No way — if George W. Bush had lost the 2004 election, he would have been a one-term President who started two wars, one of which was almost certainly a mistake, in just four years. It would have meant that Americans passed judgment on him less than two years into the Iraq War and decided that he failed. It would have meant no expansion of PEPFAR (in my opinion, President Bush’s greatest achievement and something he should be honored for), no change of strategy and Surge in Iraq to finally make some progress, and he would be ranked as one of the five worst Presidents in history. A second-term was necessary to try even build a positive legacy.
Yes, and it’s one of the few books that I’ve ever decided to take the time to write a negative review about. After reading Yoo’s book, I was so bothered by it that I absolutely decimated it in my review. This is how I summed it up:
What John Yoo does in Crisis and Command is examine the usage of Executive Power by legendary, widely beloved Presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — and attempt to, somehow, connect their actions and interpretation of the President’s power to George W. Bush’s actions following September 11, 2001. This is nothing more than a 500-page-long justification for trampling the Constitution, discarding American ideals, and circumventing the Geneva Convention by engaging in the torture and questionable detention of foreign nationals. And, it’s not just foreign nationals whose rights aren’t important to Yoo. As one of President Bush’s top lawyers, he also approved of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.
In Yoo’s opinion, Executive Power and Presidential prerogatives are more important than individual rights in times of war. Yoo makes a case that the expansion of Presidential power in wartime is a necessity and that all Presidents should make their decisions on national security with the understanding that what is most important is that the power of the Presidency is strong and the people are closely monitored (not merely safe, but “secure”) instead of the fact that the rights of ordinary American citizens are maintained and protected. The problem with this argument is that the President’s oath compels him to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States — not just his office or his power. No interpretation of the Constitution should allow torture, “enhanced interrogation” techniques, unlawful detention or rendition, and warrantless wiretapping, among other things. Justice is supposedly blind, but anyone who can’t see the injustice in this interpretation is truly the one without sight.
Crisis and Command is not a legalistic, scholarly look at the usage of Executive Power throughout American History. It is a blatant attempt to defend reprehensible policies by inexplicably trying to link them to completely unrelated applications of Presidential power from the time of Washington. John Yoo is not qualified to write this book. He knows the law, but he knows the law because he needed to understand it so that he could bend it, perhaps even break it. Here’s a good hint: never read a book focusing on the legality of certain powers by someone who has been investigated for war crimes.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday:
Now managing simultaneous operations against Sunni and Shiite extremists, Bush, Cheney, and the National Security Council heard from [Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul “Jerry”] Bremer and [Lieutenant General Ricardo] Sanchez over a secure videoconference on April 7. Bush was in a feisty mood. He declared that [Muqtada] al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army was a “hostile force” and that they could not let a single radical cleric change the course of Iraq. ”At the end of this campaign, al-Sadr must be gone,” Bush declared. ”At a minimum, he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out.”
[Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld asked whether the effort should be low intensity or high intensity, and the high-intensity President interrupted. As Sanchez remembered it, Bush delivered a sharp tirade. "Kick ass!" Sanchez recalled Bush saying. "If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them. We must be tougher than hell." He went on: "Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out. We are not blinking." If it stood out in Sanchez’s memory as perhaps more cartoonish than it really was, it reflected the President’s state of mind.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday:
In the midst of everything else, Bush was busy with reconciliation on another front. After years of estrangement from his alma mater, the President took another step toward peace with Yale University by hosting a reunion for his class of 1968 at the White House. Some of his classmates opted to stay away in protest of the war, an echo of the antiwar passions also roiling campus during Bush’s day. But for the President, it was a chance for closure of sorts, to come to terms with the elite side of his multifaceted heritage and put to rest some of the demons that had haunted him since his youth.
It was also a night when the compassionate side of his conservatism was on display. Among those in the receiving line that evening was Petra Leilani Akwai, who had been known in college as Peter Clarance Akwai before undergoing a sex-change operation in 2002. Dressed in an evening gown, Akwai nervously waited her turn.
"Hello, George," she said when presented to the President. "I guess the last time we spoke, I was still living as a man."
Bush did not flinch. ”But now you’re you,” he replied, leaning forward with a warm smile.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday from Doubleday:
On the electoral front, John Kerry had locked up the Democratic nomination, and the Bush team was feeling on the defensive. Bush tried to settle down his jittery staff during a meeting in the White House residence.
