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Fortress Bush, determined to continue its aggressive, swaggering, Cheney/Rumsfeld-dominated policies and the “with us or against us” theology (which now impels every initiative in foreign relations, to the despair of State Department professionals), has had a dire effect on America’s international credibility, and thus on its capability to exercise long-term influence in world affairs. The vainglorious and exultant ‘Them and Us’ attitude to anyone espousing contrary views to those of the White House has alienated far too many of America’s friends.
Even worse, the Bush fixation with confrontation has solidified distrust among nations already suspicious of Washington’s motives and ambitions. Worse yet, it has spurred vicious extremists who are intent on murdering US citizens and humiliating the world’s most powerful country. The world is a much more dangerous place for all of us since the Bush war on Iraq began. He has created thousands more terrorists who hate America, and, by extension, the west in general.
At the time when Bush began his war in March last year I ended an article titled ‘One Law for America‘ by observing that “We have seen the future and it is terrifying, because international laws and agreements mean nothing to Bush and his officials. When useful, they are quoted. When inconvenient they are ignored. There is one law for America–and none, in the eyes of Bush, for those who dare disagree with him.”
There has been no change since then. There is no fading, not the slightest reduction, in the Bush administration’s obstinate and blinkered zeal for total control at home and saber-brandishing supremacy abroad. Forget the Bush claim on June 26 that “the bitter differences of the [Iraq] war are over” so far as Europe is concerned. The governments of the most important European countries (and by far a majority of all European peoples) will not forget the sneers of White House hacks about their accurate warnings concerning the war on Iraq. Last week’s few words from a panicking president whose sole concern is his election in November can’t be considered an initiative towards rapprochement with those who are only too willing to be allies of America–if Bush could bring himself to act in a less domineering and didactic manner. He will not apologize for his conduct or for the insults of his officials, and his wishy-washy statements attempting to prove that all is well between him and the Europeans are indicative of ineffable stupidity.
The Bush pronouncement that Nato “must” come to his assistance in the shambles he has created in Iraq is typical of the clownish insolence with which he regards the world. There is no “must” about it, but he ignored the resentment this caused, and in a clumsy attempt to pressure Turkey to influence its fellow Nato members in his favor he had the nerve to tell Prime Minister Erdogan that “I believe you ought to be given a date by the European Union for your eventual acceptance into the EU.” For once his uncouth arrogance drew public rebuke, and President Chirac stated bluntly that Bush “not only went too far but went on to territory which is not his own . . . It’s as if I was advising the US on how they should manage their relations with Mexico.” Quite so ; and we can imagine how self-righteously choleric the White House would be if a European politician declared that illegal Mexican migrants to the US should be granted amnesty. (This was promised, incidentally, “for consideration” by Bush in January, in order to sway Latino voters, but he has never mentioned it since, because it didn’t play well with the hard Right.) Bush is incapable of perceiving unpalatable reality, and his lack of sensitivity has had dire consequences for us all.
His conduct is reminiscent of Hitler in the final weeks of his Reich. In 1945 Hitler believed, almost to the last, that he had total national support ; that his armies would defeat the Allies ; and that his sycophants were providing him with facts rather than fantasy. Hitler, too, was in a fortress ‘ a bunker ‘ in which he was surrounded by deceitful jackals who barred him from reality. He was trapped by self-deception, by his contempt and hatred for the rest of the world, and by the Messianic conviction that only he could save his country.
Bush is not concerned about his enormous personal unpopularity in Europe, and on June 27 when asked about this sad manifestation of international distrust replied “I must confess, the first polls I worry about are those that are going to take place in early November this year”. Ho hum. It’s politics as usual for the Fortress, even when most of the world is seething with despair, resentment or hatred because of what Bush has done to all of us lesser beings out here. In a small-scale but important international indication of this resentment, his 18 hour visit to Ireland was a tragicomedy.
When an American president needs to be guarded in the Emerald Isle by 4000 police, 2000 troops and 500 of his own security agents, armed to the teeth, there is something tragically unmistakable about the way the world as a whole is looking at the United States. This wasn’t deepest Afghanistan, after all. When over 10,000 citizens of Ireland demonstrated in the streets against the visit of a US president, who has to be spirited away to a troop-surrounded castle ‘ a fortress ‘ where he could not meet any ordinary Irish people, there was a message coming loud, strong and clear that Bush, personally, is not welcome in the country where the US is so much admired. Bush, in complete contrast to his predecessors, snapped rudely at an Irish television interviewer and then cancelled a TV appearance scheduled for his wife, in case she was asked any awkward questions. That’s the fortress mentality.
