Great Leaders

Hands up who, in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006, when the president said “Absolutely, we’re winning” thought the mainstream media was distorting the news to make it appear that the president was misleading the public?

Anyone?

No? Me neither.

“Absolutely, we’re winning,” the president said during an October 2006 news conference. “We’re winning.” His confident remarks came during one of the lowest points of the war, at a time when anyone with a TV screen knew that the war was going badly. On Feb. 5, 2005, as he was moving up from his first-term role as Rice’s deputy to become national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley had offered a private, confidential assessment of the problems of Bush’s Iraq-dominated first term. “I give us a B-minus for policy development,” he said, “and a D-minus for policy execution.” The president later told me that he knew that the Iraq “strategy wasn’t working.” So how could the United States be winning a war with a failing strategy?

Maybe you had some doubts about whether Iraq was involved in 9/11? You wouldn’t have been the only one.

Vice President Cheney was urging Secretary of State Colin Powell to consider seriously the possibility that Iraq might be connected to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Powell found the case worse than ridiculous and scornfully concluded that Cheney had what Powell termed a “fever.” (In private, Powell used to call the Pentagon policy shop run by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, who shared Cheney’s burning interest in supposed ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq, a “Gestapo office.”)

Everyone has doubts though, right?

During a December 2003 interview with Bush, I read him a quote from his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, about the experience of receiving letters from family members of slain soldiers who had written that they hated him. “And don’t believe anyone who tells you when they receive letters like that, they don’t suffer any doubt,” Blair had said.

“Yeah,” Bush replied. “I haven’t suffered doubt.”

“Is that right?” I asked. “Not at all?”

“No,” he said.

Bob Woodward has published a list of 10 leadership tips for Obama illustrated with episodes from the Bush presidency.  It’s fascinating reading.

In 2004-06, the CIA was reporting that Iraq was getting more violent and less stable. By mid-2006, Bush’s own NSC deputy for Iraq, Meghan O’Sullivan, had a blunt assessment of conditions in Baghdad: “It’s hell, Mr. President.” But the Pentagon remained optimistic and reported that a strategy of drawing down U.S. troops and turning security over to the Iraqis would end in “self-reliance” in 2009.

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

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