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Speed Reading: Bush's Fatal Flaw



Pulitzer-prize winning political writer Ron Suskind's new book, The Way of the World, was released in stores today. The book is chock full of political intrigue and little-reported anecdotes from the past eight years of the Bush administration. We asked Alyssa Rosenberg, a correspondent for Government Executive and TNR speed-reader in residence, to find the hidden treasure in Suskind's 400-page tome. She'll be posting her findings on The Plank over the next few days:

One of the earliest anecdotes in Ron Suskind's new book, The Way of the World, is the story of a missed opportunity: In June 2001, President Bush had the opportunity to bug Vladimir Putin's hotel room in Vienna, but he wouldn't let the CIA replace the battery in the listening device. Why? Suskind writes on page 5:

When the CIA made its offer, his response was that you don't wiretap a friend. Condoleezza Rice said it was 'too risky, it might be discovered.' CIA said that if it was, it would probably heighten Putin's respect for Bush. Bush settled it--it was a gut decision. No dice....While [Bush] has an affinity for stepping inside the shoes of others, his meiter is often brutally transactional rather than investigatory or empathetic: he is looking for ways to get someone to do what he wants, and quickly.

The story gets to the heart of the book's driving thesis: Bush's problem, Suskind writes, is thinking that international affairs are entirely personal, rather than strategic. He only wants to walk in someone's shoes to be their pal, not to get deep inside the creepy crevasses of their brain and truly understand them. It's probably an overstatement for Suskind to write that strategy, rather than friendship, is the only thing that should drive leaders; for example, Bush and Tony Blair's personal relationship, in addition to providing some great YouTube fodder, was integral in steering the UK's involvement in the war on terror. But by not bugging Putin's room, Bush willfully missed an opportunity to hear what Putin said when not trying to charm him. It's a Bush character flaw that Suskind returns to many times throughout the book.

--Alyssa Rosenberg