Monday, September 25, 2006

The 'anguish' of George W. Bush

The Washington Post has published a nearly 2200-word story about how deeply President Bush agonizes over each and every death in the occupation of Iraq. It is an amazing read. It would be funny if it weren't such an infuriatingly obvious attempt at shielding Bush from criticism over the New York Times' NIE bombshell and his "comma" remark on CNN.

Without really meaning to, and despite its hagiographic title, "For Bush, War Anguish Expressed Privately," the story gets to the truth about Bush in several ways.

Consider the following passage about Bush's reaction to the mounting cost:

If he does not show that publicly, it's in keeping with a White House practice of not drawing attention to the mounting costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have killed more than 3,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of civilians. Advisers worry that sending the wrong signal would further sap public will and embolden the enemy and Bush's critics. Aides say that Bush does not attend military funerals because the presidential entourage would disrupt solemn events and that, out of respect, the media have been banned from photographing coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base. But they also know it would focus a spotlight on the price of the president's policies.

Bush is less reticent about public displays of grief for victims of Sept. 11. During the recent events marking the fifth anniversary of the attacks, he teared up several times and at one point had to concentrate just to finish a speech. "Your heart breaks for somebody who suffered," he later told Charles Gibson of ABC News. "Tears can get contagious as far as I'm concerned."
Well, yeah.

Obviously, Bush is willing to make public displays of grief over 9/11 while pretending that all is well in Iraq. The public display of grief and resolve over 9/11 is the source of all of his political power. No 9/11, no War President. Likewise, his unwillingness to acknowledge the cost in human lives of the Iraq war is entirely consistent with his behavior at every step, from the planning (such as it was) of the invasion, to the incompetent execution of the occupation. It is an extreme reach to conclude that Bush's eagerness to exploit 9/11, while trying to sweep Iraq under the rug, is evidence of empathy with the families of the fallen.

Consider also the Post's analysis of Bush's preferred method of coping with all of this moral anguish:

Bush deals with stress through vigorous exercise, working out six days a week. When he goes for long bicycle rides, he often invites others to join him, but he asks them not to ride in front of him so he can have the illusion of solitude. "Riding helps clear my head, helps me deal with the stresses of the job," he told reporters last month after an 80-minute ride.

To those angry over the war, that can seem cavalier. "It's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say," Bush said last year when Sheehan began her protest. "But it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life. . . . I'm mindful of what goes on around me. On the other hand, I'm also mindful that I've got a life to live and will do so."
The illusion of solitude?

First of all, the president is surrounded by dozens of Secret Service agents everywhere he goes. He has either learned by now to ignore their presence, or he hasn't. It is more likely that he asks people not to ride in front of him because he doesn't want anybody riding in front of him. He's the War President. He gets to go first.

It is laughable to suggest that Bush's obsession with exercise is his way of coping with the massive loss of life in Iraq. Everything we know about him suggests that nothing short of a nuclear strike on Washington, if that, would keep him from getting his daily bike ride. Nothing we know about him indicates that he feels anything very deeply, including anguish over the deaths of the people he sent to fight an unnecessary war against a country that never attacked the United States.