Democratic Underground

Conservatives are Jumping Ship: Bush is Going Down

March 7, 2006
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

I'm more and more convinced that it will be Republicans, many of them of the true conservative and realist kind, who effectively will do in the Bush Administration.

In this, I am reminded of the behavior of Richard Nixon. Realizing that he was fast losing his middle-class, bourgeois base, he knew when to call it quits on the Vietnam War and on his presidency after his crimes were exposed.

Unlike Nixon's crew, Bush & Co. seem willing to take the country down with them, so desperate are they to hold onto power, deplete the treasury, pay off their corporate friends, carry out their ideological revolution - and keep themselves out of the federal slammer.

The crimes of the Bush Administration are so many and varied that none of us should be surprised by anything that might happen in the coming weeks and months: Bin Laden captured or reported killed, a U.S.-Israeli air assault on Iran's nuclear facilities, a major terrorist attack inside the U.S. to be followed by martial law, the announcement of a bird-flu outbreak with the military placed in charge. I'm pretty level-headed and don't usually think in these dire terms, but these guys have backed themselves into a political corner and are desperate - and dangerous.

THE IMPLODING SCANDALS

Bush is at 34% approval rating (Cheney is at 18%!), and their scandals are blowing up in their faces: Katrina lies and incompetence; Iraq lies and incompetence; the Dubai Ports deal; GOP bribery and corruption; Libby under indictment and Rove apparently about to be; Bush claiming authority to authorize torture, spy on millions of American citizens and violate the law whenever he says "national security" is involved; Congress rebelling at being frozen out of decision-making, etc. etc. But in the face of all that, the Rovian M.O. is always to attack their foes and to hype the fright quotient.

The Administration didn't have to consider the most extreme options until recently, when a lot of wheels started falling off the Bush bus. The attacks were no longer mostly coming from liberals and Democrats; more and more, they were coming from loyal conservative Republicans, who, being apprised of the sinking poll numbers, saw the handwriting on the wall: they realized they could well lose their majorities in the House and Senate - in other words, lose their jobs and access to the spoils of power - and they started distancing themselves from the Administration.

So, rather than beating my usual drum here denouncing the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration, I thought I'd just lay out the comments of those conservatives and let them speak for themselves. (My late friend Emile de Antonio, the documentary filmmaker, taught me a good lesson; it's always better, he pointed out, to quote what the Wall Street Journal is saying rather than quoting a hippie leftist making the same point. When their own supporters smell the moral rot up top, the end is near.)

I'll concentrate here on Iraq and the neo-con ideologues who took this country to war, though currently the flak is also coming hot and heavy from the Right on both the domestic spying and Dubai ports scandals. (Even conservative Republican Senator Richard Shelby says Bush broke the law in the way he handled the Dubai ports contract.)

THE NEO-CONS BEHIND THE WAR

Let's begin with a reminder that the conservative establishment didn't agree from the very beginning with Bush's obsession to invade Iraq. President George H.W. Bush, who successfully organized a massive coalition to push Iraq's army out of Kuwait in the first Gulf War, warned his son privately and through his spokesmen of the dangerous consequences both of invading and occupying Iraq and of doing so without wide international support. As he said of Iraq in A World Transformed (written with Gen. Brent Scowcroft): "Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome."

Fast forward to the present, when so many Republican stalwarts are saying, in effect, that they backed the wrong horse. Their party was taken over by rightwing extremists, incompetent at that, whose reckless policies are doing great danger to the country and to the future of the once-great GOP. Here's Melinda Pillsbury-Foster, chair of the Arthur C. Pillsbury Foundation, going even beyond the war into the deeper crimes being committed against Americans' freedoms:

Most Americans do not yet realize that a war is being waged - not against Iraq but against each of us. It is not the Republican Party that is charge in this administration but a small cadre who seized executive branch power and converted it to their own uses. Most Republicans are experiencing a deer-in-the-headlights moment right now. Their Party has been hijacked, their president has been hijacked, and they do not know what to do. I remain a registered Republican working for an effective coalition. The attack on us and on our rights has hardly begun. You don't go to the trouble of setting up this degree of control without having made plans to use it.

