From Three Decades as a Colonel and Diplomat to Six Years as a Peace Activist
Friday 20 March 2009
by: Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Ann Wright speaks at an international meeting calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba. The former US Army colonel and career diplomat resigned in opposition to the invasion of Iraq by the Bush administration six years ago. (Photo: Getty Images)
It was six years ago today that I resigned from the Bush administration and the US diplomatic corps in opposition to the war on Iraq. I remember the day so well. I woke up about 2 in the morning.
Like so many mornings in the past months, I could not sleep through the night. I was very worried and upset hearing the comments out of Washington, that we, the US government, were being forced into taking military action against Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi government.
I, like so many US diplomats and US citizens, was wondering, why must the United States attack Iraq right now? Should we not wait and hear the results of the United Nations weapons inspectors on whether there was a weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq? How could we take military action without the agreement of the member states of the United Nations Security Council?
When President Bush launched “shock and awe” on Baghdad on the morning of March 19 (Mongolia time) and March 18 in the US, I decided I was not going to continue working in the Department of State.
Upon arriving at the Embassy, I asked our communications officer to send my letter of resignation from the United States government to my boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell. I expected to join quickly the two other federal employees who had resigned (both were also US diplomats.)
Several minutes later, the communications officer came back to my office and said “Ms. Wright, I read your telegram to the secretary of state and I wish that you would reconsider your resignation. I don’t agree either with the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq, but I’m not going to resign. I haven’t yet sent your telegram to Washington and wish you would not resign!”
I told the communications officer that I appreciated very much what she felt, but I needed her to send my resignation telegram. She went back to her office visibly disturbed. Fifteen minutes later, I called her and asked: “Have you sent my telegram?” She answered, “No, I was hoping you would reconsider.”
I told her of my appreciation of her concerns about my resignation, and repeated my request/order that she send the resignation telegram to Washington. A few minutes later, she brought me my copy of the telegram that she sent to Washington announcing my resignation from the federal government.
As the telegram went to Washington, I forwarded emails to friends in US diplomatic missions around the world, explaining why I felt I must resign in opposition to the Bush administration’s war on Iraq. Within hours, I received over 400 emails in support and not one email in opposition to my decision.
One week later, I left Mongolia. It took that long for packing materials to be brought from China into Mongolia, as there were no household packing/moving companies in Mongolia.
Now, six years later, many have asked whether I have had any regrets about resignation from the US government.
I must say that, honestly, my only regret has been that so many people who felt the same way that I did, did not resign too. For me, my resignation freed me to speak freely about my concerns over the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties under the Patriot Act.
I cannot imagine working the past six years in the Bush administration, and I fully intend to hold the Bush administration accountable for what it has done.
Since that fateful day, March 19, 2003, I have worked for peace in Iraq and have traveled for peace in other parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and Gaza.
After six years of no longer working for the United States government, I have no regrets. I have met and become a part of a strong movement within the United States that works for peace in the United States and in countries throughout the world – Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and Gaza.
As I was honored to serve my country by working within our government for over 35 years, I am now honored to be serving my country by actively and visibly confronting our government, demanding peace and justice and accountability for actions of government officials. Challenging government policies that are harmful, much less illegal, is a responsibility for us as citizens.
There are many ways to serve one’s country. I fully believe challenging policies that one feels are harmful to our nation is service, not treason.
So, six years after my resignation, I am proud to have resigned and value so much the new friends I have made, as well as the old friends from the past.
I will continue working for peace and justice every day.
Ann Wright is a retired US Army & Army Reserves colonel and former US diplomat, who resigned in opposition to the Iraq war. She was a US diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience”. Her March 19, 2003, letter of resignation can be read at http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0303/032103wright.htm.
The Iraqi people’s human and civil rights were – and remain -swept aside by the occupation.
By Burhan Al-Chalabi.
In Britain, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, found his position unsustainable and resigned, leaving the invasion of Iraq and its awful consequences as his political legacy. The new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has talked about the need to be open and transparent in order to win the trust of the British public, but has so far shown no sign of addressing or redressing his predecessor’s failed policies in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. The military occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its vast mineral wealth continue unabated.
