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Bush Bashers By: George Shadroui
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, August 16, 2004


It is understandable that the Democrats in Boston sought to go positive during their national convention. To have sustained through the week the shrill rhetoric against President Bush that has characterized Democratic discourse over the past year would have left a bad taste in the mouths of a nation that has mostly ignored them up until now.

But be not misled. Bush bashing is so in vogue these days among the liberal and leftist literati that it constitutes a genre. Indeed, anti-Bush polemics warrant their own section in some bookstores. And the books keep rolling off the presses. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

 

The Three Little Pigs: Buy the White House (Dan Piraro)

Worse than Watergate: the Secret Presidency of George Bush (John Dean)

The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (David Corn)

Is Our Children Learning: The Case against George W. Bush (Paul Begala)

Big Bush Lies: the 20 most telling lies of George W. Bush (Jerry Barrett)

Warrior King: The Case for Impeaching George Bush (John Bonifaz)

The I Hate George Bush Reader: Why Dubya is Wrong About Absolutely Everything (Clint Willis)

American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush (Kevin Phillips)

Imperial Hubris, Anonymous

Obliviously On He Sales: The Bush Administration in Rhyme, Calvin Trillin

The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill (Suskind)

Bushwhacked: Life in George Bush’s America (Molly Ivins)

The Dirty Truth: the Oil and Chemical Dependency of George W. Bush (Rick Abraham).

The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush (Peter Singer)

Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy (Robert Kennedy Jr.)

Cruel and Unusual: Bush and Cheney’s New World Order (Mark Crispin Miller)

The Book on Bush: How George W. Bush is (Mis)leading America (Eric Alterman and Mark Green)

The Bush Hater’s Handbook: A Guide to the Most Appalling Presidency in the Past 100 years (Jack Huberman)

Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them (Al Franken)

Dude, Where’s My Country (Michael Moore)

Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney/Bush Junta (Gore Vidal)

Why are We At War (Norman Mailer)

Against All Enemies: Inside America’ War on Terror (Richard Clarke)

Fanatics and Fools: The Game Plan for Winning Back America (Ariana Huffington)

The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Chrstopher Scheer, Robert Scheer and Lakshmi Chaudhry)

Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk (Maureen Dowd)

Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and The Stifling of Democracy (Lewis Lapham)

Hegemony or Survival (Noam Chomsky)

 

It is particularly revealing to consider the titles in the wake of the recent reports released by the Senate Intelligence Committee and the 9/11 Commission, not to mention disclosures that Clinton’s former National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, might have absconded with important documents relevant to these investigations.

 

There is nothing subtle about the theme being pounded by the left and the Democrats, in whose service most of these authors write. The message is clear: Bush is a criminal, a fanatic, a liar, blood-thirsty, cruel, deserving of hatred. Joseph Wilson’s memoir, The Politics of Truth, goes to extra lengths to make sure we grasp his point – “Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity” – oh, yes, now we remember, that Joseph Wilson.  

 

This is not even close to a complete list. Let’s look at a few more, in case your favorite isn’t mentioned above: Big Lies, Joe Conason; Had Enough: A Handbook for Fighting Back (James Carville and Jeff Nussbaum); Casualty of War: the Bush Administration’s Assault on a Free Press (David Dadge); The W Effect: Bush’s War on Women (Laura Flanders); Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn’t Deserve a Second Term (Bill Press); Thieves in High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country and It’s Time to Take it Back (Jim Hightower.)

 

Now consider this quote from David Brock’s recent book, The Republican Noise Machine, which is one long whine about how disadvantaged liberals are in the media and publishing business compared to the right: “Another major shift that benefited conservatives was in the retail part of the book business, which had for decades been dominated by discriminating independent owners who appreciated literary merit and original thought. These owners tended not to be right-wingers.” And, he continues, “Conservative organizations also mastered the buying of books in bulk orders, which substantially increased the likelihood that right-wing books would make the best-seller list…Liberals had no racket to help them conquer the book market….Nor is there a `liberal book club’ to guarantee distribution and spur discount sales.” (Of course, there is a liberal “Book of the Month Club” and a liberal “Literary Guild Book Club” and a liberal “History Book Club” and so forth, but since the liberal elite dominates the culture why spoil the non-partisan deception by labeling their book clubs “liberal.”)

 

Brock wants us to believe that the left is increasingly disadvantaged in the publishing and book-writing business. But his thesis has all the weight of a minnow tugging on 20 pound test line. The very premise of his argument – that elites (read liberals) can no longer act as gatekeeper on what is published -- suggests how dominant the left has been in the publishing business, and thus refutes his own claim. This is what passes for literary quality in the book trade these days.

 

As for the claim that left-leaning book publishers appreciate literary merit, well, consider that in addition to lying, corruption, stealing, war-mongering, secrecy and fanaticism, Bush, according to these leftist writers currently cramming the shelves at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, also hates women, despises the First Amendment and rejects democratic government. In short, literary merit these days is judged on how many times “Bush is bad” can be inserted into a 200-page screed.

 

Bush vs. Clinton on the hate meter

 

This hatred of Bush, and the caricature that accompanies it, has been compared to the conservative dislike of Bill Clinton. Andrew Ferguson at the American Spectator drew the parallel humorously by citing the “Billy Bob Gasket Disease,” a reference to an Arkansas politician who grew increasingly infuriated that voters could not see through Clinton’s transparent phoniness. Perhaps the anti-Bush sentiment is Billy Bob Gasket disease in reverse?