"Listen, I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns," he started, implicitly reminding his team that he had already seen five Presidential campaigns up close. "The accidental genius of the process in its length is it strips you bare. You’re totally revealed to the American people. You can’t hide who you are. It’s one of the reasons why people made fun of me with my pillow in 2000 and I wanted to get home. But you need your sleep. It’s exhausting." The bottom line this year, he added pointedly, was this: "We’re going to win because John Kerry is an asshole."
I got an advanced copy of Peter Baker’s new book, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (On-Sale: October 22nd), and I am speeding through it. Baker is a damn good journalist who wrote a great book about President Clinton’s impeachment (The Breach), and Days of Fire really takes you inside the Bush-Cheney Administration and shoots down all of those myths about Cheney controlling Bush. Especially interesting is how strained the relationship between Bush and Cheney was towards the end of their Administration. I highly recommend checking out Days of Fire when it is released on October 22nd.
When asked before about the true origins of the Iraq War, I gave some insight that I’ll just go ahead and repost here for those who missed it. This was the real cause of that conflict:
It all started in the spring of 1986 when George W. Bush was sent to Iraq as a secret emissary on behalf of the Reagan Administration. Despite his lack of experience in…well…anything, President Reagan sent Bush because Bush’s father, Vice President George H.W. Bush, said he could be trusted.
The Iran-Iraq War was at a stalemate and the younger Bush went to Iraq in order to offer assistance to the Iraqis in their cause. The United States had a vested interest in the deposition of Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and senior aides in the Reagan Administration, as well as top American intelligence officials, believed that strengthening Iraq would lead to an Iranian defeat and that an Iranian defeat would result in the end of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. That would bring about the fall of Ayatollah Khomeini.
George W. Bush, just 39 years old at the time, arrived in Baghdad in secret and was whisked away by helicopter to one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, on the Euphrates River in Najaf. It was there that the eventual adversaries would first meet, but at the time, they really enjoyed each other’s company. For hours, they joked, watched local performers, spoke to one another about their hopes and dreams, and then gathered for dinner.
During that dinner, the seeds were planted for a conflict that later would cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives. Saddam and Bush feasted on quail that Saddam claimed he had personally hunted earlier that day. Bush, remembering his diplomatic initiative, asked Saddam what the United States and President Reagan could do to help Iraq defeat the Iranians and topple Ayatollah Khomeini. Saddam laid out what he would need, and Bush assured the Iraqi leader that his requests would be no problem and that he was glad that they could come to an agreement.
Unfortunately, both men began drinking during the dinner, and both men became boisterous. Good-natured joking was transforming into sharp jabs and then downright hostility. Saddam and Bush were joined by a very small group of people, and the entire room went silent as the Iraqi dictator and the future American President started boasting about their manhood and making challenges to the other man.
Saddam found himself in an unusual position as Bush would not defer to him in these challenges. When Saddam dropped and did 50 push-ups, Bush did the same. When Saddam swam across the Euphrates and back, Bush did, as well. They had a foot race around the palace with no clear winner. Arm-wrestling settled nothing. They competed to see who could kick a soccer ball the furthest and, again, there was no distinction between the two. Saddam skipped a rock across the river six times, and so did Bush.
Saddam was getting more-and-more frustrated by his inability to best George W. Bush in feats of strength, athletic contests, or the board game “Sorry!”. If an Iraqi had met all of Saddam’s challenges as Bush had without deferring to the Iraqi dictator, Saddam would have had his son Uday torture the man. Of course, he couldn’t do that with the son of the Vice President of the United States, especially since he had been sent as a special emissary by President Reagan.
Suddenly, an idea brightened Saddam’s countenance. He summoned an aide and whispered something in the man’s ear. Five minutes later, Saddam’s aide walked in with a large boombox and an Iraqi soldier brought in several pieces of cardboard.
Saddam stood up, loosened his tie, removed his military-style beret, and rolled up his sleeves. Staring at George W. Bush with fire in his eyes, the Iraqi dictator growled, “Let’s see your B-boy stance, Texas.”
Bush quickly stood up, ready for the challenge, removed his jacket, and rolled up his shirtsleeves, as well. Removing his shoes, Bush gestured to Saddam, “It’s your country…for now…so, why don’t you go first?”.
