Stop Bitching Start a Revolution
Jean Edward Smith has a new biography of George W. Bush coming out soon. I’ll probably read it eventually, whenever I want to remember how horribly The Shrub screwed up the world…
Thomas Mallon of The New Yorker reviews the bio:
Jean Edward Smith’s biography of George W. Bush goes on sale a day before the former President’s seventieth birthday, and it’s safe to say that no one will be bringing it as a present to the ranch outside Crawford. Smith, a well-regarded practitioner of military history and Presidential-life writing, comes straight to the point in the first sentence of his preface: “Rarely in the history of the United States has the nation been so ill-served as during the presidency of George W. Bush.” By the book’s last sentence, Smith is predicting a long debate over whether Bush “was the worst president in American history,” and while the biographer doesn’t vote on the question himself, the unhappy shade of James Buchanan will feel strongly encouraged by his more than six hundred pages.
Smith points out that Bush attended no meetings of the National Security Council in the seven months prior to September 11, 2001. In her reports on these gatherings, Condoleezza Rice—Bush’s national-security adviser, workout partner, and something of an alter ego—tended to synthesize disagreements among the participants, leaving Bush with a false feeling of consensus. The President’s own focus was chiefly on matters like stem-cell-research regulation and the sort of educational reforms he had pushed through a Democratic legislature as governor of Texas. On the morning of 9/11, Laura Bush was in Ted Kennedy’s Senate office, having come to testify for the No Child Left Behind Act; the White House she returned to later that day was a wholly different place, a domestic cruise ship that had become an aircraft carrier.
In Smith’s view, the military and moral calamities began right then. If he is moderately critical of the President for being “asleep at the switch” in the period before the terrorist attacks—Bush felt no particular alarm when an August 6th C.I.A. briefing indicated that Osama bin Laden was up to at least something—the biographer is simply aghast once Bush seizes the controls. Within three days of September 11th, he says, the President had acquired a “boundless” confidence that put the country on a “permanent war footing” and the White House into a “hothouse climate of the President’s certitude.”
In another anti-superlative, Smith suspects that the invasion of Iraq will “likely go down in history as the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president.” The thirteen-year legacy of “preëmption” makes this a hard prophecy to counter, and Smith’s well-ordered scenes on the subject—Paul Wolfowitz pushing for war against Saddam on September 12th, just as he’d been pushing for it in April—do dismaying work. James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, the wise men of his father’s Administration, tell Bush to go slowly or not at all, but George Tenet, the holdover C.I.A. director from the Clinton years, assures him that convincing the public of the need to invade Iraq over W.M.D.s will be a “slam dunk.” As persuasively as anyone before him, Smith presents a strong story of how a successful military mission quickly unaccomplished itself; turned into quite something else (“the United States was going to bring democracy to the country”); and then festered into what Donald Rumsfeld himself, in his memoirs, judged to be “a long and heavy-handed occupation.”
(click here to continue reading W Is for Why – The New Yorker.)