 

I would disagree in this respect: the literature generated by anti-Bush hatred goes well beyond anything inspired by Clinton. If you consider Clinton’s first term, for example, only a handful of books sought to implicate Clinton in nefarious activities such as drug trafficking or Vincent Foster’s death. Christopher Ruddy and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard come immediately to mind. These were books by relatively unknown authors and unlike the current crop of Bush bashers were summarily dismissed the mainstream press and even by some conservatives aspiring to join the mainstream. National Review’s Richard Brookhiser, for example, took Ruddy to task for his “incendiary” claims.

 

Emmett Tyrrell’s Boy Clinton and  Floyd Brown’s Slick Willie also were seen to walk over the line.  Tyrrell sought to portray Clinton as the most corrupt politician in American history and fueled rumors about Clinton drug activities (and still claims they have not been disproved). His portrait of Clinton’s childhood and upbringing is unnecessarily nasty. No doubt some Clinton biographers had trouble walking the fine line between tough reporting and gratuitous attacks. Whitewater, on the other hand, was fair game even if less than some Republicans claimed.

 

It wasn’t until after the Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s subsequent impeachment for lying under oath and obstructing justice that most of the anti-Clinton books began to appear. Christopher Hitchens (a leftist), Ann Coulter and William Bennett published books of varying degrees of polemical heat. Others have taken legitimate aim at Clinton’s handling of national security: China, North Korea, terrorism, etc. But even counting all of these, it is tough to come up with more than two dozen books over the past decade that portray Clinton in uncompromisingly negative terms. (I will grant talk radio tried to make up for this, but then the networks and cable news channels don’t give Bush anything like a free pass – another subject for another day.)

 

The barrage of books attacking Bush, then, is arguably unprecedented in American literary history. It is an effort clearly targeting November’s election. And most of the books listed here are not written by fringe authors or journalists, but by well-known public persons and mainstream journalists and historians. And yet the tone is every bit as nasty as anything conjured up by the American Spectator on Bill Clinton.

 

John Dean, Molly Ivins and Al Franken all insinuate that Bush once did drugs, but they offer no evidence to support the claim other than Bush’s understandable refusal, decades later, to dwell on a past he has already acknowledged was hardly ideal. At least Tyrrell had a named source when he leveled his charges. And there is this crucial difference – Clinton’s documented reckless behavior occurred while he was holding public office and he lied about it repeatedly. The relevance of Bush’s personal behavior years before he entered public life has never been demonstrated by self-righteous critics on the left who piously deplore the “politics of personal destruction” and who pomously preach the need to separate personal failings from pubic policy, except, of course, when the personal flaws are those of Republicans and conservatives.

 

Likewise, we have all the predictable attacks on Bush for, oh my, benefiting from his father’s high profile position. You would think people who lionize the Kennedys, supported Gore and are casting their votes for billionaire silver spoonist John Kerry would be circumspect before throwing stones at people who got a little help along the way. But of course, the pro-Kerry media (which Brock denies exists) will accommodate and protect their hypocrisy so why should they care?

 

There are the usual charges about corporate corruption, which will be considered in due course, and the routine economic and policy differences that the left insists on portraying as questions of integrity and honesty and even common decency. But clearly the most serious charges found in these dozens of books revolve around 9/11 and the subsequent actions taken by Bush and his administration. Almost all of the authors accuse the president of lies and deception where Iraq is concerned. Others accuse him of negligence or worse prior to 9/11. Liberal icon Gore Vidal even wonders if Bush knew 9/11 was coming and did nothing about it.

 

Understand the implications of these charges. These writers are essentially claiming that the president welcomed the deaths of thousands of Americans or sent American soldiers to fight and die not for any real concern about national security, but for selfish and nefarious and basically venal reasons – to line the pockets of Cheney’s buddies at Halliburton, to assert control over Iraqi oil, to avenge an attempted assassination of his father, or to fulfill some messianic calling to defend Christendom. (It is richly ironic that Bush is accused on the one hand of taking his Christian faith too seriously and on the other for turning his policy over to neoconservatives who are mostly Jewish.)

 

The Root Of It All

 

One cannot appreciate the animus that motivates the hate Bush crowd without reflecting on election 2000, which was so heartbreakingly close that one side was sure to be bitter however things turned out. The Democrats have not gotten over it, as indicated by several recent occurrences. The liberal historian Garry Wills, reviewing Clinton’s memoir in the current issues of the New York Review of Books, writes:  “There is a kind of rude justice to the fact that the election was stolen from Gore in the state where he truckled to the Cubans. Ron Reagan, during Democratic convention week, referred to studies that show that Gore would have narrowly won had there been a statewide recount.” Neither Gore nor any other Democratic body ever sought such a recount, of course, because they were convinced focusing on the key Democratic counties would be to their advantage. Interestingly, that strategy was doomed to fail. Studies by both the New York Times and the Miami Herald show that even if Gore had  been given precisely what he sought, Bush still would have won. Most noticeable, of course, were Gore’s own comments about the elections made during his speech at the convention. He obviously believes he will be vindicated if he can help bring down the Bush administration.

