Review Essay

Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush by Robert Draper;

Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency by Lou Dubose and Jack Bernstein

Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy by Andrew Cockburn.

Reviewed by
Richard A. Couto

 

When George W. Bush became president, an Australian friend wrote to me, perplexed. She asked, “How could so few people do this to the rest of the world?”  Little did she, I, or anyone else realize just how badly things would turn out. The first few months of the Bush administration - corporate takeover of energy policy and other key parts of government; appointment of conservative party loyalists; disavowal of international arrangements on global warming, arms sales, and war crimes; and tax cuts to the investor class - certainly lived down to all our expectations.

Yet there were signs of hope that things might not go on getting worse. The length and frequency of presidential vacations promised to limit the occasions of his poor decision-making. The Bush team, astute at running campaigns, exhibited little interest in policy or governing. John DiIulio, Jr. head of the White House’s splashy Faith-Based Initiative, resigned in mid-August and later confided to Ron Suskind in an interview, “There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis.” When Senator Jim Jeffords bolted the Republican Party and gave the Democrats a majority in the Senate, it seemed that the Bush people might even do themselves in. It seemed that the Republic would not be threatened. We could grit our teeth and tough it out for four years. Our consolation was the endless material for late night comedy the administration provided.

We didn’t laugh after 9/11. Most Americans rallied behind the office, if not the person, that spoke for us. President Bush, who has thrived all his life by encouraging low expectations, did very well by most standards immediately after the terrorists’ attacks. Polls reported 90 percent popularity ratings. Within a week, however, Bush started on a path that transformed the world’s empathy and sorrow on 9/11 into fear and loathing of U.S. foreign policy. His own popularity eventually sagged to a level so low that it became prima facie evidence for his case to be the least competent president in U.S. history.

At the urging of Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and their staffs, Bush gratuitously escalated a criminal terrorist act into an act of war and declared a global war on terrorism. The collateral damage has also been, to say the least, extensive. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, two fronts in that dubious 'war,' will cost anywhere from one to three trillion dollars. We have borrowed that money, in largest part, from foreign nations, the Social Security funds, and from forfeited domestic spending. Tax cuts have made the deficits and national debt increase enormously and exacerbated the severe differences of domestic rich and poor, worsned the financial insecurity of the middle class, and raised its tax burden (to pay off this folly) for at least two generations to come.

 The global war against terrorism carried costs far greater than money. Within two years of its declaration and Bush’s assuming de facto war time powers, he busily eroded Constitutional civil liberties to citizens; stretched our military forces beyond breaking point; approved torture, extraordinary rendition, and detention without habeas corpus; altered the true North of the moral compass of the U.S. in international affairs; encouraged preemptive warfare in international conduct, invaded a nation on bogus grounds, and transformed it into an unwinnable war of counterinsurgency and a travesty of  occupation and reconstruction. All the while he continued to ignore the inconceivably intractable problems of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which fell into the hands of the most radical elements on each side. These weren’t laughing matters and were, very much, threats to the Republic and to hundreds of millions of people around the world, such as my alarmed friend in Australia.

Type IV Leadership and Folly

How could an administration be so relentlessly inept? How could it do so much damage in so short a time to this country and the rest of the world? That question will engender a small industry of inquiry in the future. If the books under review here are indicative, we will see many accounts that aim to remove responsibility from Bush for the colossal failures of his administration, as in Draper’s account, or, as in the other two volumes, implicitly remove it by pointing fingers at other mighty culprits in his administration. A fourth category, not represented in these volumes, are second-rank insiders—George Tenet, Paul Bremer, Scott McClellan, Paul O’Neill—blaming Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and occasionally Condoleezza Rice for great misdeeds while exculpating themselves with the familiar post-Nuremburg plea, “I only worked there.”

