In a juxtaposition in the report in this morning’s New York Times of a news conference that Bush gave yesterday, was there a comment on Bush and Reagan’s legacy? The Times reported thus:
Despite the continuing tensions, Mr. Bush appeared relaxed and at times almost ebullient as he took questions for 40 minutes, ranging from reflections on Ronald Reagan’s presidency to the failure so far to find banned weapons in Iraq.
When the subject turned to the treatment of prisoners, Mr. Bush said he could not remember whether he had seen secret Pentagon and Justice Department legal opinions that concluded he had broad authority to determine what techniques could be used to interrogate unlawful combatants seized in Afghanistan.
Remembering, not remembering . . . Until this week’s snow of obituaries, I wouldn’t have associated Reagan with a line such as “Tear down this wall.” The phrase most closely linked to him in my memory was, rather, “I have no recollection of that.” Perhaps it was natural for Bush to move in conversation from recalling Reagan to not recalling the memos justifying torture.
He admits to being an attentive student of Reagan’s style. Famously, in two interviews that he granted to the Tower commission in January and February 1987, Reagan said that he “had no recollection” of telling his national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane in July 1985 to go ahead with a proposed arms-for-hostages deal in Iran. Asked whether he had approved the shipment of arms from Israel to Iran in August 1985 before or after the fact, Reagan wrote to the commission that “Try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever.” Nor could he recall signing a 2 January 1986 order authorizing covert action, though he did recall signing a later version of the same order (New York Times, 28 February 1987). In February 1990, during the trial of John Poindexter, Reagan testified 124 times that he did not recall details of the Iran-contra scandal (UPI, 23 February 1990).