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“Poppy Speaks Out At Last — Too Little, Too Late”: The American People Are Still Paying The Price

If only “Poppy” had quit in 1992, after one White House term, then the 41st president’s fruit would not be so bitter. George Herbert Walker Bush would have dined out on German reunification and the multinational coalition in the first Gulf War — a desert cakewalk. Through no fault of his own, the Soviet Union and the Cold War ended on his watch, and that should be enough for any man pushing 70.

“I didn’t finish the job,” Bush I said. He’s now 91.

Out on the stump, the monumentally ambitious president found he could not connect to the American people. A jolly good fellow who wrote a ton of thank-you notes, he went as far as China and Langley for the blue-chip resume, always a team player who never had “the vision thing.”

Earlier, in 1988, he won as Ronald Reagan’s chosen understudy. But like many men of his Ivy League WASP war hero mold, he could not speak straight to the heart of people at home. Not to save his political life. His speech often sounded strangled.

A new biography, an elegant volume composed by author and presidential historian Jon Meacham, is titled Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. It’s based on the former president’s diaries and revealing chats, often at the family compound on the Maine coast.

The result of that sharing is the most generous portrait that the former president, nicknamed “Poppy” since prep school, could hope for. Meacham’s work is written in a gentlemanly spirit, just as his American Lion book on the gruff general and president, Andrew Jackson, glowed. For that he won the Pulitzer Prize. (Meacham once deftly edited a magazine piece of mine.) Meacham excuses Bush’s mean moments in political combat as untrue to his code. (The 1988 campaign was not pretty.) Nor does he pass judgment on Bush’s loyal service to President Richard M. Nixon.

Bush realized late there was no way to win against the young Bill Clinton, who could coax the stars out of the sky. The generational contrast was stark. We learn that Bush confided to his diary that he felt the war-high in his approval rating was thin ice. The future won; the past lost. Bush had been schooled and worked in exclusively male institutions; Clinton was educated in co-ed settings and married another Yale Law School graduate. (Barbara Pierce Bush dropped out of Smith College to marry Poppy.)

Now it turns out, tragically, Poppy’s speech troubles extended to his own firstborn son George W. Bush as wily Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney — who pushed the nation down the path of war in Iraq. More than most, the Bushes have played their family dramas out in public, at our expense. The American people are still paying the bill — and so are Iraq, Syria and other countries bathed in blood. The show was not even fun to watch.

The Bushes are not just genteel from a long New England line. Their manners mask a cutthroat bunch — jocks who don’t crack books much — when they aren’t writing adoring notes to fellow Bushes. Winning and loyalty are cherished, whether it’s horseshoes or the Florida presidential contest in 2000. They have their men, like lifelong friend James Baker, always there to help in a pinch. In Florida, with brother Jeb Bush as governor, the cliffhanger was almost a cosmic family thank-you note to opponent Al Gore, Clinton’s vice president — whom Poppy had once referred to as a pair of “bozos.” (Now he and Clinton are tight.)

Cheney’s war-mongering as his son’s vice president offended Poppy; building up his own power base was the last thing he would have done as Reagan’s No. 2. Bush, ever the good team player, found Cheney’s aggression a terrible influence. Yet Poppy had hired Cheney to be his secretary of defense and so — well, it was all in the tribe. As a seasoned foreign policy hand, Poppy knew the “axis of evil” language used by his son was trouble. But he never spoke “mano a mano” to his son, as columnist Maureen Dowd noted.

So why not say something at the time to us, the American people? It’s clear: We’re not their kind, dear.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 13, 2015

November 13, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, George H. W. Bush, Iraq War | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Politics Of War”: We Endanger The Peace And Confuse All Issues When We Obscure The Truth

This Memorial Day the nation remembers all those people who died while serving in the American armed forces. More than 1,316,000 military personnel have died during military conflicts in this nation’s history.