The Bush administration also displayed colossal ineptitude in Hurricane Katrina relief, stem cell research policies, and virtually every other matter that crossed its desks. All of these instances might be dissected illuminatingly by applying basic principles of good leadership. The choice to invade Iraq and the consequent hideous occupation go far beyond the merely inept and suggest a distinct form of leadership stubbornly in play: a Type IV leadership. Type IV leadership persists in applying purported solutions that obviously don’t work. It cuts off any avenues to learn from its mistakes. Its' adherents like to appear nonetheless as fully-informed paragons of technical competence—adeptly handling a clear problem, or in sober Type I leadership. This (fleeting) public impression is, however, the deceptive shadow-side of true technical competence.  In many ways, Type IV leadership is what Barbara Tuchman called “folly”: the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved.  This arrogant course is about more than incompetence, which can be remedied when identified as such, or making mistakes, which can be corrected or at least not repeated. Folly, like Type IV leadership, requires that counter-productive policies are recognized for what they are in their own time, not merely by hindsight,; the availability of feasible alternative courses of action; and dogged persistence in counterproductive action and policies.

Ronald Heifetz’s important study Leadership without Easy Answers, suggests only three scenarios of leadership. Type I requires no new learning because the problem is clear and the solutions are known—storm water treatment, for example. Type I leadership is technical work, Heifetz explains, the realm in which experts apply their acquired knowledge and the authority it imparts.  A Type II scenario, however, does require learning to find the right solution, if one exists. Returning to the example of water quality, we may know exactly what effluent and emission reductions we need but getting agreement among stakeholders on a solution that has parity in cost and benefits for all is a matter mostly of the political work of influencing others to consent. The Type III scenario requires a good deal of learning because the problem is not clear and consequently neither is the answer; an inexplicable fish kill may illustrate this leadership challenge. Learning - a willingness and ability to learn -  is key to all three leadership types. Prior learning establishes a level of technical competence while real time learning ferrets out the actual nature of the new problem so as to fashion the correct solution. Heifetz emphasizes that leadership is not a solo act but requires the mobilization of group resources in this form of learning and in selection of a solution.

Yet Heifetz gives us a good start in depicting a new Type IV leadership scenario. Suppose a problem is not clear, a solution is not apparent—a Type III leadership scenario—and a wrong solution is applied. Our first efforts to end the inexplicable fish kill fail; our solution is inadequate or even makes matters worse. What our failure should tell us is that more learning about the problem is required to find the appropriate solution -  and to muster the political will to apply it. Type IV employs the opposite learning style, which Tuchman plainly calls “wooden headedness.” Power simply, and stupidly, pushes reason aside.  Those in authority replace reason with wishful thinking; use fixed and biased notions; refuse or are unable to learn from experience; choose power over interdependence; eliminate alternatives; and underestimate the complexity of the problem. Remind you of anyone?

Leadership always entails acting in the face of some degree of doubt. So neither uncertainty about a problem nor the choice of a wrong solution distinguishes Type IV leadership from other types nor does the choice of a wrong solution. Nor does assigning a problem to a solution distinguish Type IV; legislators often have their own pet solutions searching for a problem.  Type IV leadership comes from choosing an unreasonable solution that obfuscates an unclear and complex problem with a false clarity and simplicity. It by-passes learning and goes directly to a Type I scenario of technical work. Wooden-headedness rules.  Type IV leadership persists until the solution becomes part of the problem that it was intended to address and only supplies more reasons to persist in it. 

Heifetz explains Lyndon Johnson’s failed leadership in Vietnam as cleaving to technical work, Type I leadership, when adaptive work, Type II and III, is called for. But it seems that Iraq, like Vietnam too, represents a Type IV leadership scenario.  Solving Al Qaeda terrorism by invading Iraq simplified the complexity of Middle East politics, especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It substituted a surrogate for Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and a substitute for Al Qaeda, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of Islamic terrorists. When the WMD problem disappeared, our invasion and occupation became the means to liberate Iraq from a despot, to fight terrorists in Baghdad so that we did not have to fight them in our own streets, to build a secure and democratic Iraq as a model for the Arab world, to demonstrate to the world that the U.S. does not cut and run, to honor the ink stained thumbs of Iraqi voters, to keep faith with the many who had already died, and on and on, further and further from effective responses to Islamic terrorism and the Arab-Israeli hostility that fuels it. Now why would former energy and defense industry executives in charge of the White House want do that?

