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Freedom from Reality

By Robert Parry
January 26, 2005

One of the most troubling crises confronting the world today is that the U.S. Executive Branch – controlling the most fearsome arsenal in history – has largely detached itself from reality and faces no counterforce in Washington capable of bringing it back down to earth.

In that sense, George W. Bush’s second Inaugural Address on Jan. 20 stood out as a defining moment. Bush wrapped a grim record of presidential abuses – an unprovoked invasion, extraordinary secrecy, tolerance of torture and indefinite imprisonments without trial – in the noble cloak of “freedom” and “liberty,” words he uttered 27 and 15 times respectively, as if words can amend truth.

Bush’s speech also ignored the fact that he and his supporters have consistently harassed and denigrated dissidents at home, often by tarring them as disloyal or crazy. Remember, for instance, the vicious attacks from the Right against former Vice President Al Gore in fall 2002 when he questioned the justification for rushing to war with Iraq.

This hostility toward dissent has continued to the present as some conservative pundits, such as the Washington Times’ Tony Blankley, are suggesting that journalist Seymour Hersh be investigated for espionage for writing an article in the New Yorker about the Bush administration’s secret military operations in Iran and elsewhere.

“Federal prosecutors should review the information disclosed by Mr. Hersh to determine whether or not his conduct falls within the proscribed conduct of the [espionage] statute,” Blankley wrote. [Washington Times, Jan. 19, 2005]

Ironically, Blankley is the editorial page editor for a newspaper financed by South Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon, who has vowed to eradicate American democracy and who was identified by a congressional probe in the late 1970s as an operative for the South Korean intelligence agency. [For details on Moon’s background and his relationship with the Bush family, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]

Professed Love

George W. Bush’s professed love for democratic principles also appears to be stronger when he’s lecturing other countries abstractly rather than when he’s actually practicing the civics lessons at home. Four days after what he called his Inaugural “freedom speech,” there was an ill-timed reminder of Bush’s personal double standards about democracy.

The Washington Post’s Al Kamen updated the political success stories that have followed the Republican activists who served as Bush’s street thugs during the Florida recount battle of four years ago. On Nov. 22, 2000, in what became known as the “Brooks Brothers Riot” – named for the preppie clothing of the rioters – the Bush operatives stormed Miami’s polling headquarters, pounded on doors and roughed up Democrats, leading city officials to abandon the counting of more than 10,000 ballots.

Though supposedly a protest by local citizens outraged over how the recount was being conducted, many of the participants were identified in a photo as Republican congressional staffers and Bush campaign workers who had been sent in to disrupt the vote counts. After the riot, the Bush campaign threw a celebratory party that featured crooner Wayne Newton singing “Danke Schoen.” The rioters also got a personal thank-you call from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Conspiracy to Riot.”]

“Some of those pictured [in the riot photo] have gone on to other things, including stints at the White House,” Kamen wrote. “For example, Matt Schlapp, …, a former House aide and then a Bush campaign aide, has risen to be White House political director.” [Washington Post, Jan. 24, 2005]

Though Bush’s disruptive tactics in November 2000 delayed or obstructed local recounts, the Florida state Supreme Court ordered a statewide recount in early December. But Bush did not sit back and meekly accept the will of the voters. Instead, he sent his lawyers to the U.S. Supreme Court where he got five Republican allies to block the recount and hand him the presidency.

An unofficial recount, later done by news organizations, found that if all legal votes had been counted in Florida, Al Gore – not George W. Bush – would have become President of the United States. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]

More Bare Knuckles

In Campaign 2004, Bush again demonstrated the Bush family’s bare-knuckled approach to politics.

As in other George Bush campaigns – by both father and son – there was the usual litany of dirty tricks and front-group smear operations, this time, including a well-coordinated assault on John Kerry’s Vietnam War heroism. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Reality on the Ballot” and “Bushes Play the ‘Traitor’ Card.”]

Other Bush campaign tactics were designed to suppress the Democratic vote, especially in African-American neighborhoods, by adopting aggressive “ballot security” procedures and through the creation of long voting lines.

