By Bernard Weiner, The
"Don't despair, things will get worse before they get worse,
then they will get even worse, and then they'll start to get
I wrote that in late 2002, and I'm still not certain today
where we are on that political continuum. But my gut tells
me, and there is even some evidence to back up that feeling,
that - finally! - we may be heading into the last stretch.
Conservatives are starting, in public, to raise serious
questions about Bush&Co.'s competency, and even about the
Administration's underlying extremist policies. When Speaker
Hastert made remarks critical of the White House crew to his
colleagues at a closed GOP caucus the other day, loud cheers
and applause broke out from the assembled conservative members
of the House. Thomas Friedman, the influential, pro-war New
York Times columnist, has come down hard on the Bush Administration
as bumbling ideologues. Military officers are speaking out
about the wisdom of current U.S. Iraq policy. Insider books
by Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, Bob Woodward, John W. Dean,
Kevin Phillips and others have delivered crushing blows to
the Bush Administration's picture of itself as competent and
Bush's ratings are sliding consistently downward in the polls,
as the American public is indicating more and more that they
think the mismanaged war in Iraq isn't worth it. Rumsfeld
and his closest aides, unmasked as the harsh interrogation
policy's true authors, may be leaving their positions shortly,
and evidence of BushCheney's role in the scandal may be coming
In short, we appear to be heading toward the end of a long
night's journey into day.
But that darkness can seem overwhelming. Don't know about
you, but for me the political events of the past several weeks
have been a kind of nightmare experience. It's like we're
in a vortex of violence and cruelty, a maelstrom where our
leaders' mendacity and bungling behavior drag us down in a
terrible, dangerous swirl.
These may be the final death rattles of a reckless policy
and of a corrupt and incompetent administration, but whatever
they are, these Bush&Co. flailings threaten to take us all
down with them. (And we always need to remember that cornered,
wounded beasts are the most dangerous; who knows what raving,
roving schemes are being hatched?)
The worst part about all this for me, emotionally speaking,
is that I feel I've been here before. More than 30 years ago,
my generation was battling another crooked, lying administration
locked in a quagmire of an illegal, immoral war. Our leaders
told us we had to go to war there because if we didn't stop
the Commies in Vietnam, all of Asia would fall to the Reds
and we'd have to fight them eventually on our shores.
THE POWER OF NATIONALIST RESISTANCE
American leaders simply refused to believe their eyes, that
the Vietnamese were more nationalists than world-domination
communists, and that they'd been struggling with invaders
for centuries and always managed to kick them out. We were
merely the newest occupiers on the block, after the French
were defeated, and the Vietnamese would get rid of us, too.
It might take them decades, but they had the patience and
will, and we didn't. And they were fighting for their land,
after all, and we weren't. The U.S. could have left early
(McNamara knew in 1967 that America couldn't win that war),
but instead America poured money and human treasure down that
rathole for seven more years, and millions more died.
And here we are again, having rushed into a war of choice
because some chickenhawk zealots had a policy they were desperate
to try out - "changing the world," as Bush called it, by forcing
democracy at the barrel of a gun, and, not incidentally, gaining
control of the Middle East's enormous energy supplies of oil
and gas. Now, facing the reality and strength of Iraqi nationalist
resistance, we are flailing again. Because, as in Vietnam,
the war policy was flawed to begin with - based on lies and
misassumptions - and mismanaged at every turn by a bumbling
Administration; the result is an unwinnable war, one about
which the Administration is conflicted as to whether to continue
or to extricate itself. Thousands are dying and being maimed,
and this will continue until the U.S. leaves.
The neoconservative ideologues - led by Cheney, Rumsfeld,
Wolfowitz and their ilk - took the country into this unnecessary
war through lies and deceptions, telling us that unless we
invaded Iraq, we'd be attacked by a supposed Saddam/Osama
nexus with horrible weapons of mass destruction. Later, Bush
was forced to confirm that there was no such nexus - that
Saddam had no connection to 9/11 - but, by then, we were knee
deep in a desert version of the big muddy, fighting what was
mostly a nationalist revolt against our occupying presence.
