Monday, October 02, 2006

Enemy at the Woodward-Gate

It's a rare journalist who can claim credit for two national scandals, the second of which carries his name. Five weeks out from Mid-Terms and with the ink on the leaked NIE barely dry, Hurricane Woodward is shaking the administration to its roots, despite the Bush PR team's best efforts to look blase and spin furiously at the same time. The book has already sold a million copies on the promise of insider gossip, some of it old meat (George believes in himself more than good advice), some red (everyone from the generals to Laura wanted Rumsfeld fired). With Baghdad under lockdown and Condi asking the Saudis for help, Bush needs some inspiration from the last successful Republican war president, or at least a stoic quip - 'if there is a place worse than Hell, I am in it'.

The difference between Bush and Lincoln in hell, of course, is that Bush put himself there. As far as one can tell from media blitz on a yet-unpublished book, State of Denial confirms what I've suggested is Bush's flaw as president -

John McCain was asked whether Mr Bush had ever asked him for his views on Iraq. "No, no, he hasn't... As a matter of fact, he's not intellectually curious.'

It's bad enough that the US is being run by a man convinced his job is to lead and not think, at least not when things start going wrong. But when he creates an institutional culture in which no one else wants to think, you end up with self-muzzling, dysfunctional government. No one in this 'MBA presidency' seems to do anything under delegation, whether managing hurricane relief or the War On Terror. Perhaps the most disturbing of Woodward's insights is into how the generals running the mightiest military machine in history ended up too cowed to do their jobs -

Abizaid's old friends were worried sick that another Vietnam or anything that looked like Vietnam would be the end of the volunteer army. What's the strategy for winning? they pressed him.

"That's not my job," Abizaid said.

No, it is part of your job, they insisted.

No, Abizaid said. Articulating strategy belonged to others.

Put these tidbits with a raft of other anectodal evidence - like Eric Shinseki's treatment - and you're left with an eerie image of Stalin purging independent-minded generals from the Red Army before June 1941. Stalin took about six months to recognise his errors, twelve to put his house in order and another thirty or so to win the war. Bush is approaching the same length of time and hasn't yet resolved to sack the guy whom everyone in the know seems to blame for Iraq.

Inevitably, a book that shows Bush improvising war and dissembling to the public has brought out the lynch mob. When Woodward wrote nice things about the White House, he was feted by everyone right of Ted Kennedy and Atrios. Now he has an 'agenda', just like the 'agenda' to leak the NIE and the 'agenda' of the ex-Bush officials whom Woodward interviewed. At the next press conference, someone should ask Tony Snow how many ex-Clinton officials have come forward to denounce their administration's incompetence. Not that it would make much difference. By this point, I doubt the Bush cheersquad will ever accept that smoke means fire and not just a reason to close your eyes.

After all, the administration has been coming clean over Iraq, albeit by lowering the bar for communication -

Since late last year, Bush has spoken more openly and directly about the nature of the enemy in Iraq and the scale of the challenge in building a peaceful and democratic nation. Snow himself quoted Bush at length at a press conference in Chicago in July saying, “We’ve lost obviously a lot of lives here in the homeland, and we lost lives overseas.” Snow added that Bush had been telling the American people that “it’s a war that’s going to outlive his presidency.”

Well, that makes it all better.

Down under, the Cole Inquiry's final day was another victory for truth in government, with our new Trade Minister leaping into his portfolio and contracting an instant case of AWB-related amnesia. In fairness to Warren Truss, a bribe-greased trade policy review was the least of the day's misdemeanours, if you thought concentration-camp jokes were reserved for South Park -

the extent of the scandal was revealed in the email by executive Daryl Borlase, who said Iraq wanted to build 2000 concrete bunkers, ostensibly to store grain, but "the bunkers will have cement walls and floors so they are actually designed for burying the Kurds -- under the cement?"

"They intend to build them with fumigation capability so the mind boggles as to whether they are fumigating insects or any other pest that pisses them off," the email says.

It continued: "On a serious note, they will have cement flooring ..."

Saddam is currently on trial in Iraq for the genocide of 182,000 people in a 1987-88 campaign against the Kurds.

And if you remained an optimist through that choice revelation, you would have been treated to the sight of AWB's (ex)MD crying in the witness box.

As they say, the truth ain't pretty...


Tim Dunlop has an interesting take on the media's cognitive dissonance over politicians.


Jeremy said...

The second of the two "sandals" you're talking about smells like a political class scandal to me - the sort of thing which gets political tragics like us excited about but which is spectacularly incapable of having any real electoral impact. Foleygate on the other hand...

John Lee said...

the sort of thing which gets political tragics like us excited about

you mean the sort of people who read Woodward's first two books?

the other great tabloid scandal of the moment also involves a US senator, Jim 'Jewish' Webb. See this piece by Joe Klein lamenting the Paris Hilton culture of American politics these days

John Lee said...

Some retrospective wisdom from the President, though he didn't put it that way -

They're saying: 'Be flexible.' And we are," Bush said. "I believe that, you know, you empower your generals to make the decisions -- the recommendations on what we do to win."

Unfortunately, few wars are won retrospectively...