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July 27, 2009

The National Humanities Medal For Not Asking Too Many Questions


John Lewis Gaddis is one of the fanciest history professors at Stutts University. During the Bush administration he visited the White House several times to discuss foreign policy with the president. In 2005 he also received the National Humanities Medal.

Now, here's the funny part: in July, 2005 he gave a speech at Middlebury College in which he described how he'd been to the White House in July, 2004 and then again in January, 2005:

I did indeed meet with Condi and the NSC staff in mid-July for a lively discussion...There followed a twenty minute conversation with Bush...

I did, on January 10th, attend a meeting at the White House at which several journalists and academics were invited to discuss the course of our Middle Eastern policies over the next four years...

And somewhere along the line Gaddis had picked up a theory—that Saddam Hussein himself had believed Iraq had WMD:

[N]o weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. But every intelligence agency in the world also believed that they were there, and it may be that Saddam Hussein believed that also. That they weren’t, was universally unexpected.

But apparently these discussions with Condi weren't as lively as Professor Gaddis had thought. Because according to Charles Duelfer, head of the CIA's WMD investigation, Condi had asked him about this specific question long before, on April 1, 2004. And Duelfer told her there was nothing to it:

On Thursday, April 1, 2004, I met with Condoleezza Rice at 1500...

Rice brought the conversation back to the prospects of finding WMD: "I understand one suggestion is that perhaps Saddam did not know what his scientists were doing. For example, the nuclear scientists were promoting projects as being related to WMD because they could attract funding. Did you see evidence of this?"...

I said I did not think so.

But of course the kind of misinformation that Gaddis picked up is to be expected in a government like this, which suffered from:

(1) an almost exclusive reliance upon a single decision-maker, his perceptions and objectives; (2) fear and intimidation; (3) little dissent from the "leader's" views; (4) compartmented expertise with little or no cross-fertilization; (5) the passing of misinformation through the chain of command...

This method of management makes interpreting their descriptions of the inner workings of Regime figures very difficult. They often did not know the truth. Hence, when they would describe something that is wrong, it is difficult or impossible to know if they are purposely dissembling.

Whoops, wait a second! That's Charles Duelfer's description of the Saddam regime. Oh well. I'm sure they gave out lots of fancy medals too.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at July 27, 2009 06:51 PM

Looking back over these many long months after Bush/Cheney, just guessing here, WE probably should have impeached.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 27, 2009 09:16 PM

Actually, it's not so hard to see how Gaddis might have been confused. He was sucking up to a president who wanted people tortured on his behalf, but didn't want to be told about it. So naturally he assumed Saddam wanted WMDs developed on his behalf, and wanted to not be told about them. Enriching uranium, enhanced interrogation-- who wouldn't be confused?

Posted by: grimmy at July 27, 2009 10:10 PM

Whoops, wait a second! That's Charles Duelfer's description of the Saddam regime.

Hey, I see what you did there. Well, two can play at this game - here's some damn foreigner claiming that America's best days are behind her:

“They have a shrinking population base. They have a withering economy. They have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years. They’re in a situation where the world is changing before them and they’re clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.”

Oh, wait - that was Joe Biden talking about Russia.

Posted by: SteveB at July 27, 2009 10:39 PM

Gaddis is a court historian, which is what you would expect to find at Yale, a latter-day Herbert Feis. I haven't read his book on how historians map the past, and probably never will for more than a minute or two, if that, but if he drinks (and maybe even more if not) it would be fun to get him drunk and ask him what he really thinks.

by the way, i think people shouldn't be so sure that the Iraq war was some sort of maverick cheny/rumsfeld operation over the opposition of Powell, cia, etc. I'm skeptical that there was that much opposition to it, which is partly why none of those later-day opponents of the war said anything when the propaganda campaign was under way. And partly why the Gaddis types, so well embedded in academia, didn't say boo to discourage the war (not that his type has much in the way of guts).

There was widespread dissatisfaction with Saddam in the military and bureacracy and even in intel. Hell even scott ritter wrote a book in the late 90s basically suggesting saddam might have to go. But perhaps some people in our government and bureaucracy felt Cheney was getting a little too aggressive and secretive and power-hungry and maybe taking on a few Saddam-like dictatorial qualities of his own.

Then, and only then, were the Gaddis types unleashed to criticize the government any fancy way they wanted.

Posted by: N E at July 28, 2009 12:47 AM

was Gaddis the cold war historian that Chomsky bitchslapped all those years ago for his craven establishment arselicking (part of his thesis being along the lines of...It didnt matter if Russia post revolution was actually a threat to America or not, the fact that America percieved it as such (or claimed it did) is enough to justify their invasion of the country and subsequent aggressive stance towards it)

Posted by: ichomobothogogus at July 28, 2009 06:44 AM

How do you find these things? Do you have an extremely powerful AI-equipped web spider or something? Seriously.

Posted by: abb1 at July 28, 2009 08:26 AM

Funny thing is, none of these spy agencies got busted for being sooooo wrong about Iraq. In fact the head of the CIA got given a medal for screwing up so bad. It's almost as if they were being rewarded for lying about what they really knew.

Just kidding. That never happens.

Posted by: DavidByron at July 28, 2009 09:59 AM

ichomobothogogus: Here you go.

John Lewis Gaddis: Propagandist & Lap Dog

Posted by: N E at July 28, 2009 10:04 AM

You know, if I never have to see Laura Bush's shit-eating-grinning face again, it'll be too fucking soon.

Posted by: NomadUK at July 28, 2009 03:29 PM