The Delusional Messiah's Bicycle
"Bicycling to War" by Richard Cohen (washingtonpost.com):
"Old joke: A man repeatedly rides a bike across the Mexican-U.S. border. Each time, he's stopped by Customs and the bike is taken apart. Nothing is found. Finally, one day a Customs official offers the man immunity from prosecution if only he will tell what he's smuggling. The man pauses for a second, shrugs and says, "Bicycles."
I offer you this because I have just finished Bob Woodward's compelling new book, "Plan of Attack," and while it contains several gasps per chapter -- more reasons why George Tenet should be fired, more proof that Condi Rice is in over her head and more reasons that Dick Cheney should be medicated -- the stunning disclosure that I expected is simply not there. I thought Woodward would reveal the real reason George Bush went to war in Iraq. It turns out we already knew.
The "bicycle" in this case has been in plain sight: Bush's conviction that he is a servant of God and history, chosen to liberate Iraq, bring democracy to the Middle East and make sure the United States is safe from terrorism. In the two lengthy on-the-record interviews the president granted Woodward, he makes it abundantly clear that, somehow, this is all one package in his mind -- even though to others, Saddam Hussein posed no danger to America at all. Among other things, he had no links to al Qaeda and apparently had no weapons of mass destruction.
For a while, though, Bush was entitled to think otherwise about the weapons, because, among other reasons, the CIA director had assured him of their existence. "It's a slam dunk case!" Tenet told the president -- and then, for emphasis, repeated his assurance: "Don't worry, it's a slam dunk!" For Bush, who surprisingly had some doubts about Iraq's WMD capabilities, Tenet's firmness was impressive. "That was very important," Woodward quotes him as saying.
But as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair in an amazingly candid interview, Hussein's purported arsenal was almost beside the point -- not the prime reason for going to war. The real reason, as Woodward's book makes clear, was the president's conviction that he was in an epochal fight against evil and had the historic opportunity to reorder the Middle East.
I confess that I have both known this and not known this. It has been apparent for some time but a little hard to comprehend. Possibly, I and others thought, there was another reason -- like evening the score for Saddam Hussein's attempt to kill Bush's father or to finish the Persian Gulf War, which had ended unsatisfactorily. After all, the intent to go to war had seemed to arise out of nowhere -- a mere 72 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Where had it come from?
My guess is Cheney. The Bush-Cheney relationship remains as sealed as the one between Bush and his wife. Woodward seems to have been a fly on the White House wall, but we learn little about what Bush and Cheney discussed when they were not in formal meetings. We do know, though, that Colin Powell considered Cheney obsessed with Iraq and so determined to make the case for war that the vice president exaggerated the threat and in some cases -- this is me talking now -- just plain lied.
Whatever the case, the real news in this engrossing book is not exactly what Bush says but that he says it at all -- and sometimes, surprisingly, both articulately and with some erudition. Here is a man convinced that he did the right thing, convinced -- despite contrary evidence -- that there was some sort of link between Saddam Hussein and terrorism and that, as he told Mexican President Vicente Fox, "The security of the United States is on the line."
This is what Bush said on the eve of the war and what, presumably, he still believes. When Woodward asked him last December what his reaction had been to Powell's private warning that things could go bad in postwar Iraq, Bush said, "And my reaction to that is, is that my job is to secure America. And that I also believe that freedom is something people long for. And that if given the chance, the Iraqis over time would seize the moment. My frame of mind is focused on what I told you -- the solemn duty to protect America."
Those, though, were not the aims Powell had questioned. Rather, he had talked about the difficulties of implementing them in an ethnically fractured land where democracy was historically unknown. Bush simply ignored all of that, because essentially he believed what he believed. "I sat there somewhat nonplussed," Woodward wrote.
He had uncovered the bicycle."
(apologies to Richard Cohen and the Post for re-publishing this verbatim, but it just says EXACTLY what is wrong with Bush).