October 04, 2003


The Professor explains various facts to The Sydney Morning Herald. While we’re on the subject of getting things wrong, congratulations to the White House staff for their deep research into Australia.

Two weird columns today from Mike Carlton and Phillip Adams. Let’s look first at Mad Mike:

One Santo Santoro, a self-important neophyte Liberal senator from Queensland, has appointed himself the new tormentor of the ABC.

Under freedom of information legislation he has paid his $30 and demanded to see all its editorial directives concerning the Iraq war, asylum seekers and the "Pacific solution", and Australia's relationships with the US and Britain.

After much waste of time and public money, the ABC sent him the stuff on Wednesday. I fear he will be greatly disappointed. It amounts to no more than a small handful of innocuous foolscap pages.

Yes, but what do those pages contain, Mike? As Carlton has doubtless often been reassured, size -- at least in issues such as these -- isn’t important. We await details of the ABC documents. Now for Adams:

The world’s greatest power is led by someone ill equipped to run a doughnut franchise. The thought that this monumental mediocrity is the most powerful man on Earth will reassure Bush’s Christian fundamentalist followers that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution is utterly wrong. Descended from apes? TheUS President hasn’t descended at all.

But don’t take my word for it. Read Bush at War, by Bob Woodward ... Woodward’s efforts, quite inadvertently, are as devastating an indictment of the incumbent as his Washington Post work was of Tricky Dicky. If there were ever a case for impeachment, you’d find it in Bush at War.

Adams supports his case by quoting Bush at War ... not once. Maybe he hasn’t read it yet.

Posted by Tim Blair at October 4, 2003 10:18 AM

That's quite odd. Woodward was criticized by some liberals here for a softball book on Bush and the Administration. I didn't read it but there were excerpts in the Washington Post and Bush and his team did come off quite well.

Pretty jejune work, as far as I can tell. No shocking revelations.


Posted by: SteveMG at October 4, 2003 at 11:19 AM

I followed the links, via the Bunyip and Andrew Sullivan and was able to glance over the David Kay Interim report on the search for WMD. Interesting stuff. Possibly the scariest section of that report went as follows:

A prison laboratory complex, possibly used in human testing of BW agents, that Iraqi officials working to prepare for UN inspections were explicitly ordered not to declare to the UN.

Posted by: TimT at October 4, 2003 at 11:43 AM

Polish Troops Find New French Missiles in Iraq

Posted by: Gary at October 4, 2003 at 12:39 PM

Hey, don't knock the Phat Boy. It's not his fault his standard of franchise manager is so high.

He just takes his doughnuts more seriously than the rest of us.

Posted by: donnyc at October 4, 2003 at 01:04 PM

I'm reading _Bush at War_ now. I'm up to page 92 of 356.

I would agree that anyone who wants to talk about what the Americans and what they're doing in this war should read this book. It's unambitious and down to earth. It describes what happened in the White House and wherever Bush was from 11 September 2001 on, and it's mundane stuff. There's a speech and a meeting, and people wonder about various things, and there's another meeting, and these guys say this and these guys say that, and the president calls a break and hits the gym, and those guys go for a ride in a golf cart and so on. There's only so much time in each day, and just to pull things together so that there is an overall policy is a hard task.

The last paragraph I've read is this:
"Powell and Rumsfeld left Camp David, but most of the others and their spouses stayed over for dinner. Rice led the group in a sing-along of American standards including "Old Man River," "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," and "America the Beautiful." The president spent some time at a table nearby, joining others trying to assemble an elaborate wooden jigsaw puzzle."

I like this book a lot, because it's a realistic corrective to the paranoid and abstract view of the White House where "sinister forces" operate master plans for various evil purposes: seizing the world's oil resources, ending civil liberties and permanently excluding the American Democratic Party, inflicting structures of world domination and so on.

This is just people. They're a bunch of people who've all struggled up somewhere near the top of a very tall and greasy pole, and now they're in a situation they didn't expect to be in, where brutal reality has made hash of the smooth routines they would have liked to stick to. And by default, they are very far from being all of one mind as to how to react to that.

A strong motive that comes through a lot is fear of recrimination: oh no, we did nothing much about Osama and he's hit us, now what will people say if we do nothing much about Saddam, knowing how bad he is, and he hits us too?

Yet if you try to do too much too soon, you can easily have a fiasco in another way, and there are lots of ways that has been done. One word: Vietnam. So people are striving not to be utter coneheads, in an environment where it's tough to not subsequently be seen as having blundered egregiously.

Also, the American President may be in a situation where he needs all the help he can get - a plan, an idea, even just something to say in public - and he can go round the table and get careful, delicately worded answers from everyone, designed to make them look good, advance their personal agendas and avoid professional risk. It must be a lonely job sometimes.

