I just watched Matt Lauer interview George W. Bush on NBC promoting his new book on his Presidency.
By way of a minor preamble, let me state that the interview did little to change my overall impression of the man, but it did change it some. I have for a time believed that he is generally a good man who cares deeply about his country. He did what he thought was best but he made some bad decisions. But I have always thought that even his bad decisions were made for, what he thought, were good reasons.
His decisions on war and peace, spending, and bailouts are all legitimate matters for disagreement. I agreed with some and disagreed with others but I have always thought he came by his decisions, even the bad ones, honestly.
With all that said, I was struck by what I can only classify as a moment of dishonesty. I don’t think that President Bush lied to Matt Lauer or the American people, I think he lied to himself.
The topic, it should come as no surprise, is the water-boarding of three suspected terrorists at Gitmo. I do not intend to debate the morality of water-boarding here, my point lies elsewhere.
When asked whether water-boarding was torture President Bush answered “My lawyers said no. The lawyers said it was legal.”
The lawyers? It was legal?
I believe that George W. Bush wanted nothing more than to protect this country, but I believe he lied to himself to do it. President Bush knows full well that there are plenty of things that are legal in this country that are intrinsically immoral. Abortion comes to mind.
President Bush knows full well that the legality of such an act is not the right question when trying to determine the “right thing” to do. President Bush denied that he pressured the lawyers to get the answer he wanted and I think I believe him. But it doesn’t matter. He pressured himself to accept an answer which he probably knew was wrong.
Why do I say he probably knew it was wrong, because in the next sentence he made a point that they only water-boarded three people. You don’t say that unless you know its wrong. If you think a legal opinion gives you moral carte blanche, then why not water-board them all?
I think that George W. Bush so much wanted to “protect” this country from another attack that he lied to do it. But he didn’t lie to us, he lied to himself.