For President George W. Bush, the levees are breaking. His presidency is drowning in a sea of scandal, corruption, deceit and mismanagement of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bush is facing his own Katrina, and there is no one to bail him out.
Presidential deceit, corruption, scandal and arrogance — America’s version of the Four Horsemen –have enveloped previous occupants of the White House and plundered executive policies and legacies. Two wars, Korea and Vietnam, drove Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson from office. Richard Nixon was hobbled from the beginning and fell into an abyss of his own making. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were ensnared in scandal in their final two years in office, leaving them both to wonder what might have been.
The common denominator is the loss of credibility. Bush and his beleaguered staff are engaged in an effort to regain it, but each day brings more bad news. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged that “mistakes were made” in Iraq. The administration’s military architect, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed as an exaggeration Army Gen. Eric Shinseki’s claim that 400,000 were needed for a successful invasion of Iraq. Now Rice acknowledges that Rumsfeld’s policy was wrong. Who can begin to assess the price that America, and her soldiers, have paid for Rumsfeld’s incompetence and arrogance?
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has conceded that “mistakes were made” in light of revelations about the government’s abuse of the Patriot Act, particularly in its exploitation of National Security Letters, to the detriment of Americans’ right to privacy and freedom of speech. Senate hearings into the infamous firing of eight U.S. attorneys may soon cause Gonzales to acknowledge that “mistakes were made” as he is shown the door. Who is to assess the impact on the citizenry’s regard for the rule of law upon recognition that these officials were fired, not for poor performance but because they were insufficiently partisan?
Dick Cheney, widely viewed as the most formidable vice president in U.S. history, has become a major liability in the wake of the Scooter Libby trial. The weight of his deceit about weapons of mass destruction and other matters associated with the run up to the war in Iraq, and his pursuit of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, have sapped his office of credibility.
Bush’s plea to Americans for more patience in Iraq tugs on the remaining threads of his credibility. Should this president — whose administration manipulated and concealed intelligence in a parade to war, victory in which he declared nearly four years ago — be trusted?
With his presidency awash in tides of trouble, Bush may feel like he’s been abandoned in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.
Adler is a political science professor at Idaho State University who has written and lectured nationally and internationally. He is one of seven local columnists who appear on this page. You can write to him care of this newspaper, P. O. Box 1800, Idaho Falls, ID 83403.