By William Rivers Pitt
Monday 27 March 2006
Last week, George W. Bush got up before a gaggle of reporters and washed his hands of the mess in Iraq. The question of how long an American presence will remain in that country "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq," said Bush. To be fair, he isn't the only one. The entire administration appears to have become bored with the whole process.
Take Daniel Speckhard, for example. Speckhard is Director of the US Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, which is in charge of rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure ravaged by war and depredation lo these last three years. Speckhard is quoted in a report in last week's USA Today: "The Iraqi government can no longer count on U.S. funds and must rely on its own revenues and other foreign aid, particularly from Persian Gulf nations. 'The Iraqi government needs to build up its capability to do its own capital budget investment,' said Speckhard."
Really. They have no police or military to speak of, the hospitals are trashed, the lights won't stay on, the flow of potable water is screwed, roads and bridges are bombed out, hundreds of buildings are wrecked, the so-called "elected" government is totally powerless to contain or control the chaos within the country, headless bodies are popping up left and right, a dozen people die every day from bombings and executions, the entire country is careening towards civil war ... and somewhere in all this, Bush and his people expect the Iraqi government to "do its own capital budget investment."
I am going to find a china shop somewhere in the city and walk in with a free-swinging baseball bat. My goal, which will be clearly stated, will be to improve upon the place. I will spend the next three years meticulously destroying everything I see inside, from the cash registers to the display cases to the nice Royal Albert tea sets in the corner. Along the way, I will batter the brains out of any poor sod unfortunate enough to get in my way. When I am done, I will claim with as much self-righteousness as I can muster that none of the mess is my responsibility. I will then, of course, refuse to leave.
Hey, if the president can do it, it must be legal, right? Unfortunately, the difference between my china shop analogy and what the Bush administration is doing in Iraq is that I won't get anything out of it except an arrest record and a chance to enjoy my state's municipal accommodations. Bush and crew are reaping far better benefits from the mayhem they have caused.
Here's the deal, in case anyone is wondering: none of this, not one bit of it, can be or should be chalked up to "incompetence" on the part of Bush or anyone else within his administration. This was not a mishandled situation. Bush and the boys have gotten exactly, precisely what they wanted out of Iraq, and are now looking forward to fobbing it off on the next poor dupe who staggers into the Oval Office. They got what they came for, and have quit.
Consider the facts. For two elections in a row, 2002 and 2004, the GOP was able to successfully demagogue the rafters off the roof about supporting the troops and being patriotic, placing anyone who questioned the merits of the invasion squarely into the category of "traitor." Meanwhile, military contractors with umbilical ties to the administration have cashed in to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.
The same goes for the petroleum industries; did you know there are gas lines today in oil-rich Iraq? It's true. The oil infrastructure is fine; indeed, it is the most well-guarded point of pressure in Iraq. There are gas lines because companies like Halliburton are not pumping the oil. They are sitting on it, keeping it as a nice little nest egg.
One would think this administration would be worried about the violence and chaos in Iraq. They aren't, because the violence has become the justification for "staying the course." Bush will mouth platitudes about bring democracy to the region, but that is merely the billboard. What he and his friends from the Project for the New American Century wanted in the first place, and what they have now, is a permanent military presence over there. There was never any consideration of a timetable for withdrawal, because there was never any intention to withdraw. The violence today is a self-perpetuating justification, a perfect circle lubricated by blood, oil and currency.
Keeping our attention on Iraq has allowed this administration to do what it came to do under cover of darkness. They have managed to eviscerate dozens of federal regulations designed to make sure our children aren't born with gills or seventeen eyes thanks to the pollution in the air, water and food. The Clean Air Act is pretty much gone now, as are requirements for food safety labeling. GOP "pension reform" means growing old in America amounts to growing poor, just like in the good old days of the Depression. Millions of elderly people have been fed to the wolves by way of the new Medicare Plan D calamity. There are now tens of millions more poor people in America, the middle class is evaporating, but top incomes are up 497% according to the Federal Reserve.
The administration has also used Iraq to accomplish a goal the GOP has been pining for since 1934. Since the advent of FDR and the creation of federally-funded safety nets for the neediest Americans, the Goldwater wing of the Republican party has been lusting after an opportunity to savage the government's ability to serve its citizens in this fashion. Their argument has been that it cost too much to do this, required too much taxation, and was harmful to business interests.
