By The Plaid Adder
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full
of passionate intensity." - W. B. Yeats, "The Second Coming."
This Tuesday, George W. Bush went to Buffalo, NY to push
for the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act. He's doing it there,
of course, because Buffalo was the site of what may be the
one successful attempt his administration ever made to break
up Al Qaeda's organization within the United States.
Of course, that all happened long after September 11, 2001,
because as we now know from the 9/11 commission hearings,
before September 11, 2001 none of Bush's high-ranking
advisors thought it was important to go after Al Qaeda cells
operating within the United States. That was not, after all,
going to get them any closer to an invasion of Iraq, which
as yet another bombshell book (this time by former Bush bootlicker
Bob Woodward) claims was a much higher priority with this
administration much earlier than they ever let on.
If you ask any of Bush's advisors why they weren't
more active about combating terrorist organizations on American
soil during the first 233 days of his presidency - and the
commission finally has - they all come up with the same answer:
we didn't have enough information to act on. Why didn't they
have enough information to act on? Because those nasty legal
safeguards that we have erected in this country to protect
our civil liberties from government interference prevented
them from gathering that information.
That's the line they're all taking, from Condoleezza Rice
to John Ashcroft: if we'd had the PATRIOT Act, if we'd torn
down "the wall," if we'd only realized sooner that in a country
so beset by enemies we can't afford things like liberty and
privacy and human rights, the September 11 attacks would never
This argument is not only disingenuous, it is extremely
dangerous, and it bothers me greatly that the members of the
9/11 commission have not been more aggressive about challenging
it. The last thing this country needs is for the 9/11 commission
to become an excuse to further erode the barriers that are
protecting us from the machinations of our government - especially
a government as clearly corrupt, incompetent, and desperate
as this one.
Watching the commission hearings and especially listening
to George W. Bush's utterly disastrous press conference last
Tuesday, I personally have gotten a completely different picture
about what left us vulnerable to a massive terrorist attack
on American soil. The fact that 9/11 happened had nothing
to do with "the wall," or with pesky legal restrictions put
on the FBI and the CIA, or with the fact that we were not
"on a war footing," whatever that really means. What we need
is not a new and improved PATRIOT Act. What we need is a president.
Unfortunately I will never make it into the White House
press pool. But had I been there on Tuesday night, I know
what my question would have been:
"Mr. President, could you tell us all who's actually running
this country? Because it can't possibly be you."
Because it can't be. Based on his performance last Tuesday
I wouldn't hire him to manage a McDonald's, let alone the
entire nation. Some of the journalists who were there apparently
shared this opinion to some extent; at any rate, they pointed
out that Bush's 'answers' were almost always nonresponsive
and by and large consisted of reformulations of the "stay
the course" rhetoric he had trotted out earlier in his 17-minute
They have generally not tried to convey something that was
obvious to anyone who tuned in, which is that as nonsensical
as Bush's words were - just reading the transcript would make
your head bleed - his delivery was even worse. Bush went from
halting and wooden to aggressive and angry, with a lot of
silences, pauses, and meaningless babble in between. Perhaps
the lowest point came when he was asked what he would say
was his biggest mistake since 9/11/01. There was silence for
several seconds as Bush racked what he calls his brain for
an answer, and what he finally said was, "I wish you'd have
given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan
For once, no doubt, he was telling the truth.
In between pleading nervousness ("I'm sure something will
pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference,
with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but
it hadn't [sic] yet") and apologizing for his lack of mental
agility ("you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I'm
not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one"),
a desperate Bush strung together a disjointed, incoherent,
and self-subverting apology for his own presidency that is
worth quoting in full. Since Bush speaks a language that is
somewhat akin to English but largely unintelligible to those
who have not been trained to interpret it, I will provide
my own translation:
"I would've gone into Afghanistan the way
we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today
about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would've called
upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein."
So, he admits that he wanted to go to war in Iraq whether
or not Saddam Hussein actually had weapons of mass destruction.
Oh wait, no, he doesn't admit that:
"See, I'm of the belief that we'll find out
the truth on the weapons. That's why we sent up the independent
commission. I look forward to hearing the truth as to exactly
where they are. They could still be there. They could be
hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm."
