Bush the Younger has closed no government department, re-legalized no constitutionally protected drug or firearm, vetoed no spending bill. The Republicans are spending and earmarking like drunken sailors. What’s for a liberal not to love?
No, George W. Bush is reviled -- not just disliked, but actively despised -- by the bicoastal elite for reasons which are, I would submit, mainly cultural.
The hatred of the automobile voiced by Mean Green Al Gore, much of whose family money came from Occidental Petroleum, is hard to see as anything but the petulant snit of a guilt-ridden, ivory-tower congressional brat anxious to make points with the Radcliffe girls. And this gang next wanted to place John and Theresa Kerry in the White House not primarily because they thought Sen. Kerry’s recourse to the good offices of the appeasement-prone European surrender monkeys would really prove more effective against al-Qaida (surely) but primarily, I submit, in hopes that weekends at the White House would become so much more high-toned and Camelotlike, featuring Pavarotti and brie and some string quartet, rather than Cheese Doodles and Nascar.
The joke on my elitist brethren is that George W. Bush has a better blue-blood pedigree than any of these guys. Grandson of Sen. Prescott Sheldon Bush, son of a president and former CIA director, 17th cousin of Prince William of Wales, a member of Skull & Bones who attended both Yale and Harvard, Bush the Younger was actually born (like me) in the wild western cowtown of ... New Haven, Conn.
I’m not saying the down home, dirt-kicking Texas drawl is a complete sham, mind you. But George W.’s brilliance has lain in his ability to lower his opponents’ expectations sufficiently that he always turns out to be just enough smarter than expected to amble off into the sunset chewing his piece of switchgrass, leaving his hapless foe sitting in the dust, stunned at having been decked by such an obvious imbecile.
But to offer impressive complexity as a potential literary character or even to be the kind of guy you might like as a fishing fishing buddy -- the qualities that have allowed Messrs. Bush and Rove and Cheney to thrive in domestic politics -- unfortunately offer no guarantee that they have a clue when it comes to foreign affairs, or especially to war and occupation.
In fact, it’s when confronted with setbacks in this far-away and apparently misty realm that Mr. Bush’s apparent ability to construct alternative realities which intersect the more commonly perceived world at oblique angles (at best) -- and then inhabit them comfortably while shilling them to a populace which either judges on style points or just can’t be bothered to read the fine print -- becomes a great part of the fascination.
RECIPE FOR RESISTANCE
In his State of the Union speech on Jan. 31, President Bush said “On September the 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7,000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction.”
In context, it appeared the “failed and oppressive state” to which the president referred must be the one our troops so eventfully now occupy -- the one where we went hunting for those chimerical “weapons of mass destruction” -- Iraq.
But in fact, Iraq and its dictatorship had nothing to do with spawning the Sept. 11 terrorists. Hunting as hard as it could for pre-Sept. 11 links between al-Qaida, Iraq, and Saddam Hussein, this administration has found none of any consequence.
Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for all its repression, was a secular state where radical Islam, that “perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death” (the president’s words) was allowed little foothold.
Nearly all the Sept. 11 terrorists were actually Arabian. Saudi Arabia is indeed a fairly repressive regime, about 7,000 miles from here, whose residents may conceivably blame the U.S. for helping to prop up its gold-gilt monarchy. So why didn’t we invade the land of those great patrons of the Bush family, and set THEM on the path to “democracy”?
The countries overseas that “shelter terrorists” might have been ranked in 2001 as Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and the camps of Yasser Arafat.
We did indeed invade Afghanistan for sheltering al-Qaida, and rightly so. But the president here attempts to rewrite history, asserting Iraq was the sponsor or training ground of the Sept. 11 attacks, which is simply not true.
Read the statement again. It appears carefully lawyered for “deniability.” It doesn’t SAY Iraq. It just implies it. But what other nation could Mr. Bush be referring to?
Lots of countries seek “weapons of mass destruction.” When do we plan to disarm Israel and Russia? Of course dictatorships are repressive. When do we plan to liberate the people of Zimbabwe, Burma, Red China, and Uzbekistan?
