Hans Blix: In March 2003, when the invasion took place, we could not have stood up and said, There is nothing, because to prove the negative is really not possible. What you can do is to say that we have performed 700 inspections in some 500 different sites, and we have found nothing, and we are ready to continue.
If we had been allowed to continue a couple of months, we would have been able to go to all of the some hundred sites suggested to us, and since there weren’t any weapons of mass destruction, that’s what we would have reported. And then I think that, at that stage, certainly the intelligence ought to have drawn the conclusion that their evidence was poor.
I now feel sorry for Colin Powell. He was given the material by the C.I.A., and we read in the newspapers how he threw out a lot of it. But he retained some. And then he came to the Security Council, and, of course, in a way, this was to tell the world that, Look, this is what we’ve found. We have the means to do it. The inspectors are very good boys and nice, and we listen to them, but they haven’t seen this, and this is what there is.
February 25, 2003 General Eric Shinseki, the army chief of staff, tells a congressional hearing that “something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” will be required to mount a successful occupation of Iraq. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly rebukes Shinseki, stating that the general’s estimate is “wildly off the mark.” Shinseki is forced to retire early.
Jay Garner: When Shinseki said, Hey, it’s going to take 300,000 or 400,000 soldiers, they crucified him. They called me up the day after that, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. They called me the next day and they said, Did you see what Shinseki said? And I said yes. And they said, Well, that can’t be possible. And I said, Well, let me give you the only piece of empirical data I have. In 1991, I owned 5 percent of the real estate in Iraq, and I had 22,000 trigger pullers. And on any day I never had enough. So you can take 5 percent"you can take 22,000 and multiply that by 20. Hey, here’s probably the ballpark, and I didn’t have Baghdad. And they said, Thank you very much. So I got up and left.
March 19, 2003 The Iraq war begins. Two weeks of “shock and awe” bombardment herald the invasion by ground forces. U.S. and British troops make up 90 percent of the “international coalition,” which includes modest support from other countries. The defeat of Iraqi forces is a foregone conclusion, but within days of the occupation Baghdad is beset by looting that coalition forces do nothing to stop. Rumsfeld dismisses the breakdown of civil order with the explanation “Stuff happens.” Kenneth Adelman, a Rumsfeld-appointed member of a Pentagon advisory board, and initially a supporter of the war, later confronts the defense secretary.
Revisit the first draft of history with our Bush-administration archive, “Mission Unaccomplished.” Illustration by Risko.
Kenneth Adelman, a member of Donald Rumsfeld’s advisory Defense Policy Board: So he says, It might be best if you got off the Defense Policy Board. You’re very negative. I said, I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted.
Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things"“Stuff happens.” I said, That’s your entry in Bartlett’s. The only thing people will remember about you is “Stuff happens.” I mean, how could you say that? “This is what free people do.” This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do. And I said, Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.
I said, You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack ****. I said, There was no order to stop the looting. And he says, There was an order. I said, Well, did you give the order? He says, I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order. I said, Who gave the order?
So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down"he says, I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you. And I said, I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.
And so that was not a successful conversation.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock, British ambassador to the United Nations and later the British special representative in Iraq: The administration of Iraq never recovered. It was a vacuum in security that became irremediable, at least until the surge of 2007. And to that extent, four years were not only wasted but allowed to take on the most terrible cost because of that lack of planning, lack of resources put in on the ground. And I see that lack of planning as residing in the responsibility of the Pentagon, which had taken charge, the office of the secretary of defense, with the authority of the vice president and the president, obviously, standing over that department of government.
May 1, 2003 Aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, under a banner reading, mission accomplished, Bush proclaims that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” Meanwhile, decisions have been made that will inadvertently prolong major combat operations, chief among them the disbanding of the Iraqi Army. The responsibility for this decision, which is promulgated by the new U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, remains unclear.
