Intelligent Design: Consciousness and Culpability in the Mind of George Bush

(Updated below.)
I would like to introduce into the court of public opinion a piece of evidence that will undermine to a large extent the argument often made – sometimes on these very pages – that George W. Bush is a man of stunted intellect, unable to understand the pernicious effects of his policies.

This evidence is derived from a book written by one of Bush's most fervent admirers, his former speechwriter David Frum. A passage from the book – a work of cringing, bootlicking hagiography called The Right Man – was quoted recently in the London Review of Books, in an article on climate change by John Lancaster. One part of Lancaster's perceptive analysis deals with the politicization of science – especially the anti-science animus of the modern Republican Party. After a brief overview of the history of this phenomenon, Lancaster notes:

What makes this so bizarre are Bush’s private views on energy and oil, as reflected in the various ecologically friendly decisions he has made at his own ranch in Crawford (it uses geothermal heat pumps, and has a 25,000 gallon underground cistern to collect rainwater), and in this passage from his speechwriter David Frum’s book The Right Man:

I once made the mistake of suggesting to Bush that he use the phrase cheap energy to describe the aims of his energy policy. He gave me a sharp, squinting look, as if he were trying to decide whether I was the stupidest person he’d heard from all day or only one of the top five. Cheap energy, he answered, was how we had got into this mess. Every year from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s, American cars burned less and less oil per mile travelled. Then in about 1995 that progress stopped. Why? He answered his own question: because of the gas-guzzling SUV. And what had made the SUV possible? This time I answered. ‘Um, cheap energy?’ He nodded at me. Dismissed.

More or less the only conclusion one can draw from that under-reported passage is that W. is well aware of the realities but has been knowingly acting as a stooge for the oil industry.

Lancaster's conclusion is apt. Bush, like most educated people (and Bush is actually one of the most highly educated men, at least formally, to sit in the White House, with degrees from both Yale and Ha
rvard), is well aware of the damage wrought by the SUV culture, and well aware of the benefits of cleaner-burning, fuel-efficient automobiles. Yet, as we know, he has continually expanded the tax breaks that encourage the purchase of SUVs. His energy policies are almost exclusively pointed toward expanding the use of automobiles, while discouraging any restrictions on automakers or energy companies that might curtail the nation's never-ending oil binge. He knows that these policies cause more pollution and exacerbate "this mess" we have made of the environment. But, as Lancaster notes, because the profits of the oil industry are a higher priority for him, he moves forward with these policies anyway.

Of course, Bush's "energy policy" cannot be divorced from his "foreign policy" or his "defense policy" or his "tax policy" or his "economic policy." All of these policies have as one of their primary goals the promotion of oil industry profits. And we have seen these profits reach staggering levels during Bush's terms, profits greater in both raw terms and relative proportion than any achieved before in human history. The oil companies are awash in so much cash that they literally don't know what to do with it all. They have profited more than any other industry from Bush's world-roiling "War on Terror," even more than the weapons peddlers, the mercenary companies and the military servicing and construction giants like Halliburton and Bechtel.

It is not – and has never been – a credible notion that Bush was unaware of the very real possibility that chaos, ruin, horror and terror would follow in the wake of his invasion of Iraq. The White House was well-informed on these points by numerous intelligence studies and by the warnings of its own allies in the region. No doubt he hoped that his "war on the cheap" (when it came to troop numbers, and troop protection, that is) would be more successful, that the fanciful scenarios concocted by his neocon flatterers and the Cheney-Rumsfeld "Domination" faction would somehow pan out. But the risk of that horror and terror was one that he was more than willing to take.

And why not? As we have pointed out here many times before, the Iraq War was always a win-win proposition for Bush; no matter what the outcome, one of the primary objectives of Bush's administration would be achieved: the promotion of oil industry profits. A quick, easy subjugation of Iraq would have given Bush and his corporate cronies direct control of Iraq's oil – a control which, as Greg Palast points out, they would have used not to sell all of Iraq's oil but to keep much of it off the market: a vast strategic reserve to be used to elevate oil prices (and profits), to dominate the global economy, and as a political weapon to punish or reward other nations according to their degree of obeisance to Washington. But even a disastrous outcome to the war – which of course has come to pass – has accomplished much. The continuing conflict, plus the growing instability it has sparked or exacerbated around the world, has poured untold billions of dollars in private profit, tax money and outright loot (from the Iraqis) into the coffers of Bush's corporate cronies. It has expanded the Pentagon budget beyond the wildest dreams of the Dominationists, the armchair militarists of the "New American Century" ilk. Much of this money has been and will continue to be fed back into the political machines of the Radical Right. This forced redistribution of America's wealth to a freakish fringe of ruthless cliques will skew the national political landscape for decades to come, allowing these groups to buy and bully and lie their way into power and/or influence despite the vast unpopularity of their ideological crankery and sinister agendas.

Victory or defeat, it didn't matter: the "mission" of aggrandizing the wealth and privilege of the elite interests represented and embodied by Bush was always going to be "accomplished." Bush knew this. To him, the game was always worth the candle. The possibility that thousands of American soldiers would have to die – that hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis would be murdered – that violent sectarians would subjugate the Iraqis – that multitudes would have to flee their homes and millions more be left destitute, terrorized traumatized, besieged – that future generations of Americans would be saddled with back-breaking debts – that the world would sicken with more hate, more violence, more grief and revenge – none of this was of any great concern to Bush. And even though he was well apprised of such scenarios, no doubt he simply gave his interlocutors "a sharp, squinting look" and dismissed them out of hand.

George W. Bush is not the stupidest man ever to sit in the White House. He is probably more intelligent than, say, Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan or Andrew Johnson, perhaps even Lyndon Johnson. Bush knows, to a far greater degree than most of us give him credit for, what he is doing, and why, and the very real effects of his actions. But he is almost certainly the most withered soul ever to hold the presidency, a gutted husk whose only flashes of real feeling seem to come in his rages, his insults, his scorn, his self-righteousness – his baser instincts, centered only and forever on himself. A man who could do what he has done – and know what he is doing as he does it – is a loathsome creature indeed, one who has somewhere, somehow, lost his humanity.

But this knowingness only compounds the very great guilt he bears for the many crimes he has committed and countenanced, and the many others he has set in train. He is not a dupe of the neo-cons, or a puppet dancing on Dick Cheney's string, or an empty, affable front man. He is what he says he is: the decider. He is doing what he intends to do. And he bears the full responsibility for it.

Update: This post attracted some interesting comments, to which I've responded here: A Little Bit More on Bush's Brain.