NEO-CON FUKUYAMA HAS SECOND THOUGHTS

Or try this out. Francis Fukuyama, who wrote the 1992 neocon best-seller The End of History, is exhibiting some serious recantation these days in interviews and in his new book, America at the Crossroads.

He now says that neo-conservatism has "evolved into something I can no longer support," and should be tossed onto history's pile of discredited ideologies. The doctrine, which has demonstrated "the danger of good intentions carried to extremes ... is now in shambles," and needs to be replaced by a more realistic foreign policy.

For example, though he once supported regime change in Iraq, he now believes the war there is the wrong sort of war, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The most basic misjudgment was an overestimation of the threat facing the United States from radical Islamism. Although the new and ominous possibility of undeterrable terrorists armed with weapons of mass destruction did indeed present itself, advocates of the war wrongly conflated this with the threat presented by Iraq and with the rogue state/proliferation problem more generally.

By definition, outsiders can't 'impose' democracy on a country that doesn't want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective.

THE CHENEY-RUMSFELD CABAL

Then we go to a long-time Administration stalwart who couldn't take it any more: Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made," Wilkerson said in a well-publicized speech at the New America Foundation last October. "And you've got a president who is not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either."

Wilkerson has also focused attacks on the Bush administration for condoning torture, setting lax and ambiguous policies on treatment of detainees that inevitably led to the scandal of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and elsewhere.

BUCKLEY BUCKLES TO REALITY

Onward to the intellectual godfather of the modern conservative movement, National Review founding editor William F. Buckley Jr., who concludes that what may have started as a decent move has evolved into disaster:

One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. ... Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols. ... Mr. Bush has a very difficult internal problem here because to make the kind of concession that is strategically appropriate requires a mitigation of policies he has several times affirmed in high-flown pronouncements. His challenge is to persuade himself that he can submit to a historical reality without forswearing basic commitments in foreign policy. ... The kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.

THE TROOPS WANT OUT, SOON

Speaking of the troops in Iraq, recent polling reveals that nearly 3 out of 4 of U.S troops in Iraq think the U.S. should exit the country this year, and more than one in four say the troops should leave immediately. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff admits also that the Iraqis want us to leave "as soon as possible."

Here are some pertinent comments by a U.S. soldier in Iraq, writing as "djtyg," about why the desire to leave that country:

We need to get out because our military cannot take much more of this. We are stretched too thin and it's about to get worse. ... Soldiers are frustrated. Every soldier I have talked to says that they are getting out of the military when they get home. Every. One. Of. Them. Regardless of rank, experience, or time in, they all want out. There has not been a single Soldier I've talked to that says they want to stay in. This include officers, NCOs, and rookies who are on their first tour of duty. We need to get out of Iraq because Iraq is the reason why the military is shrinking. We, like Cindy Sheehan, are curious as to what "noble cause" we are fighting for. We can't seem to find one. This is weakening America. At the rate we are going, we are going to have a military that can't fight because it has old and broken down equipment, and no troops to fight a war with.

SEN. HAGEL LOWERS THE BOOM

Then there are key Republican senators who are willing to stick out their necks by talking truth to power about Iraq - for example, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, who says the U.S. is losing in Iraq and raised a parallel to an earlier conflict.

"[The Vietnam War] was a national tragedy partly because members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the administrations in power until it was too late. To question your government is not unpatriotic - to not question your government is unpatriotic," he said, arguing that 58,000 troops died in Vietnam because of silence by political leaders. "America owes its men and women in uniform a policy worthy of their sacrifices."

O'REILLY QUESTIONS STAYING IN IRAQ

So, let's see: Bush is losing old-money Republican conservatives, GOP senators, neo-con theorists outside the Cheney-Rumsfeld insider nexus, military insiders, troops under fire in Iraq - who else can he lose? Would you believe the lunatic fringe, as symbolized by that raving Limbaugh wannabee Bill O'Reilly?