The mission of the U.S. military is to fight and win our nation’s wars. The U.S. has the most powerful military in the history of the world, but it should not be utilized as a political tool, or for retribution. The government and its leaders must do their best to make the right decisions, to be truthful with the American people, and to provide all the necessary support needed to fulfill the military’s mission. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case.

Following the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush began to plan a response. Vice President Dick Cheney and neo-con members of the administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, immediately set their sites on Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s tyrannical ruler. They were disappointed that Hussein had not been toppled during the first Gulf War in 1991. Soon the administration made the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that Hussein was linked to the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

But the Bush administration was cherry picking raw intelligence, much of which was unverified. The “evidence” against Hussein was presented to Congress, which on October 11, 2002, passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Forces Against Iraq. In early 2003, the British and Spanish governments proposed a U.N. resolution that gave Iraq a deadline for compliance with previous resolutions on WMDs or face military actions. The resolution was withdrawn because France, Germany, Canada and Russia were opposed to military action; instead they called for further diplomacy. In early March, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said that progress had been made with the inspections and no WMD’s had been found in Iraq.

The administration, which rejected Blix’s assessment, began making the case for war to the American people. In February, President Bush conducted a series of interviews with news organizations, including the Spanish language channel Telemundo. I was the head of news for Telemundo at that time, and I was present for our session. The president told Telemundo’s Pedro Sevcec that he had not made a decision to go to war. Following the interview, I asked the president, “What about Jacques Chirac,” referring to the French president. President Bush swatted me on the shoulder with the back of his hand and said dismissively, “Oh, he’ll come around.” “We’re going to war,” I thought.

The American invasion of Iraq began on March 20. Vice President Cheney had predicted we would be greeted as liberators. He was wrong. The Iraqi forces were quickly defeated but the administration mismanaged the occupation. The Ba’athist government had collapsed, Hussein’s military was disarmed, and a power vacuum ensued. Sectarian violence broke out between the Shias and the Sunnis. U.S. backed Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, became Prime Minister in 2006, but his government alienated the country’s Sunni minority.

In 2007, President Bush implemented a troop surge in Iraq. By adding 20,000 additional U.S. troops, primarily in capital city Baghdad, the president hoped to buy time for reconciliation among the factions. The situation on the ground stabilized, but Sunnis still distrusted the Maliki government.

In 2008, the Bush administration negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq granting U.S. troops in the country legal immunities with the understanding the troops would be withdrawn by 2012. When negotiations began to extend U.S. military presence, only a smaller number, Maliki and various Iraqi party leaders agreed to the extended troop deployment, but did not want to continue the legal immunities. These immunities are a condition everywhere U.S. troops are based.

Some critics said President Barack Obama could have done more to secure the legal immunities, but that is debatable. In an interview on CBS News’ Face the Nation Sunday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) once again claimed an agreement could have been reached with Maliki through negotiations. Nonetheless, President Obama withdrew American combat troops and fulfilled a campaign promise.

The Maliki government collapsed in 2014. In the summer of 2014, ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group that had been incubating for more than a decade in Syria, launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared an Islamic caliphate. ISIS, which is Sunni, has slaughtered thousands of people in its expansion in the region. But many Iraqi Sunnis find ISIS preferable to the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Iraq under Hussein had served as a counter balance against Iran, its bitter enemy. With Hussein gone, Iran, a Shiite country, began working closely with the Shiite government in Baghdad. Iran’s influence in the region has grown, especially with the spread of ISIS. Iraq is in turmoil and it is unlikely all of the factions, including the Kurds in the north, will come together again.

