Horrid Thoughts About Horrid Leaders
by Bernard Weiner (8 May 2004)
Maybe you've forgotten John DiIulio. An early ranking member of the Bush Administration - in charge of faith-based programs - he was the first to leave and tell us what really went on inside the White House.
Basically, he said, virtually every initiative of the Bush Administration was taken for partisan political reasons. There was precious little, if any, loftier discussion of whether something might be good for the American people. Everything flowed from the top down, from the cynical, manipulative minds of Rove and Cheney and their ilk. The major question dealt with was: How could this policy benefit Bush&Co. and their friends?
"This gave rise," wrote Dilulio "to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis - staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible."
Later, we heard variations on a similar theme by other, more highly-placed insiders - such as Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Anti-Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke and Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV - that confirmed that Bush and his inner-circle are not especially curious about the real world and are not interested in hearing unwelcome truths. Politics and power are what really matter.
Once Bush&Co. make up their minds, it's full speed ahead; if they run into a brick wall, all attempts are made to deny the existence of the wall-like obstacle in front of them. If there is no way to escape that impediment, they'll back and fill and try to go around another way, but the ultimate goal remains to get to where they wanted to get to originally and, by golly, they will get there - even if it requires them, stealthlike, to pretend for a while that they're changing their destination.
THE IRAQ DEBACLE
What's happening in Iraq is a good example. The neocons in charge of American foreign/military policy - hard-rightists from The Project for The New American Century like Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Feith - wanted to get a U.S. military foothold in Iraq, and to bend the existing Arab culture in the Middle East to its "democratic/free market" will. To effect this U.S. presence, the Bush Administration had to invent a rationale to justify an invasion and hyped an "imminent" danger posed by Saddam Hussein with his supposed terrifying biochemical and nuclear weapons. None of it was true, of course, and thousands of Americans and Iraqis are paying the ultimate price for those gross lies and deceptions - and U.S. taxpayers, and their descendants, are paying the humongous financial price.
The ongoing conflict in Iraq has turned into an embarrassing disaster for the U.S., as it gets sucked into the kind of war Saddam and his military planners wanted to fight: an urban insurgency against the American occupiers. Comparisons with Vietnam and the Battle of Algiers are being made even by conservative pundits. Support at home for Bush's bumbling war policies is melting away. Unless Rove can find some way to get Iraq off the front pages of voters' minds, Bush conceivably could lose the election in November.
And so, Bush&Co. are desperate enough to do anything to get the U.S. out of the death zones in Iraq. The aim is to take American voters' attention off the war long enough to get Bush elected. Once that happens, all bets and restrictions are off; it's back to moving toward those original neo-con goals.
In Iraq, the goal is to have a military presence in the country - the U.S. already has set up 14 bases inside Iraq - so as to have leverage as the U.S. attempts to reshape the Middle Eastern geopolitical map, and to have effective control of the natural resources of the area at a time when oil reserves worldwide are running down.
If Bush were to win in November, the original agenda would come into play: moving hard on Iran and Syria and others to toe the U.S. line, or face the consequences - with the example of "shock-and-awe" and "regime change" in Iraq to help focus the minds of leaders who might object to American hegemony.
THE LOGIC OF TORTURE
How history delights in irony. Bush claims that because of U.S. "liberation" of Iraq, America has taken the country beyond the Saddam horrors and brutalities and tortures of the past and into a bright new present and glowing future. At virtually that same moment, what many Iraqis and human rights groups already knew was revealed to the public: the U.S. and U.K. have been involved in systematic humilitation and torture of Iraqi prisoners - sometimes to the point of death - and often at the same jails that Saddam's thugs used for the same purposes.
Why Bush and Blair would be "shocked, shocked" to discover that the troops serving under their command would behave in an uncivilized manner is a mystery. For nearly four years now, Bush, for example, has behaved like a king who answers to no-one; his administration's behavior across the globe - strutting and swaggering unimpeded like an arrogant bully, taking what it wants, demeaning its enemies as "uncivilized," claiming a dichotomy of God on our side and the Other as thoroughly "evil" - almost invites ordinary U.S. soldiers to see their Iraqi enemy as lesser mortals, somehow unworthy of normal human consideration.
It's what the world witnessed in Stalinist Russia, Hitlerian Germany, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Israel in Palestine, France in Algeria, the U.S. in Vietnam. We are the good guys with God on our side ("Gott mit Uns"), our enemies are some barbaric subhumans whose God is inferior to ours; even with international rules of war and treatment of POWs in place, there naturally will be officers and troops who go over the line with great regularity. Once the war genie is let out of the bottle, we shouldn't be surprised by the inhumanity that follows.
