Another Perspective

The Man Who Elected Barack Obama

Why didn't Karl Rove speak out sooner?

By 4.5.10

When I served as a Senior Speechwriter in George W. Bush's White House, Karl Rove was the bane of my existence. The rule was that no speech could ever go to the President without its first being reviewed by Mr. Rove, and since Karl was an extremely busy man, he often didn't call in his comments to the Speechwriting Office till eight or nine in the evening. By the time these comments reached me, they often seemed hopelessly cryptic and unintelligible, yet somehow I had to figure out a way to work them into my draft without offending all the other big-shots whose comments I had previously incorporated…And all the while, of course, the President was waiting for his speech.

But despite the grief he caused me, I am one of Karl Rove's biggest fans. Karl is a truly nice man -- modest, personable, and extremely approachable -- yet you couldn't spend more than five minutes with him without recognizing that you were in the presence of a towering intellect. But having just read his memoir, Courage and Consequence, I am forced to conclude that Rove, perhaps more than anyone else, was responsible for the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

Let me recount a bit of personal history by way of background. About four years ago, around the time when Democrats were heatedly charging that Bush had "lied" about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction in order to build a case for war (after all, they argued, if the weapons had existed, why weren't we able to find them after liberating Iraq?), I was having lunch with Dr. Laurie Mylroie, one of America's leading students of terrorism in general, and Iraqi terrorism in particular. Laurie was beside herself with anger. Why wasn't the Bush administration citing Gen. James Clapper, the Director of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, who said that satellite imagery proved conclusively that shortly before the war's outbreak, Iraq had transferred its weapons of mass destruction to Syria? Why wasn't it quoting Gen. Georges Sada, deputy chief of Saddam's air force, or Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's chief-of-staff, both of whom also claimed that Saddam's weapons had been transferred to Syria? Why was it so tongue-tied, so unsure of itself, so unwilling to answer its critics? Didn't anybody in the White House realize that if the Democrats' charges went unanswered, they would fatally undermine the entire case for the war?

By this time, however, I had left the White House, so I had to tell Laurie the truth: Her revelations about Generals Clapper and Sada (though not Ya'alon) were news to me, and I had no idea why the White House wasn't citing them.

Given this background, readers will understand the mixed feelings with which I reacted to Karl Rove's assertion, in a chapter entitled "Bush Was Right on Iraq," that Clapper, Sada and Ya'alon all maintained that Saddam had transferred his weapons of mass destruction to Syria on the eve of the war. On the one hand, I recalled the old saw, "Better late than never." On the other hand, I couldn't help feeling that history might have turned out differently had Karl spoken out sooner.

To his immense credit, Karl makes no effort to deny that he screwed up, big time. "So who was responsible for the failure to respond [to the Democrats' assault]?" he asks. "I was. I should have stepped forward, rung the warning bell, and pressed for full-scale response. I didn't. Preoccupied with the coming campaign and the pressures of the daily schedule in the West Wing, I did not see how damaging this assault was. There were others who could have sounded the alarm, but regardless, I should have."

Rove goes on to call the Democrats' claim that Bush lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction a "poison-tipped dagger aimed at the heart of the Bush presidency," and notes that "by July 2005 a majority of Americans -- 51 percent -- believed that Bush had deliberately misled them."

This number is quite close to the 52 percent of Americans who voted for Obama in 2008. Maybe that's just a coincidence -- but I doubt it. It seems to me that after full allowance is made for the nefarious activities of ACORNs, RINOs, and other assorted villains of the 2008 campaign, the fact remains that on the most crucial issue facing any president -- the issue of war and peace -- a majority of Americans believed that GeorgeW. Bush lied to them. Since he was leaving office, they couldn't punish Bush directly for this unforgivable sin, so they punished the Republican Party by voting for Obama. To the extent that Karl Rove -- one of the finest, ablest, most decent public servants I have ever encountered -- might have prevented all this from happening by responding more forcefully to the Democrats' blood libel, he is responsible for the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the presidency of the United States.

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About the Author

Joseph Shattan is the author of Architects of Victory: Six Heroes of the Cold War.