Although he was fuming and visibly shaken by Bush’s confidence, Saddam closed his eyes, took three deep breaths, and pointed at the Iraqi near the boombox. Immediately, Run-D.M.C.’s self-titled album began playing and — there’s really no other way to put this: Saddam Hussein got the fuck down. The Iraqi dictator was popping, locking, busting out power moves and pulling up with world-class freezes.
Bush was obviously overmatched. The confidence was gone. The liquid courage from the night’s alcohol was abandoning him. As “Rock Box" played, Bush proved that he couldn’t match Saddam Hussein in everything. Had it ended there, with Saddam smiling and shaking hands with the future President after Bush graciously admitted defeat, perhaps the world would be different today.
Saddam, however, had been humiliated earlier in the night. Instead of smiling and shaking Bush’s hand, he pointed once again to the boombox. Saddam stared hard at Bush, did the Crip Walk and then transformed that into a Moonwalk. Saddam Moonwalked right out of the room, continuing to stare Bush in the eyes, and saying, as he reached the doorway, “Show yourself out, motherfucker.”
When George W. Bush returned to the United States, he immediately gave up drinking alcohol and focused himself on his life and future. He swore to himself that he would one day gain revenge against Saddam Hussein’s disrespectful showing during their b-boy battle in Iraq. Everything Bush did from 1986 on was done with the single purpose of destroying Saddam Hussein. Owner of a baseball team, Governor of Teas, President of the United States — none of these things meant much if Saddam Hussein was still gloating about his victory.
People talk about the oil or the revenge for slights against George W. Bush’s father or a search for weapons of mass destruction, but you now know the truth. George W. Bush went to war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein ambushed and embarrassed him during their breakdancing battle in 1986. There was never blood for oil; the blood was for breakdancing.
Today, we remember.
We remember where we were when we heard about the first plane hitting the tower. We remember what we thought as the news just began to trickle in. We remember our horror as we watched the second plane hit the other tower. We remember the evacuations — people running out of our monuments, our centers of government and finance, and spilling out on to the streets of our nation’s capital. We remember the dust and debris chasing thousands of New Yorkers through the streets of our most iconic city. We remember the smoke rising from the Pentagon. We remember that impact site in Pennsylvania. We remember watching the towers fall.
We remember the fear, the chaos, the sadness, and the feeling of not knowing what was happening or when it would end. We remember a feeling that Americans were not used to experiencing up to September 11, 2001: helplessness — the feeling of being attacked. We remember that the weather was perfect throughout almost the entire country that morning. We remember that we don’t remember what it felt like on September 10th.
Do you remember pointing fingers? Do you remember placing blame? Do you remember partisanship? I remember patriotism. I remember flags and candles and donating water and giving blood and having a new appreciation for police officers and firefighters. I remember that I wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican. I remember that I was an American. I remember that we were all Americans. I remember that we cared a little bit more about each other for at least a couple of weeks.
When Democrat Lyndon Johnson was the Senate Majority Leader and Republican Dwight Eisenhower was President of the United States, LBJ — one of the most intense, passionate political animals in our history — never attacked President Eisenhower. It wasn’t because LBJ agreed with Eisenhower’s policies. It wasn’t because LBJ was scared. It was because, as LBJ explained in 1953 in a comment that has an unfortunately haunting connection to 9/11, “If you’re in an airplane, and you’re flying somewhere, you don’t run up to the cockpit and attack the pilot. Mr. Eisenhower is the only President we’ve got.”
The only President we’ve got.
We all want to head in the same direction. We all want to move forward. We all want to progress and be happy and healthy and taken care of. Why does partisan politics trump nationalism? As World War I and World War II approached and the world realized that we are clearly connected on a global level, the people who seemed the most out-of-touch — the people who were wrong — were the isolationists. In both of those great wars, the isolationists were proven wrong. Yet, in the span of our grandparents’ lives, we have regressed to the point where most Americans have become individual isolationists — not isolationism on a national level, but on a personal level. We’ve tried to disconnect from the people in our own country. Don’t you remember how powerful it felt after 9/11 to be united? Don’t you remember how we helped each other in so many different ways?
