It's a weighty job. It's no exaggeration to say that the president makes life and death decisions all the time. We were interviewing Michael Isikoff of Newsweek yesterday on The Young Turks and we discussed this part of his latest story:
As NEWSWEEK reported last summer, President Bush approved more relaxed rules of engagement for U.S. forces along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The Pentagon once required "90 percent" confidence on the part of intelligence agencies that a "high-value target" was present before approving Predator strikes inside Pakistan. Under the revised rules, U.S. officials on the ground now need only 50 to 60 percent confidence to shoot at compounds suspected of sheltering foreign fighters, according to knowledgeable U.S. sources who would speak of sensitive matters only anonymously.
Think about that. Even if you have a president with a conscience, one out of ten times someone is going to walk into the Oval Office and say, "I'm sorry Mr. President, our intelligence didn't pan out - we accidentally hit a wedding. Ten civilians killed."
That is tough. That is what Obama will have to deal with. Once you think about it that way, you almost don't want the job.
Now let's move on to a president without a conscience. George Bush. Think about the decision that Isikoff explains above. I understand hitting a target that has 90% certainty of being Al Qaeda fighters, simply because you'll almost never a hundred percent certainty. We can't have a president frozen with indecision or who never takes a shot no matter how certain his intelligence people are that we have Al Qaeda on the other end.
But I at least want the president up at night worrying about the consequences of his decisions. Every time he gives the order, people die. We just hope that we get it right most of the time (and even if you have the right guys, it should give you small amount of pause if you're human; let alone the tragedy of hitting the wrong people).
Look at what Bush does instead - lowering the bar to about 50% certainty that it's an actual enemy target. That means half the time he blows up a wedding, or a group of kids playing in the yard, or innocent men sitting in a coffee house, or a just an average family sitting around their kitchen table. And why is he doing this? Obviously, because he wants to get Osama bin Laden or another top Al Qaeda leader before he leaves office. In other words, for his reputation.
This is why I don't like George Bush. You're not supposed to say it in polite circles, but I think he is a despicable person. Yes, I mean that on a personal level. I think he shows sick indifference to the lives of others. Maybe it's standard fare for politicians to be more concerned about their own careers than the lives of others, but there is a line. Would you take a 50% chance that you'd kill innocent civilians? Could you live with that?
And think about this - why did he lower the bar recently? We're seven years out from 9/11. It's not like the hunt for Al Qaeda has taken on some new urgency now. No, what has taken on urgency is Bush's legacy as he prepares to leave office. That's the only thing that has changed. There is an inescapable conclusion here - Bush has ordered more innocent people to their deaths so that he can try to salvage his reputation before he leaves office.
Maybe the man doesn't think Pakistani lives are worth the same as our lives. What's the big deal if you have the wrong people? They're all Muslims that live in that area anyway, right? I know some conservatives definitely feel this way. But a president should be smart enough and decent enough to understand that there are real families with real human beings who didn't do anything to us there. They didn't have it coming.
Earlier I mentioned a kitchen table. We're used to our own kitchen tables. We know how they look and it feels like home to us. It almost seems strange to think of a family sitting around a kitchen table in North Waziristan. But they do. The husband comes home from probably a back-breaking day of work. They have aspirations for their kids. They're worried about the violent jihadists that are rumored to be in the area (like we're worried about crime in our neighborhoods). The wife is making soup. The son has just come in from playing soccer. The dad is at least glad to see his only son come home. And then boom. Lights out. We just dropped a bomb on the wrong house. They're all dead.
That has to keep you up at night if you're the person making that decision. If it doesn't, you're a monster. Now, Bush cavalierly lowers the bar and risks killing more civilians just like that family. And he does it for his own political gain. He is a terrible person.