Jay Garner, retired army general and first overseer of the U.S. administration and reconstruction of Iraq: My plan was to not disband the Iraqi Army but to keep the majority of it and use them. And the reason for that is we needed them, because, number one, there were never enough people there for security. I mean, I’ll give you an example. My first day in Baghdad, I went to see Scott Wallace, who was the corps commander, the V Corps commander, and I said, Scott, I need a lot of help here on security. And he said, Let me show you my map. I walked over to the map. And he had 256 sites that day he was guarding that he had never planned on. He just didn’t have the force structure to do it.
So we said, O.K., we’ll bring the army back. Our plan was to bring back about 250,000 of them. And I briefed Rumsfeld. He agreed. Wolfowitz agreed. Condoleezza Rice agreed. George [Tenet] agreed. Briefed the president on it. He agreed. Everybody agreed.
So when that decision [to disband] was made, I was stunned.
Charles Duelfer, U.N. and U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq: One Iraqi colonel told me, You know, our planning before the war was that we assumed that you guys couldn’t take casualties, and that was obviously wrong. I looked at him and said, What makes you think that was wrong? He goes, Well, if you didn’t want to take casualties, you would have never made that decision about the army.
May 27, 2003 Bush signs legislation authorizing the President’s Emergency Plan for aids Relief (pepfar). He visits Africa, a main focus of the legislation, soon thereafter. pepfar commits some $15 billion for aids prevention and treatment over a period of five years. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof concludes, “Mr. Bush has done much more for Africa than Bill Clinton ever did.”
Michael Merson, M.D., international aids researcher, who has evaluated the relief program: Look, pepfar is the largest commitment ever made by any nation for a global health activity that’s dedicated to a single disease. I mean, that’s just not disputable. It has a prevention component, a treatment component, and a care component, but treatment is the centerpiece. The last number I’ve seen is that this initiative has led to treatment of more than 1.7 million people, most of them in Africa. Now, that’s not all the people who need treatment, but it’s a huge amount. pepfar at least tripled our aid flow to Africa"I’m talking about total aid flow.
August 19, 2003 A month after Bush indicates little concern about an insurgency in Iraq with the remark “Bring ‘em on,” a car bomb in Baghdad destroys the headquarters of the United Nations mission, killing the U.N. chief, Sergio Vieira de Mello. President Bush receives the news of the bombing while playing golf, and by his own account decides at that moment to give up the game in solidarity with troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan (although two months later he plays a round at Andrews Air Force Base). The U.N.-headquarters bombing is seen as the start of the full-blown insurgency.
Jay Garner: I think a lot of the problem the president had is: people around him were doing what he said, and nobody was doing the analytical questioning of the things we were doing where you could do all the puts and takes and say, O.K., Mr. President, here’s all the pros to do this and here’s all the cons to do this, and here’s the likely outcome. Now, let’s make a decision.
I don’t think that ever happened. I never saw anything like that. And I think the Defense Department was enamored with what they felt they’d accomplished in Afghanistan with a very small force of basically special-ops guys and the air force. And they looked at it as a high-tech thing. Nation building is a low-tech thing. Get a whole bunch of you. Roll up your sleeves. Get a bunch of shovels, and then everybody goes out and busts their ass every day. We just didn’t have enough soldiers to do that.
January 23, 2004 David Kay, the chief U.S. weapons inspector, resigns his position, affirming his belief that no W.M.D. stockpiles will be found in Iraq; the following week he discusses his conclusions at the White House. Nine months later his successor, Charles Duelfer, will conclude officially that Iraq not only did not possess W.M.D. but did not have an active program in place to develop them. The structural supports of Powell’s U.N. presentation begin to crumble.
Karl Rove: “Karl came from a perspective of: you defeat people in politics by calling one side bad and one side good,” says Matthew Dowd, a onetime Bush-campaign strategist. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: Well, [Powell] got a telephone call each time a pillar fell. It was either John [McLaughlin, deputy C.I.A. director], calling Rich [Armitage], and Rich telling him, or it was George [Tenet] or John calling the secretary. And I remember this vividly because he would walk through my door, and his face would grow more morose each time, and he’d say, Another pillar just fell. I said, Which one this time? And, of course, the last one was the mobile biological labs.
