Conservative pundits such as Ann Coulter lash out against Democrats and liberals in general about such issues as affirmative action, racial preferences, illegal immigration, and campus speech codes. All of these issues necessitate finding an appropriate balance between freedom and regulation, usually with different standards relevant to different circumstances. Excesses are possible, and there is often room for criticism, even ridicule. On the other hand, such pundits avoid taking into account President Bush’s current foreign and domestic agenda, which is far more deserving of critical scrutiny. For most of his supposedly conservative policy decisions are not debatable, as if one might reasonably support or reject them at one level or another. Time and again they have simply been wrong and nothing but wrong.
1. Bush was wrong, for example, to downplay the terrorist threat before 9/11. He ignored Clinton’s warning on Inaugural Day, 2001, and on August 6, a month before 9/11, he cut short his only meeting about al-Qaida in order to be able to go fishing early at his Crawford ranch.
He also revised his staff hierarchy to exclude Richard Clarke, his anti-terrorism coordinator, from continuing to serve in the White House with the same authority as with President Clinton. Moreover, just before the 9/11 attack, Attorney General Ashcroft actually sought to reduce the projected 2002 FBI budget for anti-terrorism. Why all these measures? One suspects that Bush sought to minimize terrorism as a national cause in order to divert as much of the federal budget as possible to the subsidization of Star Wars, an expensive boondoggle with no direct connection to the problem of terrorism.
2. Bush was wrong to let Osama bin Laden escape at Tora Bora. U.S. troops attacked bin-Laden’s cave complex with U.S. troops from three sides, but on the fourth side Afghan troops were stationed in steep valleys where reduced air support might have led to heavy casualties. As a result bin Laden could escape and the war against terrorism went on.
3. Bush was wrong to refuse U.S. participation in international treaties such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Prohibition of Land Mines, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Kyoto Global Warming Accords, and the International Criminal Court. Within a few months the U.S., ostensibly the leader of the free world, also became its first and foremost outlaw state.
4. Bush was wrong to make a recess appointment of John Bolton as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. without the consent of the Senate. Bolton has actually advocated the abolition of the U.N. and suggested the elimination of the top ten stories of the U.N. building would be beneficial. His incessant criticism of the U.N. for corruption and inefficiency seems cynical, given the present performance of the U.S. Congress linked with K Street and corporate donors. Too many of Bolton’s best friends in Congress are almost as dishonest as his most visible targets at the U.N.
5. Bush was wrong to overthrow President Aristide in Haiti and to attempt to overthrow President Chavez in Venezuela. These illegal and undemocratic maneuvers helped to provoke the growing backlash in Latin America today against U.S. policies. Similarly, it was also counterproductive for Bush to promote and subsidize a “democratic” revolution in the Ukraine, Belarus, and other nations adjacent to Russia that were once part of the Soviet Union. This “democracy promotion” strategy has predictably antagonized Russia, accelerating retrogressive trends and policies as well as its closer diplomatic relationship with Iran, China, and the European Union independent of the United States.
6. Bush was wrong to junk President Clinton’s negotiations with North Korea that were almost brought to their completion before Bush took office. To the embarrassment of Secretary of State Powell, Bush abruptly made new and unacceptable demands and began vilifying North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil along with Iraq and Iran. As a result, North Korea resumed developing nuclear weapons, and Bush was forced to shift to a neutral policy inferior to Clinton’s original arrangement. Bush’s double reversal helped to convince Iran and other nations to forge ahead with their own nuclear programs on the assumption that once they had produced atomic bombs the U.S. would back as it had against North Korea. To prevent such a possibility, Bush now threatens to bomb nuclear production plants in Iran, but this can only compound U.S. problems in Iraq and the rest of the Near East. All of this has been the product of botched diplomacy.
7. Bush was wrong to offer India almost full support of its atomic program despite its not having signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Again, the wrong signal has been sent to other nations, and the arms race with Pakistan has been given new impetus.