To justify the invasion of and war against Iraq, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair cited two violations by the Iraqi regime: of human rights and of UN Security Council resolutions passed just before and after the first Gulf War of 1991. The purpose of the war, it was claimed, was to hold the Iraqi regime accountable under international law.
But by invading Iraq, the U.S. Administration and the British Government were themselves violating UN resolutions and international law, as stated in the Report by Lord Bingham, the Law Lord, and published in the Guardian on 18th November 2008. The Iraqi people’s human and civil rights were —and remain—swept aside by the acts of war and the continuing fact of occupation.
Today, Iraq’s sovereignty has been destroyed. Its wealth of cultural heritage has been looted or vandalised. Iraq’s natural resources have been squandered, and its once-elaborate and sophisticated infrastructure has been laid to waste. Safety, security, and the processes of the rule of law are virtually non-existent. The legal and moral authority of the UN has been undermined. Terrorism is on the increase.
The whole Middle East region has either been destabilised or is as a result of the chaos in Iraq at high risk of instability or even meltdown. To all intents and purposes Southern Iraq is under the control of the Tehran Government, an outcome that many familiar with the region foresaw as talk of an invasion mounted in 2002 but the Bush White House and its associated agencies somehow failed to anticipate.
To get rid of one man, the two Anglo-American powers have brought an entire nation to the brink of devastation. This man, Saddam Hussein, was not at war with the U.S. or the UK, and could not realistically have posed a threat, at any level. He was not even considered any longer, in 2002, to be a serious threat to his Arab and Persian neighbours. Neither did Iraq pose any threat to American or British national interests or security, as it has since been proved to the satisfaction of all but a few of the most die-hard and tunnel-visioned supporters of the failed Bush regime and the departed Mr. Blair.
More than 3million Iraqis have left their homes, most of these having to flee to neighbouring Arab countries or the West. Iraqis now form one of the largest refugee communities in Europe. More than 600,000 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands more are maimed or injured, traumatised or homeless, often all of these. Wild dogs feast on Iraqi remains. Holy places have been desecrated. Hundreds of people are assassinated or kidnapped every day. Puppet Iraqi Governments under the occupation are prevented from publishing the details and numbers of dead Iraqis.
During the 13 years of the U.S.-led economic and other sanctions imposed by the Security Council, Iraqi children suffered from malnutrition and genetic disorder caused by depleted uranium (DU). Some eminent Western medical authorities estimated in the early 1990s that Iraqi children – babies, toddlers and infants – were dying at the rate of one every six minutes. All the most telling evidence from UN agencies and NGOs and visiting experts in the medical and scientific fields was ruthlessly ignored by the U.S.- and British-dominated sanctions authorities. Between 1991 and 2003 the lifeblood of the nation was drained.
Since the American military occupation, Iraqi children are growing up in what is an even worse situation. The sanctions have been replaced by anarchy, institutionalised sectarian division, mayhem and murder. These children remain in fear of their lives, with no hopes, no dreams, no education, and no health care. They are helpless. For the lucky ones, play time is spent on rubbish dumps, even seeking food amongst this filth. Many others are kept at home for fear of being kidnapped or blown up.
This is a demeaning sight in one of the richest countries in the world, one which had developed fast and successfully in areas such as health, welfare, medicine, education, roads, housing and literacy, a model for other Middle East nations in how to use and spread oil wealth, and for the developing world—until just 19 years ago. Modern Iraq, if such a term can be used, is now a permanent and shameful scar on the conscience of those who conspired to invade and occupy Iraq to further their national and personal ambitions.
Iraq is a failed state. For Iraqis, life is hell. Things worsen by the day. Secular Iraq had made great strides in improving the lot of all of its people in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, in all social and economic areas. Sectarian Iraq is the most corrupt nation in the world, a perfect export model of U.S. political hypocrisy in action.
