Sunday, October 17, 2004

If Bush is reelected in 2004, we can count on a military draft in 2005

[10/17/2004 12:47 Here's another url about the Draft:
The Coming Bush Draft
Commentary / CommentaryDate: Sep 06, 2004 - 12:28 PM
If Bush is reelected in 2004, we can count on a military draft in 2005.By Mick Youther

One thing George W. Bush forgot to mention at the Republican National Convention was that, if reelected, he would soon bring back the military draft. • “The official view from the Pentagon is that all is going well in Iraq and that the US forces are more than ready to continue the global war against terrorism….The reality is that US forces are now severely overstretched and the number of their military commitments worldwide is increasing by the day.”-- Jane's Intelligence Digest, August 2003• “[VP Cheney] has said the US is considering military or other action against ‘40 to 50 countries’ and warns that the new war may last 50 years or more.”-- John Pilger, Daily Mirror, 1/29/02 • “[…the active Army would be unable to sustain an occupation force of the present size beyond March 2004 if it chose not to keep individual units deployed to Iraq for longer than one year without relief.”-- Douglas Holtz-Eakin, Director of the Congressional Budget Office, quoted on, 12/23/03• “We've failed to convince our allies to send troops, we've extended deployments so morale is sinking, and the president is saying we can't cut and run. So what's left? …at some point, we're going to need more troops, and at that point the only way to get them will be a return to the draft.”-- Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY),, 11/3/03• “We're not going to reimplement a draft. There is no need for it at all.”-- Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, 1/7/03 (Translated: “The draft will start right after Bush is reelected.”)• “Pending legislation in the House and Senate (twin bills S 89 and HR 163) would time the program so the draft could begin at early as Spring 2005 -- conveniently just after the 2004 presidential election!”-- Adam Stutz, Project Censored, 1/28/04You can tell the Chickenhawks have been working on this for a while. They want to make sure no one can avoid the draft—like they did. • “A little-noticed provision in a new federal education law requires high schools to provide names, addresses, and phone numbers of students to military recruiters. Schools that refuse to comply face losing federal education funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”-- Boston Globe, 11/21/02 (Now you know what they mean by “No Child Left Behind”.)• “If a military draft were to return, it would not be the same as during the Vietnam War. Because of the widespread concern that sons in wealthy and politically connected families can easily avoid the draft, no educational exemptions are expected this time, except to allow the completion of a term or for a senior to complete the year. Because of the extensive completion of extradition treaties, for example, the 2001 Smart Border Declaration, escaping to Canada or Sweden, or about any other country, would not be an option.”-- Carol Van Houten, The Register-Guard, 6/25/04• “[A bill has been introduced] that would require that all males and females between the ages of 18 and 26 perform two years of ‘service.’ …any draftees that were not needed by the military would be assigned to a civilian job that, ‘as determined by the President, promotes the national defense, including national or community service and homeland security.’”-- Draft Notices, Nov.-Dec., 2003• “In line with today's needs, the Selective Service System's structure, programs and activities should be re-engineered toward maintaining a national inventory of American men and, for the first time, women, ages 18 through 34, with an added focus on identifying individuals with critical skills.”-- Selective Service System proposal, 2/11/03; quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 5/1/04• “$28 million has been added to the 2004 Selective Service System (SSS) budget to prepare for a military draft that could start as early as June 15, 2005. SSS must report to Bush on March 31, 2005 that the system, which has lain dormant for decades, is ready for activation.”-- Adam Stutz, Project Censored, 1/28/04So, if you are of draft age or you have children or grandchildren of draft age, or you care about someone of draft age; in other words—everyone—vote for John Kerry and send Bush back to Texas before he can do any more harm. His military misadventures have already caused thousands of deaths and torn apart the lives of tens of thousands of military families. • “If you have a child who will be fourteen years old in the next few months, they could be on the battlefield before the end of a second Bush term.”-- Charles Cutter, Magic City Morning Star, 7/8//04Posted September 6, 2004You can email your comments to
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Post-war planning non-existent

Posted on Sun, Oct. 17, 2004
Post-war planning non-existentBy WARREN P. STROBEL and JOHN WALCOTTKnight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - In March 2003, days before the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American war planners and intelligence officials met at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina to review the Bush administration's plans to oust Saddam Hussein and implant democracy in Iraq.
Near the end of his presentation, an Army lieutenant colonel who was giving a briefing showed a slide describing the Pentagon's plans for rebuilding Iraq after the war, known in the planners' parlance as Phase 4-C. He was uncomfortable with his material - and for good reason.
The slide said: "To Be Provided."
A Knight Ridder review of the administration's Iraq policy and decisions has found that it invaded Iraq without a comprehensive plan in place to secure and rebuild the country. The administration also failed to provide some 100,000 additional U.S. troops that American military commanders originally wanted to help restore order and reconstruct a country shattered by war, a brutal dictatorship and economic sanctions.
In fact, some senior Pentagon officials had thought they could bring most American soldiers home from Iraq by September 2003. Instead, more than a year later, 138,000 U.S. troops are still fighting terrorists who slip easily across Iraq's long borders, diehards from the old regime and Iraqis angered by their country's widespread crime and unemployment and America's sometimes heavy boots.
"We didn't go in with a plan. We went in with a theory," said a veteran State Department officer who was directly involved in Iraq policy.
The military's plan to defeat Saddam's army worked brilliantly and American troops have distinguished themselves on the battlefield. However, the review found that the president and many of his advisers ignored repeated warnings that rebuilding Iraq would be harder than ousting Saddam and tossed out years of planning about how to rebuild Iraq, in part because they thought pro-American Iraqi exiles and Iraqi "patriots" would quickly pick up the pieces. The CIA predicted up until the war's opening days that the Iraqi army would turn against Saddam, which never happened.
This report is based on official documents and on interviews with more than three dozen current and former civilian and military officials who participated directly in planning for the war and its aftermath. Most still support the decision to go to war but say many of the subsequent problems could have been avoided.
Every effort was made to get those who were interviewed to speak for the record, but many officials requested anonymity because they didn't want to criticize the administration publicly or because they feared retaliation.
One official who was deeply involved in the pre-war planning effort - and was critical of it - initially agreed but then declined to cooperate after expressing concern that the Justice Department might pursue a reporter's telephone records in an effort to hunt down critics of the administration's policies.
Some senior officials spoke up about their concerns for the first time. President Bush and top officials in Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's office never responded to repeated requests for interviews. They've publicly defended their plans for the invasion and its aftermath, and now some top officials are blaming the CIA for failing to predict the messy aftermath of Saddam's fall.
The United States and interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi are now taking steps to defeat the Iraqi insurgency and permit national elections scheduled for January. They've negotiated an agreement to disarm some of the militia led by radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al Sadr and are pressing an offensive against Sunni rebels. After more than a year of internal squabbling, U.S. military commanders, intelligence officers and diplomats in Baghdad are acting as a team.
But the hole created by the absence of an adequate plan to rebuild Iraq, the failure to provide enough troops to secure the country, the misplaced faith in Iraqi exiles and other mistakes made after Baghdad fell is a deep one.
"We've finally got our act together, but we're all afraid it may be too late," said one senior official who's engaged daily in Iraq policy.
The Bush administration's failure to plan to win the peace in Iraq was the product of many of the same problems that plagued the administration's case for war, including wishful thinking, bad information from Iraqi exiles who said Iraqis would welcome American troops as liberators and contempt for dissenting opinions.
However, the administration's planning for postwar Iraq differed in one crucial respect from its erroneous pre-war claims about Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and links to al Qaida.
The U.S. intelligence community had been divided about the state of Saddam's weapons programs, but there was little disagreement among experts throughout the government that winning the peace in Iraq could be much harder than winning a war.
"The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace in Iraq is real and serious," warned an Army War College report that was completed in February 2003, a month before the invasion. Without an "overwhelming" effort to prepare for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the report warned: "The United States may find itself in a radically different world over the next few years, a world in which the threat of Saddam Hussein seems like a pale shadow of new problems of America's own making."
A half-dozen intelligence reports also warned that American troops could face significant postwar resistance. This foot-high stack of material was distributed at White House meetings of Bush's top foreign policy advisers, but there's no evidence that anyone ever acted on it.
"It was disseminated. And ignored," said a former senior intelligence official.
The Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency was particularly aggressive in its forecasts, officials said. One briefing occurred in January 2003. Another, in April 2003, weeks after the war began, discussed Saddam's plans for attacking U.S. forces after his troops had been defeated on the battlefield.
Similar warnings came from the Pentagon's Joint Staff, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and the CIA's National Intelligence Council. The council produced reports in January 2003 titled "Principal Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq" and "Regional Consequences of Regime Change in Iraq."
Unlike the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in which Iraqi troops were trying to maintain their grip on Kuwait, "they are now defending their country," said a senior defense official, summarizing the Joint Staff's warnings. "You are going to get serious resistance. This idea that everyone will join you is baloney. But it was dismissed."
In the first weeks of 2003, as war appeared inevitable, it began to dawn on many officials throughout the government that the United States was unprepared to stabilize and rebuild Iraq after Saddam was defeated.
At the CIA, the national intelligence officer for military issues, retired Maj. Gen. John Landry, became concerned that the military wasn't preparing adequately for postwar Iraq.
