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Then and Now 

Iraq through the lens of Vietnam

Thursday, Apr 17 2003
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And who’s going to say anything good about Hussein? Except, of course, you see the same stories I see, that people in Arab nations nearby are saying that it’s kind of good to see the Americans get their eyes bloodied a little.

Did you expect weapons of mass destruction to turn up?

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I don’t know if I should even say this, but we live in Los Angeles, where we’ve been through the Rampart scandal. There’s a part of me that says if we didn’t find evidence of weapons of mass destruction, is it above the CIA to truck in some laboratory equipment to justify the invasion — the way the cops have a spare gun to throw down when an unarmed man is shot to death?

When I first went to Vietnam, that thought would have been impossible for me. But, you know, you watch your government do so many things that you disapprove of — like the CIA unseating democratically elected governments. You just cannot think that because it’s our country, the land of Jefferson and Madison, that we don’t do these things. I know we’ve done them in the past.

It’s striking how resolute and sure of himself Bush seems, whether cutting taxes or launching a war.

The smart people I’ve known have never been quite so sure about anything. I think it’s the confidence of the semi-educated. And that he’s convinced himself that God is on his side. For the first couple of years of this administration, I bought into the idea that he appointed someone like Ashcroft to be attorney general to satisfy the right wing. It took quite a while for me to wake up to the fact that he is the right wing. It’s not that he’s this more sophisticated man who needs to appease the right wing because he saw how they could savage his father. He is a true believer.

Bush has that look of somebody who isn’t going to back down. There’s something so young about him anyway. Not even adolescent, it’s younger than that. He looks like a kind of superannuated 7-year-old who has his fingers in a fist and he is just not going to back down. And that’s not good.

Of all the presidents in my lifetime and for the first 12 years it was Franklin Roosevelt, which set a pretty high standard — I would’ve thought the worst president we could imagine would be Nixon. He had all that paranoia and all that really deep-seated hatred of people. I thought, "We’ll never have a worse president than Richard Nixon." But he wasn’t dumb.

This man, Bush, is, in some ways, more alarming because I don’t think he can be reasoned with. Now, it may be that [presidential political adviser] Karl Rove will see that certain things have to be changed or modified and that Bush would listen. But just on the merits of an argument, I don’t think you could ever get through to him. And that isn’t really the kind of person you want leading your country.

Of course, you don’t need an intellectual to lead the country. In fact, maybe that would be a bad thing. Maybe an intellectual should always be second or third or fourth in command. What you need is somebody like [former Supreme Court Chief Justice] Earl Warren, who was nobody’s idea of brilliant, including his own. But when he leaned across the bench and asked, "Is it fair?," he summed up an approach you want in your leaders. And I don’t see that quality in George W. Bush.

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