Say what you want about WikiLeaks — and I don't much like what it has done — it nevertheless would be useful for its founder, Julian Assange, to follow George W. Bush as he lopes around the country, promoting his new book, Decision Points. When, for instance, Bush attempts to justify the Iraq war by saying the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, Assange could reach into his bag of leaked U.S. government cables and cite Saudi king Abdullah's private observation that the war had given Iraq to Iran as a "gift on a golden platter."
Iraq now has a Shiite-dominated government and many senior officials who are ominously friendly with Iran. It was always American policy to use Saddam's Iraq to counterbalance Iran, since it was really Iran that posed a danger to the region. That danger is now amply documented in the new WikiLeaks documents — including the revelation that North Korea has sold Iran missiles capable of reaching, say, Tel Aviv or, a minute or so later, Cairo.
To a certain extent, the leaked documents contain the rawest form of gossip. It is amusing to learn that Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is psychologically gridlocked with all sorts of neurotic tics and will not travel without his Ukrainian nurse, described as a "voluptuous blonde." It is good to see that parody of a blowhard, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, characterized as being in the pocket of Russia's Vladimir Putin and fun to wonder, in a Scrooge McDuck moment, how Afghanistan's vice president was able to take $52 million in cash out of the country and get it through customs in the United Arab Emirates last year, when you and I get stopped for having a small bottle of shampoo. Something's wrong here, I suspect.
The Arab world's alarm at the imminence of an Iranian bomb is on full display in the leaked documents — as is the Obama administration's methodical and effective attempts to isolate Tehran. Saudi Arabia's Abdullah implored Washington to "cut off the head of the snake" while there was still time, and the United Arab Emirates "agreed with [U.S. Gen. John P.] Abizaid that Iran's new President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad seemed unbalanced, crazy, even." Some months later, the Emirates' defense chief, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, told Abizaid that the United States needed to take action against Iran "this year or next." If cables from Jordan and Egypt could be read, they would be no different. The (Sunni) Arab world loathes and fears Iran on sectarian grounds and also because it espouses a revolutionary doctrine of the sort that kings and dictators find disquieting.
This is the world George Bush left us. It exists everywhere but in his book, where facts are either omitted or rearranged so that the war in Iraq seems the product of pure reason. As my colleague, the indefatigably indefatigable Walter Pincus, has pointed out, Bush manages to bollix up both the chronology and the importance of the various inspections of Iraq's weapons systems so as to suggest that any other president given the same set of facts would have gone to war. "I had tried to address the threat from Saddam Hussein without war," he writes. On that score, he is simply not credible.
The accumulating evidence at the time showed that Iraq lacked a nuclear weapons program and did not have biological weapons either. As for its chemical weapons program, while harder to ferret out, it not only no longer existed, but even if it had, it was insufficient reason to go to war. Poison gas has been around since the Second Battle of Ypres. That was in 1915. "The absence of WMD stockpiles did not change the fact that Saddam was a threat," Bush writes. Heads he wins, tails you lose.
Reading Bush's book, seeing him in his various TV appearances, I keep thinking of Menachem Begin, the late Israeli prime minister. In 1982, Begin took Israel to war in Lebanon. It cost Israel as many as 675 dead, 4,000 wounded, and its image as invincible on the battlefield. Begin took responsibility. He resigned and became a recluse, a depressed and beaten man.
I suggest no such course for Bush — only that he read the WikiLeaks documents and, for the sake of history and the instruction it offers, reassess his vaunted decisions. His jejune approach to decision-making — know yourself but not necessarily the facts — is downright repellent. On the book's dust jacket, Bush is shown in a ranching outfit. A Peter Pan outfit would have been more fitting. Like Peter, Bush has never grown up.
Richard Cohen writes for the Washington Post Writers Group.