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The March to War
August 6, 2003
By B. Rehak

It's one of those little things Mr. Bush says that crosses the news wires, and unless you're looking really close your eyes might miss it, or more probably, your brain simply rejects it.

The folks who wind him up and send him out are depending on that.

It's very difficult to get Mr. Bush to go on the record about anything, and access to him by the working press is more restricted than any leader in American history. By this time in Bush 41's Presidency, he'd staged 61 full press conferences, and Bill Clinton had done 33 in the same period during his first term.

President George W. Bush, after a disputed election, the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, a growing economic and employment disaster, and two unfinished wars (Afghanistan, Iraq) has given a grand total of just nine.

In that ninth press conference on Wednesday, July 30, Mr. Bush engaged in the following exchange with a reporter, as recounted in the official White House transcript:

Q: "Thank you, sir. Since taking office you signed into law three major tax cuts - two of which have had plenty of time to take effect, the third of which, as you pointed out earlier, is taking effect now. Yet, the unemployment rate has continued rising. We now have more evidence of a massive budget deficit that taxpayers are going to be paying off for years or decades to come; the economy continues to shed jobs. What evidence can you point to that tax cuts, at least of the variety that you have supported, are really working to help this economy? And do you need to be thinking about some other approach?"

THE PRESIDENT: "Yes. No, to answer the last part of your question. First of all, let me - just a quick history, recent history. The stock market started to decline in March of 2000. Then the first quarter of 2001 was a recession. And then we got attacked in 9/11. And then corporate scandals started to bubble up to the surface, which created a - a lack of confidence in the system. And then we had the drumbeat to war. Remember on our TV screens - I'm not suggesting which network did this - but it said, 'March to War,' every day from last summer until the spring - 'March to War, March to War.' That's not a very conducive environment for people to take risk, when they hear, 'March to War' all the time."

Drumbeat to war? The media?

He gave an almost identical by-rote response to another reporter after the Cabinet meeting last Friday, according to the official White House transcript, just a day before he was scheduled to depart for a month off at his ranch in Crawford, Texas:

Q: "Mr. President, sir, are you surprised, and can you explain why three huge tax cuts and 12 rate cuts by the Fed have not done more in creating jobs to this point? And do you think that we're in a jobless recovery?"

The President restated his rosy view of the country's economic problems, then said:

THE PRESIDENT: "...And then we discovered some of our corporate CEOs forgot to tell the truth, and that affected confidence. And then as you may remember, Tom, we had the steady drumbeat to war. As I mentioned in my press conference the other day, on our TV screens there was a - on some TV screens - there was a constant reminder for the American people, 'march to war.' War is not a very pleasant subject in people's minds, it's not conducive for the investment of capital."

Forgetful CEOs? March to war? Next day he split for Texas.

The "forgetful CEO" that did the most damage to America is probably Ken Lay, late of Enron, a lifelong Bush family friend and primary contributor, who seems impervious to the usual vicissitudes of Federal Law, living in something of a Bush-devised protectorate at his posh place in Houston.

Mr. Bush's carefully recited comments about the 'true' cause of America's economic grief are pretty amazing - even for Mr. Bush - after he, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, all the President's men, and Condi Rice spent the entire year before the Iraq war carefully and progressively ramping up public panic over the mountain of hard evidence they assured us they had about the deadly Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction." Even Tony Blair was convinced, and it may cost him his job. One could have deduced that Saddam Hussein was about to nuke us all. America had to act, even if the wimps at the UN wouldn't. The danger was that great. One could almost feel the fallout from those damned Iraqi nukes sapping our precious bodily fluids.

The Bush Administration's fixation on the elusive WMD as an excuse to go to war is particularly remarkable when you consider that four months before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Washington Post and other media reported new details in US documents about the Reagan-Bush Administration's then special Middle East envoy, Donald Rumsfeld (yes, the same guy), who went to Iraq in December 1983, to assist in its ongoing war with Iran, where Iraq was said to use chemical weapons "almost daily." There's a dandy news photo of Rummy making nice with Saddam.

