July 8, 2005
Most Americans voted for the president a few months ago because they thought he’d done a good job leading our country in the “war on terror” and would make us more secure against terrorists. That’s because they hadn’t done their due diligence.
“Due diligence” is a business term that means finding the truth about something you’re going to buy or invest in. Doing due diligence can take some digging, because sellers sometimes try to obscure what they’re really selling.
In the last presidential election, doing due diligence was necessary to cast an informed vote. The incumbent waged a media campaign to push false assertions about Saddam Hussein’s ties to terrorists and mass-destruction weapons. At the same time, his administration took pains to hide its mistakes fighting actual terrorists. The press mostly played along.
Many people couldn’t or wouldn’t dig for the truth. Consequently, they cast their votes based on incorrect information. Like a businessman who neglected his due diligence, they didn’t get what they paid for. What they wanted was a good leader making our country safer. What they got was the opposite.
In the Middle East, we’re losing:
- The Taliban control much of Afghanistan again. Two weeks ago, over 70 people were killed in their attacks. Opium production is surging, generating billions in illegal revenue, and the Taliban takes a cut.
- In Iraq, we’re losing the war. Our top commander there described our strategy as “the Pillsbury Doughboy idea - pressing the insurgency in one area only causes it to rise elsewhere.” Another commander said, “We can't kill them all. When I kill one, I create three.”
- We’re inhibiting democracy in Iran. Recently, Iran’s spy chief sarcastically thanked the president for his hard-line comments about Iran, after those comments helped elect a Muslim fundamentalist president there.
Citizens who did their due diligence, Republicans and Democrats alike, thought these sorts of things were likely to happen if the president were reelected. In examining his first-term, they uncovered many reasons to believe that things would get worse in his second term.
Diligent citizens knew that the president pretty much ignored terrorists before 9/11:
- He neglected antiterrorist planning. In January 2001, the president said he was turning our terrorist defense planning over to the vice president. Mr. Cheney never held a meeting on terrorists.
- He ignored bin Laden. The Presidential Daily Brief on August 6, 2001, was titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” It was the 36th brief that year related to bin Laden.
- He ignored his counterterrorism advisor. Richard Clarke tried to arrange a meeting about terrorism in July 2001, but he couldn't get one until September, when the president’s cabinet officers came back from vacation.
Diligent citizens knew that after 9/11, the president fought terrorists incompetently: •
- He fought the 9/11 Commission. Good commanders conduct after-action reviews that identify problems and generate fixes. But after 9/11, the president opposed the formation of a commission to do that. Once it was formed, his administration tried to keep it under-funded, limit the time and scope of its investigation, and withhold documents and access to witnesses.
- He passed on killing Zarqawi. Good commanders act quickly. But before the Iraq war, the president passed up several chances to kill Muhammad al Zarqawi, bin Laden’s top terrorist commander. Three times the Pentagon drew up strike plans, and three times Mr. Bush tabled them.
- He neglected to clean up Afghanistan. The Defense Department sent retired Col. Hy Rothstein, an unconventional warfare expert, to Afghanistan. Colonel Rothstein noted that the administration's strategy left a power vacuum that gave the Taliban a new lease on life, and he gave recommendations to solve the problem. Good commanders change plans to suit circumstances. But instead of guiding a better strategy, Colonel Rothstein's report got buried: the president’s Secretary of Defense told him to soften his conclusions and turn it in again.
- He bungled the Iraq war. Good commanders listen to subordinates who've "been there and done that." But the president cut experienced military men out of his administration’s pre-war planning, and ignored their advice. The Army Chief of Staff said we’d need at least 250,000 troops to pacify Iraq. The Secretary of the Army said the administration was "unwilling to come to grips" with reconstructing Iraq. The Chief of Central Command warned that an invasion would unleash forces that might be impossible to control. All these men were correct, and all of them got fired.
Many Americans want to believe that the president is a good leader, but wanting to believe something doesn’t make it true. Despite the administration’s happy-talk, lies, and secrecy, the war in Iraq will continue to go badly. The situation there will underscore what due diligence showed last year, and the previous year, and the year before that: we’ve got an incompetent “war president.”
It’ll take a strong commander-in-chief to pull the United States out of the hole that our current weak one is digging. To limit the damage, he should be removed from office before his term expires.
Failing that, let’s be more careful next time around. In the next presidential election, let’s all do our due diligence before we vote.