The Magazine

Bush I vs. Bush II

From the October 13, 2003 issue: The struggle beneath the leak controversy.

Oct 13, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 05 • By JEFFREY BELL
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JOSEPH WILSON, the retired ambassador who wants to see top Bush aide Karl Rove "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs" for allegedly "outing" his CIA-agent wife, wants us to know it's nothing personal against the Bush family. He told a C-SPAN interviewer last week of his warm relationship with former President Bush, who once described Wilson as a "truly inspiring" and "courageous" diplomat for his role in extracting potential American hostages from Baghdad in 1991.

Wilson supported the 1991 war against Iraq and vehemently opposed the war against Iraq in 2003. He joked to an interviewer that an updated version of his obituary should read, "Joseph C. Wilson IV, the Bush I administration political appointee who did the most damage to the Bush II administration . . ."

Wilson is far from unique among Bush I appointees willing to damage Bush II. And now even some current Bush appointees have joined forces with Wilson and his Bush I colleagues. There's the anonymous "senior administration official" who on September 28 in the Washington Post, fingered two "top White House officials" as shopping the status of Wilson's wife to "at least six" Washington journalists. The venom of this senior official was such that the Washington Post reporter who received the disclosure felt compelled to write, "It is rare for one Bush administration official to turn on another."

The next day's Post brought forth a very long front-page article titled, "Iraq, 9/11 Still Linked by Cheney," mainly a rehash of the pros and cons of whether a sighting in Prague of 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta could be confirmed. What was new in the article were a number of anonymous allegations by "senior and mid-level administration officials" implying the vice president and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, were obsessed with linking Iraq and 9/11. At one point, the Post describes Libby as "over the top," attributing this opinion to "other officials present" at a meeting called to discuss the draft of a U.N. speech by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Why "other officials," you might ask? Because "several administration officials" also present believed that Libby, far from acting "over the top," was merely supplying "the broadest range of options" for inclusion in Powell's speech.

The elephantine effort that went into producing this journalistic mouse is intimately related to the controversy over the outing of Ambassador Wilson's wife. The Bush I and Bush II views of the world, always at odds, have reached their inevitable point of maximum conflict, which is their view of regime change in Iraq and its relationship to the rest of global politics. Colin Powell is the constant in the two Bush administrations, opposed to overthrowing Saddam Hussein in both eras. As secretary of defense, Dick Cheney acquiesced in the first decision, then switched to the side of regime change in Bush II. A convert and hero in the Bush II view of Iraq and the world, the vice president is the great betrayer in the Bush I view, which explains the rage so many Bush I adherents feel toward him, as well as the elaborate effort to discredit him and his top aides and allies. From either viewpoint, Bush I or Bush II, Cheney is the pivotal figure.

There are huge stakes in which view of Iraq prevails. Among these is the historical legacy of Bush I no less than of Bush II.

The Bush II view of the world is that 9/11 ignited a world war between the United States and a radical political offshoot of Islamic fundamentalism, often called Islamism. Islamists have already proven their willingness to murder vast numbers of American noncombatants, which makes their connection, or potential connection, with anti-American rogue states a special danger. Deeply anti-American rogue states, including non-Islamist ones like Saddam's Iraq and North Korea, logically become an important target of American war strategy.

Bush II also has a political strategy, based on its analysis of the enemy. It argues that Islamism thrives on the chronic inability of the Islamic world to separate religion from politics. It therefore believes that, even more than economic growth, the establishment of constitutional democracy in Islamic countries provides a reasonable hope of ending or at least eroding the political base of violent Islamism. Hence the importance of U.S. efforts to foster liberal democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as encourage democratic reforms among friendly Islamic governments ranging from Indonesia to Morocco. This is why the Bush II vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace is firmly linked to post-Arafat democratic reforms by the Palestinian Authority.