How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regimeby Sidney Blumenthal
In a series of columns and essays that renowned journalist and former presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal wrote in the three years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a unifying theme began to emerge: that Bush, billed by himself and by many others as a conservative, is in fact a radicalmore radical than any president in American history. In How
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In a series of columns and essays that renowned journalist and former presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal wrote in the three years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a unifying theme began to emerge: that Bush, billed by himself and by many others as a conservative, is in fact a radicalmore radical than any president in American history. In How Bush Rules, Blumenthal provides a trenchant and vivid account of the progression of Bush's radical stylefrom his reliance on one-party rule and his unwillingness to allow internal debate to his elevation of the power of the vice president.
Taking readers through pivotal events such as the hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the rise of the foreign-policy neoconservatives, Abu Ghraib, the war on science, the Jack Abramoff scandal, and the catastrophic mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, the book tracks a consistent policy that calls for the president to have complete authority over independent federal agencies and to remain unbound by congressional oversight or even the law.
In an incisive and powerful introduction, Blumenthal argues that these radical actions are not haphazard, but deliberately intended to fundamentally change the presidency and the government. He shows not only the historical precedents for radical governing, but also how Bush has taken his methods to unique extremes. With its penetrating account of a critical new era in American leadership, How Bush Rules is a devastating appraisal of the Bush presidency.
"Sid Blumenthal [is] the rare analyst of contemporary affairs who brings to his commentary a deep knowledge of American history and political culture. . . . He was one of the people warning us all along about this administration's radicalism. But not enough of us listened or understood."David Greenberg, TPMCafe
"How Bush Rules is exemplary, convincingly arguing that George W. Bush is 'the most willfully radical president of the United States,' by documenting in real-time the episodes that have made up his presidency. . . . Blumenthal's columns stand the test of time. Even the oldest pieces aren't dated. . . . Blumenthal is . . . original and illuminating. . . . How Bush Rules is a book comprised of timely interventions that is destined to stand the test of time."Rick Perlstein, In These Times
"As an advisor to President Clinton, the man has an insider's perspective on how the White House worksor in Bush's case, failsa claim few authors can make."Billy Kekevian, Philadelphia City Paper
"While lucid and elegant . . . Sidney Blumenthal is . . . savage in his verdict on George W. Bush in this collection of columns and essays from the Guardian and Salon."Richard Briand, International Affairs
"A fascinating study of the presidency, of presidential decision making, and of the Bush (II) presidency, journalist Sidney Blumenthal's interesting volume theorizes that George Bush is not really a true conservative. . . . The beauty of this book is that it will stimulate countless hours of discussions, debates, and heated arguments. . . . Highly recommended."Choice
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How Bush RulesChronicles of a Radical Regime
By SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2006 Sidney Blumenthal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Intelligence Wars NOVEMBER 1, 2003
In Baghdad, the Bush Administration acts as though it is astonished by the postwar carnage. Its feigned shock is a consequence of Washington's intelligence wars. In fact, not only was it warned of the coming struggle and its nature-ignoring a $5 million State Department report titled The Future of Iraq-but Bush himself signed another document in which that predictive information is contained.
According to the congressional resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq, the administration is required to submit to the Congress reports of postwar planning every sixty days. This report, bearing Bush's signature and dated April 14, declares: "We are especially concerned that the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime will continue to use Iraqi civilian populations as a shield for its regular and irregular combat forces or may attack the Iraqi population in an effort to undermine Coalition goals." The report goes on: "Coalition planners have prepared for these contingencies, and have designed the military campaign to minimize civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure."
Yet, on August 25, as the violence in postwarIraq flared, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed that this possibility was not foreseen: "Now was-did we-was it possible to anticipate that the battles would take place south of Baghdad and that then there would be a collapse up north, and there would be very little killing and capturing of those folks, because they blended into the countryside and they're still fighting their war?"
"We read their reports," a Senate source told me. "Too bad they don't read their own reports."