 

So Bush had a tough road ahead of him as he assumed the presidency. But he did two things that made it even harder. First, he chose to govern at least in some measure as a conservative, despite the close election and the expectation on the left that he would be apologetic as president and submissive to their agenda. Choosing Ashcroft was the most brutal blow, if we are to believe Al Franken. In his book, Lies and The Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Franken makes it clear that the nomination of Ashcroft as attorney general was the final straw for the left, which, after all, had already been forced to ponder a Bush presidency for more than a few weeks. In the world of the left, Ashcroft’ existence is an uncivil action and the left was ready to wage war.

 

9/11 changed the dynamic for a while. In the midst of the shock and horror Bush astonished even his critics by rising to the moment and rallying the nation with dignity and strength. He spoke with authority and passion and there was an understandable groundswell of support for the president at a time of national crisis. Empty skies, a New York skyline changed irrevocably and the loss of 3,000 Americans were followed by other wrenching events – the D.C.-area assassins, the anthrax scares and the war against Afghanistan, whose Taliban government gave aid and comfort to Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization, which had planned the 9/11 attacks. (Unless you accept Michael Moore as a serious analyst. He doesn’t buy Osama as the mastermind.) 

 

It might be tempting to believe that Bush’s decision to go to war against Iraq is the primary reason the nation seems divided again into two hostile camps. In fact, there is no reason to believe the Democrats were ever going to cooperate in any serious way with the President unless forced to do so by the weight of public opinion. Consequently, while many Democrats supported the President in aftermath of 9/11, it took only a setback here and there to reenergize a ready-made opposition.

 

By the start of the Democratic Primary last fall and the war in Iraq, the rhetoric began to soar out of control. The left’s inability to derail Bush’s policy toward Iraq intensified opposition to the president, who was vilified.  Conspiracies began to find currency, including outrageous claims that the President might have had prior knowledge about the 9/11 attacks. When the situation in Iraq deteriorated and the Democratic primary began to heat up, the attacks against the president escalated.

 

Even fringe books and conspiracy theories are not outside mainstream thought among leading Democrats. Al Gore has echoed the rhetoric found in Franken’s book. Ted Kennedy could have written Michael Moore’s scripts. It is telling that Wesley Clarke, who might yet play a major role in a Kerry Administration, refused to disown Moore during the Democratic Primary, though Moore’s most sensational claims have been refuted even by such Bush loyalists (joke, for those of you dulled by convention speeches) as Richard Clarke. Democrats, far from disowning Moore’s drive- by shooting of a movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, have celebrated it.  

 

It is against this backdrop that we consider the massive output of anti-Bush literature. A survey of a dozen or so of the books above brings to the fore three major charges. First, and most serious, are the charges revolving directly around 9/11 and the policies pursued by the administration as part of the war on terrorism. Second, the President is tarred in book after book with the brush of corporate corruption, in particular for awarding contracts to Halliburton and other firms with close ties to Republican administrations. Finally, the president stands accused of mismanaging key economic and social policy issues. The last claim is mainstream stuff except that his critics insist on portraying policy differences as fundamental issues of ethics and integrity.

 

But of course, the Democrats would have you believe that only Republicans are capable of going negative. Consider the irony of Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart raising the specter of the “Republican Attack Machine.” “We live in a different world now," Lockhart is quoted as saying, "where everything the former president does gets attacked by Republicans, [and] the media joins in on that.” Or consider John Kerry’s comments shortly after accepting the party’s nomination for president: “We have no illusions about the Republican attack machine and what our opponents have done in the past, and what they may try to do in the future. But I know that together, we are equal to this task. I am a fighter.”

 

This theme of Democrats as victims is repeated so often that even some Republicans start to believe it. Take Max Cleland, who played such a prominent role at the Democratic convention and who has been portrayed as victim number one of the Republican attack machine. From descriptions of the ads, even I had thought he had been unfairly maligned based on reports I had read. Turns out I was wrong. As Rich Lowry at National Review (July 29) recently pointed out, Cleland’s voting record on Homeland Security was fair game and Democrats misrepresented the ads run by his opponent as questioning Cleland’s patriotism and morphing his image with that of Saddam and Bin Laden. No such thing occurs in the ad which clearly upbraids Cleland for opposing Homeland Security measures in the midst of a war on terror. What could be fairer than that?

 

As record number of extremely nasty books against Bush attests, the Democrats are hardly defenseless victims whose preferred road is the high one. The attack dogs of the Democratic Party are embraced and encouraged at its highest levels. Perhaps this is what Kerry meant when he said: “I am a fighter.”

 

9/11 and the War on Terror

 

Two books in particular have had a disproportionate impact on the tenor of the debate over 9/11 and the decision to topple the regime in Baghdad: Richard Clarke’s Against all Enemies and Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s The Politics of Truth (surely an ironic title given the subsequent refutation of his claims by the bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee).

 

Clarke’s book made the biggest splash when it came out in the spring of 2004. Both the timing and the substance of the book were designed to do maximum damage to the administration. The book was released in the midst of the 9/11 hearings and a particularly tough period in Iraq. The thrust of the book is straight forward – the Bush Administration did not take seriously enough the threat posed by al Qaeda before 9/11. Moreover, both before and after 9/11, Clarke argues, Bush and his team demonstrated an obsession with Iraq that Clarke believes undermined the global war on terrorism.