Finally, when that call came, the secretary came through the door and said, The last pillar has just collapsed. The mobile biological labs don’t exist. Turned around and went back into his office.
David Kay, chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq: As we turned to the trailers, it was probably"I guess the single biggest shock I had during the entire inspection process, because I’d been powerfully moved by Powell’s statement to the Council. Well, when we started tearing it apart, we discovered it was not based on several sources. It was based on one source, and it was an individual [code-named Curveball] held by German intelligence. They had denied the U.S. the right to directly interview him. And they only passed summaries"and really not very good ones"of their interrogations with him. The Germans had refused to pass us his name even.
As you delved into his character and his claims, none of them bore any truth. The case just fell apart.
Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister and vice-chancellor: I was astonished that the Americans used Curveball, really astonished. This was our stuff. But they presented it not in the way we knew it. They presented it as a fact, and not as the way an intelligence assessment is"could be, but could also be a big lie. We don’t know.
April 13, 2004 At a press conference Bush is asked by John Dickerson of Time to name the biggest mistake he has made since 9/11. Bush is unable to come up with an answer. He replies, “I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it.”
David Kay: He has a tremendous sense of calm and certitude about the positions he takes, and is unusually doubt-free about them. Most people, when they make monumental decisions, understand that they’re doing it under conditions of great uncertainty, and are not fully at the time really able to understand what the consequences might be"and that frightens them, or at least they have concern, disquietude about it. This president has none of that, as far as I can tell.
April 28, 2004 A televised report on 60 Minutes II reveals widespread abuse and humiliation of detainees by U.S. military personnel and private contractors at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, dating back to October 2003 and known to the Defense Department since January.
Kenneth Adelman, a member of Donald Rumsfeld’s advisory Defense Policy Board: I said to Rumsfeld, Well, the way you handled Abu Ghraib I thought was abysmal. He says, What do you mean? I say, It broke in January of"what was that, ‘04? Yeah, ‘04. And you didn’t do jack **** till it was revealed in the spring. He says, That’s totally unfair. I didn’t have the information. I said, What information did you have? You had the information that we had done these"and there were photos. You knew about the photos, didn’t you? He says, I didn’t see the photos. I couldn’t get those photos. A lot of stuff happens around here. I don’t follow every story. I say, Excuse me, but I thought in one of the testimonies you said you told the president about Abu Ghraib in January. And if it was big enough to tell the president, wasn’t it big enough to do something about? He says, Well, I couldn’t get the photos. I say, You’re secretary of defense. Somebody in the building who works for you has photos, and for five months you can’t get photos"hello?
Lawrence Wilkerson: The twin pressures were from Rumsfeld, and they were: Produce intelligence, and the gloves are off. That’s the communication that went down to the field.
Matthew Dowd, Bush’s pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign: When Abu Ghraib happened, I was like, We’ve got to fire Rumsfeld. Like if we’re the “accountability president,” we haven’t really done this. We don’t veto any bills. We don’t fire anybody. I was like, Well, this is a disaster, and we’re going to hold some National Guard colonel responsible? This guy’s got to get fired.
For an M.B.A. president, he got the M.B.A. 101 stuff down, which is, you know, you don’t have to do everything. Let other people do it. But M.B.A. 201 is: Hold people accountable.
Bill Graham, Canada’s foreign minister and later defense minister: We were there in Washington for a G-8 meeting, and Colin suddenly phoned us all up and said, We’re going to the White House this morning. Now, this is curious, because normally the heads of government don’t give a damn about foreign ministers. We all popped in a bus and went over and were cordially received by Colin and President Bush. The president sat down to explain that, you know, this terrible news had come out about Abu Ghraib and how disgusting it was. The thrust of his presentation was that this was a terrible aberration; it was un-American conduct. This was not American.