He and fellow officer Paul Pillar, acting on their own, convened a brainstorming session of government and private experts at the CIA two months before the war.
It uncovered many problems, including some that couldn't be solved before the war began.
The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, couldn't get Pentagon approval to pre-position in Kuwait all the relief supplies he thought would be necessary. The White House was slow to release funds for rebuilding Iraq.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner wasn't named to lead Iraq's reconstruction until January 2003 and didn't oversee the first major interagency conference on postwar Iraq until Feb. 21, less than a month before the invasion.
At the Pentagon, the director of the Joint Staff, Army Gen. George Casey, repeatedly pressed Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of the Central Command, for a "Phase 4," or postwar, plan, the senior defense official said.
"Casey was screaming, 'Where is our Phase 4 plan?' " the official said. It never arrived. Casey is now the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.
Franks' Central Command did have an extensive plan to restore order and begin rebuilding the country, called Operation Desert Crossing, said retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, who drew up the plan and updated it continuously when he led Centcom until 2000. It was never utilized.
On March 17, 2003, two days before the war began, ground force commanders asked the Army War College for a copy of the handbook that had governed the U.S. occupation of postwar Germany, which began in 1945.
The same officials who saw no need for a plan to secure and rebuild a defeated Iraq also saw no need to position thousands of U.S. soldiers, including military police, engineers, ordnance disposal teams and civil affairs specialists, to begin taking control in Iraq even before the war against Saddam was over.
Longstanding Army doctrine calls for beginning reconstruction in freed areas of a country while fighting rages elsewhere. It also calls for a shift in military forces from combat troops to civil affairs, military police and the like.
"Unfortunately, this did not occur despite clear guidance to the contrary," Army Col. Paul F. Dicker wrote in an assessment. Bush, Rumsfeld and other top officials insist that their military commanders were given everything they requested, and Franks wrote in his book, "American Soldier," that Rumsfeld supported his war plan. Technically, that's accurate. However, three top officials who served with Franks at the time said the plan was the product of a lengthy and sometimes heated negotiation between the Central Command and the Pentagon, in which Rumsfeld constantly pressed Franks and other senior officers to commit fewer troops to Operation Iraqi Freedom.
At one point, Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former chairman of the joint chiefs, weighed in on Franks' side and helped persuade Rumsfeld to commit more troops, a senior administration official said. Rumsfeld and his aides wisely wanted to keep the U.S. footprint in Iraq as small as possible, realizing that more troops would likely breed more Iraqi resentment, and they wanted a smaller, faster force that could overwhelm the Iraqi military before it could torch the country's oil fields, retreat into the cities and create a humanitarian disaster.
"There were different motivations by different people in this administration for going after Iraq, but they all came together . . . in a way that blotted out prudence and caution," said a senior intelligence official.
Rumsfeld and his aides made it clear what would happen to generals who bucked them. When, under persistent congressional questioning in February 2003, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, said he thought several hundred thousand U.S. troops would be needed to secure Iraq, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly called his estimate "wildly off the mark." Then Rumsfeld's office leaked word of Shinseki's replacement 15 months before Shinseki was due to retire, both embarrassing and neutralizing the Army's top officer. "Rumsfeld just beat up on the military," said the senior intelligence official. "And so they just shut up and did what they were told."
Central Command originally proposed a force of 380,000 to attack and occupy Iraq. Rumsfeld's opening bid was about 40,000, "a division-plus," said three senior military officials who participated in the discussions. Bush and his top advisers finally approved the 250,000 troops the commanders requested to launch the invasion. But the additional troops that the military wanted to secure Iraq after Saddam's regime fell were either delayed or never sent.
Four senior officers who were directly involved said Rumsfeld and Franks micromanaged the complex process of deciding when and how the troops and their equipment would be sent to Iraq, called the Time-Phased Force and Deployment Data, canceling some units, rescheduling others and even moving equipment from one ship to another.
As a result, two Army divisions that Centcom wanted to help secure the country weren't on hand when Baghdad fell and the country lapsed into anarchy, and a third, the 1st Cavalry from Fort Hood, Texas, fell so far behind schedule that on April 21 Franks and Rumsfeld dropped it from the plan.
One senior military official who was also deeply involved said the only major change in deployments was the cancellation of the 1st Cavalry. The decision was made, he said, because of concerns that the United States might be short of forces to deal with crises in Korea or elsewhere in the world.
Moreover, he said, there was a realization that fresh troops would eventually be needed to replace worn-out units in Iraq.
"We could not burn the candle on the Cav prematurely," he said. Others said that civilian officials in the Pentagon were so convinced that these "follow-on forces" wouldn't be needed in Iraq that they thought they could withdraw 50,000 troops from Iraq in June 2003; 50,000 more in July; and a final 50,000 in August. By September 2003, Rumsfeld and his aides thought, there would be very few American troops left in Iraq.
Instead of providing a plan and enough troops to take control of Iraq, officials, advisers and consultants in and around the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office bet on Iraqi exiles such as Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, who assured them that Iraqis would welcome American troops as liberators.
Gen. John Keane, the vice chief of the Army staff during the war, said some defense officials believed the exiles' promises. "We did not see it (the insurgency) coming. And we were not properly prepared and organized to deal with it . . . . Many of us got seduced by the Iraqi exiles in terms of what the outcome would be," Keane told a House committee in July.
Rumsfeld's office "was utterly, arrogantly, ignorantly and negligently unprepared" for the aftermath of the war, said Larry Diamond, who was a political adviser in Baghdad from January to March of this year.
Douglas Feith, the Defense Department's No. 3 official, and former Pentagon consultant Richard Perle both acknowledged that their vision for post-Saddam Iraq included putting pro-Western exiles in power.
"We had a theme in our minds, a strategic idea, of liberation rather than occupation, giving them (Iraqis) more authority even at the expense of having things done with greater efficiency" by coalition military forces, Feith told The Philadelphia Inquirer last month. Perle, in an interview, said he and others had for years advocated "helping the Iraqis liberate themselves - which was a completely different approach than we settled on."
"We'll never know how it would have come out if we did it the way we wanted to do it," he said.
The CIA, the DIA and the State Department all warned that Chalabi was a charlatan, and the uniformed military dragged its heels in training exiles to join the fight against Saddam.
The battle over Chalabi was one of numerous bitter interagency fights about Iraq that neither Bush nor his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, never resolved.
"I'm not going to put my thumb on the scale," Bush said at a White House meeting where Chalabi's bona fides were hotly debated, according to an official who was present.
That left Pentagon officials to plow ahead with their attempt to position Chalabi and his militia, the Free Iraqi Fighting Forces, to take power after Saddam's fall.
Within 48 hours of their arrival in Baghdad in April, some of Chalabi's men, including members of his personal bodyguard force, began taking cars, bank accounts and real estate, said a senior military officer who received reports of the events. It became evident almost as quickly that Chalabi and other exiles had a larger political following in the Pentagon than they did in Iraq. Intelligence officials now charge that Chalabi or some of his senior aides were paid agents of Iran's intelligence service, and that Chalabi or his security chief provided classified U.S. military information to Iran. Chalabi has denied the allegation.
(This report was reported by Knight Ridder's Joseph L. Galloway, Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, with research by Tish Wells.)
© 2004 KR Washington Bureau and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Why conservatives must not vote for Bush
Why conservatives must not vote for BushA Reaganite argues that Bush is a dangerous, profligate, moralizing radical -- and that his reelection would be catastrophic both for the right and for America.
- - - - - - - - - - - -By Doug Bandow

Sept. 10, 2004 George W. Bush presents conservatives with a fundamental challenge: Do they believe in anything other than power? Are they serious about their rhetoric on limited, constitutionally restrained government?
Bush appears to have remained strong in the presidential race by rallying conservatives behind him. In his convention acceptance speech he derided Sen. John Kerry's claim to represent "conservative values" and seized the mantle of promoting liberty at home and abroad.
Indeed, many conservatives react like the proverbial vampire at the sight of a cross when they consider casting a ballot for Kerry. Tom Nugent, a National Review Online contributing editor, wrote: "The last thing the Republican party needs is the reckless suggestion that conservatives vote Democratic." That is mild, however, compared with the American Conservative Union's mass e-mail solicitation headlined "Why Do Terrorists Want Kerry to Win?"
Republican partisans have little choice but to focus on Kerry's perceived vulnerabilities. A few high-octane speeches cannot disguise the catastrophic failure of the Bush administration in both its domestic and its foreign policies. Mounting deficits are likely to force eventual tax increases, reversing perhaps President Bush's most important economic legacy. The administration's foreign policy is an even greater shambles, with Iraq aflame and America increasingly reviled by friend and foe alike.
Quite simply, the president, despite his well-choreographed posturing, does not represent traditional conservatism -- a commitment to individual liberty, limited government, constitutional restraint and fiscal responsibility. Rather, Bush routinely puts power before principle. As Chris Vance, chairman of Washington state's Republican Party, told the Economist: "George Bush's record is not that conservative ... There's something there for everyone."
