George Bush: “The First Jewish President”

Michael Kinsley’s review of Bush’s memoir has this tidbit:

When Bush called for a new Palestinian leadership, Barbara Bush the elder (“Mother,” he invariably calls her) rang up to say, “How’s the first Jewish president doing?” Maybe I’m deficient in humor, but I don’t see why this is funny, as her son clearly believes it to be. I might even find it alarming if Bush didn’t crowd this book with ­maybe-you-had-to-be-there witticisms.

Philip Weiss writes that the comment is

a little window into the important mystery of how the realist [G. H. W] Bush absorbed the shocking reality of his neoconnized son — after all, a question of huge historical import. I.e by gentle ribbing, in the hope that it might eventually make a difference. Perhaps it even did; Bush didn’t attack Iran. Jeffrey Goldberg reported that he began to call Kristol and Krauthammer “the bomber boys” in the last years of his presidency. I’m a little surprised that Kinsley would have thought it alarming.


Actually, it’s easy to see why Kinsley would find it alarming: He finds any suggestion of Jewish influence anathema. (See below.)

Bush may have wised up, but the sad thing is that he was so gullible early in his presidency. Kinsley reports that after being elected governor of Texas,

God told him to run for president. “I felt a calling to run,” Bush writes. “I was concerned about the future of the country, and I had a clear vision of where to lead it. I wanted to cut taxes, raise standards in public schools, reform Social Security.” Bush never indicates where this laundry list of views came from. He had no political views he deems worthy of mention before the age of 40, but a few years later he has a complete set. You do have to wonder how deep they run.

Well, not exactly a complete set. None of the policies that Bush says he wanted to implement had anything to do with foreign policy (much less help out the really crucial issue of the future of White America). He was a babe in the woods and the neocons loved it so much that they made him into the first Jewish president. Jacob Heilbrunn has a nice account of Bush’s naivete:

The first time [Richard Perle] met Bush, he immediately sensed that he was different from his father. Two things were clear to Perle: one was that Bush didn’t know much about foreign policy and another was that he wasn’t too embarrassed to confess it. Like Wolfowitz, Perle admired Bush’s ability, as he saw it, to cut to the heart of the matter rather than become mesmerized by Washington policy talk. (p. 230)

The fact that Bush was a naif on foreign policy was seen as a plus by the neocons. “In August 1999 an excited Wolfowitz told me over lunch . . . that Bush had the ability to penetrate the dense fog of foreign policy expertise to ask a simple question. ‘Tell me what I need to know? [sic]’” (Heilbrunn, p. 230).
Although Heilbrunn states that we can never know for certain what was going on in Bush’s brain in the days and months after 9/11, his comment that Bush “moved further and further into the web that the neoconservatives had woven around him” (p. 235) seems reasonable. It’s pathetic to realize that someone can become president with such lack of experience or concern about foreign policy. I suspect that even the inexperienced Obama had more understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian situation if only because of his contacts among political radicals.

Bush may have wised up, as Weiss suggests. But by then  it was too late. Kinsley quotes Bush:

“The reality was that I had sent American troops into combat based in large part on intelligence that proved false.” A handsome admission, but it raises the question: So why were they still there, dying and killing, when he left office years later?

An even better question is why the intelligence was false. Neither Kinsley nor Bush would want to consider the evidence that neocons (Douglas Feith, Paul Wolfowitz, David Wurmser, Abraham Shulsky, Elliott Abrams, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, David Schenker; see here, p. 48) at the  Office of Special Plans in the Department of Defense cooked the  intelligence on Iraq.

Best to keep that one under wraps.

Re Kinsley’s aversion to the idea of Jewish influence: Here he is on Jewish involvement in the financial crisis; he makes similar dumb arguments on the neocons and the Iraq war. Quick rejoinders: people are often unaware of how they are biased by their ethnocentrism, so it’s no surprise that Jewish neocons firmly believe that Israel and the U.S. have the same interests. Secondly, no one is saying that all Jews are neocons, but people are saying that Jews with a strong Jewish identity and commitment to Israel were extraordinarily influential in the Bush administration.

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