Saturday, September 15, 2007


The Competence of Presidents

I've been thinking a lot lately about our current President. He's managed to get himself and the country into an awful mess in Iraq. It was clear rather early on that the plan to invade, depose Saddam, install a replacement, secure some lucrative oil rights, and leave had failed and was a big mistake. Instead of trying to correct the mistake, our President persisted in the original plan, which now morphed into an occupation of a country whose government had simply crumbled after Saddam Hussein was removed.

We've had many Presidents who were not particularly intelligent, who were not deep thinkers or intellectuals, and yet managed to do the job of being President without bringing shame or disrepute on themselves or the nation. In fact, the job of being President has evolved in such a way that any person of ordinary intelligence and reasonably good sense can do it. A President is surrounded by advisers. All sorts of ideas are floated in discussions with him. He doesn't have to be a deep thinker or intellectual; others around him will do those things for him. All he has to do is to recognize when he or his administration has made a mistake and try to correct it.

It was a mistake to invade Iraq with such a small army. I do not blame Mr. Bush for making that mistake. He had convincing advice from people he trusted that the plan would work. For a while it seemed that the plan had worked and Mr. Bush made his famous announcement from an aircraft carrier that the mission had been accomplished. But then things started to go wrong. The government services in Iraq ceased to function. Unlike the occupation of Germany and Japan after WW-2, the police stopped policing; the electricity stopped; the sewage disposal system stopped; nothing worked. The Baghdad museum was looted. Oil pipelines were cut. Thieves stole the copper wire from the electrical distribution grid. It was clear that something had gone badly wrong.

At that point the President should have known that he or his administration had made a mistake and that he should start work on correcting the mistake. Instead, he papered over the mistake with a statement in which he stated a new purpose for our presence in Iraq and kept the same policy. Because of his failure or refusal to recognize and try to correct the original mistake, I regard Mr. Bush as an incompetent President. His incompetence has nothing to do with his intellect, his education, his IQ, his personality, his commitment to his religious and ethical beliefs, or even certain other policies that have nothing to do with Iraq. His incompetence is simply his inability or refusal to admit to a mistake and to try to correct it.

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