Even Bush's conservative sycophants have trouble finding policies to praise. Certainly it cannot be federal spending. In 2000 candidate Bush complained that Al Gore would "throw the budget out of balance." But the big-spending Bush administration and GOP Congress have turned a 10-year budget surplus once estimated at $5.6 trillion into an estimated $5 trillion flood of red ink. This year's deficit will run about $445 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation reports that in 2003 "government spending exceeded $20,000 per household for the first time since World War II." There are few programs at which the president has not thrown money; he has supported massive farm subsidies, an expensive new Medicare drug benefit, thousands of pork barrel projects, dubious homeland security grants, an expansion of Bill Clinton's AmeriCorps, and new foreign aid programs. What's more, says former conservative Republican Rep. Bob Barr, "in the midst of the war on terror and $500 billion deficits, [Bush] proposes sending spaceships to Mars."
Unfortunately, even the official spending numbers understate the problem. The Bush administration is pushing military proposals that may understate defense costs by $500 billion over the coming decade. The administration lied about the likely cost of the Medicare drug benefit, which added $8 trillion in unfunded liabilities. Moreover, it declined to include in budget proposals any numbers for maintaining the occupation of Iraq or underwriting the war on terrorism. Those funds will come through supplemental appropriation bills. Never mind that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz had promised that reconstruction of Iraq could be paid for with Iraqi resources. (Yet, despite the Bush administration's generosity, it could not find the money to expeditiously equip U.S. soldiers in Iraq with body armor.)
Nor would a second Bush term likely be different. Nothing in his convention speech suggested a new willingness by Bush to make tough choices. Indeed, when discussing their domestic agenda, administration officials complained that the media had ignored their proposals, such as $250 million in aid to community colleges for job training. Not mentioned was that Washington runs a plethora of job training programs, few of which have demonstrated lasting benefits. This is the hallmark of a limited-government conservative?
Jonah Goldberg, a regular contributor to NRO, one of Bush's strongest bastions, complains that the president has "asked for a major new commitment by the federal government to insert itself into everything from religious charities to marriage counseling." Indeed, Bush seems to aspire to be America's moralizer in chief. He would use the federal government to micromanage education, combat the scourge of steroid use, push drug testing of high school kids, encourage character education, promote marriage, hire mentors for children of prisoners and provide coaches for ex-cons.
Conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan worries that Bush "is fusing Big Government liberalism with religious right moralism. It's the nanny state with more cash."
Yet some conservatives celebrate this approach. Kevin Fobbs and Lisa Sarrach of the National Urban Policy Action Council opine that Bush is "a strong leader, a comforter in chief." A comforter in chief?
Why, then, would any conservative believer in limited, constitutional government vote for Bush? It is fear of the thought of a President John Kerry.
Bobby Eberle of the conservative Web site GOPUSA warns, "One can only imagine the budgets that would be submitted by Kerry." President Bush has made the same point, repeatedly charging that Kerry "has promised about $2 trillion of new spending thus far." Maybe that is true, though the cost of Bush's actual performance would be hard to beat. After all, the president initiated a huge increase in the welfare state with his Medicare drug benefit bill. Veronique de Rugy of the American Enterprise Institute points out that, in sharp contrast to Presidents Reagan and Clinton, "Bush has cut none of the [federal] agencies' budgets during his first term."
Moreover, whatever the personal preferences of a President Kerry, he could spend only whatever legislators allowed, so assuming that the GOP maintains its control over Congress, outlays almost certainly would rise less than if Bush won reelection. History convincingly demonstrates that divided government delivers less spending than unitary control. Give either party complete control of government and the treasury vaults quickly empty. Share power between the parties and, out of principle or malice, they check each other. The American Conservative Union's Don Devine says bluntly: "A rational conservative would calculate a vote for Kerry as likely to do less damage" fiscally.
Maybe so, respond some conservatives, but how about the Bush tax cuts? The president tells campaign audiences: "They're going to raise your taxes; we're not." But even here the Bush record is not secure. Bruce Bartlett of the National Center for Policy Analysis points to the flood of red ink unleashed by the administration and predicts that tax hikes are inevitable irrespective of who is elected in November. That is, Bush's fiscal irresponsibility could cancel out his most important economic success for the GOP.
For some conservatives, the clincher in favor of Bush is the war on terrorism. Kerry, with more war experience than the current president and vice president combined, "resembles Neville Chamberlain," says Nugent. Answering his own hysterical question, "Why do terrorists want Kerry to win?" David Keene of the American Conservative Union says Kerry would submit to terrorists and "lead the free world to a second Munich," only this time with al-Qaida instead of Adolph Hitler.
Yet Bush's foreign policy record is as bad as his domestic scorecard. The administration correctly targeted the Taliban in Afghanistan, but quickly neglected that nation, which is in danger of falling into chaos. The Taliban is resurgent, violence has flared, drug production has burgeoned and elections have been postponed.
Iraq, already in chaos, is no conservative triumph. The endeavor is social engineering on a grand scale, a war of choice launched on erroneous grounds that has turned into a disastrously expensive neocolonial burden.
Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, contrary to administration claims, and no operational relationship with al-Qaida, contrary to administration insinuations. U.S. officials bungled the occupation, misjudging everything from the financial cost to the troop requirements.
Particularly shocking is the administration's ineptitude with regard to Iraq. Fareed Zakaria writes in Newsweek, "On almost every issue involving postwar Iraq -- troop strength, international support, the credibility of exiles, de-Baathification, handling Ayatollah Ali Sistani -- Washington's assumptions and policies have been wrong. By now most have been reversed, often too late to have much effect. This strange combination of arrogance and incompetence has not only destroyed the hopes for a new Iraq. It has had the much broader effect of turning the United States into an international outlaw in the eyes of much of the world."
Sadly, the Iraq debacle has undercut the fight against terrorism. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in its most recent study warns that the Iraq occupation has spurred recruiting by smaller terrorist groups around the world. And acting CIA Director John McLaughlin worries that terrorists are plotting "something big" against the United States. For a time the Pentagon considered closing its child care center, lest it become the target of an attack. NRO columnist Goldberg observes that the president's contention that the war in Iraq has made America safer "is absurd." Goldberg backs the war for other reasons, but says it was probably "the risky thing in the short run."
Bush -- not even sure himself whether the war on terrorism is winnable -- has been unable to demonstrate how Iraq has reduced the threat of terrorism against America. Instead, he says: "I need four more years to complete the work. There's more work to do to make America a safer place. There's more work to do to make the world a more peaceful place." Alas, there's more work, far more work, to do because of Bush's misguided policies.
A few conservatives are distressed at what Bush has wrought in Iraq. "Crossfire" host Tucker Carlson said recently: "I think it's a total nightmare and disaster, and I'm ashamed that I went against my own instincts in supporting it." William F. Buckley Jr., longtime National Review editor and columnist, wrote: "With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn't the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration one year ago. If I knew then what I know now about what kind of situation we would be in, I would have opposed the war."
And opposed it he should have. The conflict is undermining America's values. As social critic Randolph Bourne long ago observed, "War is the health of the state." Although the Constitution is not a suicide pact, the so-called PATRIOT Act threatens some of the basic civil liberties that make America worth defending. Abu Ghraib has sullied America's image among both friends and enemies.
Still, there obviously are issues important to conservatives on which the candidates differ. On abortion and judicial appointments, for instance, Bush is clearly superior for conservatives. On business regulation Bush is probably better. For this reason Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation worries that "in punishing Bush, they [conservatives opposing him] may end up punishing the country." The administration has also sacrificed economic liberty on issues such as antitrust, telecommunications and trade.
But these differences in practice may matter little. Not much can be done on abortion given current court rulings and the fact that Bush has won approval of few of his most conservative nominees. Republican senators could limit Kerry's choices just as Democratic senators have limited Bush's choices.
Bush's record has been so bad that some of his supporters simply ask, So what? Bush is "a big government conservative," explains commentator Fred Barnes. That means using "what would normally be seen as liberal means -- activist government -- for conservative ends. And they're willing to spend more and increase the size of government in the process."
But this political prostitution is unworthy of venerable conservative principles. Undoubtedly, reducing the reach of government is not easy, and there is no shame in adjusting tactics and even goals to reflect political reality. But to surrender one's principles, to refuse to fight for them, is to put personal ambition before all else.
The final conservative redoubt is Bush's admirable personal life. Alas, other characteristics of his seem less well suited to the presidency. By his own admission he doesn't do nuance and doesn't read. He doesn't appear to reflect on his actions and seems unable to concede even the slightest mistake. Nor is he willing to hold anyone else responsible for anything. It is a damning combination. John Kerry may flip-flop, but at least he realizes that circumstances change and sometimes require changed policies. He doesn't cowardly flee at the first mention of accountability.
Some onetime administration supporters have grown disillusioned. Sullivan observes: "To have humiliated the United States by presenting false and misleading intelligence and then to have allowed something like Abu Ghraib to happen ... is unforgivable. By refusing to hold anyone accountable, the president has also shown he is not really in control. We are at war; and our war leaders have given the enemy their biggest propaganda coup imaginable, while refusing to acknowledge their own palpable errors and misjudgments."
Those who still believe in Bush have tried to play up comparisons with Ronald Reagan, but I knew Reagan and he was no George W. Bush. It's not just that Reagan read widely, thought deeply about issues and wrote prolifically. He really believed in the primacy of individual liberty and of limited, constitutional government.
In his farewell address to the nation on Jan. 11, 1989, Reagan observed: "I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things." Even when politics forced him to give way, everyone knew what he stood for. Bush's biggest problem, in contrast, is not that he is a poor communicator. It is that he has nothing to communicate. Victory over terrorists, yes -- but then what American really disagrees with that goal? Beyond that there is nothing.