Another part of Type IV leadership is goal displacement. Type IV leadership substitutes unrelated personal needs and desired policies for the problem at hand, and one can readily imagine how this substitution applies to Iraq and to the Bush administration. However inappropriate a worldwide war against terrorism and the invasion of Iraq have been as the solution to the terrorism of Al Qaeda, they fit perfectly with the personal needs and policy goals of the key players.

Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy

Andrew Cockburn finds a disconcerting pattern in Rumsfeld’s administrative career. Rumsfeld “devoted most of his energies to imposing his unchallenged political control on the organization while cultivating an ill-merited reputation for administrative competence” (p. 17). His penchant for confusing issues, complicating decisions, and for intimidation supposedly indicated a probing mind and demanding standards, but Cockburn portrays him more as the wizard of Oz hiding behind a curtain of authority and purging people who had “wrong” ideas.

Prior to 9/11, Rumsfeld had thrown the Pentagon into turmoil with his big new idea of military transformation; converting the armed forces into smaller, high tech, and agile fighting units—or something like that. No one was sure what Rumsfeld’s big idea meant. Cockburn recounts Rumsfeld's aide Stephen Cambone meeting with high level officers and trying to figure out what it meant and how to do it. His style, emulating Rumsfeld, was one of bullying each of them to define the ethereal project that Rumsfeld had forced on them. Cambone thereby made them feel “like morons,” as one participant complained (114). Four years later, at a meeting at the U.S. War College, which I attended, high ranking officers were still discussing what heck the Rumsfeld's project of military transformation amounted to. One participant described it as the effort to change the engine of a car while it was moving.

Rumsfeld seems to fall between Bush and Cheney on the personality spectrum. He is less congenial than Bush but more so than Cheney and more certain, despite ambiguity, than the President and is less intentionally deceitful than the Vice President. Rumsfeld needed to appear in control as much as Bush does but far more so than Cheney (who probably really is in control). In his need to appear to be the smartest guy in the room, Rumsfeld differs from Bush and Cheney. Bush understood very well that he was not the smartest guy in the room. So he took satisfaction in knowing that he was the most powerful person there and surrounded himself with people whose loyalty made him the center of attention. Cheney understood that he did not have to be the smartest guy in the room or the center of attention. He only had to fill the chairs in the room with his people who were smarter than everyone else.

One proof of being for Rumsfeld of being the smartest guy in the room required, is surrounding himself with able (if not admirable) protégés. A young Dick Cheney attracted Rumsfeld’s attention as a Congressman. Rumsfeld took Cheney with him to the War on Poverty’s Office of Economic Opportunity and to be his deputy in the Ford White House. That Stephen Cambone became Rumsfeld’s protégé at Defense in 2001 suggested how far behind his former student he had fallen. Cambone first worked with Rumsfeld at the Commission to Assess Ballistic Missile Threat, created by Congressional Republicans in 1997 to counter the National Intelligence Estimate that the U.S. faced no immediate threat. Rumsfeld’s first and second in command—Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith—were hios associates at the Project for the New American Century (PNAC).  Both men had longer histories with other PNAC neoconservatives and with Cheney than with Rumsfeld. Thus we find Rumsfeld left with a loyal aide who was outside the more powerful network of aides that bound the Defense Department to the office of the Vice President and other parts of the administration.

Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency

DuBosed Bernstein unequivocally find Dick Cheney is the power behind the throne; outmaneuvering a naïve Bush at every turn. They detail how Cheney learned the craft of inside fighting on a very imposing stage: protégé to Rumsfeld at the OEO; Rumsfeld’s deputy White House chief of staff, to President Ford, and then chief of staff, the youngest person to hold that position. The authors provide details of early indications of what we know now about the vice president’s obsession with secrecy. They instruct us in his similar obsession with power. Some of the parallels even seem too neat; a matter of fast forwarding thirty years to current events—disclosure to Congress, differences over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), outflanking other members of the administration, and so on – and watching the patterns repeat.