The occupiers use every conceivable excuse to justify the failure of the war in Iraq. They dismiss resistance to the occupation as mere terrorism, and other labels insulting to the Iraqi people but considered palatable to U.S. domestic consumption. All that is bad and violent is attributed to the Iraqis and their traditions or nature; the Americans and the British, of course, bear no responsibility for the breakdown in order and the monumental increase in sectarian violence since 2003. Abuse, torture, humiliation and rape are treated as a side show, left to committees to get it out of the glare of negative publicity and to dampen public anger and frustration of the conduct of the war.
The war was never intended to be one of liberation. There was never an exit strategy. Instead, initiatives are taken to divert attention from the true extent of human and financial losses by the war, and to justify continuing the occupation.
The real quagmire of the U.S. Administration is not just to be found in the catastrophic failure of the war, which was doomed to fail from the start; it is not even in the extent of human and financial losses and suffering, both Iraqi and American. Death and destruction is the business of war.
No, at the heart of this swamp is dishonesty with the American (and British and Iraqi) public. The American and British public, legislators and voters were inveigled into this disaster. The true aims of the war were never shared by its architect with the American people for fear of being rejected for what they really were— American Imperialism, a modern day spin for politically, commercially and religiously motivated colonial imperialism. The American and British Governments conspired with much of the western media and pulled the wool over the eyes of most of the others—who largely seemed all too ready to listen to their masters—to hide the facts, continue the deceptions, and prolong the suffering and pain of the Iraqi people.
President-elect Obama’s message to the American public is that of change. The most fundamental change needed is honesty, transparency and accountability with respect to the war against Iraq. The American public deserve to know what their loved ones died for. Iraqis also want to know the Bush administration’s hidden agenda for the invasion, destruction and continuing occupation of Iraq.
In Britain, bereaved parents also deserve to be told for whom their sons and daughters died. This was no war for the greater good, Queen and Country. It was for oil.
In March, 2005, it was revealed by The Sunday Times that in 2002 the then head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, told Tony Blair and his leading advisers after a visit to Washington that “the facts and intelligence” were being “fixed round the policy” by George W Bush’s Administration.
In his resignation speech, Tony Blair said: “I did what I thought was right for our country”, all this in the face of irrefutable evidence that he and his closest aides deliberately misled the British public and the Labour Party into believing there was palpable national risk to Britain at the hands of a WMD-bearing Saddam Hussein. To date, the British Government has ignored all attempts to set up a proper public, judicial or parliamentary inquiry into what led to the Anglo-American invasion—the biggest western blunder in the Middle East since Suez, and one of far greater consequences.
In a democracy, the executive must be held accountable to the people. Only this can and will restore faith in the most fundamental principles of democracy, namely accountability.
Officials of the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein were quickly held accountable for their crimes, and punished, some—including Saddam Hussein himself—executed for their felonies and atrocities. But to date; there has been no independent judicial or political process in the US or UK to hold anybody accountable for the violations and crimes of invading Iraq and what has happened since—what is still happening without an end in sight.
Hiding behind “dodgy dossier” or expressions of faith, hope and belief in the so-called Western system or “spread of democracy” are not legal justifications for avoiding responsibility. Advocating the politics of fear to pursue personal or national agendas cannot be accepted in the civilised world.
Real not politicised justice must be seen to be done, to right the wrongs committed by the Bush Administration against the Iraqi people. The first step is to announce a date for the withdrawal of American forces and their imports of Iranian and Iraqi cronies.
– Dr. Burhan Al-Chalabi (FRSA) is Chairman of the British Iraqi Foundation.
Report: 1-in-4 Gulf War veterans still suffer from toxin exposure
Now Hear This: Seattle’s Military Blog
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Report: 1-in-4 Gulf War veterans still suffer from toxin exposure
Seventeen years after the decisive but relatively quick Persian Gulf War invasion of Iraq to liberate Kuwait, a landmark 450-page report released Monday by a federal panel of scientific experts and veterans concludes what many veterans already knew about Gulf War illness:
At least one-fourth of the nearly 700,000 military personnel who served in that war and its aftermath have complex but real health problems that the report now scientifically links to a poisonous stew to which they were exposed.
“Veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War had the distinction of serving their country in a military operation that was a tremendous success, achieved in short order. But many had the misfortune of developing lasting health consequences that were poorly understood and, for too long, denied or trivialized,” the report said.
The Congressionally-mandated report, titled “Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses” was handed over Monday to Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake at the department’s headquarters in the nation’s capital. The Boston University School of Public Health scientific staff assisted with research.
Anthony Hardie, national secretary and legislative chair for Veterans of Modern Warfare Inc., a non-profit veterans group representing those who served during and since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said the report is “huge.”
“It really closes one of the darker chapters of the legacy of the Gulf War, and that is Gulf War illness,” Hardie said.
“The report clearly lays out that Gulf War illness was caused by unique exposures; it lays out clearly that Gulf war illness is not a stress-related or trauma condition, that is is not the same as in wars before or since. It is unique,” Hardie said by phone Monday.
According to the report, “The extensive body of scientific research now available consistently indicates that Gulf War illness is real, that it is the result of neurotoxic exposures during Gulf War deployment, and that few veterans have recovered or substantially improved with time.
“Scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans. Research has also shown that his pattern of illness does not occur after every war and cannot be attributed to psychological stressors during the Gulf War,” the report says.
Gulf War veterans applaud the report, lamenting that it has been a long-time coming, noting the years in which fellow veterans suffered and died.
Hardie said the report conjures “mixed feelings.”
On the one hand, “It is certainly a victory for Gulf War veterans. Gulf War veterans were right all along that their illnesses are related to unique exposures during the 1991 Gulf War. This is a government report based on science that clearly lays out the nature and scope and effects of Gulf War illness,” he said.
On the other hand, “it is bittersweet in that two decades after the war’s end we still don’t have treatments for Gulf War illness; they are sporadic,” Hardie said. Some veterans illnesses remain unrecognized.
The long ordeal over Gulf War illness for veterans of the 1991 war parallels the long fight of Vietnam veterans over post-war illnesses linked to Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant, many veterans say. The report notes those difficulties.
“Some observers have suggested that these complexities pose too difficult a challenge, and that it is unlikely that the nature and causes of Gulf War illness can ever be known. On the contrary, the Committee has found that the extensive scientific research and other diverse sources of information related to the health of Gulf War veterans paint a cohesive picture that yields important answers to basic questions about both the nature and causes of Gulf War illness. These, in turn, provide direction for future research that is urgently needed to improve the health of Gulf War veterans,” the report says.
Many Gulf War veterans have voiced frustration that their problems were written off as stress-related. The report flatly says that “studies consistently indicate that Gulf War illness is not the result of combat or other stressors, and that Gulf War veterans have lower rates of posttraumatic stress disorder than veterans of other wars.”
A variety of factors were examined, ranging from sychological stress, vaccines, oil fires, depleted uranium. nerve agents, infectious disease and many more.
Two immediately jumped out at Hardie, pesticides and pyrodstigmine.
The latter, called simply “PB,” was a pill taken by at least half of all troops in the 1991 war for purported protection against nerve gas.
Troops in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t have to take the pills, Hardie noted.
“That was one lesson we learned from the Gulf War. PB was not approved by the FDA, which gave a waiver to the Defense Department that waived the necessity for informed consent,” Hardie said.
The report says of pyridostigmine bromide (PB):
“Widespread use of PB as a protective measure in the event of nerve gas exposure was unique to the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Pyridostigmine bromide is one of only two exposures consistently identified by Gulf War epidemiologic studies to be significantly associated with Gulf War illness. About half of Gulf War personnel are believed to have taken PB tablets during deployment, with greatest use among ground troops and those in forward locations. Several studies have identified dose-response effects, indicating that veterans who took PB for longer periods of time have higher illness rates than veterans who took less PB. In addition, clinical studies have identified significant associations between PB use during the Gulf War and neurocognitive and neuroendocrine alterations identified many years after the war. Taken together, these diverse types and sources of evidence provide a consistent and persuasive case that use of PB during the Gulf War is causally associated with Gulf War illness.”
