Entry from March 3, 2010

At last my conjecture has been proved right. Beginning with what must surely go down in history as the oddest presidential election campaign to date in 2004 — it was arguably surpassed in 2008 by the contest between the war hero and the pop cultural celebrity — I and others noticed with dismay how during President Bush’s second term he rarely if ever answered even the most scurrilous allegations against him and his administration. During the Presidential debates with John Kerry, the Senator would make the most appalling charges about the administration’s bad faith, corruption or incompetence in dealing with the insurgency in Iraq or the hunt for Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and all the President could say in reply was “It” — by which he meant fighting terrorism and creating a stable government in Iraq — “is hard.” True enough, perhaps, but it’s not much of an answer to such serious charges.

At the time, I remember thinking that Mr Bush’s reticence couldn’t be the result of mere timorousness on his part, or having nothing to say to these ill-natured accusations. There was plenty to be said in reply, and if he couldn’t think of any answers to the charges on his own, there were plenty of those around him who would have been able help. It must have been, I remember thinking, a matter of deliberate policy not to answer back. I could imagine, in particular, a PR genius like Karl Rove’s saying: “Don’t answer back, Mr President. It will only give the other side’s slanders a wider currency and make you look defensive, as if you have something to be ashamed of.”

And now, sure enough, Karl Rove himself has come forward with an implicit admission that he was President Bush’s adviser on this subject, that he had advised him more or less as I had guessed he had — and, more interestingly, that he had been mistaken in doing so. Reporting on Mr Rove’s forthcoming book, Courage and Consequence, an AP story today informs us that “Rove admits to error on Iraq as Bush strategist”

Republican strategist Karl Rove says in a new memoir that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq badly damaged the Bush administration’s credibility and led to dwindling public support for the war. The former White House political adviser blames himself for not pushing back against claims that President George W. Bush had taken the country to war under false pretenses, calling it one of the worst mistakes he made during the Bush presidency. The president, he adds, did not knowingly mislead the American public about the existence of such weapons.

Oh dear, oh dear! On the one hand, I always kind of thought he hadn’t knowingly misled anyone but really believed what his intelligence services — and everyone else’s — were telling him about the WMDs. Remember George Tenet’s “slam dunk”? On the other hand, it doesn’t look too good that it has taken him more than six years to confirm what might once have seemed the obvious but, in the light of those years of silence, kind of doesn’t anymore. In fact, in the interim, the Democrats’ and the media’s unchallenged assertions that “Bush lied” have hardened into a mere assumption with larger numbers of people than just the die-hard anti-Bushites. Now, says the AP story, “Rove depicts Bush as a courageous and resolute leader whose conduct in office was forever shaped by the Sept. 11 attacks. He calls Bush”s achievements over two terms ‘impressive, durable and significant’ and says many of the controversies that weakened his presidency were falsehoods perpetuated by political opponents.”

Great! But couldn’t you have said something to this effect before?

Oh, by the way. The AP story also tells us that Mr Rove “has sharp words for President Barack Obama, calling him a stereotypical Chicago politician who plays fast and loose with the facts.” Once again, I probably could have guessed as much for myself. But I wonder if there could be any connection between a president who appears to have no fear of being caught out in falsehood and distortion and all those years during which his party’s falsehoods and distortions about his predecessor were never answered or corrected by those at whom they were directed. If people now believe that lying and the accusation of lying are normal among politicians, just a part of the political background noise, could this be unrelated to the fact that that’s how the PR genius treated these thing for so many years?

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