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W.'s War on the Environment
The 2000 Campaign
The Clinton Scandals
Nazi Echo (Pinochet)
The Dark Side of Rev. Moon
The October Surprise "X-Files"
W. Bush’s followers hail his tough comments as proof of his
straight-talking style and his “moral clarity.” But his
often-insulting remarks about political and international adversaries also
raise questions about whether the president’s loose tongue is becoming a
national security danger to the American people.
Americans, for instance, face a greater risk of nuclear conflict because
Bush indulged in a rant last year that included calling North Korea’s
leader a “pygmy” – or of terrorism because Bush termed U.S. military
action in the Middle East a “crusade,” with its Christian vs. Muslim
overtones? Or does he exacerbate worldwide suspicion that Washington
doesn’t care much about the global environment when he mocks
environmentalists to his White House aides as “green-green lima
of the job of any leader is to avoid careless talk that can complicate the
always-tricky business of diplomacy. Publicly at least, effective leaders
take pains not to personalize issues. But Bush consistently does the
opposite, suggesting either a political tin ear to how he sounds to people
around the world or perhaps a personality disorder that he can't control.
way, Bush's inability to make America's case to the world may become a
political issue as the American people approach the exit ramp of Election
evidence is now clear that Bush’s bellicose statements have contributed
to a growing hostility toward the United States in all corners of the
opinions of the U.S. have increased in most of the nations where trend
benchmarks are available,” reported the Pew Research Center for The
People & The Press in a recent study. Even worse is the deterioration
of U.S. standing in areas near the front lines of the war on terror, such
as Jordan, Turkey and Pakistan. [For details, go to www.people-press.org]
International editor Fareed Zakaria has written that anti-Americanism is
emerging as the planet’s “default ideology,” which translates into
deepening threats against Americans, both as individuals and as a people.
But the anger may be less anti-American than anti-Bush. Respondents to
international surveys often stress that they like Americans but oppose
Bush administration policies.
toward Bush even is eroding U.S. standing among the staunchest of allies.
In Great Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair is derided as a
“poodle” for backing Bush’s Iraq policy, politicians across the
ideological spectrum are feeling “anxiety and antagonism” toward the
U.S. president, reports Andrew Rawnsley, chief political commentator for
the London Observer.
a Jan. 15 dispatch, Rawnsley quotes a former Conservative Cabinet minister
as likening Bush to “a child running around with a grenade with the pin
pulled out.” [For details, see “Why
We Don't Trust Bush.”]
image of Bush is now solidifying around the world and is creeping into the
consciousness of the American public as marked by Bush's weakening poll
numbers. But there have long been warning signs about Bush’s lack of
discipline over the words coming out of his mouth.
the scene in 1986 when Bush was miffed about a prediction made by Wall
Street Journal political writer Al Hunt that Jack Kemp – not then-Vice
President George H.W. Bush – would win the Republican presidential
nomination in 1988. At a Dallas restaurant, the younger George Bush
spotted Hunt having dinner with his wife, Judy Woodruff, and their
stormed up to the table and started cursing out Hunt. “You [expletive]
son of a bitch,” Bush yelled. “I saw what you wrote. We’re not going
to forget this.” [Washington Post, July 25, 1999]
thin-skinned about criticism of himself or his family, Bush regularly
pokes fun at others. While Texas governor, Bush lined up for a photo and
fingered the man next to him. “He’s the ugly one!” Bush laughed. [NYT,
Aug. 22, 1999]
one of Campaign 2000’s most memorable moments, Bush uttered an aside to
his running mate Dick Cheney about New York Times reporter Adam Clymer.
“There's Adam Clymer -- major league asshole -- from the New York
Times,” Bush said as he was waving to a campaign crowd from a stage in
Naperville, Ill. “Yeah, big time,” responded Cheney. Their voices were
picked up on an open microphone.
recall Bush making a joke about the condemned murderer Carla Faye Tucker
pleading for her life to the Texas governor. “Please don’t kill me,”
Bush whimpered through pursed lips in an imitation of the woman whom Bush
had refused clemency.
the second presidential debate, Bush continued to make light of people
facing the death penalty in Texas. While arguing against hate-crimes laws,
Bush said the three men convicted of the racially motivated murder of
James Byrd were already facing the death penalty.
going to be hard to punish them any worse after they’re put to death,”
Bush said, with an out-of-place smile across his face. Beyond the inaccuracy of his statement -- one of the three
killers had received life imprisonment -- there was that smirk again when
discussing people on Death Row.
pleasure with jokes at other people’s expense hasn’t changed much
since he became president. For instance, at a press conference on Aug. 24,
2001, after stumbling through an answer about his stem-cell research
policy, Bush turned to a reporter who had covered him as Texas governor.