Depleted uranium, meanwhile, a much-considered potential source of illness over the years, was not likely a culprit in Gulf War illness, although the report leaves open a door by noting that DU very likely has effects of its own.
“Exposure to depleted uranium munitions is not likely a primary cause of Gulf War illness. Questions remain about long-term health effects of higher dose exposures to DU, however, particularly in relation to other health outcomes,” the report said.
Committee members said the report offers a “blueprint” for the incoming Obama Administration to focus on Gulf War veterans. It also could help those from other countries, including troops allied with the U.S. during Desert Storm, who have reported similar health problems.
“A renewed federal research commitment is needed,” the committee report says, “to achieve the critical objectives of improving the health of Gulf War veterans and preventing similar problems in future deployments. This is a national obligation, made especially urgent by the many years that Gulf War veterans have waited for answers and assistance.”
Posted by Mike Barber Mike Barber at November 17, 2008 3:53 p.m.
Categories: Army, Department of Veterans Affairs, Iraq, Marines, Veterans
Posted by unregistered user at 11/17/08 5:48 p.m.
Why is it that so many soldiers and probably civilians can get exposed to such hazards at the whim of their own government and why are there so little accountability? Why must these people battle beaurocracy in the land they fought for to get recognition of the maladies they were left with? It is almost like a case of the enemy within. Governments must own up when there has been a stuff-up.
Posted by unregistered user at 11/17/08 6:11 p.m.
To help servicemembers and Veterans with their immunity from bio-toxins one should insist that Veteran’s for Peace change the name and scope of their Agent Orange campaign. It deals extensively with reparations for Agent Orange in Vietnam but is insensitive to the continuing hazard of bio-terrorism by or against Veterans. With their documented weak grasp on arms control and non violence, in general, as well as their fearless registration with the armed forces, government and health care, Veterans are particularly vulnerable to use as soldiers of fortune against their own friends and families. Granted the Veteran conference goer who earned this scorn was a former lawyer who was up to his elbows in wills before he went insane, and now seems to have killed both his parents, much like all the other lawyers I know. Veterans must stop torturing their spouse and killing their spouse’s family. At least Veterans have succeeded in stopping the medical billing. They have also succeeded in laying down their arms. Perhaps this skill in disarmament can extend to the invisible biological and chemical weapons, used at home so much they are overlooked at the majority of “natural” deaths, because they are prohibited under international and national law.
Health | Tags: 2003 invasion of Iraq, Agent Orange, Boston University School of Public Health, Gulf War, Gulf War syndrome, Iraq, Iraq War, United States | Comment (0)
The legacy of the “War President”………….
Tom Engelhardt: The End of a Subprime Administration
Source: TomDispatch.com (11-2-08)
[Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. He is the author of The End of Victory Culture, a history of the American Age of Denial. The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), a collection of some of the best pieces from his site and an alternative history of the mad Bush years, has recently been published. To listen to a podcast in which he discusses Bush's record abroad, click here. ]
They may have been the most disastrous dreamers, the most reckless gamblers, and the most vigorous imperial hucksters and grifters in our history. Selling was their passion. And they were classic American salesmen — if you’re talking about underwater land in Florida, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or three-card monte, or bizarre visions of Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles armed with chemical and biological weaponry let loose over the U.S., or Saddam Hussein‘s mushroom clouds rising over American cities, or a full-scale reordering of the Middle East to our taste, or simply eternal global dominance.
When historians look back, it will be far clearer that the “commander-in-chief” of a “wartime” country and his top officials were focused, first and foremost, not on the shifting “central theaters” of the Global War on Terror, but on the theater that mattered most to them — the “home front” where they spent inordinate amounts of time selling the American people a bill of goods. Of his timing in ramping up a campaign to invade Iraq in September 2002, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card infamously explained: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
From a White House where “victory strategies” meant purely for domestic consumption poured out, to the Pentagon where bevies of generals, admirals, and other high officers were constantly being mustered, not to lead armies but to lead public opinion, their selling focus was total. They were always releasing “new product.”