In advance of the war, Bush (to be precise, Dick Cheney, the de facto prime minister to the distant monarch) viewed the CIA, the State Department, and other intelligence agencies not simply as uncooperative but even disloyal, as their analysts continued to sift through information to try to determine what exactly might be true. This process is the essence of their professionalism and mission. Yet their strict insistence on the empirical was a threat to the ideological, the facts an imminent danger to the doctrine. So those facts had to be suppressed, and the individuals creating contrary evidence had to be marginalized, intimidated, or discredited. Twice, in the run-up to the war, Vice President Cheney steered his motorcade to the George H. W. Bush Center for Intelligence in Langley, Virginia, where he personally tried to coerce CIA desk-level analysts to fit their work to specifications.
If the CIA would not serve, it would be trampled. At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld formed the Office of Special Plans, a parallel agency under the direction of the neoconservative deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, to "stovepipe" its own version of intelligence directly to the White House. Its reports were not to be mingled or shared with the CIA or State Department intelligence for fear of corruption by skepticism. Instead, the Pentagon's handpicked future leader of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, replaced the CIA as the definitive source of information, little of which turned out to be true-though his deceit was consistent with his record. Chalabi was regarded at the CIA as a mountebank after he had lured the agency to support his "invasion" of Iraq in 1995-a tragicomic episode, but one that hardly discouraged his neoconservative sponsors.
Early last year, before Hans Blix, chief of the United Nations team to monitor Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, embarked on his mission, Wolfowitz ordered a report from the CIA to show that Blix had been soft on Iraq in the past and thus to undermine him before he even began his work. When the CIA reached an opposite conclusion, a former State Department official described Wolfowitz in the Washington Post as having "hit the ceiling." Then, according to James Rubin, former assistant secretary of state, in an article in Foreign Affairs, when Blix met with Cheney at the White House, the vice president told him what would happen if his efforts on WMDs did not support Bush policy: "We will not hesitate to discredit you." Blix's brush with Cheney was no different from the administration's treatment of the CIA.
Having already decided on its course in Iraq, the Bush administration demanded the fabrication of evidence to substantiate an imminent threat. Then, fulfilling the teleology of the Bush doctrine, preemptive action could be taken. Policy a priori dictated intelligence à la carte.
In Bush's Washington, politics is the continuation of war by other means. Rather than seeking to reform any abuse of intelligence, the Bush administration, through the Republican-dominated Senate Intelligence Committee, is producing a report that will accuse the CIA of giving faulty information.
While the CIA is being cast as a scapegoat, FBI agents are interviewing senior officials about a potential criminal conspiracy behind the public identification of a covert CIA operative-Valerie Plame, who, not coincidentally, happens to be the wife of a former U.S. ambassador, Joseph Wilson, the author of a report discrediting allegations that Saddam Hussein was seeking to purchase Niger yellowcake uranium (allegations which originated in Cheney's office). Wilson's irrefutable documentation was carefully shelved at the time in order to put sixteen false words about Saddam Hussein's nuclear threat in the mouth of George Bush in his 2003 State of the Union address.
When it comes to responsibility for the degradation of intelligence in developing rationales for the war, Bush is energetically trying not to get the bottom of anything. While he has asserted that the White House is cooperating with the investigation into the felony of outing Plame, his spokesman has assiduously drawn a fine line between the legal and the political. After all, though Karl Rove-the president's political strategist and senior adviser, indispensable to his reelection campaign-unquestionably called a journalist to suggest that Mrs. Wilson was "fair game" his summoning of the furies upon her apparently occurred after her name had already been made public by two unnamed "senior administration officials."
Rove is not considered to have committed a firing offense so long as he has merely behaved unethically. What Bush is not doing-not demanding that his staff sign affidavits swearing their innocence or asking his vice president point-blank what he knows-is glaringly obvious. Damaging national security must be secondary to political necessity.
"It's important to recognize," Joseph Wilson remarked to me, "that the person who decided to make a political point or that his political agenda was more important than a national security asset is still there in place. I'm appalled at the apparent nonchalance shown by the president."
