An expose of Bush

Print edition : January 31, 2003

"IT is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised, unless by chance he leaves himself entirely in the hands of one man who rules him in everything, and happens to be a very prudent man. In this case he may doubtless be well governed, but it would not last long, for that governor would in a short time deprive him of the state; but by taking counsel with many, a prince who is not wise will never have united councils and will not be able to bring them to unanimity for himself. The Counsellors will all think of their own interests, and he will be unable either to correct or to understand them... Therefore it must be concluded that wise counsels, from whoever they come, must necessarily be due to the prudence of the prince, and not the prudence of the prince to the good counsels received."

What Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in his classic The Prince (Chapter XXIII) 500 years ago is a strikingly accurate description of the capabilities, rather the lack of them, of the President of the United States, George W. Bush, and of the noisily divided administration which he heads. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell, supported by his loyal Deputy, Richard Armitage, has to struggle hard to maintain his authority, dignity and relevance. They depend on his access to the President. Ranged against him are Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his none-too-loyal Deputy, Paul Wolfowitz; raucous hardliners all. Bush shares their outlook and Cheney has easy access to him.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had advocated a tough line against Russia during the election campaign. This book must be read carefully for three reasons. It exposes, albeit unwittingly, the calibre of the world's most powerful leader and of the men who advise him.

The author interviewed Bush extensively, twice; the second time, on August 20, 2002, at his ranch for over two hours. Additionally, he was given "notes taken during more than 50 National Security Council and other meetings where the most important decisions were discussed and made". More than a hundred people were interviewed. Such access is not given out of magnanimity or in recognition of the author's genius. Ungenerous critics have accused the much-acclaimed author of doing a public relations job on Bush. Woodward provides them with considerable justification. "Originally conceived as the story of President George W. Bush's first year in office, with a focus on his domestic agenda and tax cuts, the book took a massive redirection, as did much else in this country, after the terrorist attacks last September 11 (2001)." A Bush who stands on executive privilege when Congress demands documents readily grants them to Woodward.

Secondly, we learn a lot not only about America's "War on Terrorism", especially on the Afghan terrain, but also of the cavalier manner in which the idea of a war on Iraq cropped up and the reckless manner in which it has since been pursued, regardless of the rules of international law and morality, of sheer human decency and respect for the truth. It is a self-conscious assertion of power in a world in which, for the first time in human history, no countervailing power exists to check the sole super power. And this power is ruled by men of little sense.

President George W.Bush (second from left) at a meeting of his Cabinet in the White House on January 6. Seen in the picture are Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans and Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta.-LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS

Lastly, the book reveals the Bush-Musharraf equation and, in doing so, exposes the incompetence of the National Democratic Alliance leaders who banked on Bush to solve the Kashmir problem on their terms. It reveals how Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, his obstreperous Deputy, L.K. Advani, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, and his successor Yashwant Sinha, not only lived in a fool's paradise but enjoyed the experience. Defence Minister George Fernandes can be trusted to claim that he had warned them against it - whenever he decides to desert the NDA ship.

Woodward was very right when he wrote a decade ago that "the decision to go to war is one that defines a nation, both to the world and, perhaps more importantly, to itself. There is no more serious business for a national government, no more accurate measure of national leadership". How is one to describe a President who is resolved to attack a small and weak country like Iraq on the grounds that it poses a threat to the world when not one of its neighbours complains of the threat but, on the contrary, every one of them counsels against a war?

Bush's record as Governor of Texas did not prepare him for his present responsibilities. He spent little time in his office and more at his home where, among other things, he exercised his not inconsiderable talent at video games. His self-image reveals the man - and the menace.

When, a mere fortnight after September 11, Rice told Bush that "the military was not fully ready", he bristled, as he recalled to Woodward, "I'm ready to go... Some times that's the way - I am fiery". (emphasis added, throughout) It was her job "to bear the brunt of some of the fire so that it - takes the edge off a little bit... " Bush and Rice "often spoke in sports analogies". Others in his presence, like Armitage, freely used earthier language. At a session in which the Central Intelligence Agency's Deputy Chief and Rumsfeld blamed each other, Armitage exclaimed, "I think what I'm hearing is FUBAR". Woodward helpfully explains that "it means _ Up Beyond All Recognition". And this was at a formal meeting of the National Security Council on October 25, 2001. Woodward records: "Bush's leadership style bordered on the hurried. He wanted action, solutions. Once on a course, he directed his energy at forging on, rarely looking back, scoffing at - even ridiculing - doubt and anything less than 100 per cent commitment. He seemed to harbour few, if any, regrets. His short declaration could seem impulsive" (Note, Woodward's apologetic style).

