Anybody who has any doubts that George Bush is a true believer in himself should finally be convinced by his awarding the Medal of Freedom to the three blunderers of the war in Iraq.
Gen. Tommy Franks allowed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to browbeat him into planning a war with fewer troops than were needed. He no doubt noted that when Gen. Eric Shinseki and the secretary of the Army publicly said many more troops were needed, they were gotten rid of. Shinseki was humiliated when the Pentagon announced his replacement a year and a half before he was due to step down. Secretary of the Army Thomas White was fired.
Today, there is no doubt that Shinseki and White were correct, but Franks, who sacrificed his professional judgment to Rumsfeld’s ideological rigidity, gets the medal.
Then there’s Paul Bremer. Nobody could have made more mistakes as head of the occupation than Bremer. He and Franks allowed the looting that proved disastrous. He fired all the civil servants who could have helped run the government, and he disbanded the army. All the problems we face today in Iraq stem directly from these blunders. But he gets the medal.
And finally there is George Tenet, the former CIA director. He failed to detect the attack on 9/11, and he padded the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to please the president. "It’s a slam-dunk," he said. Sure. He makes a blunder of stupendous importance and gets the medal.
What should alarm people, but probably won’t, is not the series of blunders in Iraq. Anyone and any administration can make mistakes. No one is infallible or omniscient. What should alarm people is the president’s iron-tight refusal to acknowledge that any mistakes have been made. That’s exactly what he was saying when he handed out those three medals: I have not made any mistakes whatsoever. Rumsfeld, Franks, Tenet and Bremer have made no mistakes. The only people who are wrong are people who disagree with me.
Such arrogance is characteristic of fanatics. I’m not suggesting that the president should agonize in public about his decisions. The public wants a leader with self-confidence. But this arrogance is present behind the scenes. All during the buildup to the war, people with advice to be cautious or even with professional judgments about what would be required were dismissed out of hand if their ideas conflicted with preconceived notions.
Apparently, when the president and his ideologues get an idea into their heads, they view any facts to the contrary as evidence of hostility and disloyalty. Nobody in recent history has been more arrogant and more wrong than the Bush administration has been in its dealing with Iraq.
Unfortunately, this same mind-set will be present in dealing with all of the problems and crises of the future. I recognize that Bush’s partisans strongly disagree with me and are overjoyed by his re-election. Truly, I hope they are right, because if I am right, then we’re in for more hatred, more death, more destruction and more economic hardship. Iraq was not a cakewalk, and neither will be Syria, Iran and North Korea. Furthermore, if Bush can’t summon the courage to force the Israelis to get rid of all of their settlements in the West Bank, that fire will continue to burn, and as much as American politicians wish to deny it, that conflict is the fuel of terrorism.
When a leader makes it clear that he doesn’t want anyone around who will tell him things he doesn’t want to hear, he guarantees that he will be surrounded by sycophants and manipulators. Great leaders, whether military or civilian, do exactly the opposite. They surround themselves with smart people who aren’t afraid to speak up during the decision-making process.
Humans succeed when they adapt to reality, and that involves taking into account feedback. Oh, this wasn’t so; that didn’t work, so now I have to adjust. People who take no notice of reality’s feedback usually fail. They are like a ship sailing at full speed with no rudder and no radar.
Let us all pray that there is nothing but open sea in the path of Bush’s second term.