The Republicans then reportedly allowed the export to Iraq of additional biological agents, including anthrax; key ingredients for chemical weapons; and cluster bombs sold by a CIA front organization in Chile. The press reports went on to say that a 1994 congressional inquiry also found that dozens of biological agents, including anthrax, were shipped to Iraq by US companies, under licence from the Reagan-Bush Commerce Department.

The Republican-approved American WMD supplier's list reads like a Wall Street "Who's Who" (24 major companies), reportedly including Honeywell, Unisys, Sperry, Tektronix, Rockwell, Hewlett-Packard, Dupont, Eastman Kodak, Carl Zeiss-US, and Bechtel. That's the same Bechtel now working to "rebuild" Iraq.

War is big business and big business is power in today's Washington. Big money buys a lot of press, and it also buys a lot of silence and politicians.

Almost at the same hour Mr. Bush was giving his rare Washington press conference last Wednesday, his war in Iraq, which has produced no solid WMD evidence at all, killed US Army Pfc. Michael J. Deutsch, 21, of Dubuque, Iowa; assigned to Troop C, 1-1 Cavalry. AP reported he died in Baghdad when his APC was hit, according to the Iowa National Guard. The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports he graduated from Dubuque Senior High in 2000 and entered the Army in 2002. The paper says three other Iowa men have also died in the Iraq war: Marine Sgt. Bradley S. Korthaus, 28, of Davenport, Army Pvt. Kenneth A. Nalley, 19, of Hamburg, and Jeffrey E. Bohr, Jr., 39, of Ossian.

As of Sunday, August 3, 2003, a total of 249 US soldiers and 43 British troops have died in Iraq. According to the Pentagon, Pfc. Deutsch was the 113th American solider killed since May 1, when Mr. Bush dramatically flew out to the carrier Abraham Lincoln for the Mother of All Photo Ops and thankfully declared that major combat operations had ended.

The "big" Iraq story on AP Sunday was that for two entire days there had been no new US combat deaths.

The news about Private Deutsch's untimely death only gets nine hits on Google News as I write this. The routine AP story didn't play wide, but one can suppose it's pretty big news in Dubuque. The Bush Administration is counting on the press totally missing the gooey stuff and buying Mr. Bush's pre-programmed answers that never quite seem to address anything directly. Mr. Bush's handlers have made 'vague' a vital arm of neo-con statecraft, and it's apparently working for them.

Mr. Bush, who holds a Yale B.A. and a Harvard M.B.A., has a unique way with the English language for a college man. If you're ever depressed late on a Saturday night, run "Bushisms" on Google and among the 16,500 hits you'll find some of the greatest unintended comedy ever produced by an American politician, sort of Inverse Churchill.

That Iraq "cakewalk" which neo-cons promised would bring lasting peace to the area has instead created a raging Islamic insurgency, a holy war of perpetual proportions, fueled by the frustrations of the Iraqi people and their suspicion that they've just traded one tyranny for another. Keep in mind that the followers of Islam consider even the most devoutly religious Christians sent to "save" them as Infidels.

The fact that Mr. Bush and his handlers have convinced themselves that major ongoing US economic problems stem from loose media talk is probably the greatest Bushism of all. It was their war, based on their reading of the intelligence tea leaves, and they think the US economy is in the tank not because Mr. Bush gave the budget surplus away to his rich friends via tax cuts, but because of media hype?

Ah, to be George W. Bush, wealthy beyond his talents, connected beyond all reason, and insulated beyond all caring; living in a fine free public house, and safe inside his simplistic world view, a Zeitgeist combining Norman Rockwell's art with the sure knowledge that you can sell anything wrapped in the flag and the Lord.

It was a tough week for the other Bush folks though. Tom Ridge, Homeland Security Czar, presides over an uberagency so big it cut both airport screeners and sky marshals the same time it was warning Americans that al-Qaida was up to no good again. Imagine the Keystone Cops with unlimited government money and power.

MSNBC reports that Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called the cuts "nonsensical" and urged the DHS to "immediately reverse reported plans to cut air marshals in light of intelligence indicating that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups may have stepped up plans" to launch attacks on airlines. Schumer said that the "proposed cuts...come in response to a $900 million budget hole at the agency." War on the cheap has begat Homeland Defense on the cheap. This fact is probably not lost within the dark caves of the Pakistan frontier. Count on it.