The Fox News pundit, who usually is in lockstep with the Bush program and calls anybody who criticizes those policies idiots and worse, had this to say the other day about the need to get out of Iraq ASAP: "[We need to] hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible [because] there are so many nuts in the country - so many crazies - that we can't control them."

GOP DISCONTENT ON NATIONAL SECURITY

Well, one could go on and on with the criticism coming from the Right - conservative former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, former Reagan Administration official Paul Craig Roberts, Congressional warhawk John Murtha, et al. The point is that the Republicans, formerly associated with a winning national-security message, are now regarded much differently by many GOP rank-and-file and politicos.

Many Representatives and Senators also deeply resent the way the Congress has been frozen out of the power loop by the Bush Administration. "We simply want to participate and aren't going to be PR flacks when they need us," Florida's conservative GOP Congressman Mark Foley said. "We all have roles. We have oversight. When you can't answer your constituents when they have legitimate questions - we can't simply do it on trust."

Scott Reed, who managed Robert Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, called the current low poll ratings for Bush and the GOP "pretty shattering," noting especially that Bush's support among Republicans fell from 83 percent to 72 percent. "The repetition of the news coming out of Iraq is wearing folks down," Reed said. "It started with women and it's spreading. It's just bad news after bad news after bad news, without any light at the end of the tunnel."

THE PRESIDENT AS DICTATOR

"Even if you're a Republican member of Congress, you don't buy the exaggerated view of the unified executive theory, in which the only part of the Constitution that matters is Article II," on presidential power, said James B. Steinberg, a dean at the University of Texas at Austin. "If you want them to be in on the landing, you have to have people there for the takeoff."

For example, two staunch conservative Southern Senators won't accept Bush's Unified Executive theory of governance. "I think the administration has looked at the legitimate power of the executive during a time of war and taken it to extremes," said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. "[It's] to the point that we'd lose constitutional balance. Under their theory, there would be almost no role for the Congress or the courts." Mississippi's Sen. Trent Lott was even more blunt: "Don't put your fist in my face."

EVEN WALL ST. IS TALKING IMPEACHMENT

Now all those defections from the Bush orbit are doing great damage to the once-unified Bush & Co. juggernaut, but I've left out one key one: Wall Street. The titans of finance are agitated, even to the point of urging serious consideration of Bush's impeachment. Here's some of what Barron's Editorial Page Editor Thomas G. Donlan wrote in that establishment financial journal:

...The administration is saying the president has unlimited authority to order wiretaps in the pursuit of foreign terrorists, and that the Congress has no power to overrule him ... Perhaps they were researched in a Star Chamber? Putting the president above the Congress is an invitation to tyranny. The president has no powers except those specified in the Constitution and those enacted by law. President Bush is stretching the power of commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy by indicating that he can order the military and its agencies, such as the National Security Agency, to do whatever furthers the defense of the country from terrorists, regardless of whether actual force is involved.

Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation ...

It is important to be clear that an impeachment case, if it comes to that, would not be about wiretapping, or about a possible Constitutional right not to be wiretapped. It would be about the power of Congress to set wiretapping rules by law, and it is about the obligation of the president to follow the rules in the Acts that he and his predecessors signed into law ...

THREE MORE YEARS?

So, friends, when we're down in the dumps, depressed by the fact that Bush & Co. are still in power even in the face of all their lies and bumblings and policies that result in thousands of people getting killed and maimed and tortured, let us consider that even their once-loyal rats are deserting the sinking ship of state.

The thought of nearly three more years of Bush & Co. misrule is too horrible to contemplate. So let's ratchet up the pressure, incorporate distressed GOP moderates and conservatives into the impeachment momentum, and let's send the Bush Bunker crew packing and return the country to reasonable people dedicated to a restoration of Constitutional rule of law and a realistic foreign policy. It's the least we can do for our country.

Bernard Weiner has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. To comment, write: crisispapers@comcast.net.

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