After all, Bush is the one who explains the “facts”
about current events as if he’s speaking to people with the mental
capacity of a five-year-old. He also assumes – with some justification –
that his listeners don’t mind being misled and lied to, as long as he
gives them some bromides that make them feel good.
Regarding the Iraq War and the War on Terror, Bush
has mastered a few talking points that sound pleasing but are
essentially nonsense – and he then repeats them endlessly to
appreciative audiences as he did on Jan. 11 in Louisville, Kentucky.
For instance, Bush served up the old canard about
how before Sept. 11, 2001, Americans felt they were protected by the
Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but afterwards they realized they faced a
unique danger that required sacrifice of civil liberties at home and
“preemptive” wars against potential enemies abroad.
“You know, when I was growing up, or other Baby
Boomers here were growing up, we felt safe because we had these vast
oceans that could protect us from harm’s way,” Bush told the “town hall”
participants in Louisville.
“September the 11th changed all that.
And so I vowed that we would take threats seriously. If we saw a threat,
we would take threats seriously before they fully materialized. And I
saw a threat in Saddam Hussein.”
The premise to this argument, however, is
completely false. No Baby Boomer, who grew up with drills for hiding
under desks in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack, felt safe because
of the two oceans. Americans of all ages knew that intercontinental
ballistic missiles could snuff out their lives in minutes.
Bush must know this reality, too, but his lie about
the two oceans lets him suggest that the Sept. 11 attacks represented a
completely new kind of danger, which, in turn, justified setting aside
centuries of American traditions and giving Bush vast powers as the
Democracy & Peace
Then, there’s Bush’s argument equating democracy
and peace, a claim that is the rhetorical underpinning of his entire
Middle East strategy, which holds that democracy in Iraq will spread
across the region and spell doom for Islamic extremism.
“It’s hard for some in our country to connect the
rise of democracy with peace,” Bush said in Louisville. “History has
proven that democracies yield the peace.”
But again – while it may be nice to think of
democracies as inherently peaceful – the historical reality is often
Even in ancient times, democracies often were the
instigators of war. Democratic Athens broke the Peace of Nicias in 418
B.C. by attacking undemocratic Sparta. The Roman Republic waged war on
its neighbors for centuries before it became an empire.
Even in American history, the democratic government
of the United States has waged war against Native Americans, Spaniards,
Mexicans and even against other Americans in the Civil War. In modern
times, the United States also has gone to war without direct
provocation, most notably in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Iraq now.
European democracies have a similarly spotty
record. Great Britain fought to maintain its empire even after the
monarchy had given way to democratic institutions. The same was true for
France, which fought colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria in the years
after World War II.
In Germany, Adolf Hitler exploited opportunities
created by democracy in his rise to power, as his nationalist socialism
resonated with voters suffering economic deprivation and harboring
anti-Semitic prejudices. After winning the largest number of seats in
parliament, Hitler engineered his fateful appointment as chancellor in
Conversely, history offers examples of relative
peace under undemocratic governments, such as the Chinese Empire and Pax
Romanum, although the peace was often enforced through internal
History also teaches that democracy is no guarantee
of justice. Consider the oppression of African-Americans in the United
States, first through slavery and then segregation.
Nor is moderation an inevitable byproduct.
Democratic elections in some Muslim countries have boosted Islamic
fundamentalists, not secular moderates, as happened in Algeria where
fundamentalist electoral gains were so strong that the army intervened
to prevent an Islamist victory.
In Iraq, too, U.S.-imposed “democratic
institutions” have not been a cure-all. Indeed, they have strengthened
Shiite fundamentalists and further divided the country along sectarian
lines, rather than elect moderate leaders and unite the rival religious
The Iraqi constitution, shepherded by the Bush
administration, creates sectarian-dominated regions that leave the
minority Sunnis in central Iraq largely without access to the nation’s
chief resource, oil, a practical issue that is fueling the Sunni-led
Since the last round of elections, leaders of the
majority Shiites have made clear that they have no intention of revising
the constitution substantially to give the rival Sunnis a bigger share
of Iraq’s oil, which rests mostly in the Shiite south and the Kurdish
“The first principle is not to change the
essence of the constitution,” said Abdul Aziz Hakim, leader of the
Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most powerful
Shiite party in the ruling coalition. “It is our responsibility to form
Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces.” [Washington Post, Jan.
Though the spread of democracy may be
desirable for many reasons, Bush’s thesis that elections necessarily
solve difficult political problems is simply not supported by history.
In the Middle East, resolution of the Palestine-Israeli conflict and
fairer distribution of the region’s oil wealth could be equally or more
important in achieving peace and reconciliation.
Rule of the majority can become tyranny of
the majority, a concern of America’s Founding Fathers who created a
complex system of constitutional checks and balances for protecting
Bush’s critics also question his sincerity
about democracy, given the fact that he seized power in 2001 after
losing the popular vote and then getting his partisan allies on the U.S.
Supreme Court to stop a state recount in Florida. [For details, see
Bush Did Steal the White House.”]
Many Americans are worried, too, about
Bush’s consolidation of government power through what his supporters --
including Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito -- call the “unitary
executive,” a radical concept that gives Bush many of the powers
traditionally held by the Legislature and the Judiciary.
Bush now asserts the right to interpret
laws as he sees fits, as he did in announcing that he is not bound by
the McCain anti-torture amendment, and can ignore other statutes and
even constitutional protections when he so wishes, as he did in ordering
warrantless wiretaps of American citizens.
