Earlier this year, before he ordered a massacre of Iraqis, President George W. Bush claimed that on his vacation last summer he had read, wellâ€¦ maybe he didn’t finish it, Eliot A. Cohen’s The Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime.
The author, a Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies professor, has made his neo-conservative reputation the old fashioned way: by adoring war while fiercely avoiding military service. When not teaching “strategic studies” Cohen participates in dramatic dialogues about how best to slaughter masses of people with members of the Defense Policy Board on which he serves.
Robert Higgs in the August 28, 2002 The Independent Review suggests that the not too intellectually complex President identified with Cohen’s ideas of how great leaders like Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, and Ben-Gurion “successfully managed to make their generals act more vigorously than those officers really wanted to act. By spurring their too-timid generals, these four micro-managing commanders in chief supposedly got superior results from their war-making efforts. The common soldiers who were fed into the consuming maw of war under these worthies might have given us a different opinion, but dead men don’t make good critics.”
Higgs implies that whoever pushed a book like The Supreme Command on Bush is attempting “to bend the president’s mind, never a mighty organ in any event, toward thinking of himself in Lincolnian or Churchillian terms. Indeed, those of us who have had the stomach to observe his public strutting and puffing since September 11 might have suspected that his juvenile sensibilities would be drawn all too readily toward such a grandiose self-conception. After all, does he but speak, and mighty armadas are launched on a global war against evil?”
George Bush has indeed made his mark on the world map which he intends to redraw. He will go down not just as the man who discarded law and ordered pre-emptive war but as the nation’s worst, most irresponsible president. Think back. After his first nine months in office, his accomplishments would have qualified him to stand in history alongside Millard Fillmore and Franklyn Pierce, perhaps competing with them for the title of “most undistinguished.” (Since Bush had presumably stopped drinking and gambling, I couldn’t very well compare him to Warren Harding and, since he talked more than he should have, the Calvin Coolidge comparison didn’t work either.)
Immediately after 9/11 however, Bush had an unparalleled opportunity to promote world unity. By September 12, 2001, most of the world had sent Americans, solidarity and support messages. One would have to return to the immediate post World War II era to find such levels of sympathy and empathy with our country and our people.
Now, a year and a half later, Bush’s demeanor toward the peoples and governments who supported us when we needed them has turned into its Newtonian opposite: fear and loathing have replaced collaboration and compassion in many countries whose help we need to contain the real bad guys.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) understood well how Bush had thrown away a golden opportunity to build unity. In his response to Bush’s March 17 war sermon, he said: “Squandering the international goodwill our country enjoyed after 9/11, this Administration has failed in its attempt to buy friends and bully allies. The risks to our military, our families, and our struggling economy are greatly increased by a near unilateral invasion. Declaring the equivalent of “Get out of Dodge by sundown” is tough talk, but even the quick military success, which we have been told to expect, will not ensure the long-term security of our families in an isolated America.”
As U.S. bombs drench Iraq in death, Bush claims yet another accomplishment. Like his father (41), Bush (43) has managed to convert much of the mass media into the equivalents of Don King, the fight promoter. Instead of saying the obvious, that the war on Iraq constitutes crass bullying, the media reports Bush’s war as a supreme challenge to American fighting men and women.
Recall how during the 1991 so-called Gulf War (technological massacre is a more accurate description), 41’s spinners managed to convert Saddam Hussein, a 50th ranked flyweight, into a ranking heavyweight. Now, 43’s spin doctors have conditioned the malleable media into even more acquiescence.
In 1990, Saddam had enough of an army to annex Kuwait. The media has forgotten the supposed causes of the war: 1) accumulation of weapons of mass destruction, which the UN weapons inspectors did not find; nor did US intelligence produce any evidence of them. 2) The repeated claims that Saddam had a direct link to the terrorists who did the 9/11 deeds. But the media has spread the President’s unsupported accusations about Saddam’s “threat to our security” and his “link” to Al Qaeda attacks as if they came from God instead of from the prevaricating pens of imperial speech writers.
The talking heads on CNN and Fox News continue to sell the administration’s ousting Saddam equals democracy in the Middle East line. On March 14, 2003 the Los Angeles Times broke the news of a classified State Department report discrediting this so-called democracy domino theory. According to the intelligence source who spoke to the Times, “The thrust of the document is that this idea that you’re going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its trajectory is not credible.”
