Five Fingers of Focus
January 31, 2003
By Bernard Weiner, The
As we approach the three-month mark following the midterm
election, here are a handful of things that have come into
focus much more clearly. Let's cut to the chase first, and
then elaborate below.
Finger #1. Bush&Co. are going to attack Iraq. There
will be no Declaration of War by the Congress (as required
by the U.S. Constitution), and no authorization by the United
Finger #2. The nearly 100-per cent focus on Iraq means
that the Bush Administration has free rein to do what it wants
to do in virtually all other areas of policy, since hardly
anybody is paying attention.
Finger #3. The re-nomination of the controversial
judges rejected by the previous Congress is a feint, designed
to focus attention on those two or three while pushing through
the rest of the batch, who can do even more damage.
Finger #4. Some of the elements of Al Qaeda may indeed
be "on the run," but the overall network is still capable
of carrying out major, 9/11-equivalent mayhem in this country
and abroad, and at this moment are probably in the planning
stages for some big ones.
Finger #5. Whenever Bush officials use Democrat-sounding
phrases in talking about environmental protection, Medicare,
Social Security and so on, be on your guard. Behind the popular
words, the real aims are hidden: to eviscerate such programs.
So, let's take these one at a time, and see The Rest of the
1. The war is a go. There will be attempts to get the U.N.
to come on board - doing so would provide some fig-leaf cover
for the U.S. attack - but it's clear from everything Bush
has said and done in the past several months, and from his
State of the Union remarks, that we are mere weeks away from
a massive bombardment (hundreds of missiles raining down on
Baghdad in the first wave), with ground invasion to follow.
The only thing that could possibly prevent the unfolding
of this war scenario would be if Saddam Hussein and his top
echelon agreed to exile, with a new government, fully amenable
to U.S. demands, taking over. Bush could then crow that his
scare-'em strategy worked and that he's an effective peacemaker.
But, even if Saddam agreed to go into exile, I don't think
the war would be prevented. Bush and his handlers seem to
want war, especially this war. Not one againstNorth Korea:
The U.S. would have to face someone who can fight back and
unloose missiles on U.S. territory. But weakling Iraq? Of
Why beat them up? It's the Iraq oilfields, to be sure, but
I don't even think that's the major reason. The U.S. needs
to make an example of someone, preferably in the Middle East;
you don't follow our demands, you're wasted. It does no good
to be an imperial, or THE imperial superpower, if smaller
countries don't acknowledge your primacy. Making an example
of Saddam Hussein gets the message across quite plainly: When
the U.S. says jump, snap to it, or risk getting bombed and
invaded. The glory of this approach is that, usually, you
only have to do it once. And, as a result, you get control
of all the oil, and anything else, you want.
So, unless something extraordinary happens - the Congress
interposing its power to declare war against the presidency,
impeachment moves in the House, a U.S.-friendly regime in
Iraq -- expect the bombing to commence within a month. These
Bushistas are rabid when it comes to Iraq; remember, mere
hours after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld wanted to go after
Iraq, and has twice ordered the FBI and CIA to come up with
something, anything, that could possibly link Iraq and Al
2. There is one theory out there that suggests that the Administration's
focus on Iraq is a huge smokescreen, designed to enable Bush&Co.
to slide its agenda right through the public and Congress
with anybody making much stink about it because not much attention
is being paid to it. (Under this theory, the war on Iraq is
usable only for domestic reasons, and can be postponed whenever
it's convenient. I don't believe this, but it's worth mentioning.)
Environmental rules eased for polluters, rightwing judges
nominated for the Appeals Courts, tax cuts for the wealthy
made permanent, trickle-down economics that never seems to
trickle down, federal monies provided to religious organizations,
etc. etc. - it's all Iraq all the time, and scant focus goes
to these other concerns, which, in the long run, can solidify
the HardRight agenda and do an amazing amount of damage to
the social fabric.
The mass media - with the exception of the difficult-to-control
Internet - are largely owned by conglomerate corporations,
and are quite happy to oblige by shifting the public's focus
to war, terror, fear. The corruption, the scandals, the below-the-radar
Bush&Co. policy moves go basically un- or under-reported.
