My brother, who thinks he is smarter than everyone, loves to pick a fight with someone just for the sake of it. If someone intones in his presence, “Bush is stupid,” and explains the basis for that belief, my brother will say, “Oh, no – that’s just an act he performs for the yokels – you know, to endear himself to the common man (is this an implied suggestion on Bush’s part that the common American man is a buffoon? If so, then whether he is stupid or not, I have no concerns about slicing into his intellect, because whatever his intelligence level is, he thinks the level of intelligence of the American people is far lower than his own. Patronization, by the way, is a form of stupidity. I seem, in a few sentences, to have come up with a rejoinder to my brother’s comments).
There are, of course, many kinds of intelligence, and many yardsticks used to measure each kind. I have listened to the unscripted remarks (i.e. “press conferences”) and Presidential debates of American presidents from Johnson forward, and, in realizing that intelligence is a multi-feathered beast, have first come to the realization that while the medium may be the message, as Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is not necessarily dispositive of one’s intelligence.
Ronald Reagan used the medium of television better than any president in history, but any notions that he possessed an above-average intellect or street-smarts were scotched by the substance of the words that came out of his mouth in unrehearsed (and sometimes rehearsed) moments. Reagan was not a deep thinker (this does not necessarily mean he was not intelligent), but it is generally acknowledged that he was not a deep thinker because he thought that problems (or what he defined as problems; his ability to define problems was reflective of stupidity) could be easily identified and solved, if enough bromides were dispensed about the greatness of America, its morning, and its flag. The paucity of writings Reagan left behind for scholars to examine confirmed that he did not seem concerned with analyzing over complex issues, or even worrying about them. One never caught Reagan in the act of “thinking.” If he was intelligent, however that word is defined, it did not show. So just because one uses a medium well does not mean one is intelligent.
The converse, of course, is true as well. Jimmy Carter, for whatever reasons, never felt comfortable in front of the camera, nor did Richard Nixon, yet their grasp of policy and politics was obvious to anyone who listened to their press conferences, to anyone who read their memoirs (assuming these were not ghost-written), and to anyone who believes what their aides, both loyal and disloyal, have said about the two men. One can see the intelligence reflected in the bold policy initiatives proposed by each; Nixon, with his “Philadelphia Plan,” and guaranteed minimum income plan, and Carter, with his creation of the Department of Energy. Neither man was ultimately able to SELL their concepts to the American people (Nixon, because he was a paranoid liar, and Carter, because he was politically inept), but both were intelligent – even though the medium of television did not capture that intelligence and present it in the best light.
President Clinton used television more effectively than any President before or after Reagan – and manipulated the medium to allow his intelligence come through. Clinton definitely had a “wonky” kind of intelligence – as befitted a Rhodes Scholar – but the intelligence that came through the tube was an understated, elegant intelligence, marked by an appreciation of the English language, organization of thought, and logical presentation of ideas. Clinton also (for the most part) knew when to leaven a speech with humor, and left the disgusting things he did on the White House rug, dresses, toilets and sinks. Republicans couldn’t stand him, for among many other reasons, because he came off as being intelligent without appearing like an “egghead” a la Aldai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956 (1952 was the first year that Republicans celebrated stupidity as a Presidential virtue).
So, now we come to President Bush. No medium – print, broadcast, face-to-face communication, or any other medium of which I am aware, has put what intelligence he has (if any) to advantage. Monday’s press conference, which might as well have been a written interview, or a one-on-one conversation that he did not know was being recorded, shows that yes, indeed, on some level, Bush is indeed stupid – in that he cannot recognize fundamental argumentative concepts, in that he mistakes assertion for argument, in that he believes that by repeating the same assertion over and over again, he has prevailed in an “argument,” and in that by engaging in a straw man or ad hominem attack, he has not only won an argument but answered a question. These devices upon which he relies show at best stupidity and at worst that Bush literally does not understand what is being asked of him, and/or that he lacks sufficient intellect to actually think before responding to a question so as to come up with an answer.