(The insurgency may have started out as violence from former
Ba'athists, but the bumbling occupation policies and the harshness
of the U.S. occupiers helped push many ordinary Iraqis into
The world turns, and, if you're not careful, you wind up
in pretty much the same troubling place. Then it was Nixon's
constantly expanding war against "the Communists"; now it's
a permanent war against "the terrorists." In both cases, the
Administration justifies all its legal and illegal actions
in the name of the "ists" we're fighting, who are seen as
leading a worldwide movement, and ignores the strength of
nationalism in the affected countries. Read this editorial
that I penned for the alternative journal Northwest Passage
almost 34 years ago to the day (May 18, 1970). Change just
a few words, and the same could be written right now:
Nixon is a good representative of a nation hoist
on its own petard. On the one hand, he knows that we must
get the hell out of Southeast Asia before we get so bogged
down that the current $100 billion expenditure for the Vietnam
War will look like peanuts, and the internal structure of
the U.S. will become totally chaotic as its social institutions
fester and explode in violent pus. On the other hand, however,
Nixon is a captive of all the rabid 'anti-communist' rhetoric
of the past 30 years which says that the U.S. must help
fight these dirty reds whenever and wherever they rear their
ugly heads. Not only is this policy foolishly simplistic,
but it simply is impossible of fulfillment in this day and
age. Yet so much of a psychological hold does it have on
the American mentality that Nixon can slide us further into
Cambodia, Laos... and God knows where else without an instant
and total revolt on the part of the citizenry.
Perhaps the Nationalist-Communists will take over
in Vietnam, and maybe even elsewhere in Asia, but that will
be no major calamity; the United States will not disappear
as a world power, neither will it be stormed by the 'Yellow
Peril.' The only sane course is to get out, now, immediately,
today - before it's impossible to do so...
NIXON'S WAR AND BUSH'S WAR
How little we learn. The war in Iraq, nearly everyone agrees,
is also a disaster heading toward a catastrophe. But maybe
that shouldn't surprise us. Bush&Co. seem to have a reverse-Midas
effect. Whatever they touch seems to backfire on the U.S.
In Iraq, their policy is wrong-headed not because the great
bulk of U.S. soldiers aren't brave and heroic and good people,
but because the war policy was wrong from the get-go, destined
to fail; that's what happens when zealotry trumps realism.
And so one scandal follows another, one failure tops another,
one bit of outrageous behavior or policy comes right on the
heels of another. History suggests that the Bush&Co. policy-makers
should have been toast by now, but somehow they're still standing,
still brazenly lying, still appointing extremist judges, still
giving away the store to polluting industries, still planning
more invasions and regime-changes, etc. If it had been Clinton
doing these things, the GOP would have had him back in the
impeachment dock in a minute.
Bush&Co. are like the inflatable punching figure, which,
no matter how many hits it takes, no matter how many times
you bang it to the ground, no matter how many self-inflicted
wounds it receives, still pops back up. We need to remember
the Dracula story; garlic and crosses and so on only can take
you so far. If you want to get rid of the beast, shine some
daylight on it and then make sure you drive a stake through
It's up to us ordinary citizens, and to whatever Democratic
leaders (and, may we hope, mainstream journalists?) have the
moxie to step out and take on the fight. Working together,
we can ensure that streams of bright sunlight pour into the
darkest scandals of this Administration - the war lies, the
torture/interrogation policy, the felonious outing of a covert
CIA agent, the 9/11 pre-knowledge coverup, Cheney's secret
energy panel, etc. etc. - and then finish them off with impeachment
or a landslide defeat in November.
POLICY-MAKING WITH BLINDERS ON
Because they run such a closed, incurious shop, Bush&Co.
exemplify the garbage in/garbage out manner of policy-making.
Bush doesn't read newspapers; doing so might confuse him,
since, he tells us proudly, he makes up his mind from his
"gut," and from information supplied him by Cheney and the
White House staff. Had Bush opened himself to hearing other
opinions, he would have learned that most of the world believed
he was heading into a bear-trap in Iraq: his long-time allies
were telling him not to invade, tens of millions of us ordinary
citizens were out in the streets warning him not to invade,
friendly Arab leaders were telling him not to go into Iraq.
Even Colin Powell warned him, privately, that "if you break
it, you own it."
But the neo-cons were riding high in those days, providing
Bush with easy explanations for the difficult job ahead -
folks like Cheney (whom Powell described as in a rabid "fever,"
irrationally "fixated" on unleashing war against Iraq) and
Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld and so on. Acting on ivory-tower theories
they'd developed as founding members of The Project for The
New American Century, they didn't have to work hard to convince
Bush to start the "shock & awe" process. He was raring to
go. And there was no other superpower to get in our way.
The Bush world, after all, is a simple one. It's all black
and white. We are the Good Guys, God is on our side, thus
we know what is best for the world, we know who the bad guys
are, we'll take 'em out. No shades of grey, no wondering about
possible mistaken judgements, no thought about the law of
unintended consequences, no pondering whether we might make
our country less secure against terrorists by running amok
in the world like a rampaging cowboy on a moralist bender.
Any wonder why officers and troops down the chain of command
might feel they could get away with anything done to prisoners
in their charge when the higher-ups and the highest-up divide
the world up into such a convenient us-vs.-them paradigm?
