Friday, February 13, 2004

The Credibility Gap


When I first heard G.W. Bush explain his rationale for a war in Iraq, and the whole "Hussein's a danger", "Hussein's in bed with Al Qaeda", "The post-war will be all candy and flowers" arguments, I was a bit more than skeptical. My gut reaction was that it was a deliberate snow job, to dupe the people into supporting a war of choice. As time went on, my perspective changed a bit - not on the fact that this was a war of choice, or that the evidence of Hussein's danger to other nations and supposed ties to Al Qaeda were being blown completely out of proportion, and certainly not the notion that the post-war occupation would be easy - but on the issue of Bush's credibility. I do think that Bush was overstating his case - in the law, we might deem it "zealous advocacy" - but that on the whole he truly believed what he was saying. (That's scary in its own right, certainly, but it doesn't make him a liar.)

Thus, scratch my head a bit when I read the Washington Post's "Most Think Truth Was Stretched to Justify Iraq War ":
Barely half -- 52 percent -- now believe Bush is "honest and trustworthy," down 7 percentage points since late October and his worst showing since the question was first asked, in March 1999. At his best, in the summer of 2002, Bush was viewed as honest by 71 percent. The survey found that nearly seven in 10 think Bush "honestly believed" Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Even so, 54 percent thought Bush exaggerated or lied about prewar intelligence.
That is, the nation's impressions of Bush's statements on Iraq are going in the opposite direction of mine.

I think this may be associated with the Bush Administration's refusal to take responsibility on the issue of Bush's Guard service, and their dancing around the issue of releasing records which would establish precisely how Bush completed his Guard service. The Bush Administration's evasions make it hard to believe that they aren't hiding something, even if you accept that he "completed" his Guard service in an acceptable manner. If I were Bush, I would accept the thirty seconds of pain (as I described a couple of days ago), by making a statement to the effect of,
As you know, questions have been raised about my service in the Texas Air National Guard. As you know, I have documented that I completed my service, and that I received an Honorable Discharge at the conclusion of my service. Now questions are being raised as to how I served out the last two years of my Guard duties.

At the time I served in the Guard, I was a young man. An immature man. And yes, I took advantage of the relaxed reporting and service requirements of the time, and completed my Guard duty in a manner which was better for me and my selfish personal goals than it was for the Guard and the nation. I am very proud of my service in the Guard prior to that time. But as I look back on it now, I am not proud of the choices I made during my last two years of service.

I have since learned many lessons in duty, responsibility, and humility. I regret and am deeply sorry for the mistakes I have made in the past. The man I am today would have acted very differently.
If he chooses not to clear up the clouds that hang over his credibility, they are likely to continue to darken.

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