Jewish World Review May 28, 2004 / 8 Sivan, 5764

Carl P. Leubsdorf

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Ironically, Prez relied on seasoned advisers for gravitas — and now he's being made the scapegoat for their screw-ups


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | As a candidate, President Bush boosted his credentials by surrounding himself with veteran national security advisers. As president, he has depended heavily on their experience. Now, Bush appears to be in increasing political difficulty because he has accepted their advice.

Most key national security advisers - headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - are unlikely to stay in a second Bush presidential term. The irony is that the president's willingness to follow their lead - and his refusal to hold them responsible for mistakes - may cost him an opportunity to have one.

To offset his lack of national security experience, Bush picked former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as a running mate and enlisted highly regarded veterans of his father's administration such as Powell and Condoleezza Rice.


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Once elected, he recalled Rumsfeld to the Pentagon job he held under President Gerald Ford and kept George Tenet as central intelligence director. After the 2001 attacks, their presence helped buoy shaken Americans. But several events and disclosures of the past year have undercut that optimism.

They include:

  • Failure to find promised weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Powell conceded Sunday on NBC's ``Meet the Press'' that his erroneous 2003 statements to the United Nations were partly based on CIA sourcing that was "inaccurate and wrong and, in some cases, deliberately misleading." But Bush has kept Tenet.

  • Failure to anticipate the number of troops needed in Iraq after major military operations ended. Rumsfeld and other aides rejected prewar troop estimates by the former Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, that proved accurate. Gen. Shinseki was rebuked and allowed to retire. Rumsfeld and his key aides remain.

  • Frequent failure to give Congress accurate budget estimates. The administration delayed seeking any funds for the war until after it started, refused to include an estimate for Iraq in its 2005 budget and recently requested an extra $25 billion that members of Congress from both parties say is far less than required.

  • Failure to inform Congress about the burgeoning investigation into mistreatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison, part of a pattern by which top officials have refused to give lawmakers information.


Articles this week in Newsweek and The New Yorker suggest Rumsfeld played down the degree to which the White House was involved in decisions to ease Geneva Convention strictures to get more information from prisoners. Administration officials have denounced the accounts.

The chaos in Iraq has confirmed the fears of officials from the first Bush administration who resisted efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein because they feared it would create instability.

Meanwhile, Bush's Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, has chosen to say less rather than more, recognizing the situation plays into his hands politically. He has stressed his own national security expertise and displayed the kinds of people who would be his top advisers.

They include such foreign policy experts as former U. N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who devised the successful plan to stabilize the Balkans in the 1990s; former rival Gen. Wesley Clark; and key senators in both parties, such as Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan and Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

In the end, however, as Bush is learning, the president gets the credit or the blame, not the big-name advisers.


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Carl P. Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Comment by clicking here.

Up

05/04/04: Gramm's former student Hensarling picks up the cause
03/04/04: No one's whistling ‘Dixie’
03/01/04: Voting for veep?
09/05/03: As debates begin, Democrats likely to shuffle positions
08/29/03: Will 2008 see a Clinton-Hutchison presidential contest?
08/01/03: Dems risk loss if they heed special interests
07/18/03: Prez not his father's son


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