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I agree with Ken Silverstein–the note published yesterday by Spain’s El País of a conversation which occurred between President Bush and then-Prime Minister José Maria Aznar is a major further breakthrough in understanding the attitude of President Bush in the weeks just preceding the invasion of Iraq. The document is not quite as damning at the Downing Street papers, but it does tend to reinforce the major thrust of the British notes on Bush’s pre-invasion rants.
It is to be stressed that, as was the case with the British documents, this note is particularly credible in that it was recorded by a close ally which was publicly committed to supporting, and did support, Bush in his drive against Iraq.
What emerges is a president full of swagger noting how he will use the great resources of the United States to press other nations (specifically here: members of the Security Council) into line in upcoming votes. He is also resolved to proceed with the invasion no matter what the Security Council does, and no matter what Saddam does. He feigns certitude about his conclusions on Saddam’s involvement with WMD programs—though we now know that the intelligence community had come to discount the supposed evidence for Saddam’s pursuit of WMDs at the time. His convictions are delusional, or they are mere pretense.
Today, the Washington Post publishes a translation of the El País story with commentary. As is the Post’s wont, it runs the most important story of the day on page A17.
Bush said that Europeans were insensitive to “the suffering that Saddam Hussein has inflicted on the Iraqis” and added: “Maybe it’s because he’s dark-skinned, far away and Muslim — a lot of Europeans think he’s okay.” But Bush was happy to play the “bad cop,” he said. “The more the Europeans attack me, the stronger I am in the United States.”
Later in the conversation, Aznar returned to the subject. “Is it true there’s a possibility Saddam Hussein might go into exile?” “Yes, it’s possible,” Bush responded. “It’s also possible he could be assassinated.” In any case, Bush said, there would be “no guarantee” for Hussein. “He’s a thief, a terrorist and a war criminal. Compared to Saddam, [former Yugoslav president Slobodan] Milosevic would be a Mother Teresa.”
Bush noted that he had gone to the United Nations “despite differences in my own administration” and said it would be “great” if the proposed resolution was successful. “The only thing that worries me is your optimism,” Aznar said. “I’m optimistic because I believe I’m right,” Bush replied. “I’m at peace with myself.”
This is the Bush that at length Americans have come to understand: a man who is absolutely certain about things on which he is absolutely wrong. Aznar’s saving grace was his skepticism and adhesion to reason. He emerges from the discussion as a concerned friend trying tactfully to pull a friend back from the brink of disaster. He failed, of course, because once Bush has made up his mind, he does not listen—not even to his friends. He really has all the hallmarks of a disastrous leader.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”