All right... so he is apparently the only human being left
in America who still believes that these phantom weapons of
mass destruction still exist. And he takes comfort in being
able to dredge up a factoid he had already used in answer
to an earlier question: the fact that when Qadafi disclosed
Libya's weapons programs inspectors found 50 tons of mustard
gas on a turkey farm in Libya. Actually, it was 23 tons of
mustard gas found in several different locations, none of
which was a turkey farm, but no doubt this confusion is the
result of Bush desperately trying to retain some of this information
by using those mnemonic images they tell you about. "OK, George,
why don't you try picturing yourself sitting on the beach
with a bad case of indigestion after eating a big turkey sandwich
with mustard on it, and that will remind you that we found
a whole lot of mustard gas in the desert!"
And anyway, the fact that the weapons are not there doesn't
prove that they're not there, because if they really weren't
there, people in Iraq wouldn't be scared:
"One of the things that Charlie Duelfer talked about
was that he was surprised of the level of intimidation
he found amongst people who should know about weapons
and their fear of talking about them because they don't
want to be killed.
You know, there's this kind of - there's a terror
still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq. They're
worried about getting killed, and therefore they're not
going to talk. But it'll all settle out, John. We'll find
out the truth about the weapons at some point in time."
So the weapons really are there, and we'll eventually
find them. But even if they're not there - and that's
not true, cause they so totally are! - let's just for the
sake of argument posit that we eventually have to finally
face the fact that they never existed. It wouldn't matter,
because Saddam Hussein wished he had them, and that
"However, the fact that he had the capacity
to make them bothers me today just like it would have bothered
me then. He's a dangerous man. He's a man who actually not
only had weapons of mass destruction - the reason I can
say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have
no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted
harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people
to inflict harm, on America, because he hated us."
And finally, after all this, his answer is that although
he's sure he's made mistakes at some point, he can't think
of a single one. At least not one that he would like to acknowledge.
Because of course his entire answer tells you exactly what
he thinks his biggest mistake was, or at least what he knows
everyone else thinks his biggest mistake was: starting a war
in Iraq on a trumped-up pretext that has now been definitively
exploded. His second biggest mistake, as you could hear him
thinking, was agreeing to appear at this press conference.
So what do we learn from this? Well, let's see. We learn
that Bush cannot handle the 'pressure' of being in front of
a group of people who are asking him questions. He also cannot
think on his feet, and is incapable of coming up with a response
to a problem that he has not had time to study 'ahead of time.'
In addition, he appears to be incapable of ever admitting
that he was wrong, and quite willing to leave reality, plausibility,
and logic behind in order to make it look as if he was right
And while he waits for the discovery of that magic turkey
farm, all we can do is ask ourselves: as President of the
United States, shouldn't he be used to responding to situations
for which he could not have been prepared 'ahead of time'?
Isn't it kind of important for a President of the United States
to be able to perform well under 'pressure'? If he has really
been leading the most powerful nation in the world through
three and a half terrible years, shouldn't he have enough
experience with thinking on his feet to be able to answer
a simple question? How has he gotten this far into his first
term without being able to do any better than this?
Well, in our search for an answer to that question let us
turn to Bush's non-response to another simple question he
was asked last week:
QUESTION: Mr. President, why are you and the vice
president insisting on appearing together before the 9-11
commission? And, Mr. President, who will we be handing the
Iraqi government over to on June 30th?
BUSH: We'll find that out soon. That's what Mr.
Brahimi is doing. He's figuring out the nature of the entity
we'll be handing sovereignty over. And, secondly, because
the 9-11 commission wants to ask us questions, that's why
we're meeting. And I look forward to meeting with them and
answering their questions.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) I was asking why you're appearing
together, rather than separately, which was their request.
BUSH: Because it's a good chance for both of us
to answer questions that the 9-11 commission is looking
forward to asking us. And I'm looking forward to answering
And he's on to the next question, having point-blank refused
to give a meaningful answer. Why? Because he can't. Not, this
time, because he doesn't know the answer; but because he can't
afford to reveal it. Because there's only one possible reason
that explains the fact that Bush is not testifying alone,
and that's because nobody in his administration trusts him
to do it.
Now that in itself probably doesn't surprise a lot of people.
We've all gotten used to the embarrassment and humiliation
that is our daily portion as subjects of Mad King George.
