I’ve started reading Eichenwald’s 500 Days, which is about the reign of error and terror that characterized the first half of the Bush administration. The preface contains an abbreviated countdown to 9/11, citing this or that FBI man or reporter who stumbled on the fact that something big was being planned. As is usual in the establishment press, we go easy here on the obvious: the massive incompetence of the Bush administration. If Al Gore had managed to pass through the coup designed by the court and the Bush handlers and actually assume the office of president to which he was elected, I’m pretty confident that Mohammed Atta and his merry crew would have ended up crashing a private plane into a tower in Portland Maine – if they managed to get on board a plane at all. Americans have a hard time facing up to the fact that the elite that they pay so much to is basically as dumb as any elite in history. These aren’t the smartest guys in the room, unless they have rented the room and put a bodyguard up to keep smart guys out.
Eichenwald has, unfortunately, imbibed the NYT anecdote heavy style of reporting. Thus we move between a disparate group of people as though we were in some badly directed episode of Homeland. Here’s a reporter three months before 9/11 interviewing Osama the B. Here’s a customs official two months before 9/11 deporting a mysterious Saudi. These events are covered in a minimal fashion, without any attempt to place them in a context. What would have made for a much more fascinating intro is a much denser stringing together of anticipatory events, because if ever there was an attack foretold, it was 9/11. The only people who didn’t know it was coming worked for the Bush administration in high offices. Just as they didn’t know that occupying Iraq was an expensive, long process, just as they didn’t know how to cope with Katrina, just as they allowed the economy to blow up in 2008 when, after Bear Stearns fell, the merest babe could have told them that they better move fast or the whole system would blow - so it was with 9/11. But because the U.S. media has long taken its job to be one of providing fluff stories to disguise the awful and criminal incompetence of the powerful, we were treated to an imperial fan dance, and – incredibly – the man most responsible for allowing an amateur group of 19 to take down the WTC – George W. – became, for a while, the most popular president since the other George W – Washington, that is.
Now, there are many dimensions of bad. In one respect, surely, our worst president was Dwight Eisenhower, who presided over the era of above ground nuclear tests which resulted in – according to a study commissioned by Congress – around 200,000 extra cases of thyroid cancer, due to the release of the iodine isotope in the fallout. Of course, that is a conservative estimate, since the group was not allowed to investigate all the elements in the fallout that effected most of the country from these tests. Eisenhower also, as we now know from declassified NSA documents, played a Doctor Strangelove game with SAC, ordering our nuclear armed jets to penetrate Soviet Airspace on numerous occasions just to check on the Soviet response. If I were to nominate the most dangerous of all U.S. prezes, I’d have to go for Eisenhower.
But Bush is still in the running for greatest bad president, in that he stamped, or his spirit stamped, not only the first decade of the 21st century in these here states, but the second as well. Obama’s administration has so far been but a variable in the Bush paradigm of plutocratic incompetence. You could take Obama’s Defense, Justice and Treasury departments and comfortably plug them into the Bush administration. In this sense, Eichenwald’s book, minus the corny prose – Eichenwald can’t write about the hijacking without calling it a “murderous” hijacking, just in case the reader doesn’t know that people died – is a timely reminder that we are ruled by a meritocracy of shitheads.