Sunday, December 14, 2008

A shameful blot

On the cover of the November 17, 2008 edition of The American Conservative magazine is a list of the dismal accomplishments of our outgoing President, George W. Bush. It reads as follows:

Missions Accomplished
• Start a war (or two)
• Shred Constitution
• Crash economy
• Expand entitlements
• Ruin America's reputation
• Create Democratic majority
• Bribe churches
• Recruit for al-Qaeda
• Discredit conservatism
• Nationalize banks
• Cut taxes now, pay later
• Misunderestimate hurricane
• Export jobs, import workers
• Federalize education
• Spy on citizens

The cover story inside, "Bush's Broken Record," offers observations by several writers on the Bush tenure. A few excerpts:

He Fought the Wars and the Wars Won, by Gary Brecher

What George W. Bush loved best about his job was being a war president. Playing war, that is, as opposed to making war like a grown-up. Remember him strutting onto that carrier in his little flight jacket? You never saw Eisenhower, a real general, playing out his martial fantasies this way. You can take the drink out of the drunk, but you can’t take the swagger out of a fool. ...

Maybe there’s a lesson here: if the president doesn’t cut it in a crisis, we’re better off admitting that to ourselves and telling him so instead of pretending he’s a great leader. When you make a weakling into a hero, you give him a lot of power. ...

So we poured American blood and treasure into the Iraqi dust to prove the half-baked theories of a bunch of tenth-rate professors. The most expensive experiment in the history of the world, all to learn something any 10-year-old could have told them: people don’t take to foreign troops on their streets, and not everybody wants to be like us. You know those Ig-Nobel awards they hand out to the dumbest science projects of the year? The Iraq invasion is the all-time winner. Retire the trophy with the names of the winning team: Bush, Cheney, Kristol, Wolfowitz, Feith. ...

It’s no puzzle: we pretended a goon was a hero, let him play out his foolish fantasies about remaking the Middle East, and wasted our strength on a losing effort while the rest of the world drifted out of our power. Our leader was a laughingstock around globe, and he made America the butt of the world’s contempt. But Bush got his wish—he was a war president and then some. The rest of us were the casualties.

A Long Train of Abuses, by Alexander Cockburn

No doubt the conservatives who cheered Bush on as he abrogated ancient rights and stretched the powers of his office to unseen limits would have shrieked if a Democrat had taken such liberties. But now Obama will be entitled to the lordly prerogatives Bush established.

Growing up in Ireland and the United Kingdom, I gazed with envy at the United States, with its constitutional protections and its Bill of Rights contrasting with the vast ad hoc tapestry of Britain’s repressive laws and “emergency” statutes piled up through the centuries. Successive regimes from the Plantagenet and Tudor periods forward went about the state’s business of enforcing the enclosures, hanging or transporting strikers, criminalizing disrespectful speech, and, of course, abolishing the right to carry even something so innocuous as a penknife. ...

Bush has forged resolutely along the path blazed by Clinton in asserting uninhibited executive power to wage war, seize, confine, and torture at will, breaching constitutional laws and international treaties and covenants concerning the treatment of combatants. The Patriot Act took up items on the Justice Department’s wish list left over from Clinton’s dreadful Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which trashed habeas corpus protections.

The most spectacular abuses of civil liberties under Bush, such as the prison camp at Guantanamo, are acute symptoms of a chronic disease. The larger story of the past eight years has been the great continuity between this administration and those that have come before. ...

In the past eight years, Bush has ravaged the Fourth Amendment with steadfast diligence, starting with his insistence that he could issue arrest warrants if there was reason to believe a noncitizen was implicated in terrorist activity. Seized under this pretext and held within America’s borders or in some secret prison overseas, the captive had no recourse to a court of law. Simultaneously, the “probable cause” standard, theoretically disciplining the state’s innate propensity to search and to seize, has been systematically abused, as have the FBI’s powers under the “material witness” statute to arrest and hold their suspects. Goodbye habeas corpus.

Discounting Family Values, by Allan Carlson

The Bush team sacrificed the prospect of greater pro-family initiatives—like so much else—to the war in Iraq. Most disturbingly, the Defense Department relentlessly manipulated, and at times simply ignored, laws that limited exposure of women to combat. Desperate to fill its ranks, the Army ignored the lessons of all human history and put women—including young mothers—at risk, a shameful blot on the American record. Hundreds have been killed and many more severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands have spent months, if not years, separated from their families.

The administration’s deliberate twisting of gender roles was on gruesome display in the case of Jessica Lynch, in which Pentagon propagandists blatantly lied about her capture in the early days of the Iraq War, turning a frightened victim of Iraqi sexual abuse into a female version of Sergeant York. Private Lynndie England’s infamous exploits in the Abu Ghraib prison were another sign of the Pentagon’s direct complicity in the feminist-inspired degradation of American women.