I guess I could try to be cynical. It’s my natural state anyway. I guess I could remember the look on President George W. Bush’s face when his Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, whispered news of the attacks in the President’s ear as he sat in a Florida classroom. I guess I could remember My Pet Goat, and the fact that Bush didn’t get up, sprint from the room, and change out of his Clark Kent clothes into the Superman suit. I guess I could remember Air Force One zig-zagging across the country, the only flight in the air besides military escorts and combat air patrols over our major cities. I guess I could remember the surveillance videos of the well-dressed hijackers walking through the airport terminals that morning before they turned our planes into weapons. I guess I could remember that the passengers of Flight 93 didn’t actually get through the cockpit door and force the plane to crash into Pennsylvania. I guess I could remember our government’s alphabet agencies — the FBI, CIA, NSA, and everyone else listening in on our world — being unable to work together and stop this attack from happening in the first place. I guess I could choose to remember those things, but that doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t make 9/11 anything but a success to those who tried to frighten and frustrate and intimidate us through terrorism.
This is what I choose to remember:
I remember that the passengers of Flight 93 tried. I remember that their plane didn’t make it to Washington, and even if they didn’t get into the cockpit and crash the plane into that meadow in Pennsylvania themselves, they certainly fought back and forced the hijackers to abort the mission that they had planned. That plane didn’t crash into the White House or the Capitol, and that’s not because the hijackers got lost.
I remember driving to the wedding rehearsal for two of my best friends on the Friday after the attacks, feeling bad that they were getting married in the shadow of 9/11. I remember being amazed at thousands of people in the streets of Sacramento — thousands of miles away from any of the attack sites — holding a candlelight vigil. I remember that I drove through the silence of these peaceful vigils, with flags and flames and tears all around me, and I thought, “We’re going to be okay.”
I remember George W. Bush — a President I never voted for. I remember his unsteady first comments to the press after the attacks. I remember how he found his footing quickly. I remember him returning to Washington, D.C. that night, against the wishes of his government and his Secret Service. I remember how this President — a President I didn’t agree with, a President I never cast a supportive ballot for or whose campaign I ever donated a cent to, a President whose beliefs were diametrically opposed to almost everything that I believe in — went to Ground Zero and met with the families of those who were dead or missing, and gave them all the time they needed with him.
I remember how that President visited the rescue workers at Ground Zero. I remember, more than anything else, how President Bush climbed on to some of the rubble of the fallen towers, grabbed a bullhorn and began to speak, but was interrupted by the workers yelling, “We can’t hear you!”
I remember that the President — the only President we had at the time — shouted to these exhausted, weary, heroic rescuers, “Well, I can hear you! And the people who knocked these buildings down are gonna hear from all of us soon!”. I remember that it was genuine, that there was nothing manufactured about that moment, and that, despite all of his faults and deficiencies, George W. Bush said exactly what those people — our people — needed to hear. As the workers chanted, “USA! USA! USA!”, I remember thinking — I didn’t vote for him and I won’t vote for him in 2004, but that’s my President and I am proud of him.
As we look back, we can’t help but think about everything else that has come out of 9/11 — the interminable war in Afghanistan, the ridiculous war in Iraq, the humiliating and annoying experience that flying in an airplane has become in this country — but I think about that stuff pretty much every day, and I feel like this should always be a day where we think differently.
So, I’m going to think about those flags and candles and President Bush on top of the rubble of the World Trade Center with a bullhorn. I’m going to think about being an American — just like I was in the weeks following 9/11 — rather than being a Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, Believer or Non-Believer, Straight or Gay, White or Black or Hispanic or Asian, or any other label that we place on ourselves to show that we’re different or more than just human.
I’m going to remember thinking, “That’s my President”, as he spoke to the rescue workers, just as I did a few weeks later when President Bush went to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 of the World Series, strapped on a bulky bulletproof vest under his FDNY sweatshirt, walked to the pitcher’s mound, and with millions of Americans watching on television, with thousands of rabid New Yorkers watching in the stands, and with Derek Jeter’s words (“Don’t bounce it or they’ll boo you.”) rattling around in his head, threw a perfect strike.
I’ll remember thinking, “That’s my President”, about a guy I never voted for and didn’t agree with, and I’ll hope that you do that when the guy you didn’t vote for and didn’t agree with says the right words, does the right things, and throws a strike — not because you’re a Democrat or a Republican, but because you’re an American and that’s the only President we’ve got.
