The Self Made Pundit
Thursday, October 23, 2003
THROUGH THE BUSH LOOKING GLASS: In the 2000 presidential election, George Bush claimed that his favorite political philosopher was Jesus Christ. While I always try to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt (especially when he is trying to express a thought), I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the truth may lie elsewhere.
Recent reports about Bush’s dogged efforts to drag America’s intelligence community through the looking glass with him indicate that it is far more likely that Bush’s favorite political philosopher is actually Lewis Carroll.
In "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass," Carroll imagined a world in which illogic ruled. Imperious rulers made decisions based on events that were expected to occur in the future, reached judgments before considering the evidence and meted out punishments for crimes that had not yet occurred. To Lewis Carroll, it was a dream, to the American people it is the Bush administration.
The decision making processes of the Bush administration bear an uncanny resemblance to the machinations of the Queen in "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." I suspect that Bush was exposed to one or both of these books in his youth, and viewed the haughty Queen as a role model for decision making.
If my theory is correct, Bush undoubtedly admired – and has sought to emulate – the decisiveness displayed by the Queen. for example, in "Alice in Wonderland," the Queen is outraged at the suggestion that evidence should be considered and a verdict reached before passing sentence:
“No, no!” said the Queen. Sentence first – verdict afterwards.
Bush evidently took these words to heart. On foreign and domestic policy, Bush has habitually made the most important decisions first and then considered the evidence.
In the current New Yorker, investigative reporter Sy Hersh reveals how Bush and his minions dragged the nation’s intelligence community through the looking glass. (Link via Talking Points Memo.) As a matter of policy, the Bush administration has relentlessly fought to stop the intelligence community from performing its job of evaluating intelligence reports and to start giving the administration the answers it wanted to hear. Hersh explains how the intelligence community’s mission was twisted by the Bush administration:
Part of the answer lies in decisions made early in the Bush Administration, before the events of September 11, 2001. In interviews with present and former intelligence officials, I was told that some senior Administration people, soon after coming to power, had bypassed the government’’s customary procedures for vetting intelligence.
A retired C.I.A. officer described for me some of the questions that would normally arise in vetting: “Does dramatic information turned up by an overseas spy square with his access, or does it exceed his plausible reach? How does the agent behave? Is he on time for meetings?” The vetting process is especially important when one is dealing with foreign-agent reports – sensitive intelligence that can trigger profound policy decisions. In theory, no request for action should be taken directly to higher authorities – a process known as “stovepiping” – without the information on which it is based having been subjected to rigorous scrutiny.
The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic – and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book “The Threatening Storm” generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was “dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.
“They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,” Pollack continued. “They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn’t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.”
The Administration eventually got its way, a former C.I.A. official said. “The analysts at the C.I.A. were beaten down defending their assessments. And they blame George Tenet” – the C.I.A. director – “for not protecting them. I’’ve never seen a government like this.”
The looking glass approach taken by the Bush administration in battling the intelligence community was the same approach used by Bush in leading the nation to war with Iraq. First the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq as neoconservatives had been recommending for a decade. Then the administration settled on the threat of weapons of mass destruction as the strongest rationale for the war. Finally, the administration cherry picked information – regardless of whether it was based on good or bad intelligence – that supported the rationale that Iraq was threatening us with weapons of mass destruction.
Let’s call this the Bush Looking Glass Doctrine. This doctrine is the natural outgrowth of Bush’s naive determination to govern on the basis of his beliefs rather than reality. First decide on a course of action through a mixture of ideology, gut feelings and sheer ignorance. Then look for information and justifications to support that action.
This illogical and result-oriented approach to decision making was also discussed recently on CBS’s 60 Minutes II, which interviewed Greg Thielmann, a former State Department expert on weapons of mass destruction:
Today, Thielmann believes the decision to go to war was made – and the intelligence was interpreted to fit that conclusion.
“There’s plenty of blame to go around. The main problem was that the senior administration officials have what I call faith-based intelligence. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show,” says Thielmann.
“They were really blind and deaf to any kind of countervailing information the intelligence community would produce. I would assign some blame to the intelligence community, and most of the blame to the senior administration officials.”
The Bush Looking Glass Doctrine also has the advantage of being flexible enough to allow the Bush administration to assimilate new information without ever having to admit error or change course. Under the doctrine, all new information – regardless of how it contradicts the original rationales – is just further justification for the existing policy
As it has become obvious that Iraq did not possess any weapons of mass destruction that posed a current threat to America, Bush and his administration have shifted the rationale, and now claim that war was justified because Saddam Hussein had ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction in the future. As Hersh reports:
In early October, David Kay, the former U.N. inspector who is the head of the Administration’’s Iraq Survey Group, made his interim report to Congress on the status of the search for Iraq’’s W.M.D.s. “We have not yet found stocks of weapons,” Kay reported, “but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war.” In the area of nuclear weapons, Kay said, “Despite evidence of Saddam’’s continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material.” Kay was widely seen as having made the best case possible for President Bush’’s prewar claims of an imminent W.M.D. threat. But what he found fell far short of those claims, and the report was regarded as a blow to the Administration. President Bush, however, saw it differently. He told reporters that he felt vindicated by the report, in that it showed that “Saddam Hussein was a threat, a serious danger.”
According to Bush’s shifting looking glass rationale for war, the absence of any imminent threat from Iraq actually justified going to war to prevent such a threat from occurring. Once again, Bush seems to be channeling the Queen in "Through the Looking Glass":
“There’s the King’s Messenger. He’s in prison now, being punished: and the trial doesn’t begin until next Wednesday: and of course the crime comes last of all.”
“Suppose he never commits the crime?” said Alice.
“That would be all the better, wouldn’t it?” the Queen said.
The Bush Looking Glass Doctrine is not confined to foreign policy. On the contrary, the doctrine has been pervasive throughout the Bush administration.
In fact, the Bush Looking Glass Doctrine actually played midwife to the birth of the Bush administration. In their first major use of the doctrine, Bush and his aides won the 2000 Florida recount battle by convincing the five stalwart Republicans on the Supreme Court to declare Bush the winner of the presidential election before all the votes were counted.
Obviously impressed with the power of a doctrine that was impervious to logic, Bush has made his Looking Glass Doctrine the guiding principle of policy making in his administration.
Thus, never-ending tax cuts for the rich – the centerpiece of Bush’s economic program – was sold to the American people with the aid of the Bush Looking Glass Doctrine. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy were first proposed during the 2000 presidential race, when America had a budget surplus and the lowest unemployment in years. As the economy worsened under Bush, the new rationale for the tax cuts became that they would stimulate the economy. As America continued to lose jobs to an extent not seen since the Great Depression, job creation became the rationale for additional tax cuts for the rich.
Although there was no evidence that Bush’s tax giveaways to the rich in future years would either stimulate the economy or create jobs, evidence is never essential to a judgment reached by Bush. Under the Bush Looking Glass Doctrine, the first step is to make a decision on the basis of right-wing ideology and the second step is to consider all the available information (both good and bad) for ways to justify the decision.
Bush has succeeded in dragging not just the intelligence community, but all of America through his looking glass. Like Alice, we now inhabit a strange world governed by an arrogant ruler who illogically rushes to judgment regardless of the evidence.