 

Clarke not only indicts the Bush Administration, he also lays blame at the feet of President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush because, in his view, they responded tepidly to several terrorist events, specifically the attack on the Marines in Lebanon and the downing of Pan Am flight 103. It is worth noting that those who accused Reagan of being trigger happy and condemned him for going after Libya in the 1980s now, in retrospect, criticize his reluctance to use military force. We live in interesting times.

 

Clinton, however, is described in fairly glowing terms: “Bill Clinton, who identified terrorism as the major-post-Cold War threat and acted to improve our counterterrorism capabilities; who (little known to the public) quelled anti-American terrorism by Iraq and Iran and defeated an al Qaeda attempt to dominate Bosnia, but who, weakened by continued political attack, could not get the CIA, the Pentagon, and the FBI to act sufficiently to deal with the threat.”

 

Clarke spearheaded Clinton’s anti-terrorism effort and has obvious self-serving reasons to be kind to his former boss. Even so his version of history begs questions. For example, whose fault is it that Clinton and his team could not mobilize the CIA, the Pentagon or the FBI? Is not presidential leadership about being able to move the nation in the direction of a needed policy?  While Clarke claims that Clinton increased terrorism funding and made speeches about the problem, he concludes: “I had to admit that, strident as I was about the al Qaeda threat, I did not resign in protest when my recommendations to bomb the al Qaeda infrastructure were deferred by the Clinton administration….”

 

In short, in the book’s opening pages, Clarke praises Clinton while diminishing the efforts of every recent Republican president. By the end of the book, he is forced to acknowledge that Clinton, too, failed to act with the urgency Clarke felt the situation required.

 

One could forgive Clarke some of the self-serving analysis if he did not try to shift blame disproportionately to an administration that had barely been in office half a year when the 9/11 attacks occurred. The question is why, and here we get into issues of ego, political loyalties and honest policy differences. Clarke admits to being an anti-Vietnam war protester. This puts him in the company of Clinton’s two national security advisers, not to mention Clinton himself. There is no crime in that, of course, but it does help explain the perspective of the critic. He is obviously not comfortable with the conservative administration. He describes Vice President Cheney as a “radical conservative.” He was so resentful at his reduced standing within the new administration that he takes a gibe at Cheney over a funding cut even as Americans are dying in New York and Washington, D.C.

 

“‘Now you know why I wanted the money for a new bunker,’ I could not resist. The President had canceled my plans for a replacement facility.” Cheney responds that he will now get what he wants, Clarke reports. Here we have one of the more remarkable displays of pettiness I can recall -- a professional policymaker playing “I told you so” during a moment of national crisis.

 

Clarke blames Bush for not making al Qaeda an immediate priority as he came into office, though Clarke’s own account suggests that the administration was engaged. Powell and his team were on board, so was George Tenet and so, apparently, was the president, who agreed that a more comprehensive approach was needed; hence his much reported comment about not swatting at flies. But Clarke’s account still leaves a lingering question  – why is Bush, trying to get his team and policies in place, held to a tougher standard than Clinton, who had years to formulate a coherent policy but never moved in the fashion Clarke felt was needed? (In fact, Clarke himself never moved with the intensity he wanted Bush and company to demonstrate.)

 

After 9/11 Clarke is confident that al Qaeda will become the focus of administration’s anti-terrorism policy. He is dismayed when the President, after removing the Taliban in Afghanistan, concludes that toppling Saddam is an important piece in the anti-terror effort. The wisdom of the Iraq policy can be debated, but in allowing himself to become a political pawn in the anti-Bush hysteria of the past year Clarke undermined his own credibility, not the least because of the inconsistencies in his presentation of the facts: Tenet was on board, but the CIA wasn’t mobilized; Bush didn’t focus, but Bush did ask for a comprehensive strategy that would prove more effective; Clinton gets high marks, but Clinton and his team failed to come with a comprehensive plan during eight years that America was under attack from the terrorists. Such is the confusing picture drawn by this strikingly partisan book.

 

Joseph Wilson’s memoir, The Politics of Truth, is equally partisan and unpersuasive. To take but one of many egregious examples, when Clinton goes to Rwanda and gives a speech on the genocide that had occurred there a few years before, Wilson cannot contain himself. “It was the most moving speech I had ever heard……It was poetry…..To this day it remains one of the most stirring moments of my life. My president got it, pure and simple….” So, if Clinton got it, how come he didn’t lift a finger to save the Rwandans when he had the chance?

 

Wilson claims, unconvincingly that he had been impressed by Bush early on, but became disenchanted by what he calls the nasty tactics used by the Bush campaign in South Carolina against Republican primary opponent John McCain. Bush’s campaign has denied participating in these tactics and it is interesting that McCain himself was not so offended that he has failed to endorse Bush’s leadership during time of war. Nevertheless, Wilson became a Kerry man.