Bush called the Texas reporter “a fine lad, fine lad,” drawing
laughter from the national press corps.
Texas reporter began to ask his question, “You talked about the need to
maintain technological …” But Bush interrupted the reporter to deliver
the punch line. “A little short on hair, but a fine lad. Yeah,” Bush
said, provoking a new round of laughter. The young reporter paused and
acknowledged meekly, “I am losing some hair.”
many of Bush’s backers find his biting humor refreshing – the sign of
a “politically incorrect” politician – some critics contend that
Bush’s clumsy use of words and off-handed insults fit with a dynastic
sense of entitlement toward the presidency.
the GOP machine has spun his elementary goofs as signs of kinship with the
Common Man, they are in fact an insult to the people,” writes Mark
Crispin Miller in The Bush
Dyslexicon. “Every bit of broken English, every flash of comfy
ignorance, reminds us of a privilege blithely squandered: Bush attended
Phillips Andover Academy, then Yale – olympian institutions that would
never have admitted him if he were not a Bush.”
continues, “Thus, in the
matter of his education, this president, despite his folksy pretense, is
something of an anti-Lincoln – one who, instead of learning eagerly in
humble circumstances, learned almost nothing at the finest institutions in
the land. When he comments on how many hands he’s ‘shaked,’ or frets
that quotas ‘vulcanize’ society, … he is, of course, flaunting not
his costly education but his disdain for it – much as some feckless
prince, with a crowd of beggars watching from the street, might take a few
bites from the feast laid out before him, then let the servants throw the
Bush’s short temper and imperious treatment of those under his power
have become hallmarks of his governing style during his two years in the
White House, according to recent accounts of insiders and others who have
dealt with him.
the new book, The Right Man,
former Bush speechwriter David Frum paints a generally flattering portrait
of Bush and his leadership skills, while acknowledging Bush’s autocratic
behavior. Bush is “impatient and quick to anger; sometimes glib, even
dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill informed; more conventional
in his thinking than a leader probably should be.”
describes environmentalists as “green-green lima beans” and has built
a White House staff with a “dearth of really high-powered brains,”
seldom heard an unexpected thought in the Bush White House or met someone
who possessed unusual knowledge,” Frum writes, adding that by comparison
the TV show, “The West Wing,” with its dialogue imbued with
sophisticated political thinking “might as well have been set aboard a
Klingon starship for all that it resembled life inside the Bush White
who drafted the phrase “axis of evil” for Bush’s State of the Union
speech in January 2002, resigned from the White House after a flap over an
e-mail that his wife sent to friends boasting of Frum’s authorship of
the phrase. Since then, Frum has defended his former boss when Bush’s
motives for starting a war with Iraq have been questioned in other
October, Frum dismissed rumblings in the British press that Bush was
engaged in a family vendetta against Saddam Hussein. Bush had brought on
this suspicion himself in September by calling Saddam a liar and adding,
“After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad,” a reference to
an alleged assassination plot against former President Bush in Kuwait in
word “vendetta” soon became common in the British press as one of the
reasons for Bush’s obsession with Saddam and Iraq. Frum tried to refute
the claim in an article he wrote in London’s Daily Telegraph. “I'll
concede that, like the others, this myth also contains its particle of
truth,” Frum wrote. But “the idea that an outburst of family pique and
pride can move the gigantic and sluggish American democracy to the edge of
war is simply - why be polite? - nuts.” [Daily Telegraph, Oct. 23, 2002]
a president who consistently shows a lack of discipline in his choice of
words creates unneeded hazards for the country.
sloppiness can have real consequences, including an erosion of
international support if war with Iraq or North Korea proves necessary.
That, in turn, can mean more danger to U.S. soldiers in the field, a
higher cost borne by U.S. taxpayers and a greater likelihood that
anti-Americanism will lead to more terrorism.
is an obvious reason why the rest of the world takes the words of a
president seriously, even if many Americans make light of Bush’s
so-called gaffes. More than any other single person, the U.S. president
has the power to wage war anywhere in the world. What presidents say and
how they say it can dampen tensions – or enflame them.
the current crisis with North Korea. Early in his administration, Bush
signaled that he wanted a harder approach toward North Korea than
President Clinton’s. But Bush and his foreign-policy team caused
confusion and anger from the start.
