A friend and I were discussing the new biography of Donald Rumsfeld, which led to a discussion of just how things went so bad, so quickly in so many areas for the Bush administration.
It got me to thinking. For most of the Bush presidency, I believed that people who pointed the finger at Dick Cheney as the source of most of the presidents’ problems were exaggerating. Yeah, Cheney was a bit of a nut, but the idea that Bush would let himself be manipulated by his vice president to such a degree — I had a hard time believing it.
I don’t anymore.
In fact, I’d argue now that the most important decision of Bush’s presidency — the decision that determined the fate of his administration and to a degree of this country — occurred in July of 2000, when he chose Cheney to be his running mate. From that moment, the elements of tragedy were in place. I suspect history will reach that judgment as well.
If true, that’s of course as much Bush’s fault as Cheney’s. More so, since he was nominally the guy in charge. But there’s no question that at least on the foreign policy front, the Bush administration got a lot smarter about things in its second term, once Rumsfeld — Cheney’s guy — was gone from the Pentagon, Cheney’s influence waned and Condi Rice finally began to assert herself. And the real break, I suspect, came when Bush realized in the summer of 2005 that he had been misled by Cheney and his minions about their role in the Valerie Plame episode.
It’s conjecture at this point, but I suspect that incident opened Bush’s eyes to what had been happening in his own White House, and broke whatever trust remained with his vice president. It would help explain why Bush refused to pardon Scooter Libby as he left office, despite repeated pleas from Cheney and others.
We’ll see what history has to say, but I suspect its general narrative will follow that story line.