Bush Team Is Adept Only at Bungling

The Bush administration reminds me of Jimmy Breslin's comic novel, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. The premise of the novel was what if you had a Mafia gang whose members were incompetent at the things that mafiosi are supposed to do. Similarly, the Bush administration has often shot itself in the foot because its key players are not qualified for their jobs. They make a mess of the job and are protected by secrecy; or if that isn't possible, by spin.

The current example is the selective firing of U.S. attorneys for reasons that are not yet clear. The gnomes who created the mess are two of President Bush's old cronies from Texas: Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers. Neither, as is now patent, is a heavy hitter. Gonzales has been involved in controversies over the Geneva Convention (which he called "quaint") and legal memos that appear to involve approval of secrecy, torture, imprisonment without trial and spying on Americans without legal warrants. Small wonder the president does not want him to testify under oath.

Another example of not being able to do the job were the men who were supposed to deal with Hurricane Katrina: Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown (of Homeland Security and FEMA, respectively), neither of whom had the intelligence to deal with a catastrophe or the experience of responding to major disasters (unlike Brown's predecessor Edward Witt). However, they were loyal Republicans, so no other competence was required. New Orleans continues to be a mess; FEMA continues to be unable to spend the money. No heavy hitters in this mess.

Then there is the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was supposed to govern Iraq in the years after the war. L. Paul Bremer, the head of CPA, did not speak Arabic and had never served in the Middle East. He had been a staff aide to Henry Kissinger and ambassador to Norway. The members of his staff, mostly younger Republicans, seem to have been even less qualified, and according to journalists covering Iraq, did not speak Arabic and rarely left the fortified Green Zone. Whatever Bremer's intentions, he and his staff must share the blame for what came after the new government was installed. None of them seems to have been a heavy hitter.

The worst example by far of the gang that could only shoot itself in the foot is the president's foreign policy team. Condoleezza Rice had been provost at Stanford University, which might have qualified her to become president of a state college in the California system, but scarcely the president's top foreign policy adviser or now secretary of state. Donald Rumsfeld was a hard-driving and arrogant corporate executive skilled at bureaucratic infighting who ignored the advice of the experienced military officers and ran the Defense Department as his own fiefdom. He used the war to prove his hypothesis that a small American military force would easily triumph, and he made no preparations for reconstruction after the war -- two tragic mistakes, the results of which are still with us.

Vice President Dick Cheney, on the basis of the ''Scooter'' Libby trial, seems an angry man with paranoid tendencies who may even now suspect an Iraq link with al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction hidden away somewhere. Mixed in were a clique of neocons: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Libby, who could write strong memos. The only heavy hitter, who might have been able to prevent the mistake of the war, was Colin Powell, whom Rumsfeld and Cheney marginalized. No wonder the war went terribly wrong and tens of thousands have died.

Gonzales, Miers, Chertoff, Bremer, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz: Could any of the members of this gang have been expected to shoot straight? Besides Powell, where were the wise men (and women) who could have protected the country from a string of disasters?

Bush is a victim of his bad taste in advisers and staff, his propensity to Texas cronyism and his inclination to cover up and spin the truth. There is no reason to believe that he is better advised about the ''new'' strategy in Iraq, or that the mistakes will not continue till Jan. 20, 2009. No heavy hitters need apply.

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