Nixon kept his famous “enemies list.” Now George W. Bush has his “rat list.” An extraordinary succession of career civil servants, policy-makers and former appointees has come forward in recent months to blab–that is, share the truth about Bush with the American people. The most injurious is Richard Clarke, the melodramatic bureaucrat who directed antiterrorism policy for both Clinton and Bush. Clarke’s message (Bush was obsessed with making war on Iraq, never mind catching Osama) resonates sensationally because it confirms the same point we learned from the others: On the most important matters, Bush cannot be believed.
David Kay was handpicked by the White House to lead the search for Saddam Hussein’s evil weapons. Kay not only came up empty in his search but delivered a withering refutation of Bush’s premise for war: the supposed existence of Saddam’s terrible weaponry. Kay was especially believable because he clearly tried to deflect blame from the President. In a devastating insider account, Paul O’Neill, the former Treasury Secretary, described Bush as both light and cynical, manipulated and oddly detached from the serious business of governing. Richard Foster, an obscure actuary at Health and Human Services, popped up a few weeks after O’Neill to reveal that the actual cost of Bush’s Medicare drug bill was concealed by the Administration, which lowballed Congress by $150 billion. Former Ambassador Joe Wilson blew the whistle on Bush’s phony claim that Iraq was buying bomb-making uranium from Africa. And let’s not forget Army General Eric Shinseki, who warned Congress–before the war began–that the Bush team had grossly understated the military manpower required to pacify Iraq.
These eruptions of truth-telling are not just the flap of the week from Washington. Taken together, they represent what may prove a momentous turn in the presidential campaign–one that could end up stripping Bush of his most valuable asset, his credibility as warrior President. The timing couldn’t have been worse from Bush’s standpoint. With Democrats having chosen their nominee, the White House turned on the attack-and-smear machine in an attempt to destroy John Kerry. Instead, the focus of the Washington talk shows and much of the nation’s dinner-table conversation was Bush: whether he lied about this or was misinformed about that or maybe didn’t understand what he was saying. The impact was not immediately reflected in the polls, but the numbers showed an erosion in his standing on the handling of terrorism. People will forgive a lot in popular leaders, but once the seed is planted–this guy is either lying or doesn’t know what’s happening–the consequences can be fatal. Ask Jimmy Carter. Ask Bush’s daddy.
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The grisly deaths of four US contractors in Iraq on the same day that five American soldiers were killed in a bomb attack tell us what we already know: The American occupation is not working. Attacks against coalition troops, which have been rising, now average twenty-six a day. As Naomi Klein reports on page 10, even Iraqis who cheered the arrival of the Americans are now wholly disillusioned by the corruption and chaos and enraged by policies that have led to more unemployed and desperate people. She quotes one businessman, whose two brothers were executed by Saddam, as saying that US proconsul Paul Bremer “has caused more damage than the war, because the bombs can damage a building but if you damage people there is no hope.” What more will it take, beyond seeing the charred bodies of Americans hanging from a bridge, to persuade the Bush Administration to change course?