Dubbya in Denial: The Hanging of Saddam Failed to Provide the Lesson in Justice Longed for by George W Bush. but Even as the US Forces' Death Toll Hits 3,000 and a Hostile Congress Convenes, the President Holds out for "Victory" in Iraq
Stephen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)
The week between Christmas and New Year had begun so promisingly for Dubbya. CNN had brought in its own model of a noose tightening around a mock skeleton's neck, while a doctor answered questions from lip-smacking presenters: whether the man being executed feels any pain (probably not, but we don't really know), how long asphyxiation lasts even if the spinal cord is severed (two minutes), and how long the heart beats after the drop (eight minutes). By 9pm on the evening of Saddam Hussein's execution, the 43rd president of America was in bed: surely he had the right to sleep soundly, knowing his image of manliness would gain a notch or two while the nation's bete noire du jour was being despatched to whatever hell awaited him?
But these days nothing goes right for Bush 43 (as he is, I swear, still known to those working for him). First, America's 38th president was inconsiderate enough to die and hog all the headlines. It didn't help, either, that the death of 93-year-old Gerald Ford evoked impressions across the world (not necessarily accurate ones) of a healer rather than divider, and that Bush would be expected to deliver a eulogy for the old wimp. Second, Dustin Donica, 22, from Spring, Texas--damn him!--managed to become the 3,000th US military fatality in Iraq. Not good, as Bush 41 would say.
Most infuriatingly of all, Dubbya was denied the televised spectacle of Saddam dragged kicking and squealing to the gallows that his administration confidently expected. Rather, it was Saddam's image of manliness that improved when the first (official, silent) video showed him going to his death bravely and with dignity. The second, recorded on a mobile phone and replete with taunts from a Shia lynch mob, could not have illustrated better how the Americans and Iraqis can hardly put together a dog's dinner, let alone an execution, in Bush's $8bn-a-month war. No wonder Bush 41 burst into tears the other day when speaking about his sons.
The conventional wisdom these days is that it has all finally got to Bush 43. If not exactly a broken man, he is now a very worried one. I frequently find myself pointing out in these pages, however, that consensus inside-the-Beltway views are invariably wrong. This particular wisdom misunderstands the nature of the alcoholic: that he or she, by definition, is in denial. In the words of Dr Justin Frank, a psychiatrist who has written a book on the president's psychology, Bush belatedly set out to solve his drinking problems "by externalising the enemy rather than acknowledging that a greater threat than alcohol was the enemy within". Not long ago I quietly alluded to persistent rumours here (and repeated to me by somebody senior in the British government) that Bush has started drinking again; paradoxically, that could turn out to be good news if it stops Bush from externalising whatever inner demons Frank believes drove him to drink in the first place.
Long march of history
There is every indication, however, that Bush remains in denial, not only over Iraq, but over how what he describes as "the long march of history" will eventually see him as a truly great US president. Over the holidays, he said that "victory in Iraq is achievable", contradicting even the bipartisan Iraq Study Group--co-chaired by 76-year-old James Baker, a staunch Bush family retainer for many years--which says the situation there is "grave and deteriorating".
In response, hitherto loyalist Republicans such as Senator Dick Lugar--a former Rhodes Scholar and gentle Methodist from Indiana--are dropping Bush left, right and centre. Lugar, who is 74, told one of the weekend talk shows here that he saw the debate getting "ugly" if Bush did not listen to the ISG and the Democrat-controlled Congress, which was due to convene on 4 January. To the Republican senator and Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel, the president's proposal to send a "surge" of 30,000 more troops is not just "folly" but "Alice-in-Wonderland". …