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As we approach the three-month mark following the midterm election, here are a handful of things that have come into focus much more clearly. Let’s cut to the chase first, and then elaborate below.
Finger #1. Bush&Co. are going to attack Iraq. There will be no Declaration of War by the Congress (as required by the U.S. Constitution), and no authorization by the United Nations.
Finger #2. The nearly 100-per cent focus on Iraq means that the Bush Administration has free rein to do what it wants to do in virtually all other areas of policy, since hardly anybody is paying attention.
Finger #3. The re-nomination of the controversial judges rejected by the previous Congress is a feint, designed to focus attention on those two or three while pushing through the rest of the batch, who can do even more damage.
Finger #4. Some of the elements of Al Qaeda may indeed be “on the run,” but the overall network is still capable of carrying out major, 9/11-equivalent mayhem in this country and abroad, and at this moment are probably in the planning stages for some big ones.
Finger #5. Whenever Bush officials use Democrat-sounding phrases in talking about environmental protection, Medicare, Social Security and so on, be on your guard. Behind the popular words, the real aims are hidden: to eviscerate such programs.
So, let’s take these one at a time, and see The Rest of the Story.
1. The war is a go. There will be attempts to get the U.N. to come on board — doing so would provide some fig-leaf cover for the U.S. attack — but it’s clear from everything Bush has said and done in the past several months, and from his State of the Union remarks, that we are mere weeks away from a massive bombardment (hundreds of missiles raining down on Baghdad in the first wave), with ground invasion to follow.
The only thing that could possibly prevent the unfolding of this war scenario would be if Saddam Hussein and his top echelon agreed to exile, with a new government, fully amenable to U.S. demands, taking over. Bush could then crow that his scare-’em strategy worked and that he’s an effective peacemaker.
But, even if Saddam agreed to go into exile, I don’t think the war would be prevented. Bush and his handlers seem to want war, especially this war. Not one againstNorth Korea: The U.S. would have to face someone who can fight back and unloose missiles on U.S. territory. But weakling Iraq? Of course!
Why beat them up? It’s the Iraq oilfields, to be sure, but I don’t even think that’s the major reason. The U.S. needs to make an example of someone, preferably in the Middle East; you don’t follow our demands, you’re wasted. It does no good to be an imperial, or THE imperial superpower, if smaller countries don’t acknowledge your primacy. Making an example of Saddam Hussein gets the message across quite plainly: When the U.S. says jump, snap to it, or risk getting bombed and invaded. The glory of this approach is that, usually, you only have to do it once. And, as a result, you get control of ALL the oil, and anything else, you want.
So, unless something extraordinary happens — the Congress interposing its power to declare war against the presidency, impeachment moves in the House, a U.S.-friendly regime in Iraq — expect the bombing to commence within a month. These Bushistas are rabid when it comes to Iraq; remember, mere hours after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld wanted to go after Iraq, and has twice ordered the FBI and CIA to come up with something, anything, that could possibly link Iraq and Al Qaeda.
2. There is one theory out there that suggests that the Administration’s focus on Iraq is a huge smokescreen, designed to enable Bush&Co. to slide its agenda right through the public and Congress with anybody making much stink about it because not much attention is being paid to it. (Under this theory, the war on Iraq is usable only for domestic reasons, and can be postponed whenever it’s convenient. I don’t believe this, but it’s worth mentioning.)
Environmental rules eased for polluters, rightwing judges nominated for the Appeals Courts, tax cuts for the wealthy made permanent, trickle-down economics that never seems to trickle down, federal monies provided to religious organizations, etc. etc. — it’s all Iraq all the time, and scant focus goes to these other concerns, which, in the long run, can solidify the HardRight agenda and do an amazing amount of damage to the social fabric.
The mass media — with the exception of the difficult-to-control Internet — are largely owned by conglomerate corporations, and are quite happy to oblige by shifting the public’s focus to war, terror, fear. The corruption, the scandals, the below-the-radar Bush&Co. policy moves go basically un- or under-reported.
