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Empire Notes"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.
"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.
A Blog by Rahul Mahajan
For at least six months, I have been resisting early pronouncements of Bush’s political death. Most of them seemed to be composed of wishful thinking, extrapolating from simple facts -- the disaster of the
If Ronald Reagan was the Teflon president, then until recently Bush seems to have been made of some special plastic developed by an advanced alien civilization. Sure, he took some hits in the polls, but given that this administration has lied about virtually every aspect of its policy (WMD, tax cuts, budget, …) and has presided over a series of disasters for the United States from the 9/11 attacks to a failing colonial occupation to economic stagnation to a collapse of the government’s fiscal soundness to a collapse of social services, he hasn’t done so badly. His job approval ratings remained in general well over 50% and as late as October of last year, 59% of Americans characterized Bush as “honest and trustworthy.”
Furthermore, the administration has displayed a consistent pattern: Unlike Bill Clinton, who really was obsessed with the polls, Bush has been willing to let his ratings slide, let criticisms and confusion mount to extreme levels, then defuse it all and reset the clock with a well-timed and heavily-hyped intervention.
There are signs, however, that this time is different.
Bush’s latest slide dates from the recent statements of David Kay, former head of the Iraq Survey Group that was tasked with finding Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq not only had no weapons but that they couldn’t find “the people, the documents or the physical plants” that would have been necessary to produce weapons.
The administration tried to defuse the issue with a couple of items from its usual bag of tricks. First, it tried to turn this issue on its head by claiming that the issue was “intelligence failures” rather than administration deception, orchestrating a campaign to get the media to go along with this spin and planning for a whitewash of the issue by creating an independent commission whose purview was to be restricted to intelligence methods. Second, it decided to stage a media opportunity by having Bush appear on “Meet the Press.”
This was a bit of a gamble, because most past media interventions involved a prepared script, and the effort required of Bush was simply to keeps his lips pursed very tightly so that he wouldn’t smirk as he read from the Tele-prompter.
Even though Tim Russert was the perfect softball questioner, refusing to press Bush on such elementary points as why he went to war while inspections were actually in progress, it was a disaster. For once, the administration’s mix of warmed-over platitudes and stonewalling didn’t work -- not only did Bush have nothing to say, he said it very badly.
And look at the results. Time magazine’s
cover article talks
about Bush’s “credibility gap.” A recent
Washington Post poll found 54%
population believing that Bush had lied or exaggerated about
Next, after being pressed hard over well-documented claims of desertion while in the National Guard during the Vietnam War, the Bush administration has actually started releasing some of his records. This is the most secretive administration since Nixon’s. Dick Cheney continues to stonewall on disclosing the details of his meetings in drafting the 2001 Bush-Cheney energy plan, even after a judge found in favor of the suit by the General Accounting Office. It must have been surreal for journalists who are consistently refused access even to documents that the administration is legally required to make public to suddenly be given the chance to peruse Bush’s dental records.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted on Thursday night to expand the independent commission’s purview to include the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (Dick Cheney’s way to get around the CIA) and, in a highly limited way (no subpoena power) to deception by administration officials. It’s much less than half a loaf, but given the recent history of extreme partisanship by Republicans in the legislative branch getting even that much through the Republican-dominated committee is a major change.
And even Alan Greenspan, an extreme Bush partisan for the past three years, has broken with the administration by suggesting mandatory limits on tax cuts because of the unrestrained growth of the deficit under Bush.
Add to all this the facts that Bush is even coming under heavy fire from parts of his own party for his budget shenanigans, and the fact that the previously mentioned Washington Post poll shows Kerry beating Bush by 51 to 43 in a head-to-head matchup, and it’s fair to say that this crisis is significantly more severe than any the administration has yet faced.
No one should break out the champagne yet.
Bush has not even
started spending down his $150 million campaign war chest. Expect him
Kerry as an extreme liberal (untrue) and a captive of special interests
The recent media attention to Kerry’s alleged philandering will allow
try to suggest that dishonesty about interns is far more important than
dishonesty to drag the country into war. Once Bush really starts to
all of his recent losses may well be reversed. And even if Bush loses,
should expect Kerry to end the occupation of
But Bush’s recent implosion does provide a
The administration’s credibility on foreign policy is noticeably lower
was even in the brief effloration of a mass antiwar movement last
March. Only 52% of people now think of Bush as “honest and
trustworthy.” Now is
a time that people might just be receptive to the idea that an
that would lie to us about everything else may also be lying about
This is an opportunity that cannot be left
to the Democratic
candidates. In a New York Times op-ed on January 29, Robert Reich,
Reich’s call is right on the money (although his claim that Kerry and his campaign are part of such a movement is not). There is a need for a mass movement that does not restrict itself to support of one candidate or another and does not focus narrowly on “electability” but pushes the public debate (and the position of liberal candidates) on its core issues.
Central to such a movement must be
opposition to the new
imperialism, to colonial-style occupations, and to the aggressive
general militarism. Just as in the Vietnam War, this is once again an
that everybody knows has an effect on them. Now is the time for a
anti-imperial movement to launch a mass public outreach campaign. The
1. What the
2. Terrorism. Forget the lame criticisms of
candidates, that the war on
3. Linking military spending increases
(along with tax cuts)
to the decrease in social spending. These spending increases include
current operations in
There are many other issues for such an anti-imperial movement, of course, but these three strike most easily to the heart of public opinion.
Given the current political opening, this can happen. A mass grassroots movement can make a difference, if it gets started early enough, before the massive Bush reelection campaign starts to shut down that gap and mend the cracks in the ice. Not only can we dramatically advance public consciousness of the key issue for the whole world, the new American empire, an incidental effect will be to make it more likely that Bush is defeated in the November elections. To the more than one million Americans who marched on February 15: It’s time to come out again.
Rahul Mahajan is publisher of Empire Notes. His latest book, “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond,” covers U.S. policy on Iraq, deceptions about weapons of mass destruction, the plans of the neoconservatives, and the face of the new Bush imperial policies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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