Just talked to him. He says that he talked to Suskind (the Times Magazine writer) every once in while over a few months. He didn’t realize that Suskind was working on a story until a week ago, and never gave him a formal interview. He emphasizes that he’s not complaining about Suskind’s treatment of him, but is just explaining that in his conversations he was “just saying whatever popped into my head.”
He neither remembers specifically nor disputes the quotes Suskind attributes to him. He does think Suskind got the context wrong a few times. Suskind quotes Bartlett as predicting a “civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3″ and then says that Bartlett sees it as “the same [conflict] raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.” Bartlett says that “civil war” may have been hyperbolic. He adds, “My discussion of the civil war within the republican party had absolutely nothing to do with religion.” He meant only that conservatives upset with Bush’s record on, say, spending but not eager to hurt him before the election would feel freer to complain on Nov. 3—and that the presidential contest for 2008 would also bring out complaints from people to Bush’s right.
What about the quote about Bush’s being “just like” the enemy in the war on terrorism? “When I was talking about how Bush was like Al Qaeda, I didn’t mean that in a negative sense.” [I’ll let him continue, but you have to admit it’s a pretty funny line standing alone—RP.] “I think it is a source of strength to have a leader who understands his enemy so well. What I mean is that—someone who is of a secular nature, their inclination is to believe everyone can be reasoned with. For somebody who has deep faith, they understand that you cannot reason with some people. I mean, you cannot be reasoned with about your [own] faith. Knowing your enemy is an important part of defeating them and if you understand that these people cannot be reasoned with because his faith is as deep as your faith, the only thing to do is to kill them.”
The quote in the magazine makes it sound as though Bartlett thinks that Bush, like “Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalists,” is an “extremist,” “driven by a dark vision.” I don’t believe that the argument he made to me is sound. I think he is exaggerating the unreasonableness of faith, and I think plenty of secular people are capable of seeing religious people as unreasonable—all too capable, in some cases. If the quote is accurate, he could have found a better way to say what he meant (but remember, he didn’t think he was going to be quoted). But I do think that what he told me is what he meant.