Last week the nation was treated to the sad and embarrassing spectacle of Jeb Bush, mollycoddled scion to an empire of failure, proclaiming that “I’m my own man.” Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Anyone who has to say he’s his own man, or woman, isn’t. The 62-year-old Mr. Bush has been coasting on his family’s power and privilege since he was a weed-smoking, Steppenwolf-listening prep school student in the sixties.
From prep school slacker to presidential frontrunner: Now that’s a “Magic Carpet Ride.”
Sadder still was the list of Jeb’s advisors published this week, a list which included – and was tarnished by – the genuinely execrable Paul Wolfowitz.
For those who might have forgotten Wolfowitz, here’s a quick reminder: The dust had barely settled over lower Manhattan when Wolfowitz began cooking the books for the last President Bush, seeking an Iraq connection to 9/11 where none existed. National security expert Richard Clarke was there when Wolfowitz pressured the White House intelligence team to focus, not on the terrorists who did the deed, but on Iraq – a nation which wasn’t involved in the attack but had been targeted years before by the “Project for a New American Century.”
As Clarke recalled, Wolfowitz’s words were: “No, no, no. We don’t have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy?”
Wolfowitz orchestrated the lies about the need for war against Iraq, and he was utterly, disastrously, stunningly wrong in his predictions about the course of that war. Wolfowitz claimed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. He said the war in Iraq would pay for itself in oil revenues. (That was some $2 trillion ago.) And, most famously, Wolfowitz predicted that the Iraqi people would “greet us as liberators.”
When it comes to the Iraq War, Paul Wolfowitz was – in the words of another Steppenwolf song – “The Pusher.” His promotion of that conflict was the defining act of his career, and it leaves him a failure in every conceivable intellectual or moral application of that word.
There are ways in which Wolfowitz is not a failure, of course: He has succeeded in retaining the esteem, respect, attention and support of right-wing power elites. He succeeded in retaining the implicit approval of the mainstream media, which has conveniently forgotten his moral and policy failures.
But then, hasn’t everyone who “matters”? Even a subsequent personal scandal at the World Bank failed to shake the high regard in which Wolfowitz is held by the powerful cohorts who shape our world. That’s how it goes, once you’re in the club.
It’s like having a rich and powerful dad, when you think about it. Ineptitude, arrogance, and mendacity are shrugged off as lightly as the drug escapades of shaggy-haired prep school brats, even when they cost trillions of wasted dollars and hundreds of thousands of wasted lives.
Now Jeb has Wolfowitz, and Wolfowitz has another potential president’s ear. That’s how these things work. Behind every “great” man or woman – in this case, behind every “I’m my own man” man – is a network of servile sycophants whose primary occupation is to make sure that the presumed paragon of self-sufficiency is propped up, brushed off, and shipshape to be wheeled out onto the political stage.
Neither these advisors nor their leader need to be right about anything. They just need to represent the right people – without offending anyone that matters.
Wolfowitz isn’t the only Iraq-war liar on the Jeb Bush team, of course. As Igor Volsky notes in Think Progress, there are a couple of other mendacious Iraq war “architects” onto the team. It’s a poor moral lesson for the children, but there it is: Lies, incompetence, and poor personal ethics are no bar to success in Washington, D.C. In fact, they can help you climb the ladder. But if you’re right in the wrong way you’ll be blackballed.
It’s true that the leader, not the advisors, is expected to call the shots. But when it comes to Jeb, don’t expect much there. In his first major address, he actually trotted out the old (and Orwellian) Reagan phrase “Peace Through Strength,” accompanied by the tired refrain that a strong military is our only hope for a peaceful world.
“Peace through strength” was a problematic concept even when there was another superpower on the planet. In today’s world of a unipolar superpower and asymmetrical warfare, it’s a platitude whose falsehood is demonstrable. America’s military might didn’t bring peace to Iraq or prevent the rise of ISIS. On the contrary: Had our “strength” not been used in that country, ISIS wouldn’t even exist.
“Shock and awe” has led to slaughter and horror.
The policies of the Bush/Wolfowitz crowd have led, not to democracy and development, but to chaos and collapse – and to the formation of a brutal and medieval “caliphate” that is drawing adherents from around the world. Our global reputation as a just and democratic state – what Gary Hart calls the “fourth power” of our principled beliefs – lies in tatters, after more than a decade of torture, spying and unjustified military intervention.
This war has been the greatest failure in American history. The American people will be paying the price for it for generations to come, in more ways than one. But Jeb Bush has reminded us that there is no price to be paid for failure, or for ethical lapses, among the elites who govern us.
In the gendered language of male power, there is a saying: Success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan. Wolfowitz’s failed war has created more than its share of orphans.
How many more orphans must be left behind before Jeb Bush finally becomes “his own man”?