By The Plaid Adder
first thought, when I opened the paper last weekend and saw
a big ol' color picture of Bush serving a Thanksgiving turkey
to soldiers at a Baghdad army base, was, "Are they TRYING
to get him killed?"
After all, coming on the heels of the London visit, it was
a little confusing. Everything about the way Team Bush approached
the state visit with the Queen suggested that in the rarefied
atmosphere enclosing the Bush crew, paranoia had displaced
oxygen. In order to spend four days in a country governed
by Bush's most conspicuously loyal coalition "partner," Bush's
people apparently felt it would be necessary to take along
their own private army of handlers, secret service agents,
snipers, and weaponry. While not granting secret service agents
diplomatic immunity in order to make it easier for them to
shoot to kill, the British authorities did cancel all police
leave in order to produce the 14,000 police officers deemed
necessary to protect Bush and his "sterile zone."
As far as Bush's people were concerned, no sacrifice was
too great to ask in order to obliterate even the smallest
risk to their president's health and well-being - not even
the grounds at Buckingham Palace, which according to a report
in the Sunday Mirror sustained thousands of pounds'
worth of damage from helicopters and "clod-hopping" security
And then, less than three weeks later, Bush suddenly turns
up in Baghdad, sans private army, sans 12-inch-thick-armor-plated
Presidential limo, sans 14,000 cops. If all of London
is offended right now, I could hardly blame them. What, I
hear them cry, you couldn't stand to set foot on our soil
without all that hardware, but you'll waltz into the middle
of an actual honest-to-God war zone without so much as a flak
jacket? What kind of bloodthirsty, lawless, flesh-eating dismembering
maniacs do you think we Londoners are that we're so much more
dangerous than this as-yet-unspecified opposition force that
keeps blowing people to bits all over Baghdad?
Well, of course they're confused. The whole stunt is confusing.
In fact, I believe that it will ultimately backfire just like
the infamous "Mission Accomplished" carrier-landing stunt
backfired before it - precisely because its "message" is inherently
contradictory and self-subverting. Even by the hand-selected
crew of journalists who witnessed this triumph of... something,
this event cannot be made to send a Rovian "message" without
simultaneously saying something that Rove does not want any
of us to hear.
Okay, let's take the message that this stunt was obviously
intended to send:
See what a brave hero George Bush is, boldly risking
his sacred tushie to cheer up our boys in Baghdad!
This has been the tone of most of the coverage, and from
the Bush team's point of view, that all may look and smell
like pure gravy - but it's being poured over something that
stinks pretty bad. First of all, Bush wouldn't need to pull
a stunt like this to build morale if morale was not already
in the toilet. Second, and more important... isn't Iraq supposed
to be safe now? I thought we had liberated it and brought
peace and everything was getting better. So why should we
be impressed by his dropping in for a visit?
In order to make this stunt do what it's supposed to do
- which is to counteract the "chickenhawk" image of Bush that
has been running as fast as it can on its spindly little legs
ever since the carrier landing brought up the AWOL issue -
Rove and the Fox team have to hype up how dangerous it was...
which only reminds everyone of what an unholy mess Baghdad
has become under American 'control.'
And that in turn raises another question: given that this
mission was supposed to be so dangerous, was it really smart
to send The Most Important Man In The World - the man who's
so important that a major European city needs to be
paralyzed for half a week in order to prevent the slightest
harm from befalling his precious person - flying into "the
most dangerous airport in the world" just to work the serving
line for a couple hours?
And even for people who like Bush, that question
is potentially a huge problem, as it exposes Bush's handlers
as a bunch of political hacks willing to jeopardize American
security and global stability in order to pull off a cheap
PR trick - excuse me, inspiring demonstration of Bush's respect
and love for "his" soldiers. So they have to make sure this
event sends out another message, along the lines of:
Don't worry, everyone, our precious president was never
in any REAL danger!
Apart from the fact that this obviously destroys the first
message - if he was never really in danger, than how is this
whole thing brave? - it reveals some disturbing things about
how the Rove team is currently defining "safety." How did
they manage to make a trip to Baghdad "safe"? By shrouding
it in secrecy, limiting news of the event to a hand-picked
team of reporters under their direct control, and restricting
Bush's movements to a military base where they could guarantee
that the only people who had access to him would be American
soldiers who are more or less contractually obligated to explode
with delight whenever they catch a glimpse of their Commander-in-Chief,
however much of a weasel he may be.
So one thing we learn, comparing this photo-op with the
London trip, is that when Bush's handlers talk about protecting
the president, what they are protecting is not his actual
body, but his image. As long as they are comfortably certain
that they can control how the event will play at home on TV,
they don't actually mind deliberately risking Bush's life
in order to stage it. As long as they can feel safe
knowing their propaganda machine will keep on rolling, they
don't really care how safe Bush is. He's more important to
them as a stage prop than he is as a living human being.
So in effect, what we have in Bush is not a president, but
the world's most expensive stunt man.
