War & the Fall of America
© By Eric Walberg
As the White House lame duck’s reign drags on, and political wars on the home front gather steam, it is pertinent we assess the legacy US President George W. Bush leaves us.
Part 1 – Inferno
Where to begin? The hell of Iraq and Afghanistan put everything else in the shadows. Those monstrous crimes will dominate the world’s agenda for decades to come. I have chosen here to deal with only a few major elements of the Bush legacy. First, what it will mean for the Bush crew themselves, leaving aside the rest of us poor mortals and the millions of Iraqis and Afghans suffering and dying as part of this ‘legacy’.
The Bush crew will be on the run like no other ex-politicos, already pursued by determined demonstrators and human rights lawyers inside the US and out. Last November, activists from the International Federation for Human Rights, the Centre for Constitutional Rights, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, and the French League for Human Rights ambushed former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld at a breakfast meeting in Paris organised by Foreign Policy magazine. He fled, fearing arrest over charges of ordering and authorising torture of detainees at both Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It seems that even the election of an American-friendly French president is no guarantee of immunity in gay Paris for American officials anymore. Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil.
According to activists in France, who greeted Rumsfeld with shouts of “murderer” and “war criminal,” US Embassy officials remained tight-lipped about the former defense secretary’s whereabouts citing security reasons. He was whisked off to Germany, where a similar writ against him had been quashed only weeks before, but under the Schengen agreement that ended border checkpoints across a large part of the European Union, French law enforcement agents are allowed to cross the border into Germany in pursuit of a fleeing fugitive.
“Rumsfeld must be feeling how Saddam Hussein felt when US forces were hunting him down,” activist Tanguy Richard said. “He may never end up being hanged like his old friend, but he must learn that in the civilised world, war crime doesn’t pay.”
He will join the prestigious club of world-class war criminals, along with General Augusto Pinochet and various Israelis, soon to be joined by the likes of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz or the seemingly harmless war criminal Condoleezza Rice. No concert tours of Europe in your retirement, Dr. Rice. Dubya had never travelled outside the US until shortly before his “election” seven years ago, so he won’t lose much sleep if he can’t see the Eiffel Tower in his twilight years.
The guilt for the many crimes that Bush and company have perpetrated goes deep, and many figures will, like their Israeli counterparts, need international lawyers on retainers, not to mention private detectives and bodyguards, keeping track of legal proceedings against them and/or possible acts of revenge. There are possibly millions of Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Brits, Americans – hey, victims and relatives of victims of Bush’s wars can be found in just about every country around the world. The next few decades will not be easy for these unfortunate folk.
Despite US refusal to recognise the International Criminal Court and active lobbying of those that did to exempt US citizens under so-called Article 98 agreements, Amnesty International and the European Commission Legal Service argue that such agreements are not valid. US citizens are still subject to prosecution by many of the 140 ICC member-countries, if the unlucky parties can be nabbed while on foreign soil.
As for the fallout for the rest of us, readers are already aware of the police state mentality and reality that Bush’s wars have resulted in (Richard K. Moore, “War on Terror: The Police State Agenda” (New Dawn No. 69,Nov-Dec 2001 and Robert Guffey, “George W. Bush Is Not a Christian: Uncovering the Real Power Behind the US President” (New Dawn No. 100, Jan-Feb 2007), a ‘legacy’ that may never be undone. I will not dwell on the blow to civil rights that Bush has dealt Americans, indeed, the entire world. Rather I will focus on another, less well-known, but equally nefarious war on the modus vivendi of US government – his concerted attack on the State Department.
This front opened with his unprecedented appointment of a military general as secretary of state, though Colin Powell was probably one of the most “diplomatic” of Bush’s appointments. Powell proved to be a relative wimp around the White House, and resigned after four years of being forced to spout most undiplomatic lies.
