By Michael Shannon
Considering the enormous difficulty I routinely encounter
when trying to figure out what the heck is going on in these
remarkably interesting times we live in, I rarely am brave
enough to attempt to forecast what will happen next. However,
I now throw caution to the wind and make the following prophecy:
when historians and various other know-it-alls look back at
the Bush Presidency, the Top Gun speech on the USS Lincoln
will prove to be its high-water mark.
Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with my work will
recognize that that statement can easily be considered as
wishful thinking. For those who aren't familiar with it and
just for the record; no speech or photo-op, regardless of
how well planned, staged or manufactured, has altered my opinion
that George Bush is woefully ill prepared for the office of
the Presidency. With that in mind, I readily admit that I
make the above prediction with more than a little optimism.
I'm optimistic because while Mr Bush is still riding on a
wave of popularity that has seen few rivals in modern history,
there is an ever-growing body of evidence which suggests that
the ride is destined to come to an ignominious end.
The primary reason for Mr Bush's fall from political grace
is that he never should have been up there in the first place.
By that I do not refer to the electoral/judicial soft shoe
that got him where he is. No, his fall is predetermined for
a much more a priori factor than that. To repeat the
obvious: if this little man did not have the last name of
Bush, and all the advantages and connections that came with
it, he would be lucky if he was managing a discount furniture
store in Midland.
Mr Bush's success/popularity as President has been entirely
tied to the events of That Day. Had that band of murdering
scum not wielded their wickedness in so brutal and effective
a manner, Mr Bush's presidency would have long since achieved
lame duck status. The ensuing war against Islamic militancy
- a conflict that most assuredly did not start September 11,
2001 - has been the defining theme of Mr Bush's tenure in
office. Without it, his many flaws and inadequacies would
be too apparent to pretend otherwise; with it, they are far
more easily ignored.
But ignoring something doesn't mean that it ceases to exist.
Mr Bush's least arguable moments of triumph are in his response
to the attacks. While not perfect, even a staunch critic like
myself must admit (although let's face it, any politician
worth his salt would have put his arm around that fireman/grieving
father and looked like a million bucks doing it) he didn't
blow it. I remember stepping away from the TV for a minute
that dreadful morning when it was announced that Air Force
One was taking off, looking skyward - I was ten miles north
of the Presidential party that fateful morning - and mumbling
to myself, and to him, "Do your job, you son of a bitch."
And for the most part he did. The people of the United States
were as shocked, frightened and off-their-game in the weeks
that directly followed than we have collectively ever been.
To his credit Bush was widely perceived as being a calming
and stabilizing presence in those most trying days.
But even this most favorable light can not help but fade
as time goes on. I would rather see him break FDR'S record
than relive the events of That Day. But God forbid the friends
of those murdering scum strike again, here on America soil.
Then we have a whole new ball game. If an attack even approaching
the scale of the previous takes place, all bets are off. Such
an unthinkable eventuality has the undeniable potential to
trigger a seismic shift in how the American public rates the
success of Bush's war on terror.
While may he forever be successful in keeping that wolf
at bay, the outlook is grim for the long term impact of Mr
Bush's other "victories" to date.
First; the international. There was scarcely a word of dissent
when the US announced that based on the evidence at hand -
evidence that according to what is available in the public
record looks overwhelmingly damning towards Al Qaeda - it
was taking large scale military action against the Islamic
militants based in Afghanistan. The subsequent conquest of
Afghanistan was by any definition a resounding military victory.
Mind you it was over a fifth rate military power, a nation
barely in the modern era - but a victory none the less. Unfortunately
it was never total. The man whom Mr Bush personally and very
publicly identified as Target 1, slipped through our grasp.
And although he may very well be a persona non grata now in
Bush circles, if the wave of bombings which has swept the
mid East in the days leading up to this composition are any
indication, he remains as demonic and as dangerous as ever.
In addition; now that we have moved on to bigger targets;
the political/economic situation in Afghanistan is steadily
sinking into a morass that is a negligible improvement over
Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It's become a cliche that President
Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul, and that life
in the rest of the country is as wild and wooly as ever. Fortunately
for the US President, the world's - or it just America's?
- media have completely lost interest, so the story remains
The same cannot be said about Iraq.
The road to war in Iraq was an entirely different story
right from the get go. Without going back into the ugly details;
the Bush Team, with a major assist from Blair and company,
worked the selling of the Iraq campaign harder and longer
than almost any war in American history. And even with all
the enormous advantages offered by the office and the masterful
massaging of America's fear, to say that we went to war with
unbridled enthusiasm and near unanimity is laughable.