Joschka Fischer was one of the people that said, Mr. President, if the atmosphere at the top is such that it encourages or allows people to believe that they can behave this way, this is going to be a consequence. The president’s reaction was: This is un-American. Americans don’t do this. People will realize Americans don’t do this.
The problem for the United States, and indeed for the free world, is that because of this"Guantánamo, and the “torture memos” from the White House, which we were unaware of at that time"people around the world don’t believe that anymore. They say, No, Americans are capable of doing such things and have done them, all the while hypocritically criticizing the human-rights records of others.
Alberto Mora, navy general counsel: I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the O.L.C. memoranda that authorized abusive treatment. And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number-one and number-two leading causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantánamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.
July 22, 2004 The bipartisan 9/11 commission"whose creation was fiercely opposed by the administration"issues its report. It provides a detailed reconstruction of events leading up to the attacks, and of the attacks themselves; an earlier staff report found “no credible evidence” of a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The final report also determines that many warning signs of an impending attack were ignored.
Lawrence Wilkerson: John [Bellinger] and I had to work on the 9/11-commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda. We cherry-picked things to make it look as if the vice president and others, Secretary Rumsfeld and all, had been.
They didn’t give a **** about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.
Lee Hamilton, former Indiana congressman and vice-chair of the 9/11 commission: Intelligence reform was our big recommendation. The principal conclusion we reached was that the 15 or 16 agencies of the intelligence community did not share information and that there had to be some mechanism put in place to force the sharing of information. In the intelligence business, you don’t get, or you usually don’t get, information saying that the terrorists are going to strike at nine in the morning in the World Trade towers in New York City on September 11. You get bits and pieces of information that have to be put together.
We knew, for example"when I say we, I mean the F.B.I. in Minneapolis knew"that those guys in flight-training school were more interested in flying the airplane than they were in taking off and landing. They knew that. Who didn’t know it? The director of the F.B.I. didn’t know it. The director of the C.I.A. did know it. His response was that it was none of his business. Technically correct, because his business is foreign intelligence.
That’s one of many, many examples.
November 2, 2004 Election Day. Bush defeats Kerry by a margin of three million popular votes and 35 electoral votes. In a press conference two days later Bush says, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and I now intend to spend it. It is my style.”
Mark McKinnon, chief campaign media adviser to George W. Bush: The interesting thing about both Bush campaigns is that they strategically defied conventional wisdom and turned it on its head. In 1999, on the old “right track, wrong track” question, which we ask on every poll"the reason we ask it is because it determines whether or not it’s a change environment or a status-quo environment"in 1999, the “right track” was 65 percent or 70 percent, which under conventional wisdom would indicate that it was a great environment for the Democrats and for Al Gore. The strategic challenge we had was"we were in the position of trying to argue everything’s great, so it’s time for a change, right?
Flash forward to 2004. It’s just the opposite. This time, the “wrong track” is like 65 or 70 percent. We’re in a very difficult war, uncertain economy, and so now we’re in the strategic position of saying, you know, everything’s all screwed up. Stay the course. We’re all f’d up. Stay the course.
November 15, 2004 Colin Powell announces his resignation as secretary of state. He is succeeded by Condoleezza Rice, who will in time have limited success charting a new direction on issues such as Iran and North Korea.
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: I’m not sure even to this day that he’s willing to admit to himself that he was rolled to the extent that he was. And he’s got plenty of defense to marshal because, as I told [former defense secretary] Bill Perry one time when Bill asked me to defend my boss"I said, Well, let me tell you, you wouldn’t have wanted to have seen the first Bush administration without Colin Powell. I wrote Powell a memo about six months before we were leaving, and I said, This is your legacy, Mr. Secretary: damage control. He didn’t like it much. In fact, he kind of handed it back to me and told me I could put it in the burn basket.
But I knew he understood what I was saying. You saved the China relationship. You saved the transatlantic relationship and each component thereof"France, Germany. I mean, he held Joschka Fischer’s hand under the table on occasions when Joschka would say something like, You know, your president called my boss a ******* asshole. His task became essentially cleaning the dogshit off the carpet in the Oval Office. And he did that rather well. But it became all-consuming.