“The President of the United States has
been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently,” former Vice President
Al Gore commented in a Jan. 16 speech in Washington. “A President who
breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.”
Yet, Bush’s comforting language about the
blessings of democracy tends to soothe his listeners, like children
hearing a bedtime story.
Bush also dished up to the Louisville
audience a pleasant confection about his wiretapping operation, calling
it a “limited” program that targets only people who are talking to al-Qaeda
“It seems like to me that if somebody is
talking to al-Qaeda, we want to know why,” Bush said in his folksy style
that had heads nodding. Bush said the program consisted of “taking known
al-Qaeda numbers – numbers from known al-Qaeda people – and just trying
to find out why the phone calls are being made.”
The reality, however, appears to be quite
different. First, the program that Bush describes could easily have been
accomplished under the existing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act, which even lets the government start wiretapping before going to a
secret court to get a warrant.
What the domestic spying actually seems to
entail is the National Security Agency scooping up conversations and
e-mails of a large number of Americans and using the data to generate
thousands of tips each month, passed on to the FBI for further
investigation, the New York Times reported based on interviews with
“But virtually all of [the tips], current
and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans,” the
Times reported. “FBI officials repeatedly complained to the spy agency
that the unfiltered information was swamping investigators. … Some FBI
officials and prosecutors also thought the checks, which sometimes
involved interviews by agents, were pointless intrusions on Americans’
privacy.” [NYT, Jan. 17, 2006]
Bush also assured the Louisville “town
hall” that “in order to safeguard the civil liberties of the people, we
have this program fully scrutinized on a regular basis. It’s been
authorized, reauthorized many times. We got lawyers looking at it from
different branches of government.
“We have briefed the leadership of the
United States Congress, both Republican and Democrat, as well as the
leaders of the intelligence committees, both Republican and Democrats,
about the nature of this program. We gave them a chance to express their
disapproval or approval.”
What Bush left out, however, was the fact
that he was the one authorizing and reauthorizing the program, with the
only significant legal advice coming from his appointed lawyers in the
White House and the Justice Department. When nonpartisan lawyers were
brought in, they raised objections.
In March 2004, for instance, when a professional
Justice Department lawyer, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey, was
asked to sign off on one recertification of the program – because
Attorney General John Ashcroft was in the hospital – Comey refused, the
New York Times reported.
Comey’s objection caused White House chief of staff
Andrew Card and Bush’s counsel Alberto Gonzales to carry the
recertification order over to the hospital where Ashcroft was
hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. [NYT, Jan. 1, 2006]
As for Bush’s claims about congressional
knowledge and consent, some of the few in Congress who were briefed have
complained that they were given only sketchy information and were not
allowed to discuss the program even with their own staff experts.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the
ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, ended up sending
a hand-written letter about his concerns to Vice President Dick Cheney,
but got no reply.
Bush’s Louisville listeners also heard one
of Bush’s golden oldies, his bogus account of how he reluctantly went to
war in Iraq only after Saddam Hussein had refused to let United Nations
weapons inspectors in to search for weapons of mass destruction.
“I went to the United Nations,” Bush told his
Louisville audience. “Some of you were probably concerned here in
Kentucky that it seemed like the President was spending a little too
much time in the United Nations.
“But I felt it was important to say to the world
that this international body, that we want to be effective, spoke loud
and clear not once, but 15 odd times to Saddam Hussein – said, ‘disarm,
get rid of your weapons, don’t be the threat that you are, or face
“That’s what the international body said. And my
view is, is that in order for the world to be effective, when it says
something, it must mean it. We gave the opportunity to Saddam Hussein to
open his country up. It was his choice. He chose war, and he got war.”
Bush’s listeners applauded this fictional account
of the run-up to war in Iraq, which is dishonest both in its assertion
that Hussein’s defiance on weapons inspection forced Bush to go to war
and in its suggestion that the invasion was done at the behest of the
But Bush has been presenting this bogus pre-war
history since July 2003 when the absence of WMD was becoming obvious and
an Iraqi insurgency was beginning to kill scores of American soldiers.
In his first version of this revisionist history
two-and-a-half years ago, Bush said about Hussein, “we gave him a chance
to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore,
after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”
In reality, Hussein opened up his country to U.N.
inspections in November 2002 and allowed them to search wherever they
wanted for the WMD that even Bush’s own inspectors later concluded
wasn’t there. Bush forced the U.N. inspectors to leave in March 2003 so
the invasion could proceed.
When the mainstream U.S. news media failed to
object to Bush’s rewritten history, he continued to spin out this lie in
various forms, including at the Republican National Convention and
during the presidential debates. [For more on this longstanding
falsehood, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President
Bush, With the Candlestick…”]
Bush finished off his presentation to the
Louisville “town hall” by saying he doesn’t mind that some Americans
disagree with his policies, so long as they don’t question his
motivations and his honesty.
“What I don’t like is when somebody said,
he lied,” Bush complained. “Or, they’re in there for oil. Or they’re
doing it because of Israel. That’s the kind of debate that basically
says the mission and the sacrifice were based on false premise.”
So, the question for the American people
remains – is Bush so ill-informed that his war policy is guided by a
false historical analysis and so forgetful that he can’t remember
important events in which he played a leading role?
Or does Bush think that the American people
are so gullible that they will buy whatever he sells them – as long as
he does it with a folksy charm?