In his 'exit' interview with Charlie Gibson, George W. Bush appeared with Laura in a 'family setting' sitting together on a couch. Although Charlie did press Bush on the Iraq War--would he have fought it knowing there were no WMDs?--the presence of Laura did much to disarm Gibson.
It is, after all, unseemly to show up a man in the presence of his wife. Especially when they are sitting next to one another on a couch in "their" living room. Especially by pressing him on an evasive or untruthful answer. Although Charlie made sure Bush knew what question he was asking, he let Bush's answers stand without challenge. Bush's biggest disappointment--failure of intelligence. Not his own failures on 9/11, Katrina, the Financial Meltdown. The failure of others.
Gibson just let that stand. In Laura's presence he did not ask the key questions to challenge him.
The Iraq War was an intelligence failure? We know from the Downing Street memo that the facts were being marshaled around the decision. But, we need not take the word of Britain's intelligence chief (who wrote the memo).
It is confirmed by analyzing George Tenet's famous "slam dunk" comment. Bush, uncharacteristically analytical, tells Tenet that the case he presented Bush is not very strong. Tenet says he said that it was a "slam dunk" to make it stronger.
If Bush were truly trying to determine whether the US should invade Iraq, as opposed to getting the evidence he needed to justify an invasion that had already been pre-determined, he would have asked his intelligence chief a simple question: if it is such a "slam dunk", why did you not present that right now, upfront, the first time.
The answer is obvious: the "slam dunk" evidence was questionable. Tenet had, as a good intelligence chief should, presented only that information he could verify. And, as Bush himself realized, that verifiable evidence was weak.
So, Tenet did what bad intelligence chiefs do--he gave Bush the evidence he wanted to hear, verifiable or not, and with no disclaimers about its reliability.
But, that is not even the key question. Even if one assumes that good intelligence could have missed something, why did Bush truncate the on-the-ground inspections? Why did he not, as the inspectors pleaded, give them more time to complete their assignment?
This answer, too, is obvious: the inspectors were finding nothing at places where Cheney and others were absolutely certain the weapons were. If the inspectors worked for months, and could find nothing, even at places the US "knew" they were, then the "slam dunk" information would become a blocked shot.
Specifically, the questionable information Tenet had not presented in the first submission would have been found to have been wrong.
That, alone, may not have precluded war. Bush would have claimed that Saddam Hussein was not cooperating, and shuttling the weapons around ahead of the inspectors' visits. He would also have bashed the United Nations as soft, implying the inspectors were biased against finding evidence to support an invasion.
But, since Bush has fingered the failure of intelligence in Iraq as his biggest disappointment, what reason could he advance today for refusing to allow the inspectors to finish their job? How credible is that nuclear warheads could be moved quickly without a trace? Bush's mushroom cloud argument would have vanished.
If Bush were not exiting by hiding behind Laura's skirts, moreover, Charlie might have asked him why Katrina, or the financial disaster, or his failure even to call a meeting when he was warned about a terrorist attack, did not equal the Iraq intelligence failure as a disappointment. He might have asked him what Dick Cheney was doing spending all his time at the CIA. He might have asked him why he dissed General Shinseki's sober analysis of the needs for the occupation.
In fact he might have asked Bush if he were backing away from his consistent assertion that he would have invaded even if he had known there were no weapons. That was Bush's main case against John Kerry in 2004, that he was "flip-flopping" on his support for the war because he (Kerry) now knew there were no weapons.
Charlie may also asked him about things such as White House involvement in Justice Department decisions, why there were over 400 allowable contact people, whereas under prior Presidents there were just 4, and why Dick Cheney was even on the contact list; or, perhaps why he did not follow through on his campaign pledge to list carbon dioxide as a pollutant.
But, he didn't. Laura's skirts effectively shielded George W. from the truth about himself.
The good news is that on January 20th he will stop abusing our patience.