"Government should never try to control or dominate the lives of our citizens," Bush says. But you wouldn't know that from his policies. He has expanded government power, increased federal spending, initiated an unnecessary war, engaged in global social engineering and undercut executive accountability. This is a bill of particulars that could be laid on Lyndon Johnson's grave. No wonder "Republicans aren't very enthusiastic about" Bush, says right-wing syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
Although anecdotal evidence of conservative disaffection with Bush is common -- for instance, my Pentagon employee neighbor, a business lobbyist friend, even my retired career Air Force father -- for many the thought of voting for John Kerry remains simply too horrific to contemplate. And this dissatisfaction has yet to show up in polls. Fear of Kerry, more than love of Bush, holds many conservatives behind the GOP.
Yet serious conservatives must fear for the country if Bush is reelected. Is Kerry really likely to initiate more unnecessary wars, threaten more civil liberties and waste more tax dollars? In any case, there are other choices (e.g., the Libertarian Party's Michael Badnarik, the Constitution Party's Michael Peroutka and even Independent Ralph Nader).
Serious conservatives should deny their votes to Bush. "When it comes to choosing a president, results matter," the president says. So true. A Kerry victory would likely be bad for the cause of individual liberty and limited government. But based on the results of his presidency, a Bush victory would be catastrophic. Conservatives should choose principle over power.
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About the writerDoug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He served as a special assistant to President Reagan and was a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Sound OffSend us a Letter to the Editor
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House dividedGOP enforcer Tom DeLay and his former partner Dick Armey are locked in a nasty dispute over the future of the Republican Party.By Mary Jacoby05/24/04
And you thought his first term was a nightmareWhat Bush has planned for America if he wins.By Charles Tiefer08/25/04 >>

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Revolt in the ranks in Iraq - - - - - - - -
Revolt in the ranks in IraqThe inside story of the Army platoon that refused to carry out a "death sentence" mission.
- - - - - - - - - - - -By Mary Jacoby

Oct. 16, 2004 The e-mail arrived Tuesday evening. But Kathy Harris didn't see the urgent plea from her son, Spc. Aaron Gordon, 20, until she arrived at work Wednesday morning. By then, Gordon and 16 other members of his Army Reserve platoon were corralled in a tent in Tallil, Iraq, under armed guard, for refusing to drive a fuel supply convoy in what another of the detained soldiers would later describe as a "death sentence."
"At that point [when her son e-mailed] they hadn't been arrested yet. He was asking my advice about what could happen if they refused an order," Harris told me on Friday by telephone from Mississippi. "He said they had been ordered to take a contaminated load of fuel into a high-danger area. He said that they had already taken this load to one location, and it had been refused, and that they had, in his exact words, a '75 percent chance of being hit' on this new mission. He asked what the potential reprimands were if he disobeyed his commanding officer and, if it came to that point, what would happen to him if he had to get physical."
Harris quickly phoned a friend who is a judge advocate general (JAG) officer and e-mailed her son back. "I told him if he struck an officer he faced potential three years imprisonment and a dishonorable discharge. I said, 'Do not do that.' I told him to talk to his first sergeant and see if he could help. But I doubt he ever got my reply."
Indeed, by the time Kathy Harris replied to her son's e-mail, several other military families had received desperate phone calls from their loved ones in Iraq. There had been some sort of mutiny, it was clear. The details were sketchy, but it appeared that the platoon had refused to deliver a load of fuel to Taji, Iraq, because the soldiers believed their lives were at serious and unnecessary risk. According to the family members' accounts, they were detained at gunpoint by soldiers for more than a day.
But the military denies that the reservists were detained at all. Lt. Col. Dave Rodgers, a spokesman for the 81st Regional Support Readiness Command of the U.S. Army Reserves in Birmingham, Ala., said in an interview Friday that while an investigation into the matter is ongoing, "No soldier has been arrested, charged, confined or detained as a result of this incident."
That would be news to many family members, who say their loved ones told them that they'd been confined in a tent at gunpoint and refused permission to use the bathroom without armed escort.
Spc. Amber McClenny, 21, managed to sneak away Wednesday as the detained soldiers were being taken to the mess hall. She phoned her mother in Dothan, Ala. Her daughter's steady but urgent voice on the answering machine jolted Teresa Hill from sleep. Hill saved the message and played it for me Friday afternoon over the telephone.
"Hey, Mom. This is Amber. Real, real big emergency," McClenny said in the recorded message. "I need you to contact someone. I mean, raise pure hell. We had broken down trucks. No armored vehicles. Get somebody on this. I need you now, Mom. I need you so bad. Just please, please help me. It's urgent. They are holding us against our will. We are now prisoners."
According to family members, the convoy was being asked to go much farther than usual from its southern base -- on a more than 200-mile trip through and around the extremely hostile Baghdad area. The tankers lacked bullet-resistant armor and, lumbering along at 40 miles an hour, would have made an easy target for insurgents lobbing bombs or grenades. The supply trucks are in disrepair and prone to breakdown. Many of the soldiers hadn't had enough sleep. And – astonishingly -- no armed escort or air protection was to be provided, the family members said.
Most absurdly, though, the jet fuel that these members of the 343rd Quartermaster Company were risking life and limb to transport wasn't even usable. It was contaminated with diesel and had already sensibly been rejected by one base and would undoubtedly be rejected again in Taji -- if the convoy managed to make it to its destination at all.
At 5:12 a.m. Wednesday, Patricia McCook, also of Jackson, Miss., was awakened by a "very frantic" phone call from her husband, Sgt. Larry McCook. "He was saying, 'Wake up! Please listen to me! I sneaked out of the back [mess] hall to tell you something. Something's going on. The military wants to sweep it under the rug, but it needs to be out. Get a paper and pen and write this down."
The mother of two teenagers jerked out of bed and began scribbling. Her notes read "disobeying a lawful order," "17 of us," "all of us agreed not to go." Her husband, she said, "was just trying to get out as much information as possible. I had to slow him down to get the names of some of the other people." She managed to get three names before he hung up on her.
Beverly Dobbs of Vandiver, Ala., also received an anguished phone call Wednesday from her son, Spc. Joseph Dobbs. "Momma, we're in a lot of trouble," he said, according to Dobbs. "We had some contaminated fuel. We went out on this mission, and they turned us back, and our captain got mad and was gonna send us out on another mission. We refused to go because our vehicles were in awful shape. The place they wanted to send us was dangerous. We had to go without guns. All of us refused to go. We're not risking our lives like that."
Before he hung up, Joseph Dobbs told his mother: "They had us in this tent, and they had guns pointed all around us, and the guns were loaded. We're not allowed to go nowhere." The M-16 rifles the guards carried were locked and loaded, another detained soldier told his family, and their bathroom trips were made under armed escort.
Joseph Dobbs is 19 years old. Beverly Dobbs told me: "You see why I'm freaking out? My baby is only 19!"
The 343rd Quartermaster Company is based in Rock Hill, S.C., and has been in Iraq since February. From their base in Tallil, about 190 miles southeast of Baghdad, the reservists have run fuel supply convoys from Najaf in the Shiite south to Fallujah in the Sunni triangle, but more recently they have stayed away from those cities in the heart of the burgeoning insurgency.
"When Amber first told me she was doing convoys, she said they would have two or three gun trucks with them, and she was either driving the tanker or driving a gun truck. And they always had air support. But this time, they were ordered to go without," her mother, Teresa Hill, said.
Hill heard nothing more from or about her daughter until Thursday morning. A specialist who was not part of the detained group had managed to squirrel out phone numbers of soldiers' family members back home who needed to be contacted, Hill said. The specialist phoned Hill, and Hill began alerting the other family members.
By Friday morning in the United States -- Friday afternoon in Iraq -- the families began receiving phone calls from their loved ones saying that they had been released. Spc. Desmond Jones, 33, called his wife, Angela, in Charlotte, N.C. "He said that they weren't directly arrested. He said they [the guards] did have guns. But we didn't really get to talk about it, because he said there were others standing in line behind him to use the phone," Angela Jones said. The Joneses have two children.
Pam Sullivan, also of Charlotte, said her husband, Spc. Peter Sullivan, 35, also called Friday morning. "He said they are out of jail. He said if they would have done it [delivered the fuel in creaky trucks without armed escort], it would have been like a death sentence," she said. She added that her husband had told her his request to see a lawyer had been denied. The Sullivans have three daughters. In civilian life, her husband works for an air conditioning company.
In an official statement, the Army said: "The 343rd is an experienced company that has performed honorable service for nearly nine months in Iraq. This was an isolated incident confined to a small group of individuals, and though there was a delay, no mission went un-accomplished as a result."
When I told Lt. Col Rodgers that there appears to be a wide gulf between the families' perceptions that their loved ones had been arrested and the Army's categorical denial that anyone had been detained, he said: "That is true." When pressed to explain, he said, "Well, I don't know where the families got that information from." When told they got it from their detained sons, daughters and husbands, Rodgers said: "I have been in touch with the coalition press information center in Baghdad. I was told the soldiers are not under arrest and they have not been detained."