But let us pause a moment to fully take in the significance
of that joint appearance. The man who currently holds the
office of President of the United States refuses to spend
even a few hours on his own behind closed doors answering
questions about his own administration. And that's either
because 1) Bush can't tell the truth and he's not smart enough
to lie, or 2) Bush doesn't actually know enough about how
his own government works to answer questions about it. Or
All right, so we've always sort of suspected that Bush wasn't
really running the show. That, after all, is what most of
the books critical of his administration - and there sure
are a lot of them - seem to indicate, and as his press conferences
indicate, even if Bush wanted to be a 'hands-on' president
instead of the Great Delegator, he wouldn't be competent to
do it. And the Republicans have gotten us all used to the
idea of the president as movie prop; that was how things worked
during the Reagan era too, especially during his second term
when the Alzheimer's had started to set in.
But, as everyone keeps saying, everything changed after 9/11.
And what the 9/11 commission is proving is that we cannot
afford to fill the highest office in the executive branch
with someone who is in essence a glorified spokesmodel. It
may be terribly convenient for all of Bush's advisors not
to have their boss overseeing them too closely; but for the
rest of us, it is becoming clear that under the 'pressure'
of the past three and a half years, the vaccuum at the center
of this administration has started to exert rather too strong
Without a central figure capable of forcing them to work
together, and driven as each of them is purely by his or her
own self-interest, Bush's advisors could never have "connected
the dots" no matter how many they were given. The picture
that emerges from the commission is that during the months
prior to 9/11, each of the major figures was off in his or
her own little world pursuing his or her pet projects.
Ashcroft was sniffing around everyone's bedroom doors; Cheney
was meeting behind closed doors with oil executives; Rumsfeld
was busy working on his new 'light and lean' approach to military
conquest; and Condoleezza Rice, apparently, was sitting around
watching daytime soaps and making paper clip chains. Bush,
meanwhile, was where everyone wanted him to be: in Crawford,
where the press could take pictures of him being manly and
he wouldn't be in anyone's way.
After 9/11, when we went on that all-important 'war footing,'
things got no better: each of Bush's advisors simply kept
doing what he was doing, only more so. Rumsfeld got his two
wars; Cheney got Halliburton their no-bid contracts; Ashcroft
got access to all the bedrooms he could ever have dreamed
And once we got to Iraq, it was more of the same. Rumsfeld
was hot for a military victory, so he never bothered himself
about planning for the aftermath. The powers Ashcroft seized
with the USA PATRIOT Act have been used to harass immigrants,
keep members of the Green Party off airplanes, intimidate
political opposition, and fill up Guantanamo with detainees
that we don't seem to have any idea what to do with.
Meanwhile the tax cuts that Cheney was pushing for are making
it increasingly impossible to adequately fund the agencies
that might actually be able to do something for us in the
event of a crisis. As for Paul Bremer, well, judging by the
tenor of his public pronouncements he appears to believe that
he is now the king of Iraq, and to be operating by his own
set of rules. Meanwhile, neither we nor "the Iraqi people"
are any closer to being either safer or more free than
we were on September 11, 2001.
What kept these people from coming together to protect us
from Al Qaeda was not our country's respect for the rights
of the individual, or that "openness" that Bush rambled about
in his press conference, or the fact that for good fucking
reasons we have restrictions on what the CIA and the FBI can
and can't do to American citizens. The reason things have
fallen apart in Washington is simply that there is nothing
and no one holding them together. What we need is not more
"enemy combatants" rotting in Guanatamo, or a bigger no-fly
zone, or a new agency devoted to spying on American citizens.
We need someone at the top of this structure who is both willing
and able to make all of these different agencies work together
to serve the American people, instead of sitting around in
Crawford or Kennebunkport or Camp David while each of his
'advisors' sends his particular chunk of the U.S. government
off in a different wrong direction in fruitless pursuit of
the shadowy object of his own private madness.
We can no longer afford a president who is all surface and
no substance. We can no longer afford to let ourselves be
reassured by Bush's performance of a "resolve" and "conviction"
which are purely for the benefit of the viewers at home, and
which he is incapable of translating into any kind of useful
action. Because if we don't find something or someone to fill
the emptiness at the center of this administration, it is
eventually going to consume us all..
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting
an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the
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