Thursday, January 15, 2009

Suskind: Bush Lacked Humility for the Presidency


The nation stands just four days away from inaugurating a new president. Of course, this is the glass is half-full argument. It sounds more uplifting than the glass is half-empty version manifested in the end of the troubled Bush presidency. Many journalists and television pundits have pressed to portray the inner psychological workings of George W. Bush. Filmmaker Oliver Stone bravely attempted to tell his story on the silver screen before time and history had made even a preliminary verdict on the last eight years.

Speaking last night at The Commonwealth Club, journalist Ron Suskind made one of the most astute observations that goes to the root causes of Bush's tumultuous time in the White House. During the Q&A portion of the program, Suskind was asked to name names at the CIA who were involved in creating faulty intelligence regarding WMD in Iraq. Suskind sidestepped the question, but he conjured a revealing portrait of a president both contemptuous of the office and unable to evolve as a leader. The following is an excerpt from last night's Suskind program:

I am absolutely of the mind there was plenty of information -- plenty -- with clarity that [had], at the very least, considerable doubts about WMD in Iraq. Eventually when all the documents on Iraq come out -- and they will, some of them I've seen, but now everyone will get to see them -- this will become crystal clear. This was not a mishap. This was not a oh, my goodness—shocked -- that there is gambling in Casablanca. It wasn't. It was never about the evidence, ever. That was part of the marketing department. How do we package it? How do we sell it.

Dick Cheney, to his credit, just a week ago said it would not have mattered had we not found any weapons. It wasn't about weapons. Now George Bush stuck to the old, tired script, “I'm disappointed” [in the voice of President Bush]. Disappointed? And where were you? Some of you are old enough to remember Harry Truman, I'm guessing. I wonder about that sign, “The buck stops here.” Where did the sign go? I heard [Paul] Wolfowitz took it to some cocktail party and left it there. You are a duly elected leader! Stand up in daylight! Be a mensch. This is an issue of character. My wife says, Don't be shrill. I try not to be! This is an issue of weak character. I hate to say that.

I wrote a piece in the New York Times. I went to Grant Park. Sort of the beginning of the Obama year and the end of the Bush years. I thought a lot about all the reporting I had done. And this whole Oedipal thing .... What's interesting about it is that, I think, I was looking at it in the wrong way. All this time, sometimes you can see thing at the end of it. Some folks say this whole period we could put a big headline, “Oedipal Rex”--w-r-e-c-k. I'm not writing that book.

In some ways what happened is that Bush never evolved when he got into office. We had this 9/11 and he was overwhelmed before that and then he dug deep and the faith-based presidency rises from that moment. He was confused. He was always overwhelmed. He was overwhelmed from the very start of the presidency.

You know, the fact is that he sat around corporate tables throughout his private life without anything to offer for a couple decades, while other people did the basic analytical work. He took a lot of things for granted. I've spoken to dozens of people about this.... He never had anything to offer. He would tell jokes. He would sit around saying, “I can't believe your wife let you out of the house with that damn tie on,” [doing an impression of President Bush]. He would fuss with people and use this non-verbal acuity to get leverage over them. He's real good at that. He's got real skills there, but imagine that being a mahogany table sitting in a boardroom at the Carlyle Group or in Texas or the Situation Room where you have to make a decision. That's scary.

He dug deep. He was scared. He never evolved. Presidents tend to. Almost all the ones we can name, [they] get into the Oval Office and it's humbling. You're a guy from Whittier. A guy from Independence, Missouri -- name a city. And you're in the round room and you've got to make decisions. Bush never evolved. Wy? Because he was so caught up in the father/son conversation. He wasn't humbled. He wasn't saying, “I better stay up late tonight because if I get this wrong, good God!” The consequences are overwhelming and dire. He always made it so personal. Whether it's "Tony Blair is a guy I can trust" or "Saddam tried to kill my dad" [doing impression of President Bush]. His issues. His dilemma. It's not about you. It's not about you. You sit there for a designated period of time as the leader of the free world and then you're out. It's a place that you're passing through. You do your level best. He never faced that.

If you have not seen the film, W., Suskind does in five minutes what Stone never quite accomplished in two hours.

--Steven Tavares

Is Suskind too hard on Bush? How would you characterize George W. Bush's performance in the most important job in the world? Leave a comment and share your opinion.


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