For all the tough talk from the Bush people, almost half the airport screeners lack full security background checks, and in the 98 weeks and 3 days since the 9/11 attacks, the Administration only just closed a loophole allowing in-transit non-visa foreigners to board international flights passing through US cities unchecked. Add to this the fact that almost all air cargo and ship-borne containers still come in and out of the country uninspected, and you have a prime recipe for further disaster. The radical enemies of the United States watch us closely and have a knack for hitting us where we ain't.

It's interesting that every time the Administration comes under tough press and political scrutiny they suddenly warn us of new dangers. One suspects the alert level will only go to the top (Red) if the Democrats pull within four percentage points next October. For the far right, terrorism has become the new communism, and thus allows wide violation of due process and previously accepted privacy rights. The Reverend Mr. Ashcroft appeared on the White House's own network, Fox News, and predicted both success and failure. Fear works wonders, and it gets people to contribute.

One of al-Qaida's own top men, Ayman al-Zawahir, has reportedly released a new tape promising more terror attacks in the US. For all the neo-con chest pounding and the money and blood we spent in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's odd that the leaders of al-Qaida (and even Saddam Hussein) seem to have no trouble getting access to audio gear and getting the word out to their people.

The Bush folks also took great pleasure in what at first seemed like a reduction in the nation's chronic unemployment problems. The LA Times reports that the jobless rate dropped 0.2 percentage points to 6.2 percent, but only because more than a half million people quit looking for work and dropped out of the labor force. The way the system works, they now aren't counted as unemployed. Nifty.

Employers also cut payrolls by another 44,000 in July, the sixth consecutive month of such losses, making this the longest stretch of "jobless recovery" in the past half century. It's the worst job market in living memory.

The half million jobless people that just quit looking are about the same number that voted for Mr. Gore over Mr. Bush. Imagine if the 540,520 people who put Mr. Gore over the top (but didn't quite get him actually elected) were to join up with the half million who gave up looking. and each of them got ten new people who didn't vote in 2000 to register and vote in 65 weeks in the general election. Do you suppose the Republicans, with all their friends and midnight powers, could hide TEN MILLION extra votes? Time will tell.

Kenneth B. Mehlman, the fast-talking manager of the Bush re-election campaign predicts a close race in 2004. Considering Mr. Bush lost and still won in 2000, that's an interesting assessment. Would it be "close" if he got less votes or more than the Democratic candidate?

Sadly, Admiral John M. Poindexter of DARPA will soon be among the unemployed, as he announced his pending resignation after the terror futures market debacle of last week. He'll doubtless land at a far-right think tank, or even migrate to Talk Radio, that popular work release program for Republican ex-felons.

The Bush Administration's one actual combat veteran, Secretary of State Colin Powell, has indicated he'll also be leaving, even if Mr. Bush wins re-election. As the one reasonable, if seldom heeded, voice at the top of this government, he will be missed.

One suspects as the war and the economy continue their downward slides, a lot more people will decide that their good work in Washington is done. Condi Rice may be the first to walk the plank.

A bright spot, Mr. Bush and his people have been a true Godsend to the bankruptcy and repo industries. Business has never been better.

Most of all this news apparently missed the general public because Mr. Bush's handlers were careful to insert a key bonding item in last Wednesday's press conference. The issue of gay marriage, a sure fire winner for the far right, was planted in the mix, and is all any of the folks on the right (and Fox News) are talking about.

The Republicans use fear and ignorance better than anybody ever has in the history of politics.

All they have to do is yell QUEER to the faithful and the re-election money pours in. Amazing.

So, to the roster of famous harbingers shouting of impending doom, like Chicken Little, and the Boy who Cried Wolf, we must now add the rich man's son who cried havoc and let loose the lies of war.

It's hot in Crawford in August, but not as hot as it is in Baghdad - and not as hot as it's going to get in Washington as all this plays out.


B. Rehak is a writer in California, and is at mail@columnleft.com

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