So, while many Republican strongholds in the key state of Ohio had lots of voting machines and only brief waits, many Democratic-leaning precincts were shorted on voting machines causing delays that stretched on for hours. Many time-pressed voters had to give up because of child-care demands at home or the need to get to work.

Defeated candidate Kerry said the tactics suppressed the votes of “thousands” of Americans. “Voting machines were distributed in uneven ways,” Kerry said on Jan. 18. “In Democratic districts, it took people four, five, 11 hours to vote, while Republicans (went) through in 10 minutes.” [For more on the voting irregularities and the post-election battle, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Unaccountability Moment.”]

Instead of joining Kerry in expressing concerns about this disenfranchisement of voters, Bush has remained silent while his supporters have denounced challenges to voting irregularities as “conspiracy theories.” In Ohio, Republican Attorney General James Petro has even sought sanctions against four Election Protection attorneys who filed a lawsuit seeking an investigation of the Ohio balloting.

On Jan. 18, Attorney General Petro filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court calling the election challenges “frivolous” and demanding fines and other court sanctions against lawyers Robert Fitrakis, Susan Truitt, Cliff Arnebeck and Peter Peckarsky. Lawyer Arnebeck responded that the real abuse of process came from Petro and Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who have refused to cooperate with the investigation into Election Day problems.

“They are just beside themselves because they cannot withstand cross examination,” Arnebeck said, according to the Columbus Free Press.  

Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote to Petro, protesting the Ohio attorney general’s attempt to punish the four lawyers.

“One would be hard pressed to see how the legal challenges brought under the Ohio election challenge statute were ‘frivolous,’” Conyers wrote. “It is widely known that the Ohio presidential election was literally riddled with irregularities and improprieties, many of which are set forth in the 102-page report issued by the House Judiciary Committee Democratic staff.”

Fawning Commentary

Despite this old and new history of Bush’s highhanded approach toward democracy, newspaper and TV commentators largely accepted Bush’s Inaugural declarations about “freedom” and “liberty” at face value.

Though some columnists have questioned the feasibility of Bush’s “ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” almost no one in Washington has questioned Bush’s sincerity. The idea that Bush might be a hypocrite – hiding an autocratic reality under the cover of democratic rhetoric – is presumably beyond the bounds of the capital’s conventional wisdom.

The Washington Post’s David S. Broder, known as the “dean” of the national press corps, wrote a glowing tribute to Bush’s “eloquent” speech, which Broder cited as proof that Bush was holding steadfast to his goal of achieving “the worldwide realization of the ideals of freedom and democracy.” [Washington Post, Jan. 21, 2005]

Another Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. chimed in that “every American will cheer the president’s repeated reference to the U.S. obligation to hold high the torch of freedom.” Dionne, a supposed liberal, gushed further, “I love what the president said about our obligation to dissidents around the world.”

But Dionne expressed some reservations about “whether the president has been candid about the costs of his all-embracing vision, about how to pay for it and raise the troops to fight it.” He also wondered “how consistently we will stand up for embattled democratic reformers” in China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. [Washington Post, Jan. 21, 2005]

In a follow-up column four days later, Dionne added to these mild criticisms by noting that White House aides and Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, had explained that the “freedom speech” didn’t signal any real change in U.S. policies.

“People want to read a lot into it – that this means new aggression or newly asserted military forces,” the elder George Bush told reporters. “That’s not what the speech is about. It’s about freedom.”

In other words, the speech was about words, not reality.

But like other Washington commentators, Dionne still didn’t question George W. Bush’s honesty, only his tactics. The columnist termed this Bush “freedom shuffle” a “terrible mistake” that might engender more cynicism that “if it spreads further through the Muslim world, could doom the very best aspirations of Bush’s policy.” [Washington Post, Jan. 25, 2005]

Autocratic Friends

Left out of these formulations are always the core questions about what “freedom,” “liberty” and “democracy” mean to the Bushes and their political allies overseas.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Bush family’s record is almost never one of standing tall for human rights and in defense of democratic freedoms in other countries. Rather, the family has a long history of coddling autocrats and dictators, even those who have engaged in political murders, torture and international terrorism.

