A good, Republican friend of mine, Phil, emailed a quote to me as follows saying in his judgment Sununu “Absolutely hit is on the nail.”
“Look, let me tell you what the big problem with this president is in my opinion. He is absolutely lazy and detached from his job. When he doesn’t go and attended 60% of the detailed presidential daily briefings that come from the CIA and thinks he can just skim it, skim the summary paper on his iPad instead of sitting down and engaging in what — I was in the White House with George Herbert Walker Bush. He took that brief everyday. George W. Bush took it everyday and I believe that Bill Clinton took it everyday. This president thinks he’s smarter than those guys and he doesn’t have to engage in the discussion. That’s the most important half-hour of the day for a president who has to protect the security of the United States,” Romney surrogate John Sununu said on “Hannity” tonight.”
Here’s what I wrote back to him.
Even though I haven’t talked to John in several years, I consider him a good friend. In years when we were close and shared office space, I came to know and respect him highly. In private conversations I found him to be funny and simultaneously delightfully smart on substance and the clever use of hyperbole. Once I’d get past the irony of exaggeration, there was usually a nugget of wisdom to what he said.
I will always listen to what John Sununu has to say, even if I have to distill it, to get to the meat of his argument.
Regarding the quote below I’d immediately throw out the chafe statements like “absolutely lazy and detached from his job” as well as “he … thinks he can just skim it…. This president thinks he’s smarter….” As smart as John is, these kind of sweeping punctuations really say more about John’s cleverness, than the President’s intelligence. Perhaps John thinks he is smarter than Obama. Whether he is or not is immaterial. John simply doesn’t know enough to know what, or not, Obama thinks.
Nonetheless, a good question remains to be asked and answered. Is it true that the President is absent 60% of the time to regularly scheduled intelligence briefings? Does it matter? Are the briefings, the same type and quality of previous Administrations against those John measures? Is there some other manner that this President receives this critical information other than the briefings? Is there something in the verbal briefings that is missing in the written briefing papers?
The electorate may need to know and have confidence that our President is availing him/herself of as much relevant national security information as possible. It is equally important to know that the President effectively uses his/her time and doesn’t get captive or steered by the intel community. The issue is bigger than how much time the President logs in front of a CIA briefer.
I’m somewhat amused by John’s citing of President George W. Bush as “took it everyday.” First, I and many others know that John held “W” in minimal high regard. Second, wasn’t it that Administration, that either disregarded or cooked the intel regarding weapons of mass destruction and yellow cake? Did W’s perfect attendance at CIA briefings prevent the disaster of the war in Iraq? Further, President George H. W. Bush, a man I also admire, was a former CIA chief and in all likelihood had a relationship with the CIA that was deeper and more meaningful than any recent President. That as well might play into the role he placed on the briefings. And, smartly, he knew enough not to chase Saddam all the way to Baghdad.
So in sum, all I can say is that stripped of the usual entertaining way John phrases things, someone in the White House should give a reasoned answer to the legitimate portion of issue raised. Is the President getting all the national security information he needs in the most effective way. Ultimately there is no way to know. But the public deserves some assurance, no matter how self-serving it may be.
I can tell you this. I’d rather see President Obama debate Governor Sununu, than President Obama debate Governor Romney! Now that would be some entertaining chafe!