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Editorial | NIE and Bush

Talking to the hand

Hmmm, wonder what President Bush has on his nightstand for bedtime reading these days?

Here's a suggestion: "Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes for an Answer" (Wharton School Publishing), by Michael A. Roberto, a management professor at Rhode Island's Bryant University. Not exactly a bestseller, but the leader of the Free World just might benefit from Roberto's advice that bosses who never hear dissent make bad decisions.

The run-up to the Iraq war was filled with episodes where anyone not with the program found himself talking to a brick wall. There were voices in the U.S. intelligence community who questioned whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But Bush, Cheney, et al, heard only the yes-men.

Seeking not to be scapegoated again as providing inadequate intelligence, America's spy agencies took a different approach with their latest estimate of Iran's nuclear-weapons capability. Rather than mouth what they thought the boss wanted to hear, they reported the truth as they saw it.

That is, Iran has not been trying to build a nuclear bomb since probably 2003, but the Islamic republic continues to try to enrich uranium to provide electricity. Of course, enriched uranium can also be used to make a bomb, so Iran remains a danger.

That wasn't exactly what Bush wanted to hear, especially the part about the bomb program ending four years ago. So it looks like he tried to avoid the truth.

When Bush was told in August by national intelligence director John McConnell that a new spy estimate would likely be different from the 2005 assessment that Iran was building a bomb, Bush apparently didn't even ask why. "He didn't tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze," said Bush.

Wasn't he the least bit interested in what the new data indicated? That Bush appeared not to be curious has rekindled talk about this president's leadership style. It's one thing for a boss to delegate authority, quite another for him to not ask pertinent questions of subordinates.

Why wouldn't he want to know the latest about Iran's nuclear status, even if the data required further analysis? Could it be Bush didn't want to hear anything that might throw cold water on red-hot remarks like his October warning that Iran's nuclear ambitions could lead to World War III?

Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley reportedly met to discuss the new intelligence report before its release. There was no mention of the president participating in the talks. Was he trying to avoid the truth for as long as possible?

Bush mocked a reporter's attempt Tuesday to analyze the president's body language. "Psychology 101 ain't working," Bush said. Guess he didn't miss a class of that college course. But Management 101 . . .