Responding by e-mail from Iraq to an inquiry from Salon, Maj. Richard Spiegel, a spokesman for the 13th Corps Support Command, said: "The confusion might be because but they were required to remain in the unit area until they provided an initial statement -- this was required from anyone that was involved, witnessed or had knowledge of the situation and is a prudent practice to insure the investigating officer gathers all the facts in a timely manner. Soldiers' rights were insured at all times during this process."
Spiegel did not address in the e-mail a question about whether the convoy was to have been sent off without armed escort or air protection. He wrote that "it would be inappropriate to discuss specific force protection measures and convoy procedures." But, he added, "I can assure you that the 13th Corps Support Command does not permit convoys to move without adequate protections and the ability to respond robustly to any threat or attack."
Spiegel also said no soldiers had been denied requests for lawyers.
In its official statement, the Army said that "soldiers scheduled for the convoy mission raised some valid concerns and the command is addressing them." Yet, an investigation is under way into whether "any offenses to the Uniform Code of Military Justice were committed and if so whether disciplinary measures are warranted," the statement said.
But as of Friday afternoon, it appeared that no military authority had contacted any family member in the United States to offer official notification of the investigation. "If Amber hadn't of snuck out [to make the furtive call home], I wouldn't have known," Teresa Hill said. "They are threatening her with court martial. They were saying eight years in prison."
Amber had once wanted to make her career in the military, her mother said. But after Iraq, Hill doesn't know what her daughter will do. "She was already scared to death of everyone else over there [in Iraq]. And now, she's scared of her own people."
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writerMary Jacoby is Salon's Washington correspondent. Sound OffSend us a Letter to the Editor >> News

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Teachers' T-shirts bring Bush speech ouster

Teachers' T-shirts bring Bush speech ouster

From news sourcesPosted: Thursday, October 14, 2004 10:24 PMReference Code: PR-18712October 14 - MEDFORD, WA – President Bush taught three Oregon schoolteachers a new lesson in irony – or tragedy – Thursday night when his campaign removed them from a Bush speech and threatened them with arrest simply for wearing t-shirts that said “Protect Our Civil Liberties,” the Democratic Party of Oregon reported.The women were ticketed to the event, admitted into the event, and were then approached by event officials before the president’s speech. They were asked to leave and to turn over their tickets – two of the three tickets were seized, but the third was saved when one of the teachers put it underneath an article of clothing. "The U.S. Constitution was not available on site for comment, but expressed in a written statement support for “the freedom of speech” and “of the press” among other civil liberties," a Democratic news release said.The Associated Press and local CBS affiliate KTVL captured Bush’s principled stand against civil liberties in news accounts published immediately after the event.The AP reported:Three Medford school teachers were threatened with arrest and escorted from the event after they showed up wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Protect our civil liberties." All three said they applied for and received valid tickets from Republican headquarters in Medford.The women said they did not intend to protest. "I wanted to see if I would be able to make a statement that I feel is important, but not offensive, in a rally for my president," said Janet Voorhies, 48, a teacher in training.“We chose this phrase specifically because we didn't think it would be offensive or degrading or obscene," said Tania Tong, 34, a special education teacher.Thursday’s event in Oregon sets a new bar for a Bush/Cheney campaign that has taken extraordinary measures to screen the opinions of those who attend Bush and Cheney speeches. For months, the Bush/Cheney campaign has limited event access to those willing to volunteer in Bush/Cheney campaign offices. In recent weeks, the Bush/Cheney campaign has gone so far as to have those who voice dissenting viewpoints at their events arrested and charged as criminals. Thursday’s actions in Oregon set a new standard even for Bush/Cheney – removing and threatening with arrest citizens who in no way disrupt an event and wear clothing that expresses non-disruptive party-neutral viewpoints such as “Protect Our Civil Liberties.”When Vice President Dick Cheney visited Eugene, Oregon on Sept. 17, a 54-Year old woman named Perry Patterson was charged with criminal trespass for blurting the word "No" when Cheney said that George W. Bush has made the world safer. One day before, Sue Niederer, 55, the mother of a slain American soldier in Iraq was cuffed and arrested for criminal trespass when she interrupted a Laura Bush speech in New Jersey. Both women had tickets to the event.

Without a Doubt

October 17, 2004
Without a DoubtBy RON SUSKIND
Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that ''if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3.'' The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.
''Just in the past few months,'' Bartlett said, ''I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do.'' Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush's governance, went on to say: ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. . . .
''This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,'' Bartlett went on to say. ''He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'' Bartlett paused, then said, ''But you can't run the world on faith.'' Forty democratic senators were gathered for a lunch in March just off the Senate floor. I was there as a guest speaker. Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. ''I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,'' he began, ''and I was telling the president of my many concerns'' -- concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. '''Mr. President,' I finally said, 'How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?'''
Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator's shoulder. ''My instincts,'' he said. ''My instincts.''
Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. ''I said, 'Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough!''' The democrat Biden and the Republican Bartlett are trying to make sense of the same thing -- a president who has been an extraordinary blend of forcefulness and inscrutability, opacity and action.
But lately, words and deeds are beginning to connect.
The Delaware senator was, in fact, hearing what Bush's top deputies -- from cabinet members like Paul O'Neill, Christine Todd Whitman and Colin Powell to generals fighting in Iraq -- have been told for years when they requested explanations for many of the president's decisions, policies that often seemed to collide with accepted facts. The president would say that he relied on his ''gut'' or his ''instinct'' to guide the ship of state, and then he ''prayed over it.'' The old pro Bartlett, a deliberative, fact-based wonk, is finally hearing a tune that has been hummed quietly by evangelicals (so as not to trouble the secular) for years as they gazed upon President George W. Bush. This evangelical group -- the core of the energetic ''base'' that may well usher Bush to victory -- believes that their leader is a messenger from God. And in the first presidential debate, many Americans heard the discursive John Kerry succinctly raise, for the first time, the issue of Bush's certainty -- the issue being, as Kerry put it, that ''you can be certain and be wrong.''
What underlies Bush's certainty? And can it be assessed in the temporal realm of informed consent?
All of this -- the ''gut'' and ''instincts,'' the certainty and religiosity -connects to a single word, ''faith,'' and faith asserts its hold ever more on debates in this country and abroad. That a deep Christian faith illuminated the personal journey of George W. Bush is common knowledge. But faith has also shaped his presidency in profound, nonreligious ways. The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party. Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness.
The disdainful smirks and grimaces that many viewers were surprised to see in the first presidential debate are familiar expressions to those in the administration or in Congress who have simply asked the president to explain his positions. Since 9/11, those requests have grown scarce; Bush's intolerance of doubters has, if anything, increased, and few dare to question him now. A writ of infallibility -- a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains -- is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House. As Whitman told me on the day in May 2003 that she announced her resignation as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: ''In meetings, I'd ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty!'' (Whitman, whose faith in Bush has since been renewed, denies making these remarks and is now a leader of the president's re-election effort in New Jersey.) he nation's founders, smarting still from the punitive pieties of Europe's state religions, were adamant about erecting a wall between organized religion and political authority. But suddenly, that seems like a long time ago. George W. Bush -- both captive and creator of this moment -- has steadily, inexorably, changed the office itself. He has created the faith-based presidency.
The faith-based presidency is a with-us-or-against-us model that has been enormously effective at, among other things, keeping the workings and temperament of the Bush White House a kind of state secret. The dome of silence cracked a bit in the late winter and spring, with revelations from the former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke and also, in my book, from the former Bush treasury secretary Paul O'Neill. When I quoted O'Neill saying that Bush was like ''a blind man in a room full of deaf people,'' this did not endear me to the White House. But my phone did begin to ring, with Democrats and Republicans calling with similar impressions and anecdotes about Bush's faith and certainty. These are among the sources I relied upon for this article. Few were willing to talk on the record. Some were willing to talk because they said they thought George W. Bush might lose; others, out of fear of what might transpire if he wins. In either case, there seems to be a growing silence fatigue -- public servants, some with vast experience, who feel they have spent years being treated like Victorian-era children, seen but not heard, and are tired of it. But silence still reigns in the highest reaches of the White House. After many requests, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said in a letter that the president and those around him would not be cooperating with this article in any way.
Some officials, elected or otherwise, with whom I have spoken with left meetings in the Oval Office concerned that the president was struggling with the demands of the job. Others focused on Bush's substantial interpersonal gifts as a compensation for his perceived lack of broader capabilities. Still others, like Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a Democrat, are worried about something other than his native intelligence. ''He's plenty smart enough to do the job,'' Levin said. ''It's his lack of curiosity about complex issues which troubles me.'' But more than anything else, I heard expressions of awe at the president's preternatural certainty and wonderment about its source.
There is one story about Bush's particular brand of certainty I am able to piece together and tell for the record.
In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored ''road map'' for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.
''I don't know why you're talking about Sweden,'' Bush said. ''They're the neutral one. They don't have an army.''
Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: ''Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.'' Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.
Bush held to his view. ''No, no, it's Sweden that has no army.''
The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.
A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. ''You were right,'' he said, with bonhomie. ''Sweden does have an army.''
This story was told to me by one of the senators in the Oval Office that December day, Joe Biden. Lantos, a liberal Democrat, would not comment about it. In general, people who meet with Bush will not discuss their encounters. (Lantos, through a spokesman, says it is a longstanding policy of his not to discuss Oval Office meetings.)
