Presidential puppet show

It’s not often we get to see a political puppet show of the kind that played this last April in the Bush White House. Not since the later days of the Reagan administration, when one literally could watch advisers whisper lines into the president’s ears during press conferences, has there been a president so obviously managed by his subordinates.

From the beginning, even impartial observers must have feared that George W. Bush would prove to be little more than a figurehead, given his lack of experience in foreign policy, his spotty knowledge of history and his casual work habits. (Remember, this is a president who wouldn’t interrupt a three-week vacation even after an intelligence briefing warning him about Osama bin Laden’s imminent plan to strike inside the United States.) Now that we’ve all been subjected to the embarrassing spectacle of Bush’s refusal to testify before Congress without the head puppeteer, Vice President Dick Cheney, by his side, it seems that the administration has dropped even the pretense of presenting Bush as his own man.

Bush gave several reasons for his reluctance to speak on the record to the committee charged with investigating intelligence failures associated with the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, and none of them were good ones. Moreover, none even attempted to explain why he would not testify without Cheney present. Bush stipulated that he would answer questions only in private, in the security of the White House, with the vice president at hand, and he forbade any taping of the proceedings.

Given these stipulations, it’s hard to avoid two simple conclusions: that the administration has something to hide in regard to the events leading up to September 11 and that Bush can’t even be trusted to keep his story straight without Cheney at hand to prompt him.

As the facts gradually leak out about what really happened before September 11 and how the decision was made to invade Iraq, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it was Cheney and a small group of conservative ideologues who were pulling the strings. Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and several others on the Bush team were on record as supporting a regime change in Iraq well before Bush took office, and it has now been reported that a potential invasion was discussed in the very first meeting of the Bush national security team just days after Bush’s election.

Did an obsession with Iraq contribute to the intelligence failures that made September 11 possible?

Thanks to Bush’s determined stonewalling of the investigatory committee, we may never be able to answer that question with any degree of certainty. But the hearings did give us one conclusion that should be obvious to all: Any man who can’t stand alone before the judgment of history does not deserve to be president.