Open Thread - Get The Suskind Book
"All right. You've covered your ass, now."
--Bush’s reaction to the August 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief and the Agency staffer who delivered it to him.
So what do you make of Bush's reaction to the most important PDB in this country's history?
It looks like the next “must read” book will be Ron Suskind’s “The One Percent Doctrine.” There have been two reviews of the book that will give you an understanding of what Suskind will add to the debate about what the GOP’s goals are overseas, and how Dick Cheney is manipulating Bush like Edgar Bergen manipulated Charlie McCarthy. Suskind was also on CNN’s “The Situation Room this afternoon, and Crooks and Liars has the video. But read these reviews and then purchase the book through the link on the left of this page.
Here are some excerpts from the review by the New York Times:
Mr. Suskind's book — which appears to have been written with wide access to the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, as well as to other C.I.A. officials and a host of sources at the F.B.I., and in the State, Defense and Treasury Departments — is sure to be as talked about as his "Price of Loyalty" (2004) and the former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke's "Against All Enemies" (2004).
The book, which focuses on the 2001 to 2004 period, not only sheds new light on the Bush White House's strategic thinking and its doctrine of pre-emptive action, but also underscores the roles that personality and ideology played in shaping the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. It describes how poorly prepared homeland security was (and is) for another terrorist attack, and looks at a series of episodes in the war on terror that often found the "invisibles," who run intelligence and enforcement operations on the ground, at odds with the "notables," who head the government.
In fleshing out key relationships among administration members — most notably, between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush, Mr. Bush and Mr. Tenet, and Mr. Tenet and Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser — it adds some big, revealing chunks to the evolving jigsaw-puzzle portrait of this White House and its modus operandi, while also giving the reader some up close and personal looks at the government's day-to-day operations in the war on terror.
Just as disturbing as Al Qaeda's plans and capabilities are the descriptions of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror and its willful determination to go to war against Iraq. That war, according to the author's sources who attended National Security Council briefings in 2002, was primarily waged "to make an example" of Saddam Hussein, to "create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."
"The One Percent Doctrine" amplifies an emerging portrait of the administration (depicted in a flurry of recent books by authors as disparate as the Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett and the former Coalition Provisional Authority adviser Larry Diamond) as one eager to circumvent traditional processes of policy development and policy review, and determined to use experts (whether in the C.I.A., the Treasury Department or the military) not to help formulate policy, but simply to sell predetermined initiatives to the American public.
Mr. Suskind writes that the war on terror gave the president and vice president "vast, creative prerogatives": "to do what they want, when they want to, for whatever reason they decide" and to "create whatever reality was convenient." The potent wartime authority granted the White House in the wake of 9/11, he says, dovetailed with the administration's pre-9/11 desire to amp up executive power (diminished, Mr. Cheney and others believed, by Watergate) and to impose "message discipline" on government staffers.
"The public, and Congress, acquiesced," Mr. Suskind notes, "with little real resistance, to a 'need to know' status — told only what they needed to know, with that determination made exclusively, and narrowly, by the White House."
Within the government, he goes on, there was frequent frustration with the White House's hermetic decision-making style. "Voicing desire for a more traditional, transparent policy process," he writes, "prompted accusations of disloyalty," and "issues argued, often vociferously, at the level of deputies and principals rarely seemed to go upstream in their fullest form to the president's desk, and if they did, it was often after Bush seemed to have already made up his mind based on what was so often cited as his 'instinct' or 'gut.' "
This book augments the portrait of Mr. Bush as an incurious and curiously uninformed executive that Mr. Suskind earlier set out in "The Price of Loyalty" and in a series of magazine articles on the president and key aides. In "The One Percent Doctrine," he writes that Mr. Cheney's nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a crucial situation.
During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.'s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in. And several months later, he says, attendees at a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Saudis discovered after the fact that an important packet laying out the Saudis' views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation had been diverted to the vice president's office and never reached the president.
Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush "plausible deniability" from Mr. Cheney's point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief's own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush — much of it shrouded, as well, by classification — meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements."
"Whether Cheney's innovations were tailored to match Bush's inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial," Mr. Suskind continues. "It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire N.I.E. would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president's rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much."
Some excerpts from the review by the Washington Post:
This is an important book, filled with the surest sign of great reporting: the unexpected. It enriches our understanding of even familiar episodes from the Bush administration's war on terror and tells some jaw-dropping stories we haven't heard before.
In interviews with intelligence officers, Suskind often finds them baffled by White House statements. "Why the hell did the President have to put us in a box like this?" one top CIA official asked about the overblown public portrait of Abu Zubaydah. But Suskind sees a deliberate management choice: Bush ensnared his director of central intelligence at the time, George J. Tenet, and many others in a new kind of war in which action and evidence were consciously divorced.
"The One Percent Doctrine" takes its title from an episode in late November 2001. Amid fears of a "second wave" attack after 9/11, Tenet laid out for Vice President Cheney and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice a stunning trove of new intelligence, much of which Suskind reveals for the first time: Two Pakistani scientists who previously offered to help Libya build a nuclear bomb were known to have met with Osama bin Laden. (Later, Suskind reports, the U.S. government would discover that bin Laden asked pointedly what his next steps should be if he already possessed enriched uranium.) Cheney, by Suskind's account, had been grappling with how to think about "a low-probability, high-impact event." By the time the briefing was over, he had his answer: "If there's a one percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response."
This "Cheney Doctrine" let Bush evade analytic debate, Suskind writes, and "rely on impulse and improvisation to a degree that was without precedent for a modern president." But that approach constricted the mission of the intelligence and counterterrorism professionals whose point of view dominates this book. Many of them came to believe, Suskind reports, that "their jobs were not to help shape policy, but to affirm it." (Some of them nicknamed Cheney "Edgar," as in Edgar Bergen -- casting the president as the ventriloquist's dummy.) Suskind calls those career terror-fighters "the invisibles," and he likes them. His book is full of amazing, persuasively detailed vignettes about their world. At least a dozen former intelligence officials speak frankly in public here, as did former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill in Suskind's previous book, "The Price of Loyalty."
One example out of many comes in Ron Suskind's gripping narrative of what the White House has celebrated as one of the war's major victories: the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in March 2002. Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.
Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."
Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics -- travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.
"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied.
Tenet and his loyalists also settle a few scores with the White House here. The book's opening anecdote tells of an unnamed CIA briefer who flew to Bush's Texas ranch during the scary summer of 2001, amid a flurry of reports of a pending al-Qaeda attack, to call the president's attention personally to the now-famous Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US." Bush reportedly heard the briefer out and replied: "All right. You've covered your ass, now." Three months later, with bin Laden holed up in the Afghan mountain redoubt of Tora Bora, the CIA official managing the Afghanistan campaign, Henry A. Crumpton (now the State Department's counterterrorism chief), brought a detailed map to Bush and Cheney. White House accounts have long insisted that Bush had every reason to believe that Pakistan's army and pro-U.S. Afghan militias had bin Laden cornered and that there was no reason to commit large numbers of U.S. troops to get him. But Crumpton's message in the Oval Office, as told through Suskind, was blunt: The surrogate forces were "definitely not" up to the job, and "we're going to lose our prey if we're not careful."
Something tells me Tenet's book this October will be a barn-burner.
OK. it's your turn.