8. Bush was wrong to invade Iraq as a preventive “war of choice.” Without exception, all the evidence relevant to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Saddam Hussein’s connection with al-Qaida was fabricated by such disreputable figures as Chalabi and “Curve Ball.” There was no hidden stash of atomic weapons, no aluminum tubing for atomic bombs, no yellow cake uranium contract with Niger, no mobile truck fleet loaded with the ingredients of chemical weapons, no secret meeting with al-Qaida agents in Prague, and certainly no drones that might fly over the U.S. loaded with atomic bombs, as Bush himself warned in his October 7, 2002, speech in Cincinnati. Moreover, U.S. intelligence knew of the absence of WMD as early as 1995, when Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Kamel Hussein, former director of Iraq’s bio-weapons program, fled Iraq and was debriefed by the CIA. He disclosed that all the programs had been destroyed in 1991. If anything survived that might conceivably have been useful to the renewed development of WMD, it was destroyed in the 1996 and 1998 air attacks launched by President Clinton based on Kamel Hussein’s information. Later Paul Wolfowitz, the principal architect of the invasion, actually confided to associates that Iraq would be a quick and easy target because it lacked such weapons. This was at the same time he publicized the supposed threat of these weapons to justify the invasion.
9. Bush was wrong to mount an invasion that broke international law. Based on Article 41 of the U.N. Charter, Resolution 1441 mandated U.N. inspections for WMD, after which, according to Article 42, a second vote by the Security Council was needed to proceed with an invasion. If Article 41 was invoked as specified by Resolution 1441 relevant to Iraq’s case, Article 42 necessitated a final Security Council vote to launch an invasion. However, no WMD whatsoever were found, and secret U.S. wiretaps of delegates and U.N. officials indicated a second vote would be negative. So the U.S. and U.K. delegations withdrew their motion supportive of invasion, and Bush attacked Iraq in defiance of both the U.N. Charter and the Supremacy Clause of Article 6 in the U.S. Constitution, to say nothing of the Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Tribunal. Article 6 obliges the acceptance of all foreign treaties, necessarily including the U.N. Charter, on the same basis as the Constitution itself.
10. Bush was wrong to insist that Saddam Hussein’s crimes against humanity justified the invasion. Saddam’s career began as a CIA hit man, and he was a close U.S. ally when the majority of these crimes occurred. Our government provided most of his WMD, and about sixty U.S. advisors were stationed in Iraq at the time he was using them [NYT, Aug. 18, 2002]. Soon afterwards, President Reagan actually sent Rumsfeld as a special emissary to double U.S. aid to Iraq as a reward for Hussein’s successful operations against Iran. Now we blame Hussein alone for what he did to preserve Iraq’s national unity, something we ourselves have not been able to attain despite comparable levels of violence during our occupation.
11. Bush was wrong to treat the invasion of Iraq as an effective deterrent to terrorism throughout the rest of the world. “Let’s fight them over there,” the argument went, “rather than here at home.” Unfortunately the “over there” turned out to be a training ground for taking the fight elsewhere, including the U.S. There were no terrorists in Iraq preceding the 2003 invasion except in a small portion of the northern zone patrolled by U.S. aircraft. Now the insurgency against U.S. occupation is drawing young Muslims from throughout the Middle East, many of whom can be expected to survive the conflict and become terrorists elsewhere in the world.
12. Bush has been wrong to claim that the U.S. invaded Iraq to promote democracy. Instead, he is trying to install a puppet government in Baghdad, just as was done in Iran five decades ago and Vietnam four decades ago. Moreover, Bush takes little interest in democracy elsewhere unless it meets the needs of his administration. He supports the military autocracies in Indonesia and the Sudan, and indeed supported Karimov’s brutal full-scale dictatorship in Uzbekistan until Karimov himself terminated the connection. On the other hand, as already indicated, Bush sponsored insurrections against President Aristide of Haiti and President Chavez of Venezuela, both of whom were elected by large majorities. Today Bush is hostile toward the democratically elected leaders of in Palestine and Iran. Obviously, the pursuit of democracy is not Bush’s paramount goal in his foreign policy.