Fortress Bush has decided, irrevocably, that there is One Law for Bush America, and one for the rest of the world (and especially for US Democrats). But sometimes one can have a deep belly-laugh at the mindset that created the One Law Doctrine, if only because its exponents are so obsessive that their self-deception has become as ludicrous as it is dangerous. Their posturing is not just illogical but decidedly funny, albeit it in a manner suited to the Theatre of the Absurd, in which mankind is held to inhabit a universe with which it is doomed forever to be out of synchrony.
The playwright Eugene Ionesco mused that “I look and see pictures, creatures that move in a kind of timeless time and spaceless space emitting sounds that are a kind of language I no longer understand or ever register.” And so it is with the inhabitants of Fortress Bush, for they do not, cannot, will not relate to real time, extant space, or meaningful language. They are doomed, in their own Theatre of the Absurd, forever to be out of synchrony with the universe.
One splendid piece of irony that exemplifies the One Law Doctrine of Fortress Bush might have been crafted by Ionesco himself. It is from a well-written piece by Andrew Zajac in the Chicago Tribune on June 20, and I imagine he was splitting his sides as he described the circumstances in which the recently-departed, disastrous, incompetent and failed US viceroy of Iraq, Paul Bremer, gave the job of senior economic adviser to one Michael Fleischer.
Mr Zajac reported that “With an assist from his brother, Ari [the former spokesman for Bush], who “got my resume to Bremer,” [Michael] Fleischer landed interviews that led to his appointment [as Bremer’s economic king-pin]. Among Fleischer’s key tasks is training more Iraqi businessmen in the ways of U.S.-style procurement . . . Competitive bidding “is a new world for the Iraqis,” Fleischer said. Under Saddam Hussein, “it was all done by cronies. The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review”.”
To my sorrow and despair I realize that people like Fleischer and his buddies in the Bush administration (and millions of others, alas) will find it impossible to detect anything uproariously funny in such wondrous juxtaposition of contradictions. Michael Fleischer got his job via a well-placed brother, in an openly-admitted display of nepotism (“he got my resume to Bremer”), yet solemnly pronounces that for Iraqis there must be an “alternative system” to “cronyism”. To be sure there is : but, by all the heavens, it does not exist in the mind of little brother Fleischer or in Bush Washington, which is the very foundation and fortress of the empire of cronies.
The essential building blocks of Fortress Bush (‘you are with us or against us’) are composed of cronies. We won’t even begin to talk about Cheney-Halliburton scams, the Bush family and the Saudis, or the pork-engendered, election-cash-oriented Bills approved by almost every legislator in Washington. Iraqi businessmen and politicians will doubtless receive much benefit from advice by little brother Fleischer who, incidentally, has a five year contract and can’t be fired by the ‘sovereign’ government of Iraq.
The Fortress mentality of the Bush administration is such that its defenders, who are becoming increasingly desperate, vindictive and aggressive, must try to counter-attack at any cost. But that cost, unfortunately for them, is increasingly in their own credibility. Here is part of a Washington Post talk-back on June 25 that featured one David Bossie, the attractively-named Chief of a Republican propaganda organization called Citizens United.
The question and answer session concerned the film Fahrenheit 9/11, made by an unappealing fellow called Michael Moore, who is as coarse and grubby a citizen as might be met in many days’ journey. He might even be vice-president of the United States, given the crassness of his language, general vulgarity and total self-obsession. But in spite of this he has made a world-class film about which the Leader Bossie complained that “Moore has stated his motivation is to remove President Bush from office.”
From the turrets of Fortress Bush, in which there can be but one interpretation of world events, the Bossie-man cannot understand why anyone might want to get rid of Bush. And this fascinating dialogue ensued:
Questioner : ‘Moore has stated his motivation is to remove President Bush from office. Aren’t you motivated to keep Bush in office?’
Bossie Boots : ‘I totally support President Bush and I wish I could run ads against John Kerry to help him. But I can’t. If the laws and rules limit my speech they should limit Michael Moore’s as well because he is running anti-Bush ads. Plain and simple.’
Then Bossie declared that “Michael Moore has never let the facts get in the way of a good story ; his movie is nothing more than left wing propaganda,” which prompted a query from a listener in Thomaston, Georgia, who asked “Have you seen the movie?” Pause. Then the Bossie reply was “No, but I am planning to.”