Condoleezza Rice’s ascendancy to the post, which made slightly more sense considering she was a professor of foreign relations, should have been greeted with relief by the staff. But the underlying tensions between State and Defense continued to fester – perhaps metastasise is a more appropriate term. The US military quietly and repeatedly complains that its forces have been pressed into service in so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that should have been filled by State, Commerce and Agriculture Department personnel. Yes, enlisted soldiers can be ordered to go anywhere, and apparently for indefinitely extended tours of duty, unlike the laid-back civilians.
But this has been changing for the better, at least from the armed forces’ point of view with two new developments portending the creeping militarisation of State.
First, the State Department has said it will in the future “require” its diplomats to staff its embassy in Iraq where there is a lack of volunteers, effectively turning State into a kind of military adjunct. Traditionally, no career diplomat has been forced to serve in a specific country. Fifty new posts were added this year to the 200 jobs at the embassy in Iraq – the biggest in the world – and only after an embarrassing protest by career diplomats and intense pressure were all the posts filled.
According to Harry Thomas, State Department human resource director, “We have all taken an oath to serve our country and so if someone decides they do not want to go, then we would consider appropriate actions. We have many options, including dismissal from the foreign service.” But the battle line in State has been drawn.
Besides having to live in war zones and defend the criminal policies which the military is busy carrying out at present, another ‘legacy’ which diplos are griping about is the military’s increasing reliance on mercenaries to protect them, since the army is too busy pacifying restless natives.
Richard Griffin, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, resigned last year (in protest? disgrace?) after the release of a damning report on the lack of adequate monitoring of the Blackwater security firm. Within hours, the Iraqi government revoked the immunity from prosecution granted to private security firms. The most infamous incident of Blackwater’s policy of “shoot first, ask later” was on 16 September 2007 when employees of Blackwater killed 17 innocent Iraqis in Baghdad. The guards were escorting a US State Department convoy. It’s not at all clear that it is legal for diplomats to be hiring mercenaries to “protect” them, and again, who wants to face the possibility of being charged as an accomplice to murder or whatever years down the line in some tinpot European country?
Yet another development in the ongoing militarisation of State has been courtesy of the military’s new allies among the diplomats’ own Ivory Tower colleagues. Last year the US Army and Marine Corps published its new Counterinsurgency Field Manual (CFM No. 3-24), its very own Little Red Book, at the University of Chicago Press, tastefully printed in a camouflage, faux-field ready edition, designed to slip into flack jackets or Urban Outfitter accessory bags. General (Dr) David Petraeus himself wrote the Foreword, and Harvard JFK School of Government’s Sarah Sewell the Introduction. It spawned a minor media orgy, as Petraeus’s intellectually fuelled “smart bomb” – the secret weapon for victory in Iraq and Afghanistan, though it looks tiresomely like directives from Vietnam days to “win hearts and minds,” using “Human Terrain Teams” (HTTs) – anthropologists embedded with troops, using ethnographic knowledge to advise and inform troops in the field while travelling with armed escorts (Blackwater, anyone?). Promoting the CFM on the popular Daily Show Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl said, “If I could sum up the book in just a few words, it would be: ‘Be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill’.”
Veiled conscription, mercenary chauffeurs and now the Manual reveal the militarisation of both the form and content of American diplomacy. Reality is imitating art, in this case, the art of war. The thugs are winning not only on the home front, but in the battlefield, where PRTs blur into HTTs, both staffed with diplomats and their grad student colleagues, bringing the now-conscripted diplomats’ war-diplomacy smack-dab into the hearts and minds of the terrified natives who haven’t yet become collateral damage to the occupation forces’ war.
This is what happened in Vietnam towards the end, so there is really nothing terribly new here, just much more of the same. When you have a warmonger in the White House, war trumps diplomacy. It doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to figure that one out. It makes a fitting metaphor to say that Bush has created a light at the end of the tunnel for the diplos, but that the light is more like the eerie lighting of a red-light district. Not to worry, the soldiers (and mercenaries) will be sure to come and visit their State bawds.