Now as with everything else about Operation Gobble Gobble,
the obsessive reporting about the elaborate, spy-thriller
type precautions taken to keep the trip secret can be read
several ways. And one should never discount the possibility
that Bush's team actually sincerely believed that it would
be possible to guarantee that Bush would not be injured or
killed on this trip. After all, they all seem to have sincerely
believed that we could take over the country without facing
any significant resistance. And what could explain that, except
an assumption of omnipotence, as regards Iraq and the Iraqis,
that borders on the delusional?
Give me enough raw firepower, fancy technology, and bootlicking
media coverage, said Rumsfeld, and I'll give you an American-controlled
and pacified Iraq in 30 days with no significant casualties.
He was wrong, of course; but he probably hasn't figured that
out yet, and it would not be surprising to me to discover
that the crowd in Washington still believes that if you only
bring enough guns along, you can achieve a military defeat
over Death Himself. It could be that the decision to fly Bush
into what they have all been telling us for the past six months
is Terrorism Central simply arises from a demented, dangerous,
and utterly misplaced confidence in their own ability to control
the people they are supposed to be ruling.
All the same, it would appear that one thing they do not
feel confident about being able to control is the population
of an English-speaking industrialized nation which still enjoys
a few civil rights and liberties. Because there again, the
important thing to protect from their point of view is not
the president himself, but the fiction of his universal power
and popularity. And in a free country, the only way to protect
that fiction is to clear a space around Bush from which everything
but adoration is excluded. And in a free country with an actual
free press, protecting Bush's image from the natural consequences
of his actions requires the constant attentions of 14,000
The bottom line is this, folks: Bush's handlers feel that
he is safer on a military base in the middle of a bloody war
zone than he is walking the public streets of a free city.
And this is a problem, because it suggests that free cities
- and free citizens - are a serious threat to the Bush they
really care about protecting. Which suggests that from Rove's
point of view, turning all of America into a bloody war zone
would actually be preferable to leaving it free. Because it's
only once they're surrounded by heavily armed soldiers and
being filmed by a compliant and coerced state-controlled media
that Bush and his crew feel truly safe.
So for all of this crap the Bush advisors have been handing
us about what we have to give up so that they can ensure our
security, the Baghdad stunt proves that the only hides they
are really trying to save are their own - and if they have
to throw us, the Constitution, and yes, even Bush himself
to the wolves in order to do that, then they're ready. And
so it is about time that Americans finally realized that we
are all being treated like Bush was last week. Their policies,
so far from protecting us, have actually plunged us into the
center of all the world's danger, and the only reason we think
we're safer here than we would be somewhere else is that they
have hired a bunch of media goons to tell us that we are.
Life here on this heavily fortified, overwhelmingly armed,
crawling-with-security military base we now call America is
not only not free, it is not even safe.
But Plaidder, I hear you say. This is all very well, but
the truth is I'm still scared. I'm not over 9/11. The fact
that not a day goes by without news of several nasty bombings
in the Middle East terrifies me. The Iraq war has set off
a global wave of terrorism and it is impossible to believe
that it will not crash on American shores at some point. If
not when, isn't that what they keep telling us? So if piling
on more cops and guns and barricading ourselves into smaller
and smaller spaces isn't going to protect us, what will?
Well, I can give you my answer, but I know you're not gonna
We're human beings. We're mortal. So are all the people
we love. And that means that we are all always in terrible
danger, all the time. As long as you are inside a mortal body
or you love anyone who is, you are not safe. I could be killed
any day of my life out on the highway. My partner could die
any day of her life in a train wreck. Neighbors of ours just
lost their 20 year old son - not to a terrorist attack on
US soil or to fighting in Iraq, but to a sudden and unexpected
infection that no one seemed able to control. Everything that
matters to us is fragile and vulnerable and made to be lost.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that any of us can do
to change that.
So vulnerability is the price of freedom; but it's more
than that. It's the price of love. It's the price of humanity.
It's the price of compassion and sympathy. Since 9/11, what
the crowd in charge has been doing is trying to convince us
that it's too high a price. Instead of being vulnerable, we
have to be secure. And that has meant denying our kinship
with the people of the world, denying our feelings of compassion
toward the people we are trampling in our panic, denying our
own need for light and air and room to move. I am tired of
watching the world burn, and I have decided that if the world
Bush's team is forging is 'safe,' then I would really prefer
So how do we make ourselves safe? We don't. We can't. We
could sacrifice every last thing we have on the altar of security
and in the end the world would still find a way to hurt us.
If we want to find our way out of this mess, we learn to live
with risk. Because it's only by taking risks that you can
change anything. And if we learn to risk being vulnerable,
then we can also learn to treat the rest of the world in a
way that might generate answering love and compassion, instead
of answering fear and hatred. And that actually would
make us safer, even though it would probably take a very long
Well I told you you weren't going to like it.
Anyway you don't have to buy my crackpot theory; who the
hell am I, after all. But I'll tell you what, I don't think
trusting your safety to the guys in charge right now makes
a whole lot of sense either. Because they, apparently, think
it's way safer in Baghdad than it is in London. And if you
disagree, as most people would, then I would say you'd be
smart to go shopping for some leaders whose conception of
what makes something dangerous is a little more consistent
with common sense.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an
equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same
can be found at the Adder's
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