Friday, June 18, 2004

Asleep at the Wheel?

The biggest disappointment one feels with the Bush administration is its utter inability or unwillingness to explain or defend the positions it takes and the policies it pursues. If Bush loses in November it will be in large part, perhaps, because, despite all the good things happening in Iraq, despite all the positive news about the economy, a depressing number of voters still think that Iraq is in chaos and the economy is in the tank. It's possible, of course, to blame a mendacious media and an apathetic citizenry for much of this ignorance, but the presidency is not without resources. The administration could be doing far more than it is to make it all but impossible for the media to ignore their message. Instead the White House acts as if their successes are none of our business. See this article by Robert Kaplan in the WSJ for an excellent account of Marine operations in Fallujah and his perplexity at the administration's failure to inform the American public about it.

Now comes the 9/11 commission report and the media make it sound as if the document is an indictment of the president's rationale for going into Iraq in the first place. The commission has found no connection, we are told, between Iraq and 9/11, thus undercutting one of the chief reasons Bush gave for toppling Saddam. The problem with this is that Bush never, as far as anyone has been able to determine, said that Iraq was somehow connected to 9/11, so it is strange that the commission thinks this statement was necessary. What Bush did say was that Iraq supported terrorists and terrorism which seems pretty clearly true since there was a terrorist training facility at Salmon Pak and since several major terrorists had taken refuge in Iraq including Abu Nidal and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bush's spokespersons also claimed that Saddam was involved with al Qaida, but they never said that Saddam was directly complicit in the 9/11 attack.

Nevertheless, the media, who themselves seem intellectually incapable of distinguishing between having a relationship with al Qaida and being directly involved in the specific acts of terrorism they perpetrate, is allowed to create the impression that somehow the 9/11 commission has shown the Bush administration to have been once again either dishonest or incompetent or both. The White House response to this absurd mangling of the truth is little more than a rhetorical yawn.

For an excellent analysis of the 9/11 commission's report check out the entire day's worth of posts for June 17 at Power Line. The last post in the queue has this remarkable statement which perfectly captures the frustration that a lot of conservatives must be feeling right now:

"Given that the Republicans ostensibly control both houses of Congress, I can't explain why the Sept. 11 commission and its staff consist mostly of Democratic Party operatives. But that isn't the real problem; the real problem is that President Bush is passive and inarticulate, and his administration is pathologically unable to engage in debate. The staff report is a juicy target--what movie is it where a soldier rides between rows of watermelons set on sticks, slicing them off with his sword?--but no one in the Bush administration has the courage or skill to stand up for the administration's policies. So, as always, the administration will keep its head down and try to weather another storm, hoping to slide its nose over the finish line in November. That really isn't good enough."

George Bush has been an excellent leader in many ways, but a big part of leadership is constantly reminding the troops, in this case the voters, of what the mission is, explaining why that mission is necessary, and how the mission is progressing. We're evidently a nation of people who need a lot of reminding. The apparent apathy in this administration about what the average American is hearing about the two issues which most commentators think will decide the election, Iraq and the economy, is astonishing and made all the more appalling and exasperating by the fact that the alternative to Bush is so dismal.