Response

The George W. Bush Administration Still Lives in a World of Make-Believe

A recent review of my biography of President Bush reaffirms the arguments it seeks to dispute.

USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, AT SEA:  (FILES) This 01 May 2003 file photo shows US President George W. Bush (C) waving after landing in a US Navy S-3B Viking jet piloted by Commander John Lussier (R) on the USS Abraham Lincoln as the aircraft carrier sails for Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. Three years after his famous photo-op before a banner hailing "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, US President George W. Bush on 01 May 2006 declared that the war-torn country had finally turned a corner in establishing security and democracy.  AFP PHOTO/Stephen JAFFE  (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, AT SEA: (FILES) This 01 May 2003 file photo shows US President George W. Bush (C) waving after landing in a US Navy S-3B Viking jet piloted by Commander John Lussier (R) on the USS Abraham Lincoln as the aircraft carrier sails for Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California. Three years after his famous photo-op before a banner hailing "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq, US President George W. Bush on 01 May 2006 declared that the war-torn country had finally turned a corner in establishing security and democracy. AFP PHOTO/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Will Inboden’s recent review of my biography of George W. Bush illustrates the Bush administration’s ability to live in a world of make-believe. The errors he claims to have found in the biography exist not in the book but in his review.

Inboden begins by asserting that the conversation between Bush and French President Jacques Chirac on the eve of the Iraq war, in which Bush claimed the coming war was a battle against Gog and Magog before the final judgment, never took place. He also claims the source I cite, Kurt Eichenwald’s 500 Days, is by a partisan journalist “without any sourcing.”

Inboden is wrong on both counts. Eichenwald explicitly cites the article describing the role played by professor Thomas Römer, the biblical scholar at the University of Lausanne, who was consulted by Chirac’s office to interpret Bush’s remarks. The article is titled “George W. Bush et la Code Ezéchiel” and was published in Allez Savoir, the official journal of the University of Lausanne, in September 2007.

More importantly, Chirac himself confirmed the conversation in an interview with Jean-Claude Maurice, who was writing a book about Chirac. Maurice’s book, Si vous le répétez, je démentirai: Chirac, Sarkozy, Villepin (Paris: Plon, 2009), quotes Chirac at length about the discussion. Chirac said he was stupefied by Bush’s invocation of biblical prophecy and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Inboden’s denial of this incident sets the pace for his review, which is simply another attempt to rewrite history on Bush’s behalf.

Inboden’s next attack is on my attribution of the statement “We make our own reality” to Karl Rove. The statement appeared in a 2004 New York Times Magazine article by Ron Suskind, who attributed it to an “unnamed Administration official.” The journalist Mark Danner later said it came from “‘Bush’s Brain’ — for the unnamed official speaking to Suskind is widely known to have been none other than the selfsame architect of the aircraft-carrier moment, Karl Rove.” Danner is correct, and writers since have attributed the comment to Rove.

And so it goes. Inboden believes Bush’s war with Iraq has made America safer. He seems unaware that it was Bush who unilaterally changed the purpose of the war in Iraq when he announced on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln that we were going to bring democracy to Iraq. That instead of being liberators we were going to become occupiers. The military had not prepared for this, and neither had Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or Secretary of State Colin Powell. Diplomat Paul Bremer was named to head the occupation, the Baath Party was outlawed, the Iraqi Army dissolved, and the leadership council abolished. Bremer reported directly to the White House, and the progress that had been made toward restoring order was swept away. This was a personal decision made by Bush, facilitated by the White House staff, and the results have been horrendous.

Inboden attempts to place Bush in the same category as other presidents who often cited God in their public statements. All presidents do that. But Bush is the president who believed he was God’s agent put on Earth to destroy evil.

Overall, Inboden’s review represents an attempt to rewrite history based on Bush’s predilections. Bush was not America’s worst president, but the crises we face today because of the Islamic State are a direct result of his having led us to war unnecessarily. I have said elsewhere that the war in Iraq is the worst foreign policy decision ever made by an American president, and I see no reason to alter that assessment after reading Inboden’s review.

Photo credit: STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images

Jean Edward Smith was a member of the faculty at the University of Toronto for thirty-five years, and at Marshall University for twelve. He has also been a visiting scholar at Columbia, Princeton, and Georgetown. He is the author of "Bush," a biography of George W. Bush.

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