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Steve Weissman: How Far Will Bush Go? (Part II)

How Far Will Bush Go?

Part II: Pitchmen, Provocateurs, and Those Who Predict the Past
By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 19 August 2004

See also Part 1:

Will Team Bush Stage A Coup D'etat?

For most Americans, even asking the question sounds absurd. The United States has enjoyed over 200 years without a single forcible overthrow of elected government, and has never cancelled a national election, not even during the Civil War. To imagine the Bush Administration extending its rule through an unconstitutional seizure of power seems a leap into loony land.

But that's where too many Americans are now leaping. Friends who should know better talk of brownshirts, Fascist playbooks, and the serious threat of a Bush coup cribbed from Hitler, Mussolini, or one the CIA's classic Third World destabilization campaigns. I see far greater danger from the way these friends insist on predicting the past. Fight the wrong battle, and even if you win, you lose.

So, no, I do not believe that Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld will try to seize power outside of the electoral system, not even if they think they will lose.

Though unhinged from any moral limits on their use of power, our American ubermenschen are smart enough to realize why they could never goose-step their way to full-scale dictatorship. The American military would cast the deciding vote, and too many of the brass do not exactly love their current civilian bosses, as countless leaks have shown. With any would-be plotter's mind tightly focused by the risk of hanging, only a complete lunatic would count on getting enough colonels and generals to back a coup d'etat. And if lunatics tried, they would lose.

Even those warriors who embrace Mr. Bush still draw the line. Consider Tommy Franks, the four-star general who moved on to greener pastures after leading American forces into both Afghanistan and Iraq. A personal favorite of the president, Gen. Franks has thought deeply about military coups. If terrorists managed to attack the United States and kill large numbers with chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, he warned, we would likely discard our Constitution and turn to a military form of government.

That, he said, would be "the worst thing that could happen."

Presently, Gen. Franks leans toward endorsing Mr. Bush, whom he considers "an American hero." Yet, he pointedly refuses to demean Mr. Bush's Democratic opponent John Kerry.

"Do you think Senator Kerry is qualified to be commander in chief?" an interviewer asked.

"Absolutely," declared Gen. Franks. "I think Senator Kerry is a patriot."

So, short of a bin-Laden nuke, please do not hold your breath waiting for a Bush coup. Expect, instead, exactly what Republican pitchmen have already started to sell.

Expect an escalating campaign to terrify the public with phony Code Orange and soon Red alerts, spiced with well-timed captures of wanted terrorists and highly publicized "successes" in stopping the most horrific attacks.

Expect an increasing attempt to brand anti-Bush protestors as mini-terrorists, using police and FBI provocateurs to instigate violence, as they did so often against the Black Panthers and Vietnam Anti-War Movement.

Expect a massive effort to keep as many as three million pro-Democratic Afro-Americans, Native Americans, and non-Cuban Hispanics from voting.

And expect, as well, a few quiet attempts to rewrite computer codes on touch-screen voting systems, switching occasional Kerry votes to Mr. Bush. In a closely contested state, a handful of stolen electronic ballots could rewrite the course of history.

Activists in and out of the Democratic Party are now working hard to counter these very real threats, whether in voter registration campaigns or fights against touch-screen voting systems that lack paper ballots to allow officials to check results. All this talk of nightmare coups only distracts these activists from the real battles they are waging. It also discourages others from doing anything at all.

Why, then, do so many otherwise sensible people continue their silly chatter?

Blame the U.S. Supreme Court. In disallowing the further recount of votes in Florida in the last presidential go-round, the Justices robbed the 2000 election of its legitimacy. They - and not the voters - picked the President.

Blame Brother Jeb Bush, the Florida Governor, who encouraged countless efforts to harass Afro-American voters and drive them away from the polls. He's still doing it.

Blame hard-shell Republicans who never accepted the legitimacy of Bill Clinton's election, and tried to use the Monica Lewinsky scandal to undo it. Unless we accept elections as final, as Al Gore did in 2000, we open the door to chaos.

But somewhere in the blame game leave a special place for those who have so successfully sold the idea that a shadowy junta within the American government plotted and executed the horrific events of September 11, 2001, perhaps with the help of the Israeli Mossad.

Found on the Internet and in best-selling books all over the world, the conspiracy theories differ in detail, but generally share common threads. The arch-terrorist Osama bin Laden secretly works for the CIA, as he did when he helped drive the Soviets from Afghanistan. Mohammed Atta and the other "Arab hijackers" were only fall guys, while radio beacons guided the ill-fated airplanes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. No passenger jet flew into the Pentagon: the damage came from a missile or truck bomb. And, with the subsequent anti-terrorist hysteria, the plotters enhanced their own power, while steamrolling the United States into a highly profitable, never-ending war against a more-or-less fictional foe.

Clever and determined, those who tell these tales poke intriguing holes in the official account, raising questions that need to be answered. But, like so many who overdose on unproved conspiracies, they all make the same gaffes. They rely too much on tendentious, often uncorroborated evidence. They speculate too much about what could have happened rather than nail down what did. And, while they hammer the official account without mercy, they rarely apply the same skeptical questioning to their own alternative conjectures.

Who were - and who were not - in the conspiracy? What hard evidence establishes the guilt of each conspirator? How far did the plot spread? And, how did the plotters keep so many people in line without the first significant leak, before or since?

The answers remain sketchy and underwhelming. Even more bothersome, the conspiracy theorists tacitly deny the last hundred-plus years of Middle Eastern history, in which radical Islamic thinkers built their own terrorist movements, assassinated their own political leaders, and made their own history. Why does everything - good or bad - have to be "Made in the USA?"

So, no, I do not believe that anyone but al-Qaeda staged 9/11, and I think we would all do better fighting real dragons rather than unproved fantasies.


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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