In pursuit of its military agenda, the Bush administration achieved another landmark of gender-role engineering. Its deployment of women into combat made sure, given prior court decisions, that if the nation must someday return to a draft, the daughters of American families will join their brothers in involuntary military service.

Conservatives Follow the Leader, by Llewellyn Rockwell

To be sure, cultural problems abound, given the warfare state and the welfare state. But the answer is hardly to put the feds in total charge. Just as religion must be free from state interference, so must the culture, which is informed by religion. But once conservatives helped make these issues part of the political agenda, the state happily developed an aggressive strategy for shaping the culture in its image, through a wide variety of legislation and spending.

So when it came time for Bush to rally conservative support, he pushed very bad ideas like putting religious charities on the government dole. You might think that this would be opposed by anyone who valued religious independence, charitable autonomy, free enterprise, and limiting government. But no: conservatives stood foursquare with Bush, and even had their hands out for contracts. ...

Every Republican president can count on the conservatives eventually supporting whatever policies he dishes out for one simple and profound reason: they hate the Left more than they hate the state. So in the end, they will back anything that keeps the Left out of power. By anything, I mean anything—military dictatorship, fascist central planning, state management of the whole of the culture. One wonders what horror they think they are preventing by opposing the Left.

The answer is that they do not think. Most people calling themselves conservatives pay no attention to the history of ideas. George W. Bush certainly took no such interest. His understanding of American history, economics, and world affairs is thin and superficial. His goal as president was not to accomplish anything as such but merely to be president and do presidential things and hope to land on the right side of history.


Anonymous said...

These wild rants merit little comment. The Bush administration was not perfect, but it wasn't much if any worse than the many before it. Since the 1960's introduced populist democracy, with its vociferous protest groups of every possible variety, one can only sympathize with all the Presidents, who have done their best to lead the nation.

Armchair quarterbacks are sometimes right, armed with hindsight, and their ideas untested as to actual results. But our presidents have had to operate in a din where the team often can't hear the signals, some of the team are out to throw the game, the support staff such as the State Department and CIA are out to sabotage him, and the major media discredit his every move and leak information to the enemy.

Until the intense partisanship ceases, the special interest groups take a back seat, and the voters elect better congressmen, we can expect nothing great from our government.

Our government is three headed--the Legislative and Judicial and Executive must all share the blame or credit for successes. Letting a Hollywood cult of personality create a Presidential scape-goat misses the point--There has to be non-partisan cooperation to form a winning team. Carping and back-biting doom any leader to less than he could be.

Elizabeth Wright said...

I don't think the Founders would agree that the institutions they formulated and the ideas they supported to insure public criticism and oversight of government should be identified as "carping and backbiting." But, whether or not they would call it that, thank goodness we can carp and backbite.

You may deem reflecting on past history as armchair quarterbacking, if you wish, but historians have turned out thousands of books, papers, and journals by doing just that. Would you like to count all the "quarterbacking" books on Lincoln alone? You might shut down half of academia if such armchair quarterbacking was forced to cease.

How and when did partisanship become such a bad thing? The big mouth Limbaugh, and his wannabes have been shooting from the hip for years and years, but now suddenly we must all come together and hold hands. Maybe dance around the Maypole, singing "We Shall Overcome?"

So the State Department and the CIA (both of which were corrupted by Bush and his minions) sabotaged their Commander-in-Chief? Is that the newest rightwing spin? Blame it on the CIA?

If doing one's best to "lead the nation," as you put it, means unnecessarily killing over 4,000 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi citizens in a stupid, pointless Crusade, then this country will be better off without leaders. Bush behaved like a mental cripple throughout his eight-year tenure. Thanks to him, the leftwing benefited big time. From their perspective, they could not have asked for a better Republican.

John Sobieski said...

Bush is Carter. Disgraceful. We have every right to complain about his decisions. After 8 years, you know you cannot believe a word he says. He is living in a fantasy.

My biggest realization and disappointment is how ignorant Bush is about Islam. Like Blair, who says he reads the koran every day!, he reads and then looks at his cribnotes from some apologist and believes without questioning. Can anyone say 'islam is the religion of peace, our god is the same, etc.' and not have everyone's eyes roll? Not among the people I know.

Elizabeth Wright said...

To understand anything about Islam, or any other theology or philosophy, for that matter, Bush would have to be an entirely different person, one who at least seeks out knowledge about the things he doesn't know. I'm sure he cares nothing if masses of Muslims begin to have the kind of power in this country that they are now acquiring throughout Europe. His response would be no different from his corporate and Republican party compatriots: "How do we reach out to this new group and bring them into our circle?"

There are the crazies who want to have a show-down with Muslims, and are determined to continue meddling in their territories, and then there are the passive fools, who actually believe that Islam is just another sentimental religion, like the one in which they grew up. Wait until sharia law catches up with them!