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Steve Weissman: How Far Will Bush Go?

How Far Will Bush Go?

By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 12 August 2004

Part I: God Knows Where

The day we all watched two hijacked airplanes slam into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, we learned what warriors have known ever since men first fought with stones and cudgels. If your assailant has no fear of dying, or of being caught, he gains an awesome advantage.

George W. Bush and the people around him share a similar power, though with devilishly different beliefs. Having freed themselves from the moral qualms that restrained even the Nixon Administration, Team Bush can do things that lesser mortals would never dream of. They have cast themselves as Supermen.

Just look at their lineup of Nietzschean ubermenschen. The Prince of Darkness Richard Perle, his imperial soul mate Paul Wolfowitz of Arabia, and their fellow neo-conservatives clearly feel it their right - nay, their sacred obligation - to twist the truth when twisting serves their undoubtedly righteous cause. Douglas Feith, another neo-con at the Pentagon, even has an Office of Special Plans, which refudged as "intelligence" the fables that Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles cooked up to drag America into their war of choice. Remember the Weapons of Mass Destruction? And all the collaboration between Saddam and Osama? The neo-cons sold us those lies, for our own good, to be sure. They're now selling Iran.

William Kristol, editor of the neo-con Weekly Standard, feels the same about the torture and sexual humiliation of those we capture. We're the good guys. At least some of them are bad guys. And whatever we're doing to them, we're getting the information we need. So don't obsess. Supermen never do.

Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon chief, is no neo-con. More a traditional Republican conservative, he put the torturers in place. Why not? When you have the power, use it.

Dick Cheney, the vice-president, thinks in much the same way. Like Rumsfeld, he wants Washington and its fat-cat friends to grab as much of the world's oil as they can, using the War on Terror as an Open Sesame for global plunder. Billion-dollar construction contracts are only added value. Why not? Who's going to stop me?

Karl Rove, the president's political Houdini, is an old-fashioned Christian conservative, of the kind that worries considerably less about how presidents go to war than where they put their pecker. Promised his pie in the sky without the need to do good works, Rove shows an utter lack of embarrassment as his party faithful do the most God-awful anti-democratic deeds.

In Florida, Brother Jeb seeks to purge the electoral roles to cut down the number of Afro-American voters, who look likely to vote Democratic. Rove never blushes, but calmly plans to send out thousands of "poll watchers" nationwide on election day to harass Afro-American, Native American, and non-Cuban Hispanic voters, hoping to drive down the Democratic turn-out.

Across the country, Republicans hustle to sell an unsuspecting public on computerized touch-screen voting without a proper paper trail that would allow officials to check the results. I can just see Rove toting up the numbers. Just how many extra votes in which states would the GOP need to win?

In Washington, Tom Ridge lets slip the possibility of having to postpone the November election - in case of a terrorist attack, you understand. I'd give my right arm and tennis racquet just to know the role Rove played in that one. Or in the announcement of an earlier terrorist capture just as John Kerry was about to speak at the Democratic Convention. Or in the terror alert based on computer files dated before 9/11. Or in blowing the cover of an all-too-rare double-agent within al-Qaeda in a vain effort to give credibility to the alert that even mainstream journalists saw for what it was.

None of these had anything to do with the presidential campaign, did they, Mr. Rove?

Mr. Bush himself is harder to figure. What really drives him? Oil? Power? A simplistic, overly militarized view of how to fight ideologically driven terrorists? Revenge for Saddam's contract on the elder Bush? A son's desire to finish what his father failed to complete? Or, heaven forbid, the voice of "a higher father?"

I have no idea how to disentangle the mix. I doubt Mr. Bush does either. I can only admit to a deep-seated dread when I read in an online newspaper from Pennsylvania's Lancaster County what the president told Old Order Amish farmers. "I trust God speaks through me," he said. "Without that, I couldn't do my job.''

In The Brothers Karamazov, Doestoevsky has one of his characters - Ivan - argue that without God and the threat of Divine Punishment, human beings would have no reason to refrain from doing whatever they wanted. Without God, all things would be permitted.

Watching Mr. Bush, I fear the reverse. With his certainty that some divine power guides him, he becomes free to do what he will, much as do radical Islamic terrorists. They - and he - become Supermen, above any moral law that most of us would recognize. Anthropologists tell us that men create gods in their own image. In that sense, the president's "higher father" looks sadly like a moral midget.

To be fair, the killing, torture, lies, and other atrocities that Mr. Bush and his team commit in the name of God, Democracy, Freedom, or the War on Terror are far from original sins. If Democrats historically stole elections in Boston, Chicago, and New York City, we can hardly be surprised when Republicans now try their hand in Florida, Ohio, and other closely contested states. If LBJ lied about a sustained North Vietnamese attack on U.S. ships to escalate American involvement in Southeast Asia, we can hardly feel shock when Mr. Bush uses the neo-con lies to take us to war in Iraq.

No need to recount here the lies that eased the way into every U.S. war from 1812 to 1941, or the gross profiteering that followed. Historians have done the work, though too little of it shows up in high school texts or political rhetoric. As the Neo-Conservative Robert Kagan pointed out, John Kerry richly romanticized our nation's past when he declared in his acceptance speech that Americans used to fight only when we had to, not when we wanted to. Should Kerry defeat the Supermen, I only hope he takes his rose-colored view of our history as a worthy rule for the future.

But history falls short. For all the unhappy precedents, Team Bush has set a new course record in the annals of American cheating and chicanery. Almost nothing he and his people said about Iraq was true, except for their attack on the horrors of Saddam Hussein. And even there Team Bush failed to mention the support that Ronald Reagan, Donald Rumsfeld, and the elder Bush gave Saddam in his use of chemical and biological weapons. Half-truths, I suppose, are better than no truth at all.

Nor would we find many forerunners to the unbridled venality that Mr. Cheney and his friends have shown in hustling reconstruction contracts, while doing such a bad job of providing the bedraggled Iraqis with electricity, clean water, or sewage disposal. Add to this the spending of billions of dollars in Iraqi funds without proper accounting, and you have a prima facie case of gross criminal negligence. If Team Bush loses the election, President Kerry's prosecutors could have a field day.

Happily for Mr. Bush, the American television networks have done little to show voters the scale of deceit and corruption he has allowed, encouraged, or taken part in. Hopefully for Mr. Bush, his morally diminished "higher father" will be the only divine justice he encounters.

For the rest of us, the question is obvious: How much farther will Team Bush go to keep their hands on power and all the goodies that go with it?

Next week: Part II


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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