Iraq may have been targeted for geo-strategic reasons -- regardless of its blamelessness in Sept. 11 -- as a central “breadbasket” of the Middle East. But that’s not the case Mr. Bush has tried to build.
“Terrorists like bin Laden ... seek to impose a heartless system of totalitarian control throughout the Middle East, and arm themselves with weapons of mass murder,” the president said Tuesday night. “Their aim is to seize power in Iraq, and use it as a safe haven to launch attacks against America and the world. ... A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq ... would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country. ...”
Bin Laden and Zarqawi, who command no conventional armed forces and between them have never been elected dog-catcher, are not Iraqi. That they could ever rule Iraq would seem to qualify either as delusion, or as making up scary campfire stories for the kids. Are there now a lot of radical Wahabi terrorists finding a haven in chaotic Iraq? Sure. What drew them there? Only the opportunity they saw in the chaos following the American invasion. Saddam Hussein had been at no demonstrable risk of turning his country over to al-Qaida three years ago.
Why did chaos descend after our invasion? Because the Washington neoconservative desk jockeys who dreamed the thing up had no military experience, blissfully ignored the British experience of 1918-1921, wishfully assumed the various Iraqi ethnic groups whose feuds had long been suppressed by the Baathists would welcome us with flowers and then promptly start holding orderly town meetings, and that we therefore wouldn’t need much of an occupation force.
Why didn’t our military men set them straight?
Mr. Bush on Tuesday night repeated his oft-heard assurance that the level of our Iraq troop deployment and the speed of the drawdown “will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.”
The line even drew applause -- as it usually does.
But what happened to the Army’s top general, Eric Shinseki, after he broke ranks with the neocon article of faith that occupying Iraq would be a cakewalk? The Army chief of staff correctly warned the Senate Armed Services Committee in public testimony prior to the Iraq invasion in 2003 that a successful occupation force would require “several hundred thousand soldiers.”
“Pentagon officials ridiculed the estimate, but they later appeared to prove the general correct when they boosted coalition troops in Iraq beyond 150,000,” reports the Army Times.
Paul Wolfowitz called Gen. Shinseki’s estimate “way out of line.” The general was quickly advised to retire, sending a loud message to all others in the military to get with the program.
So what does it mean to say troop level decisions “will be made by our military commanders” and not by the politicians -- after the politicians have shown they’ll remove any military commander who insists that to restore order in Iraq could take a force greater than the level of 6.6 per 1,000 population (the current 144,000 to 158,000 on station in Iraq) established during the 1965 U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic -- let alone the 20 per 1,000 force level used by the British Army and Royal Ulster Constabulary in Northern Ireland for much of the period 1969-1994 -- a ratio that would produce in modern Iraq a figure of 480,000, the total authorized strength of the active U.S. Army?
Such estimates are ridiculed, so the military toes the party line, the insurgency spreads like wildfire, thousands of our guys die, and al-Qaida comes circling like sharks smelling blood in the water.
The troublesome situation the president now faces in Iraq is thus of his own making twice over, not only because he decided to invade a nation uninvolved in Sept. 11 (possibly because of the old grudge -- “After all, this is the guy who tried to kill my dad,” he declared on Sept. 26, 2002) but then because he followed that decision with the even dumber move of sending too few occupation forces, against the best advice of his best (now removed) generals.
DIFFERING VIEWS NOT WELCOME
Finally, Tuesday’s State of the Union featured a moment of carnival barking the mawkishness of which now passes unnoticed simply because it’s become so familiar -- the family of a dead soldier (in this case, Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay) asked to stand and take a bow as the president read from the dead trooper’s final letter: “It has been an honor to protect and serve all of you. I faced death with the secure knowledge that you would not have to. ... Never falter! Don’t hesitate to honor and support those of us who have the honor of protecting that which is worth protecting.”
The dedication and courage of our fighting men stands unchallenged. But the fact that staff sergeants will do their duty, regardless, cannot be taken as evidence that a war is wise or just. Quite the contrary. Asked to prove the sergeant’s sacrifice was justified, the president can hardly be allowed to use the sergeant’s unquestioning willingness to ACCEPT the president’s assurance that his war was just, as EVIDENCE that his war was just.
