An acquaintance of mine asked me if I would read Bob Woodward’s book The War Within, and I told him that I would if he would do me the favor of reading my rebuttal. He also said that he would do so.
I had meant to provide a rebuttal after I had read the book. However, the gentleman pressed me to provide a rebuttal. The following is my reply to this good gentleman:
I have not actually read The War Within, yet; however, I do know a bit of what it is about.
The fact that there has been — or even continues to be — in-fighting in the Bush administration’s White House certainly does not come as a surprise to me. While I have not studied all of the presidential administrations that existed during times of war, I know of some. All of those of which I am aware certainly had their share of in-fighting and even skullduggery. Wars wreak havoc in the world of politics. No one likes war. Outstanding leadership — both military and civilian — is difficult to come by. Even more difficult to obtain (in the realm of politics) are quality individuals who remain steadfast and unwilling to sell out themselves and our nation, if necessary, in exchange for short-term political gain.
I believe that Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest U.S. presidents of all time. Yet, within his own cabinet there was nearly constant dissension — most of it driven by the political expediency of wanting what today would be defined as “better numbers in the polls.”
William H. Seward, who early did not value Lincoln’s abilities as a leader, even tried what amounted to a ‘coup’, attempting to shame Lincoln into essentially turning the administration over to him (Seward) while permitting Lincoln to remain as a ‘figurehead’ in the office of the President. Lincoln did not dismiss Seward for this, as would many faced with the same situation. Instead, he showed both his great grace toward all men (especially Seward), demonstrated his own leadership in a quiet and non-public way, and allowed Seward to remain at his cabinet post. However, Lincoln did make it very clear to Mr. Seward that the decisions would remain in Lincoln’s own hands and would be Lincoln’s own responsibility.
I’m not sure that George W. Bush’s poll numbers have ever reached the extreme low that Abe Lincoln’s numbers reached. It’s hard to make a precise comparison, but when you consider that ALL of the Confederate states’ population probably rated him near zero and probably less than 35% of the Union population approved of his administration at some points, it would be difficult to imagine that Lincoln’s poll numbers would not have been worse than George W.’s at their lowest ebb.
Even before there was a President of the United States, the Continental Congress and General George Washington were all put through the grist mill of negative public opinion when things went badly during the American Revolution.
And, of course, if World War II had been treated by the mainstream press like the Vietnam War or the Second Gulf War has been treated, it is highly likely that we’d all be speaking German today. For sure, France would still be speaking German and there’d be a lot fewer Jews dotting the landscape of the world, I would venture to say. The total losses in the Second Gulf War hardly bear comparison with the lives we spent on D-Day alone in our efforts to turn the tide in Europe.
Even Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson took his hits in the polls and, while LBJ ruled his White House with an iron fist and little was heard outside its confines about dissension, I don’t believe for one minute that there was not some controversy under those circumstances.
Unfortunately, most of my generation has not carried on the grand tradition of “the greatest generation.” Most of my generation have lost sight of America’s greatness. No other nation in the history of the world has spent more of the blood of its finest men (and women) to obtain peace and liberty for others — asking nothing in return. The men and women reporting and writing in today’s mainstream press are, for the most part, ignorant of history (American history to be certain, and for the history of the world — forget it, they know virtually nothing). As a result they have ‘facts’ without ‘theory,’ and facts without theory beget no ‘knowledge’. Thus, though they are full of ‘facts’ they ‘know’ nothing as it really is.
Do not mistake me: I say that America is “great”, but I do NOT say that America is “perfect.” As long as there are flesh-and-blood men in government, there will be no lack of faults and defects. Abe Lincoln was one who confessed this with frequency in his letters, papers, and speaking.
There are many that think things could have been done in a better way in our war with Iraq? Certainly! There is no doubt and Monday-morning quarterbacking is easier (and more certain) than coaching the game in real time. But consider how many generals Lincoln went through before he found General Ulysses S. Grant — and how much anguish he went through with the lives of young men lost, and the grief he suffered at the hands of his detractors. Should this present war be any different of necessity?
And, even after Lincoln found Grant, and Grant proved himself successful, still Lincoln’s opposers complained that Grant “drank too much whiskey.” Lincoln’s wise answer was (to the effect): “If I knew what kind of whiskey he drank, I’d send a case to every general in the Army.”
No, indeed, I do not doubt Bob Woodward’s accounts (not having read them) of a “war within”, but history teaches me that this is not the critical factor nor the matter by which an administration is to be judged by the longer view of history. In fact, the man that has the courage of his convictions, the one that does not sway in the winds of public opinion, the one that is most like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and even John Kennedy (who the Democrat party would barely recognize as a Democrat today) will inevitably be troubled in their administration by those who would cater more gladly to the winds of political opinion or those who covet “good press” rather than true virtue.
(c)2008 Richard D. Cushing
Richard D. Cushing is a freelance writer and author on several topics including history, politics, government, political science, and more.