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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hail to the Chief By ALEXANDER COCKBURN



I’ve always been a fan of George Bush, on the simple grounds that the American empire needs taking down several notches and George Jr has been the right man for the job. It was always odd to listen to liberals and leftists howling about Bush’s poor showing, how he’d reduced America’s standing in the family of nations. Did the Goths fret at the manifest weakness of the Emperor Honorius and lament the lack of a robust or intelligent Roman commander?


On Bush’s Jr’s fitful watch Latin America edged nervously out of Uncle Sam’s shadow. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia boldly assert their independence and thumb their noses at Uncle Sam. Twenty years earlier, and even when Bush Sr sat in the Oval Office, the “strong leadership” craved by Americans of all political stripes would have seen Chavez and Morales briskly toppled, their estimable reforms swiftly aborted and the kleptocrats handed back the keys to the presidential office by the CIA and their local right-wing allies.


Barely a month went by in Bush Jr’s second term but that some liberal or left pundit would predict a US attack on Iran. Lurid scenarios were drawn of the US and its local ally, Israel, unleashing the bombing sorties to Iran’s nuclear complex. It turns out that the Israeli high command made numerous requests for clearance for its planes to overfly Iraq on their way to Iran, but were adamantly nixed by George Jr.

Jr’s greatest single trumph in reducing America’s standing was his insistence that the assembly elections in Iraq go forward as planned, in December of 2005. Bush Sr., it will be recalled, shrank from finishing off Saddam Hussein in 1991 because it would most likely have meant the Shia would take power, to the great benefit of Iran. When the invasion of 2003 did topple Saddam, seasoned counselors advised Bush Jr to suspend the elections the Ayatollah Sistani had insisted upon, for exactly the same reason.

But the 43rd president obstinately rejected these counsels, saying that he’d promised Iraqis the gift of democracy and nothing would deflect him from this course. The elections took place on December 15, 2005, in a mortal blow for U.S. objectives in Iraq and a larger disaster for it in the entire region.

Was this doggedly incompetent saboteur of empire an “accident” of history, born of hanging chads in Florida in 2000 and the ruthless competence of James Baker in outmaneuvering Al Gore’s efforts to claim the White House amid the Forida recounts?

Blame first his mother, Barbara Bush, an unpleasant creature who never forgave George Sr for dragging her from behind the lace curtains of respectability in Connecticut to West Texas where she endured the miseries of a frontier wife, helpmeet to a failed wildcatter. She let her hair go white, grieved for the daughter that died and snarled at the lads while her faithless husband gadded about the world. It was Barbara who gave George his petty, mean-spirited vindictiveness and George Sr who passed on the relentless philistinism. Blame Laura who took in hand the lay-about cokehead of the Houston years and nudged him into politics.

But no one ever took Jr seriously as a contender on the national scene until Republicans, aghast at the prospect that John McCain might seize the nomination in 2000, seized on Bush as the man who would save them from this fate. They scarcely dared dream that he might actually become president. That required the campaign skills of Al Gore, looming over the barely articulate Bush in so loutish a display of arrogant ill-manners in that first debate that Americans gallantly rallied to Bush’s cause.

Somewhere in late 2003 blaming everything on Bush became a national pastime and alibi. He took the hit for fifty years of venal failure by the city fathers of New Orleans and the legislators of Louisiana to protect their city. He’s even had to shoulder the blame for the Wall Street meltdown and the subprime crisis, for which Congressional legislators and overseers can far more justly be held responsible.

Blessed blunder dogged his every step, and where he scanted on some necessary incompetence Dick Cheney was at his elbow to ensure disaster was not averted. Bush made so half hearted an effort to “reform” Social Security – the last defense of older Americans – that Wall Street, the instigator of the “reform”, remembered with profound nostalgia the man, Bill Clinton, who was well on the way to destroying Social Security without even a yap of alarm from the watchdogs, until the Lewinsky scandal forced him to abort the mission.

