In a curious juxtaposition, some leading figures from the Bush administration have recently argued that the president is blind, while others, such as Karl Rove, maintain he is omniscient. Rove, Bush's political "architect" and deputy chief of staff, is an expert at arranging the smearing of the motives and patriotism of the president's critics. He remains under investigation for his role in the disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative in order to tarnish the reputation of her husband, the former ambassador Joseph Wilson - who had revealed that the rationale for the Iraq war was based on false evidence. Every day for the past two weeks, the White House press secretary Scott McClellan has stonewalled questions about Rove's and George Bush's connections to super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery and is cooperating with prosecutors. McClellan refuses to name officials who attended "staff-level meetings" with Abramoff.
Under these clouds, Rove stepped up to the lectern at the gathering of the Republican national committee in Washington last Friday to invoke the spectre of 9/11. Little else matters but that Bush grasps that it changed everything and that Democrats, of course, do not. "We need," Rove said, "a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in."
As Rove spoke, Lewis Paul Bremer III, the former presidential proconsul in Iraq and head of the coalition provisional authority (CPA), was promoting his memoir, My Year in Iraq. "We really did not see the insurgency coming," Bremer told NBC. His arguments for more troops had been rebuffed by Donald Rumsfeld.
Rove's call to the faithful lacks Bremer's specificity. For the political theme to remain vital, recent history must be obliterated. For the moment, Rove appears not as a citizen under suspicion, but the cardinal of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide.
But Bremer's apologia is also challenged by facts. In January 2003, Larry Johnson, a CIA operative who served with Bremer in the state department's office of counterterrorism, sent him a memo that accurately predicted an Iraqi uprising - "no matter how benign or charitable" - and the influence of a "belligerent Iran". "Bremer's reaction," Johnson told me, "was that this was off base, doesn't matter, we're going to war, don't undermine the effort. His mind was made up. There was no brooking any alternative analysis. This is the doctrine, the truth, either you admit to it or you're a heretic." When Bremer became head of the CPA, Johnson tried to brief him with information that the Bush administration had not considered, but Bremer did not "want to listen".
Bremer was modelling himself on his commander in chief. In fact, elder statesmen of the foreign policy establishment and the Republican party repeatedly warned Bush to his face what the consequences of the war would be - including the former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretaries of state James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger. It was "never thought the war would come off right", one of those who spoke to Bush told me. "It was going to end with an Islamic republic dominated by Shias and influenced by Iran ... If you know history, you don't have to be a genius." But Bush would not listen. "It's a sad story."
Rove is again playing the patriot game to salvage Bush's political position. This time he is attempting to turn Bush's domestic spying into a false issue of whether Democrats support gathering intelligence on terrorists. The history of the Bush presidency underlines Rove's premise, but not as he wishes: we do need a commander in chief who understands the gravity of the moment.
Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is the author of "The Clinton Wars."
Email to: sidney_blumenthal @yahoo.com
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