WASHINGTON – And now, the end is near; the final curtain drops in a cold, paranoid Fortress DC under maximum red alert. In a contrived Oscar night-style mood, with thanks aplenty, George W Bush delivered his farewell address from the East Room of the White House on January 15.
Bottom lines: he turned Afghanistan into “a young democracy fighting terror”; he turned Iraq into “a young democracy in the heart of the Middle East”; he brags “America is promoting human rights”; and more than anything, America under his watch got seven years without another 9/11. But “the terrorists” will be back.
There may have been things he would have done differently – no
specifics given. But certainly there’s no Nietzschean “Beyond Good and Evil” for him; this is a world where “oppressive ideologies” in the Muslim world “condemn women to subservience” compared to those who seek “liberty and justice as a path to peace” (America and her allies, of course). And “they” hate us because they hate us: “America did nothing to seek or deserve this conflict”.
A few days earlier, holding hands with his wife Laura on Larry King Live, he looked like a discombobulated wax doll. And then there was the final presser at the White House – including the drab anticlimax of an abrupt thanks to the few assembled hacks and a hasty exit to the tune of general perplexity.
The performance also boasted White House interns who had to be conscripted to fill the empty seats. Regrets? He had a few (Katrina, the Mission Accomplished banner), but then again, too few to mention. He was all wired up defending his “good, strong record” – a man incapable of introspection or even a hint of self-doubt. Once again he would never acknowledge mistakes: everything from Abu Ghraib to not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they were just “disappointments”.
The Lone Ranger
It’s been a long and winding road since that “I think the United States must be humble” he uttered in a 2000 debate with Al Gore, since the “compassionate conservative” rhetoric, and since the “uniter, not a divider” motto. So let’s go through some of this “good, strong record”.
When Bush came into office the US had a US\$237 billion surplus. Three days after 9/11, on September 14, 2001, his approval rate was 86%. By mid-2004, the budget deficit was in excess of \$400 billion – and growing. (Thanks in large part to a big bipartisan majority in Congress having happily passed his \$1.35 trillion package of tax cuts to the rich in May 2001.)
By mid-December 2008, his popularity ratings had plunged to 23% – only one point from an all-time low in every poll taken since 1938. Still, at 30% this month, this means that almost one in three Americans still approve of his job. H L Mencken must be wallowing in horror in his grave.
Coming close to destroying a superpower and the global economy virtually single-handedly is not bad for someone born with a silver spoon in his mouth who never held a steady job until the age of 45 – until “turd blossom” Karl Rove, the little, fat, bald Machiavelli, engineered him as the ultimate, corporate-pleasing, Southern Strategy lethal weapon, and Bush family consigliere James Baker turned a massive electoral fraud, mostly in Florida and Ohio, into a hijacked mandate via the Supreme Court. (American corporate media, by the way, loved it.)
As for the 2004 re-election – when his approval rate was at most 40% – it was a mix of low-tech – absentee ballots that were never mailed, rejected “provisional ballots”, “spoiled ballots” – and high-tech – via scores of dodgy Diebold machines – corruption.
Bush was the dream Project for a New American Century (PNAC) president. The PNAC’s bible was the 2000-penned “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century”, which unabashedly advocated “American hegemony” and “full-spectrum dominance”, and which was itself based on the 1991-penned “Defense Planning Guidance”, also known as the Wolfowitz doctrine.
The PNAC – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz – migrated in full force to the Bush administration and could not have been readier after 9/11 to engage in the nonsensical, global “war on terror”. An endeavor those wily Brits, via Foreign Secretary David Milliband, took the opportunity to formally bury in style a few hours before Bush’s farewell.
The “war on terror” catalogue included launching pre-emptive wars disguised as wars of liberation; torture as official US state policy; and a war against Islam, “suspicious” Muslims in particular and Latino immigrants in the homeland. The “war on terror” framework facilitated something that was already planned and had been discussed at the G-8 meeting in Genoa in July 2001. Namely, an October 2001 attack on Afghanistan to get rid of those pesky, turbaned former darlings of Unocal, the Taliban. Washington wanted its pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, and was determined to get it.
Dates with destiny
The “good, strong record” is peppered with unforgettable dates.
- Take August 6, 2001, when Bush royally ignored the now legendary memo warning that Osama bin Laden was “determined to strike in the US”. After a Central Intelligence Agency analyst briefed him he came up with “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.”
- Take fateful September 11, 2001, when he declared the global “war on terror”. And global it certainly was, all across the Pentagon-coined “arc of instability” – from the Andes in Colombia to the Horn of Africa and then through the Middle East to South, Southeast and Central Asia.
- Take January 29, 2002, his first State of the Union address, when he in fact declared war on “at least a dozen countries …” and qualified North Korea, Iran and Iraq as the “axis of evil”.
- Take February 7, 2002, when he issued an executive order declaring the Geneva Conventions off-limits to suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives. The memo, as Colin Powell’s former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson told Vanity Fair, was written by Cheney’s counsel David Addington, “blessed by one or two people at the Office of Legal Counsel”, passed to Cheney, passed to Bush and signed by Bush. Wilkerson gleefully compared Addington’s role with Cheney to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s role with Bin Laden.
