If Bob Woodward tells us anything about the Bush presidency it is this: competence is not necessarily a prerequisite for higher office, but childish regard for one’s self confidence usually is.
In his final trilogy on Bush and his inner circle, Woodward paints a picture few should feel good about hanging on the wall.
Bush, according to Woodward, is naïve about worldly affairs, narrow in his understanding of national ones, intrigued yet mystified by all things spiritual, and generally mortified by secular affairs that happen to fall outside the control of big business.
He clearly sees Bush as a nerd — a man bumbling his way through military service and stumbling into and out of a business career, and as a political leader who is insincere, even deceitful, about his own foreign policy.
This is not new information to me.
I thumbed through Woodward’s State of Denial while flying to Denver and what strikes me hard at 9,900 metres is that Bush managed to hoodwink enough good folks to get elected.
What Woodward does not say, but should, is that most voters are themselves in a state of denial.
The social miracle our southern neighbours have all been waiting for since the time of Columbus, (himself in a state of denial about where he was), has not yet happened.
The US has risen to world domination as a democracy in spite of, (perhaps because of), the fact that it is woefully un-democratic.
While it was surely engineered to be democratic in principle, the US is a highly functional, keenly regulated and very efficient oligarchy.
One has only to reflect on the control of the US Congress by political lobbyists to understand who holds the reins.
Woodward, who set out to explain the bungled foreign policy leading to the disaster in Iraq, inadvertently has written a contemporary treatise on the current state of America.
Bush led a sleeping and fearful nation into war with Iraq by selling Congress and ordinary citizens on the notion that democracy is some kind of boilerplate: a blueprint, which if read correctly, can fit just about any place, and at any certain point in time.
While the US military was storming its way across the desert towards Baghdad, a contingency of intellectual social engineers was planning to clone democracy in a part of the world that had never seen it before.
In the early stages of planning for a new government in Iraq, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice were all in agreement: governance is a package that can be sold to Iraqis (and throughout the world) if only it can be given an “Iraqi face.”
Jay Garner — Bush’s hand-picked agent selected to engineer democracy in Iraq — saw his role as “going out and getting the smartest minds in America, go to Harvard or go to wherever you want to go, and put together a world-class governance team … that begins immediately putting together a government for us.”
Garner, with a push from several of Bush’s high-level friends, went to work on getting the “smartest minds in America.”
He chose Liz Cheney, the vice president’s 36 year-old daughter whose only political experience was working on the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign, and Scott Carpenter, “a balding but boyish-looking deputy assistant secretary of state.”
Reflecting back on this initial team, Garner remembers thinking, “He’s a little young. I don’t know how experienced he is. But Liz was OK, even though she was too high-risk being the vice-president’s daughter.”
Cheney saw as her first order of business to “immediately start writing a constitution. We have to start having elections. And so we need to start all this immediately and let them (Iraqis) be involved in what happens.”
What Liz Cheney and her staff failed to understand is that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a top-down totalitarian system.
When the US military pulled the plug on the old government, there was little left on which to begin building a new one.
Cheney, Jay Garner and others, in all their childlike wisdom, did what they do best.
They built an oligarchy that might look democratic enough to satisfy ordinary Iraqis and other Muslims throughout the rest of the free world.
In short order, US contractors were supposed to “bring all Iraqi government ministries back to a functioning level, pay the salaries of all the public servants, restore the police, and ensure basic services including water, electricity, sewage and so forth.”
And somehow, almost mysteriously it now seems, when the construction of essential goods and services was complete, democracy would blossom.
But of course it did not.
Democracy is more than essential goods and services. It is more complex than mere boilerplate and big business.
Bush, of course, did not know this.
How could he?
He was raised as part of the elite who built the US into what it is today: an oligarchy in denial of its own democratic roots.
As Woodward tells us, “Having the president answer questions about Iraq was conspicuously inconsistent with the goal” of putting together an oligarchy in Iraq.
The political strategy at home was therefore one of denial.
“With all Bush’s upbeat talk and optimism, he had not told the American public the truth about what Iraq had become,” Woodward suggests.
But what disturbs me most is that voters were satisfied with denial; they did not want to know more.