Democratic Underground

It's Time to Play Beat-The-Bully

December 6, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

We all know this from our schooldays and our workplaces: the thing about bullies, especially the really cocky ones, is that they're often very insecure. They swagger and strut their stuff, and get in your face aggressively, but once you organize opposition and indicate you're not afraid of them anymore, thus stripping them of their essential power over you, they're lost in the world of ordinary mortals.

Bullies need to seem successful, which helps explain why so many cheat and lie and threaten in order to get their way; they don't believe they can make it on their own abilities. This behavior also helps explain why they avoid responsibility by blaming others for their own faults.

I got to thinking about this the other day when learning that the Bush Administration secretly paid for pro-U.S. stories in Iraqi newspapers. That reminded me of how Bush & Co. got caught secretly paying a number of U.S. journalists to write pro-Administration articles and plant them in various media outlets. And that reminded me of how the Pentagon and other Administration departments created their own fake TV "news stories" about Bush policies and sent them out to small-town stations around the country, who ran them as real news.

And that reminded me of how Bush during the campaign almost always appeared before hand-picked supportive audiences, and how he almost never gives major foreign-policy speeches these days except before supportive military audiences. Ordinary American civilians who may or may not agree with all his policies are not to be included in the democratic process; as Bush famously told one citizen who expressed mild disapproval, "What do I care what you think?"

The operating principle in the Bush M.O. is to bully and threaten and use violence abroad, to denigrate, humiliate and thoroughly neuter the political opposition at home, to frighten those around them, to take what can be taken, to move relentlessly forward toward their goals until forced to stop, to discipline and harm those who desert their ranks. In short, a regimen of intimidation and use of brute force.

It's plain that the Bush Administration believes (or at least suspects) that its own arguments to justify its aggressive policies, if presented straight, won't pass muster with the American populace, or, in the case of the purchased news stories in Iraq, that country's public. The Administration's versions of the truth won't be enough to convince readers or viewers - for good reason, as they derive from a greedy, mean-spirited, power-hungry ideology - so propaganda is employed to fool the public.

Such deception can be carried out in microcosm by, say, writing a story, getting it translated into Arabic and then paying to have it run in a Baghdad newspaper. Or the deception can be on the macrocosmic Big Lie scale: asserting that Saddam Hussein is in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and is going to pass some of his supposedly huge store of biological and chemical and nuclear WMD to Al-Qaida. The bigger the lie, in some ways, the easier it is to sell to the public - especially when your highest officials spend months and months engaged in such falsehoods and deceptions. Then you add the mainstream media into the equation: by not doing their job and questioning the Bush assertions early on, they appeased the bullies, thereby giving them more power.

RECALLING HOW WE GOT IN THIS MESS

You'll recall that the White House Iraq Group, the unit established to "market" the war to the American people, had a devil of a time coming up with a successful selling tool. Should they tell the truth, that the war was necessary as part of a long-term campaign to control the huge oil/gas energy fields in the Mideast and to alter the geopolitical map of that region? No, that wouldn't fly with the citizenry, they figured; nobody wants their kids killed or maimed for imperial adventures created by ivory-tower ideologues who made sure never to put on their country's uniform in times of war.

So, according to Paul Wolfowitz, one of the key neo-con architects of the war, the Bush Administration finally settled on the scary bogeyman of "weapons of mass destruction" that Saddam Hussein supposedly was ready to unleash on America - biological and chemical agents dropped or sprayed from drone planes off the East Coast, "mushroom clouds" over American cities, and so on.

Even though U.S. leaders knew Saddam was a paper tiger and no longer possessed such weaponry or even active programs to acquire such capabilities, they launched their WMD-scare offense on the American public and provided cherry-picked intelligence (devoid of the doubts, caveats and demurrers of the intelligence analysts) to the Congress.

To help push the propaganda campaign along, they added one more powerful deception to their arsenal of lies. Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice and others began conflating Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terror attacks. There was no such linkage, of course; the Administration had been informed by their counter-terrorism experts shortly after 9/11 that the attacks were pure al-Qaida, with no Iraqi involvement. (Further, Saddam slaughtered any Islamicists he could find in Iraq, and Osama bin Laden had targeted him as a secular enemy.)

