Unlike father, unlike son

The recent edition of Time magazine contains a story describing the last days of the Bush-Cheney Administration. By then, Dick Cheney had developed a near-singular focus on obtaining a pardon for his former chief of staff, Scooter Libby. The issue was one of only a few on which George W. Bush disagreed with with his second-in-command. Libby had been found guilty of lying to investigators looking into the Valerie Plaine incident, in which Plame was outted as a CIA agent by officials in the administration. Cheney’s aide was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and to pay a fine of $250,000. President Bush, who had earlier vowed that he would fire anyone involved in the incident, decided to commute Libby’s prison term, to much criticism from the Democrats and the press. His decision nonetheless upheld the conviction, leaving Libby, a former high-profile lawyer, facing permanent disbarment.

Untrue to form, Mr. Bush had anticipated Cheney’s efforts to secure a pardon for Libby and had his White House counsel evaluate the ramifications of a decision to absolve Cheney’s aide. After reviewing the case, Fred Fielding concluded that the courts (including the Federal Court of Appeal) were correct in convicting and later upholding the verdict on appeal. He recommended no pardon. To Cheney’s considerable consternation, Bush agreed.

To outside observers who had long-ago concluded Cheney wielded undue influence over White House policy, Time‘s portrait may appear flattering to Bush. It was obvious from the outset that Cheney had emerged as the strongman of the administration. The president, known for his lack of curiosity, rarely challenged his second in command. The decision to invade Iraq was seen to be a Cheney-inspired one and later evidence would corroborate this thesis. That Bush held his own in the final days may help historians find some redeeming factors about his administration.

Since both left office, they seem to have gone their separate ways. Bush has largely stayed out of the limelight and refrained from criticizing the new administration, while Cheney, on the other hand, has opted for a more confrontational tack. Should Attorney General Eric Holder name a Special prosecutor and launch an investigation into the more unsavoury aspects of the Bush-Cheney years, we are sure to discover even more about the dynamics of the Bush-Cheney relationship .

The Time article piqued my curiosity and led me to consult an A&E production regarding President George H. W. Bush’s presidency. It was quite revealing and may actually say more about his son’s relationship with Cheney and affect the verdict on his Administration . The documentary came out in 1998, with noted British journalist David Frost conducting the interviews with Bush Sr. It is fair to remind readers that his assessment of his presidency took place three years before 9-11. Still, it does show some significant attitudinal and policy differences between the two men. For example, Bush Sr.’s premier advisors on national security and foreign policy matters were James Baker and General Brent Scowcroft, neither of whom emerged as staunch defenders of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy approach.

Bush Sr. was also a firm believer in diplomacy and multilateral initiatives. The coalition he built for the 1992 Gulf War is an eloquent expression of this approach. He resisted pressures to alter the international, UN-sanctioned mandate on Iraq and overthrow the brutal Saddam Hussein regime. It is quite revealing that Scowcroft, who remains close to Bush Sr., publicly argued against the Iraq invasion in a widely-circulated article in the New York Times. Was the father trying to send the son a signal? It is clear by the end of the documentary that Bush Sr. conducted his presidency very much in the tradition of post-WWII tradition of American foreign policy. America was to exercise restraint, but never shirk from its responsibilities to the free world. He defended this idea with passion and conviction. It was actually quite moving.

The saying “like father, like son” does not apply to the Bush presidencies. George W. Bush’s administration may have had to deal with the worst assault on American soil since Pearl Harbour with 9-11, but the invasion of Iraq was the beginning of the hijacking of his administration by neo-conservatives like Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In Bush father’s Administration, Cheney and Rumsfeld played secondary roles. At the end of the day, the story of George W. Bush and the verdict of history will have more to do with the fact that he was not like the father.

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