I’ll let David Corn from The Nation complete this blog, as David describes the press conference:
“George W. Bush keeps trying to rally popular support for his war in Iraq. But he has little to offer other than stay-the course-ism. He cannot point to progress in Iraq. Nor can he point to a plan that would seem promising. Thus, he is left only with rhetoric–the same rhetoric.
That was on display during a presidential press conference at the White House on Monday. Here’s a selective run-down.
One reporter asked,
“More than 3,500 Iraqis were killed last month, the highest civilian monthly toll since the war began. Are you disappointed with the lack of progress by Iraq’s unity government in bringing together the sectarian and ethnic groups?”
“No.” “I am aware that extremists and terrorists are doing everything they can to prevent Iraq’s democracy from growing stronger. That’s what I’m aware of.” (DRL: He’s not disappointed by lack of progress?)
He could not bring himself to say he is disappointed by the government’s inability to curb the sectarian violence? That was an odd way to defend his actions in Iraq. Bush did go on to say,
“And, therefore, we have a plan to help them — “them,” the Iraqis — achieve their objectives. Part of the plan is political; that is the help the Maliki government work on reconciliation and to work on rehabilitating the community. The other part is, of course, security. And I have given our commanders all the flexibility they need to adjust tactics to be able to help the Iraqi government defeat those who want to thwart the ambitions of the people. And that includes a very robust security plan for Baghdad.” (DRL: reconciliation with whom? What does he mean by “rehabilitation”? What “community?” These terms are contextual non-sequiturs. His premise that the ambitions of the people dovetail with his own, and that these people are seemingly geographically confined to Baghdad, is textually and contextually incoherent).
A question: when would it be fair to judge the plan’s success? The plan has supposedly already been implemented. (DRL: What plan?) Yet the death count is rising in Iraq. A sharp-eyed (or sharp-eared) reporter should have asked, “If the death count goes up next month, will that mean the plan is a failure? And how should Americans (and Iraqis) evaluate whether the plan is working?” Or as Donald Rumsfeld might say, what are the operative metrics?
Bush repeatedly said that it would be disastrous for the United States to disengage from Iraq. He claimed,
“It will embolden those who are trying to thwart the ambitions of reformers. In this case, it would give the terrorists and extremists an additional tool besides safe haven, and that is revenues from oil sales.” (DRL: And what would the terrorists be able to do with this tool that our “friends” the Saudis are not doing already? I believe this statement more or less constitutes Bush’s way of telling us why Iraq was invaded, don’t you? Bush’s “thinking” here is that of a man who, after day in and day out of successive rainstorms, seeks shelter in a termine-infested home, where, as each night passes, more rain comes in due to the infestation. It never occurs to the man that, instead of trying seek shelter in a useless house, he can try to find shelter in a house that hasn’t been bitten to the ground. Our oiligarchial presidency thinks like Termite Man. It loves oil more than the terrorists, and its answer to disturbances in oil production is to just consume more oil – to keep letting the house rot – instead of finding a way out by seeking other sources of energy. Money brings out stupidity as surely as anything does).
Regarding the “reformers”–and Bush noted this included reformers throughout the region–the US invasion of Iraq and the recent (and partially still ongoing war between Israel and Hezbollah) has undercut the reformers of the Middle East, or so say many such reformers (DRL: this is because of their bigotry, but hey, when your true goal is to not bring democracy anyway to people who are unfit for it, it’s only natural that these “reformers” will have something to get pissed off about). These reformers report they are on thinner ice (DRL: whatever that means) because of US policies.
