I know what you are thinking: Bush’s biggest mistake was invading Iraq. After all the war has cost at least $250 billion, the lives of over 2000 American soldiers and likely at least 10,000 Iraqi lives. Even the Bush Administration admits the intelligence it used to justify the war was flawed. What could be a bigger mistake than this?
However, this was not Bush’s biggest mistake. In time, it will be clear that his biggest mistake was choosing Dick Cheney as his vice president. By doing so, he opened a Pandora’s Box. He gave the neoconservatives the power and influence they had worked so hard to acquire, but which saner Republicans had steadfastly denied them.
As the CEO President, Bush was content to let others do the thinking for him. He delegated much of his strategic thinking to Dick Cheney. Cheney has the wile that Bush lacked. Cheney was a well connected Washington insider. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, he was someone his father would not have picked. (Bush’s presidential run was primarily an exercise to prove he could out top his Dad.) Because Cheney ran his 2000 election campaign, he was someone Bush felt he knew intimately and trusted. It is now widely understood that Bush values a personal relationship with someone far more than criteria like intelligence or competence. Consequently, we got the odd choice of Harriet Miers as a nominee for justice of the Supreme Court. Yet she had never argued a case in court. In fact, she spent much her time in the White House acting as Bush’s legal secretary. Since Cheney knew he was trusted and knew Bush’s character weaknesses, Cheney positioned himself to exploit them.
It was Dick Cheney who proposed much of Bush’s cabinet, including many of the choices for the people that would form WHIG: the White House Iraq Group. He ensured that neoconservatives were in charge across the key positions in the federal government. The only major exception was Colin Powell, who was picked as Secretary of State. Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense and Paul Wolfowitz as his deputy shared Cheney’s belief in a new world controlled by the power of the United States military. Also sharing his vision was Condoleeza Rice, who became Bush’s National Security Adviser. Except for Powell, there were no dissenting voices on the Iraq invasion that had Bush’s inner ear. Moreover, Cheney was clever enough to make sure that Bush’s relationship with Powell remained superficial. He also ensured that Powell was effectively marginalized in his State Department role. In fact, he moved the levers of power so that agencies like Defense took on many traditional State Department functions. After Powell left office, Rice slid into his spot, giving the neoconservatives complete control of all aspects of foreign policy. Also part of WHIG: I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, indicted today on obstruction of justice, making a false statement and perjury.
If the debacle of the Iraq war were not enough, Cheney (ably assisted by political advisor Karl Rove) quite deliberately and quickly pushed Bush away from the edge of the Republican mainstream into the extreme. Bush’s promise to govern as a compassionate conservative and to consider the opinions of both parties quickly gave way to a different reality: to ruthlessly use the levers of power to reward their friends. The result has been nothing less than the looting of the United States government. All pretense of fiscal responsibility melted away. After all, Dick Cheney reputedly said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”. Therefore, no tax cut was too large, and no spending that promoted Republican interests was off the table.
Neoconservatism has now become an unstoppable force that is likely to destroy what is left of this administration. It will also likely return Democrats to power in both Congress and the White House by 2008. For now, the lunatics are still running the asylum. With no credibility left, his ratings in the toilet and his top officials under suspicion or indictment the vultures are circling George W. Bush. It turns out that Bush himself is irrelevant. In fact, he has now been deliberately marginalized. Bush became a means to an end, just another neoconservative and social conservative fair weather friend. Apparently, Bush did not look into their souls with sufficient clarity. Now when Bush has second thoughts and chooses to nominate someone who could turn out to be reasonably mainstream, like Harriet Miers, he will not succeed. By putting his trust in precisely the wrong people, he has allowed himself to be manipulated and has no real way to assert his own authority. All he can do is react and do what his masters tell him to do. The neoconservatives are now in charge both in the White House, and the social conservatives now rule in the Congress. If Bush were to nominate someone that might appear to be mainstream, he would be marginalized even more.
Mission accomplished. Unfortunately, it was not Bush’s mission that was accomplished, it was the neoconservatives desire to control the government and the social conservatives desire to stack the courts with known conservative commodities. Bush was their means to an end. No one will accuse the neoconservatives with not being focused on their ultimate goals. They are myopic about them and ruthless in getting them accomplished. Similarly, social conservatives are also fair weather friends. They are with you as long as you are with them on their issues, otherwise they will lash out and cut you off in a heartbeat.
The neoconservatives’ Achilles Heel is that they have a hard time seeing outside their own jaundiced view of the world. It is supremely ironic that of all the people to bring them down it will be Patrick Fitzgerald, the special counsel who issued today’s indictment against Scooter Libby. He is likely to issue more indictments in the days and weeks ahead. Appointing a partisan prosecutor, the Democratic equivalent of Ken Starr, simply would not have worked. However, Fitzgerald is a prosecutor without peer: dogged, incredibly intelligent, apolitical yet obsessively fair minded. His part may seem small in the larger picture, but he is to this administration what Eliot Ness was to Al Capone. Interested only in the truth, Fitzgerald is the primary and unintended change agent that will return our government to its people.
It is no wonder that Republicans so fear him. Fitzgerald will give exposure to their cover-ups and their lies. Through him America will finally understand just how egregiously corrupt this administration is and how their pockets have been so thoroughly picked. By exposing the WHIG’s poorly executed and politically naïve attempt to discredit Joe Wilson, he also exposes their whole deceptive network where the ends always justify the means.
As for Bush, his presidency is over. He still has three more years until he leaves office, but he might as well put the “Vacancy” sign on the White House door. So why not spend the rest of his time in office at his Prairie Ranch in Crawford, Texas? For the ultimate irony is that while he permitted those under him to rape our country, he was raped as well. He has been used and abused. He is like the good but naïve wife who refuses to believe that her husband is a wife beater. Nothing remains but the hollow shell of a man with no real friends and no influence. He is a chump, a mere leapfrog.
If there were any real spine in George W. Bush now would be the time for him to instigate a purge. He should purge every neoconservative from his government and appoint mainstream Republicans like Christine Todd Whitman in their place. By doing so, he might yet redeem himself in the eyes of history. However, this will not happen. For Bush has always been an empty shell. He has always been someone’s puppet. He has always been bravado. He clings to his pseudo friends. With no experience in real leadership, there is nothing to do but play the neoconservative game and pretend that he is not being controlled. Yet at least while he is being controlled, he maintains the illusion that what he says still matters. And for Bush, that matters the most.
We can hope that Fitzgerald will eventually fully expose this hydra. In time, Cheney will be exposed as its biggest head and hopefully be shamed into resignation. (Since he holds a constitutional office, the only other way to remove him is through impeachment.) Today’s indictment of Scooter Libby is the first step.