This season’s “24” may not be an intentional case
of art imitating life. But there are striking similarities between the
fictional President Charles Logan and President George W. Bush – as well
as in the dilemma the nation faces containing the damage caused by an
in-over-his-head Chief Executive.
But there are differences, too. In the “24” plot,
counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) turns over
evidence to Defense Secretary James Heller in a bid to thwart President
Logan. In real America, a half dozen retired generals call for the
resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld when the preponderance
of blame should land on Bush.
The real-life generals fault Rumsfeld for invading
Iraq without a coherent strategy for achieving a reasonable result,
without sufficient force levels to secure the country, and without
enough body armor and protective vehicles for U.S. troops to withstand
the favorite insurgent tactic of using improvised explosive devices
Some of the retired generals also say the stalemate
in Iraq – and the anger it has stirred throughout the Middle East – have
undermined the global war on terrorism.
“I do not believe Secretary Rumsfeld is the right
person to fight that war based on his absolute failures in managing the
war against Saddam (Hussein) in Iraq,” retired Maj. Gen. Charles H.
Swannack Jr. told the New York Times. [NYT, April 14, 2006]
In seeking Rumsfeld’s ouster, Swannack joined five
other retired generals who all served in the Bush administration: Maj.
Gen. Paul D. Eaton, Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, Maj. Gen. John Batiste,
Maj. Gen. John Riggs, and Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni. So far, Bush has
refused to consider replacing Rumsfeld.
The revolt of the generals also reveals broader
fears about Bush’s proclivity to use the military to resolve tricky
diplomatic problems. Bush, who like many of his top advisers avoided
military service in Vietnam, tends to see the world in cinematic
black-and-white – “good versus evil” – rather than in the subtler grays
of real life.
In an essay in Time magazine, Gen. Newbold said the
decision to invade Iraq, a country peripheral to the War on Terror,
“was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of
those who have never had to execute these missions – or bury the
dated April 15, 2006]
But beyond the retired generals’ disgust over how
the Iraq War was waged, their extraordinary complaints have another
unstated subtext – the Pentagon’s growing alarm over Bush’s rapidly
advancing plans for attacking Iran. Those plans reportedly include an
option for using tactical nuclear weapons.
As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reported in
The New Yorker, a number of senior U.S. officers are troubled by
administration war planners who believe “bunker-busting” tactical
nuclear weapons, known as B61-11s, are the only way to destroy Iran’s
nuclear facilities buried deep underground.
“Every other option, in the view of the nuclear
weaponeers, would leave a gap,” a former senior intelligence official
told Hersh. “‘Decisive’ is the key word of the Air Force’s planning.
It’s a tough decision. But we made it in Japan.”
This former official said the White House has
refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections
from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Whenever anybody tries to get it out,
they’re shouted down,” the ex-official told Hersh. [New
Yorker, dated April 17, 2006]
Indeed, the six retired generals may have
demonstrated as much frankness as can be expected in seeking Rumfeld’s
resignation. In Washington, political scapegoating is a time-honored
tradition because demanding that the President take responsibility for
national catastrophes is often viewed as too extreme or too disruptive.
So, instead of fingering Bush and other policy
architects like Vice President Dick Cheney, the retired generals have
pointed toward Rumsfeld for removal. Some pundits, such as the
Washington Post’s David Ignatius, have urged Bush to demonstrate
bipartisanship by replacing Rumsfeld with a pro-war Democrat like Sen.
Joe Lieberman or a centrist Republican like Sen. Chuck Hagel.
But that likelihood appears slim. Some longtime
Washington observers believe Bush wouldn’t dare put an outsider at the
Pentagon now because the newcomer would have to be briefed on too many
secrets: about the Iraq War, the torture guidelines, the warrantless
spying on Americans, and more.
An independent-minded person might blow the
whistle. So, Bush may see little choice but to tough it out with his
veteran team, hoping to withstand any challenges to his power and the
secrecy that surrounds it.
While fending off bloody setbacks in Iraq and
weighing even greater risks in Iran, Bush also is facing investigations
into his own actions.
