Monday, September 13, 2004

Bush Still Shirked Guard Duty

Unless and until the original documents (not just the "original copy" used by CBS news, but the actual documents themselves) cited by CBS News find their way to forensics specialists for testing, enough questions have been raised, recantations issued by people cited in CBS's story, and denunciations from Killian's family made to forever cast the authenticity of the Killian documents in doubt.

But those documents really don't matter in the larger view of Bush's National Guard Service. Even without the CBS documents, it's clear that Bush was indifferent at best to his guard duty and skipped out on some of it. Both the Boston Globe, on Sept. 8, and now U.S. News cover how he did that.

Andrew Sullivan points to the U.S. News story as well
, and writes:
Does this matter? Not to me. I always assumed that Bush got cushy treatment his entire life in everything he did from military service to business to politics. I don't see how that really affects the important question of whether he'd be a the best pick to lead the country for the next four years.
If it were all so simple as the folly of youth and just a cosseted rich kid getting out of serving in a war he said was worth fighting, that would be one thing, and it wouldn't matter to me either. And really, it's not important on one level; the whole what-they-did-in-Vietnam-yin-yang really doesn't address the issues that need discussing today.

But on one level, while the issue won't matter to most voters, Bush's past service as a folly of a rich youth and just a thing of the past is not that simple.

It's of a pattern. It's Bush starting something (Guard duty as pilot), and not following through (shirking his physical and showing up for duty when it was convenient for him, like when he needed his teeth cleaned). Of saying one thing --that the war in Vietnam was a good war, but doing another -- taking advantage of family connections to get a leg up into pilot training in TANG, a path that kept him out of the draft. So he enjoyed, as did so many other rich kids, the advantages of his family's wealth and his father's power to skirt the war. And he partied on, reportedly until he was 40.

Bush had two conversions that we know about. The first, when he was 40. He turned from drugs and drinking to Christ. Now I'm not a religious conservative, but I respect --and am glad for him-- that he found a religious grounding that helped him sober up and find some peace. His next conversion was on 9/11, when after the shock of the attacks, Bush found a cause for his Presidency -- to fight the war on terror. So a day later Bush stood on the rubble, braced by fireman, and rallied the nation.

But his religious conversion didn't change the fact that Bush still benefited from his life of privilege and his father's position --instead of skirting through life in a frat boy haze of drugs and liquor, he sobered up, and skirted through the business and political worlds on the strength of his father's connections. Bush at 40 was blessed not only with God's grace, but also the grace of being able to succeed in business without really trying. Because of who his father was, things came his way.

And that's the problem at the heart of Bush as President. He believes, in my view, that just by asking for something to be some way, or believing it should be so, it will be so. And just as in his Guard days, he's not above shirking the details.

So he wasn't, in fact, honest with the American people about the war. There was no need to rush to war in March 2003; we could have given inspections more time as the UN wanted. Had he done that, we might have determined, finally and more accurately, that Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction. Or had that not been discovered and had the war proceeded, we might have been able to form a partnership of nations like that of the first war with Iraq. In that war, Bush's father built a true coalition that chipped in for the cost of the war. Most emblematic of that is that in Iraq 1, we paid 5% of the cost of the war, and the other nations in the coalition chipped in 95% of the costs. In Iraq 2, that's reversed.

To pay for this war, Bush cut taxes, and underestimated the costs of the war. All of that was part of his continuing failure to level with the American people. The war would be easy, we'd be welcomed with roses by the Iraqi people, Saddam would fall, and democracy would bloom, as if by magic. No need for anyone in America to sacrifice, other than National Guard and Armed Forces troops, their families and friends. The rest of us could go on our merry way, and those with Haliburton stock or in the richest 2 percent would just go along a lot more merrily.

Meanwhile, it was Al Qaeda, protected by the Taliban in Afghanistan that attacked on us on 9/11. So in addition to hyping Iraq's WMD's, Bush and his team alleged a connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda, implying that Iraq would arm Al Qaeda with chemical, biological, or even radioactive (dirty bomb) weapons. But that turned out not to be a real threat either.

So Iraq, as Thomas Friedman noted often from December 2002 to the start of the war, was a war not of necessity, but of choice. Bush's principle was preemption, and he argued that he had no choice. He wanted that to be true, but it wasn't. And now he won't admit that he was wrong in the facts. He still insists that the war in Iraq was necessary and he wouldn't have behaved differently had he known the facts he has now.

He wanted the war to be easy, and after Baghdad fell, he donned a jump suit again for the first time since he walked away from his pilot duties in the Guard, posed in uniform, and declared "Mission Accomplished!" Saddam was in a hole, the war was over, and all we needed to do was hang on until the Iraqi oil flowed to recover our expenses and to get a pro American democracy up and running before too long. Well, it's been too long and too many have died for that rosey picture that Bush sold to ever pan out, but Bush still insists things are going well.

If the facts don't fit, just don't admit.

He went into the war with little preparation, brought our country into unprepared. He didn't prepare a realistic plan for the peace and he didn't prepare the American people for the true costs of this war, both in dollars, and in the fierceness of resistance. Since the invasion, Iraq has become less secure, not more; since the invasion, Iraq has become a recruiting and training ground for Al Qaeda, where it wasn't before. Meanwhile, Afghanistan lingers on the edge of implosion, with its government really unable to step out of Kabul, Al Qaeda and the Taliban snipping at the edges of the Pakistan border, and warlords running opium and the rest of the country.

Bush's father's friends, as they so often had in the past, tried to pave an easy path for W., assuring him the war would be easy, just as Bush's life in the guard had been a cakewalk and his life in business had been a series of cozy arrangements.

But war isn't like that.

Now when things go bad, Bush likes to pretend they're going swell, or he likes to forget what he set out to do. So at the RNC commercial in NYC, he touted the war on terror's success, hoping people would forget that in a moment of unscripted candor just a few days before, he admitted the war couldn't be won. And remember Osama Bin Laden, whom we were to get dead or alive? We couldn't do that as glibbly as Bush smaggered (smaggered -- said in that smirk of his that he passes off as swagger). So because it isn't easy, it's a back burner affair, not a priority, and we never hear the name Osama Bin Laden from Bush any more. We're not a war with Al Qaeda, or Islamic Jihadists inspired by the kind of twisted view Bin Laden espoused. No, we're at war with terror, a tactic.

And where are our priorities on this war? In Iraq our priority is reduced to saving face, to finding a tenable solution, but for every step forward -- the creation of an interim Iraqi governing council to give the appearance of sovereignty, there are greater setbacks: Collin Powell admitted yesterday that the elections slated for January are unlikely, and U.S. Armed forces now stay out of certain areas of Iraq. And the insurgency grows. It's not another Vietnam say analysts, it's more like Lebanon after Israel invaded that country and where they remained for 18 years.

But unfortunately, Bush is dealing with this war they same way he dealt with Vietnam. He's trying to make it easy, or to find the easy way out, or putting a the best spin on its shortcomings, and asking us not to pay too much attention to his record.

That's not leadership. That's delusion.

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