What do you remember?
I’m not sure it’s possible to answer this one. Unfortunately, we don’t know the extent of Lincoln’s sense of humor because we have no video or audio of him and there wasn’t a White House Correspondents Dinner or anything in the 1860s. We can guess about it since we know he enjoyed jokes and to tell his funny stories to folks (sometimes over-and-over-and-over again!), but it’s not like there is some sort of instrument to measure and compare the senses of humor of two people.
Plus — and we don’t know this for sure, either, so it’s just a wild guess — I think Lincoln and Obama are probably funny in different ways. Lincoln seemed to have a story for everything, loved to hear a good joke and was always ready to tell one of his own, was self-deprecating about his height and his looks, and enjoyed reading many of the comedic writers of his day. Obama’s humor is probably not as goofy or silly as Lincoln supposedly could be, but President Obama has great comedic timing. Those White House Correspondents Dinners can be awkward with Presidents who might have funny speeches written for them but lose a little on the presentation because they aren’t used to the rhythm of comedy (I’m looking at you, President Clinton!). Obama has a great delivery when he’s trying to be funny.
Let’s not forget that Reagan was a pretty funny guy, too. He and JFK had really quick wits and funny little quips. They also had good comedic timing and delivery, especially Reagan, although I guess being a professional actor helped with that. George W. Bush could be funny at times, too, but didn’t have too many opportunities to let loose during his Administration since the world happened to go to hell for eight years.
Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of Eric “Eazy-E” Wright’s death. The rapper died on March 26, 1995, about a month after checking himself into Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and finding out that he was suffering from AIDS, not asthma as he had suspected. Eazy-E became a hip-hop legend after bursting out of Compton as a part of the revolutionary group, N.W.A., along with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, DJ Yella, and MC Ren. The controversy stemming from N.W.A.’s gangsta rap classics such as “Fuck Tha Police”, “Gangsta Gangsta”, and “Straight Outta Compton” led to the FBI actually sending a letter to Ruthless Records in 1989 condemning the content of N.W.A.’s music because they felt it encouraged violence against law enforcement.
So, what’s that have to do with Presidents?
After a $2,490 donation to the Republican Party, GOP heavyweights Bob Dole and Phil Gramm invited Eazy-E to the National Republican Senatorial Committee Inner Circle’s “Salute To The Commander-in-Chief” luncheon on March 18, 1991 in Washington, D.C. Senate Minority Leader Dole sent the gangsta rapper and former drug-dealer the invitation himself on February 8th, writing, “Elizabeth and I are looking forward to seeing you in Washington on March 18.”
Rocking a black leather suit topped off by his trademark Los Angeles Raiders hat, Eazy-E enjoyed lunch with some of the GOP’s top brass — people like Dole, Gramm, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Schultz, and Sam Walton — and a speech by President George H.W. Bush. While the voice behind “Boyz-N-The-Hood” didn’t get a chance to actually meet President Bush, Eazy-E made it clear that he was a fan and was even disappointed that Bush didn’t speak for longer. While he famously rapped “Don’t quote me, boy, cuz I ain’t said shit” in “Boyz-N-The-Hood”, Eazy-E’s spokesperson said that the rapper “Loves the President. He thinks he’s a great humanitarian and that he did a great job with Desert Storm.”
That might seem like something that would take away Eazy-E’s street cred. Ice Cube certainly thought so, as he made clear after leaving N.W.A with his diss song “No Vaseline” when he repeated, “I never had dinner with the President!” and accused N.W.A. of ditching Compton. But maybe Eazy-E and George H.W. Bush had far more in common than most people would imagine.
See, Eazy-E and Ice Cube and Dr. Dre and DJ Yella and MC Ren aren’t the only people to come “Straight Outta Compton”. In 1949, George Herbert Walker Bush and his family (including another future President, George W. Bush) lived in the Santa Fe Gardens in, yes, that’s right, Compton, California. The second child of George and Barbara Bush, Robin, who tragically died at the age of 4 of leukemia, was born in Compton. So, while Compton was a different place in that era, two Presidents of the United States represented the “CPT” — at least for a short time. And, as the photo at the end of this post demonstrates, young George W. was even strapped — more cowboy than gangsta, not surprisingly — as many young people have long been on the South side of Compton.