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Because They Can (Kolko Wins)


I got an interesting and somewhat critical question from Canada, relating to a ZNet piece I just did titled "Idiot Winds of Empire." The issues involved relate to some broader issues I've been wanting to write about and may be of some interest to radicals, left-democrats and other progressives of diverse anti-imperial stripe. And so I reproduce the dialogue on this public site, with the questioner's name naturally deleted.  

Here's the question: "I have read many of your insights through the ZNet sustainer program. I have one concern or question. You refer to George W. Bush as an 'idiot.' I am wondering why you have chosen to do this. Although many may agree with your characterization doesn’t it deflect away from the policy decisions being made? Although I do appreciate the disgust that people have for Bush I wonder about the accusation of idiocy. Maybe he could be called diabolical, demonic, Mephistophelean, villainous or wicked but not idiotic. That statement actually relieves him of his culpability in his well-thought out plans. I don’t doubt that his group’s actions have created the usual unintended consequences, but does that make them idiots? Again I respect your opinion and knowledge I just think that maybe emotions have clouded the assessment of Bush’s policy decisions. Thanks. I look forward to your response."

Here's my response (not the best but all I've got right now): I know what you mean but how much of my writing have you seen? I've done articles about how Bush has semi-competently advanced and in fact accomplished core ruling-class objectives (google up my name plus "Mission Accomplished" and you'll see a recent example) and of course my recurrent theme is that the occupation of Iraq is a terrible war crime driven by a longstanding and frankly rational imperial goal of deepening U.S. control over super-strategic Middle Eastern oil…NOT just a "mistake."

So on the whole, I’m really not one to accuse of diverting attention from the broader policy context and the moral content (or lack thereof) of Bush policy.  Having said that, and staying just with the article you cite (and wrote me about after all), it's been clear for some time, I think, that Bush II is in fact an out-of-control idiot – a genuine moron who is truly emerging as the Worst President Ever (as the highly esteemed U.S. historian Eric Foner has recently argued). He is widely perceived this way now within the policy Establishment (a group to which I obviously have no allegiance) —- he probably has been for some time —- and for good reasons: the occupation of Iraq has been so badly mishandled it's hard to fathom. And it's hard to imagine Katrina having been handled any less effectively from a PR perspective.

The ISG report was to some and weak extent an effort by more rational minds in the ruling class to get a butterfly net (as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times noted) around the messianic nut job; he appears to have avoided the would-be parental supervisors. The Surge is nutty. 

As for his culpability, I don't think being stupid (and he truly is) lets him off the hook of impeachment and removal and (in fact) war- crime prosecution  and it certainly does not absolve Cheney and the rest. But actually I do think the most dangerous thing of all has been the people around Bush. He's not actually the guy in charge…he's a figurehead. He's a terrible lightweight and has to be handled by others. Anyway, I don't know if boy king George can chew gum and clear brush at the same time, but he can definitely be stupid and morally culpable (and criminal) and also advance certain ruling-class interests at one and the same time.

But here's something else that matters more. I think this issue goes back to deeper systemic questions. There was a debate in the 1960s on the New Left about how rational and sophisticated the United States ruling-class or "power elite" is. William Appleman Williams' followers posited intelligent and sophisticated "corporate-liberal" elites who knew what they were about and how to do it, combining just the right mix of authoritarianism with slick pseudo-democratic system-bending cooptation and containment and  anticipating future resistance and problems from the left and right. Gabriel Kolko (also a leading New Left U.S. historian) said "forget it": they rule with little sophistication and foresight, committing one idiotic mistake after another — often involving imperial overreach and a preference of military over political solutions and little sense of the limits of their power— for the simple reason that there is simply no significant and powerful systemic radical opposition to concentrated corporate-imperial rule, murder and mayhem in the U.S. One of the downsides of the tragic absence of left alternatives in the American structure is that they don't have to be remotely smart beyond their narrow agendas. The American System is wired for insane fiascos. It's like the old joke about why a dog licks it balls: "because it can."

I think Dumbya really is a dummy and in a way that's the dangerous point: the ruling-class inflicts this vicious and criminal moron  on us because it can.

We need to make a revolution and create the sort of democratic, egalitarian and participatory society and polity in which total human garbage like Bush II and his somewhat more intelligent (with real limits) handlers can never rise to the deadly heights they have attained.

The Idiot president is proof for Kolko's argument. It's going to take a massive upheaval, a revolutionary social transformation of sorts — at the very least a great political rebellion — to to bring a measure of sanity and decency to U.S. policy. I don't know if that answers the criticism adequately or not (probably not) but it’s the best I've got right now.

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