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The Bush-Aznar Conversation

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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.

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