Than Vietnam, and "Worse Than Watergate"
By Bernard Weiner, The
speed with which the anti-war forces have coalesced and influenced
the general mood of the country about Iraq has amazed the
peace-movement. "Amazed" because it took years and years for
those of us active in the anti-Vietnam War period to educate
the general public to the point where they could even consider
that their leaders might have lied to them and led the country
into an unwinnable war.
And here we are, just a little more than a year after Bush
started "shocking & aweing" in Iraq, and most of the American
citizenry - who once had been overwhelmingly behind the U.S.
adventure in that country - already has moved toward strong
opposition to Bush's war policies. Truly remarkable!
How to explain this relatively quick development? Here are
seven likely reasons:
First we have to understand that, in all likelihood, Bush&Co.
would have had a free ride with their war - or at least a
freer ride - if the Iraqis had simply acquiesced to the occupation
of their country. The U.S. would have marched into Bagdhad
to flowers and cheers, set up shop, distributed the oil and
reconstruction contracts to the various U.S. and multinational
corporations - and all of this would have been accompanied
by widespread acceptance by a docile Iraqi population.
That was the expectation of the naive neo-con planners in
the Bush Administration, led by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz,
Perle, et al. This was the "liberation" fantasy. The U.S.
would set up a puppet or at least American-friendly Iraqi
government, steal the country blind for the benefit of the
GOP-supporting corporations, establish military bases in Iraq
from which to reshape the geopolitical map of the Middle East,
lean harshly and heap abuse on whatever Iraqis got swept into
the detainee net (whether innocent or guilty) - and the Iraqis
would not object, but would be eternally grateful and accepting
because the brutal dictator Saddam was no longer in power.
Lo and behold, it turned out that Iraqi society is much
more complex and nationalist than those genius neo-cons ever
imagined. (When you get locked into a simplistic, black-and-white
way of looking at the world, you are unencumbered by bothersome
complexities.) And, more than a year later, it's finally dawning
on Bush&Co. - though, of course, they will not come right
out and admit it - that they wildly miscalculated, with the
result being the death and maiming (still going on) of many
hundreds of young American soldiers, along with thousands
of Iraqis, many of them innocent civilians.
Surprise! Iraqis don't like being brutalized and treated
as subhumans in their own country by an occupation army. "Liberation"
takes on a whole new meaning. Now it has become a term used
by Iraqis to describe their goal after the Americans leave
or are driven out.
OH, THOSE MINI-CAMS!
Second, one can point to the democratizing impact of image-technology.
One can take digital photos and video - and pictures on tiny
cell phones - and beam them around the world in a few seconds;
one can log on and instantly send an email describing a wartime
event. Rumsfeld, a man in his 70s, was astounded and shocked;
he saw these technological breakthroughs as terrible things,
permitting the Abu Ghraib tortures and abuses to be seen worldwide.
Otherwise, the various written reports on prisoner-interrogation
techniques could have remained buried in the military bureaucracy.
(Given what happened when soldiers had sent their snapshots
back to the States, the Pentagon now has taken steps to severely
limit troop access to email in Iraq, and the taking of photos
and videos and cell-phone pictures.)
The real impact of their leaders' immoral war in Vietnam
was brought nightly into citizens' living rooms via the network
newscasts. But it took years to get to that point. The Abu
Ghraib images took less than a few days to make Americans
question what the Bush Administration was doing in their names
- aided, no doubt, by their increasing knowledge of how they'd
been lied to about the justifications for this war. Iraqis,
of course, already had known of the totures, but it fired
their resolve to get the U.S. out of their country as soon
HUNGER FOR NEWS - BUT NOT ABOUT COFFINS
Third, connected to #2 above, the 24-hour news cycle requires
a constant supply of events and images. The result is a never-ceasing,
instantaneous bombardment of news and visuals from the field,
beamed all across the world but most importantly to the American
homeland. It took years and years for this kind of reporting
to have an impact in the Vietnam days - when film had to be
flown back to the States for processing each day - and less
than a year for the barrage of images from Iraq to build up
that anti-war momentum.
Fourth, despite the fact that the Bush Administration uses
a mercenary army - both volunteers, often from poor and minority
communities, and "contractors" - and that dead bodies (and
images of the flag-draped coffins) of U.S. soldiers are not
permitted to be seen by the American electorate, the word
is filtering out. These 800+ American dead, and nearly 17,000
American wounded, are seen as dying and getting maimed for
an invasion that may or may not have seemed justifiable in
the first place, but which is understood these days as being
run by incompents who are clueless as to what they are doing.
It was (and remains) ad hoc, on-the-run military planning,
based on a forlorn hope that somehow it will all pull together
eventually into something that could look vaguely like a "victory."
Our young men and women were (and are) being placed in harm's
way for no good military or political reasons, without adequate
equipment and numbers, and with bumbling military and civilian
leaders in charge. Disgraceful!
THE POWER OF THE INTERNET
Fifth, the Internet has become the contemporary equivalent
of the Vietnam-era TV news networks. Those journalists then
were revealing far too much for the powers-that-be to accept.