This is one key feature of the faith-based presidency: open dialogue, based on facts, is not seen as something of inherent value. It may, in fact, create doubt, which undercuts faith. It could result in a loss of confidence in the decision-maker and, just as important, by the decision-maker. Nothing could be more vital, whether staying on message with the voters or the terrorists or a California congressman in a meeting about one of the world's most nagging problems. As Bush himself has said any number of times on the campaign trail, ''By remaining resolute and firm and strong, this world will be peaceful.'' He didn't always talk this way. A precious glimpse of Bush, just as he was ascending to the presidency, comes from Jim Wallis, a man with the added advantage of having deep acuity about the struggles between fact and faith. Wallis, an evangelical pastor who for 30 years has run the Sojourners -- a progressive organization of advocates for social justice -- was asked during the transition to help pull together a diverse group of members of the clergy to talk about faith and poverty with the new president-elect.
In December 2000, Bush sat in the classroom of a Baptist church in Austin, Tex., with 30 or so clergy members and asked, ''How do I speak to the soul of the nation?'' He listened as each guest articulated a vision of what might be. The afternoon hours passed. No one wanted to leave. People rose from their chairs and wandered the room, huddling in groups, conversing passionately. In one cluster, Bush and Wallis talked of their journeys.
''I've never lived around poor people,'' Wallis remembers Bush saying. ''I don't know what they think. I really don't know what they think. I'm a white Republican guy who doesn't get it. How do I get it?''
Wallis recalls replying, ''You need to listen to the poor and those who live and work with poor people.''
Bush called over his speechwriter, Michael Gerson, and said, ''I want you to hear this.'' A month later, an almost identical line -- ''many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen to those who do'' -- ended up in the inaugural address.
That was an earlier Bush, one rather more open and conversant, matching his impulsiveness with a can-do attitude and seemingly unafraid of engaging with a diverse group. The president has an array of interpersonal gifts that fit well with this fearlessness -- a headlong, unalloyed quality, best suited to ranging among different types of people, searching for the outlines of what will take shape as principles.
Yet this strong suit, an improvisational gift, has long been forced to wrestle with its ''left brain'' opposite -- a struggle, across 30 years, with the critical and analytical skills so prized in America's professional class. In terms of intellectual faculties, that has been the ongoing battle for this talented man, first visible during the lackluster years at Yale and five years of drift through his 20's -- a time when peers were busy building credentials in law, business or medicine.
Biden, who early on became disenchanted with Bush's grasp of foreign-policy issues and is among John Kerry's closest Senate friends, has spent a lot of time trying to size up the president. ''Most successful people are good at identifying, very early, their strengths and weaknesses, at knowing themselves,'' he told me not long ago. ''For most of us average Joes, that meant we've relied on strengths but had to work on our weakness -- to lift them to adequacy -- otherwise they might bring us down. I don't think the president really had to do that, because he always had someone there -- his family or friends -- to bail him out. I don't think, on balance, that has served him well for the moment he's in now as president. He never seems to have worked on his weaknesses.''
Bush has been called the C.E.O. president, but that's just a catch phrase -- he never ran anything of consequence in the private sector. The M.B.A. president would be more accurate: he did, after all, graduate from Harvard Business School. And some who have worked under him in the White House and know about business have spotted a strange business-school time warp. It's as if a 1975 graduate from H.B.S. -- one who had little chance to season theory with practice during the past few decades of change in corporate America -- has simply been dropped into the most challenging management job in the world.
One aspect of the H.B.S. method, with its emphasis on problems of actual corporations, is sometimes referred to as the ''case cracker'' problem. The case studies are static, generally a snapshot of a troubled company, frozen in time; the various ''solutions'' students proffer, and then defend in class against tough questioning, tend to have very short shelf lives. They promote rigidity, inappropriate surety. This is something H.B.S. graduates, most of whom land at large or midsize firms, learn in their first few years in business. They discover, often to their surprise, that the world is dynamic, it flows and changes, often for no good reason. The key is flexibility, rather than sticking to your guns in a debate, and constant reassessment of shifting realities. In short, thoughtful second-guessing.
George W. Bush, who went off to Texas to be an oil wildcatter, never had a chance to learn these lessons about the power of nuanced, fact-based analysis. The small oil companies he ran tended to lose money; much of their value was as tax shelters. (The investors were often friends of his father's.) Later, with the Texas Rangers baseball team, he would act as an able front man but never really as a boss.
Instead of learning the limitations of his Harvard training, what George W. Bush learned instead during these fitful years were lessons about faith and its particular efficacy. It was in 1985, around the time of his 39th birthday, George W. Bush says, that his life took a sharp turn toward salvation. At that point he was drinking, his marriage was on the rocks, his career was listless. Several accounts have emerged from those close to Bush about a faith ''intervention'' of sorts at the Kennebunkport family compound that year. Details vary, but here's the gist of what I understand took place. George W., drunk at a party, crudely insulted a friend of his mother's. George senior and Barbara blew up. Words were exchanged along the lines of something having to be done. George senior, then the vice president, dialed up his friend, Billy Graham, who came to the compound and spent several days with George W. in probing exchanges and walks on the beach. George W. was soon born again. He stopped drinking, attended Bible study and wrestled with issues of fervent faith. A man who was lost was saved.
His marriage may have been repaired by the power of faith, but faith was clearly having little impact on his broken career. Faith heals the heart and the spirit, but it doesn't do much for analytical skills. In 1990, a few years after receiving salvation, Bush was still bumping along. Much is apparent from one of the few instances of disinterested testimony to come from this period. It is the voice of David Rubenstein, managing director and cofounder of the Carlyle Group, the Washington-based investment firm that is one of the town's most powerful institutions and a longtime business home for the president's father. In 1989, the catering division of Marriott was taken private and established as Caterair by a group of Carlyle investors. Several old-guard Republicans, including the former Nixon aide Fred Malek, were involved.
Rubenstein described that time to a convention of pension managers in Los Angeles last year, recalling that Malek approached him and said: ''There is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. . . . Needs some board positions.'' Though Rubenstein didn't think George W. Bush, then in his mid-40's, ''added much value,'' he put him on the Caterair board. ''Came to all the meetings,'' Rubenstein told the conventioneers. ''Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. And after a while I kind of said to him, after about three years: 'You know, I'm not sure this is really for you. Maybe you should do something else. Because I don't think you're adding that much value to the board. You don't know that much about the company.' He said: 'Well, I think I'm getting out of this business anyway. And I don't really like it that much. So I'm probably going to resign from the board.' And I said thanks. Didn't think I'd ever see him again.''
Bush would soon officially resign from Caterair's board. Around this time, Karl Rove set up meetings to discuss Bush's possible candidacy for the governorship of Texas. Six years after that, he was elected leader of the free world and began ''case cracking'' on a dizzying array of subjects, proffering his various solutions, in both foreign and domestic affairs. But the pointed ''defend your position'' queries -- so central to the H.B.S. method and rigorous analysis of all kinds -- were infrequent. Questioning a regional supervisor or V.P. for planning is one thing. Questioning the president of the United States is another.
Still, some couldn't resist. As I reported in ''The Price of Loyalty,'' at the Bush administration's first National Security Council meeting, Bush asked if anyone had ever met Ariel Sharon. Some were uncertain if it was a joke. It wasn't: Bush launched into a riff about briefly meeting Sharon two years before, how he wouldn't ''go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. . . . I'm going to take him at face value,'' and how the United States should pull out of the Arab-Israeli conflict because ''I don't see much we can do over there at this point.'' Colin Powell, for one, seemed startled. This would reverse 30 years of policy -- since the Nixon administration -- of American engagement. Such a move would unleash Sharon, Powell countered, and tear the delicate fabric of the Mideast in ways that might be irreparable. Bush brushed aside Powell's concerns impatiently. ''Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things.''
Such challenges -- from either Powell or his opposite number as the top official in domestic policy, Paul O'Neill -- were trials that Bush had less and less patience for as the months passed. He made that clear to his top lieutenants. Gradually, Bush lost what Richard Perle, who would later head a largely private-sector group under Bush called the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee, had described as his open posture during foreign-policy tutorials prior to the 2000 campaign. (''He had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn't know very much,'' Perle said.) By midyear 2001, a stand-and-deliver rhythm was established. Meetings, large and small, started to take on a scripted quality. Even then, the circle around Bush was tightening. Top officials, from cabinet members on down, were often told when they would speak in Bush's presence, for how long and on what topic. The president would listen without betraying any reaction. Sometimes there would be cross-discussions -- Powell and Rumsfeld, for instance, briefly parrying on an issue -- but the president would rarely prod anyone with direct, informed questions.
Each administration, over the course of a term, is steadily shaped by its president, by his character, personality and priorities. It is a process that unfolds on many levels. There are, of course, a chief executive's policies, which are executed by a staff and attending bureaucracies. But a few months along, officials, top to bottom, will also start to adopt the boss's phraseology, his presumptions, his rhythms. If a president fishes, people buy poles; if he expresses displeasure, aides get busy finding evidence to support the judgment. A staff channels the leader.
A cluster of particularly vivid qualities was shaping George W. Bush's White House through the summer of 2001: a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, an embrace of decisiveness, a retreat from empiricism, a sometimes bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questioners. Already Bush was saying, Have faith in me and my decisions, and you'll be rewarded. All through the White House, people were channeling the boss. He didn't second-guess himself; why should they?
