Apparently afflicted with a bizarre determination to disbelieve everyone else, the United States refused to believe Saddam Hussein when he said he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. Which he didn’t. Now Kim Jong-un says he does have a hydrogen bomb, and the United States refuses to beleve him.
The curtain is about to fall on George Herbert Walker Bush, known colloquially as Bush 41, or simply 41. The patriarch is, if not exactly dying, no longer doing well enough to want to be seen much in public. The final taxi, as Wreckless Eric sang memorably though not famously, awaits.
Do not believe the soon-to-be-everywhere hype.
Dubya’s dad is and was a very bad man.
No one should forget that.
The old Skull and Bones man has skillfully set the stage for — not his rehabilitation exactly, for he was never shamed (though he much deserved it) — his rescue from the presidential footnotery familiar to schoolchildren, that of the Adamsian “oh yeah, there was also that Quincy” variety. The centerpiece of this so-far-going-splendidly historical legacy offensive is his authorized biography by Jon Meacham, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” a demi-hagiographic positioning of HW as a moderate last half of the 20th century Zelig.
This has been done before, compellingly and brilliantly, in Robert Caro’s soon-to-be five-volume (!) biography of LBJ. Caro uses LBJ as a window into his times; that’s what Meacham is up to too. But there’s a big whopping difference between the subjects. LBJ was a man of principle who was also a cynical SOB; Vietnam tarnished his amazing civil-rights legacy. He knew that and regretted it until he died. Dude was complicated.
There is, sadly, little evidence that Bush ever had a big ol’ destiny in mind, good or bad. He may be the first of that crop of presidents who followed them (excepting, perhaps, ironically, his son after 9/11) whose main goal in life was accomplished when he won a presidential election. Clinton and Obama and perhaps Hillary next, they all figured they’d figure out how and why to change America after they took office and some stuff to react to happened (OK, that includes W).
“Mr. Bush may never have achieved greatness. But he’s led a long and remarkable life, which has spanned the better part of the 20th century. He fought in World War II. He started a successful oil business. He spent two terms in the House of Representatives; he served as ambassador to the United Nations and as American liaison to China; he ran the Republican National Committee and, far more important, the C.I.A. He was vice president for eight years and president for four. At 90, he jumped out of an airplane,” Jennifer Senior writes in the New York Times Book Review.
Pardon my shrug. Dude’s a boy Hillary. Great résumé. What did you accomplish at all those gigs? Even at the CIA, he’s remembered for…
Where there’s a record starts with his 1988 run for president. Neither the advantages of incumbency as Reagan’s vice president nor his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis’ awkwardness on the campaign trail were enough for him; he felt it necessary to deploy scorched-earth tactics to obliterate a good man, albeit a politician not prepared for the national stage against a GOP that had turned rabidly right under Reagan. Lee Atwater’s “Willie Horton” ad remains a colossus of scurrilous race-baiting, a dismal precedent that paved the way for Bush 43’s racist whispering campaign targeting John McCain’s adopted daughter in the South Carolina primary and Donald Trump’s glib desire to subject the nation’s Muslims to an Americanized Nuremberg Law.
We won’t hear about Willie Horton during “ain’t it sad HW died” week.
“His campaign tactics may have been ruthless, but in person he was unfailingly decent and courteous, commanding remarkable levels of loyalty. Character was his calling card, not ideas. To the extent that he had one at all, his governing philosophy was solid stewardship: leading calmly and prudently, making sure the ship was in good form, with the chairs properly arranged on the decks,” Senior writes.
Of course he was polite. He’s a WASP. But does it matter? A public figure isn’t notable for what he does behind closed doors.
And Hitler liked dogs and kids.
Bush deserves, as do we all, to be judged for what he set out to do.
It is by his own standards — his wish to leave the ship of state ship-shape when he left for Kennebunkport in 1993 — that he falls terribly short.
