There are so many things to scream about in this NY Times report of George W. Bush's view of his "legacy" that it is hard to know where to start. But I'll start with this, describing Bush's extended recent interviews with the author Robert Draper:
Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”
But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ” But, he added, “Again, Hadley’s got notes on all of this stuff,” referring to Stephen J. Hadley, his national security adviser.
Think about this. The dissolution of the Iraq military is one of the six most-criticized and most-often-discussed aspects of the Administration's entire approach to Iraq. (Others: the decision to invade at all; the assessment of WMD; the size of the initial invasion-and-occupation force; the decision not to stop the looting of Baghdad; and the operation of Abu Ghraib.) And the President who has staked the fortunes of his Administration, his party, his place in history, and (come to think of it ) his nation on the success of his Iraq policy cannot remember and even now cannot be bothered to find out how the decision was made.
Nearly four years ago, in an Atlantic article "Blind into Baghad" (and later in the book of the same name), I argued that the most plausible explanation for the otherwise bewildering chain of errors was the personal dynamics of the people at the top. The darkness of Cheney, the ideological cocksureness of Wolfowitz and operational cocksureness of Rumsfeld, the careerism of Tenet, the pliancy of Rice and (for different reasons) Powell. And, transcending them all, the magical combination of certainty and lack of curiosity of the man at the top:
Leadership is always a balance between making large choices and being aware of details. George W. Bush has an obvious preference for large choices. This gave him his chance for greatness after the September 11 attacks. But his lack of curiosity about significant details may be his fatal weakness. When the decisions of the past eighteen months are assessed and judged, the Administration will be found wanting for its carelessness. Because of warnings it chose to ignore, it squandered American prestige, fortune, and lives.
That was too gentle. But it was based on what was known or knowable in the fall of 2003, six months into an already-faltering occupation. "History," to which the president so often appeals, will have a richer set of evidence to draw upon.
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