And don’t forget their own set of soaring inside-the-Beltway fantasies. After all, if a salesman is going to sell you some defective product, it always helps if he can sell himself on it first. And on this score, they were world champs.
Because events made it look so foolish, the phrase “shock and awe” that went with the initial attack on Iraq in March 2003 has now passed out of official language and (together with “mission accomplished”) into the annals of irony. Back then, though, as bombs and missiles blew up parts of Baghdad — to fabulous visual effect in that other “theater” of war, television — the phrase was constantly on official lips and in media reports everywhere. It went hand-in-glove with another curious political phrase: regime change.
Given the supposed unique technological proficiency of the U.S. military and its array of “precision” weapons, the warriors of Bushworld convinced themselves that a new era in military affairs had truly dawned. An enemy “regime” could now be taken out — quite literally and with surgical precision, in its bedrooms, conference rooms, and offices, thanks to those precision weapons delivered long-distance from ship or plane — without taking out a country. Poof! You only had to say the word and an oppressive regime would be, as it was termed, “decapitated.” Its people would then welcome with open arms relatively small numbers of American troops as liberators.
It all sounded so good, and high tech, and relatively simple, and casualty averse, and clean as a whistle. Even better, once there had been such a demonstration, a guaranteed “cakewalk” — as, say, in Iraq — who would ever dare stand up to American power again? Not only would one hated enemy dictator be dispatched to the dustbin of history, but evildoers everywhere, fearing the Bush equivalent of the wrath of Khan, would be shock-and-awed into submission or quickly dispatched in their own right.
In reality (ah, “reality” — what a nasty word!), the shock-and-awe attacks used on Iraq got not a single leader of the Saddamist regime, not one of that pack of 52 cards (including of course the ace of spades, Saddam Hussein, found in his “spiderhole” so many months later). Iraqi civilians were the ones killed in that precise and shocking moment, while Iraqi society was set on the road to destruction, and the world was not awed.
Strangely enough, though, the phrase, once reversed, proved applicable to the Bush administration’s seven-year post-9/11 history. They were, in a sense, the awe-and-shock administration. Initially, they were awed by the supposedly singular power of the American military to dominate and transform the planet; then, they were continually shocked and disbelieving when that same military, despite its massive destructive power, turned out to be incapable of doing so, or even of handling two ragtag insurgencies in two weakened countries, one of which, Afghanistan, was among the poorest and least technologically advanced on the planet.
The Theater of War
In remarkably short order, historically speaking, the administration’s soaring imperial fantasies turned into planetary nightmares. After 9/11, of course, George W. and crew promised Americans the global equivalent — and Republicans the domestic equivalent — of a 36,000 stock market and we know just where the stock market is today: only about 27,000 points short of that irreality.
Once upon a time, they really did think that, via the U.S. Armed Forces, or, as George W. Bush once so breathlessly put it, “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known,” they could dominate the planet without significant help from allies or international institutions of any sort. Who else had a shot at it? In the post-Soviet world, who but a leadership backed by the full force of the U.S. military could possibly be a contender for the leading role in this epic movie? Who else could even turn out for a casting call? Impoverished Russia? China, still rebuilding its military and back then considered to have a host of potential problems? A bunch of terrorists? I mean… come on!
As they saw it, the situation was pretty basic. In fact, it gave the phrase “power politics” real meaning. After all, they had in their hands the reins attached to the sole superpower on this small orb. And wasn’t everyone — at least, everyone they cared to listen to, at least Charles Krauthammer and the editorial page of the Washington Post — saying no less?
I mean, what else would you do, if you suddenly, almost miraculously (after an election improbably settled by the Supreme Court), found yourself in sole command of the globe’s only “hyperpower,” the only sheriff on planet Earth, the New Rome. To make matters more delicious, in terms of getting just what you wanted, those hands were on those reins right after “the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century,” when Americans were shocked and awed and terrified enough that anything-goes seemed a reasonable response?