The Iraq War has been costly. More than 4,500 members of the U.S military have been killed since the invasion. Hundreds of thousands of casualties have been suffered by Iraqis. Two years ago the “Costs of Wars” project, part of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, estimated that the Iraq War had already cost America more than $2 trillion. And many veterans of Iraq, who have returned home, are unemployed, suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or have committed suicide.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and many Republican presidential candidates blame President Obama for today’s chaos in Iraq and the region. Yet these candidates do not offer a plan or a solution. In fact, former Senator Rick Santorum recently said, “If these folks (ISIS) want to return to a 7th-century version of Islam, then let’s load up our bombers and bomb them back to the 7th century.” ISIS and Iraq have turned into political fodder for the Republican base.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, and subsequent mismanagement by the Bush administration, is the biggest mistake the U.S. has made since Vietnam. It has led to a series of unintended and disastrous consequences. And there is no light at the end of this tunnel for America.

Perhaps the architects of the Iraq War should have heeded the counsel of their spiritual leader, President Ronald Reagan. In a 1985 Veterans Day speech he said, “We endanger the peace and confuse all issues when we obscure the truth.”

 

By: Joe Peyronnin, Hofstra Journalism Professor; The Blog, The Huffington Post, May 24, 2015

May 25, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Memorial Day, U. S. Military | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jeb Bush’s Brotherly Bind”: There Are More Important Issues Here Than Family

Am I the only person outside the Bush family who has a smidgen of empathy for Jeb Bush’s roller-coaster ride in trying to answer a straightforward question: Was going to war in Iraq the right thing to do?

It’s hard to go much beyond “smidgen” because it remains astonishing that Bush hadn’t worked out long in advance how he’d grapple with an inevitable query about the invasion his brother launched. Jeb’s responses over four days were, as The Post’s Philip Rucker and Ed O’Keefe wrote, “wavering, uncertain and incongruous.”

The saga began when Fox News’s Megyn Kelly asked Bush if, knowing all we know now, he would have gone to war. “I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush replied. “And so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Bang! The political world, including conservatives who had strongly supported George W.’s foreign policy, came down on him hard. After going this way and that, Jeb admitted defeat on Thursday. He mixed the first-person singular and plural with the second person in, finally, responding to Kelly’s original question. “Knowing what we know now, what would you have done? I would have not engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

So why have any sympathy for him at all? The main reason is very old-fashioned: His apparent reluctance to cast his own brother into the darkness. In justifying his initial answer, Bush later used his own reframing of Kelly’s words as an excuse, explaining he hadn’t understood the “know now” part. But it’s just as possible that he knew perfectly well what Kelly had asked — Jeb Bush is not stupid — and hoped he could get away with answering a different question to avoid being disloyal to George W.

Loyalty is a virtue in rather short supply in our culture, so I admire it when I see it. Of course it can be misplaced. There are times when other virtues should trump it. But loyalty does matter, and I have some respect for Jeb for trying to stay true to his family ties over four utterly miserable days.

Still, there are more important issues here than family. Bush’s agony isn’t over because Iraq raises profound questions not only for him but also for all of his GOP opponents. If Bush’s initial answer about the war was wrong and his most recent answer was right, this means that opponents of the war were also right. They included a young Illinois state senator, Barack Obama, who predicted in 2002 that “even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.”

Many of the war’s staunchest supporters understand that they can never concede that Obama was right because doing so would undermine their ongoing defense of a hyperinterventionist foreign policy. That’s why some of them remain unrepentant. “I believed in it then,” former vice president Dick Cheney said of the war to Politico’s Mike Allen last July. “I look back on it now, it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Bill Kristol, one of the war’s leading promoters, told CNN last June: “I’m not apologizing for something that I think was not wrong. I think going to war to remove Saddam was the right thing to do and necessary and just thing to do.” Donald Rumsfeld, George W.’s first secretary of defense, said that it would have been “immoral” not to go to Iraq.

But other hawks would rather see the was-the-Iraq-War-right question magically disappear because they know it’s a no-win for them. Most Americans now think the war was ill-advised. Why remind them that most of the same people who are super hawks now brought them an adventure they deeply regret? Thus did the Wall Street Journal editorial page on Friday come out firmly and unequivocally in favor of — evasion. “The right answer to the question is that it’s not a useful or instructive one to answer, because statesmanship, like life, is not conducted in hindsight.”

