If you have some time this weekend, be sure to read this magnificent article from Vanity Fair. It presents excerpts from intervies conducted withhundreds of Bush administration officials and other politically important individuals, going through the entire eight years of the presidency. If a fiction writer devised a short story along these lines, no one would believe it. The article is quite long, so be certain you are in a comfy chair and have a nice beverage before starting. It’s hard to capture the spirit of the article in just a few quotes, but here’s a taste:
February 14, 2002 The Bush administration proposes a Clear Skies Initiative, which relaxes air-quality and emissions standards. This is followed by a Healthy Forests Initiative, which opens up national forests to increased logging. Climate change becomes a forbidden subject.
Rick Piltz, senior associate, U.S. Climate Change Science Program: At the beginning of the Bush administration, Ari Patrinos, a very senior science official who had run the Department of Energy’s climate-change research program for many years, and a half-dozen high-ranking federal science officials were brought together and told to explain the science and help develop policy options for a proactive climate-change policy for the administration. They moved into an office downtown, and they worked very hard and were briefing at the Cabinet level, in the White House. Cheney was there, Colin Powell was there, Commerce Secretary [Don] Evans was there. They were making the case on climate change.
And one day they were told: Take it down, pack it up, go back to your offices–we don’t need you anymore.
July 23, 2002 Senior British defense, diplomatic, and intelligence officials meet in London to discuss the American position on war with Iraq. An account of the meeting, known as the Downing Street Memo, is drawn up by one of the participants, but remains secret for several years. In the meeting, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, gives an assessment of his recent talks in Washington: “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
Bob Graham, Democratic senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee: I asked George [Tenet, the C.I.A. director], What did the national intelligence estimate [N.I.E.] that we had done on Iraq tell us about what would be the conditions during the period of combat, what would be the conditions post-combat, and what was the basis of our information on the weapons of mass destruction? Tenet said, We’ve never done an N.I.E.
Paul Pillar, national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia at the C.I.A.: The makers of the war had no appetite for and did not request any such assessments [about the aftermath of war]. Anybody who wanted an intelligence-community assessment on any of this stuff would’ve come through me, and I got no requests at all.
As to why this was the case, I would give two general answers. Number one was just extreme hubris and self-confidence. If you truly believe in the power of free economics and free politics, and their attractiveness to all populations of the world, and their ability to sweep away all manner of ills, then you tend not to worry about these things so much.
The other major reason is that, given the difficulty of mustering public support for something as extreme as an offensive war, any serious discussion inside the government about the messy consequences, the things that could go wrong, would complicate even further the job of selling the war.
I’m still working my way through the article. I wonder how it ends.