Monday, December 12, 2005

Bubble Boy

That is one description for the leader of the free world, the man who has his finger on the nuclear button, the president of the United States. Well, we (supposedly) elected this man and his problems, so I guess we can live (or die) with them. Here is a taste of what is going on in the White House:

Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon. It's not that he is a socially awkward loner or a paranoid. He can charm and joke like the frat president he was. Still, beneath a hail-fellow manner, Bush has a defensive edge, a don't-tread-on-me prickliness. It shows in Bush's humor. When Reagan told a joke, it almost never was about someone in the room. Reagan's jokes may have been scatological or politically incorrect, but they were inclusive, intended to make everyone join in the laughter. Often, Bush's joking is personal—it is aimed at you. The teasing can be flattering (the president gave me a nickname!), but it is intended, however so subtly, to put the listener on the defensive. It is a towel-snap that invites a retort. How many people dare to snap back at a president?

Not many, and not unless they have known the president a long, long time. (Even Karl Rove, or "Turd Blossom," as he is sometimes addressed by the president, knows when to hold his tongue.) In the Bush White House, disagreement is often equated with disloyalty.
Bush seemed to have no idea. "I got the sense that his staff was not telling him the bad news," says the lawmaker. "This was not a case of him thinking positive. He just didn't have any idea of the political realities there. It was like he wasn't briefed at all." (Bush was not clueless, says an aide, but pushing his historic mission.)

In subtle ways, Bush does not encourage truth-telling or at least a full exploration of all that could go wrong. A former senior member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad occasionally observed Bush on videoconferences with his top advisers. "The president would ask the generals, 'Do you have what you need to complete the mission?' as opposed to saying, 'Tell me, General, what do you need to win?' which would have opened up a whole new set of conversations," says this official, who did not want to be identified discussing high-level meetings. The official says that the way Bush phrased his questions, as well as his obvious lack of interest in long, detailed discussions, had a chilling effect. "It just prevented the discussion from heading in a direction that would open up a possibility that we need more troops," says the official.
A foreign diplomat who declined to be identified was startled when Secretary of State Rice warned him not to lay bad news on the president. "Don't upset him," she said.

Do you feel comfortable knowing that the fate of this world lies in the hands of a man who cannot face any criticism at all? Who refuses to learn bad news? Who appears not to have earned the kind of maturity most of us have achieved by the age thirty? Oh well, I guess things could be worse, though I can't quite think of exactly how that could be arranged.