Friday, July 21, 2006

Is Bush Still Too Dumb to be President?

Johnathan Chait

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Yet it is now increasingly clear that Bush's status as non-rocket scientist is a serious problem. The problem is not his habit — savored by late-night comedians — of stumbling over multisyllabic words. It is his shocking lack of intellectual curiosity.

Ron Suskind's new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," paints a harrowing picture of Bush's intellectual limits. Bush, writes Suskind, "is not much of a reader." He prefers verbal briefings and often makes a horse-sense judgment based on how confident his briefer seems in what he's saying. In August 2001, the CIA was in a panic about an upcoming terrorist attack and drafted a report with the title, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." When a CIA staffer summed up the memo's contents in a face-to-face meeting with Bush, the president found the briefer insufficiently confident and dismissed him by saying, "All right, you've covered your ass, now," according to Suskind. That turned out to be a fairly disastrous judgment.

Bush loyalists like to dismiss Suskind's reporting, but it jibes with the picture that has emerged from other sources. L. Paul Bremer III's account of his tenure as head of Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority depicts Bush as uninterested in the central questions of rebuilding and occupying the country.

Video of a presidential meeting that came to light this year showed Bush being briefed on the incipient Hurricane Katrina. His subordinates come off as deeply concerned about a potential catastrophe, but Bush appears blase, declining to ask a single question. And of course there was the famous 2001 incident in which Russian President Vladimir Putin conveyed to Bush a story of being given a cross by his mother. Bush invested deep significance in the story. "I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy," he told reporters. "I was able to get a sense of his soul."

FULL STORY

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