The rationales justifying this Iraq adventure were, and remain, rotten. The post-"Mission Accomplished" war is a disaster. The commander-in-chief, looking through rosy-colored glasses, maintains that all is well, just a few malcontent natives and "foreign terrorists" to deal with.
When an entire war enterprise is based on faulty foundations, as in Vietnam, as in Iraq, one should expect the troops - many, if not most, of whom come from moral, religious backgrounds - to recognize, on some level, that what they're being asked to do varies from what they've been taught is right.
Some soldiers can't handle that kind of emotional/ethical warping and psychologically snap, performing ghastly acts of torture and violence. That is an expected part of warfare; if the war seems to be lasting forever, if your own country doesn't armor and protect you enough, if you as a soldier learn you can't trust anyone in the native population, and if the required changes aren't made from the top down, the entire war policy and behavior can slide off the moral tracks. It happened in Vietnam, it's happening increasingly in Iraq.
But, since the Bush neocons want Iraq and what it represents - political greed, don't forget, is their middle name - they will do anything necessary to stick to their goal of using Iraq to "transform" the energy-rich Middle East. They will do so even if it means temporarily contradicting their own best interests on the ground in order to reduce the number of Americans dying - for one reason and one reason only: to win the election in November.
This attitude helps explain the U.S. rush to hand over the reins of "sovereignty" - to someone, anyone, please - even though the Americans will continue to maintain their bases and pull the strings from behind the scenery; and why the U.S. is even willing to pay out huge amounts of "protection money" to Iraqi militias (often made up of the same insurgents who were firing on them previously) in order to buy their way out of deadly firefights.
THE ISRAEL/PALESTINE DISCONNECT
There clearly is a disconnect in the White House between what's happening in Israel/Palestine and what's happening in the Arabic Middle East and, in general, throughout the Islamic world. Since Bush&Co. have placed all their chips on Israel in that Middle East struggle, Sharon's Likud-led government considers that it has carte blanche to pacify and control that area however it wants. Bush&Co. simply refuse to comprehend (or care) that the U.S. and Israel are pouring gasoline on the smoldering fire of Arabic and Islamic resentment across the globe.
If they really wanted to win hearts and minds in the Islamic world, the U.S. would engineer and work tirelessly for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East: Arab-wide recognition of Israel within secure pre-1967 borders, a geographically and economically viable Palestinian state, withdrawal of Israel from most of the occupied territories and settlements. But Bush has now moved the U.S. away from its traditional "honest broker" role between the two warring parties, and placed America squarely in the Likud camp, thus ensuring that Muslims worldwide see little or no difference between the two most powerful countries in the area. Both Israel and the United States increasingly are seen by Muslims these days as a common enemy - occupying powers who employ similarly brutal, inhumane acts in trying to control the local populations.
In short, Bush - the same guy who infuriated the Islamic world when he used the term "crusade" to define his initial anti-terrorist policy - has become the best recruiter for Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And, most importantly in terms of domestic American security, Bush has become the best recruiter for Al Qaida.
Which leads to an unsettling line of thought:
Since Bush Administration policies are so outrageous and extreme, and since the manner of carrying out those policies is so incompetently handled, and since Bush&Co. alienate everyone who comes near them, one is tempted to believe that these Bush guys are alien pod people, or forces from the dark side, or agents of a foreign power - sent to destroy America from within and ensure defeat abroad.
Of course, I'm not serious about that. But at times the Bush Administration's policies, behavior and bumbling ways certainly make one wonder. In addition to the blowback that can be expected from Bush's Israel/Palestine mistakes, here are a few more examples of policies that, if one didn't know better, could be viewed as designed to aid our enemies:
The highest echelons of the Bush Administration in the Spring and Summer of 2001 are warned, in very specific terms, that fanatic Al Qaida extremists are coming to attack the U.S. mainland by hijacked airplanes, aimed at icon American targets in New York and Washington, and yet Bush does nothing to try to prevent or warn about such a terrorist attack or even to call all his top advisers together to deal with the issue. The terrorists, in effect, march through an open door.
The 9/11 attacks occur, and within days, the Patriot Act is sent to Congress - a collection of police state-like laws that were rejected by previous Congresses because they violated so many due-process provisions of the Constitution - and, in the atmosphere of terrorism/anthrax fright and heightened patriotism, passes by an overwhelming majority, even though virtually none of the members get a chance to read the final version sent over by the White House at the last minute. Thus begins the further degradation of federal government respect for individual rights and civil liberties.
