George W. Bush is a true believer. That should be obvious when examining the president’s embrace of the Christian gospel or his devotion to protecting the homeland and crushing Islamic extremism. His unshakable faith in both arenas gives him an air of certainty — a certainty that in turn triggers attacks from his political, cultural and foreign adversaries that range anywhere from the exasperated to the absurd. As a result, Bush is not just waging war against radical Islam but finds himself battling an incessant barrage of criticism from members of the Democratic Party and their allies in the mainstream media.
Those dynamics combine to form the thesis for "The Evangelical President: George Bush’s Struggle to Spread a Moral Democracy Throughout the World." It’s the latest, engaging insight on the Bush presidency courtesy of Washington Examiner White House Correspondent Bill Sammon. As in his previous bestsellers, "Fighting Back," "Misunderestimated" and "Strategery," readers are treated both to Sammon’s painstaking documentation of the facts and his unparalleled access to President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other key administration officials. As a result, we the readers get another chance to eavesdrop on history.
Early on Sammon sets the stage for the rest of the book by contending that Bush is a true believer on multiple fronts. He recounts Bush’s life-changing discussions with evangelist Billy Graham more than two decades ago and how truly comprehending the demonstration of God’s love through Christ kindled a genuine, life-changing faith in the future president. But he also contends that in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Bush embarked with missionary-like zeal towards the goal of strengthening national security. He did so by taking the fight to the enemy and promoting freedom throughout the Middle East in order to cultivate free nations that reject the extremism sponsored by the despotic regimes currently in the region. And while Christians would point out the power of the latter doesn’t hold a candle to the power of the former, Bush is convinced a transformed Middle East is the most sensible long-term solution to the problem of Islamic extremism.
The Evangelical President picks up in early 2006, and guides us through the ups and downs in Iraq, in Washington and along the campaign trail leading up to the midterm elections. And in moving from one venue to the next, Sammon maintains an easy narrative that helps readers understand the sequence and context of events in which everything took place over the past 18 months. This is a very helpful perspective when we live in a world where the media pre-empt coverage of the life and death struggle for western civilization in favor of wall-to-wall tabloid drivel.
The central focus of the book is Iraq, and 2006 was a very tough year. Sammon vividly recounts how the al Qaeda attack in Samarra triggered an extended outbreak of deadly sectarian violence that caught the U.S. off guard, how General George Casey wrongly estimated its duration and how it took months for the administration to acknowledge the current security strategy was insufficient and the major revisions now being led by General David Petraeus were needed. But Sammon also highlights the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein — events receiving plenty of coverage that offered zero credit to Bush and were shockingly characterized as having little significance. Sammon reminds us that killing Zarqawi was a triumph of intelligence and military excellence that was publicly lauded by the president. But within days, removing the head of al Qaeda in Iraq was replaced on the front pages by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry pushing for a troop withdrawal timetable.
As for Saddam, Sammon points out that coverage of his trial was a textbook case of missing the forest for the trees. While witness after witness recounted the horror of Saddam’s massacre of men, women and children in Dujail back in 1982, the mainstream press corps somehow concluded that Saddam’s baseless allegations of being tortured while in American custody were the real story from the courtroom. Once he was sentenced to death, the media shied away from recounting the litany of horrors perpetrated by Saddam and his henchman in favor of hand wringing over capital punishment and concerns the hanging was not conducted properly. The hundreds of thousands murdered and millions oppressed barely served as a subplot when the ‘Butcher of Baghdad’ finally faced justice.
In fact, Sammon’s colleagues in the fourth estate take a persistent beating in this new volume, for offenses ranging from their arrogant view of their own importance to jaw-dropping double standards in coverage. A full chapter in "The Evangelical President" is devoted to the hyperventilation exhibited by the White House press corps after discovering they weren’t the first thought in Dick Cheney’s mind after the vice president accidentally shot a friend on a quail hunting trip and the first reports of the shooting were given to a local Texas newspaper. “They were embarrassed to have been scooped,” writes Sammon. “They were piqued Cheney had not spoon-fed the story to the White House press corps. And when they realized the shooting had taken place nearly a full day earlier, they began to concoct conspiracy theories about a White House cover-up.” The exchanges recounted by Sammon between self-important reporters and then-press secretary Scott McClellan will likely leave you alternately laughing and shaking your head in bewilderment.
But Sammon doesn’t stop there. He also explains how the media worked to excuse John Kerry for saying young people need to do well in school or else they’ll “get stuck in Iraq”, but there was nothing but condemnation for Virginia Republican Senator George Allen’s bizarre “macaca” towards a man of Indian descent working for Allen’s opponent. According to the book, the same double standard is evident in other news — including the media frenzy over the case against Lewis “Scooter” Libby on perjury charges, but the press could only muster a yawn when Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was caught stealing and destroying classified national security documents from the National Archives. As Sammon points out, The New York Times didn’t use a drop of ink on the Berger story but had no compunction about revealing a secret program tracking terrorist finances despite loud protestations from the Bush administration.
While the book details the stark contrast in how Bush and the Democrats approach vital issues like Iraq, Sammon spends surprisingly little time in discussing some of the issues where Bush stands at odds with his own base. The firestorm over Bush’s endorsement of the Kennedy-McCain version of immigration reform is mentioned only in passing. In addition, Vice President Cheney is quoted lamenting the lack of fiscal discipline by congressional Republicans, which many voters cited as a reason for firing the GOP as the majority party. However, neither Bush nor Cheney give any explanation for the administration’s refusal to veto some of the same excessive spending measures.
But when it comes to the seminal issue of our day, the divide between the two parties is described as crystal clear. Sammon excoriates Democrats for their approach to the war on terrorism, largely through their own conflicting statements. He chronicles Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid crowing about how his party “killed the PATRIOT Act,” and also details how leading Democrats have altered their positions on Iraq as the political winds became more favorable. He notes Hillary Clinton’s adamant refusal to endorse a withdrawal timetable from Iraq in late 2005 and throughout her campaign for a second term in the U.S. Senate. However, once the Democratic majority was assured and Senator Clinton’s presidential campaign began targeting the liberal base, she vowed to end the war if elected commander-in-chief. Not to be outdone, Harry Reid promised never to cut off funding for the Iraq mission in late 2006 only to co-sponsor legislation on that very subject a few months later
Bush may be accused of many things, but changing course in the current war is rarely one of them. Perhaps Bush himself, in talking with Sammon, summarizes why with the greatest clarity. It also cements his status as a true believer. “I understand people didn’t agree with some of my decisions. I’m going to keep making decisions based on what I think is right for the country. I’ve never been one to try to fashion the principles I believe or the decisions I make based upon some kind of short-term popularity.”