Sorry, but inquiring minds will want all the candidates to offer straight answers. This means that Bush’s Republican opponents will have to do more than trash his botched dodging. Bush at least had the excuse that he didn’t want to speak ill of his brother. The rest of them still need to explain how their own views of the past relate to where they’ll take us in the future.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 17, 2015

May 20, 2015 Posted by | George W Bush, Iraq War, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Errors And Lies”: The Iraq War Wasn’t An Innocent Mistake; The Bush Administration Wanted A War

Surprise! It turns out that there’s something to be said for having the brother of a failed president make his own run for the White House. Thanks to Jeb Bush, we may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.

But many influential people — not just Mr. Bush — would prefer that we not have that discussion. There’s a palpable sense right now of the political and media elite trying to draw a line under the subject. Yes, the narrative goes, we now know that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake, and it’s about time that everyone admits it. Now let’s move on.

Well, let’s not — because that’s a false narrative, and everyone who was involved in the debate over the war knows that it’s false. The Iraq war wasn’t an innocent mistake, a venture undertaken on the basis of intelligence that turned out to be wrong. America invaded Iraq because the Bush administration wanted a war. The public justifications for the invasion were nothing but pretexts, and falsified pretexts at that. We were, in a fundamental sense, lied into war.

The fraudulence of the case for war was actually obvious even at the time: the ever-shifting arguments for an unchanging goal were a dead giveaway. So were the word games — the talk about W.M.D that conflated chemical weapons (which many people did think Saddam had) with nukes, the constant insinuations that Iraq was somehow behind 9/11.

And at this point we have plenty of evidence to confirm everything the war’s opponents were saying. We now know, for example, that on 9/11 itself — literally before the dust had settled — Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, was already plotting war against a regime that had nothing to do with the terrorist attack. “Judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] …sweep it all up things related and not”; so read notes taken by Mr. Rumsfeld’s aide.

This was, in short, a war the White House wanted, and all of the supposed mistakes that, as Jeb puts it, “were made” by someone unnamed actually flowed from this underlying desire. Did the intelligence agencies wrongly conclude that Iraq had chemical weapons and a nuclear program? That’s because they were under intense pressure to justify the war. Did prewar assessments vastly understate the difficulty and cost of occupation? That’s because the war party didn’t want to hear anything that might raise doubts about the rush to invade. Indeed, the Army’s chief of staff was effectively fired for questioning claims that the occupation phase would be cheap and easy.

Why did they want a war? That’s a harder question to answer. Some of the warmongers believed that deploying shock and awe in Iraq would enhance American power and influence around the world. Some saw Iraq as a sort of pilot project, preparation for a series of regime changes. And it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there was a strong element of wagging the dog, of using military triumph to strengthen the Republican brand at home.

Whatever the precise motives, the result was a very dark chapter in American history. Once again: We were lied into war.

Now, you can understand why many political and media figures would prefer not to talk about any of this. Some of them, I suppose, may have been duped: may have fallen for the obvious lies, which doesn’t say much about their judgment. More, I suspect, were complicit: they realized that the official case for war was a pretext, but had their own reasons for wanting a war, or, alternatively, allowed themselves to be intimidated into going along. For there was a definite climate of fear among politicians and pundits in 2002 and 2003, one in which criticizing the push for war looked very much like a career killer.

On top of these personal motives, our news media in general have a hard time coping with policy dishonesty. Reporters are reluctant to call politicians on their lies, even when these involve mundane issues like budget numbers, for fear of seeming partisan. In fact, the bigger the lie, the clearer it is that major political figures are engaged in outright fraud, the more hesitant the reporting. And it doesn’t get much bigger — indeed, more or less criminal — than lying America into war.

