The Road To Hell
The Bush Legacy
Focus On Deception
President George W. Bush was addressing the
cheery throng on Tuesday, September 17, at
Pledge Across America— a grass roots effort
backed by the Bush Administration and federal
Department of Education to organize school
children for a national recitation of the Pledge
of Allegiance in the midst of a national debate
over whether the words “under God” should be
included in the pledge. Veering off-topic into
foreign policy for his daily Saddam bashing
sound bite, the president summoned all of the
authority and solemn gravitas of his
administration when he cockily leaned against
the podium and, in his best John Wayne Glare,
said, “There's an old saying in Tennessee, I
know it is in Texas, but probably here in
Tennessee, which says 'Fool me once— shame on...
shame on... [long pause, then, in unsure,
half-whisper, half-prayer] ...you...” And off he
went, into the now-famous Bush
Deer-In-Headlights Freeze. A VCR pause in actual
time when the president appeared to suffer a
small seizure as the electrical system in his
brain shorted out while he fought desperately to
not get this “old saying” wrong. But the
struggle, consuming Bush for long seconds before
he defensively sputtered out, “—fooled— you
can't be fooled again,” was actually much worse
than the gaffe itself.
Bush's inability to achieve any level of comfort with himself is what frightens me the most about Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove's impending “war” with Iraq. Bush seems not only uncomfortable with himself, and wholly unable to laugh at his own silliness, but he seems unable to just admit his little mistake and move on. As though, somehow, keeping a straight face through an embarrassing moment will somehow salvage his dignity. Which, in turn, seems to suggest salvaging the president's dignity would be worth the greater sacrifice of his credibility.
This nation has had a lot of experience with leaders who put saving face above saving the nation. Bill Clinton put this country through enormous pain and turmoil and, indeed, set the stage for this man to succeed him, by simply not admitting, way back during Paula Jones's suit, that he'd had inappropriate conduct with a White House intern. George Bush before him spent billions of dollars to bring us to Saddam's door and then turned and went home, and then proceeded to squander a 90% public approval rating to be beaten by an Arkansas governor we'd never heard of.
Richard Nixon sentenced tens of thousands of teenage boys to die in the jungles of Southeast Asia because he wanted to win reelection in 1972 and because he didn't want to look bad, or be the first president to “lose” a war. We fought in Vietnam for a principle, to protect our values and our way of life from a tiny, impoverished nation that we pretended was the linchpin to Soviet world dominance so General Dynamics and Bell Helicopter could make a fortune.
But, perhaps the most tragic example of a president putting dignity above morality and common sense was Lyndon Baines Johnson's use of the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” as a rallying cry to escalate the Vietnam War in 1964.
Into The Quagmire: President Lyndon B. Johnson signs “Gulf of Tonkin” resolution. August 10, 1964.
38 years later, the American pubic is amnesiatic once again,
this latest bout sponsored by the terrorist attacks that have
coalesced America into flag-waving Reaganite jingoists desperate
for closure. We need a villain, we need a bad guy, and we are so
very desperate to believe every word issued from Donald Rumsfeld
during his stand-up act at the Pentagon briefings. We are
completely spellbound by the hard-charging Beltway square jaws
and, desperate for Ronald Reagan but finding him no longer
available, we have settled upon George Dubya the illusion of
greatness, correcting his flawed humanity and seeing and hearing
what we so desperately need to see and hear.
Which is a perfect environment for a political shark like Karl Rove to thrive in. Here Rove has Lyndon Johnson's America: an America so distraught, so wounded by great tragedy, that we are prepared to believe whatever statements Washington issues. The panicked strum und drang of Bush's rush to Baghdad speaks almost entirely to political opportunism over any real semblance of national security. While we certainly believe getting rid of Saddam will ultimately be a good thing for everybody, we don't believe hostilities must, must, must start before the November elections, elections which would otherwise certainly be a referendum on the administration's Iraq policy.
The timing of Bush's efforts to panic the American public and change the topic from Enron to Tehran makes Bush appear pathetic if not evil. The tactic is insultingly blatant, so much so that we have to assume it is not a tactic at all, but a genuine call to arms for genuinely scary reasons, because if they really wanted to wag this dog, they'd be much more clever about doing it... right? I mean, they wouldn't be this obvious and this brazen... right?
The Bush Administration is selling high-end copper and oak coffins to the grieving widows and widows-to-be of America; taking advantage of our grief to shove this obscenity down our throats, ramming it through a congress of cowards and liars who will most certainly give him his Tonkin Resolution. And, that paperwork in hand, this president will unleash hell, sweeping even more likeminded GOP candidates to victory in November amidst the flag-waving rah-rah of an America rallying to support our troops as they sail into what Bush must, by all evidence, see as his own Grenada, but which holds the distinct possibility of becoming Bush's Vietnam if not Bush's Waterloo if not America's Waterloo. Bush wants his own Tonkin Resolution because he is acting like it's still 1964, like America can still run around firing its guns whenever and wherever we like. Like the political landscape and the rules of war haven't irrevocably changed in 38 years.