It was the economy, stupid…and he was the stupid one. After the stock market crashed in 1989, HW sat on his hands, waiting for the recession to magically go away. As the invisible hand of the marketplace dithered and dawdled, the housing market crashed too. Millions lost their jobs. Countless businesses went under. Lots of misery, much of it avoidable. Much of which could have been mitigated with a little action from the Fed and a Keynesian stimulus package. He did little.
By the time he left, everyone, not least Wall Street traders, breathed a sigh of relief that there was going to be someone at the wheel going forward.
There were, of course, the wars. There’s his good war against Iraq, for which he gets credit for merely slaughtering Saddam’s army as they retreated down the “highway of death” and not going on to kill everyone in Baghdad, as his stupid bloodthirsty son tried to do. Mainly, the Gulf War is a plus because few Americans died in combat (some “war” dead were killed in forklift accidents). Still, it was a war that needn’t have been fought in the first place.
In a now largely forgotten episode, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — then a U.S. buddy — asked permission to invade Kuwait, which was “slant drilling” into Iraqi oilfields and undercutting OPEC cartel prices. It being August, all the big names were away on vacation, so Saddam took the word of a low-level drone at the State Department that everything was cool.
If Bush had been a decent manager — the kind of guy who arranges the deck chairs — he would have had better people handling his pet tyrants.
Then there’s the truly sorry invasion of Panama. No one remembers now, but this was Bush’s first personnel dispute with a dictator. General Manuel Noriega was getting uppity, HW decided to put him in his place, the Marines slaughtered thousands of Panamanians. Really, for no reason.
The trouble is, treating a sovereign head of state like a common criminal scumbag sets some bad precedents.
Now, when the US approaches guys like Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad to suggest that he leave office, he digs in his heels for fear of winding up in prison or worse. Back in the pre-Panama days, you could convince a guy like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos to fly to Hawaii with a duffel bag full of bullion, so everyone could move on.
There’s the goose-gander thing. Why shouldn’t Assad be able to argue that Obama ought to be imprisoned for breaking Syrian law, like those against funding terrorist groups like ISIS?
Bush’s biggest boner may have been his hands-off approach to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than help Russia and the other former Soviet republics come in for a soft post-socialist landing, as in China after Mao, Bush’s guys quietly rejoiced in the mayhem.
Clinton gave us “shock economics,” Yeltsin, mass starvation, the destruction of Grozny and the oligarchs — but Bush set the stage for a mess with which we, and more importantly the Russians, are dealing today.
Any way you look at it, George Bush Senior left the world worse off than it was.
The possibility that he may have been courteous to his minions and henchmen doesn’t change that.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
NBC News anchorman Brian Williams got in trouble for fibbing about a supposed close call while embedded with US soldiers occupying Iraq in 2003. Why didn’t he get in trouble for being embedded in the first place? Or for the bigger lies inherent in the way he and other news networks package US government and military propaganda?
Lightening-Quick Obama Makes Bush’s “Rush to War” Look Slow and Methodical
Ten years ago, George W. Bush and his henchmen were beginning their war against Iraq. They wanted to invade hours after 9/11. But conning Congress and the public into invading a country that posed no threat to us delayed the invasion until March 2003. This week, as the media celebrates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s iconic speech, it is shock- and awe-inspiring to see how far America has come. Where it took a white president a year and a half to pour on enough lies of omission, contextual lapses and leaps of logic to gin up a stupid, illegal war in the Middle East, our black president did it in a week.
Here we go again. A Baathist autocrat is in American crosshairs. The justification: WMDs. Also, he “kills his own people.” Which we haven’t cared about before. But: WMDs.
Ten years ago, the Baathist tyrant of Iraq denied the WMD accusations and invited UN weapons inspectors to verify his claim. Which they did. Because he was telling the truth. But the Bushies didn’t want to wait. No time! Had to invade right away!
And: again. “At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the UN team is too late to be credible,” an Obama official said five days after Syrian troops allegedly fired poison gas into a neighborhood on the outskirts of Damascus, killing over 1000 people.