March 6, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that Bush would
use Clinton’s North Korea policy as a jumping-off point. “We do plan
to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton and his
administration left off,” Powell said. “Some promising elements were
left on the table, and we’ll be examining those elements.”
next day, however, Bush met with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung and
had a different policy in mind. After the meeting, Bush embarrassed Kim, a
Nobel Peace Prize winner who had promoted a “sunshine” policy toward
North Korea’s communist government. Bush declared that the U.S. would
not be resuming talks with North Korea.
not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all
agreements,” Bush said, also expressing “some skepticism about the
leader of North Korea.”
following week, on March 13, North Korea abruptly postponed meetings with
South Korea that had been planned for a few days later. Rather than
following Powell’s strategy of seeking improvements in Clinton’s
negotiated restrictions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,
Bush’s decision heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. Ever since,
the U.S.-North Korean situation has deteriorated.
than a year later, in his State of the Union address, Bush included North
Korea in the “axis of evil,” a point that raised eyebrows among some
foreign policy experts who wondered what North Korea had to do with al
Qaeda’s Sept. 11 terror attacks or, for that matter, with Iran and Iraq,
the other members of the “axis.”
the decision to include North Korea was made without consulting the State
Department and Powell, who was told about it only shortly before the
speech. On CNBC’s Hardball (now on MSNBC), Newsweek’s Howard Fineman
reported a few days after Bush’s speech that the decision to include
North Korea came at the last minute more as a way to balance the
“axis” than as well thought-out policy.
didn’t want to single out Iraq for fear that the world would expect
“daisy cutters” to start falling right away, Fineman said. Bush first
added Iran, but was then concerned that the “axis” would be perceived
as simply an anti-Islamic construct. So, Fineman said, North Korea was
included because it was not a Muslim country. [Hardball, Feb. 11, 2002]
Korea didn’t treat Bush’s memorable line as just a rhetorical
flourish, however. The Foreign Ministry called Bush’s warning “little
short of declaring a war.”
“axis of evil” speech also came about the same time as reports that
Bush had put North Korea on a list of countries that would be possible
targets of a U.S. nuclear attack. This decision, which was made in
Bush’s “nuclear posture review” sent to Congress in late 2001,
reversed Clinton’s policy against targeting non-nuclear states with
at a meeting with Republican senators last spring, Bush launched into a
disjointed, lectern-pounding tirade on issues ranging from the Sept. 11
attacks to the Crusader weapons program. Bush ended with a denunciation of
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.
starving his own people,” Bush said about Kim Jong Il. Bush compared Kim
to “a spoiled child at a dinner table” and called him a “pygmy.”
The senators were “stunned,” with one of them telling Newsweek
magazine that “it was like in church, when the sermon goes on too long
and you’re not sure what the point is. Nobody dared look at anybody
else.” [Newsweek, May 27, 2002]
interviews with Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward taped a few months
later in August 2002, Bush grew agitated again in talking about Kim Jong
Il. In Bush at War, Woodward
reported that Bush began shouting and wagging his fingers as he vented,
“I loathe Kim Jong Il — I've got a visceral reaction to this guy.”
also talked about his policy toward North Korea as part of a plan to
reorder the world, if necessary through preemptive and unilateral military
remains unclear why Bush has such a “visceral reaction” – defined as
“intensely emotional” – to Kim Jong Il, as opposed to scores of
other unsavory leaders around the world who oppress and abuse their own
people. Perhaps Bush is projecting frustration and impatience with a
situation he can't control.