Few on the Left or the Right wish to oppose the U.S. response in Afghanistan, where Al Qaida is headquartered, but it turns out that Afghanistan and Al Qaida are not the main targets after all. The planning for war on Iraq begins in the first few days of the Bush Administration, secretly. The chief architects of the Iraq war are rightwing neo-conservatives who as part of The Project for The New American Century (PNAC) have been agitating for war on Iraq since at least 1991, when Saddam was left in place by the first President Bush.
More than $700 million dollars that Congress authorized for going after Al Qaida in Afghanistan serreptitiously is diverted to preparations for the Iraq war, and troops searching for Bin Laden are pulled out of Afghanistan and made ready for action in Iraq. Instead of concentrating on Al Qaida and taking the group out once and for all, the U.S. focuses its energies on attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.
Saddam takes flight, the main body of the Iraqi army suddenly disappears, and the U.S. waltzes into Baghdad to accept the flowers, kisses and huzzahs of a grateful Iraqi population. The honeymoon lasts for a few days, but increasingly the U.S./U.K. occupation is resented. Especially when it becomes clear that the U.S. is not restoring public services, is providing little or no employment, and has no effective post-war plan.
The wrong troops are assigned policing and nation-building roles for which they are not trained. Looting is widespread and uncontrolled; only the Oil Ministry building and oilfields/pipelines are protected by U.S. troops. Not even the nuclear sites, and ammo dumps, are guarded; weapons from these dumps are used against U.S. troops each day. No wonder ordinary Iraqis are at first puzzled by, and then infuriated at, the U.S.
When the native insurgency begins, the U.S. naively dismisses its importance and tries to keep it contained with ambivalent tactics, sometimes harsh, sometimes conciliatory. The civilian death toll rises in a 10-to-1 Iraqi-to-American ratio; it's now anywhere from 10,000 to 17,000. American deaths are pegged at near-800, troops removed for medical reasons at more than 10,000. (None of these figures include U.S. "contract" forces - formerly known as "mercenaries" - who operate outside of military rules and regulations.)
Iraqi prisoners are humiliated and tortured by U.S. and British military intelligence and spy agencies, and these sick bastards take lots of photos and perhaps even videos of the jolly fun. Higher-ups are alerted and reports are written, but nobody publicly apologizes or takes responsibility to shut down the torture chambers. When the photos are released, they are broadcast on Islamic news networks immediately. The U.S./U.K. couldn't have done more to damage their reputations in the region, and around the world, if they had tried.
When confronted by effective urban resistance in Fallujah, the U.S. is faced with only bad options. It chooses to buy its way out, by re-inserting Ba'athist control - the very army forces it wanted no part of after Baghdad fell. More and more, in civilian ministries and security positions, the Ba'athists are being brought back in. Anything to aid in diminishing the U.S. death toll and helping ensure an election victory in November. Nothing personal, it's all politics.
Purely for U.S. electoral reasons, in less than two months a new Iraqi leadership - of some sort - will assume "sovereignty." The sham probably won't fly, as it's not genuine sovereignty; the U.S. military still will call the major shots. What then? Ad hoc policy-making eventually gets one into a cul-de-sac. How to exit? Well, you get the idea. Bush&Co. can't think straight, can't see straight, can't shoot straight. The result is endlessly and constantly to supply propaganda ammunition to our enemies.
Bush&Co., blinded by their extreme ideology and arrogance - we're the only superpower on the planet and we can get what we want when we want - are now trying anything to play catch-up with reality, even paying off insurgents not to attack them, even seeking help from the United Nations and former allies that they reviled and humiliated before the war. Who woulda thunk it?
It's a back-asswards way of running a war - trying to do now what might have helped if done then - but that's what happens when think-tank ideologues (who made sure never to be in a war themselves) send young men and women to fight for greed-based wacky theories, and for the idea that you can create instant democracy at the point of a gun.
In sum, friends, we are witnessing in Iraq and elsewhere the deadly result of nearly four years of Bush&Co.'s ideological stubbornness and insistence on politics-at-all-costs. The whole crew should be impeached - and there are plenty of charges that would stick - but it may not happen prior to the election. Still, that's no reason not to attempt it; doing so will keep Bush&Co. busy defending on another front, thus reducing the amount of havoc they can cause.
If the Republican-dominated Congress won't impeach these guys, then we the voters will. If we do it right in November, not only will Bush&Co. be sent packing from the White House, but a good share of Republicans in the House and Senate will take involuntary early retirement along with their Bush&Co. mentors.
True, It will take years to undo the damage caused by Bush&Co. domestically and abroad, but at least we will know we are engaged in doing solid, moral work - and, most importantly, that we are helping move our country out from the shadow world and back into the light. Let's do it!
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers.
- Democratic Underground