Two strong threads do connect events though those thirty years. Cheney was baptized into the creed of the imperial presidency; a term coined during the Nixon administration. Cheney witnessed what he took to be heretical excesses of checks and balances during Watergate, opposed them while he was in Congress, especially during the Iran-Contra hearings, and ignored them when he got the chance in 2001 to fashion a new set of clothes for the imperial president. In this, we may find a root cause for the endless struggles about legal jurisdiction and powers—including rights to information—of the Bush administration with Congress, the courts, the international community, and even other departments of its own administration. Second, Cheney worked for the interests of his employers—Rumsfeld at OEO and the Ford administration; Congress; Halliburton; and President Bush. In his ten years in the House of Representatives, Cheney maneuvered adeptly but not in a doctrinaire manner. He even set aside a wilderness area.  As vice president, he commenced encroaching on it. He has managed to change policy preferences several times—for and against the invasion of Iraq and for and against sanctions, for instance—without attracting the “f-f” moniker hung on John Kerry: flip-flopper.

These changes may suggest adaptability but really hide a consistency of purpose. The institutional context established parameters of his power but within them he worked to increase it to serve those to whom he reported. He has run roughshod over checks and balances as vice president but while in Congress he moved with some subtlety towards power and the position of minority leader. He often voted with the small minority on landslide votes, including his notorious vote against Head Start, not so much as a diehard conservative—although his voting record certainly was that—but as a tactic of protesting the procedures of the Democratic leadership within a strategy to gain control of the House (pp. 145-46). Policies, for Cheney, were tactics to get what he wanted, and often meant nothing to him in themselves. 

DuBose and Bernstein see Cheney’s time at Defense in Bush I’s administration as a dress rehearsal for his vice presidency. Certainly we find the repertory cast that became familiar to us in the second Bush administration. David Addington, Cheney’s chief of staff, had been in that role when Cheney was in Congress and now has moved to the Pentagon. Paul Wolfowitz joined the team, bringing in Scooter Libby, later Cheney’s first chief of staff. Stephen Hadley served as Condoleezza Rice’s deputy on the National Security Agency before replacing her.  Then there is Richard Perle, who joined Cheney to oppose Kissinger's détente policy in the Ford administration. Zalmay Khalizad, later ambassador to Iraq, was in the mix. Colin Powell, as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a role in the Gulf War but was not in inner sanctum of the repertory company.

The cast was assembled but they needed a script. Khalizad, Wolfowitz, and Libby drafted it as The 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, which envisioned a U.S. superpower “so dominant that it could intervene in and resolve any conflict.” Wolfowitz had been preparing it for a long time. Beginning with his work in the office of Henry “Scoop” Jackson, Wolfowitz represented the military-industrial complex inside and outside of government. In 1976 he took part in the nakedly partisan effort to recast intelligence to show that the Soviet’s were more a threat than intelligence agencies portrayed them. The Committee on the Clear and Present Danger morphed from that notorious 'Team B' report.

Out of office, Wolfowitz, along with Feith, and William Kristol of The Weekly Standard continued to labor on the script with a new Act set in the Middle East. The Project for the American Century and its later reports, including the 1998 open letter to President Clinton, called for the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Three of the signers—Richard Armitage, deputy to Colin Powell at State, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz—were among the “Vulcans” who were tutoring Bush in 1998 while he launched his presidential campaign. Seven of the fifteen signers of that letter gained positions of great authority in the Bush administration. The actors set out to perform a script they had written.

Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush

DuBose and Bernstein propose that Cheney found what he was looking for in Bush—a pliable person with power through whom he could achieve his goals. But Draper shows the Bush side of the Bush-Cheney relationship and suggests that Cheney has not taken anything from the presidency that Bush was not willing to give. The new president sought out some savvy advisor such as Bob Bullock, the lieutenant governor of Texas. Bullock saw to it that the inexperienced governor, not given to serious deliberation, succeeded in Texas (48).  Now Bush saw in Cheney someone who, like Bullock, “would not let him [Bush] fail.”  Bus was “comfortable with Cheney. He would be comfortable with his VP running the transition, vetting key personnel, sitting in every Oval Office meeting, building his own national security apparatus and integrating his senior staff with that of Bush—sharing speechwriters, mouthpieces, and legislative aides—so that no bright line fell between Number One and Number Two as it had between Reagan and Poppy…Secure in the knowledge that Cheney would be Bush’s man and not his own, the president saw no harm in giving his VP unprecedented run of the palace (Draper 90).

