Monday, August 29, 2011

September 11 retrospective: George W. Bush recalls his own towering greatness

The National Geographic Channel on Sunday the 28th premiered a long interview with Shrub Bush on the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview. It was a puff piece, effectively journalism-free. It even included melodramatic background music to go with the former President's words as he related his heroic deeds of 9/11 and the immediate aftermath. The website's blurb gives a flavor:

President Bush recalls what he was thinking and feeling and what drove the real-time, life-or-death decisions he faced in the first minutes, hours and days after the most lethal terrorist attacks ever on U.S. soil. Hear in unprecedented, intimate detail what he grappled with as both commander in chief, and as a man concerned for his family and fellow citizens. George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview also takes viewers behind the scenes with extensive archival footage and exclusive materials directly from his library that open a new window into his personal experiences during that historic day that changed the face of America, and the world, forever.
Watching it, I was reminded of Tom Tomorrow's comment on an earlier puff piece on Bush and 9/11: "It's funny, Lois--I've never seen the President and Superman in the same room."

The credits at the end say that the footage was from a two-hour interview with Bush. The program probably doesn't use more than 35-40 minutes of it. We don't hear the interviewers questions, only Bush speaking as in a monologue. It was be interesting (if tedious) to see the full interview with the questions. In the portions that aired, Bush is as well-spoken as I've ever seen him. I didn't catch a single instance of his characteristic broken syntax. I was wondering while watching it if it wasn't a scripted performance with Bush reading off a teleprompter.

A couple of things did stand out as having some actual significance.


One is that it was clear to me that Bush is defensive about his actions on the actual day of the attack: his stunned look while listening to grade-school children read The Pet Goat, his return to Washington only late in the day. He depicts himself as a fearless warlord, eager to return to the capital to direct the troops, while nevertheless directing the action from Air Force One and a secure bunker, boldly making the tough decisions that fell on his shoulders In A Time Of War.

The other thing I particularly noticed is that he said that one of his options on 9/11/2001 would have been to declare war. Since he explains that they didn't really know that entire day that the perpetrators were Al Qa'ida, it not clear on whom war would have been declared. (Iraq?) But his comment seemed completely oblivious to the very clear language of Article 1 of the Constitution giving the power to declare war exclusively to Congress. Is he really that unknowledgible about what school children learn about the Constitution? Has he so absorbed Dick Cheney's interpretation of the lawless Unitary Executive that he thinks there's no need to even pretend to respect the Constitutional provision?

As I thought about it, though, I wondered if what we hear there may be a conceptually garbled (though syntactically understandable) version of something that has been part of discussions with his lawyers about his liability for war crimes charges. If he sets foot in any foreign country other than Saudi Arabia and Israel, he's subject to arrest and indictment and being sent to the Hague to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Though the torture crimes would probably be the easiest for a prosecutor to prove, he could also be charged with planning a war of aggression based on the invasion of Iraq, the most serious charge brought against the German leaders at Nuremburg.

And one of his vulnerabilities on that charge would be that he violated the Congressional Iraq War resolution passed in October 2002. It would be understandable that his attorneys might try to argue that in invading Iraq, he was acting on his own Presidential powers under the US Constitution. Bush's thought that declaring war on his own was one of his options on 9/11 could be a product of such a discussion with his attorneys.

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