The Axis of Ego

It's been a disastrous period for the Bush Administration: First came the leaked National Intelligence Estimate stating the Iraq war had fueled terrorism. Next the revelation that Republican Congressman Foley operated as a sexual predator with the complicity of GOP leaders. Then on October 9th North Korea tested its first nuclear device. Finally, the next day brought fresh evidence that Iraq has deteriorated into civil war - the estimate that 600,000 civilians have died since the 2003 invasion. Taken together, more proof that Bush foreign and domestic policies have failed. What explains this ineptitude? Is it due to stupidity? Dogmatism? Or is it venality? Bush's own axis of ego: a state of mind where he places political gain above any other consideration.

Many characterize George W. Bush as intellectually impaired because he's incurious; has no stomach for disciplined analysis. But, seasoned political observers note the President has a record of accomplishment, hardly the mark of a witless leader.

Others attribute the failure of the Administration to the President's dogmatism. Say he's not stupid, but rather willfully ignorant. Note that he is remarkably inflexible; arrogantly asserts his opinions to be the truth. Certainly George Bush is both deeply conservative and obdurate. Nonetheless, other staunch conservatives initially supported the invasion of Iraq, but later changed their opinion in the face of evidence the occupation was fueling terrorism. What explains the President's intransigence? Why does Bush stick to his positions when most of his supporters, outside his inner circle, long ago recognized the Administration has lost its way?

Faced with these inconsistencies, some writers resort to pop psychology: claim Bush has infirmities and, as a result, a messianic streak.

However, there is a relatively straightforward explanation for Bush's behavior: he's a politician who believes the ends justify the means. Unlike his predecessors such as Bill Clinton who, after election, shifted from political to policy mode, George W. Bush only has one gear: it's politics 24/7.

For twenty-five years, Bush has had a close relationship with political guru Karl Rove. Many attribute Bush's intransigence to Rove: who believes in winning at all costs. Who preaches that the best defense is a strong offense. That in politics one should never admit mistakes; never let them see you sweat. That the way to win is to stick to your guns and stay on the attack. Allege that your opponents are incompetents and cowards.

Since the beginning of the Bush Administration, insiders have reported that all White House decisions are made on the basis of their political ramifications. Until recently, Karl Rove served in two roles, Republican political strategist and White House policy adviser. He influences all Presidential decisions. Former head of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives John DiLulio observed, "What you got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Two examples of the politicization of Presidential decisions are Iraq and North Korea. In January 2002, the Bush Administration abruptly shifted the focus of the military from pursuit of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to preparation for an invasion of Iraq. This made no policy sense. However, from a political perspective it was a smart move: it gave the Republicans a winning issue for the 2002 mid-term elections; diverted public attention from the fact the Bush Administration's invasion of Afghanistan had failed to accomplish its primary objective--killing or capturing Osama bin Laden. It became the basis of the Bush claim to be strong on national security, which helped him win the 2004 Presidential election

This toxic political process is also apparent when we consider North Korea. As compared to the Clinton Administration, and the Administration of Bush 41, the current White House turned its back on diplomacy: avoided talking to Pyongyang; sat back and hurled insults at Kim Jong Il. Most Washington insiders consider this a policy failure: On October 8, former Secretary of State James Baker sharply criticized the Bush policy: "I believe in talking to your enemies." But the treatment of North Korea was a political action taken to reinforce the GOP faithful's view of George W. Bush as a tough, "take no prisoners" commander-in-chief. It helped win elections, if not to make the United States, and the world, more secure.

The critical difference between autocracy and democracy is "who benefits." In an autocracy, the political leader and the ruling class benefit from the leader's actions. In a democracy the leader acts for the benefit of the majority of the people. The Bush Administration has consistently acted for the narrow benefit of the President and a small group of Republican insiders. In the process they've sacrificed not only many of the principles of Democracy, but also the security of the United States. They've acted from their own narrow axis of ego. George Bush shouldn't be dismissed as stupid, dogmatic, or disturbed. He's a politician determined to increase his power. In the final analysis, he's an autocrat.