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Competing Histories

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Report 9 November 2010

President Bush President Bush's Legacy

In 1943, Churchill was already planning his wartime memoirs.  He told Stalin and Roosevelt, "History will judge us kindly... because I shall write the history." Today, George W. Bush presented his draft of history in his memoir Decision Points.  In coming weeks moviegoers can check out two other first drafts, each casting a different light on the national security decisions of the period.  Richard Clarke's documentary S.O.S.-State of Security tells an insider's story of the failures of government in both the run-up to and aftermath of 9-11.  Director (and son of an Iran-contra prosecutor) Doug Liman's Fair Game draws a thin veil of fiction over the court transcripts retelling the stories of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson's run-in with the Bush White House over intelligence used to make the case for the Iraq War.   

Fair Game explores Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson's story of the decisions that led to war and the personal destruction of those who spoke the truth.  In Decision Points, President Bush largely glosses over the Plame-Wilson incident, taking a mistakes-were-made stance: "Then it came out that Wilson's wife's position was classified." He questions Joe Wilson's credibility, writing, "There were serious questions about the accuracy and thoroughness of Wilson's report." While in the same paragraph, he brushes over his own misleading statements about the Iran-Niger connection and frames Scooter as a victim, writing, "Scooter was a decent man and dedicated public servant, and I understood the ramifications for his family."

Fair Game explores Valerie Plame, "wife," "mother," and public servant. As one reviewer explains, "No one is expecting the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but empirical data. And yet, most of what we see in Fair Game is pure fact." A.O. Scott of the New York Times summarized: "[w]hen she and her colleagues find extensive evidence that Iraq is not actively developing weapons of mass destruction, their conclusions are overridden by men from the office of the vice president, most notably I. Lewis Libby Jr., known as Scooter and played as a smooth-talking demon by David Andrews. The bureaucrats charged with interpreting reality are trumped by the politicians whose avowed mission is to create reality." 

Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, similarly outlined in a 2006 Foreign Affairs article, that the White House pushed the intelligence community to build the evidence needed for war: "the conflict between intelligence officials and policymakers escalated into a battle, with the intelligence community struggling to maintain its objectivity even as policymakers pressed the Saddam - al Qaeda connection.  The Administration's rejection of the intelligence community's judgments became especially clear with the formation of a special Pentagon unit, the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group. The unit... was dedicated to finding every possible link between Saddam and al Qaeda, and its briefings accused the intelligence community of faulty analysis for failing to see the supposed alliance."  In fact, the Washington post reported in 2003 that, "Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA... to question analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs and alleged links to al Qaeda, creating an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration's policy objectives."  [George W. Bush, Decision Points, page 103-104. "Fair Game," accessed 11/9/10. Katherine Monk via PostMedia News, 11/5/10. NY Times, 11/4/10. Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006. Washington Post, 6/5/03]

Richard Clarke releases new documentary on the failures that led to 9/11.  Former White House Counterterrorism Czar and veteran of seven presidential administrations Richard Clarke outlines the failures of the government and the decisions made during the Bush administration.  "Clarke claims that since the beginning of his administration President Bush and his team ignored warnings that al-Qaeda and bin Laden were serious threats. In fact, he asserts that before leaving office Sandy Berger, the National Security Advisor under Bill Clinton, specifically briefed Condoleezza Rice that bin Laden had to be carefully watched. In January 2001 Clarke presented a briefing to Rice outlining a strategy to ‘deter, defeat, and respond vigorously' to al-Qaeda, but it was dismissed. In the summer of 2001, Clarke claims that he continued to file numerous intelligence reports predicting an imminent attack by bin Laden, but the reports were never acted upon. Basically, according to Newsweek, Clarke charged the Bush administration of being ‘half-asleep when the terrorist threats began spiking.'"   

Variety Magazine described the film saying that "Clarke makes cogent points throughout about how the U.S. government let its citizens down and cost lives by failing to heed warnings about threats from Al Qaeda, while archive footage reprises his principled stand before the 9/11 commission. Assorted former colleagues semi-affectionately acknowledge his gruff personality, but by and large, interviewees from the CIA and Dept. of Homeland Security support his stated views on the failure of intelligence that led to the Iraq War and the wastefulness of how money is spent on security." [SOS, 2010. Variety, 2/21/10]