Junior Needs a Spanking
By MAUREEN DOWD
KENNEBUNKPORT, Me. The Old King put the Boy King over his knee yesterday and gave him a good thwack with a lobster-shaped paddle.
O.K., that didn’t happen, but don’t you wish it had?
Junior certainly deserves it, with recent attempts to blame his dad for policies that led to 9/11 and the rise of Osama and Middle East terrorism.
As with so many things about this byzantine, Shakespearean relationship between father and son, reunited here at last for a wedding, a christening and a funeral this weekend, it’s an ironic turn of events.
The son was furious when the father was painted as a wimp in the 1988 campaign, and now he and his spinners are painting 41 as a weak leader. W.’s pain at what happened to his aristocratic dad with “the wimp factor” led him to overreact in the other direction when he became president, embracing a West Texas-tough, muscle-bound foreign policy that shunned diplomacy, nuance, compromise, multilateral treaties and allied coalitions as measures that reflected impotence.
And now it has led him to scapegoat his own father, and Bill Clinton, for sending signals of weakness that encouraged the terrorists — even as many Middle East experts say it is W.’s culturally obtuse, diplomatically averse and morally simplistic style that has spurred terrorism and made the world more dangerous.
The Bush spokesman Tony Snow recently told reporters that “when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn’t stay the course, and that led to September 11th.”
Afterwards, questioned by furious Bush I foreign policy types, Bush II officials tried to claim that Mr. Snow was talking about President Clinton running away from Somalia, but clearly the spokesman was referring, as he originally confirmed, to the truncated end of Desert Storm.
In Crawford recently, the president also criticized previous administrations for policies that indicated that “stability is more important than form of government.”
Translation: Dad cuddled up to the corrupt Saudi monarchy and other Middle East dictators and let Saddam stay in power and was tough on Israel. I got rid of Saddam to establish a democracy and uncritically sided with Israel, a democracy.
Of course, now W. has now been reduced to pleading with dictatorial Mideast leaders to help him quell the violence engulfing Iraq and Lebanon, and with the military dictator Musharraf to help him capture Al Qaeda members.
The Bush I inner circle whispers that W. and Condi are “in over their heads,” as one told me, and that without 41, Jim Baker and Brent Scowcroft around, there is no one to “corral” Dick Cheney from his hard-line craziness.
“They misread history,” said one Bush I foreign policy official. “43’s born-again background and lack of experience and simple view of the world made him think it was easy to define who the enemy is. But hope is not a policy — hoping to win, hoping to make a democracy. They came in with the philosophy that the U.S. was the most powerful country in the world and they could remake the world any way they wanted. Condi and others assumed that the Middle East would fall apart peacefully, the way the Soviet Union did, if given a chance. But the Middle East is a totally different place.”
They agree, as one said, that 41 is a “very private guy who loves his son dearly, and you will not catch any daylight between them. I doubt that he’s taking any joy from the fact it’s clear now that he did the right thing in ’91 and his son is screwing up.”
Poppy Bush did not like it when Jimmy Carter tried to give him advice after he took over the job and he would be very loath to do that with any successor — much less a son who was so threatened by his dad’s shadow that he drifted until his 40’s.
Father and son do talk quite a bit on the phone, and sometimes about world affairs. But 41, as one associate notes, “is not the type of guy to say, ‘George, you should be doing x, y and z.’ He might say something more oblique, like, ‘So-and-so says this is happening.’ ”
At this hazardous moment in world history, somebody has got to grab the stubborn, shuttered scion wearing the “43” windbreaker and talk some sense into him, the way Dwight Eisenhower did when he privately dressed down the young J.F.K. after the Bay of Pigs fiasco. And who better than his dad, that 82-year-old still demonically driving his cigarette boat around the Bay of Bushes?