Bush would not contest that "I rely on my instincts" - the instincts of a "fiery" impatient man, uninformed by experience or controlled by reasoned discourse. "I loathe Kim Jong-II", he shouted waving his finger in the air. "I've got a visceral reaction to this guy." But, then, "I'm not a textbook player. I'm a gut player." One is reminded of Shakespeare's famous lines: Ye gods, it doth amaze me/ A man of such a feeble temper should/so get the start of the majestic world,/ and bear the palm alone.

Could Bush have been trusted to tackle, say, the Berlin crisis? Statesmen pride themselves on claimed sound judgment. Bush is proud to be "fiery".

Compare the quality of the discourse and discussion at Bush's NSC with those of the Executive Committee of Kennedy's NSC during the Cuban missile crisis and you realise the depth of the decline. (vide The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis: Ed. by Ernest R. May and Philip D. Zelikow; Harvard University Press, 1998). None spoke simplistically or used such language. Differences were sharp; but were aired with dignified candour and discussed intelligently. The ebullient Khruschev's son Sergei has described how his father acted with calm resolution to avert war (The Cuban Missile Crisis as seen from the Kremlin; American Heritage; October 2002).

It is this "fiery" Bush who has decided to fashion the global order to suit the whims and interests of the American Right. He will not stoop to persuade. He will order and ordain. He knows that it is in no one's interest to flout his wishes directly. "You can't talk your way to the solution of a problem. We are the leader. And a leader must combine the ability to listen to others, along with action. I believe in results... It's like earning capital in many ways. It is a way for us to earn capital in a coalition that may be fragile. And the reason it will be fragile is that there is resentment towards us. I mean, you know, if you want to hear resentment just listen to the word unilateralism. `Bush is a unilateralist, America is unilateral.' You know, which I find amusing...

"But action, confident action, that will yield positive results provides a kind of slipstream into which reluctant nations and leaders can get behind and show themselves that there has been, you know, something positive has happened towards peace."

Karl Rove, Senior Adviser to the President and his political guru, is more explicit: "Everything will be measured by results. The victor is always right. History ascribes to the victor qualities that may or may not actually have been there. And similarly to the defeated."

On January 9, 2002, The Washington Post reporter Dan Balz and Woodward went to Rumsfeld's office to interview him for a newspaper series they were doing on the first ten days after 9/11. "Characteristically, Rumsfeld wanted to deal in broad strategic concepts, not specifics, and he had jotted down 12 of them on a piece of paper - everything from the necessity to preempt terrorists to the opportunity to rearrange the world."

Powell has been used as an instrument in diplomacy. He successfully secured the release of 24 U.S. airmen from China in April 2001. "It was a big win, but even then the White House didn't want him on television to take credit." Woodward's account of Powell's desperate attempt to discuss Iraq with Bush alone is very instructive. It was a limited success over the Cheney-Rumsfeld clique which is far closer to Bush. "When I specifically asked about Powell's contributions, the President offered a tepid response. `Powell is a diplomat,' Bush responded. `And you've got to have a diplomat. I kind of picture myself as a pretty good diplomat, but nobody else does. You know, particularly, I wouldn't call me a diplomat. But, nevertheless, he is a diplomatic person who has got war experience.' Did Powell want private meetings? I asked. `He doesn't pick up the phone and say I need to come and see you,' Bush said."

Even mid-2002 Powell "had not squared his relationship with the Presi<147,2,7>dent". Armitage encouraged him to see Bush. So did Rice. They met on August 5, 2002. Woodward's authoritative account of that meeting explains a lot and deserves quotation in extenso: "Powell said the President had to consider what a military operation against Iraq would do in the Arab world. Cauldron was the right word. He dealt with the leaders and foreign ministers in these countries as secretary of state. The entire region could be destabilised friendly regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan could be put in jeopardy or overthrown. Anger and frustration at America abounded. War could change everything in the Middle East.

"It would suck the oxygen out of just about everything else the United States was doing, not only in the war on terrorism, but all other diplomatic, defence and intelligence relationships, Powell said. The economic implications could be staggering, potentially driving the supply and price of oil in directions that were as yet unimagined. All this in a time of an international economic slump. The cost of occupying Iraq after a victory would be expensive. The economic impact the region, the world and the United States domestically had to be considered.

