Mike Wallace, wincing in pain, and looking heavenward with mock contempt, asked Bob Woodward about George Bush’s conviction that he has a religious duty to “free people.” What an absurd notion, registered Wallace’s face.
JFK-era liberals like Wallace normally knock Republican presidents for not helping people, for not “bearing every burden” of the world. But Bush’s humanitarianism isn’t up to snuff for the self-appointed humanitarians of the left. Wallace’s cynical heavenward glance suggests why: Bush’s motivation for freeing people isn’t sufficiently secular. It grates on them that duty to God — rather than duty to the U.N. or some humanist creed — motivates Bush’s humanitarianism. One couldn’t imagine Mike Wallace asking Bob Woodward incredulously, why does Kofi Annan think he has a duty to help free people from tyranny? But Wallace asked Woodward that about Bush simply because Bush is religious and religion and humanitarianism are an obvious contradiction no enlightened person could entertain. Humanitarianism must be left to liberal humanists who alone know how to “free people.”
Woodward played up the Bush and religion angle too, noting that Bush said to him that he sought guidance during his meditations on whether to go to war not from his earthly father, but from his eternal “father” in heaven. Apparently we are supposed to be troubled by this. But few people outside of Wallace’s and Woodward’s neighborhoods will be.
Judging from the interview, Woodward didn’t come up with much in his book, unless you consider it shocking that the U.S. government pursues diplomacy and war planning simultaneously and uses congressional funds to plan for the event of war. Or that Bush didn’t consider Colin Powell worth consulting during crunch time. Woodward had to fall back on faked-up melodrama to gin up interest in his book, such as when he said Powell asked a question of Bush in a “somewhat chilly way.” Not only did Powell ask Bush a question in a “somewhat chilly way,” but at one point he was “semi-despondent,” according to Woodward.
Colin Powell, good. Dick Cheney, evil. That was the unassailable assumption running through Wallace and Woodward’s bantering. Clearly Cheney was up to no good. He was in a “fever” to get Hussein, Woodward heard from Powell. Contrary to his image, Cheney apparently suffers from a surfeit of passion. Powell, on the other hand, is an oracle of wisdom, coolly applying a “Pottery Barn” principle to Iraq that impressed Woodward with its lucidity: you break it, you buy it. Wallace’s identification with Powell was so total that he seemed aggrieved for Powell that he had been cut out of the war planning. “Are you serious?” gasped Wallace after Woodward said that Powell was told tardily about the decision to go to war.
It is good to know for future reference that liberals now consider it imprudent and naive for presidents to help foreigners suffering under tyrannies. Republican presidents will have to remember that the next time the left demands they intervene somewhere. Wallace, suddenly a strict constructionist, even combed the Constitution for Bush’s duty to free the people of Iraq. Wallace couldn’t find it in there.
The interview fit the liberal script pretty well. But Woodward let down the team at one point, noting Bush’s shrewd skepticism about the CIA’s Weapons of Mass Destruction evidence. Woodward seemed to go out of his way to say that George Tenet had blown it at key moments, assuring Bush that the existence of WMDs was “a slam dunk case” even as Bush wondered if the evidence was ironclad. When the CIA visited the White House and showed Bush satellite photography suggesting the existence of WMDs, Bush, according to Woodward, wasn’t satisfied, telling the briefer in effect “nice try” but that he wanted a higher standard of proof.
Woodward’s determination to embarrass Tenet on this point was curious. Did Tenet not cooperate with Woodward enough on the book? Woodward was so busy embarrassing Tenet that it appeared for a moment Bush wasn’t rushing to war.