Published on Saturday, March 27, 2004 by the Boulder Daily Camera
Bush Should Choose Not to Run
by Meir Carasso
A president's credibility, sustained by his personal stature and performance, is a major national asset. Because of this, it is natural to extend the president considerable deference to cut him a lot of slack. When a president repeatedly fails the demands of credibility, he violates the public trust, and deference is no longer possible. It is time to call upon Mr. Bush to give an honest accounting of his credibility record.
Mr. Bush's credibility problems started early in his tenure, with language. He exhibited a very limited vocabulary; he could not form intelligible sentences; he could not respond well, nor convincingly, to simple questions. "Bushisms" seemed at first funny, and were compiled into popular books. When he answered questions next to Britain's Blair and other heads of state, this inadequacy became a national embarrassment.
After the tragic events of 9/11, Mr. Bush's directionless administration suddenly seemed to find its bearings. He declared a war on terrorism, promised to stop the perpetrators and bring them to justice. He made Iraq the focal point of the nation's outrage, and the question was diplomacy, or war or both. Fissures began to surface between apparently leaderless top administration officials: Mr. Bush, White House spokesmen, VP Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet, each gave different reasons and pathways to legitimate a war.
With an irrational urgency, the administration adopted an extreme new policy of unilateral, pre-emptive war, alienated traditional European allies and sidestepped the United Nations. Intelligence was trumped up: "unique urgency" (Bush), "imminent threat" (White House), "we don't want a smoking gun to become a mushroom cloud" (Rice). Mr. Bush continued to deliver platitudes and to make reference to a "coalition," while it was evident we acted mostly alone.
The charade of reason and direction began to unravel rather quickly after the occupation. You know the story. Finally, Dr. David Kay, Mr. Bush's weapons inspector in Iraq, wrote that no WMDs were found. Iraq's "link" to al-Qaida evaporated. The rationale for going to war melted. Not only Bush's, but our national credibility tanked.
Mr. Bush's credibility problems continued to grow as he failed to cogently articulate major policy choices. In interviews on television, he did not know the policy substance beyond the level of sound bite, slogan and clich (on terrorism, Iraq, foreign relations, national security, energy, environment, tax-policy, the economy, budget deficits, Medicare drugs, Social Security, trade policy, jobs).
Who was really in charge?
Fortunately, we didn't have to wait for presidential historians for an answer. Doubts about Mr. Bush's ability to manage the job of president were confirmed in "The price of loyalty," a 2004 book that documents the story of Mr. Paul O'Neill, Bush's secretary of the Treasury and a long-time White House insider. The book is based on extensive interviews and some 19,000 documents that O'Neill kept and passed on to Ron Suskind, the author. Having served under presidents Ford and Reagan, O'Neill was no novice to presidential dynamics. He was no liberal, either.
Bush emerges as a disengaged president who "didn't know the questions to ask." On policy making: "It was a broken process, or rather no process at all; there seemed to be no apparatus to assess policy and deliberate effectively, to create coherent governance... Surround a president like that with one of the most experience-heavy teams of any recent administration, and you have senior officials both formulating and, in some cases conducting, U.S. policy." Mr. Bush appears entirely overwhelmed by his long-time political adviser Karl Rove and a policy direction set by his political contributor-base, and by Dick Cheney, assertions of the neocon world-view of the military and the interests of the powerful energy-construction industries.
There was nobody in charge. "This president was starting from scratch on most issues and relying on ideologues like Karl Rove and now Dick (Cheney)...It was not just the president's credibility around the world. It was credibility with his most senior officials."
President Bush's credibility problem seems not only the result of saying one thing while the truth is another. It is rather that of being unable to discern the differences, and of being entirely at the hands of the competent powerful who do. President Johnson opted not to run for a second term. Mr. Bush should do the same.
Meir Carasso, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering, worked for the U.S. and California governments and in private industry. He lives in Boulder.
Copyright 2004, The Daily Camera