"Following victory, and they would surely prevail Powell believed, the dayafter implications were giant. What of the image of an American general running an Arab country for some length of time? he asked. A General MacArthur in Baghdad? This would be a big event within Iraq, the region and the world. How long would it be? No one could know. How would success be defined? `It's nice to say we can do it unilaterally,' Powell told the President bluntly, `except you can't'." The case against war was irrefutably stated. Bush merely temporised. This explains how Bush came to endorse France's two-stage formula in the United Nations Security Council in preference to Cheney's advice to tell the U.N. "you are not important".

HOW and when did Iraq come up, in the first instance? And why? Even before 9/11 the Pentagon had begun developing military options for Iraq. Rumsfeld took the lead. There was absolutely no evidence of Iraq's involvement in 9/11 attacks. But the idea surfaced this year and with a steady flow of leaks, it gained support. This was possible only because Bush himself was fully committed to the idea.

Earlier in his administration, the CIA Chief, George Penet, said that the U.S. faced three threats; namely, Osama bin Laden, weapons of mass destruction - chemical biological and nuclear - "and the rise of Chinese power, military and other". Iraq did not figure as a specific threat then, as it does now. None of the three "threats" can be easily tackled. Iraq can be - by military attack. This fits in with Bush's approach. "His vision clearly includes an ambitious reordering of the world through pre-emptive and, if necessary, unilateral action to reduce suffering and bring peace." It would also ensure his re-election in 2004. Bush has already secured remarkable control over the levers of power. His is the most politicised White House. As Adam Nagourney of The New York Times reported, "President George W. Bush has created one of the most powerful White Houses in at least a generation, prominent Democrats and Republicans say, reshaping the Washington political equation in a way that provides him both considerable opportunity and peril in the year ahead."

Dissent is muted. The President is all-powerful, motivated only by considerations of power and survival. India does not loom large in his calculations except as part of his strategy. The CIA's cooperation with Pakistan in Afghanistan began in 1999 even before the coup. After 9/11 there ensued a South Asian contest for America's favours. "The CIA had just sent over a warning from the Indian intelligence service saying that Pakistani jihadists - Muslim extremists - were planning an imminent attack on the White House... The Indian intelligence was well wired into Pakistan." But Bush refused to go into a bunker. Musharraf's quick compliance with U.S. demands gave him a decisive edge.

"Musharraf did not want Pakistan to turn into a rogue state, Powell believed. He sought a more secular, westernised country. President Musharraf is taking a tremendous risk, the President said. We need to make it worth his while. We should help him with a number of things, including nuclear security. Put together a package of support for Pakistan, he directed." It is Powell's assessment - not Advani's - that has governed U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Bush agrees with Powell. "He wanted a plan to stabilise Pakistan and protect it against the consequences of supporting the U.S."

Bush was very solicitous about Pakistan's "concern about the Northern Alliance". His estimate of Musharraf is directly opposed to that of the Advani-Vajpayee school. "Musharraf is calm, confident and committed. We have to recognise that what we do in Pakistan creates problems for him in his street and we have to be sensitive to that." As Woodward remarks, "Pakistan was the lynchpin of the operation." When Bush and Musharraf met in New York in 2001, "Musharraf said his deep fear was that the United States would in the end abandon Pakistan, and that other interests would crowd out the war on terrorism. Bush fixed his gaze. `Tell the Pakistani people that the President of the United States looked you in the eye and told you we wouldn't do that.'"

When three months later, India massed its troops to pressurise Pakistan - and the U.S. to pressurise Pakistan - on cross-border infiltration, Musharraf knew that it could go just thus far and no further. An audit of that quintessential Advani policy, in all its fatuity, is yet to be drawn up. A year, after it was launched, you have the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca lauding Pakistan as a "reliable ally" during her visit to Islamabad on December 17.

The U.S. pursues its interests just as India does its. It helps little to cloak interests as "principles" or as morality. Still less, to compel others to shun those who choose to shun at a moment of our choice. What we are witnessing is a replay of the East India Company's historic performance in South Asia.

An Indo-Pakistan rapprochement is the only alternative to the rise in American influence in the region. But it will ever remain as the signal contribution to foreign policy by our pseudo-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that it consistently facilitated the rise of foreign influence in India and Pakistan.

It was left to one of the few thoughtful members of the Bush administration, Richard N. Haass, Director, Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, to deliver some home truths in Hyderabad on January 7. "It is simply a fact of life that India will not realise its immense potential on the global stage until its relationship with Pakistan is normalised... The festering conflict with Pakistan distracts India from its larger ambitions, helps create the environment that scares off capital and absorbs valuable resources.''

What he did not add is that it also warps the Indian polity and affects its democracy. It fosters a siege mentality and the spirit of militarism. Great power chauvinism never fails to extract a terrible price.

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