13. Bush was wrong to seek to establish Iraq as a model of democracy in the Muslim world under U.S. guidance. Instead, our nation’s occupation of Iraq has ignited an enormous reaction against U.S. involvement across the entire region, indeed throughout the rest of the world. Ironically, the best potential breakthrough toward democracy in the Near East has been in Iran, where a progressive democratic movement was gaining momentum before Bush launched his invasion. Bush did almost nothing to support this movement and instead demonized Iran, providing its conservative mullahs with the patriotic issues needed to regain power in a democratic election. The invasion and occupation of Iraq, adjacent to Iran, also contributed to their revived popularity. As a result, Iran’s trend toward liberalization has ended and there is little hope for democracy in the near future.
14. Bush has been wrong to deny his “real reasons” to invade Iraq: (1) to take control of its oil reserves, second largest in the world; (2) to establish a permanent military presence in the region with Iraqi bases; and (3) to support Israel’s territorial expansion by neutralizing border states. In all three instances competent diplomacy would have better served our nation.
(A) It was wrong, for example, to invade Iraq in order to help U.S. and U.K. oil corporations take possession of Iraqi oil fields. In the late 1990s Saddam Hussein had offered $1.1 trillion in oil concessions as soon as U.N. sanctions were lifted to more than sixty firms from thirty nations, mostly France, Russia and China, but excluding the U.S. and Britain. Moreover, Hussein sought to shift oil payments from the dollar to the Euro, jeopardizing the value of the dollar and thus the U.S. economy. This tactic seems to have been Bush’s primary reason to invade Iraq, not WMD, the need for democracy, or anything else. The redistribution of Iraqi oil turns out to have been a primary concern of Cheney’s 2001 National Energy Policy Development meetings, and, not surprisingly, the first major building to be secured by American troops in Baghdad was the Iraqi Oil Ministry. The problem, however, was that this economic “grab” was not worth the bloodshed it produced. As already indicated, competent diplomacy was the better alternative toward a compromise outcome based on tradeoffs acceptable to all parties. [see Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy (Viking, 2006), pp. 75-78, 87-94].
(B) It was also wrong to try to establish a permanent military presence in Iraq as confirmed by the effort to set up at least a dozen fixed bases there. This arrangement would reduce the supposedly sovereign state of Iraq to little more than an occupied puppet democracy on top of enormous oil reserves limited to the extraction by U.S. and U.K. oil corporations. Our nation already has more bases than needed in the Near East and, indeed, in the entire world. In September 2001, the Pentagon admitted our nation maintained at least 725 military bases abroad, providing a sphere of influence exceeding the British Empire a century ago. This is a recipe for the same fate as Britain suffered from overextension later in the twentieth century. [See Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire (Metropolitan, 2004), pp. 4, 215, 226, and 242].
(C) And it was wrong to put foreign policy under the direction of Neoconservatives who treat U.S. foreign policy goals as being identical with those of Israel. These include Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz along with Elliot Abrams, Douglas Feith, John Bolton, John Hannah, Scooter Libby, and David Wurmser. In 1996, three of these -- Perle, Feith, and Wurmser -- actually co-authored for the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu the report, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” which proposed the invasion of Iraq for the benefit of Israel [see Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization (Knopf, 2005), p. 931]. However, this choice has turned out to be disastrous. A better option for helping Israel would have been to encourage the restoration of the 1967 border such as was almost achieved at Taba before General Sharon’s election in 2001. Both the creation of new settlements and all acts of terrorism, including air attacks on automobiles carrying officials, would have been eliminated as much as possible during negotiations, as happened during the Taba negotiations. Also useful would have been a comprehensive regional plan for the Mideast permitting a three-way transaction whereby, among other things, the U.S. rewards Israel for restoring most of the 1967 border, and Iraq gives the U.S. and U.K. access to a suitable portion of its trillion dollar oil reserves. One suspects such a multiple quid pro quo might have been possible with Saddam Hussein involved in the tradeoff.
