His Moral Cowardace Has
Guided Him All Along

By Josh Marshall
The new revelations about President Bush's shirked Air National Guard service will continue the campaign debate about physical bravery. But with Bush, the real issue isn't physical bravery but moral cowardice.
We have a more immediate sense of what physical bravery and cowardice are. In fact, when we speak of bravery and cowardice, the physical variety is almost always what we,re talking about. It's whether or not you can charge an enemy position while you,re being fired at. It's whether you,re immobilized by the fear of death.
Moral cowardice is more complex. A moral coward is someone who lacks the courage to tell the truth, to accept responsibility, to demand accountability, to do what's right when it's not the easy thing to do, to clean up his or her own messes. Perhaps we could say that moral bravery is having both the courage of your convictions as well as the courage of your misdeeds.
On the balance sheet of moral bravery " as opposed to physical bravery " John Kerry and George W. Bush were about as far apart as you could be on Vietnam. On the one hand, you have Kerry, who already had doubts about whether we should be fighting in Vietnam before he went but put his life on the line anyway. On the other hand, you have Bush, who supported the war, which means he believed the goal was worth the cost in American lives. Only, not his life. He believed others should go, just not him.
That is almost the definition of moral cowardice. And it's a trait he continues to display as he smears other people's meritorious service (John McCain, Kerry, et al.) without taking responsibility for what he's doing. He gets other people to do his dirty work for him.
What's gone unsaid through most of the campaign is that the president's moral cowardice is a big part of why we,re now bogged down in Iraq. It's a key reason why 1,000 Americans have died there. Bush has set the tone for this administration, and his moral cowardice permeates it.
Consider only the most obvious examples.
The president didn't think he could convince the public of the merits of his reasons for going to war. So he and his key advisers lied to them. He greatly exaggerated what was thought to be the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and completely manufactured a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. He couldn't get the country behind him on the up-and-up. So he took the easy way out; he took a shortcut; he deceived them. And now the country is paying a terrible price for it.
He and his advisers knew that if they leveled with the public about the costs of war " in dollars, years, soldiers " he'd have a very hard time convincing them. So he didn't level with them. He took the easy way out.
The sort of forward planning that would have made a big difference in postwar Iraq was scuttled or derided because it made the job of selling the war harder. Those who sounded the alarm had their careers cut short.
Once we were in Iraq and it was clear that we had been wrong about the weapons of mass destruction " a judgment that's been clear for more than a year " the president refused to admit it. And he still hasn't. A year and a half after we invaded Iraq and he still can't level with the American people about this simple and now obvious reality. He still relies on his vice president to try to fool people into thinking Saddam Hussein was tied to al Qaeda and the Sept. 11 attacks.
More important, once it became clear that the president's plans for postwar Iraq were producing poor results, he refused to shift policy or to reshuffle his team. He refused to demand accountability from his own team because of how it would have reflected on him. He has preferred to continue on with demonstrably failed policies because to do otherwise would be to admit he,d made a mistake and open himself up to all the political fallout that would entail. That was something he wasn't willing to do.
The stubborn refusal ever to change course, which the president tries to pass off as a sign of leadership or devotion to principle, is actually an example of his cowardice.
For the same reasons, he runs from soldiers, funerals as if they were burying victims of the plague " because it's the easy way out. If there's a problem, he denies it or finds someone else to take the fall for him.
Everyone has these tendencies in their measure. No one is perfect. But they define Bush.
The same sort of moral cowardice that led him to support the Vietnam War but decide it wasn't for him, run companies into the ground and let others pay the bill, play gutter politics but run for the hills when someone asked him to say it to their face " those are the same qualities that led the president to lie the country into war, to fail to prepare for the aftermath and then to refuse to take responsibility for any of it when the bill started to come due.
Josh Marshall is editor of His column appears in The Hill each week. Email:



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