Though President Bush is not a student of history, he surely has heard of
Harry Truman's famous declaration: "The buck stops here."
That slogan was enshrined
in a desk-top sign in Truman's Oval Office. I thought of it while watching all
of the buck-passing that has become a White House ritual lately, especially in
the sticky fallout from the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
have been presidents who have taken blame for a catastrophe, bad judgment or a
plan gone wrong.
In the case of the Iraq attack, Bush may yet own up to his
mistake in leading the nation to war on the basis of false advertising about weapons
of mass destruction and Iraq as haven of Sept. 11 terrorists. That rhetoric in
the rush to war has turned out to be a bunch of hooey.
But until that day of
reckoning, the buck-passing is picking up speed.
For example, it looks like
the Central Intelligence Agency is going to be the scapegoat for the discredited
information concerning Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
No such weapons have been found, despite the pre-war insistence by Bush and others
in his administration that Saddam had hoards of chemical, biological and nuclear
The White House has the choice of either 1) blaming the CIA for bad
intelligence or 2) admitting that the entire war was a pretext to keep Bush buoyant
in the public opinion polls as a war-time president. Of the two, option No. 1
is much preferred.
This means the designated fall guy is likely to be CIA Director
George Tenet, whose job may be jeopardy.
Also in the buck-passing file is the
administration's poor planning for the aftermath of the war in Iraq. The blame
has fallen on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld was primarily involved
in winning the war quickly, but he insisted on running the occupation, even though
postwar restoration and a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis ordinarily
would have been work for the State Department and the Agency for International
But Bush let Rumsfeld have his way, at least initially. Last month,
in a slap at Rumsfeld, Bush tapped trusted National Security Adviser Condoleezza
Rice to coordinate postwar operations in Iraq. Don't expect her to dictate to
Rumsfeld. He is a pro at infighting and isn't about to be Bush's whipping boy.
It's not clear at this point where this case of buck-passing will end. Stay
Another buck being passed is the blame game over who was responsible
for the backdrop banner, "Mission Accomplished," that was strung across the aircraft
carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 when Bush delivered a televised address to
the nation declaring the end of major combat in Iraq.
At a Rose Garden news
conference last week, Bush disavowed any indication that the banner was a premature
announcement that the war was over. Mounting casualties in Iraq have made him
face that reality.
Bush insisted that the banner was put up by the sailors
to suggest that their mission was accomplished. The Navy says the White House
made the banner. The White House insists it was the Navy's idea.
presidents have done a mea culpa. In April 1961 President John F. Kennedy took
responsibility for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs attempt by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles
to invade Cuba. It was an operation planned by the Eisenhower administration but
Kennedy adopted it after he became president.
However, he had second thoughts
and failed to send the promised air cover. The result was a catastrophic defeat
for the invaders.
Kennedy's popularity polls fell immediately after the foreign
policy debacle, but his public standing went back up in a short time.
25, 1980, eight American servicemen died in a secret helicopter landing in Iran
in a failed attempt to rescue 53 American hostages held by the Khomeini regime.
When news of the failed rescue mission reached Washington, President Jimmy Carter
went before the cameras to acknowledge full responsibility.
Carter was not
as lucky as Kennedy. His efforts to use negotiations to rescue the Americans --
mainly embassy personnel in Teheran -- also were unsuccessful. Iran strung him
along and the hostages weren't freed until the day his successor, Ronald Reagan,
was sworn in.
Which brings us to the present.
If the Iraqi resistance continues
and American casualties mount, voters next year may assign blame. The ballot box
has the last word in stopping buck-passing.