I think the clearest indication I got that Rich [Armitage] and he both had finally awakened to the dimensions of the problem was when Rich began"I mean, I’ll be very candid"began to use language to describe the vice president’s office with me as the Gestapo, as the Nazis, and would sometimes late in the evening, when we were having a drink"would sometimes go off rather aggressively on particular characters in the vice president’s office.
Charles Duelfer, U.N. and U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq: You thought you had the dream team of foreign-policy experts, but they weren’t a team at all. Some of the wags over at the Department of Defense would call John Bolton’s office over at State the “American Interests Section.” Very funny, but it showed you how badly divided this administration had become.
Lawrence Wilkerson: The imbalance is huge. The Pentagon now gets three quarters of a trillion dollars every year and State gets $35 billion. Rumsfeld remarked one time, I lose more money than you get. He has two and a half million men. State is not even a combat brigade, you know?
Bill Graham, Canada’s foreign minister and later defense minister: We came out of our meeting, and our nato ambassador said, “Oh, Mr. Rumsfeld was really quite cordial and animated today.” And [one of our generals], his remark was something like: Oh, he’s sort of like, it’s like a snake on a hot summer day sleeping on the road in the sun. If an eyelid flickers, you say it’s very animated.
December 26, 2004 An undersea earthquake off the western coast of Sumatra"the second-largest earthquake ever recorded"unleashes a wave of tsunamis throughout the Indian Ocean, killing more than 200,000 people. Bush orders the U.S. Navy to spearhead emergency relief efforts, which are widely praised. Distracted elsewhere, the administration’s Asian initiatives are otherwise few. There is one clear beneficiary.
Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former ambassador to the United Nations: The Chinese never said so, because they are the best geopolitical strategists in the world, but it was immediately obvious that with 9/11 the U.S.-China relationship improved. The Chinese were smart. They didn’t put any real obstacles in the way of action in Afghanistan, and even if they strongly opposed the war in Iraq, they did so in a way that minimized the difficulties for the U.S. I saw that firsthand, in the period after the invasion was over, when the U.S. needed a Security Council resolution to get the oil sales flowing again. They got the resolution, and I remember asking a U.S. diplomat which country had been most helpful in getting the resolution passed. China, he replied. That 2003 resolution was a double win for the Chinese leaders: they obtained valuable political goodwill from the Bush administration, which translated into gains on the Taiwan issues, and they helped to ensure that American troops would remain bogged down in Iraq for a long time.
The Chinese have been brilliant in playing the Bush years. Asia is one part of the world where many will see George Bush in a positive light, although not necessarily for the reasons he may have wished.
February 2, 2005 In his State of the Union address, Bush starts spending his political capital with a plan to take the Social Security system in the direction of privatization by allowing individuals to divert payments to their own retirement accounts. The partial-privatization scheme is widely opposed"the public sees reliable benefits at risk"and in the end the proposal goes nowhere. Meanwhile, despite significant turnout by Evangelicals in the election, faith-based initiatives make little headway on the president’s agenda.
David Kuo, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives: After the 2004 election they cut the White House faith-based staff by 30 percent, 40 percent, because it became clear that it had served its purpose.
There’s this idea that the Bush White House was dominated by religious conservatives and catered to the needs of religious conservatives. But what people miss is that religious conservatives and the Republican Party have always had a very uneasy relationship. The reality in the White House is"if you look at the most senior staff"you’re seeing people who aren’t personally religious and have no particular affection for people who are religious-right leaders. Now, at the end of the day, that’s easy to understand, because most of the people who are religious-right leaders are not easy to like. It’s that old Gandhi thing, right? I might actually be a Christian myself, except for the action of Christians.
And so in the political-affairs shop in particular, you saw a lot of people who just rolled their eyes at everyone from Rich Cizik, who is one of the heads of the National Association of Evangelicals, to James Dobson, to basically every religious-right leader that was out there, because they just found them annoying and insufferable. These guys were pains in the butt who had to be accommodated.