But seriously, there are many generals and soldiers who dislike the wars they are being forced to fight just as much as the vast majority of US intellectuals and diplos. We must hope that this ‘legacy’ – an aroused US public, aware of the duplicity and criminality of the Bush regime – will counteract the militarisation of the government and undermining of democracy. Whether or not Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich’s attempts to impeach Bush before he leaves office are successful, W’s retirement days will not be ‘blue skies’ even on his spacious Crawford Ranch, let alone gay Paris. Bush’s Divine Comedy Part II – the Purgatory – is beginning to unfold, however haltingly.
Part 2 – Purgatorio
As Bush’s eight years at the helm come to a close, the damage he has wrought to the economy and material prospects of Americans is becoming clearer with each passing day. The economic and social consequences will keep America, not to mention the entire world, busy for generations as we valiantly try to earn enough points to escape from our Purgatory, assuming that is still possible.
Again, where to begin? Focusing on the economy, we see that:
- The tax code now overwhelmingly favours the rich, much like the so-called Gilded Age of the late 19th century, the era of John D Rockefeller and JP Morgan;
- The already gigantic US national debt has grown 70 per cent;
- The even more gigantic trade deficit is a record $850 billion;
- The ongoing mortgage default crisis has deprived more than a million Americans of their homes, causing a depression which the US is ‘exporting’ to the rest of the world;
- Oil prices are at a historic high;
- The dollar is worth half what it was eight years ago.
More broadly, dependency on oil and coal has increased; high-tech education and research have fallen off; infrastructure, including levees in New Orleans and bridges in Minneapolis, continue to crumble. The only conceivable positive economic legacy is in the eyes – and pockets – of the super-rich.
During President Bill Clinton’s second term, gains in manufacturing productivity reached 6 percent. The Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, talked glowingly of a New Economy marked by continued productivity gains as the Internet replaced old ways of doing business. The rich did well, but so did the not-so-rich. These boom years were the first time since Jimmy Carter that the deficit was under control, and the first time since the 1970s that incomes at the bottom grew faster than those at the top. All this was quickly frittered away.
The first major economic initiative pursued by Bush II was a massive tax cut for the rich, enacted in June 2001. Those with incomes over a million got a tax cut of $18,000 – more than 30 times what the average American got. The inequities were compounded by a second tax cut, in 2003, skewed even more toward the rich. Together these tax cuts, when made permanent, mean that in 2012 the average reduction for an American in the bottom 20 percent will be roughly $45, while those with incomes over $1 million will gain an average of $162,000.
Inequality is now widening in America, and at a rate not seen since the Great Depression. Some 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty now than when Bush became president. America’s class structure looks like Brazil’s and Mexico’s.
Clinton’s 2000 budget surplus of 2.4 percent of GDP turned into a deficit of 3.6 percent in the space of four years, a turn around not seen since the global crisis of World War II. Agricultural subsidies were doubled between 2002 and 2005. Tax subsidies increased more than a quarter. Tax breaks for the oil-and-gas industry increased by billions of dollars. US ‘defense’ spending, which accounts for half the world’s military expenditures, has more than doubled in the past decade, much of it expended in failed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or spent on new weapons that don’t work against imaginary enemies, such as Star Wars.
Although it denounced entitlement programs for the needy, the administration enacted the largest increase in entitlements since LBJ’s Great Society project – the poorly designed Medicare prescription-drug benefit, intended as both an election-season bribe and a sop to the drug companies, which makes American consumers pay far more for medications than people elsewhere in the developed world.
Unsurprisingly, the stimulus from the tax relief and massive budget deficit was astonishingly low, given that it went to those-that-already-have-more-than-enough. Therefore, the job of economic stimulation was passed on to the Federal Reserve Board, which drove interest rates down to 1 percent – in real terms, negative 2 percent. The predictable result was a surge in consumer spending. Bush’s own fiscal irresponsibility nurtured irresponsibility in everyone else. Credit spiked, and subprime mortgages were made available to one and all. Again, unsurprisingly, personal bankruptcies are now skyrocketing, with Bush’s 2005 bankruptcy bill making it much, much harder for individuals to discharge their debts and get on with their lives.