“Too late”? Really? Assad’s government OKed the inspection less than 48 hours after the UN asked. On a weekend. I have editors who don’t get back to me that quickly. Doesn’t seem like a slow response from a government that doesn’t have diplomatic relations with the U.S. Also, they’re kinda busy fighting a civil war.
Now is a good time to think about some things the American mainstream media is omitting from their coverage — concerns strikingly similar to issues that never got discussed back in 2002 and 2003.
1. “Chemical weapons were used in Syria,” Secretary of State John Kerry says. Probably. But by whom? Maybe the Syrian army, maybe the rebels. Experts tell NPR: “The Free Syrian Army has the experience and perhaps even the launching systems to perpetrate such an attack.” Maybe we should ease off on the cruise missiles before we know which side is guilty.
2. Assuming the attack was launched by the Syrian army, who gave the order to fire? Maybe it’s Assad or his top generals. Assad denies this, calling the West’s accusations “nonsense” and “an insult to common sense.” Which, when you think about it, is true. As Barbara Walters and others who have met the Syrian dictator have found, Assad is not an idiot or a madman. He is a well-educated, intelligent man Why would he brush off Obama’s “red line” about the use of chemical weapons last year? His nation borders Iraq, so it’s not like he needs reminders of what happens when you attract unwanted attention from the U.S. Why would Assad take that chance? His forces are doing well. If the attack came from Assad’s forces, maybe it originated on the initiative of a lower-level officer. Should the U.S. go to war over the possible actions of a mid-ranked army officer who went rogue?
3. “The options that we are considering are not about regime change,” says the White House PR flack. So why is Obama “days away” from a military strike? To “send a message,” in Beltway parlance. But the air war that the attack on Syria is reportedly being modeled after, Clinton’s campaign against Serbia during the 1990s, caused the collapse of the Serbian government. Regional players think, and some hope, that degrading Assad’s military infrastructure could turn the war in favor of the Syrian rebels. If toppling Assad isn’t Obama’s goal, why chance it?
4. When you bomb one side in a civil war — a side that, by the way, might be innocent of the chemical attack — you help their enemies. Assad is bad, but as we saw in post-Saddam Iraq, what follows a dictator can be worse. Syria’s rebel forces include radical Islamists who aren’t very nice guys. They’ve installed Taliban-style Sharia law in the areas they control, issuing bizarre edicts (they’ve outlawed croissants) and carrying out floggings and executions, including the recent whipping and fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy for making an offhand remark about Mohammed. Obama is already sending them arms and cash. Should we fight their war for them too?
5. Why are chemical weapons considered especially bad? Because the U.S. has moved on to other, more advanced ways to kill people. And because we claim to be exceptional. Paul Waldman of The American Prospect notes: “We want to define our means of warfare as ordinary and any other means as outside the bounds of humane behavior, less for practical advantage than to convince ourselves that our actions are moral and justified.” And, as Dominic Tierney argued in The Atlantic, “Powerful countries like the United States cultivate a taboo against using WMD partly because they have a vast advantage in conventional arms.” If 100,000 people have died in Syria during the last two years, why are these 1000 deaths different?
6. White phosphorus is a chemical weapon that kills people with slow, agonizing efficiency, melting their bodies down to their bones. The U.S. dropped white phosphorus in Iraq, notably in the battle of Fallujah. The U.S. uses depleted uranium bombs in Afghanistan. Those are basically chemical weapons. The U.S. uses non-chemical weapons that shock the world’s conscience, such as cluster bombs that leave brightly colored canisters designed to attract playful children. Assuming the Assad regime is guilty as charged of the horrors in Damascus, why does the U.S. have the moral standing to act as jury and executioner?
7. Why us? Assuming that military action is appropriate in Syria, why is the United States constantly arguing that we should carry it out? Why not France, which has a colonial history there? Or Turkey, which is right next door? Or, for that matter, Papua New Guinea? Why is it always us?