June 7, 2005 Documents emerge indicating that the decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, in 2001, was influenced by the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group with ties to Exxon. One State Department letter to the coalition states: “Potus [president of the United States] rejected Kyoto in part based on input from you.” Several days later, Philip Cooney, a former American Petroleum Institute lobbyist and the chief of staff of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality, resigns after it is revealed that he had edited government reports to downplay the threat of climate change. Cooney takes a job at Exxon.
Rick Piltz, senior associate, U.S. Climate Change Science Program: In the fall of 2002, I was doing something I’d been doing for years, which was developing and editing the [Climate Change Science Program’s] annual report to Congress. And it had been drafted with input from dozens of federal scientists and reviewed and vetted and revised and vetted some more.
And then it had to go for a White House clearance. It came back to us over the fax machine with Phil Cooney’s hand markup on it. I flipped through it and saw right away what he was doing. You don’t need to do a huge amount of re-writing to make something say something different; you just need to change a word, change a phrase, cross out a sentence, add some adjectives. And what he was doing was, he was passing a screen over the report to introduce uncertainty language into statements about global warming. The political motivation of it was obvious.
June 24, 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is elected president of Iran, a country whose regional sway has been enhanced by the implosion of neighboring Iraq under U.S. occupation. Iran steps up its efforts to enrich uranium, and Bush states more than once that he will not rule out the use of force if Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons.
Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister and vice-chancellor: The big problem was that the administration was in a permanent state of denial"that they are doing the job for Tehran. That’s another irony, a very tragic one. Because if you look to the basic parameters of Iran’s capability or strategic strength, this is not a superpower"they’re far from a superpower. They never could have achieved such a level of dominance and influence if they would have had to rely only on their own resources and skills. America pushed Iran in that way.
I was invited to a conference in Saudi Arabia on Iraq, and a Saudi said to me, Look, Mr. Fischer, when President Bush wants to visit Baghdad, it’s a state secret, and he has to enter the country in the middle of the night and through the back door. When President Ahmadinejad wants to visit Baghdad, it’s announced two weeks beforehand or three weeks. He arrives in the brightest sunshine and travels in an open car through a cheering crowd to downtown Baghdad. Now, tell me, Mr. Fischer, who is running the country?
Hans Blix, chief U.N. weapons inspector for Iraq: In my experience of negotiations, about the worst you can do is to humiliate the other side. And I think that this is one error that has been with the U.S."they reject any talk with Ahmadinejad because he is someone who is regarded as a rogue and playing to the galleries and so forth.
Lee Hamilton, former Indiana congressman and vice-chair of the 9/11 commission: I was in the Congress when we began talking to members of the Supreme Soviet under the old Soviet Union. I’d get up and give a speech. My Soviet counterpart would get up and give a speech. Then we’d toast each other with vodka and say that we were for peace in the world and prosperity for our grandchildren, and then we’d go home. And we did that year after year after year. After doing it 10 or 15 years, we put aside the speeches and we began to talk with one another. That was the beginning of the thaw.
It might not take 40 years with the Iranians, but it’s going to take a long time. You’re going to have to have patience. You have to put on the table not just our agenda but their agenda as well. But the conversation is critical, and I don’t know how you deal with differences without talking to people. If you know a way to solve problems without talking to people, let me know, because I haven’t found out about it yet.
August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, strikes the Gulf Coast. The storm surge breaches the levees in New Orleans; the city is flooded and eventually evacuated amid a complete breakdown of civil order. Bush flies over the city on his way back from a fund-raiser out West. Days later, visiting the destruction as relief efforts falter, the president praises the fema director, Michael Brown: “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job.”
Bush vows to rebuild New Orleans, and Brown, whose performance is widely criticized, is effectively fired; the president’s approval rating sinks to 39 percent. Three years after Katrina the population of New Orleans will have dropped by one-third. The city’s defenses against storms and floods will remain a vulnerable patchwork.
Dan Bartlett, White House communications director and later counselor to the president: Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.