And so, the far-right in the decades after Vietnam made sure
to corner the market on mass-media information, buying up
network after network, cable outlet after cable outlet, etc.
The result is that the mass-media in the Bush era basically
were (though this is starting to change) cheerleaders for
Bush policy, and the normally objective print-media outlets
- such as the New York Times, Washington Post
and others - followed their lead, even into the killing zone
that is Iraq, though this is starting to change as well.
But a huge segment of the population was turned off by the
propaganda being peddled as "fair and balanced" news reporting
by these mass-media outlets; hungry for a more objective,
or at least an alternative, source for news, they turned to
the new technology: the Internet. There, super writers and
analysts - some working for non-American papers such as the
Guardian and Independent in England, Globe&Mail
and Toronto Star in Canada, et al., others writing
solely for Internet websites - report unfiltered news and
supply alternative takes on what it all means. For access
to the best of these websites, see The
Dissenting Internet list.
The best demonstration of the power of the Internet as an
organizing political tool can be seen in the following examples:
1) When more than 10 million citizens worldwide marched in
the streets in February of 2003 to protest the impending U.S.
war on Iraq, virtually all of the organizing for that demonstration
came via the Internet. 2) MoveOn.org can mobilize millions
of dollars in support for its liberal causes within hours
or days, just by sending a bulk e-mail to its two million
members. 3) Howard Dean shot off to an amazing head-start
in the Democratic primaries largely due to the "meet-ups"
and fundraising he was organizing via the Internet.
This doesn't even mention the number of public issues that
have been kept alive and highlighted by constant internet
attention, eventually forcing many of the mainstream, conglomerate-owned
media to pay attention to the issues raised, and even to begin
reporting on them in their mass-media outlets.
BUSH&CO.'S WORST ENEMY
Sixth, Bush&Co. are their own worst enemies, both in their
policies and in their incompentency in implementing them.
They come across as arrogant bullies, swaggering their way
across the post-Cold War landscape, grabbing what they can
get (because with the Soviet Union gone, they believed there
was nobody to stop them), and woe to those who get in their
way. Their lies and deceptions are so bald-faced as to be
almost laughably obvious.
If they had just told the truth - that the U.S. needed to
take Iraq so as to re-shape the geopolitical map of the Middle
East, and to guarantee that the natural resources there would
be safeguarded from the potential grasp of terrorist fanatics
and put into the hands of friendly business interests - at
least some might have gone along with them, for the "idealism"
of their cause. But no, in order to justify an invasion, they
had to hornswoggle the Congress and the American people and
the United Nations into believing all sorts of crude bullcrap.
(Most of the globe's citizens saw through the deceit from
the git-go; it took Americans a bit longer to wake up to the
true nature of this Administration.)
And then, once Bush&Co. got their way and invaded Iraq, they
revealed themselves to be absolute incompetents, with no "post-Mission
Accomplished" plan, not enough troops, not enough life-protecting
equipment for our young men and women in harm's way, no understanding
of the complexities of Iraqi culture and politics, no sense
of the tenacious nationalism that animates a proud culture
under occupation. In short, everything Bush&Co. touched turned
to dust; with an election coming, it was time to make and
take the best deals that could be arranged, to get American
deaths off the front page of voters' minds.
HEROES WHO BLOW WHISTLES
Seventh, one has to point out and celebrate the individual
citizens of courage who chose to tell the truth from inside
the belly of the beast.
It's fairly easy for those of us writing screeds and exposes
on the "underground" Internet to step forward and take the
heat. It's far more difficult for those on the inside, or
who were on the inside and still walk the corridors of power,
to step up to the truth-plate and tell what they know.
When they do, their revelations are attended to with great
interest by the populace precisely because these individuals
were at the center of the action and have chosen courageously
to reveal what really happened. There are such lesser-known
whistle-blowers as Sibel Edmonds, Joseph Darby, Katherine
Gun, anonymous souls within the CIA and Pentagon - who have
had to deal with threats, loss of their jobs, mass-media denunciations,
etc., as they revealed embarrassing secrets involving the
But I'm thinking also of books and articles by, among others,
such Bush Administration luminaries as White House aide John
DiIulio, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Anti-Terrorism Chief
Richard Clarke, Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, Gen. Anthony
Zinni and so on. Because of their willingness to step forward,
we now know a hell of a lot more about how Bush&Co. really
works, the level of corruption and incompetence, the unrealistic
and wacky HardRight theories that substitute for effective
policy analysis, the lies and deceptions that led us into
Iraq, and so much more.
"WORSE THAN WATERGATE"
One more recent book must be mentioned at length, because
it so rigorously and completely reveals the true levels of
awfulness of the Bush Administration: John W. Dean's Worse
Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
Dean, you may remember, was President Nixon's chief legal
counsel during the Watergate scandal. He saw, from the inside,
the crimes being perpetrated against the Constitution and
the American people by leaders of his own Republican Party.