Bush is implicated in what special prosecutor
Patrick Fitzgerald has deemed a “concerted” effort by the White House to
“discredit, punish or seek revenge against” former Ambassador Joseph
Wilson for criticizing Bush’s pre-war deceptions about Iraq seeking
enriched uranium from Niger.
Bush has acknowledged that he declassified
intelligence secrets in June 2003 so they could be leaked to chosen
reporters for the purpose of discrediting Wilson. That initiative led to
the public disclosure that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA
officer who had been working undercover on projects to prevent the
spread of unconventional weapons.
While Bush has not been directly implicated in
leaking Plame’s identity, he did join the cover-up when the Plame case
exploded into a scandal in September 2003. Though Bush knew a great deal
about how the anti-Wilson scheme got started – since he was involved in
starting it – he uttered misleading public statements to conceal the
White House role.
“If there is a leak out of my administration, I
want to know who it is,”
Bush said on Sept. 30, 2003. “I want to know the truth. If anybody
has got any information inside our administration or outside our
administration, it would be helpful if they came forward with the
information so we can find out whether or not these allegations are true
and get on about the business.”
At that moment, as Bush was professing his
curiosity and calling for anyone with information to step forward, he
was withholding the fact that he had authorized the declassification of
some secrets on the Niger uranium issue and ordered those secrets to be
given to reporters to undercut Wilson.
But Bush acted like he had no information that
would be helpful to investigators. Bush played dumb in a performance
that fans of “24” might have expected from the devious President Logan.
In fall 2003, Bush might still have felt he could
get away with the deception because the Plame case was being handled by
Attorney General John Ashcroft. But in late 2003, Ashcroft was forced to
recuse himself because of his close White House ties. The investigation
was turned over to Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney in Chicago.
A few months later, as Fitzgerald intensified the
investigation, Bush quietly hired a personal criminal attorney, James
Sharp, who then accompanied the President to a 70-minute interview with
Fitzgerald on June 24, 2004.
Though not under oath, Bush would have opened
himself to charges of making false statements to a federal investigator
and obstructing justice if he repeated the deceptive comments he made
publicly in September 2003. Those crimes can be felonies and potentially
But if Bush told Fitzgerald the full truth in June
2004, the President would have to acknowledge that he made false and
misleading statements several months earlier. Then, if Bush’s deposition
had leaked before the November 2004 election, his campaign might have
been swamped in the scandal of him lying to the American people.
So there was a possible motive for Bush to continue
with his misleading comments. After the closed-door interview between
Bush and Fitzgerald, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “No one
wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President does.”
To this day, however, Bush has refused to divulge
what he told Fitzgerald on the grounds that there’s an ongoing
investigation, even though – as a witness – he is not bound by the
demands of secrecy that apply to the prosecutor.
In the latter half of 2004, Fitzgerald concentrated
on compelling the cooperation of key journalists who had received leaks
about Plame’s identity. That strategy did not bear fruit until well
after Bush had secured a second term through the closely fought Election
Almost a full year later, in October 2005, Fitzgerald indicted
Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby on five counts of perjury, false
statements and obstruction of justice – for allegedly lying about his
role in leaking Plame’s identity to reporters.
Other details about Libby's grand jury testimony did not surface
until April 2006, when Fitzgerald disclosed in a court filing that Libby
claimed he met with those reporters only on orders from Bush and Cheney.
That led to new questions about the roles of the President and Vice
If Fitzgerald ever decides that Bush and Cheney also broke the law,
his options include referring them to the House Judiciary Committee for
impeachment proceedings. Yet, despite the evidence that Bush sought to
confuse investigators with his misleading public statements in 2003,
Fitzgerald appears to be shying away from a constitutional crisis.
But it’s unclear what the next twists and turns in this political
drama might be.
As in the fictional world of “24,” when presidential wrongdoing is
indicated, most U.S. officials bend over backwards and look the other
way, rather than accept the possibility that the President of the United
States is a criminal and/or a threat to national security.
But President Bush appears to have one other clear advantage over
President Logan. In real life, there’s no Jack Bauer digging out the