Matthew Dowd, Bush’s pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign: Katrina to me was the tipping point. The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn’t matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn’t matter. P.R.? It didn’t matter. Travel? It didn’t matter. I knew when Katrina"I was like, man, you know, this is it, man. We’re done.
Michael Brown, director of fema, which becomes part of the Department of Homeland Security: There were two things that went wrong with Katrina. One is personal on my part. I failed after having briefed the president about how bad things were in New Orleans and telling him that I needed the Cabinet to stand up and pay attention. When that didn’t happen, I should’ve leveled with the American public instead of sticking to those typical political talking points about"how we’re working as a team and we’re doing everything we can. I should’ve said this thing is just not working. Probably would’ve been fired anyway, but at least it would’ve caused the federal government to stand up and get off their butts.
The second thing that happened was this. [Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff inserted himself into the response, and suddenly I had this massive bureaucracy on top of me. I should have basically told Chertoff to kiss off, that I would continue to deal directly with the president. But he’s the new kid on the block and the White House deferred to him, and it gave me no choice but to work through him, which then scoped things down and caused it to just completely implode on itself.
Lee Hamilton, former Indiana congressman and vice-chair of the 9/11 commission: When you have a disaster strike, you have to have someone in charge. They didn’t have anybody in charge in New York during 9/11. They didn’t have anybody in charge in Katrina. And you get a mess.
Politically it’s a very difficult thing. You’ve got the counties, the cities, and the federal government and all the rest to work it out. Nobody wants to give up authority prior to the fact. The governor of Louisiana wants to be in charge. The governor of Mississippi wants to be in charge. The mayor of New Orleans wants to be in charge. You’ve got 50 other cities that want to be in charge. I have come to the view in these massive disasters"like Katrina or New York on 9/11"that the federal government has to be in charge because they’re the only one that has the resources to deal with the problem.
But presidents don’t like to stomp on governors and override them. When these kinds of problems are not resolved, people die.
December 6, 2005 nasa scientist James Hansen gives a lecture on climate change at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union, in San Francisco. nasa reacts by ordering his future public statements to be vetted in advance. Earlier in the year Rick Piltz had resigned from the Climate Change Science Program over other instances of political interference.
Rick Piltz, senior associate, U.S. Climate Change Science Program: To me, the central climate-science scandal of the Bush administration was the suppression of the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts report. In the 1997"2000 time frame, the White House had directed the Global Change Research Program to develop a scientifically based assessment of the implications of climate change for the United States. It was a vulnerability assessment: If these projected warming models are correct, what’s going to happen? And over a period of several years a team made up of eminent scientists and other experts produced a major report. To this day, it remains the most comprehensive effort to understand the implications of global warming for the United States.
And the administration killed that study. They directed federal agencies not to make any reference to the existence of it in any further reports. Through a series of deletions it was completely excised from all program reports from 2002 onward. It was left up on a Web site. There was a lawsuit filed by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is an ExxonMobil-funded “denialist” group, demanding that the report be deleted from the Web. Myron Ebell of the institute said, Our goal is to make that report vanish.
December 16, 2005 The New York Times reveals the existence of a massive warrantless-surveillance program conducted on American soil. Bush contends that the September 2001 war-on-terror authorization by Congress"“to use all necessary and appropriate force” against relevant “nations, organizations, and persons”"effectively gives the president unlimited power to act. Other kinds of snooping occur inside the administration.
Lawrence Wilkerson, top aide and later chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell: The Cheney team had, for example, technological supremacy over the National Security Council staff. That is to say, they could read their e-mails. I remember one particular member of the N.S.C. staff wouldn’t use e-mail because he knew they were reading it. He did a test case, kind of like the Midway battle, when we’d broken the Japanese code. He thought he’d broken the code, so he sent a test e-mail out that he knew would rile Scooter [Libby], and within an hour Scooter was in his office.