 

Wilson states without qualification that the neoconservative contingent in the Bush administration drove the Iraq policy and he aligns himself with Brent Scowcroft’s anti-Iraq war perspective. The problem is that Scowcroft based his opposition to the war on the assumption that the Arab street would explode and the conflict would spread. This didn’t happen, but the fact that it didn’t makes no difference to Wilson. Scowcroft, it should be remembered, helped to negotiate the agreement that not only left Saddam in power after he was driven from Kuwait, but resulted in an uprising against the regime that was brutally put down as American troops stood-by. It was not one of America’s finer moments, but that doesn’t phase Wilson either. Scowcroft’s policy on Iraq II is the right one, which once again would have meant leaving Saddam in power.

 

We turn to the issue that made Wilson a celebrity and an author: his fact-finding mission to Niger. Here is Wilson’s version of events. He was asked by the CIA to utilize his contacts and investigate whether Niger had sold or negotiated to sell yellow cake (uranium) to Iraq. This was a vital issue given concerns about Saddam trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program. Wilson made the trip and concluded that no such negotiations had occurred. Much to his shock and dismay, despite reporting his findings, the president went on national television and made this claim: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

 

Wilson was shocked and called administration staff to inform them that the information the president had revealed as justification in part for war had been totally wrong. There was no evidence to support Bush’s claim, Wilson argued, and when the administration did not immediately concur and publicly renounce the statement, Wilson went public, accusing the president and his staff of misleading the nation. 

 

A furor erupted. In the midst of charges and counter charges, Robert Novak wrote a column in which he tried to get to the bottom of the Wilson story. Who was Wilson? Why did he go to Niger? Who chose him to go to Niger? Was he an impartial public servant, or a fellow with political allegiances that might explain his public accusations against Bush? Almost incidentally, Novak reported that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA staff person who had recommended her husband for the fact-finding mission. Someone in the Bush administration had mentioned her name, apparently, which led to another round of accusations about violations of security and law. Wilson was outraged and stated categorically that his wife had nothing to do with his trip.

 

All of this transformed Wilson into an overnight celebrity. The hard-left Nation, which Wilson praises fulsomely in his book, honors him. He becomes friends with David Corn (who has written his own Bush-bashing book), is feted by Hollywood leftists like Warren Beatty and Norman Lear, and even goes so far as to call Daniel Ellsberg a national hero. Ellsberg, an icon of the far left leaked classified documents during the Vietnam War.

 

It is the stuff of Hollywood, which might explain why producers bought movie rights to Wilson’s book. There is only one problem – or perhaps it’s not a problem for tinsel town. Much of the story is made up. First, Wilson’s wife did in fact recommend her husband for the mission, illegal nepotism – and on a security matter at that. The Senate Intelligence Committee turned up her memo. More important, the bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Iraq had indeed approached Niger about purchasing the nuclear materials, and that the President’s famous 16 words were correct.

 

In his book Wilson claimed the documents indicating that the negotiations occurred were obviously forged because dates and names were wrong. In fact, Wilson had never seen the documents and when confronted by the Senate Intelligence Committee had to recant this statement as well, calling it a mistake in memory. The Financial Times, which was critical of Bush’s policy in Iraq, recently reported that Niger had indeed been negotiating uranium sales with Iraq as well as with four other states. To quote the Times: “European intelligence officers have now revealed that … human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussions of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq.” (As quoted in National Review).

 

Clifford May also reported in National Review on July 12 that the Washington Post had this buried the following interesting news on page A9: “Contrary to Wilson’s assertions and even the government’s previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence.”

 

What we know now, then, is that the president and his staff had plenty of reason to have strong suspicions about Iraq’s intentions. None of this stopped Wilson from proclaiming in his reckless and mendacious book:  “That a tragedy (9/11) would be used to abuse the instruments of government, deceive the American people, and entangle us in a foreign adventure guaranteed to fail before we put the first soldier across the border is a travesty. It was also a strategic mistake of historic proportions.”

 

Former Kim Il-Sung follower Robert Scheer and his son Christopher are the primary authors of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq. The five lies are -- not surprisingly not lies at all -- which makes reading the book tough sledding even though it is short.

 

Lie #1: the Bush administration manufactured links between Iraq and al Qaeda and falsely claimed that Saddam was behind 9/11. The problem here is that both claims about the Bush administration are themselves untrue. Bush never claimed Saddam was behind 9/11 and the Scheers themselves report that Condaleeza Rice specifically avoided making a direct link. The administration did believe Saddam was an important part of the terror network. Those interested in a more detailed analysis of these connections can read Stephen Hayes book, The Connection.

 

Lie #2: Bush manufactured claims about chemical and biological weapons. Wrong again.

 

In almost 200 pages, the Scheers mention Clinton less than half a dozen times and Tony Blair even less. They are anxious to portray Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq as a cowboy action that required massive deception and manipulation. Anyone who has followed the issue knows that the intelligence Bush used to make his case was also considered credible by Clinton, Blair, John Kerry, the French, the Germans, the Russians and mention United Nations inspection teams including their leader Hans Blix. This makes the charge that Bush “lied” preposterous. Even the Scheers don’t believe it. “So could Saddam really have been so stupid as to trick the United States into deposing him? The answer is yes.” It has to be one or the other. Either Bush lied or he was tricked. The Scheers don’t bother to explain how it could be both.

 

Lie #3: Bush made up the claim that Saddam had a program to develop nuclear weapons. Their main source this is – Joseph Wilson whose version of events has blow apart by the bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee report and other inquiries.

