Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush
RON SUSKIND, The New York Times Magazine
Exerpt from full
article published on Oct 17, 2004
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that
the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director,
Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed
the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the
time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the
very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based
community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge
from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured
something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off.
''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're
an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're
studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again,
creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how
things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you,
will be left to just study what we do.''
Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many
of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of
Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss
Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward.
A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked
in and said: ''Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with
you.'' When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped,
''Look, I'm not going to debate it with you.''
The 9/11 commission did not directly address the question of whether Bush
exerted influence over the intelligence community about the existence
of weapons of mass destruction. That question will be investigated after
the election, but if no tangible evidence of undue pressure is found,
few officials or alumni of the administration whom I spoke to are likely
to be surprised. ''If you operate in a certain way -- by saying this is
how I want to justify what I've already decided to do, and I don't care
how you pull it off -- you guarantee that you'll get faulty, one-sided
information,'' Paul O'Neill, who was asked to resign his post of treasury
secretary in December 2002, said when we had dinner a few weeks ago. ''You
don't have to issue an edict, or twist arms, or be overt.''
In a way, the president got what he wanted: a National Intelligence Estimate
on W.M.D. that creatively marshaled a few thin facts, and then Colin Powell
putting his credibility on the line at the United Nations in a show of
faith. That was enough for George W. Bush to press forward and invade
Iraq. As he told his quasi-memoirist, Bob Woodward, in ''Plan of Attack'':
''Going into this period, I was praying for strength to do the Lord's
will. . . . I'm surely not going to justify the war based upon God. Understand
that. Nevertheless, in my case, I pray to be as good a messenger of his
will as possible.''
Machiavelli's oft-cited line about the adequacy of the perception of power
prompts a question. Is the appearance of confidence as important as its
possession? Can confidence -- true confidence -- be willed? Or must it
George W. Bush, clearly, is one of history's great confidence men. That
is not meant in the huckster's sense, though many critics claim that on
the war in Iraq, the economy and a few other matters he has engaged in
some manner of bait-and-switch. No, I mean it in the sense that he's a
believer in the power of confidence. At a time when constituents are uneasy
and enemies are probing for weaknesses, he clearly feels that unflinching
confidence has an almost mystical power. It can all but create reality.