But to the list again:
15. Bush was wrong, once victorious in spring, 2003, to dissolve Iraq’s political infrastructure and disband its armies and police. A half million Iraqi troops were released without further pay, and all Iraqis in civilian positions during Hussein’s reign were excluded from further government service. This provided a substantial base of angry and competent citizens who could be recruited to join the insurgency. Paul Bremer, in charge of Iraq’s occupation, may have imposed this policy without adequately consulting his superiors, but, if so, Bush was wrong to give Bremer the latitude to make such a catastrophic mistake without sufficient input from his superiors.
16. Bush was wrong to downplay the importance of casualties. To date 2,300 American troops have been killed and there have been seven times as many who were seriously wounded. Though no statistics have been kept for the Iraqi, estimates range from 30,000 to upwards of 100,000, many of them mothers and children. Similarly, the number of Iraqi with severe injuries is beyond calculation.
17. Bush was wrong to permit roughshod tactics against Iraq’s civilian population (described insultingly as “Hajji”) by our occupation army. Too often the treatment of civilians has been brutal, for, as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld explains, “stuff happens” during invasions. Cars and houses have been attacked, entire families have been eradicated, and whole cities have been flattened, most notably Falluja, which was devastated by napalm and white phosphorus bombs. As a result, insurgents are being recruited as fast as they can be killed, and the level of animosity against Americans has risen. This is reflected by recent polls, indicating that at least 83 percent of the Sunni population wants U.S. troops withdrawn within six months, and at least 71 percent of the Shi’ite population prefer withdrawal within two years [see NYT Magazine, April 9, 2006, p. 11]. How unfortunate it seem in retrospect that armed rebellion might have been completely averted if more American soldiers were better disciplined during the two or three months of relative peace following our capture of Iraq.
18. Bush was wrong to establish concentration camps at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Camp Nama, Baghram, and other sites. These lie outside U.S. territory and are therefore supposedly immune to habeas corpus appeals. There is no clear indication how many prisoners they contain, or even how many such prisons exist. Many prisoners are entirely innocent of the acts for which they have been charged, especially those provided to U.S. troops by bounty hunters. All military prisoners should be treated according to the Geneva Conventions, and all non-military prisoners should be represented in fair trials in which testimony under torture is excluded from consideration.
19. Bush was wrong to encourage torture. Government apologists such as John Yee and Alberto Gonzales, now our Attorney General, advocated “lite-torture” by means of sensory deprivation and sustained awkward body positions; and experienced practitioners led by General Geoffrey Miller have promoted this approach first at Guantanamo Bay and later Abu Ghraib. However, this new version of torture turns out to be as harmful as outright violence, and in some instances worse. As many as a hundred prisoners are now estimated to have been killed by torture in our prison camps and secret interrogation sites across Asia. [see Al Gore’s speech, “Restoring the Rule of Law” (January 16, 2006)].
20. Bush was wrong to censor the press about events in Iraq. The use of “embedded” reporters linked with particular units of our military was soon recognized to bias coverage to the extent that it was useless. On the other hand, violence against “unimbedded” reporters (especially those connected with al-Jazeera) has been even more counterproductive. At least 66 reporters and media workers have been killed in Iraq since 2003, many of them by U.S. troops, and sometimes with ample evidence their killings were intended.
21. Bush was wrong to over expand the military budget. This year, $783 billion has been requested to pay for all past and present military activities. This amounts to 42 percent of our total federal income taxes over the same period. According to the House Budget Committee’s Democratic staff, Bush will have spent more than $445 billion (including next years’ funds) on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 9/11. The original estimate for the cost of the Iraq invasion was $60 billion, well less than one-fifth the amount that has been spent by now in Iraq. Currently it is estimated that the war is costing the U.S. taxpayer $150 million per day.
22. Bush was wrong to reduce taxes during the war. Here neo-Keynsian manipulation has been taken to a new and unprecedented level. President Clinton’s 2000 federal surplus of $236 billion has been reversed to become a $371 billion deficit, and Congress has actually been forced to increase the debt limit four times in the past five years. It is estimated that sixty-two percent of this loss results from lower tax revenues, mostly from the wealthiest portion of our population, and with insufficient trickle-down benefits to justify such a loss. Moreover, our national debt has doubled under Bush to almost $8.4 trillion at a rate approaching $1 trillion per year, $220 billion to China alone. This debt, more than two-thirds of our $11 trillion GDP, continues to expand at $2.42 billion per day. Significantly, its interest payments are $352 billion this year, about 85 percent as much as this year’s defense budget, which in turn exceeds all other military expenditures combined throughout the rest of the world. Sooner or later a major economic catastrophe can be expected, probably when the dollar has lost too much of its value against foreign currencies.
