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Is Bush Stupid -- Or Is America?

By Robert Parry
January 17, 2006

Many Americans believe George W. Bush is uninformed, simpleminded and, in a single word, stupid. But there is a different way to look at the evidence and conclude that while Bush may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, it is he who thinks the American people are the real dullards.

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 nation’s “unitary executive

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 quite different.

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 1933.

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 repression.

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 factions.

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 insurgency.

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 north.

“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. 12, 2006]

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 liberty.

Florida Election

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 Consortiumnews.com “So 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.

Wiretapping

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 operatives.

“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 federal officials.

“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.

Hussein’s War

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 serious consequences.’

“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 U.N.

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…”]

Debate Limits

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?


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest 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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