Using a bereaved family for political advantage should be out of bounds. Particularly when another bereaved army mother is barred from the hall for holding opposing views.
Iraq War opponent Cindy Sheehan, whose son was massacred driving a humvee in Sadr City in 2004, says she was reluctant to go to the State of the Union. “I knew George Bush would say things that would hurt me and anger me and I knew that I couldn’t disrupt the address because Lynn (U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey) had given me the ticket and I didn’t want to be disruptive out of respect for her,” Ms. Sheehan wrote to supporters the following day.
But “Lynn’s office had already called the media and everyone knew I was going to be there so I sucked it up and went,” Ms. Sheehan says.
Sheehan was wearing a shirt that asked the question “2245 Dead. How many more?”
That evening, “I met one of Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s staffers in the Longworth Congressional Office building and we went to the Capitol via the underground tunnel. I went through security once, then had to use the rest room and went through security again.
“My ticket was in the fifth gallery, front row, fourth seat in. The person who in a few minutes was to arrest me, helped me to my seat.
“I had just sat down and I was warm from climbing three flights of stairs back up from the bathroom so I unzipped my jacket. I turned to the right to take my left arm out, when the same officer saw my shirt and yelled, “Protester.” He then ran over to me, hauled me out of my seat and roughly (with my hands behind my back) shoved me up the stairs. I said something like ‘I’m going, do you have to be so rough?’ ...
“The officer ran with me to the elevators yelling at everyone to move out of the way. When we got to the elevators, he cuffed me and took me outside to await a squad car. On the way out, someone behind me said, ‘That’s Cindy Sheehan.’ At which point the officer who arrested me said: ‘Take these steps slowly.’ I said, ‘You didn’t care about being careful when you were dragging me up the other steps.’ He said, ‘That’s because you were protesting.’ Wow, I get hauled out of the People’s House because I was ‘protesting.’
‘WHAT DID CASEY DIE FOR?’
“I was never told that I couldn’t wear that shirt into the Congress. I was never asked to take it off or zip my jacket back up. If I had been asked to do any of those things, I would have, and written about the suppression of my freedom of speech later. I was immediately, and roughly (I have the bruises and muscle spasms to prove it) hauled off and arrested for ‘unlawful conduct.’ ”
A charge which can draw up to a year in jail.
“After I had my personal items inventoried and my fingers printed, a nice sergeant came in and looked at my shirt and said, ‘2,245, huh? I just got back from there.’ I told him that my son died there. That’s when the enormity of my loss hit me. I have lost my son. I have lost my First Amendment rights. I have lost the country that I love. Where did America go? I started crying in pain.
“What did Casey die for? What did the 2,244 other brave young Americans die for? What are tens of thousands of them over there in harm’s way for still? For this? I can’t even wear a shirt that has the number of troops on it that George Bush and his arrogant and ignorant policies are responsible for killing.
“I wore the shirt to make a statement. The press knew I was going to be there and I thought every once in awhile they would show me and I would have the shirt on. I did not wear it to be disruptive, or I would have unzipped my jacket during George’s speech. If I had any idea what happens to people who wear shirts that make the neocons uncomfortable, that I would be arrested ... maybe I would have, but I didn’t.”
Ms. Sheehan was released four hours later -- well after the speech concluded. She says she is exploring a First Amendment lawsuit. “It is time to take our freedoms and our country back,” she says. “I don’t want to live in a country that prohibits any person, whether he/she has paid the ultimate price for that country, from wearing, saying, writing, or telephoning any negative statements about the government. That’s why I am going to take my freedoms and liberties back. ...”
No, George Bush didn’t personally order her arrest. Neither has he condemned it. Addressing her empty seat that night, however, he did say, “Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer -- so we will act boldly in freedom’s cause. ... No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it.”
The president then called for a renewal of the Patriot Act, offering no compromise to those who worry about the extent to which it infringes the Bill of Rights.