The normal “laws and rules” don’t apply to the Bush coterie and their unquestioning Bossie-style supporters. They don’t need facts in order to condemn the thoughts and ideas of those who disagree with them. And this mind-shutting goes even further.
The laws and Constitution of the United States are regarded as awkward obstacles standing across the righteous path of Bush domination. They are given lip service, because it would be electoral suicide to insult them openly, but, as pointed out by Ruth Wedgwood of Johns Hopkins University, the recently exposed memorandum about torture, written at the request of the White House, did not look at “the law governing torture”, but at “what can we do and remain within the law?” which, as The Economist points out, “ignores or glides over American and international laws that ban or limit torture”. You can say that again, and surround it in neon lights, for this is exactly what the Bush administration is all about : they look for ways around the laws of their country and the world, and if they can’t get their way around the laws, they avoid them and try to camouflage their actions.
Here is an extract from an Order issued by Bush on February 7, 2002, in which he stated : “our values as a nation, values that we share with many nations in the world, call for us to treat detainees humanely, INCLUDING THOSE WHO ARE NOT LEGALLY ENTITLED TO SUCH TREATMENT.” [Emphasis added.] So, according to Bush, there are people in the world who are not legally entitled to humane treatment. They might be foreigners, they might be Americans. Who knows?
There is no other interpretation that can be put on his grotesque pronouncement.
Can you think of a law that has been passed by any civilized country, and endorsed by anyone in possession of their senses, that allows inhumane treatment of detainees? Bush declared in his Order that he might permit those who are not worthy of being treated humanely to be treated humanely. But into what category of humanity fall the people whom Bush regards as “not legally entitled to such treatment”? It was only under extreme external pressure that the White House released this document, and a swag of others (although who knows what clever papers advocating avoidance of decency remain unrevealed in the deep and fetid bowels of Bush Washington). For this gesture we may be truly thankful, because, even if by oversight, it highlights the One Law Doctrine in all its squalid singularity. There is one law, under Bush, that says some detainees are not legally entitled to treatment as a human being, and it is only by gracious presidential decree that pitiless maltreatment was supposed to have been waived. But of course it wasn’t.
As we know, now, and only because a few hideous photographs were obtained by the media, a host of Bush administration captives in Iraq were treated in a manner that beggars description. They were tormented not just inhumanely, but with spiteful and vile cruelty. They were sadistically bullied to the point of ultimate release by merciful death after gross humiliation by malevolent savages who are successors to the jack-booted beasts of the Nazi regime. Their humiliation and persecution stemmed from the One Law Doctrine that some detainees are not “legally entitled” to humane treatment under US or international statutes.
The total moral detachment from what you and I regard as normal human inter-relation is exemplified by evidence given at a trial in Baghdad on June 24 : “Capt. Donald Reese said that one night in November 2003, he saw the bloodied body of an Iraqi prisoner who had died during interrogation inside a shower stall in a prison cellblock. He said a number of officers were standing around it, discussing what to do.” Why discuss? What’s to discuss? A man was murdered, and the one and only honorable course is to investigate and publicly prosecute. The mere fact that there could be discussion about what to do is demonstrative of the fact that these people have had their moral senses blunted, even destroyed, by the influence of Fortress Bush, which believes it is not subject to normal laws. We should remember, as the NY Times pointed out on July 2, that “Mr. Bush has declared himself free, at times of his choosing, from the Geneva Conventions, following advice from Attorney General John Ashcroft”.
The pack of lies retailed in the administration’s annual report on ‘Patterns of Global Terrorism’ shows what we have to guard against. On the well-tried propaganda principle that headlines catch the eye and subsequent corrections are buried on inside pages (and are not reported atall by some sections of the media, for their own reasons), the newly-created Terrorist Threat Integration Center produced a concoction of nonsense purporting to show that Bush was winning his ‘war on terror’. Another Hitlerian principle employed was that the bigger the lie, the more readily it would be accepted ; but for once this didn’t work. The lies were so poorly constructed that simple arithmetic showed they were baloney.
