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As Bad As You Think
March 26, 2003
By Joseph Randazzo

Does it ever all seem like an illusion, a bad dream, a scene from a David Lynch movie? Do world events have you wondering about the End Times? Do images of fire and brimstone raining down on humanity ever sneak into your fitful slumber? Rest easy, fellow Americans, for you are not alone. This war and this Administration are every bit as bad as you think -- and probably worse.

One thing George W. Bush has made clear, from the moment Al Gore was elected President, is that he was going to follow his own agenda. Recall his first action in office, cutting off aid to any African health center that dared whisper the word "abortion," or, perhaps even more insidiously, family planning. In a calculated nod to the fundamentalists with the deep pockets on the Way-Right, Bush, with the stroke of a pen, helped kill thousands more people. And this was his first major initiative.

Recall now his first foray into military affairs. Months after failing a pop-quiz during the campaign in which he was asked to name the leaders of several "rogue nations," and only weeks after taking office, Bush II lobbed some bombs at a dictator very well-known to his family. On February 16, 2001, he ordered a military strike on five Iraqi radar-command posts, the heaviest action against Saddam (and the closest to Baghdad) since 1998, when Clinton launched "Operation Desert Fox," the predication for Richard Butler to pull UN weapons inspectors out of Iraq. The next day Bush, speaking from Mexico (where he had hoped to initiate closer ties with that country's new president) called the strikes "routine." It was self-defense, in response to increased air attacks from Iraqi forces on British and American jets patrolling the "No-Fly Zones". (Just as a reminder: the "No-fly Zones" are a total Anglo-American creation, never supported by the UN, and quite possibly in violation of international law). The US had been enforcing them for years, but these new strikes by Bush targeted spots outside the No-Fly Zones, setting an ominous precedent.

Bush's adventure was viewed as risky then, at a time when "international support ha[d] crumbled for the decade-old sanctions against Iraq, as well as the US-British enforced no-fly zones," according to news reports the day after the strikes. Some called it reckless, callous, the act of a cowboy looking to finish what his father started. These are easy and often comforting accusations, but I fear the truth is much worse; I fear the truth is closer to what former UN weapons inspector Timothy McCarthy, who thought the first-strikes were a good idea, told the Boston Globe. "This is the first salvo in the battle for Iraq," he said [emphasis mine]. "I think we're going to have a lot of movement one way or the other on this," McCarthy concluded, seven months before 9-11.

The signs should have been obvious from the start. Bush filled his cabinet with oilmen, corporate slugs, conservative sycophants, and warmongers. He installed a Bible-thumping fanatic as Attorney General; he chose a former general as his top diplomat, the Secretary of State; his Vice President, of course, was the multi-millionaire ex-Defense-Secretary-CEO of a major oil industry company with hands in military construction and contracting; another blast from the past took the helm at the Defense Department; and positions of lower profile were handed to neo-conservatives from yesteryear bent on a romantic dream of Pax Americana: Paul Wolfowitz at Defense, Richard Pearle suckling at the Pentagon's teat, I. Lewis Libby and Eric Edelman as advisers to the VP, and, of course, Zalmay Khalilzad as a special envoy to Afghanistan. With his merry band of warriors (about two of whom actually spent any time in the armed services), Bush was about to close one chapter on American policy, and open a new one. For he was the Anointed One, God's child, sent to Washington to complete a long-running mission in power, moved by the Divine Hand toward the throne of an American Empire, and life was good.

