Archive for the ‘George W. Bush’ Category

Bush’s Farewell

January 12, 2009

Anatomy of a Failed Presidency 

President Bush gave his exit interview with the press. I was struck by the extent to which Bush agreed to many of the critiques of his critics. On the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, on his Mission Accomplished photo op, on his handling of Hurricane Katrina, Bush admitted mistakes. For administration members to have even privately acknowledged these  only a few years ago would have been entirely forbidden.

The Right is already at work with its attempt to reassess Bush. See Rich Lowry’s earlier National Review interview with Bush or Charles Krauthammer’s earlier piece. ABC’s Jake Tapper tried to push Bush beyond platitudes at today’s press conference getting him to address not the goals of his policies, but the execution of his plans. Kudo’s to Jake for that.

Bush did say one thing today which I believe will serve him well in his attempt to remake his image. “And the other thing is, when I get out of here, I’m getting off the stage,” Bush said. ” I believe there ought to be, you know, one person in the klieg lights at a time, and I’ve had my time in the klieg lights.”

The best thing Bush can do from the standpoint of his legacy is get off the stage. I’d joke and say he should stay there. That’s too easy, though. Bush fundamentally has to give people time to forget about him.

Right now, Bush faces grim prospects. Publishers are interested in what his wife has to say, but not him. Over time, I’d expect him to put together memoirs — even if doesn’t garner a big advance. A modest presidential library — in contrast to Bill Clinton’s self-monument — a political center at a university, and maybe some work following the domestic model of Jimmy Carter, may slowly help Bush capture some stature. A gesture in the direction of rebuilding New Orleans would be a good place to start — and the right thing to do.

Here’s Bush’s predicament. He’s the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon left office. Yet he lacks Nixon’s tremendous will to come back  as well as Nixon’s brain. His best hope for any semblance of a legacy may be the fact that Americans have short memories.

Bush Packs the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council

January 7, 2009

In a rush of appointments prior to leaving office, President Bush is naming key supporters to a number of presidential commissions. Today Bush left his stamp on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial, which I wrote about a few weeks back. Here is the list of appointments:


Elliot Abrams, of Virginia, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


Joshua B. Bolten, of the District of Columbia, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


Alan I. Casden, of California, for the remainder of a five-year term expiring 01/15/11;


Michael Chertoff, of New Jersey, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


William Danhof, of Michigan, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


Sanford Gottesman, of Texas, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


Cheryl Feldman Halpern, of New Jersey, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


J. David Heller, of Ohio, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


Amy Kaslow, of Maryland, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


M. Ronald Krongold, of Florida, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


Michael B. Mukasey, of New York, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09;


Daniel Silva, of the District of Columbia, for a five-year term beginning 01/16/09.


The list includes many of Bush’s biggest allies in the Jewish community. Notice Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

What makes Bush’s appointments here interesting is the degree to which the Holocaust Memorial has become an object of bipartisan support — to the point where appointment to its council is considered a political plum with which to reward diehard backers.

There was a time during the Clinton Administration, when conservatives, particularly neocons viewed the Holocaust Memorial with suspicion.  In 1993, Philip Gourevitch (not really a neocon, but writing for the Forward in its conservative incarnation) wrote a groundbreaking piece critical of the memorial in Harpers. Jonathan Rosen critqued it in the New York Times the same year. And my friend Ira Stoll described the museum as a “a playpen for Clinton loyalists” in the Wall Street Journal in 2001.

Now the Bushies will have the Memorial with which to play.


Bush Convention Speech: Is It Legal?

September 3, 2008

I’m watching President Bush address the Republican National Convention from the White House via satellite. The setting for the speech makes me wonder whether his address is even legal. The RNC is a private political event, and politicians are not allowed to use public resources, such as their offices on Capitol Hill, for expressly political purposes. While everything every politician does in office is political, express political activity, such as campaigning for other politicians or raising funds, must take place off premises.

McCain Discards Bush

September 2, 2008

In my New York Sun column, I observe that Hurricane Gustav gives John McCain the chance to remove George W. Bush from the program and become his own man.

“The unifying thread connecting many of this week’s tumultuous events — the scaling back of much of the Republican National Convention due to Hurricane Gustav, the canceling of President Bush‘s speech to delegates, and even the selection of the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as Mr. McCain‘s running mate — is the reintroduction to America of Mr. McCain outside of Mr. Bush’s shadow.