Considering the trials that were soon to arrive, it is easy to overlook what a difficult time this must have been for George W. Bush. For nearly three decades, he had sat in classrooms, and then at mahogany tables in corporate suites, with little to contribute. Then, as governor of Texas, he was graced with a pliable enough bipartisan Legislature, and the Legislature is where the real work in that state's governance gets done. The Texas Legislature's tension of opposites offered the structure of point and counterpoint, which Bush could navigate effectively with his strong, improvisational skills.
But the mahogany tables were now in the Situation Room and in the large conference room adjacent to the Oval Office. He guided a ruling party. Every issue that entered that rarefied sanctum required a complex decision, demanding focus, thoroughness and analytical potency.
For the president, as Biden said, to be acutely aware of his weaknesses -- and to have to worry about revealing uncertainty or need or confusion, even to senior officials -- must have presented an untenable bind. By summer's end that first year, Vice President Dick Cheney had stopped talking in meetings he attended with Bush. They would talk privately, or at their weekly lunch. The president was spending a lot of time outside the White House, often at the ranch, in the presence of only the most trustworthy confidants. The circle around Bush is the tightest around any president in the modern era, and ''it's both exclusive and exclusionary,'' Christopher DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, the neoconservative policy group, told me. ''It's a too tightly managed decision-making process. When they make decisions, a very small number of people are in the room, and it has a certain effect of constricting the range of alternatives being offered.'' On Sept. 11, 2001, the country watched intently to see if and how Bush would lead. After a couple of days in which he seemed shaky and uncertain, he emerged, and the moment he began to lead -- standing on the World Trade Center's rubble with a bullhorn -- for much of America, any lingering doubts about his abilities vanished. No one could afford doubt, not then. They wanted action, and George W. Bush was ready, having never felt the reasonable hesitations that slowed more deliberative men, and many presidents, including his father.
Within a few days of the attacks, Bush decided on the invasion of Afghanistan and was barking orders. His speech to the joint session of Congress on Sept. 20 will most likely be the greatest of his presidency. He prayed for God's help. And many Americans, of all faiths, prayed with him -- or for him. It was simple and nondenominational: a prayer that he'd be up to this moment, so that he -- and, by extension, we as a country -- would triumph in that dark hour.
This is where the faith-based presidency truly takes shape. Faith, which for months had been coloring the decision-making process and a host of political tactics -- think of his address to the nation on stem-cell research -- now began to guide events. It was the most natural ascension: George W. Bush turning to faith in his darkest moment and discovering a wellspring of power and confidence.
Of course, the mandates of sound, sober analysis didn't vanish. They never do. Ask any entrepreneur with a blazing idea when, a few years along, the first debt payments start coming due. Or the C.E.O., certain that a high stock price affirms his sweeping vision, until that neglected, flagging division cripples the company. There's a startled look -- how'd that happen? In this case, the challenge of mobilizing the various agencies of the United States government and making certain that agreed-upon goals become demonstrable outcomes grew exponentially.
Looking back at the months directly following 9/11, virtually every leading military analyst seems to believe that rather than using Afghan proxies, we should have used more American troops, deployed more quickly, to pursue Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Tora Bora. Many have also been critical of the president's handling of Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers; despite Bush's setting goals in the so-called ''financial war on terror,'' the Saudis failed to cooperate with American officials in hunting for the financial sources of terror. Still, the nation wanted bold action and was delighted to get it. Bush's approval rating approached 90 percent. Meanwhile, the executive's balance between analysis and resolution, between contemplation and action, was being tipped by the pull of righteous faith.
It was during a press conference on Sept. 16, in response to a question about homeland security efforts infringing on civil rights, that Bush first used the telltale word ''crusade'' in public. ''This is a new kind of -- a new kind of evil,'' he said. ''And we understand. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.''
Muslims around the world were incensed. Two days later, Ari Fleischer tried to perform damage control. ''I think what the president was saying was -- had no intended consequences for anybody, Muslim or otherwise, other than to say that this is a broad cause that he is calling on America and the nations around the world to join.'' As to ''any connotations that would upset any of our partners, or anybody else in the world, the president would regret if anything like that was conveyed.''
A few months later, on Feb. 1, 2002, Jim Wallis of the Sojourners stood in the Roosevelt Room for the introduction of Jim Towey as head of the president's faith-based and community initiative. John DiIulio, the original head, had left the job feeling that the initiative was not about ''compassionate conservatism,'' as originally promised, but rather a political giveaway to the Christian right, a way to consolidate and energize that part of the base.
Moments after the ceremony, Bush saw Wallis. He bounded over and grabbed the cheeks of his face, one in each hand, and squeezed. ''Jim, how ya doin', how ya doin'!'' he exclaimed. Wallis was taken aback. Bush excitedly said that his massage therapist had given him Wallis's book, ''Faith Works.'' His joy at seeing Wallis, as Wallis and others remember it, was palpable -- a president, wrestling with faith and its role at a time of peril, seeing that rare bird: an independent counselor. Wallis recalls telling Bush he was doing fine, '''but in the State of the Union address a few days before, you said that unless we devote all our energies, our focus, our resources on this war on terrorism, we're going to lose.' I said, 'Mr. President, if we don't devote our energy, our focus and our time on also overcoming global poverty and desperation, we will lose not only the war on poverty, but we'll lose the war on terrorism.'''
Bush replied that that was why America needed the leadership of Wallis and other members of the clergy.
''No, Mr. President,'' Wallis says he told Bush, ''We need your leadership on this question, and all of us will then commit to support you. Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism.''
Bush looked quizzically at the minister, Wallis recalls. They never spoke again after that.
''When I was first with Bush in Austin, what I saw was a self-help Methodist, very open, seeking,'' Wallis says now. ''What I started to see at this point was the man that would emerge over the next year -- a messianic American Calvinist. He doesn't want to hear from anyone who doubts him.''
But with a country crying out for intrepid leadership, does a president have time to entertain doubters? In a speech in Alaska two weeks later, Bush again referred to the war on terror as a ''crusade.''
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: ''Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you.'' When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, ''Look, I'm not going to debate it with you.''
The 9/11 commission did not directly address the question of whether Bush exerted influence over the intelligence community about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. That question will be investigated after the election, but if no tangible evidence of undue pressure is found, few officials or alumni of the administration whom I spoke to are likely to be surprised. ''If you operate in a certain way -- by saying this is how I want to justify what I've already decided to do, and I don't care how you pull it off -- you guarantee that you'll get faulty, one-sided information,'' Paul O'Neill, who was asked to resign his post of treasury secretary in December 2002, said when we had dinner a few weeks ago. ''You don't have to issue an edict, or twist arms, or be overt.''
In a way, the president got what he wanted: a National Intelligence Estimate on W.M.D. that creatively marshaled a few thin facts, and then Colin Powell putting his credibility on the line at the United Nations in a show of faith. That was enough for George W. Bush to press forward and invade Iraq. As he told his quasi-memoirist, Bob Woodward, in ''Plan of Attack'': ''Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will. . . . I'm surely not going to justify the war based upon God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray to be as good a messenger of his will as possible.''
Machiavelli's oft-cited line about the adequacy of the perception of power prompts a question. Is the appearance of confidence as important as its possession? Can confidence -- true confidence -- be willed? Or must it be earned?
George W. Bush, clearly, is one of history's great confidence men. That is not meant in the huckster's sense, though many critics claim that on the war in Iraq, the economy and a few other matters he has engaged in some manner of bait-and-switch. No, I mean it in the sense that he's a believer in the power of confidence. At a time when constituents are uneasy and enemies are probing for weaknesses, he clearly feels that unflinching confidence has an almost mystical power. It can all but create reality. hether you can run the world on faith, it's clear you can run one hell of a campaign on it.
George W. Bush and his team have constructed a high-performance electoral engine. The soul of this new machine is the support of millions of likely voters, who judge his worth based on intangibles -- character, certainty, fortitude and godliness -- rather than on what he says or does. The deeper the darkness, the brighter this filament of faith glows, a faith in the president and the just God who affirms him.
The leader of the free world is clearly comfortable with this calculus and artfully encourages it. In the series of televised, carefully choreographed ''Ask President Bush'' events with supporters around the country, sessions filled with prayers and blessings, one questioner recently summed up the feelings of so many Christian conservatives, the core of the Bush army. ''I've voted Republican from the very first time I could vote,'' said Gary Walby, a retired jeweler from Destin, Fla., as he stood before the president in a crowded college gym. ''And I also want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.'' Bush simply said ''thank you'' as a wave of raucous applause rose from the assembled.
Every few months, a report surfaces of the president using strikingly Messianic language, only to be dismissed by the White House. Three months ago, for instance, in a private meeting with Amish farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., Bush was reported to have said, ''I trust God speaks through me.'' In this ongoing game of winks and nods, a White House spokesman denied the president had specifically spoken those words, but noted that ''his faith helps him in his service to people.''
A recent Gallup Poll noted that 42 percent of Americans identify themselves as evangelical or ''born again.'' While this group leans Republican, it includes black urban churches and is far from monolithic. But Bush clearly draws his most ardent supporters and tireless workers from this group, many from a healthy subset of approximately four million evangelicals who didn't vote in 2000 -- potential new arrivals to the voting booth who could tip a close election or push a tight contest toward a rout.