Bush scoffed at the world community from the very beginning when he chose John Negroponte as the US ambassador to the United Nations. Negroponte oversaw the violence in Honduras as ambassador to that country when America was exercising its Monroe Doctrine rights in the 1980s. Now he was representing all of America before the world body. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocols, signed by nearly 200 countries, on the premise of American exceptionism (i.e. if it's good for the environment, it's bad for business, and the buck, after all, stops here). Then there was his obsession with drilling in the Alaskan wild, long before oil-rich terrorists were on anybody's minds. To top all, even while pushing for the -- as Gore Vidal calls it -- Ronald Reagan Memorial Nuclear Space Shield, a missile defense system based upon fuzzy math, Bush cast aside a decades-old pact intended to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass distraction, er, destruction. In rejecting the 1974 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Bush sent a blaring message to our old rival and to the rest of the world that the time for cooperation was decidedly over. The globe was America's now. Bush called the treaty out-dated, a relic from another age -- an age, presumably, when the US wasn't the undisputed Heavy Weight Champion of the World. And he laid it all out, in the months following 9-11, when he declared, much to the shock and awe of the public, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea to be an Axis of Evil.

It seemed rash and clumsy then, but in retrospect, it begins to look all too calculated. With the benefit of hindsight, Bush & Co.'s early actions seem like a concerted effort to dismantle global safeguards in preparation for something rather large and extraordinary; something that had been planned for some time.

Our story begins, perhaps, in 1948. Fresh off victory in World War II, America emerged as the pre-eminent superpower. With only the USSR to challenge our supremacy, foreign policy would have to take on a new and aggressive posture. George Kennan, a prominent State Department official, offered this (now oft-quoted) top-secret memo to the policy makers of the day:

"The US has about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming, and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans the better."

Kennan was referring specifically to the US role in East Asia, but it spoke to a larger scheme, and would apply to any region where America had interests. There has been nothing in the record of American foreign policy since then to indicate that policy makers didn't take Kennan's advice. Intervention in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Greece, Cyprus, Chile, El Salvador, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, Iraq, Iran and more have played out with exactly these sentiments in mind.

In the 1970s, our eyes were set on the Mideast. Political upheavals in the region had hurt the world oil market, and it was becoming clear that the US role there had to change. Under Carter, the country adopted a more aggressive stance, declaring the Gulf zone a priority vital to national interest. With the world's oil supply now projected to run dry in 50 years, the US has no choice but to protect its interests, to keep its hand on the spigot. That was clear then; long-term goals were about more than lowering the price at the pump. They were about tightening America's grip on a vastly powerful resource, as the final world order began to take shape.

In the 1980s Reagan put pressure on the OPEC states and the region, often under the guise of the Soviet threat. We helped arm and train the mujahideen warriors (including, of course, Osama bin Laden) to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and we supported Saddam Hussein to ward off fundamentalism in Iran. We firmed alliances with Turkey, Egypt, and Israel, furthering a stronghold in the region. We armed Saudi Arabia to the teeth, all the while ignoring an impressive list of human rights abuses and outright atrocities by our friends and allies.

Flash forward to the first Bush Administration. Arab states in the oil rich Gulf were beginning to hedge on their friendship with the US. Then Saddam invaded Kuwait, and everything changed. After Gulf I we had military presence in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and increased arms sales to Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Our dominance over the region, necessitated by the need for access to oil and oil-power, was growing.

The disintegration of the USSR saw the US emerge as a sort of hyper-power, unrivaled in the imposition of its will. It was under this backdrop that Bush I's cronies mapped out a strategy for seizing global dominance in the years ahead.

It's called "Defense Planning Guidance" (described well in the October, 2002 issue of Harper's Magazine) and it was signed by then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, though it was authored by Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, and others who recognized the new role now available to the US. Powell summed it up best when he told Congress the US would have to "deter any challenger from ever dreaming of challenging the United States on the world stage." The plan calls for a strategy to "prevent any hostile power from dominating a region," through means including preemptive strikes -- now an official US policy, erroneously dubbed the Bush Doctrine. It also calls for a maintenance (and possible increase) of military spending so the US would have the ability to engage in conflict on two fronts simultaneously -- now echoed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In their eyes, the thumb of America was already planted firmly on its nose in regards to that pesky international community, as the "DPG" also outlined a strategy in which the military would use "ad-hoc assemblies, often not lasting beyond the crisis being confronted, and in many cases carrying only general agreement over the objectives to be accomplished". The US also reserved the right to "act independently when collective action cannot be orchestrated," -- now echoed by everybody.

