President Bush on Monday visited the State Department to review his options on Iraq. But the State Department is part of the problem.
Instead of firing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was carrying out the President’s policies, Bush should take a hard look at what is happening in the State Department, where his friend Karen Hughes is leading a suicidal U.S. “public diplomacy” effort about U.S. Iraq policy.
Rather than promote a message of the U.S. being committed to freedom and democracy in Iraq and the Arab/Muslim world, Hughes encouraged U.S. officials like Alberto Fernandez to go on the enemy propaganda organ Al-Jazeera, where he blasted U.S. policy as arrogant and stupid.
Fernandez was actually caught in a lie, when he denied that he had made those comments, but is nevertheless being defended by Hughes and even being given an “Excellence in Public Diplomacy” State Department award.
But the President has another problem that he cannot blame on the State Department. And that involves making Rumsfeld into a scapegoat for the failure of his policy, and deceiving the press and the public about it.
About a week before the November 7 election, Bush declared that Rumsfeld was going to stay on with the administration until the end of Bush’s second term.
Here’s the exchange that took place on November 1 between the President and various reporters:
Q: Assuming their health holds up, do you want Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to be with you until the end?
Bush: Both those men are doing fantastic jobs. And I strongly support them.
Q: Up until the end―you see them staying with you until the end?
Bush: I do.
Q: So you’re expecting Rumsfeld―Secretary Rumsfeld to stay on the rest of your time here?
Bush: Yes, I am.
On November 8, after the Republican election losses and it was announced that Rumsfeld was going to be replaced by Robert Gates, this exchange took place:
Q: Last week you told us that Secretary Rumsfeld will be staying on. Why is the timing right now for this, and how much does it have to do with the election results?
Bush: Right. No, you and Hunt and Keil came in the Oval Office, and Hunt asked me the question one week before the campaign, and basically it was, ‘Are you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the vice president?’ And my answer was, ‘They’re going to stay on.’ And the reason why is I didn’t want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer.
The President’s reference to not injecting a major decision into the campaign clearly indicated that he knew Rumsfeld was going to go and just didn’t want to say so publicly.
On the December 10 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources program, host Howard Kurtz asked White House spokesman Tony Snow: “?can you now acknowledge that the President wanted to duck it and he gave a misleading answer?” Here is the exchange:
Snow: No. I’m not going to get into characterizing it.
Kurtz: Was it fair for journalists to point out that the President’s answer didn’t match what he’d already planned to do.
Snow: Yes. Yes, I think―look, it was perfectly fair for journalists to talk about that.
Kurtz: All right.
Clearly, Snow was and is in a difficult position. Admitting that the President’s answer “didn’t match what he’s already planed to do” seems to be another way of saying that Bush intentionally misled the press.
The President and Snow have said that he wasn’t really lying because he hadn’t come to a definitive conclusion about who was to replace Rumsfeld, and there had been no job offer to Gates at that point. Bush said, “The truth of the matter is?I hadn’t had a chance to visit with Bob Gates yet, and I hadn’t had my final conversation with Don Rumsfeld yet at that point.”
Taking his cue from the boss, Snow explained that Bush “had not talked with Bob Gates, he had not had a letter of resignation from Don Rumsfeld, had absolutely no confirmation about what was going to happen in the future. That is the answer he gave.”
No, the answer he gave was that Rumsfeld was going to remain at his job through the second term because he was doing a fantastic job. That was not only false, but deliberately so. There is no sense beating around the bush on this one.