To such zealots, America represents "civilization," and those
sandjockeys are lesser humans, practicing a gutter religion
anyway. The Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence,
General Boykin, has preached his fundamentalist Christianity
by insulting Islam openly; Bush originally called his campaign
against Muslim terrorists a "crusade"; House Majority Leader
Tom DeLay says only one belief-system, the Christian one,
is the true way; Bush permits Christian evangelicals to mount
massive conversion programs in Iraq; Bush supports Sharon
in a never-ceasing, violent Israeli campaign against the Palestinians.
And we wonder why, even though we are the "Good Guys," Arabs
in the Middle East and Muslims across the globe are just a
tad bit suspicious of our motives.
EXIT DOOR, OR ELECTORAL FEINT?
No, Bush&Co. are on their way out, and it's not the Kerry
forces, the liberals, who are doing them in. It's first their
own excesses and arrogant misbehaviors that have created the
climate of mistrust and doubt about their leadership. The
conservatives behind the scenes see that clearly; they are
appalled that the guys they selected to run the show are,
in their astounding brutishness, revealing far too much too
openly about the true policies lying behind the "compassionate
conservative" facade. And, to make it even worse, the Bushies
are incompetent in carrying out their vision, partly because
they are dogmatists who have voluntarily blinded themselves
to reason and evidence.
While it's probably too late for the GOP power-wielders
to change horses now, less than six months away from Election
Day, if the Bush campaign continues to stagger and bleed and
looks even more hopeless going into the GOP Convention in
the Fall, strange things could happen. Financial support could
shift away from Bush - who, in this scenario, would look like
a bad investment as a sure loser. John McCain, or someone
else who they believe could keep the Republicans in power
and the economic goodies flowing, may look better.
But whoever or whatever, the Bush Administration, at least
for the next six months, must seem to be ditching the neo-cons
and their failing war. The whole idea of the firm June 30th
deadline for the handover of "sovereignty" is based on Bush's
election strategy: get Iraq and U.S. troop deaths and injuries
off the political front page. Even if the kind of "sovereignty"
being presented to the Iraqis is a major scam, and won't fool
a single citizen on that country, it might well look like
the real thing to convince a number of Americans to vote for
There's even a fall-back position. The Bush Administration
will not allow itself to be seen - never, ever - as having
made a mistake with its Iraq policy. And certainly it cannot
allow itself to do anything that would look like they were
"cutting and running" from the war. So, both Bremer and Powell
are floating a trial balloon: If the interim government, whatever
its composition, asks the U.S. forces to leave Iraq, the U.S.
will leave. Thus, it can't be accused of "cutting and running"
- the charge would outrage its conservative base - but merely
acceding to the democratic request of a host government.
It's not clear if, on this issue, there is trench warfare
inside the Bush Administration between the ideologue hawks
and the less-strict "realists," or even whether this Powell-Bremer
idea is a serious, sincere exit strategy for the whole, bleepin'
It could be just a feint - designed to fool the American
electorate into believing that the U.S. will be leaving sometime
early next year (notably, after the November election
is decided) - because Powell and Bush know it is highly doubtful,
given the crumbling security situation in Baghdad and the
weakness of Iraqi police forces, that any Iraqi government
would request the U.S. military leave precipitously. Besides,
the Bushies may believe that the rules have been worked out
that lock subsequent Iraqi governments into a whole host of
military and corporate arrangements that benefit the U.S.
But what is to keep that hypothetical government from abrogating
all such "agreements" and closing down the bases, claiming
that they were accepted under duress from an occupying foreign
power? One suspects that under international law, let alone
moral principles, the Iraqis would have every right to do
so. What would prevent them from renouncing this sellout?
Threat of re-invasion by the U.S.? Not likely after this misadventure,
added to the probable world opinion and support behind such
This is why the Bushistas are desperate to set up a puppet
(or at least friendly, amenable) ruling authority, and why
the viability of such an Iraqi government once the U.S. military
leaves is approximately zero. It's a good bet that either
(a) a pro-U.S. government will be set up and immediately overthrown,
or (b) a popular government will declare null and void Bush's
corrupt give-aways. The Busheviks know this, and thus realize
that they are trapped. All that's left for them is to keep
this a secret until November 3.
In short, Bush&Co. figure they can't lose in Iraq, even
if they "lose" the war. The whole object of U.S. policy with
regard to Iraq is aimed at the upcoming election in America;
if it wins in November, Bush&Co. will have free rein to regroup
and figure out a new plan for how to accomplish its alter-Araby
project in the Middle East. So winning the election is the
only goal right now for the Bushistas; everything else is
secondary. Unless, of course, fighting off impeachment takes
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations,
has taught at various universities, was a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and currently co-edits
the progressive website The