Harry Truman famously said of his responsibilities as President that “the buck stops here.” No president makes all his decisions — or even any of them — completely on his own. But a responsible president needs to take responsibility for the policies and actions of his administration.
An irresponsible President, by contrast, says stuff like this to ABC News:
BUSH: I don’t know — the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that’s not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess.
It’s stunning that the President is still trying to mislead people about this rather than taking responsibility for his actions. French President Jacques Chirac didn’t feel compelled “looking at the same intelligence” to invade Iraq. Neither did German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder or the leaders of any number of other countries. No intelligence received by the White House ever justified the more extreme claims made by members of the administration, and some of the pre-war intelligence (that from the State Department INR Bureau, for example) was spot-on. The administration deliberately went out of its way to re-write intelligence reports as less ambiguous than they really were — compare the classified and unclassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq — and to ignore reports that didn’t match the administration position.
Last, at the actual moment during which Bush pulled the trigger on war, inspectors were on the ground in Iraq. Hans Blix and Mohmmaed ElBarradei were in an excellent position to improve our knowledge of Iraqi WMD activities. And both Blix and ElBarradei were saying that there were no weapons stockpiles and no active WMD programs. There were busy asking the United States to hand over whatever contrary intelligence we had so that they could check it out. But instead of listening, Bush plunged the country into a disastrous war. It wasn’t a decision he made alone, but it was his decision; not something “the intelligence” made him do.
Greg Sargent makes an excellent point about how Bush is able to get away with this whitewash:
Of course, Bush made the decision to overlook all the good intel — not to mention the claims of those poor forgotten inspectors — saying that Saddam wasn’t really a threat at all, or certainly not one requiring the response Bush himself ordered.
One overlooked thing about this is that not only Bush, but many supporters of the war — Dems and liberal hawks included — also have a vested interest in pretending that the good intel never existed and those inspectors never said what they said. Those inconvenient historical facts reflect rather badly on them, too. With so many opinion-makers having vested interests of their own in telling the story this way, history has been tidily rewritten, and Bush is able to make this claim without a peep of objection from his big-time network interviewer.
Exactly. Without a vigorous opposition party, this kind of thing goes down the memory hole. And with so much of the opposition party having joined Bush in failing to take a serious look at the intelligence, you don’t get vigorous opposition. And so Bush is able to get away with it.