The war in Iraq was supposed to cost $50 billion – it has already cost $500 billion, leaving aside the human costs. If you also take into account the costs to the economy from higher oil prices and the secondary effects of the war (uncertainty and distortions in production and consumption) and the difficulties US firms face overseas because America is increasingly boycotted around the world, the total costs of the Iraq war are, even by a conservative estimate, at least $2 trillion – so far. To put the figure in perspective, US aid to all of Africa is about $5 billion a year. What an expensive ‘foreign aid’ recipient is ungrateful Iraq.
In both economics and politics, President Bush worked to undermine multilateralism and to replace it with an America-dominated system. In the end, he failed to impose American will but did succeed in wrecking cooperation and exporting America’s economic ills.
The administration’s basic contempt for global institutions prompted it to appoint Paul Wolfowitz, the former Deputy Secretary of Defense and a chief architect of the Iraq war, as president of the World Bank in 2005. (Yes, the US ‘democratically’ appoints the chief world banker.) Derided from the start, and soon better known for moth-eaten socks and his retainer lover, Wolfowitz became an international embarrassment and was forced to resign after less than two years on the job.
Globalisation means that America’s economy and the rest of the world have become increasingly interwoven, so that the shock waves from the prime mortgage crisis buffeted Europe, China, and Australia. Meanwhile, US foreign debt is to an alarming extent in the hands of foreigners. China alone holds more than $1 trillion in public and private American bonds and securities. Cumulative borrowing from abroad during the six years of the Bush administration amounts to $5 trillion. If these creditors call in their loans, the US would effectively be bankrupted and there would be a global financial crisis which would make the Great Depression look like a picnic. Just as Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have eroded America’s moral authority, so the Bush administration’s fiscal housekeeping eroded America’s economic authority.
The question hangs in the air: Is it possible all this chaos and destruction was intentional? That the whole point is to destroy the US economy from within and create an apocalyptic world of suffering and war? That Bush is some sort of incarnation of Satan? I leave it to the reader to answer this. No rational explanation is possible.
This is not entirely flippant or irrational. Much of the world believes that the official story surrounding 9/11 – of a bunch of poorly trained Saudi youth directed by Osama bin Laden from a cave in Afghanistan – is a cover for a much more sophisticated conspiracy, involving the likes of Bush and Cheney in cooperation with, or possibly even directed by Mossad. That the nightmare of the past eight years is part of a plan to break the back of the last redoubt to US/Israeli plans of world domination – the Muslim world.
There is lots of evidence pointing to such a plan, in the first place, the Washington-based Project for a New American Century’s September 2000 report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Mysteriously (or not so mysteriously), as of May 20, 2008, PNAC’s website was inoperable. A message on the site’s page says that the account has been suspended and that interested parties should contact the billing department. Is it likely that PNAC can’t afford a website? Is its job done? Is there a PNAC II somewhere?
But why destroy America? Is America, with its Constitution protecting free speech, a threat to a much more shadowy Israeli-dominated bid for a New World Order? Europe, with its frightening holocaust denial laws is already occupied territory. For all the Evil emanating from Washington these days, there is arguably still more freedom of thought in America than in Europe. But perhaps historians will conclude the mess Bush left was really just due to disastrous bungling. Let us hope this is so.
Though there are countless more sins to lay at his feet, the picture should be clear and we will stop here, with the one addendum that Bush’s evil reign did at least mobilise hundreds of millions inside and outside the US to fight for a better world. Though unintended, such blowback must remain our only comfort as we turn this nightmarish page in world history. Bush is one of those who has entered the annals of history solely due to notoriety. Unlike Dante’s 14th century saga, there is no Part III – Paradiso. We have all entered a twilight world thanks to his presidency from which we may never emerge. Let us hope this is not so.
ERIC WALBERG is a peace activist, writer and translator who worked in Moscow and Tashkent. He writes for Al-Ahram Weekly in Cairo. A graduate from Cambridge University in Economics, he has made East-West understanding a focus of his writing. His website is www.geocities.com/walberg2002/
The above article appears in
New Dawn No. 110
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