But the fall guy was Powell, as usual, and he had to apologize because the politically-motivated Center told American voters, and the world at large, that the number of deaths caused by terrorism had fallen in 2003 while in truth they had risen massively (307 became 625), while the number of wounded suddenly increased from 1593 to 3646. The report was announced with great fanfare to try to show that the ‘War President’ was winning, but, curiously, the other news at the end of April, when the report came out, included awkward items that did not suit Fortress Bush. It was discovered that there were prisoners being tortured by US soldiers ; eight soldiers were killed by a car bomb ; a ‘roll-call’ of US war dead was about to be shown on US television ; occupation troops were forced to quite Falluja ; and Bush was facing the 9/11 inquiry. What better time to announce, as the egregious Armitage did, that the Center’s report provided “clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight”.
The only clear evidence provided by this septic episode is that Fortress Bush cooked the books and was found out.
But even after the lies were exposed, an oaf called Cofer Black (‘State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism with the rank of Ambassador at Large’), who was ultimately responsible for the debacle, had the barefaced chutzpah to announce on June 22 that although his report was “marred by significant errors,” the “most important things in the report continue to be valid”, and “we have made significant progress”. On July 1 Cheney joined in and declared “our nation has made dramatic progress in the war on terror”. These claims show Fortress Bush at the outer edge of double-think. The report was absurdly invalid, and Cheney’s claim is demonstrably incorrect and silly. The main progress made by the Fortress-bound upholders of the One Law has been in expanding means of deceiving the world about every matter that might possibly show them for the bunch of despicable hypocrites that they are.
But according to Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times on Wednesday, it isn’t nice of us to describe Bush as a liar. The lead to his article went “Simple-mindedly vilifying the president for dishonesty only polarizes the political scene and impedes understanding.” His exact words were “I’m against the ‘liar’ label for two reasons. First, it further polarizes the political cesspool, and this polarization is making America increasingly difficult to govern. Second, insults and rage impede understanding.” With apologias like that it isn’t difficult to see why Bush has gotten away with being a liar for so long. The political cesspool in Washington is already polarized, and speaking the truth is not insulting (although calling people simple-minded for doing so is a tad rude, at that). Bush is a liar, but, Kristoff says, perhaps with a straight face, “there’s some evidence that Mr Bush carefully avoids the most blatant lies–witness his meticulous descriptions of the periods in which he did not use illegal drugs”. Well, that’s all right, then.
The Bush declaration of “full and complete sovereignty” in the shambles he has created in Iraq is yet another lie and an even more blatant one than usual. It didn’t take long for that to be apparent in basic terms, as reported by London’s Financial Times on the day Bremer quit the country. “Iyad Akmush Kanum learnt the limits of sovereignty on Monday when US prosecutors refused to uphold an Iraqi judges’ order acquitting him of attempted murder of coalition troops. US prosecutors said that he was being returned to . . . Abu Ghraib prison because under the Geneva Conventions they were not bound by Iraqi law. A few hundred metres from where outgoing administrator Paul Bremer formally ended the US occupation of Iraq on Monday, Mr Kanum–prisoner number 27075–cowered handcuffed on a backroom floor in the Central Criminal Court, where Iraqis are tried for attacks against coalition forces.”
If this wasn’t such a squalid example of conqueror’s arrogance, it would be screamingly funny. The boys from Fortress Bush had the gall, the sheer brass-necked, copper-bottomed, brazen impertinence to claim exemption from Iraqi law by quoting the Geneva Conventions that have been worked round, ignored, contravened and violated by this administration and its imperial representatives for three dark years. The prosecutors defied Iraq’s judges with contempt, which is practicing the One Law Doctrine with a vengeance (literally), and makes a public mockery of Bush’s deceitful declaration of “full and complete sovereignty”.
The shameful humbug of quoting regulations to try to justify illegal policy was commented on by the NY Times on Wednesday when it pointed out that “Mr. Rumsfeld’s handling of another issue, the Red Cross reports on Iraq, is the most outrageous example of the administration’s bad faith on the prison scandal. The Bush administration has cited Red Cross confidentiality policies to explain its failure to give up the reports. The trouble is, the Red Cross has repeatedly told the administration to go ahead and share the agency’s findings with Congress, as long as steps are taken to prevent leaks . . . . the Red Cross in Geneva has got it figured out : the administration has no intention of cooperating.”
Of course it hasn’t. Fortress Bush has hunkered down, and the drawbridge has been raised. Boiling oil is being poured over the parapets at representatives of the Red Cross and every human rights organization on the planet. The One Law Doctrine is being enforced at every turn, and the world stands aghast at the destruction of America’s support for international accords. The Theatre of the Absurd lives and has its being in Fortress Bush.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com