George Bush said the following yesterday in his appearance at the Pentagon:
The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission. For the security of the American people, that’s not going to happen on my watch.
That phrase jumped out at me. It’s classic George Bush: sounds good, but falls apart on closer inspection.
What does it actually mean when someone says that something is “not going to happen on my watch”? In essence, it says that the speaker is taking broad responsibility. He’s committing himself not to try to weasel out of the blame for any failures that might occur. If something were to happen “on his watch,” he’s saying, he would be responsible, regardless of his level of direct involvement or non-involvement. No excuses, period.
It’s a noble sentiment. But it’s a sentiment that is contradicted by pretty much the entire history of the Bush presidency.
Let’s look at some of the things that have happened on George Bush’s watch:
- 9/11: The deadliest attack ever on American soil by an outside enemy.
- The failure to capture Osama bin Laden: Four years after 9/11, he remains at large.
- The Iraqi WMD intelligence debacle: No Iraqi WMD, a war launched on mistaken (to give Bush more credit than he deserves) or fraudulent (to be more honest) pretences, the cost in blood and treasure mounting daily, a majority of the US population now believing it to be a mistake.
- The federal budget deficit: After Clinton presided over record budget surpluses, Bush turned things around practically overnight, leading a Republican-controlled Congress to pass tax cuts and hike spending to create a deficit that has ballooned to Biblical proportions.
- The dismantling of the federal disaster-response capability: As revealed by Katrina, four years after Bush pledged to make America safer from disasters both natural and man-made, the federal disaster-response apparatus has become a cesspool of cronyism and incompetence.
I could go on, but those are the highlights. I’m well aware of the arguments that explain why those failures are not actually Bush’s fault. Some of those arguments have merit; others don’t. But that so much of our national conversation consists of making excuses for the guy tends to undercut the effectiveness of a Bush promise that some particular bad thing is “not going to happen on my watch.”
What hasn’t happened on his watch? Pretty much the only worse thing I can think of at this point would be a nuclear war. And at the rate he’s going, he just might pull off one of those, too.
After all, he has three years left on his watch.