Saturday, October 16, 2004

I hadn't seriously questioned Bush's sanity. Til now.

Ron Suskind's article on George W. Bush is probably one of the most patriotic things that the NY Times has ever done and courageous too, in its way.

The editorial today also noted that it's kind of odd that Judith Miller's getting heat to reveal sources, but for some reason Robert Novak isn't. Very good point.

But that might be better explained by Suskind's article.

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that ''if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3.'' The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

''Just in the past few months,'' Bartlett said, ''I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.'' Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . .

''This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,'' Bartlett went on to say. ''He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'' Bartlett paused, then said, ''But you can't run the world on faith.''

But it's deeper that that- it's an absolute faith married to managerial incompetence:

Bush has been called the C.E.O. president, but that's just a catch phrase -- he never ran anything of consequence in the private sector. The M.B.A. president would be more accurate: he did, after all, graduate from Harvard Business School. And some who have worked under him in the White House and know about business have spotted a strange business-school time warp. It's as if a 1975 graduate from H.B.S. -- one who had little chance to season theory with practice during the past few decades of change in corporate America -- has simply been dropped into the most challenging management job in the world.

One aspect of the H.B.S. method, with its emphasis on problems of actual corporations, is sometimes referred to as the ''case cracker'' problem. The case studies are static, generally a snapshot of a troubled company, frozen in time; the various ''solutions'' students proffer, and then defend in class against tough questioning, tend to have very short shelf lives. They promote rigidity, inappropriate surety. This is something H.B.S. graduates, most of whom land at large or midsize firms, learn in their first few years in business. They discover, often to their surprise, that the world is dynamic, it flows and changes, often for no good reason. The key is flexibility, rather than sticking to your guns in a debate, and constant reassessment of shifting realities. In short, thoughtful second-guessing.

George W. Bush, who went off to Texas to be an oil wildcatter, never had a chance to learn these lessons about the power of nuanced, fact-based analysis. The small oil companies he ran tended to lose money; much of their value was as tax shelters. (The investors were often friends of his father's.) Later, with the Texas Rangers baseball team, he would act as an able front man but never really as a boss.

His marriage may have been repaired by the power of faith, but faith was clearly having little impact on his broken career. Faith heals the heart and the spirit, but it doesn't do much for analytical skills. In 1990, a few years after receiving salvation, Bush was still bumping along. Much is apparent from one of the few instances of disinterested testimony to come from this period. It is the voice of David Rubenstein, managing director and cofounder of the Carlyle Group, the Washington-based investment firm that is one of the town's most powerful institutions and a longtime business home for the president's father. In 1989, the catering division of Marriott was taken private and established as Caterair by a group of Carlyle investors. Several old-guard Republicans, including the former Nixon aide Fred Malek, were involved.

Rubenstein described that time to a convention of pension managers in Los Angeles last year, recalling that Malek approached him and said: ''There is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. . . . Needs some board positions.'' Though Rubenstein didn't think George W. Bush, then in his mid-40's, ''added much value,'' he put him on the Caterair board. ''Came to all the meetings,'' Rubenstein told the conventioneers. ''Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years: 'You know, I'm not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don't think you're adding that much value to the board. You don't know that much about the company.' He said: 'Well, I think I'm getting out of this business anyway. And I don't really like it that much. So I'm probably going to resign from the board.' And I said thanks. Didn't think I'd ever see him again.''

Bush would soon officially resign from Caterair's board. Around this time, Karl Rove set up meetings to discuss Bush's possible candidacy for the governorship of Texas. Six years after that, he was elected leader of the free world and began ''case cracking'' on a dizzying array of subjects, proffering his various solutions, in both foreign and domestic affairs. But the pointed ''defend your position'' queries -- so central to the H.B.S. method and rigorous analysis of all kinds -- were infrequent. Questioning a regional supervisor or V.P. for planning is one thing. Questioning the president of the United States is another.

Still, some couldn't resist. As I reported in ''The Price of Loyalty,'' at the Bush administration's first National Security Council meeting, Bush asked if anyone had ever met Ariel Sharon. Some were uncertain if it was a joke. It wasn't: Bush launched into a riff about briefly meeting Sharon two years before, how he wouldn't ''go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. . . . I'm going to take him at face value,'' and how the United States should pull out of the Arab-Israeli conflict because ''I don't see much we can do over there at this point.'' Colin Powell, for one, seemed startled. This would reverse 30 years of policy -- since the Nixon administration -- of American engagement. Such a move would unleash Sharon, Powell countered, and tear the delicate fabric of the Mideast in ways that might be irreparable. Bush brushed aside Powell's concerns impatiently. ''Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things.''

Yeah, things are getting cliarified all right.

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, was highly critical of the current president's handling of foreign policy in an interview published this week, saying that the current president was "mesmerized" by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that Iraq was a "failing venture" and that the administration's unilateralist approach had harmed relations between Europe and the United States.

Scowcroft's remarks, reported in London's Financial Times, are unusual coming from a leading Republican less than three weeks before a highly contested election. In the first Bush administration Scowcroft was a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, the current national security adviser, and he is regarded as a close associate of Bush's father.

When asked if he had been quoted correctly, his office responded via e-mail: "He has been and is a supporter of President Bush and thinks he is the best qualified to lead our country."

This is the really eerie thing around Bush: nobody is around him to actually criticize him. "Who cares what you think?" is one of his signature quotes. In short the man does not have the slightest concept of accountability, even to the point of not questioning Bush on whether Sweden had an army or not (which is weird in and of itself- Sweden has a huge defense industry and tightly defended its borders and seas during the Cold War.)

This lack of accountability - on the part of Bush as well as his staff and cabinet, who should have demanded long ago a better method of governming, is reminiscent of, yes, the way Adolf Hitler ran Germany into the ground. Stalin, Stalin, for chrissakes, had a better management system (once the USSR had been invaded, not before).

And of anyone had any doubts as to why 9/11 happened, this is it. Remember the My Pet Goat scene in the classrom? It took 7 minutes for somebody on his staff to do something.

This broadside against Bush is gonna cost him. Big time.

And no amount of distorting what Kerry said will take away from the fact that this is the most dysfunctional administration of my lifetime.


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