That gave me a more realistic picture of what to expect from the White House in this war. Common sense is the maximum, not the minimum that we can hope for. If George W. Bush can just keep the American machine moving in a sensible and coordinated fashion for a few more years, just keep it focused on the task rather than sinking into confusion, inertia and the muddled motives and preconceptions of the various players, I'll be ready to buy a George W. Bush action figure and pay it divine honors.

It's true Bush doesn't come across as the star of _Bush at War_. Colin Powell does: he's the brightest, calmest, wisest, most interesting person there. Bush by contrast comes off as not much of a thinker, emotionally reactive and so on. He's more notable for his frequent prayers and his assiduous weight training than for having any actual clues.

Except this clue: he knows his limitations. He tries to work round them and get the job done, because he knows the job is bigger than him.

Woodward's picture of Bush isn't really negative at all. Nobody comes across as the great villain, at least so far. (Well, Rumsfeld comes across as a dislikeable guy.)

Bob Woodward isn't interested in coming up with another confected scandal of the week, he's interested in showing just people doing a very big job. I think this book is of lasting value because of that. If it was about nailing someone or inventing another flap rather than showing the human reality of the White House at war, it would be of no lasting value.

Posted by: David Blue at October 4, 2003 at 01:35 PM

Here we go again...

Phillip Adams dropped out of school after year 10, and joined the Communist Party. Yet here he is once again, calling Bush (a Yale and Harvard graduate) a moron.

Now of course, the fact that Bush has graduated from these most prestigious schools doesn't necessarily mean that he's significantly more intelligent than your average person. But I think Phillip will find that the high work ethic and critical thinking that these schools promote hardly makes it an ideal environment for "morons" like Bush to study successfully in, much less graduate from.

But I suppose as long as Phillip can find himself a 5 second grab each week of Bush fumbling a few words from one of his speeches, he'll have all that he needs to fuel his delusions of superiority.


Posted by: Richard at October 4, 2003 at 02:14 PM

Adams writes:

"...Woodward is an appalling writer..."

Now that is the pot-belly calling the kettle black.

I have read Bush at War twice, fantastic book. One encouraging point I got out of it is how Bush is unafraid to surround himself with differing views, allow those people to make thier case, then make a decision based on that advise. Hmmm, making decisions, something Billy boy Clinton could never do.

Posted by: TC at October 4, 2003 at 04:16 PM

gees i hate phildo and carlton. i wait for the day when they're both busted in public toilets flashing their willies at a plain clothes detective.

Posted by: roscoe p coaltrain at October 4, 2003 at 05:30 PM

ooop! scuse the grammar.. i'm pissed as a nit!

Posted by: roscoe P at October 4, 2003 at 05:36 PM


Not to worry, it's the only way to deal with some of these maroons.

Posted by: Gary Utter at October 4, 2003 at 05:52 PM

One of the reasons I didn't vote for Pres. Bush was I *did* believe he was as stupid as the press said he was. I was very upset when he became our president. I thought it was going to be a long 4 years.

But, then we had Sept.11. (I know this is repeated so often, people may groan to read it.) And things started to change. I came to be glad that it was Bush (a cowboy!!) in the White House.

His strategy, from what little I can see, of dealing with a threat to our very way of life has been excellent. He didn't rush in with 'guns blazing', but he has thought through the moves we need to make to knock out this threat. I see him playing a game of chess with the Islamists.

Pres. Bush doesn't have the oratory skills of Tony Blair, and he's not as personable as John Howard (I like him), but I no longer believe he's stupid. I now think he's very smart but is not great in front of a camera. He generally seems so uncomfortable when he's on camera.

I was very glad that he had Blair and Howard to confer with because he seems to be the sort that wants all kinds of input before he makes a decision. I have come to appreciate the strengths and support of the Anglosphere more and more.

I don't mean just military strength and support. A shared culture. Shared values. Foundations are the same. When you feel your country is in danger, it's reassuring to know your leader is conferring with leaders who share the same fundamental values. (And that you can count on when the chips are down not to stab you in the back.)

Posted by: Chris Josephson at October 4, 2003 at 07:50 PM

"his worrying references to God, Evil"

I have never heard Bush refer to God except for the standard "God Belss America" at the end of a speech. Big deal.

As for references to "Evil"; perhaps Phil should read some of his own columns about the evil John Howard, Phillip Ruddoc, and of course Amerikkka.

Once again the witless pot calls the kettle black.

Posted by: TreeHuggingHippyCrap at October 6, 2003 at 10:13 AM