It might have gone to anyone’s head in imperial Washington at that moment, but it went to their heads in such a striking way. After all, theirs was a plan — labeled in 2002 the Bush Doctrine — of global domination conceptually so un-American that, in my childhood, the only place you would have heard it was in the mouths of the most evil, snickering imperial Japanese, Nazi, or Soviet on-screen villains. And yet, in their moment of moments, it just rolled right out of their heads and off their tongues — and they were proud of it.
Here’s a question for 2009 you don’t have to answer: What should the former “new Rome” be called now? That will, of course, be someone else’s problem.
The Cast of Characters
And what a debacle the Bush Doctrine proved to be. What a legacy the legacy President and his pals are leaving behind. A wrecked economy, deflated global stock markets, collapsing banks and financial institutions, soaring unemployment, a smashed Republican Party, a bloated Pentagon overseeing a strained, overstretched military, enmired in an incoherent set of still-expanding wars gone sour, a network of secret prisons, as well as Guantanamo, that “jewel in the crown” of Bush’s Bermuda Triangle of injustice, and all the grim practices that went with those offshore prisons, including widespread torture and abuse, kidnapping, assassination, and the disappearing of prisoners (once associated only with South America dictatorships and military juntas).
They headed a government that couldn’t shoot straight or plan ahead or do anything halfway effectively, an administration that emphasized “defense” — or “homeland security” as it came to be called in their years — above all else; yet they were always readying themselves for the last battle, and so were caught utterly, embarrassingly unready for 19 terrorists with box cutters, a hurricane named Katrina, and an arcane set of Wall Street derivatives heading south.
As the supposed party of small government, they succeeded mainly in strangling civilian services, privatizing government operations into the hands of crony corporations, and bulking up state power in a massive way — making an already vast intelligence apparatus yet larger and more labyrinthine, expanding spying and surveillance of every kind, raising secrecy to a first principle, establishing a new U.S. military command for North America, endorsing a massive Pentagon build-up, establishing a second Defense Department labeled the Department of Homeland Security with its own mini-homeland-security-industrial complex, evading checks and powers in the Constitution whenever possible, and claiming new powers for a “unitary executive” commander-in-chief presidency.
No summary can quite do justice to what the administration “accomplished” in these years. If there was, however, a single quote from the world of George W. Bush that caught the deepest nature of the president and his core followers, it was offered by an “unnamed administration official” — often assumed to be Karl Rove — to journalist Ron Suskind back in October 2004:
“He] said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…. and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.’”
“We create our own reality… We’re history’s actors.”
It must for years have seemed that way and everything about the lives they lived only reinforced that impression. After all, the President himself, as so many wrote, lived in a literal bubble world. Those who met him were carefully vetted; audiences were screened so that no one who didn’t fawn over him got near him; and when he traveled through foreign cities, they were cleared of life, turned into the equivalent of Potemkin villages, while he and his many armored cars and Blackhawk helicopters, his huge contingent of Secret Service agents and White House aides, his sniffer dogs and military sharpshooters, his chefs and who knows what else passed through.
Of course, the President had been in a close race with the reality principle (which, in his case, was the principle of failure) all his life — and whenever reality nipped at his heels, his father’s boys stepped in and whisked him off stage. He got by at his prep school, Andover, and then at Yale, a c-level legacy student and, appropriately enough when it came to sports, a cheerleader and, at Yale, a party animal as well as the president of the hardest drinking fraternity on campus. He was there in the first place only because of who he wasn’t (or rather who his relations were).
Faced with the crises of the Vietnam era, he joined the Texas Air National Guard and more or less went missing in action. Faced with life, he became a drunk. Faced with business, he failed repeatedly and yet, thanks to his dad’s friends, became a multi-millionaire in the process. He was supported, cosseted, encouraged, and finally — to use an omnipresent word of our moment — bailed out. The first MBA president was a business bust. A certain well-honed, homey congeniality got him to the governorship and then to the presidency of the United States without real accomplishments. If there ever was a case for not voting for the guy you’d most like to “have a beer with,” this was it.
