"At this point, one could forgive readers for asking, 'How many more damning portraits of the Bush administration do we need?' From yellowcake to Joe Wilson to Abu Ghraib, the list of Bush scandals and outrages is endless, but nothing ever seems to happen. As the journalist Mark Danner has pointed out, the problem is not lack of information: The problem is that Americans can't, or won't, acknowledge what that information means."
The problem is that on foreign policy issues far removed from most people's experience, they don't do a lot of careful study and examination of the evidence. Modern American life already has plenty of other hassles. Instead, they trust people, and for most of his Presidency, Bush has held that trust. I haven't read this book, but Suskind has a solid reputation, and this tracks with, well, almost everything that's been reported about the way the Bush administration works, so I'm inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. For most people, however, books like this just fade into the din. After all, the Clinton years produced plenty of literature both for and against.
Then there's this:
"But this is not news. Suskind's more momentous disclosure is the degree to which Cheney deliberately kept Bush in the dark, so as to be able to achieve his desired ends. For example, when Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler, visited Bush in 2002, the advance packet sent by the Saudis to prepare Bush for the meeting was mysteriously diverted to Cheney's office. Bush never read it. As a result, he had no idea what the agenda of the meeting was and failed to respond to the Saudi's requests for American help with the exploding Israeli-Palestinian crisis, which severely weakened Abdullah's position as an ally in the 'war on terror.' Nor did he extract any concessions from them. For Cheney, it seems, the less Bush was prepared for Abdullah, the less chance he would make any concessions to the Arab leader. Or perhaps Cheney simply wanted to control the meeting for the sake of control.
"Cheney and Rumsfeld, Suskind writes, viewed Bush as an inferior, the child of their contemporaries. A master at bureaucratic stealth, Cheney quietly orchestrated the war, which was 'about the only matter on which all three agreed ... So, as America officially moved to a detailed action plan for the overthrow of Hussein, only three men would be in the know: Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.'
"Cheney's strategy of keeping Bush in the dark, Suskind argues, went back to Watergate. The break-in and violation of laws was not the problem for Cheney, Suskind writes: The problem was that Nixon should have been 'protected' from knowing about it. It was his knowledge that ultimately led to his undoing. Keeping information from Bush allowed the president to say anything without ever being held accountable. 'He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements.' The most notorious case of this was the National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, laying out the case for war. Bush was given only the summary, which did not include the U.S. intelligence community's caveats about the yellowcake and aluminum tubes claims. Since Bush had not read the actual NIE, when those claims later turned out to be false, no one could accuse him of lying. And in the meantime, the higher good -- the war -- would have been achieved."
This is an example of why I think Bush could be a candidate for Worst President in American History. It's not just that he makes bad decisions, it's that he seems unable to perform the most basic Presidential tasks, such as finding out what's going on around him.
"Suskind's coup de grâce on this subject is his reminder of Osama bin Laden's message to the American people just before the 2004 elections. The CIA's consensus: 'bin Laden's message was clearly designed to assist the President's reelection ... On that score, any number of NSC principals could tell you something so dizzying that not even they will touch it: that Bush's ratings track with bin Laden's ratings in the Arab world.' When Bush speaks, bin Laden's popularity soars -- and vice versa.
I don't think this surprises anyone who pays close attention to both the United States and the Arab world.
Finally, the reviewer has some things to say about the Democrats:
"That centrist Democrats like Hillary Clinton cannot clearly reject Bush's catastrophic war seems to reflect their deeper inability to articulate, or perhaps even to understand, two things: that Iraq has severely damaged our national security, and that the process by which the Bush administration sold their war has severely damaged our democracy. Yes, those are harsh claims, which go beyond Beltway decorum. And yes, we are at war. But gentlemanly behavior can be a betrayal of the country, as Suskind's sad portrait of Tenet makes clear. And the mere fact that troops are in the field should not end all debate. By refusing to use these legitimate arguments against Bush, the Democrats are not only committing a tactical political error, they are allowing the disease he imported to fester."
All the evidence I have here is anecdotal and for the most part un-bloggable, but my sense is that the farther up the ladder you go in most relevant government institutions, the more people have a sense of just how awful the past few years have gone. However, the mere fact this is outside the mainstream of what American politicians have managed to screw up means that pointing it all out falls outside the mainstream of American attack politics. I think the ground has shifted enough, though, that these sorts of attacks will start to have the desired political effect. And really, the root cause of all this is that presumably because of his isolation, President Bush as lost his common touch. The President who told "Brownie" he was doing a "heckuva job" after Hurricane Katrina was not the same as the one who stood at Ground Zero with the bullhorn in September 2001.