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Binocular Vision

Sep
13
2004

In a nice bit of companion journalism — they certainly didn’t mean to do it, they’re competitors — The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly get at the heart of what’s wrong with the Bush Administration.
In The Atlantic, James Fallows who began his career as a military and defense writer has been consistently good at doing what – before Microsoft, Mort Zuckerman and The Industry Standard – he does best. Explaining strategy, trade-offs and military management in clear tones. Here’s the deal on Iraq and Afghanistan: Two-front wars are almost impossible to manage. It’s not an original insight and Fallows doesn’t belabor the point but the story everyone on the web is reading is, indeed, worth your time. Maybe someone in the John Kerry campaign will wake up, read it and steal a few pointers.


The Kerry folks and their struggle to find ways for the Democratic nominee to go after the President might also want to take a look at Al Gore’s comments to New Yorker editor David Remnick. As a rule, I don’t think editors should write; they’re conflicted. It makes them snooty. But few people these days write with this kind of eye for detail and few editors have the patience, the insight or the space for this sort of nuance in their magazines. Remnick, of course, edits The New Yorker and in this case he gave himself all the time and space he needed. It is, by the way, Gore’s first formal interview since the campaign season began.
Here’s Gore, talking to Remnick about Bush:
“The real distinction of this Presidency is that, at its core, he is a very weak man. He projects himself as incredibly strong, but behind closed doors he is incapable of saying no to his biggest financial supporters and his coalition in the Oval Office. He’s been shockingly malleable to Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and the whole New American Century bunch. He was rolled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was too weak to resist it.
“I’m not of the school that questions his intelligence,” Gore went on. “There are different kinds of intelligence, and it’s arrogant for a person with one kind of intelligence to question someone with another kind. He certainly is a master at some things, and he has a following. He seeks strength in simplicity. But, in today’s world, that’s often a problem. I don’t think that he’s weak intellectually. I think that he is incurious. It’s astonishing to me that he’d spend an hour with his incoming Secretary of the Treasury and not ask him a single question. But I think his weakness is a moral weakness. I think he is a bully, and, like all bullies, he’s a coward when confronted with a force that he’s fearful of. His reaction to the extravagant and unbelievably selfish wish list of the wealthy interest groups that put him in the White House is obsequious. The degree of obsequiousness that is involved in saying ‘yes, yes, yes, yes, yes’ to whatever these people want, no matter the damage and harm done to the nation as a whole—that can come only from genuine moral cowardice. I don’t see any other explanation for it, because it’s not a question of principle. The only common denominator is each of the groups has a lot of money that they’re willing to put in service to his political fortunes and their ferocious and unyielding pursuit of public policies that benefit them at the expense of the nation.”

Of course, I like this quote because it confirms what I’ve been thinking about the fear that runs, like ice water through sand through this administration’s oh-so-strong men. It’s nice to know I’ve got such high-falutin’ company. But I also think Gore’s insight – which is pretty fair-handed when you think about all that’s gone on between the two men and their campaigns – underscores the thesis that Fallows lays out: By noon on 9/11/01, the Bush Administration had decided to go to war with Iraq. Nothing and no one could have stood in their way. And a weak president faced with a cadre of aggressive and tightly organized war-mongers was in no shape to steer another course.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 1:08 PM | Permalink

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