Cheney's plan was considered lunacy then, and it would have been met with the same chorus today, especially given the prominence of its penmen in the second Bush Administration. Yet their minds, we can be sure, have not changed. By 2001, America's global power was so disproportionate, the world so dependent on US control of politics, economics, and military might, that any flux would prove catastrophic. America had to keep the helm. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and whoever else turns the wheel in the American monster truck are well aware of that, and their ambitions must surely have been the same after the 2000 election as they were 10 years before. Bush II had his agents in place to close the deal on American dominance.

But there was a problem: Bush had no power. He was weak on domestic issues, laughable on foreign policy, and disgracefully out of touch with the progressive politics of the age. By September 10, Democrats everywhere were taking victorious drags off their cigars, licking their lips for 2004. Then everything went to pot.

Given the broad powers historically granted Chief Executives in times of war or national emergency, the horrific events of that Tuesday seemed the next logical plot twist in our narrative. How else could an illegitimate president with a band of conservative madmen gain any sort of mandate to carry out the Great Plan? It seems -- mind yourselves now -- almost as if Bush & Co. were waiting for September 11 to happen. The American public, dining on the dishes of the Media, that great beast, seem to love epic morality plays that reassert our role as arbiter, executioner, and general torch-carrier of all that is good. Bush's propaganda that this was a "Crusade" against those freedom-hating evildoers seemed just the thing to sate our thirst after the Clinton years, which provided only relative peace and prosperity. Yes, it would all be black and white again, like the good old days of Brezhnev, Us and Them, Good and Evil. Never mind the subtler and more responsible examinations that dared link US foreign policy and a festering pool of Islamic fundamentalism to that terrible day. No, this was a challenge from God -- George W. Bush's God.

With a nation terrified, their threat level for the day given in beautiful, cascading color codes, Bush has been able to sweep domestic issues under the rug, Ashcroft has carte blanche to dismantle the Constitution through the USA Patriot Act (and perhaps under the upcoming "Patriot II"), and convicted Iran-contra figure John Poindexter ("ah, gee, the gang's all here!") is trying to launch his hysterically Orwellian Total Information Awareness. Never before had such tragedy given such a tragic figure - and such a tragic strategy - such undisputed power.

Rather than retreat from the global chess match, as Bush had promised in his early days in office, the "new reality" of 9-11 allowed the US to declare a checkmate. Action in Afghanistan established more military bases in former Soviet republics like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, effectively isolating Russia and surrounding the country with American troops. The open-ended War on Terror (perhaps the first war declared on an emotion), referred to by Bush, with an eerie smile, as a "different kind of war," has gained the Pentagon huge increases in spending. We've stepped up our military presence in Columbia, Georgia and the Philippines. (We've also had to ignore other countries' heavy-handed approaches to fighting terror, like Russia's toward Chechnya.) At the same time America is slowly but surely becoming a police state, with cameras and national guardsmen everywhere, and intelligence agencies spying on their own citizens.

Now, with bombs falling on Baghdad, the president sits in the fortified White House, cordoned off for a block in every direction, while the threat of terrorism grows at home. The CIA, that most sneaky of pranksters, warned Congress last year that Saddam Hussein posed no legitimate threat to the US unless he was attacked. Rather than secure our safety, this illegal war is likely only to threaten it.

But surely they don't plan to stop with Iraq. Sooner or later Iran, Indonesia, North Korea, and even Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- in short, anywhere we're met with dissent -- will be in the cross-hairs. As Bush & Co. plays out its end game, the American people will be left to foot the bill, in money and lives, as extremism and hatred for our country is inflamed across the globe. One can only wonder what the Administration with the big dreams has planned for us when the next Day of Infamy dawns on American soil.

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