Because our political culture has succumbed to militarism. Which has made us so nuts that we’ve gone from zero to war in a week. Which brings up a quote from the “forgotten MLK,” from 1967: “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government.”
Some things never change.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
Why Are Americans So Passive?
There’s a reason “Keep Calm and Carry On” is everywhere. When people lose everything — their economic aspirations, their freedom, their privacy — when there’s nothing they can do to restore what they’ve lost — all they have left is dignity.
Remember Saddam? Seconds before he was hanged, disheveled and disrespected, the deposed dictator held his head high, his eyes blazing with contempt as he spat sarcastic insults at his executioners. He “faced death like a lion,” said his supposed body double, Latif Yahia, and no one could argue. He left this life with the one thing he could control intact.
Dignity. That’s what “Keep Calm and Carry On” is all about. That’s what we think of when we think of the Battle of Britain. As German bombs rained down, the English went about their business. Like the iconic photo of the milkman tiptoeing over rubble. Like the bomb-damaged stores whose shopkeepers posted signs that read “We are still open — more open than usual.”
Man, that is so not us.
You’ve seen the T-shirts, with their clean Gill Sans-esque lettering and iconic crown. There are mugs, postcards and posters. Of course. It’s a reproduction of a propaganda poster from World War II, an (unsuccessful, because it wasn’t distributed) attempt by the British government to steel jittery citizens during the Blitz.
“Keep Calm and Carry On” merch dates to 2000 but really took off after 9/11; the popularity of the image, the stoicism of its call to stiffen upper lips everywhere, and numerous parodies (“Stay Alive and Kill Zombies”) has generated millions of dollars of profits, inevitably sparking lawsuits and inspiring a song by John Nolan.
Why is a meme originally prepared for a possible German invasion of the UK (which is why it wasn’t released) popular now? Zizi Papacharissi, communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, points to the crappy economy. “We are undergoing a profound and fairly global economic crisis, so it is natural to revisit the saying: Keep calm and carry on. It reminds us of courage shown back then, and how courage shown helped people pluck through a crisis.”
It’s also a reaction to terrorism — or more accurately a reaction to the initial reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks: hysteria, jingoism, multiple wars of choice, all doomed. More than any other factor, Obama owed his 2008 victory to his (Maureen Dowd called him) Vulcan personality: cool, implacable, possibly non-sentient, the anti-Dubya.
What wouldn’t we give for a 2001 do-over? No invasions, no Patriot Act, no Gitmo, no “extraordinary renditions,” no New York Times op-ed pieces arguing in favor of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Treat 9/11 like a crime, let the FBI go after the perps. Reach out to Muslims, reconsider our carte blanche to Israel, and most of all: go slow. Don’t freak out.
Perspective: 3,000 deaths is awful. 9/11 was shocking. We killed 2 million Vietnamese people, yet they’re going strong. With a minimum of whining.
Sometimes you need some perspective to your perspective.
There are times when it’s appropriate to freak out. When, in fact, it’s downright weird and unhealthy and wrong not to flip your lid. For example, when you get diagnosed with a terrible disease. When someone you love dies.
There are also times when big-picture, impersonal stuff, including politics and the economy, ought to make you crazy with rage or grief or…something. Not nothing. Not just keeping calm and carrying on.
Keeping calm and carrying on was an appropriate response to the Blitz. Short of moving away from the targeted area, there’s nothing you can do about bombs. Living or dying is a matter of happenstance. Keeping calm might help you make smart decisions. Panic is usually more dangerous than self-control.
The same is true of terrorism. Terrorists will kill you, or not — probably not. You can’t fix your fate.
But that is decidedly not true about the economy. Not when what is wrong with the economy is not something no one can control — a giant meteor, bad weather, panic in the markets — but something that most assuredly can and indeed should be, like the systemic transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the rich that has characterized the class divide in Western nations since the 1970s. The appropriate, intelligent and self-preserving response to mass theft is rage, demands for action, and decisive punishment of political and economic leaders who refuse to change things.
