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Bush's Presidential Malpractice | The Nation

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Capital Games

 Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.

Bush's Presidential Malpractice

If a doctor handed you a strong medication--saying you had no choice but to swallow it--but didn't talk to you about the host of new ailments and problems that might be caused by the medication, that would be damn irresponsible. Well, meet George W. Bush, M.D. He has been claiming the United States must take the most extreme measure--war--to keep itself safe and healthy. Yet he has refused to address the knotty matters (post-op complications?) that will follow in the wake of war.

This dereliction of duty--or presidential malpractice--was readily evident on Tuesday when top administration officials appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the future of Iraq. (Looks like its present has been settled: invasion and occupation, unless Saddam Hussein scoots.) At this session, under-Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith noted that while the Pentagon has spent months positioning troops and readying to de-Saddamize Iraq, it only opened an office for postwar planning three weeks ago. At the same hearing, Feith and under-Secretary of State Marc Grossman said there would be at least a two-year US military occupation of Iraq following an invasion. So with the gameplan war and occupation--and the Bush administration has been considering taking over Iraq since September 12, 2001--the Pentagon managed to get serious about planning for the post-invasion period merely a month or so before, it seems, the invasion is to come. (The duo did claim that the Pentagon had been thinking about postwar matters for ten months.)

With Feith's and Grossman's testimony, the administration has acknowledged it intends to rule Iraq for quite a while after the war. (Their two-year estimate may be quite optimistic. One former US ambassador quips there are two possible occupation scenarios. Plane One is an occupation that lasts for ten years. Plan Two is an occupation that is supposed to last for five years, but goes on for ten.) So then, how does the Bush White House intend to install (eventually) a democratic government? (Remember this war is also for the liberation of the Iraqi people, as soon as the United States decides it's time for its occupation to end.) How will the US manage the oil industry of Iraq? Who will pay for the construction costs? Who will feed the Iraqi people, most of whom now rely on the Iraqi government for their food supply? "There are enormous uncertainties," Feith said. "The most you can do in planning is develop concepts." Actually, in planning, you can develop plans--hire staff, call in experts, consult with multilateral outfits and aid organizations, and begin drafting proposals. These plans may end up not working. They may have to change. But you can give it a go and, at least, establish a baseline. For his part Grossman observed, "How this transition will take place is perhaps opaque at the moment." From the fog of war to the fog of postwar.

The senators were perturbed. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the committee, pushed the pair for information on how a transitional government would be kick-started following an invasion. After receiving an insufficient response, he exclaimed (Biden is quite good at exclaiming), "When we're three weeks away from war or five weeks away from war, possibly, you don't know the answer to that? You haven't made a decision yet?" Note to Biden: don't forget you voted to give Bush the right to invade Iraq whenever he deems appropriate, without having to obtain a declaration of war from Congress (or present a workable, confidence-building plan to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee). Grossman, though, did concede that the financial costs of whatever comes in Iraq will be high: "There are things in our own country we're not going to be able to do because of our commitment in Iraq." Somehow that point was not covered in the budget Bush recently submitted to Congress. A printing error? The President is already squeezing domestic spending on such things as heating assistance for low-income Americans while pushing for a variety-pack of tax changes benefiting the well-heeled. And he refused to leave any space in his budget for a war, let alone the potentially more costly occupation.

By the end of the hearing, perturbance had transitioned into dismay. Richard Lugar, the mild-mannered Republican chairman, woefully commented, "What we have heard is not good enough; we are way behind. Who will rule Iraq and how? Who will provide security? How long might US troops conceivably remain? Will the United Nations have a role? Who will manage Iraq's oil resource? Unless the administration can answer these questions in detail, the anxiety of Arab and European governments, as well as that of the American public...will only grow."

