George. Didn't you learn about this in high school? I did.

Posted by: Tom Marney at October 17, 2004 03:40 PM

Switzerland doesn't have an army?

The guys who made me put on an uniform and run around with a gun must have been running heck of a scam!

Posted by: Helvet Underground at October 17, 2004 03:52 PM

Then who gets credit for mating a knife with tweezers?

Helvet and his comrades have pulled one hell of a prank on poor John McPhee ("La Place de la Concorde Suisse"--now in the Fiction section)...

Posted by: Adam at October 17, 2004 04:30 PM

The Swiss have submarines in their lakes??? Wow!
Not sure it is true that the Swiss build all their defence equipment. I have some recollection of them buying French tanks a long time ago and the French sent them scrap tanks that the French Army would not accept. The was a big scandle and a Swiss general went to jail for it.

Posted by: dilbert dogbert at October 17, 2004 05:40 PM

Helvet, we totally got you. Expect to see Ashton Kutcher mocking you on international broadcasts shortly. That must have sucked, dude.

Posted by: bigfoot at October 17, 2004 09:09 PM

Switzerland has no army? Then why is there a movement there (Gruppo per una Svizzera senza esercito) demonstrating to eliminate the Swiss army? And why would they have national army festivals?

http://www.swissinfo.org/sit/swissinfo.html?siteSect=111&sid=4556342

All these years I've been carrying a Swiss National Guard Knife without knowing the truth.

Posted by: Batavicus at October 17, 2004 10:57 PM

SWEDES, dumbass!

Posted by: Tom Marney at October 18, 2004 02:45 AM

I thought this was the weakest point of the whole article. First, Bush admitted he had been mistaken, which undercuts the argument that he never admits error. Second, Bush's alienation from reality isn't that he gets some facts wrong. It's that he says, if I do X, then Y will result, and when Z results, which is dimetrically opposite from Y, he says, see, I did X and Y resulted. That's troubling because he'll keep on doing X-type things that will prove disastrous. If he wanted to, he might eventually call Sweden.

Posted by: Bob R at October 18, 2004 08:37 AM

Er, the Swedes have an army too, and a pretty serious navy. Their subs were busy with Soviet subs for a good deal of the Cold War.

http://www.fact-index.com/s/sw/swedish_army_1.html

Bush conflates "neutral" and "unarmed." Unfortunately, that's among the least of our worries.

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Posted by: online casino at October 18, 2004 03:20 PM

"Er, the Swedes have an army too, and a pretty serious navy. Their subs were busy with Soviet subs for a good deal of the Cold War."

... the swedes have allways been dead serious about maintaining their neutrality, at least seen from the outside (secretly they did cooperate with NATO during the Cold War, though.) And they gladly payed the price, which was high.

They have, however, started to buy equipment in NATO countries, most notably the (german) LEOPARD 2 tank, opting out the Abrams.

Besides that I'd say that their air force actually is the most potent part of their military - they operate the JAS-39 Gripen, which basically is everything the US has tried to build for decades: Smaller, lighter, and (much) more potent than the previous generation. Plus quite a lot cheaper to operate.

Maybe that pissed some one off?

Posted by: Ole at October 18, 2004 04:10 PM

"Er, the Swedes have an army too, and a pretty serious navy. Their subs were busy with Soviet subs for a good deal of the Cold War."

... the swedes have allways been dead serious about maintaining their neutrality, at least seen from the outside (secretly they did cooperate with NATO during the Cold War, though.) And they gladly payed the price, which was high.

They have, however, started to buy equipment in NATO countries, most notably the (german) LEOPARD 2 tank, opting out the Abrams.

Besides that I'd say that their air force actually is the most potent part of their military - they operate the JAS-39 Gripen, which basically is everything the US has tried to build for decades: Smaller, lighter, and (much) more potent than the previous generation. Plus quite a lot cheaper to operate.

Maybe that pissed some one off?

Posted by: Ole at October 18, 2004 04:11 PM

There is one area in which Bush does not fly blindly (by instinct and "faith") without the best careful professional analysis: that is in area of his own political survival where the fine spun technique of his and his advisors is positively "Demonic". :-)

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