But truth matters, and not just because those who refuse to learn from history are doomed in some general sense to repeat it. The campaign of lies that took us into Iraq was recent enough that it’s still important to hold the guilty individuals accountable. Never mind Jeb Bush’s verbal stumbles. Think, instead, about his foreign-policy team, led by people who were directly involved in concocting a false case for war.

So let’s get the Iraq story right. Yes, from a national point of view the invasion was a mistake. But (with apologies to Talleyrand) it was worse than a mistake, it was a crime.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 18, 2015

May 19, 2015 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Iraq War, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Damn Ebenezer Cheney!”: The Ghost Of Christmas Past

All the hullaballoo over the United States government’s’ use of torture as an officially-sanctioned intelligence gathering process was bad enough. It brought back memories of a shameful period in American history. But when Dick Cheney reappeared to defend the practice of torture, it was the worst specter of Christmas past. He managed to rekindle one of my few regrets in nine years working on the Hill. Damn Ebenezer Cheney!

My great remorse from that period is that a Democratic House majority passed on an opportunity for a little justice. In late 2008, after the election of Barack Obama but before his inauguration, a group of Democratic staffers quietly drafted a policy memo trying to convince our bosses to introduce a Motion of Censure against President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and assorted others in the Bush Administration for their decision to invade Iraq. That decision cost the lives of 4,500 Americans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and more than $1.5 trillion dollars. It threw the Middle East into what may be perpetual chaos. And, all of it was predicated on lies.

We tried to sell the idea of a Resolution of Censure — far short of impeachment and requiring only a majority vote in the House, but it never picked up any steam. Everyone, we were told, had pretty much turned the corner. Congress was occupied with getting ready for a new president and a new session. America was just plain “Bushed” by the events of the last Administration and simply wanted them all gone. Nothing happened.

So, as our memo predicted, “People who campaigned on accountability and said, ‘judge us by our performance,’ walked away from the most corrupt, inept, secretive and ideologically-driven White House in American history without ever once being held accountable.”

And only much later did it occur to me that we should have left President Bush out of it and pushed for the censure of the Cardinal Richelieu of the administration, Richard B. Cheney. No-one on earth could have had a problem with that. Cheney was so mean, even his friends didn’t like him.

The disappointment had faded a bit over time, but then the Dark Eminence of Iraq re-emerged, completely unrepentant, to defend the use of torture — even deny that waterboarding, starvation and anal feeding were torture, although the rest of the world is pretty clear about such practices. And, even though the United States prosecuted Japanese army officers for using identical tactics on U.S. military prisoners in the Philippines during World War II.

Cheney continues to insist that the U.S. gained valuable information from the use of torture, even though genuine intelligence professionals have revealed that any usable intel came before the waterboarding began. He continues to claim that waterboarding isn’t actually torture because the White House had a memo from its Attorney General’s Office attesting that whatever they wanted to do was pretty much okay. That memo, of course, was totally repudiated long ago.

But a stubborn refusal to admit any mistakes in judgment isn’t exactly new for Dick Cheney. He still insists that Saddam Hussein’s was in the process of developing WMD, including nuclear weapons, though the accusation has been thoroughly and authoritatively debunked. He still claims some sort of alliance existed between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda without the slightest indication or evidence, and despite the fact that a pact between a Sunni Muslim dictator and a stateless Wahhabi jihadist organization would have defied all logic.

The saving grace is history. When the history of the Bush Administration is finally written, Cheney won’t be allowed to just sit and growl at anyone who questions anything he did or said. History will not be intimidated. History may tell us whether George W. Bush was complicit in some of the most tragic, ill-advised and downright shameful decisions of his administration, or simply oblivious. But it will be very clear about the role of Dick Cheney.

Merry Christmas, Dick.

 

By: David Helfert, Professor of Political Communication, Johns Hopkins University; The Blog, The Huffington Post, December 22, 2014

December 24, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Christmas, Dick Cheney | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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