The Iraq-9/11 linkage was all B.S., of course, but most American leaders swallowed it - including those Democrats of the supposed "opposition" - while the rest of the world, more savvy about the reality and complexity of the situation, were not afraid to confront the Superpower bully and angrily denounced the Bush lies. More than 10,000,000 citizens demonstrated worldwide against the impending war. Maybe they were more willing to take on the U.S. because they remembered what happened in Europe when appeasement of Adolph Hitler led to World War II, in which 60 million were slaughtered.

Two years after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the suspicions raised by the anti-war forces around the globe about the Bush Administration's duplicity and lies were verified when the top-secret Downing Street Memos - minutes from inside the Blair war cabinet, detailing the war-preparation machinations of the U.S. and U.K. leadership - were leaked to the British press, and, of course, were given little attention by the American corporate mainstream media.

TODAY: LYNNE CHENEY'S TWISTED KNICKERS

In the wake of the recent indictment of Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, for obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame case, the run-up to the Iraq War again has become the subject of great scrutiny. And it turns out that the duplicitous war campaign is non-stop, because the lies are non-stop. The other day, Lynne Cheney expressed outrage that her husband was being accused once more of making those links to Iraq and 9/11. He never expressed such linkages, she said adamantly.

Too bad, Lynne, there are such things as videotape and audiotape, and that record still exists of his intertwining 9/11 and Iraq.

And the linkage deceptions still go on. In Bush's Annapolis speech the other day, he correctly laid out the three main components of the Iraqi insurgency:

"The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists and terrorists. The rejectionists are by far the largest group. These are ordinary Iraqis. ... The second group ... contains former regime loyalists who held positions of power under Saddam. ... The third group is the smallest but the most lethal: the terrorists affiliated with or inspired by al-Qaida."

But throughout the rest of the speech, he often used the term "terrorists" to describe all those fighting the U.S. occupation.

In other words, to deflect attention away from the true nature of the bulk of the Iraqi insurgency - nationalists and ex-Baathists angry at being invaded by foreigners, and enraged by an occupying army that brutalizes and tortures Iraqi civilians at will - the insurgency suddenly is given the rubric of "terrorists," which conflates in some Americans' minds with those mass-murderers who hit the U.S. on 9/11.

The situation in Iraq, in the world, is terribly complex, with all sorts of tribes and clans and competing economic, political, religious, and ethnic interests. To understand those complexities, and devise equally as nuanced responses to them would take real creativity and hard work. It's much easier to simply divide Iraq and the world into black and white categories: "those who are with us and those who are against us." The latter category is given the hated title "terrorists," and the propaganda flows much more easily from that designation, aided enormously by a generally quiescent, at times cooperative, mass media.

And speaking of cooperative reporters who abdicated their journalistic responsibilities, mostly recently it was Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Once an outsider press hero doing battle against the Nixon bullies, Woodward for years has been a shameless insider protecting the powerful; he knew of the intelligence community's doubts about the Bush Administration's broad WMD assertions - three high-level sources told him about the deceptions - but he kept silent, apparently in order to guarantee total access to Bush for the book he was writing about the run-up to the war. For shame!

MURTHA SPEAKS FOR THE GENERALS

Not much changes over time; only the justifications, the spin. Now Bush, trying to avoid culpability for the disaster that is the Iraq War, is trying to deflect criticism by blaming others: it's the CIA's fault, or, in essence, the American public's fault, since they re-elected him during wartime, and Congress' fault since they voted to authorize the war in the first place. Bush & Co. claim that Congress voted for the war based on the same intelligence that the White House saw - an assertion that is patently false, since Congress was provided only summaries cleansed of all doubts and caveats having to do with the supposed stockpiles of WMD.

Finally, belatedly, even with blood on their hands, some Democrats are speaking up against Bush's war policies: the deceptive way we were led into the war, and the gross incompetencies of the Occupation - and so the entire history of that war is once again Topic A for public discussion. Recent reports that the Vietnam War decades before (where millions died) also rested on lies, exaggerations and deceptions, sheds new light on the current situation.