It wasn't just the specifics-free presentations of Feith and Grossman that was worrisome. Retired General Anthony Zinni, former head of US Central Command, raised questions that ought to provoke pause. Zinni has been a war-skeptic, one of the leading ex-military voices against striking Iraq, maintaining that Saddam is not an imminent threat, that he is "very well checked," and that now is "the worst time to take this on." (The ranks of this platoon thinned last weekend when former General Norman Schwarzkopf of Gulf War I--who had not, long before, shared his heartfelt opposition to US military action in Iraq with The Washington Post--pulled a quick retreat on Meet The Press perhaps after having heard from the Bush clan.) Zinni, once in charge of humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in northern Iraq, Somalia, and Bosnia, knows his postwar stuff. And in his testimony to the committee, he made a few eloquent and troubling points.

"In addressing the issues that might be faced in a post-conflict Iraq, the first question that has to be answered deals with the end state envisioned or desired," Zinni said. "Do we want to transform Iraq or just transition it out from under the unacceptable regime of Saddam Hussein into a reasonably stable nation? Transformation implies significant changes in forms of governance, in economic policies, in regional status, in security structure, and in other areas. Without a determination of the scale and scope of change desired, it is not possible to judge the cost and level of effort required. Certainly, there will not be a spontaneous democracy so the reconstruction of the country will be a long, hard course regardless of whether a modest vision of the end state is sought or a more ambitious one is chosen."

So is it transition or transformation? The President hasn't said which. Nor has the Secretary of State Colin Powell. Nor has Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (the often acting-Secretary of State). Feith and Grossman didn't supply any illumination. But doesn't the public--which will pay for the war and occupation in all ways--deserve to know which vision Bush embraces? Or if he even has one?

Zinni, in a polite but unflinching fashion, noted that he, too, considers the Bush administration unprepared for the post-battle battle. "A lot of thought has been given to the kinds of problems and tasks that we will face in the aftermath," he testified. "I have read several recent studies and pieces produced by groups of knowledgeable people. Generally, these works have, in my opinion, captured the broad requirements and the issues very well. Defining the problem, however, is only half the task. The other half deals with how you solve the problem. I have not seen a lot of specifics in this area." And it's his job, as an armchair-thinker at the Center for Strategic and international Studies, to locate and evaluate such specifics. Yet they're not out there. One example: Zinni said that six out of ten Iraqis depend on the "oil for food" program managed by 40,000 feeding stations run by Saddam's government. No one in the Bush administration, he added, knows if this program can continue to function after an invasion. If not, there will be millions of Iraqis without food. Will the US proconsul in Iraq be ready to feed 12 million or so people? "Who's going to do it?" Zinni asked. "Where are they? You know, if you have hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground formed up into divisions and wings and ask forces at sea, where is the counterpart to these on the other [humanitarian, political, and economic] sides? It isn't going to be a handful of people that drive out of the Pentagon, catch a plane and fly in after the military peace to try to pull this together."

Maybe it will be. This war is not about what comes next. And Bush is not keen to tell the American people what might happen after he "disarms" Saddam. In some instances, a threat may be so pressing that a nation does not have time to consider what is likely to occur after it acts to neutralize that danger. (War boosters like to pooh-pooh war critics who fret over postwar consequences by noting that when the United States entered World War II there were no plans other than those for victory.) But the Bush administration has had many months to consider--and openly discuss--a postwar Iraq, as well as the financial and security costs of maintaining a US military occupation for years. And it has not leveled with the public. In his bellicose speeches, does Bush ever say, "You know, the American people should realize that we may have to stay involved and run Iraq for a number of years and that we will pay for this noble endeavor with higher taxes, diminished services, and/or larger budget deficits. But to protect us and our children and our grandchildren, that's what we need to do"? Such words would give Karl Rove a stroke.

If Iraq is not poised to strike--or to enable another party to strike--the United States, the decision to go to war can be weighed judiciously. Such a deliberation ought to take into account possible consequences and costs. They may not determine the ultimate judgment, but they should to be in plain view. Yet Bush has not been candid. Informed consent is not part of his prewar plan

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