Last week it was revealed that W. Mark Felt, the former number two man in the FBI, was the anonymous source known as Deep Throat, who helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unravel the Watergate scandal in the pages of the Washington Post 30 years ago. This should be seen as an important reminder that even the leader of the free world can be devious, corrupt and dishonest.
Some things never change.
The parallels between the Bush and Nixon administrations are eerily familiar. Both bullied the press, were and are highly secretive, obsessed over leaks, engaged and are in engaging in massive cover-ups and have quickly branded aides as disloyal if they dared to raise questions about the president’s policies.
The Washington Post, the very paper that is credited with forcing Nixon’s resignation, summed it up perfectly in a November 25, 2003 story on the similarities between the two administrations.
Bush … structures his White House much as Nixon did. Nixon governed largely with four other men: Henry A. Kissinger, H.R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman and Charles Colson. This is not unlike the "iron triangle" of aides who led Bush's campaign and the handful of underlings now - Cheney, chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr, national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice and communications director Dan Bartlett - who are in on most top decisions. Nixon essentially ended the tradition of powerful Cabinets in favor of a few powerful White House aides - a model Bush has followed.
The most striking similarity is in the area of secrecy and what Nixon staffers called "managing the news". Nixon created the White House Office of Communications, the office that has become the center of Bush's vaunted “message discipline”.
Unfortunately, neither the Washington Post nor any other mainstream newspaper or magazine in this country will ever be credited with exposing another Watergate. Mainstream reporters just don’t have the guts to put their careers on the line to sniff around, ask tough questions, and perhaps find sources like W. Mark Felt. Not even Woodward has the muckraking qualities he used to have. Worse, editors for large papers don’t encourage reporters to practice that kind of reporting anymore, because they don’t want to rock the boat, or risk losing their jobs, or be seen as liberal and therefore beckon the ire of the blogosphere.
The sad reality these days is that it takes a scandal such as a president receiving oral sex in the Oval Office by an intern, to qualify for above-the-fold headlines and impeachment. Leading the country into a war under false pretences? Sorry, not juicy enough.
An online memo unearthed last month should have been the smoking gun that finally resulted in Bush being brought up on High Crimes and Misdemeanor charges under the United States constitution’s impeachment clause. The memo, by British national security official Matthew Rycroft, was written a full eight months before the US-led invasion in Iraq. It is based on notes he took during a July 2002 meeting of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his advisers, including Richard Dearlove, the head of Britain's MI-6 intelligence service, who had recently visited the White House to meet with Bush Administration officials.
Among other things, the memo said:
- Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The National Security Council had no patience with the UN route. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.
- It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin.
- Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.
These are some of the public statements about Iraq that President Bush made after Rycroft revealed in the July 2002 memo that Bush wanted to use military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein and that he would say Iraq had a massive weapons arsenal, was a threat to the US and its neighbours in the Middle East in order to build public support for a case for war:
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