Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bob Woodward on President Bush is Guilty of Many “Overlooks”

In typical 20/20 “hindsighting,” we get: 10 Take Aways From the Bush Years, By Bob Woodward, Sunday, January 18, 2009. His ninth “take away" makes a good point - Presidents must insist on strategic thinking - but he uses a bad example:

Obama would do well to remember the example of a young Democratic president who was willing to make long-range plans. Bill Clinton began his presidency in 1993 after having promised to cut the federal deficit in half in four years. The initial plan looked shaky, and Clinton took a lot of heat for more than a year. But he and his team stuck to their basic strategy of cutting federal spending and raising taxes, which laid a major part of the foundation of the economic boom of the Clinton era. It was classic strategic planning, showing a willingness to pay a short-term price for the sort of long-term gains that go down in the history books.

The first “overlook” Bob Woodward made in this example is that Bill Clinton squandered the Peace Dividend from the collapse of the Soviet Union, and we’re still paying for his mistake. The federal spending he cut was the military budget, but Clinton increased spending in other areas, and we’ve had to spend heavily to repair the military damage since.

Clinton’s “Hillarycare” proposal to reform health care showed no sign of strategic thinking, and paved the way for Republicans to capture the House and Senate in 1994 for the first time in decades.

The boom increased tax revenues and the deficit disappeared, but then in Clinton's last year in office the bubble burst, the NASDAQ lost 40 percent of its value, and we plunged into a recession. For all the hand wringing now, Woodward conveniently forgets that Bill Clinton left us in a big mess:

For all of last year, industrial production declined 1.8 percent, a sharp reversal from the 1.7 percent increase logged in 2007. It marked the worst showing since a 3.4 percent decline in 2001, when the country last suffered through a recession.

Was a recession part of Bill Clinton's strategic planning, Mr. Woodward?

Along the way, Bill Clinton bailed out on the most important reforms, Social Security and Medicare. Medicare is now bankrupt, with a projected unfunded liability of over forty trillion dollars, and Social Security will be bankrupt in less than a decade with a more modest unfunded liability of only fifteen trillion dollars.

There is ample evidence that Clinton and European leaders were well aware of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Is it good strategic thinking to look the other way when 750,000 people being safeguarded by the United Nations are slaughtered?

Islamic terrorism increased as Bill Clinton yielded to distractions, like triangulating with Republicans and Monica Lewinsky. When he blew up the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan in 1998 (Operation Infinite Reach), killing a couple of night watchmen and cleaning ladies, and then a few hundred thousand Sudanese died because of a lack of medicine for treatable diseases, Bill Clinton showed that he could look "presidential."

The simultaneous cruise missile attacks on terrorist training bases in Afghanistan showed that we were ready to make empty gestures, and hope against all reason that they would solve the problem. At least it convinced the terrorists that they had nothing to worry about from Bill Clinton.

Mr. Woodward, is "Wag the Dog" an example of strategic thinking?

As his last hurrah, Bill Clinton was aided and advised by Robert Rubin, who with his disciple Lawrence Summers led the deregulation of financial markets, setting the scene for Rubin to gain obscene riches from Citibank and for the current financial collapse and recession. I know you won’t take the word of an unreconstructed and unrepentant conservative, so I would like to call on a bleeding heart liberal, Robert Scheer, who just penned an article with the ungrammatical title: A bailout run by those got us in, Creators Syndicate Inc., Wednesday, January 14, 2009.

According to Scheer:

When candidate Obama gave his major economic address on March 27, he couldn't have been clearer in condemning the deregulation that Rubin and Summers had engineered: "Unfortunately, instead of establishing a 21st century regulatory framework, we simply dismantled the old one - aided by a legal but corrupt bargain in which campaign money all too often shaped policy and watered down oversight. In doing so, we encouraged a winner-take-all, anything-goes environment that helped foster devastating dislocations in our economy."

(Obama) was referring to the deregulation legislation that Summers hailed on the day that Clinton signed it into law as "a major step forward to the 21st century." Now he is relying on Summers to reverse a disaster of his own creation. It's like returning to the same surgeon who almost killed the patient in the first operation to once again cut open the body to repair the damage.

What we need is a second opinion.

And we could use a much more insightful Bob Woodward.

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