Willful Ignorance

From Holden:

Michiko Kakutani reviews The One Percent Doctrine for the Times.

This book augments the portrait of Mr. Bush as an incurious and curiously uninformed executive that Mr. Suskind earlier set out in “The Price of Loyalty” and in a series of magazine articles on the president and key aides. In “The One Percent Doctrine,” he writes that Mr. Cheney’s nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a crucial situation.

During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.’s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in. And several months later, he says, attendees at a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Saudis discovered after the fact that an important packet laying out the Saudis’ views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation had been diverted to the vice president’s office and never reached the president.

Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush “plausible deniability” from Mr. Cheney’s point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief’s own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: “Keeping certain knowledge from Bush — much of it shrouded, as well, by classification — meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be ‘deniable’ about his own statements.”

“Whether Cheney’s innovations were tailored to match Bush’s inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial,” Mr. Suskind continues. “It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire N.I.E. would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president’s rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much.”