This signaling system -- forceful, national, varied, yet clean of the president's specific fingerprint -- carries enormous weight. Lincoln Chafee, the moderate Republican senator from Rhode Island, has broken with the president precisely over concerns about the nature of Bush's certainty. ''This issue,'' he says, of Bush's ''announcing that 'I carry the word of God' is the key to the election. The president wants to signal to the base with that message, but in the swing states he does not.''
Come to the hustings on Labor Day and meet the base. In 2004, you know a candidate by his base, and the Bush campaign is harnessing the might of churches, with hordes of voters registering through church-sponsored programs. Following the news of Bush on his national tour in the week after the Republican convention, you could sense how a faith-based president campaigns: on a surf of prayer and righteous rage.
Righteous rage -- that's what Hardy Billington felt when he heard about same-sex marriage possibly being made legal in Massachusetts. ''It made me upset and disgusted, things going on in Massachusetts,'' the 52-year-old from Poplar Bluff, Mo., told me. ''I prayed, then I got to work.'' Billington spent $830 in early July to put up a billboard on the edge of town. It read: ''I Support President Bush and the Men and Women Fighting for Our Country. We Invite President Bush to Visit Poplar Bluff.'' Soon Billington and his friend David Hahn, a fundamentalist preacher, started a petition drive. They gathered 10,000 signatures. That fact eventually reached the White House scheduling office.
By late afternoon on a cloudy Labor Day, with a crowd of more than 20,000 assembled in a public park, Billington stepped to the podium. ''The largest group I ever talked to I think was seven people, and I'm not much of a talker,'' Billington, a shy man with three kids and a couple of dozen rental properties that he owns, told me several days later. ''I've never been so frightened.''
But Billington said he ''looked to God'' and said what was in his heart. ''The United States is the greatest country in the world,'' he told the rally. ''President Bush is the greatest president I have ever known. I love my president. I love my country. And more important, I love Jesus Christ.''
The crowd went wild, and they went wild again when the president finally arrived and gave his stump speech. There were Bush's periodic stumbles and gaffes, but for the followers of the faith-based president, that was just fine. They got it -- and ''it'' was the faith.
And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community.
The bond between Bush and his base is a bond of mutual support. He supports them with his actions, doing his level best to stand firm on wedge issues like abortion and same-sex marriage while he identifies evil in the world, at home and abroad. They respond with fierce faith. The power of this transaction is something that people, especially those who are religious, tend to connect to their own lives. If you have faith in someone, that person is filled like a vessel. Your faith is the wind beneath his or her wings. That person may well rise to the occasion and surprise you: I had faith in you, and my faith was rewarded. Or, I know you've been struggling, and I need to pray harder.
Bush's speech that day in Poplar Bluff finished with a mythic appeal: ''For all Americans, these years in our history will always stand apart,'' he said. ''You know, there are quiet times in the life of a nation when little is expected of its leaders. This isn't one of those times. This is a time that needs -- when we need firm resolve and clear vision and a deep faith in the values that make us a great nation.''
The life of the nation and the life of Bush effortlessly merge -- his fortitude, even in the face of doubters, is that of the nation; his ordinariness, like theirs, is heroic; his resolve, to whatever end, will turn the wheel of history.
Remember, this is consent, informed by the heart and by the spirit. In the end, Bush doesn't have to say he's ordained by God. After a day of speeches by Hardy Billington and others, it goes without saying.
''To me, I just believe God controls everything, and God uses the president to keep evil down, to see the darkness and protect this nation,'' Billington told me, voicing an idea shared by millions of Bush supporters. ''Other people will not protect us. God gives people choices to make. God gave us this president to be the man to protect the nation at this time.''
But when the moment came in the V.I.P. tent to shake Bush's hand, Billington remembered being reserved. '''I really thank God that you're the president' was all I told him.'' Bush, he recalled, said, ''Thank you.''
''He knew what I meant,'' Billington said. ''I believe he's an instrument of God, but I have to be careful about what I say, you know, in public.''
Is there anyone in America who feels that John Kerry is an instrument of God? "I'm going to be real positive, while I keep my foot on John Kerry's throat,'' George W. Bush said last month at a confidential luncheon a block away from the White House with a hundred or so of his most ardent, longtime supporters, the so-called R.N.C. Regents. This was a high-rolling crowd -- at one time or another, they had all given large contributions to Bush or the Republican National Committee. Bush had known many of them for years, and a number of them had visited him at the ranch. It was a long way from Poplar Bluff.
The Bush these supporters heard was a triumphal Bush, actively beginning to plan his second term. It is a second term, should it come to pass, that will alter American life in many ways, if predictions that Bush voiced at the luncheon come true.
He said emphatically that he expects the Republicans will gain seats to expand their control of the House and the Senate. According to notes provided to me, and according to several guests at the lunch who agreed to speak about what they heard, he said that ''Osama bin Laden would like to overthrow the Saudis . . .
then we're in trouble. Because they have a weapon. They have the oil.'' He said that there will be an opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice shortly after his inauguration, and perhaps three more high-court vacancies during his second term.
''Won't that be amazing?'' said Peter Stent, a rancher and conservationist who attended the luncheon. ''Can you imagine? Four appointments!''
After his remarks, Bush opened it up for questions, and someone asked what he's going to do about energy policy with worldwide oil reserves predicted to peak.
Bush said: ''I'm going to push nuclear energy, drilling in Alaska and clean coal. Some nuclear-fusion technologies are interesting.'' He mentions energy from ''processing corn.''
''I'm going to bring all this up in the debate, and I'm going to push it,'' he said, and then tried out a line. ''Do you realize that ANWR [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge] is the size of South Carolina, and where we want to drill is the size of the Columbia airport?''
The questions came from many directions -- respectful, but clearly reality-based. About the deficits, he said he'd ''spend whatever it takes to protect our kids in Iraq,'' that ''homeland security cost more than I originally thought.''
In response to a question, he talked about diversity, saying that ''hands down,'' he has the most diverse senior staff in terms of both gender and race. He recalled a meeting with Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of Germany. ''You know, I'm sitting there with Schroder one day with Colin and Condi. And I'm thinking: What's Schroder thinking?! He's sitting here with two blacks and one's a woman.''
But as the hour passed, Bush kept coming back to the thing most on his mind: his second term.
''I'm going to come out strong after my swearing in,'' Bush said, ''with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security.'' The victories he expects in November, he said, will give us ''two years, at least, until the next midterm. We have to move quickly, because after that I'll be quacking like a duck.''
Joseph Gildenhorn, a top contributor who attended the luncheon and has been invited to visit Bush at his ranch, said later: ''I've never seen the president so ebullient. He was so confident. He feels so strongly he will win.'' Yet one part of Bush's 60-odd-minute free-form riff gave Gildenhorn -- a board member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and a former ambassador to Switzerland -- a moment's pause. The president, listing priorities for his second term, placed near the top of his agenda the expansion of federal support for faith-based institutions. The president talked at length about giving the initiative the full measure of his devotion and said that questions about separation of church and state were not an issue.
Talk of the faith-based initiative, Gildenhorn said, makes him ''a little uneasy.'' Many conservative evangelicals ''feel they have a direct line from God,'' he said, and feel Bush is divinely chosen.
''I think he's religious, I think he's a born-again, I don't think, though, that he feels that he's been ordained by God to serve the country.'' Gildenhorn paused, then said, ''But you know, I really haven't discussed it with him.''
A regent I spoke to later and who asked not to be identified told me: ''I'm happy he's certain of victory and that he's ready to burst forth into his second term, but it all makes me a little nervous. There are a lot of big things that he's planning to do domestically, and who knows what countries we might invade or what might happen in Iraq. But when it gets complex, he seems to turn to prayer or God rather than digging in and thinking things through. What's that line? -- the devil's in the details. If you don't go after that devil, he'll come after you.'' Bush grew into one of history's most forceful leaders, his admirers will attest, by replacing hesitation and reasonable doubt with faith and clarity. Many more will surely tap this high-voltage connection of fervent faith and bold action. In politics, the saying goes, anything that works must be repeated until it is replaced by something better. The horizon seems clear of competitors.
Can the unfinished American experiment in self-governance -- sputtering on the watery fuel of illusion and assertion -- deal with something as nuanced as the subtleties of one man's faith? What, after all, is the nature of the particular conversation the president feels he has with God -- a colloquy upon which the world now precariously turns?
That very issue is what Jim Wallis wishes he could sit and talk about with George W. Bush. That's impossible now, he says. He is no longer invited to the White House.
''Faith can cut in so many ways,'' he said. ''If you're penitent and not triumphal, it can move us to repentance and accountability and help us reach for something higher than ourselves. That can be a powerful thing, a thing that moves us beyond politics as usual, like Martin Luther King did. But when it's designed to certify our righteousness -- that can be a dangerous thing. Then it pushes self-criticism aside. There's no reflection.
''Where people often get lost is on this very point,'' he said after a moment of thought. ''Real faith, you see, leads us to deeper reflection and not -- not ever -- to the thing we as humans so very much want.''
And what is that?
''Easy certainty.''
Ron Suskind was the senior national-affairs reporter for The Wall Street Journal from 1993 to 2000. He is the author most recently of ''The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill.''
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