Now, postwar, the intelligence wars, if anything, have grown more intense. Blame shifting by the administration is the order of the day. The Republican Senate Intelligence Committee report will point the finger at the CIA, but circumspectly will not review how Bush used intelligence. The Democrats, in the Senate minority, forced to act like a fringe group, held unofficial hearings this week with prominent former CIA agents: these are rock-ribbed Republicans who all voted for and even contributed money to Bush but expressed their amazed anger at the assault being waged on the permanent national security apparatus by the Republican president whose father's name adorns the building where they worked. One of them compressed his disillusionment into the single most resonant word an intelligence agent can muster: "betrayal."
Chapter TwoBush and Blair: Lessons in Leadership NOVEMBER 14, 2003
Tony Blair, about to welcome George Bush to London with pomp and circumstance, has assumed the mantle of tutor to the unlearned president.
Bush originally came to Blair determined to go to war in Iraq, but without a strategy. Blair instructed him that the casus belli was Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, urged him to make the case before the United Nations, and-when the effort to obtain a U.N. resolution failed-convinced him to revive the Middle East peace process, which the president had abandoned. The road map for peace was the principal concession Blair wrested from him.
The prime minister argued that renewing the negotiations was essential to the long-term credibility of the coalition goals in Iraq and the whole region. But within the Bush administration, that initiative was systematically undermined. Now Blair welcomes a president who has taught him a lesson in statecraft that the prime minister refuses to acknowledge.
Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst, revealed to me that the substance of the road map was ready for public release before the end of 2002: "We had made commitments to key European and Arab allies. The White House lost its nerve. It took Blair to get Bush to put it out." This man knows what he's talking about. In addition to his CIA role, Leverett is a former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, an author of the road map, and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. "We needed to work this issue hard," he says, "but because we didn't want to make life difficult with [Israeli prime minister Ariel] Sharon, we undercut our credibility."
In the internal struggle over peace in the Middle East, the neoconservatives within the administration prevailed. Elliott Abrams, chief of Middle East affairs at the NSC, was their main man. During the Iran-contra scandal, Abrams had helped set up a rogue foreign-policy operation. His soliciting of $10 million from the Sultan of Brunei for the illegal enterprise turned farcical when he transposed numbers on a Swiss bank account and lost the money. He pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and then spent his purgatory as director of a neoconservative think tank, denouncing the Oslo Accords and arguing that "tomorrow's lobby for Israel has got to be conservative Christians, because there aren't going to be enough Jews to do it." Abrams was rehabilitated when George Bush appointed him to the NSC.
In his new position, Abrams set to work trying to gut the road map. He was suspicious of the Europeans and British, considering them to be anti-Israel, if not inherently anti-Semitic. But working in league with his allies in Cheney's office and at the Department of Defense, Abrams failed to prevent Blair from persuading Bush to issue the road map at last.
The key to the plan's success was U.S. support for the Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen, indispensable as a partner for peace but regarded as a threat by both Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat. At the June summit on the road map, Bush told Abu Mazen: "God told me to strike at al Qaeda and I struck them; then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did; and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act."
Abu Mazen was scheduled to come to Washington to meet Bush a month later. For his political survival, he desperately required the United States to press the Sharon government into making concessions on building settlements on the West Bank. Abu Mazen sent a secret emissary to the White House, Khalil Shikaki. I met Shikaki in Ramallah, where he gave his account of this urgent trip. He met Abrams and laid out what support was needed from Bush if Abu Mazen-and therefore the road map-was to survive. Abrams told him, he says, that Bush "could not agree to anything" because of domestic political considerations: Bush's reliance on the religious right, his refusal to offend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and the demands of the upcoming election. Shikaki pleaded that Abu Mazen presented "a window of opportunity" and could not go on without U.S. help. "He has to show he's capable of doing it himself," Abrams answered dismissively.
Inside the NSC, those in favor of the road map-the CIA analysts Flynt Leverett and Ben Miller, among others-were forced out. On September 6, Abu Mazen resigned, and the road map collapsed.
Blair provided Bush with a reason for the war in Iraq and led him to express his plan for peace for the Middle East, preventing Bush from appearing a reckless and isolated leader. In return, the teacher's seminar on the Middle East has been dropped.
