My agents report that President George W. Bush is even now contemplating a memoir. When it comes to writing a memoir, I humbly submit that even a commander in chief should take counsel from an editor in chief, especially if the editor in chief is an admirer.
As the retiring president heads back to Texas, he might bear in mind that his presidency was unusually turbulent. His memoir will be the record of a president whose time in office began and ended with two stupendous crises that only Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan experienced in modern times, though the chronological order of their crises was more orderly. They moved from financial crisis to geopolitical crisis. Mr. Bush’s first crisis came in his first year with Sept. 11, 2001, a contemporary Pearl Harbor more treacherous than the first Pearl Harbor.
His second came in his last year, the subprime mortgage day of reckoning, the credit freeze, ultimately the worst financial crisis in a century.
In recent interviews, Mr. Bush has sounded glum. As an editor, I advise him to review the facts and take heart. Both of his crises originated in his predecessor’s administration. His memoir must make this clear. In fact, it is his duty to set the record straight.
Gentleman that he is, Mr. Bush is going to have to find the right tone in laying out these facts. He must not appear to be defensive or to be scapegoating. After all, he arrived at the White House after America’s foolish Holiday From History. It is perfectly appropriate that in the holiday’s aftermath its revelers be held accountable.
There is not much he can say about the subprime reckoning, except that his 2002 budget was critical of the excesses of Fannie and Freddie. In 2003, his treasury secretary was equally critical and called for regulation. Rep. Barney Frank retorted: “I do not think we are facing any kind of a crisis.”
On the other hand, the 43rd president should have a lot to say about his response to Sept. 11, the war on terror, and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. This was the major undertaking of his administration, but given his apparent glum humor I am not sure he will address these matters with the requisite confidence. Early this month he told ABC News his “biggest regret” as president was his handling of intelligence estimates of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Mr. Bush, the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world was a world that demanded from you “action this day,” and you passed the test.
After Sept. 11, no one knew where or when the next attack might come. Saddam, our longtime antagonist, actually applauded the attacks, an indiscretion duplicated by no other international figure, save Osama bin Laden. Moreover, Saddam purposely duped his military and world leaders into believing he had weapons of mass destruction. Now we know he did not have them ready to go, but we also know he had them available on short notice. He could have in a matter of weeks sent chemical and biological weapons to terrorists or to his intelligence agents for attacks on American soil or almost anywhere else.
The evidence is available for anyone who wants to review it. Last summer the Associated Press reported that a “secret U.S. operation” had transferred 550 metric tons of “yellowcake,” “the last major remnant of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program,” to Montreal for peaceful purposes. So contrary to what your opponents tell you, the strutting tyrant did have the makings for nuclear weapons. Withal, he had biological and chemical weapons available in a few weeks notice. That is a key finding of the Iraq Survey Group.
When the president gets back to Texas, I encourage him to read a really splendid memoir, “War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism,” by his undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas J. Feith. It convincingly explains the justification for war with Saddam. Quoting the Duelfer Report on the findings from the Iraq Survey Group, Mr. Feith records that at the time of our invasion, “Iraq still possessed small but significant dual-use facilities capable of conversion to small-scale BW [biological weapons] agent production.”
Small-scale, but such agents are enormously dangerous. The report continues, such dual-use facilities “could be converted for BW agent production within four to five weeks.” “In sum,” Mr. Feith writes, “the Iraq Survey Group confirmed Saddam’s intention and capability to produce biological and chemical weapons.”
Though stockpiles of such lethal weaponry were never found, we have plenty of evidence Saddam had the facilities, the material, the personnel, the capability and the intent to create biological weapons. Mr. Feith writes that when Saddam had rid himself of sanctions the evidence is he would have revitalized his WMD programs. Nothing would stop him but war.
In preparation for the Bush presidential memoir, I suggest Mr. Bush read the Feith memoir. Finally, Mr. President, in the spirit of the season, this politically correct editor in chief wishes you Merry… and Happy… .
R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator and an adjunct scholar at the Hudson Institute.
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