Bloomberg Columnist and Ex-Obama Aide Praises 'George W. Bush's Graceful Silence'

December 26th, 2014 9:09 AM

At Bloomberg View, former Obama aide Cass Sunstein – still connected by marriage to Obama through his wife, U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power – praised “George W. Bush’s Graceful Silence.” Democrats often appreciate the gentility of ex-presidents named Bush....even if they never quite criticize the Clintons and Carters who never stay silent during Republican presidencies.

Sunstein was pleased by Bush’s recent (rare) remarks on the Senate torture report, simply praising the patriotic terrorism-fighters at the CIA:

“We're fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base." Note that Bush paid tribute to the employees of the CIA -- and pointedly declined to take a shot at the Barack Obama administration.

Sunstein calls this an “honorable calculation.” It might also be argued (by the roughest Republican partisan) that it’s self-serving to the Bush family to let liberals rule without criticism, allowing journalists and historians to develop warmer feelings for them. Sunstein then sounds a little like Mr. Samantha Power in trashing other members of the Obama national-security team who wrote memoirs while they might sell:

Bush doesn't want to exploit his past role in that way. “I really don't long for publicity,” he said. “I'm perfectly content to be out of the limelight."

Contrast that statement with the case of Leon Panetta, Obama’s former CIA director and secretary of defense. In his book "Worthy Fights," he discloses internal debates that officials expected to remain private, and complains that the White House was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.” In an interview promoting his book, he said of Obama, “These last two years, I think he kind of lost his way.”

Similarly, in his book, "Duty," Gates, who was secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama, writes that, in 2010, he concluded that, with respect to Afghanistan, Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” Gates adds that "agreements with the Obama White House were good for only as long as they were politically convenient."

It should go without saying that if Panetta and Gates had not had the privilege of working in the Obama administration, few people would pay attention to their books. The contrast with Bush could not be greater: Panetta and Gates have exploited their own roles.

Unlike a former president, moreover, former cabinet members owe a duty of loyalty to a sitting president, not least because they have been able to participate in internal discussions. In those discussions, officials generally deserve to be able to speak on the understanding that what they say will not appear in a book -- certainly not while the president remains in office.