Bush leaves America a poorer but in some ways a better place, more conscious of its blessings. Just as it took bad King John to force the drafting of the Magna Carta, on Bush’s watch Americans have learned, amidst the threat of losing them, that they have constitutional protections. A commander in chief who made Jerry Ford sound like Demosthenes has given them a fresh sensitivity to language, even the dream that they might have a president who can speak in whole sentences.

Bush passed his final White House years in morose seclusion, despised by all, obeyed by none – a welcome rebuke to the concept of “unitary power” and an omnipotent executive.

Now Obama proclaims his mission of renewing America, always a sinister prospect. We’re heading back in to the high country of moral uplift, and dispiriting talk of America’s “mission”. I live in hopes of an acrid manuscript from Laura Bush, blaming everything on Dick Cheney.

Eyewitness in Gaza

I wish that everyone entering Washington DC next Tuesday would be compelled to read Caoimhe Butterly’s eyewitness report from Gaza, published here on this site this weekend. It makes me proud to be an Irishman than this courageous woman finally managed to enter Gaza, help the inhabitants amid their frightful sufferings and relay her account of Israel’s war crimes to the outside world. Butterly passed the report to Bill Quigley, familiar to CounterPunchers for his regular reports to New Orleans. Bill and Kathy Kelley – a friend of Caoimhe - have also been sending us their reports. Incidentally, our CounterPunch book by Harry Browne, Hammered, about the Catholic Worker action against the US plane at Shannon, and subsequent triumphant acquittal by a Dublin jury, features both Butterly and Kelly.

Talking of war crimes by the Israelis, clearly their bombing Thursday of UN and Red Crescent warehouses indicates an accelerating effort to starve the Palestinians to into surrender, meaning death right now, particularly for the young and old.

On The Threshold of the Age of Obama

So far as the progressive Obama base is concerned, it’s been one bitter pill after another, starting with Rahm Emanuel (the only man in the Illinois congressional delegation to vote Yes to the war on Iraq), moving on to Hillary Clinton (another Yes on the war), Robert Gates, and the whole economic team. There was a brief ray of hope when Larry Summers didn’t return to Treasury. Then he bobbed up as director of Obama’s economic recovery team, formally known as the National Economic Council, based in the White House.

Contrast these desolate choices with what the progressives were given in the dawn of Clinton time. He didn’t turn out to be much good, but Wisconsin Rep. Les Aspin, at the time he was nominated as secretary of defense, certainly had a reputation as a Pentagon critic. Environmentalists were exuberant when Bruce Babbitt, former head of the League of Conservation Voters, was given the Department of the Interior. It’s true that Babbit did not match such expectations, but when he was nominated, the mining and cattle lobbies were mad with fury. At HUD there was Henry Cisneros, always in trouble but fairly progressive; at Labor – Robert Reich; at Agriculture – Mike Espy and EPA – Carol Browner. As surgeon general, in contrast to Obama’s pick of a TV doctor and serf of the drug industry, we got Jocelyn Elders, a radical black woman who spoke her mind and was finally axed by Clinton for being honest about sex ed. We got Lani Guinier at the Justice Department, a terrific choice swiftly betrayed by the man who picked her, Bill Clinton. As number 2 at Health and Human Services, there was Peter Edelman, one of only three people in the Clinton administration who resigned over the onslaughts on the welfare system five years later.

Of course, as now, big business kept its mitts firmly on the essential levers: Treasury, the Fed.
What is Obama’s progressive base getting by way of reward? The pickings are very slim. The whole raison d’etre of Obama’s campaign in the primary phase – the period when the progressive constituency has to be allured – was to turn the page not only on Bush time but on Clinton time, to move on. So… so you’ll find the rest of this unsparing, and important assessment in the latest issue of our newsletter, now available to subscribers. You’ll also find part one of Paul Craig Roberts’ three-part Guide to Economics in the 21st Century. And you’ll find Alexander Cockburn’s TransAmerica Diary and in it, at long last, homage to a conspiracy even he believes in – the Secrets of Jekyll Island.

Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com
CounterPunch Diary Weekend EditionJanuary 16-18, 2009
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