Draper’s book stands out because of his unprecedented access—six hours of one-on-one interviews with Bush. Bush comes across as determined that his presidency will be seen as his own, not shared with anyone—including his father or father-figures—except of course when things go wrong. Katrina? Mike Brown, head of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), and the governor of Louisiana unaccountably did not let Bush know the gravity of the situation and their need for help while Donald Rumsfeld, in his “trademark passive-aggressive” manner, withheld federal troops for disaster relief. Post-invasion Iraq? Gerry Bremer made poor decisions on his own. It seems that the President is comfortable with power and authority but not responsibility for the consequences of its use.

Draper is very gentle in his interpretations or so it will seem to those who disagree strongly with the President and question his competence. Yet Draper offers genuine insight into both the overt and shadow self of the President. Bush comes across as a charmer; a person who is easy to like especially when he sets out to win your favor. We learn that he is extraordinarily disciplined and has a strong preference for routine. He is most comfortable among people with whom he is familiar enough to have assigned nicknames – often demeaning ones -  and in whose loyalty he has confidence.

Draper shows us Bush’s insecurities as well. His discomfort in public appearances, complete with logical lapses and grammatical gaffes, comes from being among unfamiliar people and increases in unscripted settings.  He seems to need to prove himself tough and competent whether it is bicycle riding with Secret Service agents, conducting a war, or claiming singular responsibility for his presidency.  Some of this may come from being the son of a famous father, as Draper interprets, but there also appears to be a need to prove himself the most powerful person in the room precisely because he is aware that he is not the smartest or, as in the case of Colin Powell, the most popular.

The Confluence of Personal Goals and Policy Needs

Taken together these books suggest it is a mistake to think Bush was duped into his Iraq policy for ideological reasons. Clearly, though, members of the administration are deeply committed neoconservatives and it seems that Bush had little idea that his choices were part of a grand neoconservative design. As late as 2006, Bush still seemed innocent of that knowledge. Cockburn recounts Bush 43 asking his father, “What’s a neocon?” Bush 41 then offers a one word description, “Israel” (219). Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld had suggested deposing Saddam Hussein in the 1990s.  But DuBose and Bernstein make a convincing case that the neoconservative foreign and military visions “fell into place” (p. 169) on 9/11. Here was a provocation to enable war in the Middle East and to aggrandize presidential authority by invoking war powers. All it needed was the right manipulation and tweaking. He had a new set of buttons and knobs with which to work—Fox News, radio talk shows most especially Rush Limbaugh, and a compliant Congress with a Republican majority or near majority.

Bush’s team was no match for the policy skills of the well-drilled and experienced team, many of them former Vulcans, that Cheney and Rumsfeld brought to the “war council” at Camp David. The two remaining legs of Bush’s Iron Triangle, Karen Hughes and Karl Rove, were not much help on this or any other policy matter. Their domain was electoral politics. Cockburn observes, “[Bush] found himself confronting what six years as governor of Texas had least prepared him for: a room full of intelligent advisers steeped in the political culture of Washington pressing him for a decision on war” (181). DuBose and Bernstenote that Bush was “sitting in the owners’ box seats of the Texas Rangers ballpark” in 1992 “while the men who would define his foreign policy ten years later were sitting in their Pentagon offices, writing the foreign policy that they would hand him after the 2000 election” (p. 95, 177). Many of them had been his tutor Vulcans. Outmatched, Bush employed his particular genius which, according to Draper, is “the facility to wipe out in milliseconds the distance separating himself from total strangers” (29). In this room of familiar people, he wiped out the distance separating him from their grand design of changing the Middle East.  Reason was shown the door by power at that meeting.