Eventually, Dean testified before the Senate Watergate Committee,
exposing the rotten West Wing core of charlatans and felons
who ran the place. His testimony helped lead to the only resignation
of an American president, when Nixon departed in disgrace
in the face of impeachment.
Dean, of course, is no longer inside the White House. But
his GOP contacts, sources, experience, and insights give his
words more gravitas than would similar expressions coming
from a Democratic reporter. He knows whereof he speaks, and
we'd best pay attention.
DEAN LISTS IMPEACHABLE OFFENSES
The title of his book indicates how bad the situation is.
For those who've forgotten, Watergate was the Nixon-era umbrella
term that represented the felonies and other crimes committed
by that administration in an effort to gain and stay in power
- everything from setting up a secret police unit inside the
White House to "get" the president's enemies, to breaking-and-entering
to bribery to burglary to dirty election tricks to a massive
cover-up to hide all these nefarious activities from the public.
So when John W. Dean says that the Bush Administration is
"worse than Watergate," you know we're dealing with real "worstness"
here, not merely a repetition of the Nixon-like felonies,
which look almost quaint in comparison. With Bush&Co, we're
talking about acts that have resulted in thousands of deaths,
among many other high crimes and misdemeanors.
But let Dean speak for himself on the variety of chapter
topics he covers in this extraordinary book: the comparison
to the Nixon-era felonies; stonewalling and cover-ups; the
obsessive secrecy of the Bush Administration; the "secret
government" that has resulted; Bush&Co.'s "hidden agenda,"
and the various unfolding scandals. (The prisoner-torture
exposure came too late to be included, but certainly Dean
would have added it to his list of impeachable offenses.)
In the few excerpts that follow, Dean gives the general
flavor of his argument against the "shared presidency" of
BushCheney, all well-sourced and with footnoted factual evidence.
EXCERPTS FROM "WORSE THAN WATERGATE"
"Their secrecy is extreme - not merely unjustified
and excessive but obsessive...It has given us a presidency
that operates on hidden agendas. To protect their secrets,
Bush and Cheney dissemble as a matter of policy...Cheney openly
declares that he wants to turn the clock back to the pre-Watergate
years - a time of an unaccountable and extraconstitutional
imperial presidency. To say that their secret presidency is
undemocratic is an understatement."
"Cheney formed what is, in effect, a shadow
NSC [National Security Council]...It is a secret government
- beyond the reach of Congress, and everyone else as well...Cheney
knew that terrorism was the perfect excuse, an ideal raison
d'etre, for his 'let's rule the world' philosophy. Politically,
it would be much easier to be seen as shooting back instead
of shooting first, given the caliber of weapon Cheney sought
to wield. But he and his team did far worse than simply waiting
for an attack that would kill a sufficient number of Americans...It
is reasonable to believe that they planned to exploit terrorism
before 9/11 handed them the issue ready-made for exploitation
- a fact they obviously want to keep buried."
"Not since Lyndon Johnson hoodwinked Congress
into issuing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorizes
sending American troops to Vietnam, has a president so deceived
Congress about a matter of such grave national importance...Bush
and Cheney took this nation to war on THEIR hunches, THEIR
unreliable beliefs, and THEIR unsubstantiated intelligence
- and used deception with Congress both before and after launching
the war....The evidence is overwhelming, certainly sufficient
for a prima facie case, that George W. Bush and Richard B.
Cheney have engaged in deceit and deception over going to
war in Iraq. This is an impeachable offense."
"Their secrecy helps corporations and industries
that are major contributors. But with a DEADLY difference.
Bush and Cheney have, from the outset of their presidency,
shown utter disregard for the human consequences of their
actions, both at home and abroad...What Bush and Cheney are
doing to the environment to curry favor with their contributors
is far worse than anything Nixon's 'responsiveness program'
ever did. The Bush-Cheney presidency is engaged in crimes
against nature, not to mention failing to faithfully execute
the laws of the land."
"The Bush-Cheney secrecy and style of governing
carries with it potential consequences that are far worse
than any political scandal. Their secret presidency is a dangerous
threat to democracy in an age of terrorism...Bush and Cheney
have picked up where Nixon left presidential power. They seek
to free the presidency of all restraints. They want to implement
their policies -- a radical wisdom they believe serves the
greater good - unencumbered by those who view the world differently."
"When the moment comes and terrorists surprise
America with an even greater spirit-shattering attack than
9/11, Bush and Cheney will simply push aside the Constitution
they have sworn to uphold, inflame public passions with tough
talk to rally support...and take this country to a place it
has only been once. For eleven weeks during the outset of
the Civil War, President Lincoln became what scholars have
euphemistically called a constitutional dictator. But with
terrorism it will likely not be so brief. Bush once quipped,
'If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier,
just so long as I'm the dictator.' George Bush, however, is
no Abraham Lincoln."
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught government at various universities,
was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and
currently co-edits The
Crisis Papers. He is a contributor to the just-released
Big Bush Lies, available in bookstores and from RiverWood