3. Bush has nominated a whole slew of conservative/rightwing judges for the federal Appeals Court — the most important level of the judiciary, since only a relatively few appeals ever make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. By renominating the “hot-button” rightists like Pickering and Owen, et al., the Rove hope was that the Democrats would have their attention diverted to once again making sure the “patsies” didn’t get approved, and, to demonstrate their willingness to appear fair, the Democrats would take just a cursory look at the other nominees, who, in truth, are just as awful as the out-front ones.
A good number of Democrats seem to be aware of the feint, but some aren’t; being in the minority, it’s not clear that the Democrats can stop these judicial appointments anyway, unless a handful of moderate Republicans join in to stop the appointments of the most egregious nominees.
4. In his State of the Union speech, Bush made it seem like the U.S. is engaged in a mopping-up operation with regard to Al Qaeda terrorists. All this had to be voiced in order to make rational the move toward Iraq, otherwise it makes no sense to the American citizenry to constantly scare us all the time about coming Al Qaeda attacks if there are no attackers worth bothering with.
But, in point of fact, even though the terrorist network has been profoundly disrupted, there are enough of the bad guys out there to do major harm to U.S. interests, within our own country and abroad, and no real way of stopping them at present. Al Qaeda, whether bin Laden is alive or dead, takes a long time to plan and mount its major attacks (the 9/11 ones took three years), and there are reports that new major attacks are in the works, for a year or two out, or perhaps sooner. But so much of the intelligence/military/diplomatic effort is aimed at Iraq that it’s possible that the U.S. will miss the signs. Well OK, Bush&Co. might reason, some Americans will be wiped out by such an attack, but the fear-factor will still be in place and, so this amoral reasoning goes, will redound to their favor.}
In Afghanistan, U.S. and allied forces are consistently being hit by Al Qaeda/Taliban guerrilla forces, and the U.S. promise to “nation-build” after kicking out the Taliban is largely missing in action.
In short, the “war on terrorism” is being waged in a somewhat lackadaisical manner — whether deliberately (to keep the bogeyman in place as a justification for the civil-liberties crackdown in our own country, and as a fear-device to centralize loyalty toward the central government) or because of the Iraq focus. I won’t even mention the billions being spent on waging these multi-front wars, the effect of which is to ensure that there’s not enough money for social programs for the citizenry.
And, of course, Bush&Co. want nothing to do with re-examining policies that make the U.S. so hated in so much of the world, especially in the Middle East, where Sharon has been given carte blanche by the Bush Administration to deal with the Palestinians as he sees fit.
5. Rove is a master of inventing warm and fuzzy buzzwords (“compassionate conservatism,” “a uniter, not a divider”) which sound good to a large share of the voting population, but which in practice usually mean just the opposite. During his State of the Union address, Bush trotted out all the positive buzzwords about the Medicare and Social Security programs, punishing corporate criminals, toughening environmental protections, etc. — but, in practice, the executive actions he takes and the bills he sponsors usually do just the opposite.
Environmental polluters are given special breaks, Medicare and Social Security are hacked away-at by privatization schemes, Kenneth Lay remains at large, money goes to beefing up religious organizations (in violation of church/state separation decisions), etc. If the public only hears the buzzwords, or reads the headlines, or gets taken in by the homey photo-ops, there is little outcry for actions to match the popular verbiage.
In this, and the other four areas above, those of us incensed by all the double-talk — by the move toward imperial adventurism abroad and shredding of the Constitution here in this country, by the horrific damage being done to the economy — have to make our elected officials aware of our knowledge of what’s really going on, and warn them in no uncertain terms that unless they provide genuine and strong Oppositional leadership, they will face our wrath at the polls.
In the meantime, we build the Oppositional base, start our own investigations and institutions, get out in the street, leaflet, talk to our neighbors and colleagues, get politically active, write letters to the editors, reach out on the Internet, organize, organize, organize — in short, anything we can to turn this country away from its dark shadow nature and back toward the light.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at Western Washington University, San Diego State and San Francisoc State Universities; he is co-editor of The Crisis Papers, and was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.