Type IV Leadership

The global war on terrorism and wars in the Middle East gave purpose to the Bush presidency. The invasion of Iraq differentiated Bush from his dad. His plan was bolder and his secretary of defense, his father’s nemesis, was his consigliere. Cheney’s support for the war provided Bush another difference with his father-president. The vice president explained that he had agreed with Bush 41 and his advisers not to invade Iraq in 1991 but now he allegedly realized that was the wrong decision (DuBose and Bernstein 173). Bush believed that he was correcting his father’s mistake. Rumsfeld, for his starring part, had the irresistible chance to play the smartest guy in the room. During the Gulf War Cheney, Colin Powell, and theatre commander Norman Schwarzkopf appeared constantly on the media. In the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, Rumsfeld would be front stage parrying media with confusing technical expertise about known unknowns and unknown unknowns, even as he disregarded the wisdom of clinging to an awareness of the latter. For Rumsfeld’s the victories in Afghanistan and Iraq vindicated his big idea; the low-ball estimate of the troops necessary to invade Iraq; and his dismissal of those who disagreed with him. He even instructed us all about old and new Europe.

Yet it is not clear that Rumsfeld was master of his own house. The administration sought slam dunk certainty about justifying an invasion of Iraq.  Feith and Wolfowitz, an old hand at reinterpreting intelligence into a worst-case, terror-filled scenario, began a selective search for intelligence to do so. Feith, with Wolfowitz’s support, set up the Office of Special Plans (OSP). When Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence, was not included, he protested. Rumsfeld let Wolfowitz and Feith have their way rather than entangle himself in a network far stronger than his. Genuine learning met another impediment.

Learning was not necessary when you could create facts as Feith and Wolfowitz were doing. Cockburn observes, “Nobody could say nasty things and make them sound measured and matter-of-fact” like Cheney (146) or make a clear case for war that was untrue (176).  Cheney contrived legal justification for the extension of presidential authority, including torture and extraordinary rendition, through war time powers. John Yoo in the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel would do that just as Antonin Scalia, now U.S. Supreme Court Justice, had provided legal justification for extensions of presidential authority twenty-five years earlier. Virtue is rewarded in this realm. The Bush team, Rove and Hughes, understood good electoral politics when they saw the polls. They could mobilize their base by fear even to the extent of portraying Max Cleland, a triple-amputee from wounds incurred in Vietnam, as inadequately tough on terrorism. They closed a 22-point lead that Cleland had over his opponent.

Bush persisted in a global war on terror despite cascading adverse consequences and possible new fronts. One antidote to persistence in a mistaken policy - giving voice to doubters and heeding them - was not available for several reasons. First, the Bush administration did not need to listen. Rumsfeld always knew better than others. Knowing what he needed to enhance the president’s power was all Cheney wanted. To feel that he was taking his own bold measures met Bush’s need for knowledge. Bush’s optimism stoked his wishful thinking and both substituted for serious deliberation. Bush’s ease with power included not second-guessing himself. We find little self-reflection by Bush in Draper’s book. Draper’s access cost him the opportunity to ask the president any tough questions. Perhaps Laura Bush put her finger on the central truth, Bush is impulsive and “does pretty much everything to excess” (p. 39). Second, the Bush team eliminated skeptics and voices of doubt. Rumsfeld beat the Pentagon brass over the head with “transformational leadership.” People who expressed doubts didn’t “get it.’. The way to early retirement was to ask to stop the car or at least slow it down. Other parts of the Bush administration brought pressure to bear on those who asked hard questions, Joseph Wilson and the yellow cake uranium, or who could not provide the answers sought—the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

Third, they recruited credible voices. By February 2003, after a year of banging the war drum, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld still did not have the collective credibility to make a convincing case for invading Iraq. Bush used Powell’s to persuade the U.S. public, through a U.N. speech. Cheney and Rumsfeld, astute stage-managers, were happy to have Powell take center stage as long as he played the part they had devised to make Type IV leadership look like Type I. Powell obligingly provided a case for invading Iraq based on “facts not allegations” of weapons of mass destruction, ties of Hussein to 9/11 terrorists, and a program to develop nuclear weapons. Iraq was a clear problem with a clear solution. Powell’s own proclivity to rank and order weakened this voice of doubt.  