Harold Macmillan remarked that after empire the British would act toward the Americans as the Greeks to the Romans. Though the Greeks were often tutors to the Romans, Macmillan neglected to mention that the Greeks were slaves.
Chapter ThreeHow George Transformed Tony's World NOVEMBER 27, 2003
November 22 marked the fortieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. "For of those to whom much is given, much is required," he famously remarked in 1961. It was his idea not only of the citizen's relationship to the nation but of the United States' obligation to the world. However, George Bush has changed the maxim, at least with regard to Britain: "For to those of whom much is required, nothing is given."
In his speech of November 18 at the Banqueting Hall (avoiding an appearance before Parliament, where backbenchers might make rude noises), Bush freely displayed his erudition, citing the Earl of Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce, William Tyndale and John Wesley, to cast himself as a liberal idealist and internationalist in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson. "We're sometimes faulted for a naive faith that liberty can change the world," he said. "If that's an error, it began with reading too much John Locke and Adam Smith." One wonders how often Bush has perused The Second Treatise of Civil Government. Certainly his speech was a repudiation of his father's foreign policy realism: the Oedipal doctrine.
Putting his volume of Locke aside, Bush entered into negotiations with Blair to act out something more like Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan. Blair had been put into the position of having to appear before the president as petitioner. He asked for relief on U.S. steel tariffs; for the rendering of British prisoners at Guantánamo Bay to Britain; and for U.S. pressure on the Israel-Palestine peace process. But Blair was rebuffed.
Peter Riddell, in his book Hug Them Close, writes that, after his initial anxiety about representing British interests, Blair has grown to see Bush as something of a soulmate. Blair's rhetoric during the visit sounded trumpet notes as though it were still the call to the war in Iraq and the postwar realities had not intruded. Riddell reports that Blair in retrospect regards Bush's predecessor as "weird." That fact or factoid, true or not, may be interpreted as perhaps another gesture of ingratiation-demeaning Clinton is always deeply appreciated by Bush.
I recall being present at meetings between Blair and Clinton where, in ten minutes, apparently difficult problems, including trade, were resolved to Britain's advantage. How weird was that? Now Blair has equated the long-term interests aligning the United States and the United Kingdom with adamantine support for the short-term strategies of the Bush administration. Yet the tighter the embrace, the weaker the influence.
As Blair rightly insists, the United States is the world's most powerful democracy and sets an example for the rest of the West: the rise of the welfare state in Britain followed the New Deal; Labour's resurgence of the mid-1960s followed the New Frontier and the Great Society. Conversely, Margaret Thatcher followed the conservative reaction of Richard Nixon and became the partner for Ronald Reagan. Clinton was the trailblazer for Blair. Now Bush's America has taken a radical swerve toward authoritarian conservatism, creating an international undertow. Will Britain have a special exemption?
Wearing the laurels of his London triumph, Bush returned to Washington to roll back one of JFK's great social initiatives and challenge the patriotism of Democrats. Bush's draconian bill restricting Medicare is the most significant attack on the social compact since the New Deal. It will drop about one-quarter of seniors, six million people, from their coverage for prescription drugs, and another 3.8 million will have it reduced or eliminated.
The whole $400 billion program will be financed by regressive taxation, in contrast to the current untaxed entitlement; and $125 billion will flow into health-care and pharmaceutical companies, which are major Bush donors. Meanwhile, Karl Rove, Bush's senior political aide, announced that "reform" of Social Security, the foundation of the New Deal, is next.
Excerpted from How Bush Rules by SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL Copyright © 2006 by Sidney Blumenthal. Excerpted by permission.
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Sidney Blumenthal, former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, is a regular columnist for the "Guardian" of London and for "Salon", and has been a staff writer for the "New Yorker", the "Washington Post", and other major publications. His books include, most recently, "The Clinton Wars" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). He is currently a Senior Fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security. In 1999, he gave the Willard and Margaret Thorp Lecture in American Studies at Princeton University, speaking on American presidential history.
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