Posted on January 29, 2001 in Washington Watch
MEMO TO: THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES
FROM: PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH*
(*with my apologies.)
Let me introduce myself to you. I am the President of the United States. As such, I am responsible for the foreign policy of our country and for all official contacts with leaders of other countries.
I have selected a distinguished and capable cabinet to assist me in these matters. Together with my Vice President, Richard Cheney, my Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and my Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, we will determine how and when we communicate with foreign governments and what the content of our communications will be.
You may wonder where I’m going with this little civic lesson. Let me be blunt. I’m not going to need your unsolicited help so please don’t offer it.
I say this because I’ve noticed that you have developed this rather strange practice of writing letter to various Arab heads of state pretending that these letters have been authored by my predecessor, Bill Clinton.
Frankly, I find this a bit odd and potentially dangerous. I suppose that everyone would like to be the President. I know that I did. But instead of pretending that I was, and signing my father’s name to my make-believe letters (all I would have had to do is drop the “W.”), I did it the right way. I worked hard for two years running for President, won a bruising primary campaign and then won a nail-biting general election. Now I’ve earned the right to use the title and write my own letters.
Bill Clinton did the same thing and twice won the title. You did not. And yet because you have the need to say harsh and demeaning things to Arab leaders, and because you want your insults to be taken seriously, you have taken to signing the President’s name to your tracts.
I guess you think that this gives your words more authority. What it in fact does is make them both fraudulent and dangerous.
Fraudulent, for the obvious reason that they are not true. Dangerous, because some people actually believe that your letters are either inspired by or even written by the President.
I’ve heard, from some of my advisors, that some Arab newspapers have translated your pieces into Arabic and published them just as they have appeared in the New York Times. Since no where in the Times do you acknowledge that your letters are fiction, some Arab readers have wondered if perhaps your words were those of the President.
In the last year alone, you wrote five of these little counterfeit jobs. While Clinton was working with President Mubarak of Egypt to bring Palestinians and Israelis closer to peace, you wrote letters insulting Mubarak. You also wrote nasty attacks on President Assad of Syria and his son, President Bahsar Assad, and a few pieces demeaning and reviling your favorite target, Palestinian President Yasser Arafat-all in President Clinton’s name.
And so Tom, this is where we draw the line. We just can’t have you using the President’s name to settle your personal scores, especially while we’re trying to conduct foreign policy in a very sensitive Middle East.
Tom, if you’ve got a problem with Arab leaders and still feel the need to insult them, let me make a few suggestions. First, a novel idea: write the letters using your own name. Or you may use almost any other name, except that of a living President. For example, if you remain insecure about using your own name, maybe you could try using George Washington-it’s a good and respected name and packs a punch.
The bottom line, however, is that you should not, under any circumstances, use my name.
Right about now I can hear you screaming about freedom of the press and you are right. I can’t stop you or put you in prison for impersonating a President. I can’t even get you fired. And I know that your journalist friends would come down pretty hard on me if I had the Internal Revenue Service audit you or had the FBI “bug” your phones.
So let me change direction here and try another tack. As the leader of the free world, let me appeal to you as a representative of the free press-please be responsible when you write. Be respectful in your criticism and honest in your presentation. Recognize that you have created problems for my predecessors and spare me the same in the future.
If this doesn’t work for you, think about running for President in 2004. Just think, if you win you would have earned the right to use the title and you could write all the letters you want.
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