As one revelation about the National Security Agency’s spying follows another, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme seems less like an appeal to dignity and calm reserve than the much older, classic response of the power elite to their oppressed subjects: Shut the Fuck Up.
(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in March 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL
No Context, But Propaganda Is Amusing
Try as they may to make the news as boring as possible, U.S. media outlets keep churning out hilarious “news” stories. Hardly a day passes without the release of some piece whose content is so ridiculous, its tone so absurdly credulous, that it makes us feel as if we live in a bizarre reincarnation of the propaganda-soaked Soviet Union.
Remember “Baghdad Bob”? Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, Iraq’s information minister during the 2003 U.S. invasion, kept denying reality, insisting that Saddam’s regime was winning even as attacking tanks appeared in the background of his camera shots. I had a Baghdad Bob flashback moment earlier this week while listening to NPR’s afternoon news program “All Things Considered.”
“President Obama toured the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington today joined by Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel. Mr. Obama said the U.S. must never again allow such atrocities to take place,” said Melissa Block.
The implication is that Obama cares about protecting innocent people from state-run mass murder. That the U.S. has moral standing. But…but…
The U.S. is currently the world’s leading perpetrator of atrocities!
American wars against Afghanistan and Iraq have slaughtered at least two million people and injured many millions more. The U.S. maintains a network of “black site” secret prisons and concentration camps around the world. President Obama claims the right to assassinate anyone, including U.S. citizens, anywhere in the world, without having to explain himself to a court. We’re the #1 arms dealer on the planet. And, as a British newspaper has learned, the military maintains dozens of secret drone bases here inside the U.S., obviously for future use against the enemies of our increasingly oppressive police state.
The Obama Administration isn’t killing as many people as were killed during the Holocaust—but that’s not saying much. Does NPR think we’ve forgotten that the hands of our political leaders are dripping with blood? Or is NPR trying to compete with Comedy Central?
The report included an Obama sound bite: “And when innocents suffer, it tears at our conscience. Elie alluded to what we feel as we see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence simply for demanding their universal rights. We have to do everything we can.”
When innocents suffer. Well, not all innocents, right, Mr. President? Like, we’re not supposed to lose sleep over the thousands of detainees—including children—in U.S. concentration camps at Guantánamo, Bagram, Diego Garcia, Thailand, and Bulgaria. All of who are, under U.S. law, innocent of any crime (because they’ve never been charged, much less convicted, in court).
Anyway, it’s not like the U.S. is doing “everything we can” for the Syrian resistance. Not that we should. But coverage like this—it really does hearken back to the glory days of Pravda and Izvestia.
It’s bad enough to be fed propaganda. But at least make an effort when you lie. This crap is insulting.
In the same report, Don Gonyea let loose this howler: “Mr. Obama announced new sanctions against nations that commit grave human rights abuses through technology that includes cell phone tracking and monitoring citizens on the Internet.”
What a kidder! Such awesomely dry delivery!
As the San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The President took aim at Syria and Iran, whose leaders have tapped compliant phone companies and Internet services to hunt down dissenters.”
Listening to and reading that, you could almost forget that Obama voted for FISA, which retroactively legalized Bush’s illegal domestic wiretapping program, which was carried out by the National Security Agency and—ahem—compliant phone companies such as AT&T. FISA also radically expanded the federal government’s right to listen to your phone calls and intercept your email without a warrant.
Obama’s own commission of “grave human rights abuses through technology that includes cell phone tracking and monitoring citizens on the Internet” is context worth mentioning in a story about Obama imposing sanctions on other countries that do the same things. Maybe something like this: “Mr. Obama, whose Administration vigorously asserts its right to track Americans’ cell phones and track them on the Internet, announced sanctions against other countries that do the same thing.”
They wouldn’t be telling us anything we didn’t already know. But here’s the thing—as ignorant and stupid as the American public is, the media thinks we’re even stupider and more ignorant!
