With the recent publication of former President George W. Bush’s memoirs, “Decision Point,” in which he defends most of his record, another opinion is very relevant. John Dean, whose testimony helped drive President Richard Nixon from office, has his sights on others guilty of political misconduct. In his book, “Worse Than Watergate,” Dean makes a very good case that a “co-presidency” of George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney engaged in political misconduct more reprehensible than the Watergate scandal engineered by the discredited Nixon. This is indeed a serious charge.
Dean, an adviser to Nixon, became alarmed by the sordid, accumulating disclosure of “dirty tricks” that culminated in a failed attempt to break into the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. The cover-up that followed also failed. Dean’s testimony helped force Nixon’s resignation from office. He now wants to document his accusations that the conduct of the Bush-Cheney era by far exceeds that of the Nixon era and is “Worse Than Watergate.”
Before examining the list of moral and legal miscarriages of this flawed president, it is useful to take note of the Bush-Cheney conception of the office of the president. Most students of the job of the chief executive are in agreement that a person of strength is desirable. This is especially true in the field of foreign policy, where unity is preferable to the disparate voices of 535 members of Congress. The Bush-Cheney view called for a tightly controlled, highly centralized and absolutely secretive and overreaching operation. This small clique was identified as “neo-conservatives.” Their view was a compelling article of faith held by several cabinet and sub-cabinet positions.
Their foreign policy consisted of a “Pax Americana” that would exercise a “benevolent hegemony” grounded on American political values such as a free market. This is a sophisticated, barely disguised definition of empire. With our troops spread widely around the globe and an insatiable need for oil, it was hard to convince anyone that the neo-cons had benevolence in mind.
This aggressive foreign policy was made even less appealing by the inclusion of a doctrine known as “pre-emptive” or “preventive” war, which called for military force against any nation even suspected of hostile plans. This theory was unacceptable in international law. No matter, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was grounded on this point of view.
Dean sets the Bush-Cheney drive for war in the context of lies told by three other presidents to justify their misdeeds: Lyndon Johnson’s misleading accounts of the Gulf of Tonkin clash in 1964; Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War; and the deceit of President Reagan in sending arms to Iran and aid to the Nicaraguan Contras. He lists speeches by President Bush, Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell in which all three included known, unreliable “proof” of the existence of weapons of mass destruction held by the government of Iraq. The Congress and the American people were deceived into the approval of an unnecessary war.
The exposure of secret agent Valerie Plame began with remarks made by Bush in his State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, 2003. He asserted that Saddam Hussein had acquired uranium from Niger — posing a real threat to the United States. Plame’s husband, Joseph Wilson, was a former U.S. ambassador who had been commissioned by the CIA to visit Niger and determine if Iraq’s ruler had in fact made such a purchase. Wilson made it public that no such purchase had happened.
Dean argues that the Bush-Cheney desire for revenge that ended in a plot to go after the wife of Joe Wilson and expose her identity was “worse than Watergate.” This intentionally hurtful act ruined her career as a secret agent and also endangered the lives of others.
The foregoing events and many other documented acts of secrecy and deception are now known by historians. They provide the raw material by which presidential performance can be measured. This book is a reminder that the Bush-Cheney legacy is well known and that they are still free of accountability for their deeds. Eventually, they might be recognized as “Worse Than Watergate.”
Allan Powell is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Hagerstown Community College.