Buck Doesn't Stop With President Bush
By Helen Thomas
Thursday 06 November 2003
WASHINGTON - Though President Bush is not a student of history, he surely has heard of Harry Truman's famous declaration: "The buck stops here."
That slogan was enshrined in a desk-top sign in Truman's Oval Office. I thought of it while watching all of the buck-passing that has become a White House ritual lately, especially in the sticky fallout from the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
There have been presidents who have taken blame for a catastrophe, bad judgment or a plan gone wrong.
In the case of the Iraq attack, President Bush may yet own up to his mistake in leading the nation to war on the basis of false advertising about weapons of mass destruction and Iraq as haven of Sept. 11 terrorists.
That rhetoric in the rush to war has turned out to be a bunch of hooey.
But until that day of reckoning, the buck-passing is picking up speed.
For example, it looks like the Central Intelligence Agency is going to be the scapegoat for the discredited information concerning Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
No such weapons have been found, despite the pre-war insistence by Bush and others in his administration that Saddam had hoards of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The White House has the choice of either 1) blaming the CIA for bad intelligence or 2) admitting that the entire war was a pretext to keep Bush buoyant in the public opinion polls as a war-time president. Of the two, option No. 1 is much preferred.
This means the designated fall guy is likely to be CIA Director George Tenet, whose job may be jeopardy.
Also in the buck-passing file is the administration's poor planning for the aftermath of the war in Iraq. The blame has fallen on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld was primarily involved in winning the war quickly, but he insisted on running the occupation, even though postwar restoration and a campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis ordinarily would have been work for the State Department and the Agency for International Development.
But Bush let Rumsfeld have his way, at least initially.
Last month, in a slap at Rumsfeld, Bush tapped trusted national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to coordinate postwar operations in Iraq. Don't expect her to dictate to Rumsfeld. He is a pro at infighting and isn't about to be Bush's whipping boy.
It's not clear at this point where this case of buck-passing will end. Stay tuned.
Another buck being passed is the blame game over who was responsible for the backdrop banner, "Mission Accomplished," that was strung across the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1 when Bush delivered a televised address to the nation declaring the end of major combat in Iraq.
At a Rose Garden news conference last week, Bush disavowed any indication that the banner was a premature announcement that the war was over.
Mounting casualties in Iraq have made him face that reality.
Bush insisted that the banner was put up by the sailors to suggest that their mission was accomplished. The Navy says the White House made the banner. The White House insists it was the Navy's idea.
Sometimes presidents have done a mea culpa. In April 1961 President John F. Kennedy took responsibility for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs attempt by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles to invade Cuba.
It was an operation planned by the Eisenhower administration but Kennedy adopted it after he became president.
However, he had second thoughts and failed to send the promised air cover. The result was a catastrophic defeat for the invaders.
Kennedy's popularity polls fell immediately after the foreign policy debacle, but his public standing went back up in a short time.
On April 25, 1980, eight American servicemen died in a secret helicopter landing in Iran in a failed attempt to rescue 53 American hostages held by the Khomeini regime.
When news of the failed rescue mission reached Washington, President Jimmy Carter went before the cameras to acknowledge full responsibility.
Carter was not as lucky as Kennedy. His efforts to use negotiations to rescue the Americans -- mainly embassy personnel in Teheran -- also were unsuccessful.
Iran strung him along and the hostages weren't freed until the day his successor, Ronald Reagan, was sworn in. Which brings us to the present.
If the Iraqi resistance continues and American casualties mount, voters next year may assign blame. The ballot box has the last word in stopping buck-passing.
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