Finally, DuBose and Bernstein emphasize the decline of checks and balances. The informal ones within the administration had been eliminated. The formal ones fell into disrepair from the neglect Republican majorities in Congress gave legislative oversight. It looked the other way as executive signing orders gutted legislation. The decision in October 2002 by the Democratic majority in the Senate to provide the president with war powers in Iraq indicated that it too could use the war as an electoral tactic. In this case, the rationale was to take Iraq off the election table. This was a gross strategic blunder that reverberated into the 2004 presidential election.

The Fault Lies Not in Our Stars, Only

Failing all else, elections are the ultimate check and balance. Type IV leadership is impossible in democratic societies without informed voters. The reelection of Bush in 2004 was a shock. Why? Barbara Kellerman and Jean Lipman-Blumen explain bad and toxic leadership, respectively, in terms of the needs of people to believe in leaders and the promise of simple and clear answers to otherwise complex and unclear problems.  Given a high enough level of fear, an electorate can be as wooden headed as the officials they elect. Especially if the choice for the electorate of the world’s most powerful nation comes down to power or interdependence.

The color-coded threats and the astute campaigning skills of the Bush team provided U.S. voters with plenty to fear. The team had wielded innuendo against opponents to deadly effect.  The candidate who avoided service in Vietnam disparaged, by proxy, the war record of John McCain. The team found a proxy to tar the service record of John Kerry. But fear is not enough unless a significant portion of an electorate is eager to escape from freedom, in Erich Fromm’s memorable term. Fromm cites John Dewey in this regard: “The serious threat to our democracy is … the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader …  The battlefield is also accordingly here—within ourselves and our institutions.”

The failure of the Bush administration is perhaps the failure of our concepts of leadership. Our myths of heroes, at least in the U.S., emphasize warriors. In an uncertain world we want to believe in them. The Bush team obliged the public. Cheney explained the Bush administrations would stand up to the atomic weapons of Saddam Hussein, even if he had none. Rumsfeld was the technician with snappy answers. Draper mentions Bush’s Paul Newmanesque pose of virility in his flight suit. All three exuded the confidence people wanted in leaders in tough times, overlooking the telltale signs of clay feet.

By 2006 the public grew restive with the human and financial costs, corruption and ineptitude, torture policies, Abu Ghraib, warrant less searches, outing covert CIA agents, the ceaseless talk of attacks on Iran and other Muslim countries, and the endless detention of prisoners in Guantanamo. The Pentagon rebelled against their civilian bosses. Whistle blowers at Defense, the CIA, and the FBI fed stories to a media mostly dozing for five years. The voters established Democratic majorities in Congress. This meant a new degree of accountability and oversight by Congress, and new fights over secrecy, access to information, and executive privilege like those prior to 9/11.  I can now say to my Australian friend that the U.S. might be forgiven Bush because of the fraud rampant in the 2000 election, and the likely the 2004 election too. We are working to understand how things could go so bad so quickly. We know, thanks to these books, that part of the downward spiral has to do with a remarkable confluence of coincidence of personalities and their needs and wants that reached center stage against the backdrop of 9/11. These persons maneuvered a global war on terror to serve their purposes. But in the end, after all is said and done, we gave these people the authority to do these things or at least held them insufficiently accountable for the policies in which they persisted. The fault therefore lies in too many Americans putting too much trust and faith in our leaders to carry out their responsibilities, and placing too little in our own civic responsibility.

The election in 2006 may be a start in correcting course. Our system of checks and balances is working better even if not well enough yet.  The election of 2008 will be a measure of how much of our freedom we want back. It will take strong political parties and advocacy groups to hold leaders accountable for continual learning about the problems we face and the efficacy of the solutions that we choose. It won’t do to say then what we might have said in 2000, “Don’t blame me, I only live here.”