This reminds me of the pathetic British armies, orderly and civilized, marching to a loud drum beat— a drum beat— into the wooded Maryland hills, wearing bright red, and being slaughtered by un-uniformed terrorists and guerilla warriors hiding in tress and attacking from all directions. We now call those factions patriots, patriots who won largely by changing the rules of war, while the powerful, established nation continued to employ tactics and rules that no longer applied. If Desert Storm proved anything, it's that we can bomb Baghdad into the stone age without affecting much of the political landscape there. But we are all too grief stricken and perhaps too gullible and too stupid to even see it.
Doing The Pepsi Challenge between Bush's proposed resolution and the Tonkin Resolution conjures up possibilities that'll have me sleeping with the light on for quite awhile. Or, am I just being unreasonably cynical? Maybe. But, in the final analysis, the Bush Administration's Iraq policy boils down to this: these men are either evil or stupid. There's really not much middle ground. Rallying America for a just cause would seem to invite if not require bipartisanship, and eschewing even the appearance of politics. No component of Bush's mealy, meandering attempts to convince us of the rightness of his cause presents any compelling reason why the whole matter couldn't be tabled until the new congress is seated in January. The merits of his case are not my issue here so much as the timing, the urgency being so seemingly transparent. For all I know, the president has a valid case for this policy, but he squanders it on brazen political opportunism, which makes me question his ethics and, therefore, his judgment.
Now It Can Be Told: the step-by-step true story of how the American people were sold on the Iraq war.
Osama and Sadaam
At my fairest, I can characterize this issue as a
damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't moral dilemma. If the
administration is right, waiting to disarm Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein can and will have devastating consequences. If
the administration is wrong, attacking Iraq will, in fact, bring
about the unprecedented wave of terrorism Bush presumes to
prevent. I am actually not attempting to sift through the wisdom
of this call to arms so much as to vent my discomfort with the
stink of it; a sinking Wag The Dog feeling about the timing and
ultimate purpose of this saber-rattling, of this seemingly
madman Bush, who has now only one topic of conversation— Saddam
I think it interesting to note Osama bin Laden's disappearance from the White House daily theme. The president has successfully turned our attention away from Osama, the other mission we've spent billions of dollars and killed thousands of people without a successful or satisfying conclusion to those matters, and focused us on his next multi-billion dollar expenditure and epic loss of life that will not only end inconclusively but will likely plunge this country into deep recession if not depression, de-stabilize the Middle East, and initiate a wave of terrorism against this country unprecedented in this nation's history. The president's reasons for pursuing his course seem to change daily. There is a Reason Of The Day, like a child desperate for a new bike, pressing his cause with ever new and largely unsubstantiated and unverifiable claims. Watching the poll numbers, Bush recently linked Saddam with Osama, an extremely unlikely paring, as my friend G. Edward Jones, Jr. pointed out on my weblog:
“Osama and Saddam have been openly HATEFUL towards each other. Saddam detests organized religion (this is why we funded him against uber-religious Iran) and Osama hates secularists. The chances of these two working together are roughly the same as Jerry Fallwell and Bishop [John Shelby] Spong opening a ministry together. “
Other Reasons of The Day imply alliances with Iran (laughably unlikely), arming and supporting the Palestinians (more likely, but nobody believes we're going to war to bring peace in Israel), and, most unworkable, the notion that Saddam might someday attack us. Currently, the Bush drum beat is about nukes. The president danced around Saddam Nukes for months, then kind of intimated Saddam Nukes, but now, ever more intent on panicking the American public, he is all but saying Saddam has nukes (but no enriched uranium to blow them up). The president's southern drawl, regrettably, has him clearly and painstakingly enunciating (with, as Dana Carvey pointed out on a recent Letterman appearance, a smug look of satisfaction when he pronounces the big words correctly). The word nuclear is often pronounced by this president as “nuculer,” which, for me, really doesn't help me take him seriously. The nukes claim was eventually revealed to have been a complete hoax and, to date, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq.
The administration is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, and nukes tend to stick. The notion of a terrorist setting one off in Times Square scares the heck out of all of us, as it should. But, making the American people believe attacking Saddam will somehow prevent that is, for me, as heinous as the potential terrorist act itself. There are any number of states out there with the bomb, including our allies, like Israel and India, and hostile states like North Korea. I think it inevitable that terrorists will someday have nuclear capability and the capacity to deliver it to our door. Should we work like hell to prevent that? You bet. But creating the myth that all roads lead to Baghdad, and that regime change will guarantee our safety, is a pretty cruel lie to foist on the American people. We are an open society. We are not safe. 9|11 has demonstrated to all the nut jobs in the world just how vulnerable we truly are, and that they've been, mostly, wasting their time going after our embassies and military installations when our mainland remains incredibly vulnerable.