In the wake of former George W. Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill's "outing" of the president, Slate magazine carried a most interesting cyberspace exchange -- a retrospective debate over the justification for the war among six so-called "liberal hawks." Of the six, one, Jacob Weisberg, has changed his mind about the war. Weisberg wrote to his colleagues (a Who's Who of important thinkers including the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Thomas Friedman).
"For my part, I have indeed changed my mind this week," Weisberg wrote after hearing O'Neill's assertions that Bush planned to boot Saddam within 10 days of taking office. "I no longer think I was correct to support Bush's invasion of Iraq last March. That's hard for me to say, since as I noted at the outset, I've itched to depose Saddam Hussein by violent means, since 1991. But Bush was the wrong president to do it, and last year was the wrong moment -- based on problems I didn't perceive clearly enough because of my impatience to see our unfinished business in Iraq finally completed."
Weisberg offers several reasons for his change of mind: First, is the "emerging picture of the dishonesty involved in getting the public to support the war." Kenneth Pollack, who served on the National Security Council during the Clinton years and whose book The Threatening Storm made the strongest case for invasion, in his most recent Atlantic Monthly piece, angrily charges that the administration intentionally cooked the intelligence since the time that he had access. Weisberg, concerned about this, concludes that democracies "must not be led to war on the basis of deceit, even if the unarticulated reasons for going to war remain persuasive to many of us." Weisberg now believes that "we should have waited for a leader capable of reasoning about our security priorities and working more effectively with countries we need as allies in the fight against Islamic terrorism."
University of Chicago political scientist Daniel Dresner, in an article titled "Bush the Bumbler," identifies three possible explanations for what Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart is calling "Mess o' Potamia." The first possibility is that "Bush is the evil creature of corporate interests, pursuing militarized disputes merely to reward his cronies." The second is that "the costs of Bush's preemption doctrine -- weakened international legitimacy, fraying alliances, increased global public hostility to the United States -- are greater than the benefits." The third explanation "agrees with the logic of Bush's grand strategy, but questions whether the policy implementation has been up to snuff. This line of argumentation has less to do with substance and more to do with process." Dresner embraces this third possibility -- that we're not really seeing the policy of preemption in action because Bush and his advisers are incompetent.
But a reading of Kevin Phillips' deeply troubling new book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush draws one in the direction of the darker explanations. Phillips, who served in the Nixon administration and made his reputation by correctly predicting "the emerging Republican majority" in his book of that title, has since built on this success. He is expert at carefully connecting the dots. From his dot matrix emerges a pattern of influence built on "the four pillars" of finance, energy (oil), intelligence and defense. Phillips observes that while America has had previous dynasties (indeed, the election of 2008 could pit the Bush heir apparent, Jeb, against the carrier of the Clinton flame, Hillary), the Bush dynasty is America's first to reflect so totally the "military industrial complex."
To underscore the significance of this point, Phillips begins his book with a lengthy quote from President Eisenhower's famous farewell address on the threat: "We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for a disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Phillips paints a picture that places George H. W. Bush in the middle of the plot to deny Jimmy Carter a fair chance at reelection. Relying on Russian and French intelligence, he agrees with the charge that Bush and Bill Casey persuaded the Iranians to postpone the release of the American hostages until after the 1980 election. He places Bush I much more in the middle of Iran-Contra than we knew at the time. He discusses at length the ties that the Bushes have enjoyed into the CIA (the Yale Skull and Bones connection, in Phillips words, "can't be underestimated"). He highlights the longstanding relationship between the Bush family and the Saudi royal family, and leaves us with a terribly important question: When foreign policy is made that involves the Saudis, are we talking about American interests or Bush family interests? And, about energy and oil, we learn that the family was much closer to Enron and the likes of Ken Lay than they want to admit.
George W. is viewed as an embodiment of all this -- his family's ties, interests and attitudes. With a Texas twist, that is.
I refer to "Dubya the Born Again." By embracing fundamentalism, by playing the Prodigal Son, George W. has laid claim to a constituency never available to his proper Episcopalian Father. This relationship becomes more dangerous when viewed as a political backdrop to the Israeli-Palestinian tragedy. Southern Baptists, we know, see no problem. After all, the Jews are the Chosen People. It is their land.
All of this leads to a fourth explanation: That we see here a brand of arrogance and certitude wrapped in a privilege-born level of obliviousness not seen since the days of Louis XVI.