On that pile of rubble at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001, with a bullhorn in his hands and various rescuers shouting, “USA! USA!” he genuinely found his “calling” as the country’s cheerleader-in-chief (as he had evidently found his religious calling earlier in life). He not only took the job seriously, he visibly loved it. He took a childlike pleasure in being in the “theater” of war. He was thrilled when some of the soldiers who captured Saddam Hussein in that “spiderhole” later presented him with the dictator’s pistol. (“‘He really liked showing it off,’ says a… visitor to the White House who has seen the gun. ‘He was really proud of it.’”) He was similarly thrilled, on a trip to Baghdad in 2007, to meet the American pilot “whose plane’s missiles killed Iraq’s Al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi” and “returned to Washington in a buoyant mood.”
While transforming himself into the national cheerleader-in-chief, he even kept “his own personal scorecard for the war” in a desk drawer in the Oval Office — photos with brief biographies and personality sketches of leading al-Qaeda figures, whose faces could be satisfyingly crossed out when killed or captured. He clearly adored it when he got to dress up, whether in a flight suit landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in May 2003, or in front of hoo-aahing crowds of soldiers wearing a specially tailored military-style jacket with “George W. Bush, Commander In Chief” hand-stitched across the heart. As earlier in life, he was supported (Karl Rove), enabled (Condoleezza Rice), cosseted (various officials), and so became “the decider,” a willing figurehead (as he had been, for instance, when he was an “owner” of the Texas Rangers), manipulated by his co-president Dick Cheney. In these surroundings, he was able to take war play to an imperial level. In the end, however, this act of his life, too, could lead nowhere but to failure.
As it happened, reality possessed its own set of shock-and-awe weaponry. Above all, reality was unimpressed with history’s self-proclaimed “actors,” working so hard on the global stage to create their own reality. When it came to who really owned what, it turned out that reality owned the works and that possession was indeed nine-tenths of one law that even George Bush’s handlers and his fervent neocon followers couldn’t suspend.
Exit Stage Right
The results were sadly predictable. The bubble world of George W. Bush was bound to be burst. Based on fantasies, false promises, lies, and bait-and-switch tactics, it was destined for foreclosure. At home and abroad, after all, it had been created using the equivalent of subprime mortgages and the result, unsurprisingly, was a dismally subprime administration.
Now, of course, the bill collector is at the door and the property — the USA — is worth a good deal less than on November 4, 2000. George W. Bush is a discredited president; his job approval ratings could hardly be lower; his bubble world gone bust.
Nonetheless, let’s remember one other theme of his previous life. Whatever his failures, Bush always walked away from disastrous dealings enriched, while others were left holding the bag. Don’t imagine for a second that the equivalent isn’t about to repeat itself. He will leave a country functionally under the gun of foreclosure, a world far more aflame and dangerous than the one he faced on entering the Oval Office. But he won’t suffer.
He will have his new house in Dallas (not to speak of the “ranch” in Crawford) and his more than $200 million presidential “library” and “freedom institute” at Southern Methodist University; and then there’s always that 20% of America — they know who they are — who think his presidency was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Believe me, 20% of America is more than enough to pony up spectacular sums, once Bush takes to the talk circuit. As the president himself put it enthusiastically,”‘I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.’ With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, ‘I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75′ thousand dollars a speech, and ‘Clinton’s making a lot of money.’”
This is how a legacy-student-turned-president fails upward. Every disaster leaves him better off.
The same can’t be said for the country or the world, saddled with his “legacy.”
Still, his administration has been foreclosed. Perhaps there’s ignominy in that. Now, the rest of us need to get out the brooms and start sweeping the stables.
Netscape. Just the Net You Need.
Politics | Tags: 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bush administration, George W. Bush, Iraq, Iraq War, Military of the United States, Saddam Hussein, United States | Comment (0)