 

Lie #4: The Iraq war would be a cakewalk. Again the claim itself is made up so far as the President is concerned. He never claimed this. The evidence the Scheer’s present isn’t anything the president said, but rather the military’s evaluation of how many troops it would take to win the war and secure the country. In retrospect, it appears obvious that Bush and his experts miscalculated the requirements for securing the country and one can question their judgment on this, but to call this bad judgment deception and lying, while ascribing it to the President is just bad faith.

 

Lie #5: Iraq could be a crucible of democracy in the Middle East. What kind of a lie is this? Are Arabs incapable of democracy? Even if they were, how would the Scheers or anyone else know? Actually, they know because they are kitsch Marxists who believe that America is an empire and therefore could not  be interested in creating a democracy in Iraq. What the President “really” wanted was to impose Halliburton empire on the Middle East. Here we see the unvarnished cynicism of the elder Scheer at work, an author who on arriving in Berkeley in 1960 wrote a book celebrating Castro’s Communist dictatorship in Cuba and since then has shown more enthusiasm for America’s totalitarian adversaries than for the nation he calls home. The Scheers oppose Bush not because he is a liar, but because they are leftists who are opposed to the use of American power as a matter of political faith.

 

The Book on Bush by Eric Alterman and Mark Green quickly sinks into a swamp of conspiracies as soon as they start writing about Iraq and 9/11. The authors suggest that Bush was hesitant and didn’t take charge. They would have us believe the President was over his head, confused, uncertain. (Michael Moore makes the same absurd claim). The evidence does not support this thesis. Richard Clarke, hardly a Bush fan, describes in the opening pages of his book a president who quickly authorized the military to shoot down potentially hostile aircraft. And it is not hard to imagine what these writers would have concluded had Bush rushed out of the school in Florida to give these orders– he would have been accused of not keeping his cool during a time of national crisis.

 

Franken actually suggests that Bush was somehow cowardly because he took the precautions his constitutional duties demanded. Bush was running from “imaginary” terrorists, Franken writes. Tell that to the families of the 3,000 victims, Al.  In fact, the person who insisted that Bush not return to D.C. was Clarke, hero to Moore and the left, who orchestrated much of the response that day and at least understood that having a government in place was a national priority.

 

But looking for logic in these books is probably silly. Consider this Franken gem. “Working furiously, Clarke produced a strategy paper that he presented to Sandy Berger and other national security principals on December 20, 2000. The plan was an ambitious one…..But the plan was never carried out.” (Maybe Berger lost it?) “In its place Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, and his national security team would conceive and execute a different plan entirely. A plan called Operation Ignore.”

 

Let me recap. In 1993, shortly after Clinton took office, the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists and American targets were hit again in 1996, 1998 and 2000. Days before the end of Clinton’s two full terms, the “furiously” working Clarke finally put together a comprehensive plan on how to combat terrorism. In other words, it took the Clinton team eight years, or thereabouts, to write the plan, but the incoming Bush administration was supposed to implement it in a matter of eight months.

 

In fact, the left cannot make up its mind about much of anything where Bush is concerned, other than that he should not be president. There are claims that he has shielded the Saudi Arabians from rightful criticism and accountability (Alterman, Scheer, Moore), but they struggle to explain why a president so immobilized by the Saudis would topple Saddam against the strident wishes of the Saudi ruling family. Let us thank Clarke for pulling the veil from some of the absurd conspiracies. Alterman and Green write: “in a bizarre event that still remains to be explained, members of the Bin Laden family, under FBI supervision, were spirited out of the country on a private charter plane when airports reopened three days after the September 11 attacks.” Creepy music up....

 

It is well-known now, of course, that Clarke was solely responsible for authorizing this flight after carefully reviewing the passenger list. Some conspiracy. Moore is so obsessed with the Bush/Saudi/Taliban connection that five of the opening seven questions in his silly book focus on the issue. One could go on at book length about the inconsistencies and absurd claims made by the authors of these screeds, but the bottom line is they oppose the war and will concoct any attack they can to undermine Bush’s efforts.

 

Secrecy and Corporate Corruption

 

Dozens of the books listed above accuse the President of having close ties to big business and corporate America. It is an indisputable fact, but no more undisputable than that Clinton had close ties to corporate America, except that Bush was once a businessman himself and Clinton was lifetime government bureaucrat. It is also true that Bush can appear overly anxious at times to appease his big business supporters. On a host of policy issues – from drilling in Alaska, to policies on lead poisoning, to general issues of the environment -- Bush trends in the pro-business direction. This is not surprising given his background and the fact that he has faced a tumbling economy and huge job losses that the left has been complaining about since he took office. Is it shocking, then, that he might try to balance big business interests with environmental concerns in an effort to preserve jobs?  On the other hand a lot of the environmental attack on Bush, most notably over his failure to support the Kyoto Treaty is just plain extremism and dishonesty. Ninety-nine out of one hundred U.S. Senators, obviously Democrats and Republicans alike, voted to reject the Kyoto Treaty. The fact that Clinton and Gore signed it knowing that it would not get any congressional support is just one more example of the recklessness and irresponsibility that characterized the Clinton-Gore foreign policy, including its policy (or lack thereof) in regard to the terrorist threat.