Rep. John Murtha, who earned his bravery medals in 'Nam, spoke with great force the other day, calling for the U.S. to withdraw quickly from Iraq before more senseless slaughter occurs. What is plainly apparent is that Murtha is not speaking only for himself in his denunciation of Bush policy and in calling for a speedy American withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Murtha, a militarist hawk for decades with close ties to the officer corps, also is speaking for those generals inside the military who have revealed their strong arguments with Bush's Iraq policy openly to him but who are afraid to voice their objections in public, lest they be fired or otherwise have their career-advancements closed off.

So where are we? Though there are differences in emphasis and approach, there is a wide, strong, unified opposition to the continuing U.S. presence in Iraq, coming from supposedly disparate groups: officers inside the military, Establishment conservatives, liberals and radicals and mainstream Democrats, the peace movement, nearly two-thirds of the American people. But, even with all this united opposition, Bush & Co. remain in power and, if Bush's Annapolis speech is to be taken seriously, the Iraq War will continue until some vague, undefinable thing called "victory" is obtained. Which is to say the 12th of Never.

Bush may make a few accommodations prior to the 2006 election - withdraw thousands of Guard and Reserve troops, for example, and promise more withdrawals - in order to seem to be in line with the public mood. But the war will continue, with bombing from the air taking the place of boots on the ground, and the goals of dominating the region and controlling the energy fields will remain operative. If it takes five years or ten or twenty, Bush is willing to sacrifice the lives of U.S. troops and spend the treasury into bankruptcy; he believes the war against radical Muslims is his holy mission and we won't back down unless absolutely required to do so. Besides, keeping the American citizenry on a constant fear-boil, Rove believes, provides openings through which to slip Bush & Co.'s domestic agenda.

In short, it's long since time for us to respond to the bullies in charge of our foreign and domestic policy, to remember the lessons of history when insecure leaders are not confronted early enough - Hitler in Europe, Presidents Johnson and Nixon enlarging the disastrous Vietnam War, Sen. Joe McCarthy running roughshod over Americans' civil liberties in his mad hunt for supposed "communists" in 1950s America, et al. We have the proper role models: Fannie Lou Hamer taking on the segregationist Mississippi Democrats, Edward R. Murrow and Joseph Welch finally taking on Joe McCarthy, John W. Dean and the Washington Post stepping forward to reveal the lawless Richard Nixon, Daniel Ellsberg making sure the Pentagon Papers got published about the Vietnam debacle, and other such brave souls. They stood up to the bullyboys of their time, and we all are the better for their fortitude.

So, if we American citizens truly want to get the U.S. out of its Iraq War quagmire before more thousands of U.S. troops are killed and maimed, along with thousands of Iraqi civilians as "collateral damage" - before America has to get out of Iraq anyway years down the road - we simply must organize our opposition and confront our own bullies head on.

PRYING THEIR FINGERS OFF THE POWER LEVERS

We don't have a parliamentary system in this country whereby a vote of no-confidence can remove incompetent or corrupt or ideologically dangerous fools from office. The only way to pry their fingers off the levers of power is to either vote them out of office or to impeach them and send them packing, either with a conviction or with their resignations. Both take lots of time, and the election option is plagued by a voting and vote-counting system that is easily corruptible and has already demonstrably been corrupted.

One would hope Bush & Co. would see the handwriting on the wall and, for the good of the country, resign their offices now, but we know these power-hungry zealots are not going to go willingly. So we - progressives, moderate conservatives, libertarians, right-wingers, left-wingers - must join together and put our efforts into passing laws mandating honest elections and hand-counted votes, and then sweeping enough Republicans out of office in the House and Senate next November so that the proper investigations finally can be conducted that will lead to impeachment and removal.

We can work long-range toward either drastic reform of the Democratic Party or the founding of an electable alternative party. But our immediate goal, our immediate job - because the stakes are so extraordinarily high - is to do everything possible to close down this war, to ensure honest elections, and to protect the Constitution from further ravaging. Let's get on with it.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. Send comments to crisispapers@comcast.net.

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