December 30, 2005 Bush signs into law the Detainee Treatment Act. The legislation was passed by Congress in order to prohibit the inhumane treatment of prisoners, but Bush appends a “signing statement” laying out his own interpretation and indicating that he is not otherwise bound by the law in any meaningful way. This is one of more than 800 instances in which Bush deploys signing statements to finesse congressional intent.
Jack Goldsmith, legal adviser at the Department of Defense and later head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel: Every president in war time and in crisis"Lincoln, Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, just to name three"exercised extraordinarily broad powers. They pushed the law and stretched the law and bent the law, and many people think they broke the law. And we’ve largely forgiven them for doing so because we think that they acted prudently in crisis. So Lincoln"he did all sorts of things after Fort Sumter. He spent unappropriated moneys. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus.
Now, there’s a way of looking at the Cheney-Addington position on executive power which is not unlike some of the most extreme assertions of Lincoln and Roosevelt. But there are important differences. One is that both Lincoln and Roosevelt coupled this sense of a powerful executive in times of crisis with a powerful sense of a need to legitimate and justify the power through education, through legislation, through getting Congress on board, through paying attention to what one might call the “soft” values of constitutionalism. That was an attitude that Addington and I suppose Cheney just did not have.
The second difference, and what made their assertion of executive power extraordinary, is: it was almost as if they were interested in expanding executive power for its own sake.
June 29, 2006 The Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld rules that detainees at Guantánamo have rights under the Geneva Conventions, including fundamental rights of due process. Two months later, Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen and legal resident of Germany who had been held at Guantánamo for nearly five years, will be released from custody and flown back to Germany.
John le Carré, novelist and former intelligence officer whose novel A Most Wanted Man was inspired by the Kurnaz case: Murat Kurnaz, a German-born-and-educated Turkish resident of Bremen, in northern Germany, by trade a shipbuilder, was released from Guantánamo on 24 August 2006 after four years and eight months without charge or trial. He was 24 years old. In December 2001, at the age of 19, he had been arrested in Pakistan, sold by the Pakistanis to the Americans for $3,000, and tortured for five weeks and nearly killed at an interrogation center in Kandahar before being flown in chains to Cuba. His family was first informed of his situation in January 2002. Despite repeated brutal treatment and repeated interrogation at Guantánamo, no evidence was found to link him with terrorist activities, a fact acknowledged by both U.S. and German intelligence. Yet it took years of intense lobbying by lawyers, family, and NGOs to secure his release.
Two weeks after Murat’s release, I was in Hamburg to take part in a television discussion on the anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attack on America. A woman journalist attached to the program had been assigned the task of looking after Murat while the program’s producers prepared a documentary about him. Would I like to meet him? I would, and spent two days listening to him in a hotel suite in Bremen. Despite a disgraceful campaign of innuendo orchestrated by the complicit German authorities, I shared the view of practically everyone who had met him that Murat was remarkably truthful and was a reliable witness to his own tragedy.
September 21, 2006 The Environmental Protection Agency declines to tighten regulations on annual emissions of soot.
November 7, 2006 The Republicans suffer a stinging defeat in the midterm elections; Democrats take control of both the House and Senate. The following day, Rumsfeld resigns as defense secretary. He is replaced by Robert Gates.
November 26, 2007 Secretary of State Rice convenes a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. The Bush administration had from the outset paid scant attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and attempts by Rice to revive the peace process come to little.
Anthony Cordesman, national-security analyst and former official at the Defense and State Departments: In reality, a great deal of what Secretary Rice did seems to have been based as much on a search for visibility as any expectation of real progress. The fact was that you did not have to contend with Chairman Arafat, but you did have to contend with a deeply divided Israel, which was far less willing to accept or make compromises over peace. And with the Palestinian movement, which was moving toward civil war. The United States can only make serious progress when both the Israelis and Palestinians are ready to move toward peace. Setting artificial deadlines and creating yet another set of unrealistic expectations did not lay the groundwork for sustained real progress. It instead created new sources of frustration and again made people throughout the Arab and Muslim world see the United States as hypocritical and ineffective.