 

The left almost always portrays honest conservative policy as evidence of conspiracy or selfish motives, and the most venial corruption. The single most inflammatory charge against Bush reflecs this: that he took the nation to war to benefit Halliburton and corporations involved in the war effort generally. As it happens, this was investigated by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) which released in June a comprehensive study of more than $20 billion worth of contracts, including those awarded to Halliburton. The report concluded: “All of the 14 new contracts GAO examined were awarded without full and open competition, but each involved circumstances that the law recognizes as permitting such awards.”

 

The GAO found inconsistencies in the handling of task orders within existing contracts, but even these were complex undertakings. Nowhere does the report cite corruption or wrongdoing on the part of the Bush administration, though some of the corporations – including Halliburton -- have been cited for overcharging and have been forced to repay money.  Interestingly, Franken observes that Halliburton did $3.8 billion worth of business with the U.S. Government during the Clinton administration, which disclosure hardly lends credence to the claim that Bush and Cheney were instrumental in opening the door to the firm. 

 

Once again, the truth is not complicated. Desperate to stabilize Iraq and provide the services the people there needed, the government turned to firms with a proven record of quickly providing such services. Halliburton got contracts because the firm has been handling war-related support for our nation for more than a decade, including in Kosovo and Bosnia. A laborious bidding process, however appropriate in normal circumstances, makes little sense during a critical period in a time of war.  Every taxpayer should demand an accounting of such activities, but making baseless charges of corruption for cheap political gain hardly serves the nation or its interests.

 

In addition to the Halliburton canard, Ivins, Huffington, and Alterman and Green all dredge up the ancient issue of Bush’s pre-gubernatorial (let alone presidential) involvement with Harken Industries. They argue that Bush seemed to have made some easy money at some interesting moments, though none so easy as Hillary Clitnon’s famous play in commodities futures (which doesn’t seem to have bothered them at all). Bush has been cleared of any wrongdoing, but his critics won’t be satisfied and continue to argue that his good fortune has the smell of special favors. Unlike Clinton’s?

 

Then we have Enron and Ken Lay, otherwise known as “Kenny boy.” The left loves to write about Enron, a company based in Houston with ties to the Bush family. Just how close the ties are is questionable, but this is red meat for Texas populists like Ivins and Jim Hightower. Enron, a huge energy corporation, had ties to Bush because Lay, like most big business and PACs and everyone else interested in government policy, made contributions to Bush. (He also made contributions to Ann Richards and other prominent Democrats, but why muddle a good story, right?).

 

The practices that led to the downfall of Enron and other CEOs had a history that began long before Bush became president, or even thought about running for President and in fact coincided with Clinton’s Administration with which Enron was easily as involved as it was with Bush’s. Moreover, the pro-big business president is sending a fair number of corporate big shots to jail – including “Kenny boy.” Faced with Bush’s tough stance against corporate malfeasance, Alterman and Green can only sputter that Bush did it to protect himself with the public. Imagine, Bush listening to the public. How unfair.

 

Watergate criminal John Dean tells us in the opening pages of his book, Worse Than Watergate, that he is going to deliver a polemic worthy of Christopher Hitchens. Someone should remind Dean of the old adage – under promise and over deliver. Bush is secretive, the Watergate informant tells us, because he refuses to dwell on his drinking problems two decades ago, when he was a private citizen who held no public office. Richard Cheney is even more secretive because he has not disclosed, according to Dean, all of his health problems. (If Cheney tells us anymore about his health we may well commit his cardiogram to memory.)

 

In flaying Cheney, Dean of course turns his back on presidential history. Franklin Roosevelt kept his poor health a secret with the help of the media, even as he sought re-election in the midst of war. John F. Kennedy kept his extremely serious health problems, not to mention his presidential drug use, secret as well.

 

As for the war in Iraq, unlike Nixon, who secretly bombed Cambodia, or Clinton who bombed Yugoslavia without congressional approval, Bush announced – months in advance – his plans to take action both in Afghanistan and Iraq and secured congressional approval for both. If anything, one critic argues, Bush was too outspoken about his intentions with respect to Saddam. Let us return for a moment to Ambassador Wilson: “Not simply promising the disarmament of Iraq as he had in recent speeches, the president now stated outright his intention to rout Saddam from power, and to kill and capture him. It was an unwise thing to say. It made whatever strategy we adopted for Iraq that much more dangerous because it so blatantly telegraphed our next move and our ultimate goal.”

 

So is Bush the king of secrets or a president too candid by half? For these writers it doesn’t really matter so long as whatever he does can be portrayed as wrong.

 

Dean’s claim that Bush is trying to carry out an “imperial” presidency is unpersuasive. Take this quote he uses from Georgie Anne Geyer: “George W. (Bush) most resembles the many French dauphins come suddenly to the throne – the young, inexperienced prince, with a defense chief who has definite Napoleonic tendencies….Dick Cheney has become George Bush’s Cardinal Richelieu.” Dean is obsessed with Cheney and the book focuses equally on the Vice President as on Bush. Bob Woodward who conducted interviews with Colin Powell and dozens of policy makers including Bush has painted picture in which Bush is dominant and Cheney deferential. Woodward leaves little question that Bush is in charge, not Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz or anyone else.