Bush’s actions, according to the grunts of Middle East reform, have not emboldened them. As for turning Iraq into a safe haven for terrorists and extremists, Bush has already accomplished that. An American journalist who had recently returned from Baghdad told me a few weeks ago that neighborhoods within a mile or so of the Green Zone in Baghdad are totally under the control of insurgents. Whole swaths of Iraq are beyond the authority of the Iraqi government. These areas can be safe havens for all sorts of miscreants. And it’s fear-mongering to suggest that if the United States were to withdraw that anti-American jihadists will control the state and be enriched by oil revenues. Last time I checked, the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds all had an interest in Iraq. These groups are unlikely to turn the nation over to the few jihadist terrorists operating within Iraq. (DRL: Personally, I think that if we left, the savages would be more interested in killing each other than enriching themselves through oil revenues – this savagery is an impulse we cannot change now, and one that we cannot change once we have left – unless we plan to stay forever, in which case we become infected with the savagery, God help us).
One exchange did not inspire confidence. A reporter asked,
“Mr. President, I’d like to go back to Iraq. You’ve continually cited the elections, the new government, its progress in Iraq, and yet the violence has gotten worse in certain areas. You’ve had to go to Baghdad again. Is it not time for a new strategy? And if not, why not?”
“You’ve covered the Pentagon, you know that the Pentagon is constantly adjusting tactics because they have the flexibility from the White House to do so.”
The reporter–who was not asking about tactics–interrupted:
“I’m talking about strategy.” (DRL: Not tactics, you MORON! Bush does not understand the difference).
Bush then said:
“The strategy is to help the Iraqi people achieve their objectives and their dreams, which is a democratic society.
That’s the strategy.”
(DRL: Fucking President Von Clausewitz here). Actually, that’s not a strategy. That’s a goal. A commander in chief should know the difference. A strategy is how one goes about–in a general way–accomplishing goals. Tactics are how one implements the strategy. (DRL: Someone who is trying to remodel a country who cannot even define the different terms – someone with nuclear launch codes, no less – is such a scary person that the mind becomes silent in shudder).
After Bush talked about giving military commanders in Iraq the “flexibility” to “change tactics on the ground,” this interesting back-and-forth occurred:
“Q: Sir, that’s not really the question. The strategy –“
“THE PRESIDENT: Sounded like the question to me.”
“Q: You keep — you keep saying that you don’t want to leave. But is your strategy to win working? (Note: The reporter has implicitly recognized how dumb Bush is by adding the phrase “to win” after the word “strategy.”) Even if you don’t want to leave? You’ve gone into Baghdad before, these things have happened before.”
“THE PRESIDENT: If I didn’t think it would work, I would change — our commanders would recommend changing the strategy. They believe it will work.” (DRL: The reporter is asking if it IS working, not whether some hypothetical commander – who is not the commander in chief and whose fatigues Bush cannot hide under – IN THE PAST BELIEVED IT MIGHT WORK. This assumes, of course, that Bush has not cowed these commanders into silence (ha!). Also, what wartime President (Truman, Johnson, Eisenhower, Wilson, Lincoln)’s conduct of a war has been limited SOLELY to passively receiving information from his commanders? Bush wants all of the POWERS associated with being a wartime President but none of the responsibilities. Under his “logic,” if his commanders told him the sky was falling, he’d launch “Operation Raise the Sky.” Of course, if some commander (or all of them) were brave enough to tell him that the goal should be to leave and the strategy to achieve that goal is to leave under stealth of night, THEN Bush would all of a sudden stop “listening to his commanders.” The wonder of the mound of bullshit of it all.)
Seems as if Bush was saying that his commanders are in charge of the strategy. But isn’t that his job?
Later on came this exchange:
Q: But are you frustrated, sir?
“THE PRESIDENT: Frustrated? Sometimes I’m frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I’m happy (DRL: That people are dying?) This is — but war is not a time of joy. These aren’t joyous times. These are challenging times, and they’re difficult times, and they’re straining the psyche of our country.”
To recap: he is not “disappointed” (see above), but he is occasionally “frustrated.” Yet hardly “surprised.” Wait a moment. Does that mean he invaded Iraq realizing that the war there would turn into an ugly sectarian conflict that would bog down US troops for over three years? If so, why didn’t he say something before the invasion about this? Or, better yet, why didn’t he and the Pentagon prepare for such an eventuality? Citizens should hope he was damn surprised by what has happened in Iraq–even though that would not make him any less culpable.
