If ever a guy came in for a pasting from the media, it was this guy. Remember him? You probably do. You’re probably unlikely to forget him, but it may be for all the wrong reasons.
I have to say this: all through the George W. Bush presidency I came in for flak from just about everyone I knew for daring to state that I didn’t think we could possibly have a clear picture of the inner workings of his Administration. While all around me people called him names and questioned everything from his intelligence to his integrity, I always figured the truth might turn out to be quite different.
Well, because the business of leadership is enormously complex as it is, but when you have an added helping of a first-strike declaration of war against you, it doesn’t get any easier. When all the choices before you are lousy, you still have to pick one.
The military likes to say that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, and the same is true with every statement of policy and every subsequent adjustment. So sometimes just doing something is better than asking for yet another round of opinions.
The question to my mind was never whether the invasion of Iraq was right or wrong, or the response to Katrina was effective and fast. The question I wanted answered was: what was the information they were acting on?
I mean we’d have to agree that they didn’t exactly nail it on either of those counts. Both situations got out of control, costing lives, billions of dollars and damaging American prestige.
But what’s interesting to me is how one of the most hackneyed tropes of modern business, that failure is a good thing because it at least follows on from an action, rarely applies in politics. You screw up there, and you get nailed for it forever.
Not that the invasion of Iraq to prevent it from using WMDs it turned out not to have is the same as the failed market-testing of New Coke … but at least the invasion was based on strong intelligence that Iraq posed a real threat where the Coke thing was just about making fat pockets even fatter.
But I digress. I’m almost done reading Decision Points by George W. Bush and like all good political memoirs, it is surprising and refreshing for the honesty and for the depth of storytelling; in this case of the most crucial parts of one of the most controversial presidencies of all time.
And this I can say with confidence: I was right. You were all wrong. Unsurprisingly, none of the simple black and white facts that got printed with such vigour and such venom turned out to be quite so black and white … and the decision-making was far from idiotic, reckless or selfish.
The jury remains out …