I fantasize over a mass media headline that says: “Bush’s Bullying War Destroys Law.” Yes, 300,000 highly equipped U.S. troops prepare to invade Iraq after the Navy and Air Force devastate its people with thousands of bombs and missiles, every one of them the equivalent to a 9/11 experience for the people who live near the targets. Lost in the war news are the scandals of our time, deeds that will eventually go into the history books to insure George W. Bush the title of worst president of the United States.
Recall that during his campaign Bush talked vaguely of withdrawing from unnecessary world commitments. He did pull out of the constructive accords, like the Kyoto environmental agreement, the ABM Treaty, and cooperation with the International Criminal Court, as just a few examples. By rejecting the UN Security Council, after failing to bribe and intimidate a sufficient number of its members, Bush announced he would make war anyway, inventing ridiculous pretexts about “threats” to U.S. security.
The Bush Doctrine as it will no doubt be called means the end of any system of world law. It is bald and bold imperial dogma. It marks the end of the veneer of republican principles. The fact that Congress authorized extraordinary powers to him shows their weakness in the imperial age, not constitutional legitimacy.
Bush has done the exact opposite of what he promised. In his campaign, he pledged to unite; in office, he has polarized. “United We Stand” and “Bomb Iraq” bumper stickers compete for attention on the highways with “Bush’s War” auto decals. On abortion, appointing federal judges, taxation, the death penalty, environment, gun control, immigration, affirmative action, church-state issues and even the Cuban embargo, Bush has taken an ultra right wing, minority position and, from power, tried to intimidate the spineless Democrats into acquiescence.
The man who promised to work with others has isolated himself from all but his most zealous ideological cohorts, and of course his own private God, who counsels him to ignore inconvenient sections of the Bible and claim that Jesus would want him to make war, decrease taxes for the ultra rich, execute minority prisoners on death row and drill for oil in virgin territories.
Behind his righteous rhetoric and his smug sanctimonious speech delivery as he announced war for freedom, peace, and security, lays the essence of Bush’s policies. For example, timber industry CEOs contributed mightily to his campaign and, as a March 1, 2003 Washington Post story reports, Bush responded to their generosity by reversing Clinton’s ban on logging in hundreds of thousands of acres in the Tongass National Forest acres. This preserve contains some 30% of the temperate coastal forests of the world. His ruling authorized road building as well, which according to environmentalists will put at risk millions of acres.
Similarly, Bush took hefty contributions from the meat industry in 2000. In 2002, the meat moguls got into trouble when they cut back on sanitary rules. An outbreak of Listeria bacteria from bad meat killed seven people, caused three miscarriages, and sickened dozens. Initially, the Bushies proposed tougher rules on plants that produce ready-to-eat deli meats that contained the deadly germs. But as soon as the Meaties explained to Bush that this would cost too much, he diluted the proposed regulations.
Poof! The tough rules became soft guidelines. According to the February 24, 2002 Time, quoting an industry newsletter, the CEOs felt satisfied that high level Department of Agriculture officials “have bought into much of the industry proposal” and that the changes came thanks to “industry efforts made at the White House level.”
These and other scandalous lapses lie buried under the bombs over Baghdad and the torrent of news about the war itself. Bush has made history as the man who formally declared empire. His admirers call him bold. Many in the military think of him as reckless.
“Much of the world is increasingly apprehensive about U.S. power and influence,” Admiral Lowell Jacoby, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. “Many are concerned about the expansion, consolidation, and dominance of American values, ideals, culture, and institutions. Reactions to this sensitivity to growing ‘Americanization’ can range from mild ‘chafing’ on the part of our friends and allies, to fear and violent rejection on the part of our adversaries.”
Bush ignores such comments, secure in his knowledge of the bookish Professor Cohen’s bellicose advice. Bush made the policy and turns the war over to the generals because, as Cohen sites Churchill, “for a politician to dictate military action is almost always folly.” But, adds Churchill, “it is always right to probe.” Unfortunately, George W. Bush lacks the most basic probing instinct, curiosity. Churchill also had military experience. Bush spent most of his time in the Texas Air National Guard AWOL. The best we can hope for is that one of his pious advisers accidentally leaves on Bush’s desk the Bible open to Isaiah.
Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Isaiah 1: 16
Landau’s latest film is IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS, distributed by Cinema Guild, 1-800-723-5522. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.