If nothing else, our neo-Soviet media sure is funny.
(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)
More Jobs for Our Valiant Marine Heroes
“Eighteen, 19-year-old kids make stupid mistakes all too often and that’s what occurred here.”
This was the nuanced reaction of Rick Perry, governor of the supposedly important state of Texas, who has signed dozens of death warrants (at least one for an innocent man), who thinks he deserves to be president, to a video of Marines in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan peeing on dead Afghan resistance fighters.
“Golden, like a shower,” says one.
Amazing to watch how ten years and the catastrophic American military defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed our views about the shock troops of American militarism. After 9/11 our sainted soldiers could do no wrong. They were inherently noble. They were heroes. Even liberals said so.
Uneducated and ignorant, yes, but these brave young men and women deserved our gratitude for defending our freedoms against the Islamofascist hordes lest a land bridge somehow appear between the Old and New Worlds. Who cared 85 percent of U.S. troops in Iraq told a 2006 Zogby poll that their mission was “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9/11 attacks”?
They had big hearts. And small brains. The rapists of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, the murderers of Bagram, the rapist-murderers of Haditha? Just a few bad apples.
No longer. Defeat has followed defeat. Each “successful” drone strike against “enemy militants” in Afghanistan and Pakistan gets followed by a sheepish “well, yeah, they were all innocent women and children” press release. War grates on the nerves; losing wars are worse. Why, broke and jobless Americans, are we still spending $1 million a year per soldier to chase down one Al Qaeda #2 after another?
America’s glorious crusade is over. We know the U.S. mission in Afghanistan is to subjugate, terrorize and brutalize the local population. Even state-controlled media admits it.
“There is no question that the Taliban are brutal, including against their own people,” opines The New York Times editorial board. “The 1,000-man battalion lost seven men during its seven months in Helmand. But the stress of combat cannot excuse desecrating corpses—not to mention filming it.”
Love that last emphasis.
How many zillions of times have similar or worse outrages been carried out by soldiers smart enough to keep their camera cellphones in their pockets?
Not to mention the disproportionality. It sucks to lose seven people. Especially if you’re one of them. How many Afghans did that unit kill during those same seven months? They killed four—the ones they peed on—in a single day. As for Taliban brutality—well, they are Afghans. What are we doing over in their country?
Memo to U.S. forces: OK to invade foreign nation that posed no threat. OK to occupy said country for years. OK to impose a corrupt puppet government. OK to kill the locals. Probably OK to piss on them. Just don’t film it.
Of all the many stupid things Rick Perry has said during his political career his defense of the piss-and-vinegar marines rank among one of the smartest. Perry is right: they are dumb kids.
Which prompts a Big Question. We don’t trust kids to drink. Hell, you can’t even rent a car until you’re 25. So why do we outfit a bunch of dumb 18- and 19-year-old kids prone to making “stupid mistakes all too often” with high-powered automatic weapons, then unleash them with a license to kill hapless foreigners?
Thanks to Rick Perry, the answer is clear:
War crimes is just what dumb kids does. No one’s fault. Just is.
This blame-the-brats approach has a lot of potential for America’s hapless ruling class. Like, get rid of the weird cabals of angry old country-club neo-cons. The next time we want to gin up a quagmire from thin air, let’s assign the job of choosing the target and marketing the war to a bunch of dumb 18- and 19-year-olds from West Virginia. Whatever goes wrong won’t be anyone’s actual fault.
Plausible excusability—they’re just dumb kids!—works for domestic policy too.
Whenever the government is in the mood to shovel hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into the coffers of giant banks while ignoring the plight of the un- and underemployed, keep the gray old men of the Fed out of it. Roll a few kegs over to the nearest frat and let the freshman and sophomore econ majors have at it. So the global economy tanks. Who cares? Just a buncha stupid kids doing stupid kid stuff.
Don’t blame me if this column is stupid. I took the week off.
COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL