The national house of waffles
||The New York Times
|Why is George W.
now presiding over a completely Clintonian environment,
turning the White House into a Waffle House, where truth is
camouflaged by word games and responsibility is obscured by
WASHINGTON - More and more, with Bush administration
pronouncements about the Iraq war, it depends on what the meaning of
the word “is” is.
W. built his political identity on the idea that he
was not Bill Clinton. He didn’t parse words or prevaricate. He was
the Texas straight shooter.
So why is he now presiding over a completely
Clintonian environment, turning the White House into a Waffle House,
where truth is camouflaged by word games and responsibility is
obscured by shell games?
The President and Condi Rice can shuffle the shells
and blame George Tenet, but it smells of mendacity.
Clinton indulged in casuistry to hide personal
weakness. The Bush team indulges in casuistry to perpetuate its
image of political steel.
Dissembling over peccadillos is pathetic. Dissembling
over pre-emptive strikes is pathological, given more than 200
Americans dead and 1,000 wounded in Iraq, and untold numbers of dead
Iraqis. Our troops are in “a shooting gallery,” as Teddy Kennedy put
it, and our spy agencies warn that we are on the cusp of a new round
of attacks by Saddam snipers.
Why does it always come to this in Washington? The
people who ascend to power on the promise of doing things
differently end up making the same unforced errors their
predecessors did. Out of office, the Bush crowd mocked the Clinton
propensity for stonewalling; in office, they have stonewalled the
9/11 families on the events that preceded the attacks, and the
American public on how -- and why -- they maneuvered the nation into
the Iraqi war.
Their defensive crouch and obsession with secrecy are
positively Nixonian. But instead of John Dean and an aggressive
media, they have Howard Dean and a cowed media.
In a hole, the President should have done some plain
speaking: “The information I gave you in the State of the Union
about Iraq seeking nuclear material from Africa has been revealed to
be false. I’m deeply angry and I’m going to get to the bottom of
But of course he couldn’t say that. He would be like
Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles, holding the gun to his own
head and saying, “Nobody move or potus gets it.” The Bush
administration has known all along that the evidence of the imminent
threat of Saddam’s weapons and the al-Qaeda connections were pumped
up. They were manning the airhose.
Tenet, in his continuing effort to ingratiate himself
to his bosses, agreed to take the fall, trying to minimize a year’s
worth of war-causing warping of intelligence as a slip of the
keyboard. “These 16 words should never have been included in the
text written for the President,” he said, in 15 words that were
clearly written for him on behalf of the President. But it won’t
It was Rice’s responsibility to vet the intelligence
facts in the President’s speech and take note of the red alert the
tentative Tenet was raising. Colin Powell did when he set up camp at
the CIA for a week before his UN speech, double-checking what he
considered unsubstantiated charges that the Cheney chief of staff,
Scooter Libby, and other hawks wanted to sluice into his talk.
When the President attributed the information about
Iraq trying to get Niger yellowcake to British intelligence, it was
a Clintonian bit of flim-flam. Americans did not know what top Bush
officials knew: that this “evidence” could not be attributed to
American intelligence because the CIA had already debunked it.
Rice did not throw out the line, even though the CIA
had warned her office that it was sketchy. Clearly, a higher power
wanted it in.
And that had to be Dick Cheney’s office. Joseph
Wilson, former US ambassador to Gabon, said he was asked to go to
Niger to answer some questions from the Vice President’s office
about that episode and reported back that it was highly doubtful.
But doubt is not the currency of the Bush hawks. Asked
if he regretted using the Niger claim, Bush replied: “There is no
doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat to world peace.
And there’s no doubt in my mind that the United States, along with
allies and friends, did the right thing in removing him from power.
And there’s no doubt in my mind, when it’s all said and done, the
facts will show the world the truth.”
I’m happy that Bush’s mental landscape is so
cloudless. But it is our doubts he needs to assuage.
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