The Incredible Shrinking President

Because it’s thirty years since Watergate we’ve been treated to plenty of photos of Richard Nixon, mostly at the moment he was leaving office. I was among those happy to see him go, but today am sad that for obvious reasons the National Archive will never be in a position to release Nixon’s unvarnished comments on the man whose father he made chairman of the Republican National Committee.

How aghast that malign political genius would have been at the ignoramus occupying the Oval Office once fragrant with Dick’s curses. What a falling off is there! From malediction to malapropism. I’m sure W’s speech is less burdened by obscenity than that of the Navy vet and seasoned poker player, but this is the purity of the born-again imbecile. W. has the vocabulary of a 12-year old, though most 12-year olds have an infinitely stronger grasp of world affairs.

Our spaniel press makes herculean efforts to pass over the fact in silence, but the fact is that George W. Bush is the laughing stock of the world, by dint of the obvious fact that his maximum level of competence was that of greeter at the ball park in Arlington, which as David Vest recently remarked on this site, is the only real job he ever had before he met Ken Lay.

Nixon had policies, strategies. Bush has notes (often contradictory) from his staff, which he bears no sign of comprehending for longer than the brief moments in which he lurches his way through them in some public forum.

Take the Middle East. Don’t even go back to last year. Just take the last few weeks, in which Bush told Mubarak of his hopes for a Palestinian state, hopes that promptly vanished with the arrival of his next visitor, Ariel Sharon. How long can Secretary of State Colin Powell endure the humiliation of being dispatched on one ludicrous mission after another, even as press secretary Ari Fleischer, (a man who makes Nixon’s Ron Ziegler look like George Washington) tells the press that Powell’s statements are irrelevant as expressions of presidential policy.

Edward Said puts it well in a recent column: “To say that he and his disheveled administration ‘want’ anything is to dignify a series of spurts, fits, starts, retractions, denunciations, totally contradictory statements, sterile missions by various officials of his administration, and about-faces, with the status of an over-all desire, which of course doesn’t exist. Incoherent, except when it comes to the pressures and agendas of the Israeli lobby and the Christian Right whose spiritual head he now is, Bush’s policy consists in reality of calls for Arafat to end terrorism, and (when he wants to placate the Arabs) for someone somewhere somehow to produce a Palestinian state and a big conference, and finally, for Israel to go on getting full and unconditional US support including most probably ending Arafat’s career. Beyond that, US policy waits to be formulated, by someone, somewhere, somehow.”

Iraq? It was the acme of the axis of evil. Then it wasn’t, because the Joint Chiefs said it would be tough to invade the place. Now we’ve got something billed as a new preemptive policy. What’s new about it? Throughout the cold war America’s strategic policy never set aside the possibility of a preemptive first strike against the foe. We’re now told that the CIA (yes, the same agency that has just made the worst screw-up in its history) should try to kill Saddam, on the grounds that if he makes any move to avoid being killed by the CIA, that can be construed as aggression, meriting assassination.

Never mind that the US has been trying to kill Saddam since 1991, tried to mount coups against through the first half of the 1990s, concluded that it was impossible and that the best thing to do was throw some money around to groups like the Iraqi National Accord. Never mind all that. Here we are in the wake of a terrorist attack on the US embassy in Karachi that killed eleven (another major intelligence failure, right?) and the Bush regime (until it decided to hang Ashcroft out to dry) tries to change the subject with mighty boasts about the capture of a Puerto Rican gangbanger who took an H-bomb blueprint off the internet, and with a “new” finding for the CIA to finish off Saddam.

How about national security? Should Bush have fired the FBI’s and the CIA’s director long since, along with that lunatic Clarke, a White House terror commissar under both Clinton and Bush. Of course he should. Should he have appointed a commission to reorganize America’s intelligence agencies? Of course. But here we are in June of 2002 and all we have is a proposal to create a new alphabet soup of agencies now bracing to spend the next decade battling over bureaucratic and budgetary.

Last time Bush was in Europe, a German newspaper ran a headline on its front page announcing Bush’s bold new vision. Then it left the rest of the page blank. The Europeans are a snotty, self-regarding bunch, but this time they’re on the money. The leader of the World, free and unfree, simply isn’t up to par. He’s not qualified for the job. He never was. And that means big trouble ahead for the World, Free and Unfree. At least Nixon knew what he was doing, which is why the world was frightened by him. When it’s not laughing at him the world is frightened of George W. Bush because it knows he hasn’t a clue. That’s truly terrifying.


More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South