Mr. Bush, whose approval ratings languish between the high 20s and low 30s, represents the greatest weight on Mr. McCain’s candidacy. Mr. Obama’s line last week was typical of the type of attack Mr. McCain can expect during the next two months: “McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than 90 percent of the time?” Now, thanks to events planned and unplanned, Mr. McCain is about to emerge as entirely his own man.

Mr. McCain’s rejiggering of the convention schedule in St. Paul provides the strongest contrast with President Bush. Mr. Bush’s plummet into historically low unpopularity began with the administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina. Although he was not the only public actor to have failed during the crisis — state and city authorities also played a major role in the disaster — Mr. Bush never recovered from the images of Americans stranded and helpless outside of the New Orleans convention center.

The new plan for the Republican convention shows that Mr. McCain, unlike Mr. Bush, will give domestic crises his full attention. His comments when he pledged ‘that tomorrow night, and if necessary, throughout our convention if necessary, to act as Americans not Republicans, because America needs us now no matter whether we are Republican or Democrat’ set the tone.

Even before the formation of Hurricane Gustav, Mr. Bush’s speech to the convention stood as the most awkward part of the convention schedule. Mr. Bush is toxic among Democrats, unpopular with independents, and hit-or-miss, even, with many Republicans. Under normal circumstances, it’s just not possible to remove a sitting president and the symbolic head of the party from a convention schedule. With the danger of a hurricane landfall looming, Mr. McCain was able to get both Mr. Bush and the even more politically poisonous Mr. Cheney off the national stage.”

Robert Anthony “Tony” Snow, 1955 – 2008

July 12, 2008

The sad announcement today of Tony Snow’s death closes the book on many of the questions I had about why the former news anchor opted to become White House press secretary after having already suffered one bout of cancer. Given his illness and high profile before taking the job, I never understood why he wanted such a grueling position — especially in a White House that didn’t seem to value it.

From my vantage point, I thought Snow did that extremely difficult job as well as it can be done — even following after the buffoonish Scott McClellan. This is how Fox’s news account put it: “In his year-and-a-half at the White House, Snow brought partisan zeal and the skills of a seasoned performer to the task of explaining and defending the president’s policies. During daily briefings, he challenged reporters, scolded them and questioned their motives as if he were starring in a TV show broadcast live from the West Wing.”

When I last blogged about Snow, I wrote “Ari Fleischer told me in September that the job was “the most rewarding, intellectually stimulating, fascinating, wonderful, most grinding, grueling, pressure filled” he could ever do in his life. Given the problems in working for such a problem-plagued administration, one in its waning days where the prospects of things getting any better are dim, Snow had a hard enough road in front of him.

For many of his predecessors, such as George Stephanopoulos, who briefly did it at the beginning of the Clinton Administration, the press secretary position is a stepping stone to a career in the big-time media. But Snow, a former Fox News personality, already had that. Granted, he won for himself, unlike Scott McClellan, the important right to participate in principals’ meetings, which made the job desirable…

All I can say is the guy must be a true believer. Like Elizabeth Edwards who has encouraged her husband to press on with his campaign, Snow is putting the greater struggle above himself. In both cases, it’s moving and heart-breaking.”

To these thoughts I’d add how disappointed I personally am that we won’t get the book that Snow was reportedly working on. I’m very curious to read what, in effect, will serve as a rebuttal to Scott McClellan’s “What Happened.” I wonder if we’ll ever get to read it.

The Scott McClellan Affair

May 29, 2008

I can offer no substantive critique of Scott McClellan. He did work for an administration that produced a complete litany of blunders and errors.

But given the flap he’s started with his new book, as a former press secretary myself, I can’t but help to weigh in with a couple points.

1. I stand by what I said when McClellan was last in the news. Back in November, I wrote: “Pity poor Scott McClellan. Mr. McClellan, who served as the White House press secretary between 2003 and 2006, has a problem with timing…When the leak was exposed was when Mr. McClellan’s sense of timing got in the way. He had a couple of options, but muffed them both. First, he could have played tough with the administration prior to October 7, 2003, when he unequivocally told reporters that Mr. Rove and Libby were not involved in the leak. At that very point, it is the press secretary’s professional duty to, in political parlance, ‘push back.’ Most political operatives don’t like to push back because they are either habitual people pleasers or deathly afraid of their employer or other members of the administration being angry with them.

Yet if Mr. McClellan had better thought through the situation he may have saved himself and the administration from grave trouble. If after going to Mr. Rove and Libby, he was not satisfied with their answers, he still had an ability to save his boss, to whom his fundamental duty is owed, and himself. He could have given some form of a no comment answer, as he later did.

