James Fallows's description of John Kerry's debating skills ("When George Meets John," July/August Atlantic) was interesting, but what was most remarkable was Fallows's documentation of President Bush's mostly overlooked changes over the past decade—specifically, "the striking decline in his sentence-by-sentence speaking skills." Fallows points to "speculations that there must be some organic basis for the President's peculiar mode of speech—a learning disability, a reading problem, dyslexia or some other disorder," but correctly concludes, "The main problem with these theories is that through his forties Bush was perfectly articulate."
I, too, felt that something organic was wrong with President Bush, most probably dyslexia. But I was unaware of what Fallows pointed out so clearly: that Bush's problems have been developing slowly, and that just a decade ago he was an articulate debater, "artful indeed in steering questions and challenges to his desired subjects," who "did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones." Consider, in contrast, the present: "the informal Q&As he has tried to avoid," "Bush's recent faltering performances," "his unfortunate puzzled-chimp expression when trying to answer questions," "his stalling, defensive pose when put on the spot," "speaking more slowly and less gracefully."
Not being a professional medical researcher and clinician, Fallows cannot be faulted for not putting two and two together. But he was 100 percent correct in suggesting that Bush's problem cannot be "a learning disability, a reading problem, [or] dyslexia," because patients with those problems have always had them. Slowly developing cognitive deficits, as demonstrated so clearly by the President, can represent only one diagnosis, and that is "presenile dementia"! Presenile dementia is best described to nonmedical persons as a fairly typical Alzheimer's situation that develops significantly earlier in life, well before what is usually considered old age. It runs about the same course as typical senile dementias, such as classical Alzheimer's—to incapacitation and, eventually, death, as with President Ronald Reagan, but at a relatively earlier age. President Bush's "mangled" words are a demonstration of what physicians call "confabulation," and are almost specific to the diagnosis of a true dementia. Bush should immediately be given the advantage of a considered professional diagnosis, and started on drugs that offer the possibility of retarding the slow but inexorable course of the disease.
Joseph M. Price, M.D.
The whole of James Fallows's article on Bush and Kerry's debate styles was interesting, but one comment jumped out at me: "[Bush] has rarely been interested in the details of any policy matter, believing that he 'has people' who can master the subject for him." What further proof is needed that Bush's policy decisions are based on whatever his "people" choose to tell him? Naturally they will tell him whatever (and only whatever) supports their own agendas.
Although, as Mary Beth Rogers says in the Fallows article, his "ability to stick to his message and repeat it" might be "remarkable," it implies to me that he doesn't know enough to answer questions that go beyond the text he has been given by his "people." I suspect that his "widely noted lack of eloquence" is due to his understandable insecurity. If the ideas he is expressing are not his ideas, based on his own knowledge and decision-making, then he can only repeat by rote what he has rehearsed.
Bush's lack of interest in details gives unprecedented power to his advisers (read "puppeteers")—in this case the extremists of the military/industrial/religious-right coalition who are currently running the White House, the country, and, if they have their way, the world. We need an independent thinker in the Oval Office.
Fair Haven, N.J.
My compliments and gratitude to your magazine and to Robert D. Kaplan for his gem of an article describing the Marines in action ("Five Days in Fallujah," July/August Atlantic). Thanks to his willingness to share the trials of a grunt, readers are able to understand and deeply appreciate the extraordinary difficulties faced by combatants in the Middle East wars we now fight.
There is much to praise in the article, but the salient truth is that the U.S. Marine Corps is a national treasure. Somehow it has been able to preserve its traditions of leadership and training to remain our most effective fighting force, dollar for dollar, man for man, in a national culture decidedly less disciplined than it is. One understands why the Marines fight and face wounds and death selflessly for one another when one reads about the visit of the highest leaders, including the commandant, to the battlefield. I might add that these same officers perform the hardest service of all when they personally visit the grief-stricken families of fallen Marines of all ranks, which they do often and without fanfare.
Robert D. Kaplan's fable, "Five Days in Fallujah," is filled with inaccuracies and spurious conclusions, and his comparisons with the battle for Hue are absurd.
l) The battle for Hue was in no way a "lopsided" victory. Twelve thousand North Vietnamese soldiers held the Citadel at Hue for twenty-six days. Even after the Citadel was retaken, we battled the remaining 7,000 regulars of the 304, 325C, and 324B NVA divisions and other local regiments for more than two months north and west of the city.
2) Kaplan seems to suggest that three battalions of Marines recaptured Hue without any assistance. Actually the Marines made up about a quarter to a fifth of the U.S./ARVN forces that retook Hue. Four battalions of the U.S. Army and eight battalions of ARVN soldiers took part in the action.
3) Kaplan reported only Marine casualties. In addition to those listed in this "lopsided" victory, seventy-four U.S. soldiers were killed in action, and another 507 were wounded. Among the ARVN forces, 384 were killed in action and 1,830 were wounded.
4) Later Kaplan states, "Hue, a city with half the population of Fallujah, had been assaulted by nearly three Marine battalions" (actually fifteen battalions altogether), making it sound as if we were fighting the population. We were fighting 12,000 highly trained and well-disciplined North Vietnamese and Vietcong. At Fallujah the Marines were matched against 2,000 rag-tag insurgents, according to Defense Department estimates.
The comparison to Hue breaks down on many fronts, but the major one is that we did not capitulate and form a "Hue Defense Force" composed of NVA and VC units, and pull back to a safe distance so that the "seeds of democracy" could take root.
Terry F. Stulce
Having spent a great deal of time in Fallujah since the occupation of Iraq began, and most recently the entire month of May for my article on Fallujah for The New Yorker, I was disappointed by Robert D. Kaplan's piece, and also by Kaplan's unambiguous identification with the Marines he wrote about.
Kaplan describes Fallujah as "the classic terrain of radicalism," distinguishing radicalism from conservatism. He views the authoritarian royal courts of Morocco, Jordan, and the Gulf States as venerable for their traditions—traditions that in the case of Jordan and the Gulf are artificial and not more than a century old. Unlike these royal courts, which in fact represent the "break in tradition [in] the House of Islam" of which Kaplan writes, Fallujah is the most traditional city in Iraq. Unlike Tikrit, for example, where the tribes are urbanized, based inside the city, in Fallujah the tribes are concentrated in the rural areas surrounding the city, and thus have not modernized or abandoned tribal customs as much as their counterparts in other parts of the country. The tight tribal bonds of Fallujah helped preserve the city's stability after the fall of Saddam's regime. The religious and tribal leaders appointed their own civil-management council even before American troops entered the city. Tribes assumed control of the city's institutions and protected government buildings. Religious leaders, whose authority was respected, exhorted the people to respect the law and maintain order. Thus there was a continuity of authority and tradition in Fallujah that was lacking in other parts of Iraq.