Monday, August 13, 2007

Father And Son, Not As Distant As Some Might Think

President Talks To Bush Snr Almost Every Morning

Former President Still Controlling America Through His Son

Sons who still live at home with their parents don't talk to their dads as often as President Bush talks to his. This fairly revealing feature from the New York Times has plenty of details on the relationship between the former president and the current president. You have to wonder, however, how much of this is image polishing.

Then again, learning that the old story that the president never talks to his father about the running of the United States, or the Iraq War, or Washington politics, is complete rubbish should come as a surprise to no-one.

George HW Bush wanted his sons to continue the American political dynasty that began with his own father, Prescott Bush, an American senator. When Jeb Bush failed to hold onto Florida, his father was so distraught he wept in public. That son George W. became president was never an accident, or of his own initiative.

Bush Snr started preparing the ground for either Jeb or George W. to become POTUS within weeks of his own miserable failure to score a second term in the White House in 1992.

The Bush family matriarch is presented to us now as an aging, soft-hearted old man, probably losing his memories and clarity to Alzheimer's or some other malady. But this, too, is part of an all too cynical spit-and-polish of the old man.

Now we're supposed to feel sorry for George HW because Americans dare to confront him with the nasty, and correct, truth about his son, and his appalling failures as leader of the free world.

But George W. is his father's son, and some would say, his father as his own son - a vicious, political machine who took no prisoners and pretended to tolerate Christian conservatives because George W. convinced him, and rightly so, that there were plenty of votes to be found amongst the true believers.

It worked for the dad, and it worked for the son.

But with less than seventeen months left in the White House, there will be repeated attempts by sympathetic media, and the usual well-placed "sources" to burnish anew the Bush political dynasty, which should go down in history as the most damaging, most destructive in American history :

The official line from the White House is that 41, as he is known in Bush circles, gives advice to 43 only when asked. But interviews with a broad range of people close to both presidents — including family members like the elder Mr. Bush’s daughter, Doro Bush Koch, and aides who have worked for both men, like Andrew H. Card Jr. — suggest a far more complicated father-son dynamic, in which the former president is not nearly so distant as the White House would have people believe.

They talk almost every morning by phone, and Mr. Bush studiously avoids saying anything critical of his son, close associates say. But he has privately expressed irritation with some of his son’s aides. At times, he has urged White House officials to seek outside advice, and he has passed on his own foreign policy wisdom to the president, even as he makes a point of saying his son’s administration is not his.

It is a balancing act. The former president keeps up his contacts with world leaders — last year, for instance, he invited President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan to spend a night at Kennebunkport — but is discreet. Once, during an intimate dinner with the king of Morocco, he called the White House and got the president on the phone.

“He put the king on, just like that,” one startled guest recalled. “No national security advisers, no nothing, just the president talking with the king of Morocco.”

He is a frequent visitor to the White House. He still loves eating at the White House mess and has breakfast or coffee with Karl Rove, the president’s chief political strategist, whenever he comes, mostly to chew over political gossip. From time to time, he picks up the phone to talk policy with Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff. He called Mr. Bolten’s predecessor, Mr. Card, about every other week.

Mostly, said Mr. Card, who was transportation secretary to the elder Mr. Bush and views himself as “a bridge” between the generations, the father was simply checking on his son. But sometimes the ex-president would raise a foreign policy question, or suggest the White House reach out to those “in his circle,” like James A. Baker, the former secretary of state, or Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser, who has been openly critical of the war in Iraq.

In a sense, the elder Mr. Bush is traversing uncharted territory.

Their relationship is undoubtedly the most scrutinized father-son bond in Washington, especially given the well-publicized foreign policy rifts between their two camps.

Tensions between aides to 41 and 43 ran especially high when Mr. Baker was co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. When President Bush rejected the group’s recommendations, some in the 41 camp viewed it as an outright rejection of the father. When Mr. Scowcroft spoke out against the war, some thought the father was sending a message to the son.

Some authors have asserted that there is rivalry between the two; the journalist Bob Woodward, for instance, reported in his book “Plan of Attack” that when asked if he sought his father’s advice before going to war, the president said: “You know he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to.”

The rivalry theory flared up again last year, at the christening of the Navy’s newest Nimitz aircraft carrier, the George H. W. Bush. The president joked that given the ship’s qualities — “she is unrelenting, she is unshakeable, she is unyielding” — it should have been named for his mother. The line brought a laugh, but some close to the elder Mr. Bush winced at what seemed a subtle dig.

....father and son are described as extremely close. When the clan is in Kennebunkport, all the Bush children, the president included, stream into their parents’ bedroom at the crack of dawn for coffee. When the president is not there, the other Bushes call.

As to what is said in private conversations between father and son, no one can be certain. When phone calls come in from Houston or Kennebunkport, White House aides make themselves scarce. But Mr. Card says it is clear to him that family talks were not always confined to family matters.

“It was relatively easy for me to read the sitting president’s body language after he had talked to his mother or father,” Mr. Card said. “Sometimes he’d ask me a probing question. And I’d think, Hmm, I don’t think that question came from him.”

The former president is often asked how he steers clear of second-guessing his son, and his answer is always the same: that he is not qualified to second-guess because only the occupant of the Oval Office has complete access to the kind of intelligence reports that inform presidential decisions.

Even so, those close to the former president say it is clear that the father has been dissatisfied with the performance of some of his son’s aides, notably Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense.

“I think it is accurate to say that there’s a feeling that a lot of the aides around him have not served the president well — Rumsfeld is one,” said one person close to the elder Mr. Bush who, like all interviewed on this topic, spoke on the condition of anonymity.

His children worry about him. Last December, at an event honoring his son Jeb in his last days as Florida’s governor, the elder Mr. Bush broke down crying at the memory of Jeb’s bitter defeat in 1994. Mrs. Koch says her father is growing more emotional as he ages — “he has a tender heart that is getting tenderer” — which makes criticism of his eldest son that much harder to take.

Late last year, at the aircraft carrier christening, he grew emotional again, this time with President Bush in his presence. Before a crowd that included political luminaries from both administrations, as well as dozens of family members and friends, the father made a point of saying he supports his son “in every single way with every fiber of my body.”

So the former president talks to his The President almost every morning.

They talk about the state of the nation, the Iraq War and Washington politics.

Former aides to Bush Snr are now advising the current president, or in the case of defence secretary James Baker, in control of one of the most important desks.

Bush Snr goes to the White House on a regular basis, and eats in a staff dining room, where he talks with senior advisers and the president's right hand men.

The former president peppers his son with questions about issues of national security, and classified intelligence, which the president then echoes to his own advisers and aides and agency heads, no doubt telling his father what they said in their next morning phone call.

All of that paints a portrait vastly different to the one commonly known : that the former president is "not well", rarely talks to his son, does not meddle in the affairs of the White House, or the nation, and never discusses the Iraq War, or the 'War on Terror' with his son.

George HW Bush may no longer be President of the United States, but he still hasn't left the White House.

And his remarkably close relationship with Bill Clinton, and the next most likely president, Hilary Clinton, means that he may retain his access to the White House inner circles even after his son leaves in January, 2007.