One of the more amazing things to contemplate in this bizarre polity called the United States is that George Bush, probably the least engaged, most willfully ignorant, and most bungling and disastrously inept president the country has ever had, is still viewed by many Americans as a “strong leader.”
Yet how’s this for leadership?
In the midst of a conflict that has so far killed almost 400 Americans and maimed several thousand, more than half of them since May 1 when he prematurely declared “major conflict over” and “mission accomplished,” Bush has had to order his man in Iraq, Paul Bremer, to rush back to Washington, D.C., canceling a meeting Bremer had scheduled with the prime minister of Poland, to participate in yet another panicky executive session on how to fix the mess in Iraq.
At the same time, Bush’s CIA has had to leak to the press its latest secret report on the deteriorating situation in the war in Iraq because the Agency was reportedly worried that its highly critical report wouldn’t reach the attention of the president if they went through normal channels. (Of course, given this remarkably incurious president’s admission that he doesn’t read the papers, and gets his news entirely through his staff, he may not even know about the CIA leak.)
Similarly, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, head of ground operations in Iraq, recently began blatantly and pointedly referring to the worsening conflict in Iraq as a “war,” reportedly to counter the false and fraudulent optimism being expressed about the Iraq crisis by key Bush advisers like Secretary of Defense Donald “We-have-a-Plan” Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Vice President-in-hiding Dick Cheney. Sanchez, who is confronting a mounting guerrilla insurgency that is now hitting his troops with increasingly deadly attacks at a rate of 35 times a day, is reportedly afraid that the president may not know how bad things are getting.
Everyone outside of the White House knows that the war on the cheap that Bush began with the unprovoked invasion of Iraq last March is failing and that the American and “coalition” troops in Iraq are far too few to control the increasingly restive occupied population. Yet faced with the reality that Americans don’t want more troops sent into this mess, Bush has put his re-election before the safety of those troops already over there. Astonishingly, he is actually planning to reduce the number of troops in Iraq, making up for their diminished ranks by increasing the use of bombs and heavy artillery.
As the CIA, in its leaked report, makes clear, this is clearly a recipe for higher casualties among the remaining troops, both from “friendly” fire and from guerrillas, who will face fewer U.S. soldiers. As the CIA also says, it’s a recipe for higher casualties among Iraqi civilians, who will inevitably be hit by the indiscriminate bombs and artillery, and who will just as inevitably, join the guerrillas in increasing numbers. It’s also a recipe for a quagmire.
By putting his re-election ahead of solving the Iraq mess he has created, Bush, if returned to the White House in November 2004, will face the choice of dramatically escalating the U.S. war in Iraq with far more troops and almost certainly a national draft, or of withdrawing, leaving Iraq to collapse into the same kind of civil strife and chaos that has overtaken Afghanistan–his other war disaster. (One report coming out of the Bremer meeting suggested that the White House, despite the obvious failure of its efforts in Afghanistan, is considering going with the Afghan model for Iraq, appointing a U.S.-backed leader to run the country, instead of trying to develop a constitutional government.)
If this is strong leadership, you have to wonder what a weak leader would do.
Domestically, meanwhile, this “strong leader” has basically handed the country over to the nation’s CEOs and major investors, turning the US economy into a get-rich-quick Ponzi scheme. Those with enormous wealth will be able to reap tremendous profits in the short run and hang on to them because of massively skewed tax cuts and loopholes for upper bracket taxpayers and investors, and then cash out before the economy collapses under the weight of the almost unimaginably huge deficits caused by those tax cuts.
Of course, one might imagine that President Bush is simply doing what comes naturally in shifting all this wealth to the ruling elite, but it’s actually hard to imagine that this scion of a multi-generational blue-blood clan of Republican political leaders really wants to go down in history as a nation wrecker. Far more likely is that Bush Jr. has been such a weak, ignorant and manipulated leader that he has allowed himself to be lured into this disastrous economic policy.
It should not be terribly surprising that such a weak and inept president has been able to be portrayed as a strong, incisive leader. Since the 9/11 attacks, the corporate media has been, at least until recently, little more than a White House propaganda machine. This might have continued on through next November, but the war in Iraq has refused to play along. As America’s fortunes there go demonstrably south, the compliant media has been compelled, slowly and painfully, to begin honestly portraying how badly things are going. This has led to the first doubts among the electorate about the president’s real leadership qualities.
It remains to be seen whether this new skepticism will spill over into domestic policy. If it does, it won’t be thanks to the journalistic sheep grazing in the mass media, but in spite of them.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A collection of Lindorff’s stories can be found here: http://www.nwuphilly.org/dave.html