In his new book, The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power, David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for NYT, “takes readers to Afghanistan, where Bush never delivered on his promises for a Marshall Plan to rebuild the country, paving the way for the Taliban’s return. It examines the chilling calculus of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il, who built actual weapons of mass destruction in the same months that the Bush administration pursued phantoms in Iraq, then sold his nuclear technology in the Middle East in an operation the American intelligence apparatus missed. And it explores how China became one of the real winners of the Iraq war, using the past eight years to expand its influence in Asia, and lock up oil supplies in Africa while Washington was bogged down in the Middle East.”
Sanger says that The Inheritance is not a book about Iraq. And that is true. You don’t see Iraq in any of its chapters. And yet Iraq is a dark cloud that hovers in all 498 pages of this book.
Sanger writes that “In early 2003, the North [Korea] threw out international inspectors, in full view of .U.S. satellites, took the last steps needed to convert spent reactor fuel into material for six to eight bombs (p281-282). And that “On Bush’s watch, the North Koreans had built up and impressive arsenal. They had gone from an unconfirmed one or two weapons to eight or twelve; no one knew for sure” (p.280). Sanger concludes that Bush legacy is that he took a messy, dangerous problem and made it worse.
At around that same time in 2003, the Bush White House was consumed with Saddam Hussein’s WMD and in selling the reason why it must be confronted immediately. In 2008, when Sanger asked a key member of Bush national security team about these two events playing out at the same time, the Bush official replied, “Had a few other things on our mind…. We missed a couple of thing.”
The real consequences of missing a couple things – North Korea became the nuclear rogue state that got away. North Korea helped Syria build a covert nuclear reactor and the intelligence community “never put it together.” So if it was able to do that right under watchful eyes, how hard is it for the North Koreans to sell their wares to “non-state”actors with money to spare? That should make us sleep soundly at night, huh?
Sanger writes: “Like North Korea, Iran quickly recognizes that time was on its side. In the months and years after the start of the Iraq War, the “Dear Leader” in North Korea built his nuclear arsenal; the Supreme Leader in Iran put together a nuclear “capability” that would be difficult if not impossible to persuade the country to dismantle[… ]. The Iranians were just smarter about it than the North Koreans. […] Ambiguity is their friend. In the Second Nuclear Age, countries don’t need to compile huge stockpiles of the sort that the Americans and Soviets amassed during the Cold War. All they need is a “virtual bomb,” a credible capacity to build one in a few months and a credible willingness to do so […] the smartest path to becoming a nuclear weapons state (p85).
Nick Burns is in Part I (Iran: The Mullahs’ Manhattan Project). Christopher Hill makes an appearance in Part IV (North Korean: The Nuclear Renegade That Got Away). In fact, Ambassador Hill kind of owns Chapter 11 where “Everything is Appomattox” or how to learn to negotiate even with your own side (starts on page 315):
“These assholes don’t know how to negotiate,” Hill told a small group of friends and colleagues in 2007. “Everything is Appomattox. ‘It’s just 'come out with your hands up.’ It’s not even really Appomattox because at the end of Appomattox they let the Confederates keep their horses.”
The book is divided into six main sections for Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and China. The last section is focused on three vulnerabilities with realistic scenarios (televised chaos, pneumonic plague as invisible attack, dark angel starts with a simple blackout).
The book jacket says that the book is “at once a secret history of our foreign policy misadventures and a lucid explanation of the opportunities they create...”
Foreign policy misadventures, indeed…there’s no nicer words for it.
I bet David Sanger won’t be invited anytime soon to guest blog at the Bush’s legacy project over at www.43alumni.com. Nor will his book be recommended reading under “Bush Record” or “Setting the Record Straight.” Neither will the Sanger news clips be included in the The Bush Record: Praise Continues For President’s Accomplishments (now has Parts 1-3 posted online).