After two weeks of great cuisine and culture in Positano and Rome, I returned to the U.S. only to learn that it's still news in my country - the United States of Amnesia — when another insider from the Bush administration admits that President Bush eagerly sought war with Iraq. Indeed, the media are falling over themselves in order to cycle, recycle and spin Scott McClellan's less than startling revelations about warmonger Bush (for whom McClellan retains residual affection).
Nevertheless, McClellan deserves credit for his focus on the terrible downside of the "permanent campaign" mentality that afflicts politics in Washington. It goes far to explain why the Bush administration could win elections, but govern so disastrously.
However, McClellan's most banal allegation is his charge that "Bush was a leader unable to acknowledge that he got it wrong, unwilling to grow in office by learning from his mistakes — too stubborn to change and grow." More than a decade ago, Americans who were paying attention (and, indeed, that's the catch!) knew Bush was America's version of Oskar Matzerath (in Gunter Grass's novel, The Tin Drum) - a petulant child who banged his drum and shrieked while refusing to grow up.
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But, whereas fictional Oskar's refusal to grow up was a precocious response to the injustice and hypocrisy he found among adults in Nazi Germany, Bush's inability to grow was the consequence of having everything in life handed to him - including the presidency - and of having every mistake mitigated by his parents, business associates or Republican party sycophants. As Ann Richards famously observed: Bush "was born on third base and thought he hit a triple." Spared serious opportunities to struggle and the serious consequences of his many failures, Bush had little reason to change and grow.
Given Bush's life of coddling and impairment, one shouldn't be surprised to learn that he still held fast to the possibility of achieving greatness. McClellan confirms it with his assertion: "As I have heard Bush say, only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness."
Bush's observation does not appear to have been innocuous. Instead, it appears to be self-referential and psychopathic, a possibility that escapes McClellan's scrutiny. Simply ask yourself: "Who else, other than a psychopath, would believe that the al Qaeda attacks during his presidency were not evidence of personal failure, but a sign that God had chosen him specifically to conduct the 'war on terror.' Who else, but a psychopath, would confide to a foreign leader that God told him to attack Iraq. And who else, but a psychopath, would assure Rev. Pat Robertson that 'we're not going to have any casualties in Iraq?'" I suspect it's the very same psychopath who, in his gut, believes that "only a wartime president is likely to achieve greatness."
McClellan's assertion bolsters those made earlier by Mickey Herskowitz, a Bush family friend, who claimed that, in 1999, Bush was "thinking about invading Iraq." Why? Because, in Bush's view, "one of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as commander in chief." Thus, some four years before giving the order to invade Iraq, Bush believed: "Start a small war, pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade." [See Helen Thomas, "Light Shed on Questions About War," Nov. 5, 2004]
Granted, in McClellan's interpretation, reshaping the Middle East — not war per se — is the key to Bush's goal of achieving personal greatness. But, Bush and his advisers eventually concluded that such reshaping could only be accomplished through war. Moreover, because "Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East," they commenced "shading the truth" about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ties to al Qaeda while intentionally "ignoring…intelligence to the contrary." All of which leads McClellan to conclude that Bush "managed the crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option."
Even worse, we know that Bush compelled his National Security Council to plan regime change in Iraq from the very first days of his presidency. As Treasury Secretary and NSC member Paul O'Neill put it: "From the start, we were building a case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country…It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'" [Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, p. 86]
Moreover, McClellan's words square precisely with the British government's secret "Downing Street Memo" of 23 July 2002, which asserted: "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and the facts were being fixed around the policy."
Although McClellan doesn't make such an assertion, Bush's unprovoked invasion of Iraq, under the cover of deception and lies, was an illegal, immoral preventive war - naked aggression — that, in a just U.S. and world, would lead to the impeachment and subsequent incarceration of both President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Conservative Israeli military historian, Martin van Creveld, got it right when he wrote: "For misleading the American people, and launching the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C. sent his legions into Germany and lost them, Bush deserves to be impeached and, once removed from office, put on trial along with the rest of the president's men. If convicted, they'll have plenty of time to mull over their sins."
Tens of thousands of Americans have been killed or severely wounded, as have hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. Iran is ascendant in the Middle East, terrorist attacks have proliferated, Osama bin Laden remains at large and the U.S. is despised around much of the world. Were all of these events set in motion simply because a psychopathic president proved incapable of asking himself whether the coupling of "George W. Bush" with "greatness" yielded an indisputable oxymoron?
Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA).
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