This fight raged until the very end of the 20th century. When Bill Clinton stood up during his 1998 State of the Union speech and said "Save Social Security first!" he was actually firing a directed salvo at this wing of the GOP. Look, Clinton was saying, we have trillions of dollars in the bank and the economy is going great guns. We can provide for the neediest among us without bankrupting the government or killing business. In short, he was rendering fiscal conservatives obsolete. He won the argument. Remember this, by the way, the next time someone asks you why he was attacked so viciously.
The Grover Norquist drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub crew, however, had no interest in going gently into that good night. One busted election gave them the chance to do exactly what they have done with Iraq. They have rendered it almost completely impossible for the federal government to pay for programs designed to care for the poor, the sick, the elderly and the needy. The war, the war, we have to pay for the war, to the tune of what will be one to two trillion dollars before all is said and done. Oh, and tax cuts that go to families making more than $200,000 a year, of course.
Bush has also, in the process, managed to put himself even farther above the rule of law. Not long ago, he signed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. Getting the document to his desk had been a laborious process for Congress; arguments and debates raged across the ideological spectrum as to exactly what kind of firewalls against executive abuse should be put into the bill to protect civil liberties.
Among these additions were a number of oversight provisions to keep the FBI from abusing their power to search homes and seize papers without notifying the resident or presenting a warrant. Other provisions required that officials within the Justice Department maintain tight scrutiny over where, when and how the FBI put these powers to use. One new part of the bill required the administration brief Congress now and again on these specific matters. Congress finally came to an agreement, and on March 9th, Bush signed the Patriot Act reauthorization into law with much fanfare.
After all the worthies had left the room, however, and after all the cameras had gone, Bush quietly put his signature to a "signing statement" that, basically, says anything in the aforementioned law which applies to the president shall be considered null and void. The Boston Globe reported on March 24 that, "In the statement, Bush said that he did not consider himself bound to tell Congress how the Patriot Act powers were being used. Bush wrote: 'The executive branch shall construe the provisions ... that call for furnishing information to entities outside the executive branch ... in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch and to withhold information.'"
This was the third time Bush dropped a "signing statement" into an issue of signal importance. When it was revealed that the administration had bypassed the FISA laws in order to conduct surveillance on American citizens, Bush claimed his "wartime powers" gave him the ability to ignore the laws of the land. When Congress passed a law forbidding the torture of any detainee in US custody, Bush issued a signing statement stating that he could bypass the law at his pleasure and torture anyone he damned well pleased.
So, to recap, the "incompetence" thing is nonsense. The Bush boys got paid, got an issue to run on in two elections, put themselves completely and totally above the law on picayune issues like torture and the unauthorized surveillance of American citizens, obliterated the central function of the federal government, and ripped up any and all regulations that would keep their corporate friends from dumping mercury into the river so as to save a few precious pennies on the dollar.
Can anyone still think this was all by accident?
The poll numbers say that nearly 70% of the country believes we are heading in the wrong direction in Iraq and here at home. This is edifying, to say the least. It means that people like me can stop trying to point out all the things that have gone wrong, because at long last a huge majority of the country has come to see things for how they actually are. But it also means that we as a nation are required now to move past what is actually happening, and ask why it is happening.
Batting down the "incompetence" argument is easy; all one has to do is see what this administration and its friends have gained in the last five years. The rest of the answer is more difficult, because it has to do with us, with we the people, and the staggering degree to which we take our rights and freedoms for granted.
When we hear about our government spying on American citizens without warrants or due process of law, when we hear the president say he does not have to tell Congress anything if he doesn't want to, when we hear the president claim the right to torture, all too often the response is, "Well, I'm not doing anything wrong, so I don't have to worry about it."
But we do have to worry about it. Patriots from Lexington to Gettysburg to Bastogne lie cold in their graves because they died to defend the freedoms we would so casually cast aside. Could we stand before the endless ranks of the fallen and say the rights they died to protect have no bearing on us, because we are "not doing anything wrong?" Is that not the most selfish, conceited, lazy answer we could possibly offer in the face of their sacrifice?
George W. Bush quit on us last week. He quit because he has accomplished everything he came to do. He will get away with it because, for the most part, the American people have also quit. We take what we have for granted, and assume the difficult tasks will be handled by someone else. Rest assured, they will be. They will be handled by other craven opportunists like Bush, by corporations looking to turn a profit off our indifference, by those among us who couldn't care less about you and yours.
The American people have come to see that things have gone wrong. Imagine what would happen if we decided to do something about it.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.