February 10, 2008

White House Wizard Nails It Again

“That these people were ready to go into action as terrorists in Spain — that came as a surprise,” said Judge Baltasar Garzón, Spain’s highest antiterrorism magistrate. “In my opinion, the jihadi threat from Pakistan is the biggest emerging threat we are facing in Europe. Pakistan is an ideological and training hotbed for jihadists, and they are being exported here.” New York Times, Sunday, February 10, 2008.
"Appearing today on Fox News Sunday, President Bush laid into Sen. Barack Obama, claiming he would 'attack Pakistan' and 'embrace' Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." Associated Press, Sunday, February 10, 2008.

Occasionally, here and there, I read accounts claiming that George W. Bush is "a lot smarter" than people think he is, and that The Decider deliberately cultivates a stumblebum persona so that his political opponents will misunderestimate his true depth and canny comprehension of the issues. David Brooks, for example, who routinely prostrates himself before the Bush Throne, epitomizes this approach. I find all of this irritating in the extreme not because I have a vested interest in thinking Bush is a moron (I don't), but because it completely misses the point: Bush is an intellectual mediocrity who exacerbates his limitations by being lazy as hell.

Do you ever wonder what Bush actually does as President? We know, from countless stories, that he gets up very early and goes to bed at around 9 p.m. It seems that he front-loads all his "briefings" from the CIA, NSA and other initialed spooks first thing up, that is, when he's in town. Then he probably holds a conference in the Oval Office with Cheney and the rest of the gang. Then he usually meets with some bewildered out-of-towner like the President of Peru or the King of the Maldives for a half hour, followed by a few irrelevant questions from the domesticated White House press. Time for lunch. In the afternoon he works out. He dislikes White House dinners and all socializing, a characteristic he shares with many reformed drunks. In the evening he reads his books about Washington, Lincoln, and Churchill. (I find it interesting, to use 50% of Bush's adjectival vocabulary, that Bush thinks because historians write contemporary books about George Washington, it must mean the "jury's still out" on whether Washington "succeeded" or not. By a parity of reasoning, muses Bush, he need not worry yet whether he's done anything wrong. Could it be that historians repeatedly write about Washington (and Lincoln) because they were unquestionably great?)

He's apparently very good at delegating...everything. There is not a scrap of paper on his desk -- no calendar, no memos, no notes, no blotter, nothing. It looks like nothing goes on there. Jimmy Carter was such a micromanager that he scheduled playing times on the White House tennis courts. Bush is so hands-off that he couldn't be bothered to react to a memo like "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Within U.S." in August, 2001. He stayed on vacation in Crawford, even though he'd only been on the "job" about 7 months before taking off for 5 weeks.

About a month before he left to clear brush, Richard Clarke, Bush's counterterrorism chief, summoned a meeting on July 5, 2001, to inform the reps from the FBI, INS, and the Secret Service that "something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." The CIA was aware that two of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hamzi and Khaled al-Midhar, had left an al-Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur and flown directly to Los Angeles. Reports were coming in from the Phoenix and Minneapolis FBI field offices that Arab men were taking lessons in flying commercial jets under suspicious circumstances indicating an inappropriate curiosity about flight patterns around New York City (Moussaoui, in Minnesota) and an inappropriate lack of curiosity about how to do anything but fly the plane and make turns, leaving out the business of taking off and landing. All of this is laid out in detail in Lawrence Wright's 2006 book, The Looming Tower: al-Qaeda and the Road to 9-11. The book builds upon the 9-11 Commission report and the Joint Congressional Inquiry, and it's difficult to read all this material (as I have) without coming away with the distinct impression (as I have) that the 9-11 plot could have been thwarted if Bush had convened the counterterrorism meeting Richard Clarke had been urging since Bush's first inauguration. In other words (another of Bush's favorite phrases), if Bush had ever gotten serious about terrorism before it became a political football. The intelligence agencies actually were closing in on the plot. What was missing was not the alphabet soup of new agencies that have since been invented with Teutonic labels like "Homeland Security," or the Patriot Act, or a Director of National Intelligence, or any of that costly, redundant, unwieldy bureaucratic superstructure. Someone just needed to pay attention during the summer of 2001 when the lights were "blinking red." The existing intelligence agencies and the crime-fighting G-men just about cracked the case. What was missing was leadership; what we got instead was the routine incompetence and cronyism of the Bush Administration.

And yep: Pakistan was a huge problem back then, and it's a huge problem now. "Taliban" is a Pashtun word meaning "students," and the students in question were those educated in Muslim madrassas in Pakistan funded largely by the Saudis. But this is way too much detail for Bush, who wasn't aware of the Shiite and Sunni sects until the eve of his invasion of Iraq. Obama doesn't want to invade Pakistan, but of all the people to castigate someone else for invading the wrong country! Pervez Musharraf is our buddy because we need a reliable tyrant to ride herd on those A-bombs. It's not heresy to point that out; it's just that Bush has become so inured to his own confused hypocrisy that he doesn't realize when he's saying something unintentionally hysterical. Just ask Baltasar Garzón. Es la pregunta, no?

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