Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The President Who Cried Wolf

You have to hand it to them. The Bush administration is masterful at manipulation and fear-mongering. But this time, Americans are not buying it. And opportunistic speeches by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld highlight the administration's moral and political bankruptcy.

In his important article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, John Mueller asks how "omnipresent" the enemy really is. His conclusion is that, despite the horrific 9-11 attacks,the current risk here in the US is often vastly overstated. Though any one of us is unlikely to die in a terrorist attack, unfortunately, it's always possible that a future attack could happen. There certainly isn't a zero risk of future attacks, but how likely, really, is one now? Dick Cheney operates on what some call the 1% solution, that is, if a problem has a 1% risk, we must do everything to stop it. Sometimes the supposed cure is worse than the disease. Five problems arise with Cheney's approach. First the danger is far, far less. Second, Cheney presumes a blank check. Third, regardless of the extent of the risk, Cheney and his boss have not made things any better. Fourth, the extent of the risk is being inflated for political purposes. And fifth, tne so-called war against "terror" isn't about protecting Americans. You can jump to the Foreign Affairs article here.

They nearly had me that first day of the recent London scare. I was sidelined with a terrible, nauseating headache that day, but I was periodically unable to resist checking as news of the day unfolded. I too was a bit frightened. Of course, there was no risk that the current plot was to happen inside the US. But it wasn't till the next day, that questions began forming. And CNN was only too happy to oblige with its scary music and "Terror" captions. The following Monday the whole CNN day was devoted to trying to scare the beejeebers out of Americans.

Meanwhile we learned that Bush pressed Tony Blair to reveal this plot prematurely, possibly even jeopardizing whatever case there was against the arrestees. Why? Why that particular week? Was it because Bush's polls were in freefall? Why now? Was it because Bush's popularity was again plummetting and a critical mass (62%) of the American electorate disapprove of Bush's running the country? Or is it that a majority now think we shouldn't have gone into Iraq in the first place? Joe Lieberman's losing CT indicated the nation had soured on Bush's false linkage of Iraq with the war on terrorism. I should add that though Iraq had nothing to do with 9-11, hadn't threatened us, and played no meaninglful part in terrorism against the US, Iraq is now, because of Bush's belligerance, a fertile breeding ground for those opposed to America's war of aggression. Wrongful, needless "preemption" has a way of doing that.

Bush feigns that they (terrorists) hate our freedom. He never misses an opportunity to say that it's all about "freedom." But, as linguist George Lakoff shows, when Bush speaks of freedom and the rest of us do, we are not talking about the same thing. Bush hopes we don't notice. We mean Constitutional liberty and the ability to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Bush means freedom of corporations to do whatever they want. For Bush, the "freedom" is for markets, not people. Halliburton and other crony firms must make more.

A few weeks ago, only the rare voice posed any questions about the flawed logic, facts and claims of the GOP in the face of heightened terrorism warnings. Were the threats as significant as we were told? Is now everyone a supposed "terrorist" and everything a "weapon of terrorists?" Even hair gel (which we can no longer pack)? Lip gloss? Few questioned the absurdity.

What was the evidence? How far "along" were these people in the "planning process?" We now know the plot was not imminent. There were no devices, no passports (essential to get on planes), no airline tickets, no suspicious chemicals, nothing. After a year of surveillance? Doesn't this strike anyone as a bit odd? Well, yes it does. Finally, journalists, columnists and some bloggers began to say so. Why did the Bush administration rush to announce this "threat," even sacrificing the "case"?

Keith Olberman has chronicled how BUSHCO created ten curious coincidences when embarrassing news was silenced with a "terrorist" warning. Read it here. Have they never heard the tale of the boy who cried wolf? And just last night, Olberman gave the commentary of a lifetime, standing up to the administration and its authoritarian tendencies.

I should have been more skeptical. But we all want our country to be safe and keep us safe. We also hope it's leaders are honest in doing so. But they aren't. Bush and Blair have brilliantly managed to convince two populations to see the enemy everywhere. We should all "be afraid." All the time. Your and my chances of dying in a vehicle or from the myriad of illnesses that can befall us is so much greater than any terrorist threat. And yet we are all expected to be afraid all the time (and, of course, behave like the drones that the administration wants us to be).

At the same time, even as he admitted Iraq wasn't involved in 9-11, as recently as last week's press conference, Bush conflated the role of Zargawi and that of Sadam as a justification for the war. And he's still at it. In his interview with Brian Williams for MSNBC, airing last night and tonight, to justify the war in Iraq, Bush said, "We didn't start this." Each time he admits there is no link, he conflates the Sadam with 9-11 again. He hopes we either don't notice the sleight of hand, or are Rummy-confused.

Among the recent outpouring on the subject are authors such as James K. Galbraith (read it here), Craig Murray (here), Jason Leopold (here), Ken Silverstein (here), Larry Johnson (here) and Ray MCGovern (here).

Meanwhile, the Washington Post and other papers claim it's the Dems responsibility to come up with the plan to do better. Here's that link: I don't think so. The administration made the mess and needs to clean it up, if they are capable of that. There isn't a presidential race till 2008, at which time proposals are in order. To blame Dems, who control no body of the federal government is absurd. Why are not republicans demanding their own party does do better? Why do the media let them get away with it?

Moreover, the media has been an active accomplice in Bush's politicizing of terrorist warnings. It's another amazing sleight of hand to claim that the very president who ignored warnings and presided over the worst terrorism on US soil is the very person to keep us safe. But worse, the GOP spin was not only accepted as fact, it was embellished and regurgitated over and over. We were told, despite the utter lack of evidence, that this helps Bush and the Republicans because "Republicans keep us safer." For a detailed review of the insanity of this argument, read here.

Both assumptions (that this helps the GOP and that the GOP keeps us safer) can be easily refuted. Where was Bush keeping us safe on 9-11? He wouldn't even promptly halt his photo-op. Why did the Bush administration try to divert funding for bomb detection elsewhere than it's legislated purpose (AP, August 11, 2006)? Why lease ports to foreign entities? Why give equal consideration to low-risk small-scale potential targets and larger, higher ones? One must also ask, why this new London threat if we really are safer? The administration can't have it both ways, though it does mightily try. Americans are slowly figuring out that this is just one more mouthful of doublespeak. They are also seeing that it's not a viable solution to ratchet up the fear every time the triumvirate tell us to.

One of the biggest tragedies in what Bush is doing is that, if or when he really needs us to believe him, eventually 70% of Americans won't. Only the hard core of neo-con fanatics, who believe Bush is the Second Coming, or the means to it, will hang on in their dogged belief in him. And then there'll be those who follow because they are part of the gravy train: those contractors, including some academics, who's allegiance has been bought with fat contracts. They'd sell their countrymen out for thirty pieces of silver and then rail at others' patriotism. They need to come clean and do the right thing.