 

It is impossible to analyze every charge that Dean levels, many of them familiar and already addressed in this essay. In a footnote appended to his comments on the issue of lying, Dean lists as his sources: Michael Moore, David Corn, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, and Al Franken. The Bush-bashing loop is thus completed.

 

Policy, politics and reality

 

Leftists Alterman and Green naturally disagree with the conservative Bush on most public policy issues. They think he should spend more money on social programs. They believe in government run health care and no amount of well-intended reform that falls short of a socialized state will satisfy them. Consequently nothing Bush does pleases them.

 

They think he hates the environment, which is why he opposed the Kyoto Treaty -- though as already mentioned he joins 99 of 100 U.S. Senators in his opposition, a point conceded by Alterman and Green but also ignored since they fault him despite this. Bush tried to improve education (in fact he signed the biggest education bill in American history and let Teddy Kennedy write it). But this it turns out was all a ruse, since in the midst of a war, an economic downturn and an exploding deficit he hasn’t funded it at 100 percent. His tax cuts of course are for the rich. Their socialist economics prevents them from even entertaining the idea that Bush might actually believe (along with John Maynard Keynes and other deficit liberals) that tax cuts would stimulate the economy and create jobs, which seems to be precisely what is happening.

 

Even Bush’s enactment of the first medicare reform and the largest social entitlement in forty years doesn’t make a dent on the Bush-bashers consciousness. Alterman and Green: “Objectors pointed out that (Bush’s plan) would still leave millions of seniors each with thousands of dollars in prescription-drug bills. Drug coverage would entail a $35-a-month premium and a $275 annual deductible, and would pay only half of a senior’s drug costs up to $4,500…..and would resume picking up a portion of “catastrophic” outlays above $5,800.” The authors cite a doughnut hole of no coverage between $4,500 and $5,800 (but provide no specifics). The bottom line is clear enough: nothing short of national health care in which the government is in control and taxpayers foot the bill. Socialism is dead. Long live socialism.

 

Can there be a less self-aware creature in the entire universe than an American liberal? Like his ideological comrades, Franken believes that the tone of political discourse both nasty and shrill is all the fault of Rush Limbaugh and mean spirited conservatives. Perhaps he’s just forgotten the origins of the word “Borked, ” the term that describes the phenomenon. What is the politics of personal destruction if is not what happened to Bork, Clarence Thomas, Bob Barr, Newt Gingrich, George Bush and many other worthy Republicans who ran into the liberal buzz saw?

 

Ariana Huffington’s book, Fanatics and Fools, is equally one-sided, shallow and unconvincing, beginning with the sheer arrogance of its cover, which shows Huffington staring down at a chessboard filled with pieces whose heads are those of famous political figures. The fanatics of her title, of course, are Bush and company with Arnold of California – her envy knows no bounds -- playing the lead in the sequel. The fools are the Democrats who fail to heed her advice. And in the final pages, Huffington offers her prescriptions for saving the nation, which is mostly rehashed liberalism from the Sixties before the Great Society  failed.

 

She quotes John Kerry about the importance of government-inspired programs such as the Peace Corps, Vista and others. Apparently, serving the needy and the downtrodden in trouble spots around the globe is a noble thing unless you wear an American military uniform in Iraq and you are getting shot at even as you try to build schools, deliver food and water, and protect a shaky government trying to overcome 40 years of tyranny. In that instance, you are a dupe or a victim, not a hero. That is the thrust of her argument against Bush’s policy.

 

Huffington writes as if she just discovered liberalism, as if it had never been tried, as if government does not already consume 40 percent of our Gross National Product.  “As Bush demonstrated in Notre Dame, you cannot talk about the common good without talking about lifting people from poverty,” the millionairess writes. The disconnect is obvious. Huffington believes government is the necessary ingredient of success. She simply can’t grasp that there is nothing contradictory about a President who talks about noble acts and sacrifice without touting the need for another government program, let alone this one who has spent more than any president in history. Bush has the most diverse cabinet on historical record, signed on to the biggest education bill ever and the biggest new entitlement in 40 years, but in the perverse lens of the Bush-bashing zealots he is relentlessly depicted as a Republican Scrooge.

 

Here is what Bush has accomplished – and what all these books ignore. For all his real or alleged mistakes under his leadership, the United States has liberated 50 million people and removed two monstrous regimes which supported terrorism and its causes. The  consolidation of the peace in Iraq has been difficult but that is precisely our enemies there (whom Michael Moore refers to as “patriots”) are particularly ruthless and determined.

 

Though we have no borders, and poor domestic defenses, not a single significant terrorist attack has occurred on American soil since 9/11, though we are all mindful that this could change momentarily. No thanks to the Democrats and the writers of these books, the President has carried the war to the enemy camp and put the terrorists on the defensive, preventing them from planning sequels to the World Trade Centr attacks.

 

The economy is turning around. Bush has been a big spender, but he has also faced some fairly daunting challenges – 9/11, a war of global proportions and an economy turning south as he moved into the White House. No matter, the left pounds him on the one hand for not spending more, on the other for spending too much.

 

The recent Senate Intelligence Committee report and the 9/11 Commission’s conclusions have debunked a great deal of the hysterical criticism of the president. And it adds weight to the argument that much of what is written in these books is itself a complex construction of distortions and half truths, not to mention outright lies that ill serve a nation in a time of war.




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