Presidential Portrait


Nicholas Lemann pulls together a deep profile of George W. Bush featuring several important observations, not the least of which is Lemann writing "I was wrong," a rarity for any journalist. Lemann pegs Bush as a Nolan Ryan-worshipping, elite-hating, grudge-carrying guy with ADD. That sounds about right.

Lemann also tries mightily to find out why we went to war with Iraq, turning to former Bush State Department official Richard Haass for guidance. In the end, Lemann seems to share Haass' bafflement over the question:

"I will go to my grave not knowing that," Haass said. "I can't answer it. I can't explain the strategic obsession with Iraq – why it rose to the top of people's priority list. I just can't explain why so many people thought this was so important to do. But, if there was a hidden reason, the one I heard most was that we needed to change the geopolitical momentum after 9/11. People wanted to show that we can dish it out as well as take it. We're not a pitiful helpless giant. We can play offense as well as defense."

What Haass does not make explicit is that America playing offense clearly has nuclear proliferation as its ultimate target. Bush administration war planners see a robust, active U.S. military presence in the Middle East and Central Asia as absolutely vital to deterring, controlling, and, if need be, detroying any nuclear capability that might make its way to undeterrable actors. Iraq had, and has, nothing really to do with this. Its nuke dreams are long gone, it just happens to be a suitable place to park a several U.S. combat divisions for the foreseeable, dangerous future.

Lemann closes with what might be a warning, or a hearty Bush endorsement, depending on your politics:

If the voters give Bush a second term, he would, it seems, govern with the goal of a Franklin Roosevelt-level transformation–in the opposite direction, of course–of the relation of citizen to state and of the United States to the rest of the world. He would pursue ends that are now outside what most people conceive of as the compass points of the debate, by means that are more aggressive than we are accustomed to. And he couldn't possibly win by a smaller margin than last time, so he couldn't possibly avoid the conclusion that he had been given a more expansive mandate.

That sounds about right, too.