23. Bush has been wrong to fire high administration figures that have expressed disagreement with him. For example, he terminated Paul O’Neill, his Secretary of the Treasury, for having opposed his second tax cut, Christie Whitman, his EPA director, for having sought to protect the environment, and General Shinseki, his Army Chief of Staff, for having recommended an Iraq occupation force of not less than 200,000 U.S. troops. All three of these top officials were far better informed and more potentially useful to Bush’s presidency than members of the administration who have collaborated in Bush’s erratic policies, for example John Ashcroft, George Tenet, and Paul Bremer, all of whom Bush has awarded with the Medal of Freedom.
24. Bush has been wrong to censor scientists who reject scientific theories and assumptions that presumably dictate his policies. This censorship extends from stem cell research to climatology and studies relevant to the safety of over-the-counter drugs. Most notably, James Hansen, Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the NASA, has been denied access to the press by the NASA Public Affairs Office because his opinion about global warming conflicts with Bush’s official position.
25. Bush has been wrong to put the White House almost entirely in the service of the energy industry. Americans are paying by far the highest energy rates in our nation’s history at the same time as energy corporations are amassing by far their biggest profits in modern history.
26. Bush has been wrong to give countless no-bid contracts to Halliburton, Bechtel, Carlyle Group, and other such corporations both in Iraq and at home. It has also been wasteful to neglect collecting adequate penalties when these corporations are caught padding their bills.
27. Bush has been wrong to install executives and lobbyists of major industries in the leadership of federal regulatory agencies meant to oversee these industries. Corporate beneficiaries of this strategy include all industries, but especially in energy, mining, forestry, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.
28. Bush has been wrong to cut domestic programs to offset his tax cuts and war costs. It was catastrophic, for example, to reduce funding for the maintenance of New Orleans levees despite the increased threat of hurricanes caused by global warming. One degree warmer than before, the Gulf of Mexico has become a lethal hurricane machine as recognized by most meteorologists not connected with the Bush administration. Repeatedly this last year, Level 3 hurricanes surged to Level 5 in the middle of the Gulf, then receded to Level 4 upon hitting the coast. More of the same can be expected this coming hurricane season, and probably later as well.
29. Bush was wrong to spend two or three days completely ignoring the ruinous consequences of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. Aides could only bring him to his senses by insisting that he watch video clips of ongoing TV news coverage. Now, six months later, fifteen out of 22 hospitals are still closed, only twenty of 117 schools are functioning, and 125,000 homes remain damaged and unoccupied. It is unfortunate that Bush has failed to spearhead an effective campaign to restore New Orleans.
30. Bush was wrong in his effort to privatize Social Security, which would have transferred several trillion dollars to Wall Street brokerages to play with, thus inflating market speculation.
31. Bush was wrong to allocate $50 billion to a Medicare Drug Program primarily to benefit the pharmaceutical industry. This is no substitute for the genuine national health insurance program so desperately needed today.
32. Bush has been wrong to install an illegal NSA surveillance net for domestic spying without FISA warrants. This spying was supposedly limited to monitoring telephone calls abroad, but it might also include strictly domestic telephone calls through “dragnet” telephone surveillance, wire taps, mail and e-mail intercepts, the violation of attorney-client privacy laws, clandestine searches, the confiscation of records at banks, libraries, grocery stores, etc., and the infiltration of anti-war organizations deemed unpatriotic. The extent of this spying remains unclear at this point as much as anything because the Republican majority of Congress refuses to permit an official investigation that includes public testimony.
33. Bush has been wrong to expose the American public to unprecedented surveillance at the same time as he has classified countless government documents, many of which were earlier accessible to public scrutiny. This obsession with secrecy was exemplified at the beginning of Bush’s presidency by Dick Cheney’s insistence on classifying the proceedings and membership of the Energy Task Force. In effect the dealings of our nation’s government have become excessively opaque at the same time as our private lives have become excessively transparent. This is no recipe for a healthy democracy.