3. Bush has nominated a whole slew of conservative/rightwing
judges for the federal Appeals Court - the most important
level of the judiciary, since only a relatively few appeals
ever make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By renominating
the "hot-button" rightists like Pickering and Owen, et al.,
the Rove hope was that the Democrats would have their attention
diverted to once again making sure the "patsies" didn't get
approved, and, to demonstrate their willingness to appear
fair, the Democrats would take just a cursory look at the
other nominees, who, in truth, are just as awful as the out-front
A good number of Democrats seem to be aware of the feint,
but some aren't; being in the minority, it's not clear that
the Democrats can stop these judicial appointments anyway,
unless a handful of moderate Republicans join in to stop the
appointments of the most egregious nominees.
4. In his State of the Union speech, Bush made it seem like
the U.S. is engaged in a mopping-up operation with regard
to Al Qaeda terrorists. All this had to be voiced in order
to make rational the move toward Iraq, otherwise it makes
no sense to the American citizenry to constantly scare us
all the time about coming Al Qaeda attacks if there are no
attackers worth bothering with.
But, in point of fact, even though the terrorist network
has been profoundly disrupted, there are enough of the bad
guys out there to do major harm to U.S. interests, within
our own country and abroad, and no real way of stopping them
at present. Al Qaeda, whether bin Laden is alive or dead,
takes a long time to plan and mount its major attacks (the
9/11 ones took three years), and there are reports that new
major attacks are in the works, for a year or two out, or
perhaps sooner. But so much of the intelligence/military/diplomatic
effort is aimed at Iraq that it's possible that the U.S. will
miss the signs. Well OK, Bush&Co. might reason, some Americans
will be wiped out by such an attack, but the fear-factor will
still be in place and, so this amoral reasoning goes, will
redound to their favor.}
In Afghanistan, U.S. and allied forces are consistently being
hit by Al Qaeda/Taliban guerrilla forces, and the U.S. promise
to "nation-build" after kicking out the Taliban is largely
missing in action.
In short, the "war on terrorism" is being waged in a somewhat
lackadaisical manner - whether deliberately (to keep the bogeyman
in place as a justification for the civil-liberties crackdown
in our own country, and as a fear-device to centralize loyalty
toward the central government) or because of the Iraq focus.
I won't even mention the billions being spent on waging these
multi-front wars, the effect of which is to ensure that there's
not enough money for social programs for the citizenry.
And, of course, Bush&Co. want nothing to do with re-examining
policies that make the U.S. so hated in so much of the world,
especially in the Middle East, where Sharon has been given
carte blanche by the Bush Administration to deal with the
Palestinians as he sees fit.
5. Rove is a master of inventing warm and fuzzy buzzwords
("compassionate conservatism," "a uniter, not a divider")
which sound good to a large share of the voting population,
but which in practice usually mean just the opposite. During
his State of the Union address, Bush trotted out all the positive
buzzwords about the Medicare and Social Security programs,
punishing corporate criminals, toughening environmental protections,
etc. - but, in practice, the executive actions he takes and
the bills he sponsors usually do just the opposite.
Environmental polluters are given special breaks, Medicare
and Social Security are hacked away-at by privatization schemes,
Kenneth Lay remains at large, money goes to beefing up religious
organizations (in violation of church/state separation decisions),
etc. If the public only hears the buzzwords, or reads the
headlines, or gets taken in by the homey photo-ops, there
is little outcry for actions to match the popular verbiage.
In this, and the other four areas above, those of us incensed
by all the double-talk - by the move toward imperial adventurism
abroad and shredding of the Constitution here in this country,
by the horrific damage being done to the economy - have to
make our elected officials aware of our knowledge of what's
really going on, and warn them in no uncertain terms that
unless they provide genuine and strong Oppositional leadership,
they will face our wrath at the polls.
In the meantime, we build the Oppositional base, start our
own investigations and institutions, get out in the street,
leaflet, talk to our neighbors and colleagues, get politically
active, write letters to the editors, reach out on the Internet,
organize, organize, organize - in short, anything we can to
turn this country away from its dark shadow nature and back
toward the light.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations,
has taught at Western Washington University, San Diego State
and San Francisoc State Universities; he is co-editor of The
Crisis Papers and was with the San Francisco Chronicle
for nearly 20 years.