Friday, August 29, 2003

Bush's Old Tricks

When George W. Bush gave his speech at the favorite White House forum, the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he dipped into his bag of old tricks and tropes.

First, he nodded in the direction of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore by applauding the group's dedication "to the service of God and country. Times change, but those are still the right priorities," said the head of our supposedly secular state.

He tossed another bit of red meat to the crowd, saying, "You are committed, as am I, to protecting the dignity of the flag."

He then gave his sanitized rendition of American history. "In the twentieth century, the American flag and the American uniform stood for something unique in history. This nation gained great power, and we used that power in the service of human freedom."

Tell that to the people of Haiti, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, who were repeatedly beaten back by U.S. invasion, occupation, or proxy rule over the last century.

Tell that to the people of Iran, whose democratically elected government the U.S. overthrew in 1953.

Tell that to the people of Guatemala, whose democratically elected government the U.S. overthrew one year later.

Tell that to the people of Indonesia, whose founder, Sukarno, was overthrown by U.S.-backed forces in 1965, which led to a million deaths.

Tell that to the people of Chile, whose democratically elected government was overthrown thirty years ago.

Tell that to the people of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, when the United States used its power "in the service of human freedom" and ended up killing two to three million.

Bush then put on his Manichaean lenses and said, "No nation can be neutral in the struggle between civilization and chaos." This was a clear echo of "you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists." It is such crudeness that so offends rational people around the world, who loathe terrorism but despise Bush's reckless militarism. Why should they be forced to choose between the two?

Mr. "Bring 'Em On" puffed out his chest again when he bragged that the terrorists thought they'd make America run away. "The terrorists have not seen America running; they've seen America marching. . . . The terrorists have seen speeding tank convoys and roaring jets and special forces arriving in midnight raids. And sometimes justice has found them before they could see anything coming at all."

Note how Bush uses the term "justice" here. As he has repeatedly since September 11, he conflates our traditional system of jurisprudence with assassination.

Bush boasted of the "broad coalition" that has joined the United States in the war on terror. He said "thirty-one countries have contributed 21,000 forces to build security in Iraq," but he didn't mention that most of those forces come from Great Britain, and the rest have barely contributed anything in comparison to the 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now. This isn't a coalition effort; it's a U.S. occupation, with a British flank, and a sprinkling of foreign flavors.

With a straight face, Bush said of Saddam, "Because of our military, catastrophic weapons will no longer be in the hands of a reckless, unstable dictator." But where are those catastrophic weapons?

Bush called Iraq "a point of testing in the war on terror."

The problem is, Bush is largely fighting a monster of his own making in Iraq. Prior to the invasion and occupation, Iraq was not a locus of Islamic fundamentalism or a magnet for Al Qaeda.

But it may be now.

Yet that's not all that's going on there. Bush likes to say, as he did again to the Vets, that U.S. forces are facing "Saddam loyalists, the foreign fighters, and the criminal gangs that are attacking Iraqis and coalition forces."

But this conveniently ignores the indigenous nationalism and fundamentalism that Bush's illegal war and botched occupation have given rise to.

Trying pathetically to imitate Winston Churchill, Bush said, "Our only goal, our only option, is total victory in the war on terror, and this nation will press on to victory."

But the way Bush is waging his war on terror is only adding recruits to the other side. By invading and occupying Iraq and throwing open its economy to U.S. companies, the United States is following Osama's script.

Senator Robert Byrd made this point in an op-ed in The Washington Post on August 26. "Our military action in Iraq has forged a cauldron of contempt for America, a dangerous brew that may poison the efforts of peace throughout the Middle East and result in the rapid invigoration of worldwide terrorism," Byrd wrote, adding that Bush's handling of Iraq "virtually guarantees Al Qaeda a fertile field of new recruits."

What's more, as Seymour Hersh pointed out in The New Yorker recently, the Iraq War soured relations with Syria, which up to that point had been very helpful in sharing intelligence with Washington about Al Qaeda operatives.

There may be no such thing as total victory against terrorism, and the costs of trying to obtain it--in dollars, in lives, and in what it would do to our liberties here at home--could be astronomical.

Nor can terrorism be vanquished by George Bush upon a steed, bullying the world as he orders one invasion, occupation, privatization, and assassination after another.

It would help enormously if Bush did not play the part that Osama has assigned him.

-- Matthew Rothschild

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