Or he could have resigned as soon as the indictment came down, the moment at which his credibility, the most important tool for a press secretary, vanished. It’s imperative that press operatives maintain their own credibility so that they can do their jobs.”

2. I find McClellan infuriating. I mean, where was his outrage back in August of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans? That’s when he could have made a difference. Now he’s only covering his behind. Part of the press secretary’s duty is to keep his or her principal aware of news reports. The president doesn’t like to be disturbed, the Bushies say? The reason they pay people like McClellan money is to disturb Bush with the news that there’s a problem down by the Bayou.

3. Larry King featured a Bushie new to the airwaves tonight, some prepster named Reed Dickens. I’ve got to say, Dickens, who formerly worked for McClellan, made some good points. He went so far as to say that McClellan didn’t get the job back in 2002 because he was the most talented candidate; McClellan got it because he was loyal. He also stated that two former Bush operatives who have turned against W — McClellan and Matt Dowd — had no separate political identity outside of Bush.

Bottom line: McClellan just wasn’t strong enough or smart enough to keep himself or his administration out of trouble. He was too dense to realize that part of loyalty is making sure that the president averted problems before they arose.

Chaos in Serbia

February 21, 2008

Chaos in Serbia

I just saw footage on MSNBC of hooligans tearing the American flag off of the U.S. embassy in Belgrade and trashing the chancery, and I have two points, one emotional, one analytical.

1) I don’t care who it is or what the grievance is, don’t trash a U.S. embassy or deface an American flag. Viscerally, this is an action that absolutely disgusts me.

2) The 2008 presidential field features two candidates who were very hawkish during the 1999 Kosovo War — John McCain and Hillary Clinton. McCain came out strongly in favor of the effort to protect Kosovo’s Muslim’s from facing the fate of their Bosnian cohorts. I remember attending a function for a Jewish group that took place weeks after the war had erupted. Hillary Clinton spoke and forcefully made a moral case for keeping the military pressure on Serbia until Slobodan Milosevic gave in to NATO demands. Here’s Barack Obama’s measured statement on the recent declaration of independence.

Interestingly, the one Republican candidate who took a very hands off approach to American military action in Serbia was George W. Bush who gave me the following statement nine years ago: “Whenever the United States of America and our NATO allies threaten to sue force to try to end a tragedy like the one in Kosovo, we must follow through. American credibility is the most important weapon in preventing future tragedies.” He also warned,
“We must have a clear mission, an achievable goal and a credible exit strategy. The ultimate question is, Will this military action
lead to the goal of ending the conflict and bringing peace and stability to the action?”

Can anyone imagine Bush being the first one to use the words “exit strategy” and the use of American force?

WMUR-ABC Republican Debate

January 6, 2008

Thirty minutes into the Republican debate from St. Anselm College, I have the following observations:

• They all look tired. I am surprised by how fatigued Mitt Romney looks.

• The question on whether each candidate would follow President Bush’s foreign policy seemed to put the candidates on their heels. So did the use of video and sound from President Bush. The last things these guys want is to be lumped in with Bush.

• On the substance, I thought the responses of Giuliani, McCain, Thompson and Romney on the danger of terrorism were all solid. It was interesting to see Romney reach for some foreign policy substance by invoking specific Islamist clerics. Politically, however, Huckabee had the best comment, saying he’s “not running for George Bush’s third term.”

• Given the level of scrutiny on Huckabee’s past critiques of Bush’s foreign policy, I have to note that I was the first columnist to examine his statements in this area. I wrote: “Quick to personify nations while talking about international relations, at times he sounds like he is channeling a European member of the Green Party.”

Draper on John Edwards

September 18, 2007

I reviewed Robert Draper’s new book, “Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush,” for The New York Sun. I was amazed that much of Draper’s original and exclusive reporting was relegated to an epilogue.

While I didn’t write about it, I thought it was interesting to learn what the Bush Team circa 2004 thought of John Edwards, who is once again running for the White House. “As a senator, Edwards wasn’t one for detailed briefings, or details of any kind. Colleagues who had seen great promise in him, like John McCain and Joe Biden gradually grew disillusioned. They observed that Edward’s incuriosity surpassed that of Bush — who at least read history books and never argued, as John Edwards had in the summer of 2002, that the best reason for invading Iraq was Saddam’s nuclear program … a program that, as it turned out, never existed,” Draper writes. Not exactly a glowing endorsement from a reporter whom Republicans are labelling a Democratic sympathizer.

My review of Draper isn’t entirely positive. Interestingly, I would note that he was one of a small handful of reporters who, along with me, witnessed Edwards on the campaign trail in New Hampshire in 2003.