- Take September 20, 2002, when he launched the Bush doctrine (yes, that thing that totally baffled Sarah “Barracuda” Palin), which breaks down to the Empire’s divine, unilateral right to launch a war against any “terrorist” state. The doctrine – a barely disguised ploy to assure control of global sources of energy – was enshrined as official policy in the 2002 National Security Strategy. It implies a US Empire of Bases – reaching 900 soon – in dozens of countries; a bloated Pentagon budget, plus hidden “extras” beyond \$1 trillion a year; and of course a non-stop war mentality, with ramifications that lead to the weaponization of outer space.
The Bush years were a nightmarish maze of violations of the rule of law and the smashing of constitutional liberties – from the 300-page-long USA Patriot Act to the Homeland Security Act and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that now terrorizes not only illegal but also legal Muslim and Latino immigrants.
And then there is masterpiece – the Iraq War.
- How not to remember July 23, 2002 – the day of the now famous Downing Street memo, revealed only years later, when Sir Richard Dearlove, head of British intelligence, coined the indelible phrase “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”.
- How not to remember September 15, 2002 – when the assistant to the president for economic policy, Lawrence Lindsey, estimated the cost of a war in Iraq between \$100 billion and \$200 billion. A furious Donald Rumsfeld – always in love with the Khmer Rouge school of management – called it “baloney”. Lindsey is fired in December. Years later, in 2008, Nobel winner Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes estimate the real cost of the war may be as much as \$3 trillion.
- How not to remember January 21, 2003 – when according to Sir David Manning, Tony Blair’s chief foreign policy adviser, Bush and Blair settled on an actual date for the start of the war – no matter what resulted from the Hans Blix-conducted UN inspections.
Baghdadis today compare Bush’s oeuvre in honor of democracy and the free market in Iraq to Genghis Khan’s in the 14th century. Khan’s pyramid of skulls left by the Tigris find echo in Bush’s benchmarks: at least 1 million deaths caused directly or indirectly by the war and occupation, more than 4 million internally and externally displaced, mass poverty, 70% unemployment, and the virtual nonexistence of fresh drinking water, sanitation, electricity, medical care, education, and security.
The waste land
Bush was the champion of corporation, speculation, wild privatization and the end of public education. Bush’s systematic war on the American middle and working classes – his “ownership society” – signified non-stop wealth redistribution towards the top. Ninety-percent of American families are now reduced to little or no net worth, they’ve been plunged into debt hell.
Bush was not only the scourge of a dying middle class; he was the champion of the underclass – at least in terms of assuring its overwhelming expansion. The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) has assessed that one in three jobs in the US – concerning at least 47 million people – pays ridiculously low wages with few or no benefits. According to the CEPR, one in every four US workers – about 35 million people – earn poverty level wages.
Under his watch, a mega-bubble economy based on speculative greed and massive fraud went bonkers – disaster capitalism at home. At his final presser Bush had the gall – of course not contested – to say it was not his fault the financial crisis happened during his tenure. Of course, he forgot to say this was a crisis by design – guaranteeing an even greater concentration of financial and economic power, in global terms, for a minimum elite comprising Masters of the Universe JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup.
It’s a “good, strong record” pile up; from the neglect of poor blacks in post-Katrina New Orleans to rejecting the Kyoto Protocol; from hiring hacks to spill White House propaganda to vetoing stem cell research legislation twice; from building a multi-billion dollar wall across the Mexico border to stop Latino immigration to exempting Big Chemical from monitoring lead emissions.
The Center for Public Integrity’s “Broken Government By the Numbers” report adds an extra X-ray of the Bush wasteland. From 935 “demonstrably false statements” in the run-up to the Iraq war to 45 million people with no health care (and tens of millions in some very precarious scheme); from 60% of Environmental Protection Agency scientists reporting political interference in their work to 760,800 disability claims awaiting hearings by the Social Security Administration as of October 2008; from 190,000 missing weapons in Iraq to \$212.3 million in Halliburton “extras” for construction work in Iraq; from less than 3% of US electricity needs provided by alternative energy to \$60 billion in annual Medicare fraud.
Some people actually loved his methods. Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former ambassador to the US, told Vanity Fair that “the Chinese have been brilliant in playing the Bush years. Asia is one part of the world where many will see George Bush in a positive light, although not necessarily for the reason he may have wished”.
Another character who has been brilliant in playing the Bush game has been no other than Osama “dead or alive” bin Laden, who, dead or alive, could not miss the opportunity to salute Bush via an audiotape released this week. Bin Laden said, “The question is, can America continue the war against us for several more decades? The reports and signs show us otherwise.” Osama seemed to be quite amused by the “inheritance” Bush left to Obama: “If he withdraws from the war, it is a military defeat. If he continues, he drowns in economic crisis.”
And this when the war in Iraq – as Paul Krugman has noted – is costing about as much each year as the insurance subsidies Obama would need to implement universal health care in the US.
Anyway, none of this is his business anymore. Bush will fade into retirement in a commute between a sleepy Dallas suburb and the Crawford ranch where he spent more than 450 days of the presidency. Whatever he does, he won’t be disappointed with history’s judgment.
What a record: stolen elections, corporate greed, fraud and corruption, unlimited spending, wealth redistribution (to the top), no checks and balances, rampant militarization, the destruction of Iraq, permanent war, and unquantifiable, unrepayable national debt. Not many world emperors are able to create a vast wasteland, call it a government, and then retire.