34. Bush is wrong to manipulate news coverage at an unprecedented level dealing with every issue, not just Iraq. He has set a record for the fewest press conferences while leaking favorable information to a coterie of his favorite journalists. He plants favorable stories, even in the Iraqi press, and has embedded pseudo-journalists such as Armstrong Jones and Jeff Gannon, the latter with a pass to White House press briefings until his identity was discovered. The same news control occurs with Bush’s public appearances across the nation. Until recently, they have all been held before carefully pre-selected audiences in order to convey the impression of enthusiastic support among Americans.
35. Bush has been wrong to pander to his red-state fundamentalist conservative base, arguably the most backward and ill-educated portion of the U.S. electorate. Such issues as abortion, the morning-after pill, assisted suicide, stem-cell research, the teaching of evolution, and educational subsidization cannot be distorted by the federal government to gratify the demands of this benighted minority of our nation’s electorate.
36. As disclosed a day or two ago, Bush was wrong to authorize Scooter Libby through Vice President Cheney to leak classified information in defense of the Iraq invasion. On June 23, 2003, Libby gave this information to Judith Miller of the NYT in order to discredit Joseph Wilson’s upcoming NYT op-ed piece, on July 6, in which he told of his failure in his CIA-sponsored trip to the African nation Niger to unearth any evidence of Saddam Hussein having tried to purchase yellow cake uranium. A Niger connection was of crucial importance in the effort to prove Hussein’s was trying to develop an atomic bomb, and it simply was not true, thus eliminating the primary casus belli for invading Iraq. During his presidency Bush has repeatedly denounced and tried to punish government leaks relevant to national security, and here it turns out he himself authorized a major leak. True, the President enjoys the right to disclose whatever information he pleases, thereby terminating its classified status, quite aside from the circumstance that the information provided to Miller remained a top secret not to be disclosed elsewhere. Miller could do anything she wanted with the information; anybody else who used it could have been prosecuted.
But the problem went deeper. In the same meeting with Miller, Libby seems to have “outed” Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame as a CIA agent with many secret contacts abroad. The usefulness of these contacts to the CIA as well as their jobs, social roles, and even their lives were unavoidably jeopardized by the disclosure of her CIA role. Libby denies having mentioned Plame’s role at the meeting, and he has not admitted having been authorized to do this by either Bush or Cheney. However, Miller’s notes at the meeting indicate the topic had indeed been raised, so the question remains whether the disclosure of Plame’s identity was also authorized from above. If Bush added Plame’s role in the package of information to be shared with Miller, he was both committing a crime and damaging the CIA, quite aside from his right as President to declassify any information he pleases.
Another consideration now overlooked by the press is that the memorandum of agreement between Hussein and the Niger government exposed by Wilson, among others, was a clumsy forgery provided by SISMI (Italian Secret Service), and that the White House was in contact with SISMI at the time. The authorship of the forgery has yet to be disclosed, but it seems to remain under investigation by Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor for the CIA leak case. Meanwhile, one cannot ignore the unthinkable possibility that somebody in the White House just might have participated in authoring the forgery to justify going to war.
Almost everything has gone wrong in the Bush administration. Bush constantly takes the presumably high moral ground while using trickery and misdirection to promote unacceptable policies. He seeks to benefit his “real” base, the wealthiest segment of the U.S. population, while remaining mostly indifferent to less affluent Americans. He harasses his opponents as enemies of the state, while staffing his administration at all levels with political hacks whose only qualification is their undiluted loyalty to his leadership. And he actually takes pride in being a ”war president” in direct contact with God, able to obtain God’s permission to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Insisting on his conservative agenda, he has become a “radical” president, probably the worst and most incompetent in U.S. history.
Edward Jayne is a retired English professor with experience as a '60s activist. He can be contacted at: email@example.com. Visit his website at: www.edwardjayne.com. Copyright © 2006 by Edward Jayne
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