December 3, 2003
By The Plaid Adder
My 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 men.
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 cops.
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 like it.
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 danger.
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 time.
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 Lair.