Vanity Fair magazine oral history story slices and dices the Bush White House

December 30, 2008

WASHINGTON (ChattahBox) -– Just three weeks away from George W. Bush’s last day in office, Vanity Fair magazine compiled an oral history of the Bush White House, for its February issue, which hits newsstands nationally on Jan. 6. The feature story compiled comments by current and former government officials, foreign ministers, campaign strategists and numerous others on topics that included Iraq, the anthrax attacks, the economy and immigration.  Some juicy excerpts have been released to peak interest, most seem to be slanted toward Bush’s failures and seem to imply (not surprisingly) that Vice President Dick Cheney played puppet master.

  • Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said that as a new president, Bush was like Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee whom critics said lacked knowledge about foreign affairs. When Bush first came into office, he was surrounded by experienced advisers like Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell, who Wilkerson said ended up playing damage control for the president.
  • “It allowed everybody to believe that this Sarah Palin-like president — because, let’s face it, that’s what he was — was going to be protected by this national-security elite, tested in the cauldrons of fire,” Wilkerson said, adding that he considered Cheney probably the “most astute, bureaucratic entrepreneur” he’d ever met.
  • “He became vice president well before George Bush picked him,” Wilkerson said of Cheney. “And he began to manipulate things from that point on, knowing that he was going to be able to convince this guy to pick him, knowing that he was then going to be able to wade into the vacuums that existed around George Bush — personality vacuum, character vacuum, details vacuum, experience vacuum.”
  • March 19, 2003 The Iraq war begins. Two weeks of “shock and awe” bombardment herald the invasion by ground forces. U.S. and British troops make up 90 percent of the “international coalition,” which includes modest support from other countries. The defeat of Iraqi forces is a foregone conclusion, but within days of the occupation Baghdad is beset by looting that coalition forces do nothing to stop. Rumsfeld dismisses the breakdown of civil order with the explanation “Stuff happens.” Kenneth Adelman, a Rumsfeld- appointed member of a Pentagon advisory board, and initially a supporter of the war, later confronts the defense secretary.
  • Kenneth Adelman, a member of Donald Rumsfeld’s advisory Defense Policy Board: So he says, It might be best if you got off the Defense Policy Board. You’re very negative. I said, I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted.
  • Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things—“Stuff happens.” I said, That’s your entry in Bartlett’s. The only thing people will remember about you is “Stuff happens.” I mean, how could you say that? “This is what free people do.” This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do. And I said, Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.I said, You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack @!$%#.
  • I said, There was no order to stop the looting. And he says, There was an order. I said, Well, did you give the order? He says, I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order. I said, Who gave the order?
  • So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down—he says, I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you. And I said, I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.
  • And so that was not a successful conversation.
  • Bob Graham, retired Democratic senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that one of our biggest challenges will be getting the rest of the world to trust the U.S. again: “One of our difficulties now is getting the rest of the world to accept our assessment of the seriousness of an issue, because they say, You screwed it up so badly with Iraq, why would we believe that you’re any better today?”
  • Hurricane Katrina not only pulverized the Gulf Coast in 2005, it knocked the bully pulpit out from under President George W. Bush, according to two former advisers who spoke candidly about the political impact of the government’s poor handling of the natural disaster.
  • “Katrina to me was the tipping point,” said Matthew Dowd, Bush’s pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign. “The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn’t matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn’t matter. P.R.? It didn’t matter. Travel? It didn’t matter.”
  • Dan Bartlett, former White House communications director and later counselor to the president, said: “Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.”

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