Bush repeatedly acknowledged there is a legitimate debate whether the United States should disengage from Iraq. He noted,
“I will never question the patriotism of somebody who disagrees with me.” (DRL: No, he won’t question it. Questioning implies the person actually had the right to speak, if only to be smeared in return. He’ll just try to get the person locked up).
This statement is–how should we put it?–not as accurate as it could be. Campaigning for congressional Republicans in 2002 Bush said that Senate Democrats were “more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people.” That certainly is not how one would describe a patriot. More recently, Bush’s own Republican Party accused the Democrats of plotting to weaken the country. After a federal judge ruled that Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional, the GOP sent out an email headlined, “Liberal Judge Backs Dem Agenda To Weaken National Security.” Accusing someone of having a gameplan to “weaken national security” is indeed questioning their patriotism. Has Bush decried this Republican National Committee tactic? Not in public. (DRL: or in private).
The press conference allowed for a brief exploration of Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq. One journalist inquired,
“A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out [such as chaos in Iraq, terrorist running amok, etc.] seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn’t gone in. How do you square all of that?”
Bush fired back (DRL: with a total non-sequitur of an answer):
“I square it because, imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders (hee hee) to kill innocent life, who would — who had relations (that’s the best term he could come up with? As in “I had sexual relations with that terrorist?”) with Zarqawi. Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.” (DRL: The reporter was asking him whether our invasion caused these things. His answer wen cheerfully beyond being a non-response and drifted into the realm of true daftness).
Well, as both Charles Duelfer and David Kay–administration-appointed WMD hunters–reported, Saddam did not have any serious capacity to produce WMDs. None. He had no weapons and no serious production capability. So, yes, one would have to “imagine” such a threat. As for Saddam’s relations with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (now deceased), there is no evidence that Saddam had anything to do with him before the war. As Colin Powell noted in his disastrous UN speech, Zarqawi at the time was operating out of northern Iraq, which was territory not under Baghdad’s control. Once more, a healthy dose of imagination is required to follow Bush’s argument.
The president continued:
You know, I’ve heard this theory about everything was just fine until we arrived, and kind of “we’re going to stir up the hornet’s nest” theory. It just doesn’t hold water, as far as I’m concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.
That led to this point-counterpoint:
“Q: What did Iraq have to do with that?”
“THE PRESIDENT: What did Iraq have to do with what?”
“Q: The attack on the World Trade Center?”
“THE PRESIDENT: Nothing, except for it’s part of (DRL: he can’t finish the fucking sentence) — and nobody has ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a — the lesson of September the 11th is, take threats before they fully materialize….Nobody has ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. (DRL: So, given that the terrorists attacked us BEFORE Iraq, how does that fact make the “hornet’s nest” theory any less viable? And, by the way, we’ve been overtly or covertly pursuing a “freedom” agenda, as some would call it – in the Middle East – for over 100 years – propping up one dictator for another).
Not exactly. Dick Cheney and other hawks in the administration repeatedly said that there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11, citing an unconfirmed, single-source intelligence report that 9/11 ringleader Mohamad Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague five months before the attack. Yet the FBI and the CIA (and later the 9/11 Commission) had concluded that there was no evidence to substantiate this report and that the meeting likely did not happen (DRL: But Chirstopher “Yellowcake” Hitchens said it did, so it must be true). True, Bush officials did not claim that Saddam had “ordered” the attack, but they did suggest that Baghdad had participated in the attack–even when there was no evidence to support that assertion.
So over three years after Bush ordered US troops into Iraq, he is still claiming that Saddam was something of a WMD threat and he is refusing to acknowledge that his administration did attempt to link Saddam to the 9/11 attack–all while professing he has a strategy (or is it a set of tactics?) to win in Iraq. This is not the sort of stuff that will hearten a nation. Bush remains lost in Iraq, with the rest of the country (and the world) held hostage by the mistakes and miscalculations he will not concede.