Throughout his long political career, George H.W. Bush routinely sided with tyrants, such as Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet whose government not only repressed dissidents inside Chile but sent “death squads” into Europe and even to Washington to hunt down and kill political adversaries.

For instance, in September 1976, while the senior George Bush was CIA director, Pinochet’s assassins audaciously traveled to Washington and blew up a car carrying Chile’s former foreign minister Orlando Letelier. Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, an American co-worker riding in the car, were killed.

Though possessing information implicating Pinochet’s dictatorship in the terrorist attack, Bush’s CIA covered for Chile’s secret services by denying publicly that the Pinochet regime was responsible and pointing investigators off in false directions. Despite the CIA’s misleading statements, the FBI eventually did break the case, though Pinochet and his top assistants were never held accountable. [For details, see Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Even two decades later, when Pinochet was detained in London facing an extradition request from a Spanish prosecutor investigating the murder of Spanish citizens in Chile, the elder George Bush was still fronting for his old friend. Bush wrote a letter to British authorities urging them to ignore the Spanish extradition request. Following Bush’s intervention, Pinochet was allowed to fly back to Chile, rather than face human rights charges in Spain.

Terror War

The younger George Bush has displayed a similar selective judgment in dealing with foreign dictators.

While justifying the invasion of Iraq in the name of “freedom” – after earlier claims about weapons of mass destruction proved bogus – Bush has based many of his military operations in Persian Gulf sheikhdoms that offer few or no democratic rights to their citizens. Some allies in Bush’s “war on terror,” such as Uzbekistan, repress their own people as ruthlessly as Saddam Hussein did in Iraq. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush & Democracy Hypocrisy.”]

For good reason, this perceived Bush hypocrisy has undercut U.S. strategies for winning “hearts and minds” in the Islamic world. Bush’s mistaken interpretation of al-Qaeda’s motives for waging war – as a hatred for American freedom and a desire to destroy U.S. democracy – further hampers a coherent strategy for prevailing in the Middle East.

As former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer points out in his 2004 book, Imperial Hubris, Islamic militants view their attacks against U.S. targets, including the terror strikes on the World Trade Center, as a “defensive jihad” to protect what they view as longstanding U.S. assaults on their land and on their people.

“Their goal is not to wipe out our secular democracy, but to deter us by military means from attacking the things they love,” including their religion and their territory, Scheuer wrote. “Bin Laden et al are not eternal warriors; there is no evidence they are fighting for fighting’s sake.”

Rather, Scheuer wrote, the resistance to the United States is part of what many Muslims view as a principled struggle against a foreign power that has sought to re-impose a form of colonialism on the Arab world. In that sense, al-Qaeda's attacks are reprehensible but rational, the former CIA analyst on the Middle East argued.

According to Scheuer, U.S. policies over the past half century have “moved America from being the much-admired champion of liberty and self-government to the hated and feared advocate of a new imperial order, one that has much the same characteristics as nineteenth-century European imperialism: military garrisons; economic penetration and control; support for leaders, no matter how brutal and undemocratic, as long as they obey the imperial power; and the exploitation and depletion of natural resources.”

Scheuer, who wrote Imperial Hubris under the byline “Anonymous” because he was in the CIA at the time, also views Bush’s invasion of Iraq as counter-productive because it confirmed many Islamic suspicions about the United States and its motives.

Still, even with the Iraq policy spinning out of control and Islamic hatred of the United States soaring, Bush and much of the Washington commentariat seem content to continue their long bath in the warm rhetoric of freedom and liberty. They are doing so although the continued false defining of the challenges ahead guarantee more devastation for U.S. soldiers and the people of the Middle East.

The other option would be to take a hard look at longstanding U.S. policies in that region, at legitimate Arab grievances against Washington, and at the dangers caused by continued dependence on Middle East oil. That would undoubtedly cause much political pain and confront the nation with some wrenching choices. It is also virtually certain not to happen, at least in the foreseeable future.

Perhaps the one freedom most fundamental to Bush and his many admiring columnists is the freedom from reality.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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