As for the rest of the world, the perceptions are even more
negative. From the earliest days of the Bush administration
groaning could be heard from many an overseas ministry. Tact
and sensitivity are two words that do not come quickly to
mind when describing the Bush diplomatic modus operandi. And
that was before there was a war to get started on.
Even the most staunch advocate of the military action against
Iraq would be hard pressed to keep a straight face while arguing
that the United States did not pay a steep political and diplomatic
price in the handling of the Iraqi affair. The ham-headed,
heavy-handed, arrogant, condescending manner in which the
Bush administration and its supporters cajoled, bullied, and
bribed its way into the forming of a war-fighting "coalition"
has left a trail of bad blood ringing the globe.
Mr Bush set a new benchmark for the level of disdain shown
to a rational analysis of the cost-benefit of war with Iraq.
He was consumed in his belief that it was very simple matter:
the cause of the United States was righteous, and Saddam Hussein
is evil. While the latter may very well be true, is has long
been obvious that that Manichean view might make for quotable
utterances but it is a lousy way to formulate global strategy.
So Bush told the world that we were going to war, and by
golly he did it. Once again, in the interest of fairness;
a tremendous victory was won. The American military performed
on a level that clearly demonstrated their vast superiority
in every facet of modern warfare. It's once again the peace
that is not working out so well.
As with Afghanistan, while sweeping the enemies armies from
the field we managed not to bag the head guy. And also as
with Afghanistan, Team Bush has stopped speaking the evil
one's name in hopes that everybody will just forget that he
is very much alive and very much a potential problem. Even
if this dubous strategy works and Saddam is never heard from
again, Iraq itself will not soon fade from view.
To say the bloom is already off the rose in that tormented
country is putting it mildly. As these comments are being
written, the ubiquitous crawler on the TV is silently noting
that five American servicemen were killed today in Iraq. Granted
it was a helicopter accident, but these five names are now
added to the roll of the dead which continues to grow. One
shot while on patrol by an unknown assailant, another killed
by unexploded ordnance, and then another in some similarly
As for the conditions of the Iraqi people? Yes, they no
longer live under the fear of a vicious police state, now
they must endure anarchy and all of its threats, both the
all too plainly apparent - rape, murder, widespread larceny,
etc. - and the insidious - breakdowns in health care, education
and economic routines and infrastructure. If things are not
made dramatically better for the average Iraqi in the very
near future, things could go south in a big way.
Then of course there is the 900-pound gorilla who isn't
in the room. There are a minimum of a dozen rock-solid quotes
- from all of the principals - that are a matter of public
record which clearly state that the United States and its
allies were forced into military action against Iraq due to
the clear and present danger presented by Iraq's enormous
arsenal of some of the most hideous weapons ever designed
by man. However, not only were the highly-specialized and
well-trained United Nations teams of inspectors unable to
find any of these lethal devices, neither have the equally-specialized
and well-trained American military weapon inspectors been
able to locate any. As every new dead-end is abandoned, the
only question left is did the Bush team lie, or were they
operating under exceedingly bad information?
They have even managed to make a complete mess out of those
problematic components whose location they were aware of.
The disclosures that the American field commanders were not
operating under orders to put known Iraqi nuclear installations
and facilities under military control at the first possible
moment, are damning in the extreme. If any of the radioactive
materials subsequently looted someday end up in downtown St
Louis, it will mark one of the most egregious failures of
national security in American history.
Even if Mr Bush manages to keep these problem on the other
side of the ocean, he is still faced with the daunting challenge
of a domestic economy that has established a new low for the
first two years of an American presidency. According to any
number of well regarded sources, the American economy has
lost more jobs on the Bush watch than under any other President
in American history; the stock market remains 30 to 50% below
the levels of 2000, talk of deflation is gaining momentum
and overall growth is anemic at best.
And in spite of this, it is astounding to note that people
still speak of Bush's foundation shaking tax cuts as victories.
Maybe as a political maneuvering is concerned, but considering
that tax cuts are a modern politician's way of buying votes
from the common folk as well as paying off their more well-heeled
benefactors, and take absolutely no political courage at all
to enact, how great of a triumph was it? If the members of
Congress had the clarity of mind to really study the issue
when it first came up in early 2000, and voted strictly on
its merits and with the best long-term interest of the nation
as their guide, it would not have passed. And the Bush presidency
would have come to halt less than six months into it.
As I said in the opening of this piece, I am afraid that
that eventuality was only postponed; it will soon be on him
with a vengeance.