Bush’s reasons, most world leaders are careful about using personal and
racially charged insults against other leaders because such comments can
complicate or even poison government-to-government relations.
the interviews with Woodward, Bush also described how he viewed his
judgments as beyond questioning. Bush said, “I am the commander, see. I
do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing
about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they
need to say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an
“fiery” and “impatient” Bush was on display again at a New
Year’s Eve question-and-answer session with reporters while Bush
vacationed at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The situation on the Korean peninsula was escalating into a
full-blown crisis as Kim Jong Il’s government renounced its 1994 nuclear
arms agreement with the Clinton administration. In the Middle East,
Bush’s showdown with Iraq was progressing toward what looked like
reporter asked Bush a simple question: “Mr. President, looking ahead
here, with a possible war with Iraq looming, North Korea nuclear conflict
[sic] as well as Osama bin Laden still at large, is the world safer as we
look ahead to 2003?”
vagueness of the question made it one of those softballs that skilled
politicians hit out of the park. It was an easy opportunity for Bush to
reassure the American people and the world that everything will turn out
just fine and that he had everything under control.
it’s a lot safer today than it was a year ago, and it’s going to be
safer after this year than it was this year because,” Bush said, “the
United States of America will continue to lead a vast coalition of freedom
loving countries to disrupt terrorist activities, to hold dictators
accountable, particularly those who ignore international norm and
as he continued to emphasize his commitment to peace, Bush suddenly veered
off into challenging the reporter. “You said we’re headed to war in
Iraq -- I don’t know why you say that. I hope we’re not headed to war
in Iraq. I’m the person who gets to decide, not you,” Bush said.
jarring comment had a whiff of megalomania to it, an echo of past royalty
when monarchs declared, “l’etat, c’est moi,” as New York Times
columnist Paul Krugman noted. [NYT, Jan. 3, 2003]
other parts of the remark raised potentially more substantive questions.
Bush’s declaration of holding dictators “accountable, particularly
those who ignore international norm,” suggests an even broader scope of
potential military interventions than had been understood from his West
Point speech in June declaring his intention of using preemptive attacks
to stop rogue states from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
sweep of Bush’s news conference language – which could apply to dozens
of world leaders including U.S. allies – recalled his open-ended
post-Sept. 11 pledge to “rid the world of evil.”
covering Bush are inclined to treat these remarks as insignificant, simply
examples of Bush’s fondness for imprecise and melodramatic rhetoric. But
these comments can have real consequences in the capitals of other
one thing for a president to challenge U.S. adversaries by speaking about
American ideals of freedom and democracy, such as President Reagan’s
famous call in Berlin to then-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. In
addressing Gorbachev rhetorically, with a deft diplomatic politeness,
Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
is altogether different to announce, off-the-cuff, a plan “to lead a
vast coalition” that will “hold dictators accountable.” The language
conveys a threat of war, especially when added to a long list of other
comments threatening preemptive strikes. Countries on Bush’s enemies
list can be expected to react accordingly. In the cases of North Korea and
Iran, that likely means a speed-up in plans to build nuclear bombs while
the U.S. is distracted by Iraq.
policy concerns, Bush's comments raise questions about whether Bush may
suffer from what psychiatrists call a narcissistic personality disorder.
This disorder has the following characteristics: arrogant, haughty
behaviors or attitudes; sense of entitlement; preoccupation with grandiose
fantasies; need for excessive admiration; a grandiose sense of
self-importance; inability to recognize or identify with feelings of
others; exploitation of others; and envy. [This definition comes from the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition.]
Whether Bush suffers from a personality disorder or not, his behavior does convey a sense that even issues of war and peace are really all about him. Commenting on the use of inspections to restrain Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Bush displayed his personal impatience. "This looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I'm not interested in watching it," Bush said at the White House on Jan. 21.
much of the North Korean crisis is attributable to Bush’s statements may
never be known. Nor is it clear how much of the swelling anti-Americanism
around the Iraq crisis comes from the world’s “visceral” reaction to
Bush. But what is increasingly clear is that Bush’s loose tongue is
adding to the many dangers now confronting the American people.
reality seems to be dawning on a growing number of Americans. The CNN-USA
Today-Gallup poll of mid-January found Bush's overall approval rating
slipping to 58 percent, down from a high of 90 percent after the Sept. 11
attacks. But more strikingly, the poll showed only 36 percent of voters in
favor of a Bush second term, with 32 percent set to vote against him and
31 percent undecided, remarkably low re-elect numbers for an incumbent.
now, however, the American public is like a passenger riding in a speeding
car with a dangerous driver. As he weaves through traffic shouting and
gesturing at other drivers on the highway, there’s not much to do but
tighten the seat belt and urge more responsible behavior. There may be no
reasonable chance to wrestle the steering wheel away without making a bad
the next time an exit ramp comes along – in, say, 2004 – a growing
number of Americans appear to be thinking about easing the driver off the
highway and into a rest area, where they can leave him behind and drive
off with a more responsible president behind the wheel.