Seven months after the Sept. 11 terrorists gave him a legitimacy that Republicans on the Supreme Court could not confer, George W. Bush's crown is once again tarnishing.
From the rubble of the World Trade Center revenge was promised. US armed forces helped Muslim warlords replace the Muslim zealots who had allowed Al-Qaeda terrorists to base their operations in Afghanistan. At first it seemed a great victory in the fight against terrorism as the Taliban and Al Qaeda were routed with a minimum of casualties -- if you don't count the thousands of civilians killed and wounded by stray US bombs and missiles, or shot by mistake by US Special Forces -- and the US Defense Department didn't count them. Dubya's approval ratings topped the 90s as our new Muslim allies, when they weren't settling old scores with rival warlords, helped US forces round up Al Qaeda terrorists. But many of the primary targets scattered, including Osama bin Laden. He was last seen headed toward Pakistan, while other Taliban and Al Qaeda members may have found havens in neighboring Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and other places with Muslim fundamentalist insurgencies.
Meanwhile, the FBI apparently has had not much success in finding the person or group responsible for sending anthrax-bearing letters to two leading Senate Democrats and journalists that killed five people and sickened at least 13 others in September and October. All we know is that, despite notes made to appear they came from Arabs, the anthrax apparently was derived from US military stocks. And just 10 days after the anthrax letter was found in Sen. Tom Daschle's office, the USA PATRIOT Act giving law enforcement broad authority to take anti-terrorist measures sailed through the Senate on a 98-1 vote. An anthrax-bearing letter addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., with the same Oct. 9 postmark as Daschle's letter, was later found in sequestered Senate mail.
The Justice Department proceeded with its roundup and indefinite detention of Arab and South Central Asian men. National Guard troops were dispatched to the nation's airports. Fingernail clippers were banned on flights.
As the hunt for bin Laden proved unproductive, and the blowing up of caves proved unsatisfying, the Bush administration called for a $48 billion increase in military spending and he set out to find new targets for the war on terrorism. An old villain was present in Saddam Hussein, another former CIA asset gone bad. Dubya's dad had failed to take out Saddam in 1991 and despite US bombing runs conducted throughout the '90s to wreak havoc on Iraq, Hussein continues to thumb his nose at the US.
Efforts by Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld to gin up support in the Arab world for another run at Saddam were unproductive. Hussein has spent the last few years rebuilding his relations with his neighbors, many of whom would rather trade with Iraq than see its economy ruined any more. Besides, the Arabs said, if Bush really wanted to do some good in the Mideast he might see about settling that little dispute between Israel and Palestine.
But Bush and his functionaries were hearing none of that. Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was battling terrorism and Bush would leave him to it. Unfortunately, the experience in the Mideast shows that there are not enough tanks and helicopter gunships to bring peace to a land where children grow up in refugee camps aspiring to be suicide bombers.
In the meantime, Saddam showed up at the Arab League to make peace with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and sign off on the Saudi plan to recognize Israel in return for its withdrawal back to the pre-1967 borders. With hugs all around, it is clear that there would be little if any cover in the Arab world for an intervention in Iraq, particularly as Sharon's army had Yasser Arafat surrounded in his office and was systematically destroying the Palestinian Authority.
Bush was unfazed even by the threat of an Arab oil embargo. After all, his friends in the oil industry had done alright during the last two oil crises. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer actually used the oil embargo threat to shill for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
As the New York Times' Paul Krugman has noted, oil from ANWR, which would take 10 years to produce, would amount to no more than would a 3-mile-per-gallon increase in fuel efficiency. The Kerry-McCain fuel efficiency standards, which the White House opposed, would have saved three times as much oil as ANWR might produce, and possibly would save the United States from oil blackmail, but opposition from the oil industry and carmakers shot down the higher standards.
Dubya, on the defensive after criticism that he had ignored the Mideast powderkeg, revived the accusation that President Clinton's efforts to bring about peace there actually resulted in a "significant intefadeh," or uprising. "It wasn't all that long ago where a summit was called and nothing happened, and as a result we had significant intefadeh in the area," Bush told Britain's ITV network in an interview taped for his weekend talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush's press secretary got in trouble in February for making a similar statement. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asked Fleischer to retract his comment, but she apparently forgot to tell Bush. Joe Lockhart, who served as Clinton's press secretary, took issue with Bush's remarks. "He'll learn at some point that you have to face problems rather than to blame others," Lockhart told the Associated Press. "And the only thing more glaring here than his lack of leadership is his lack of knowledge."
Bush tried to make amends during a joint news conference with Blair, when Dubya said, "Somebody told me there's a story floating around that somehow I am blaming the Clinton administration for what's going on in the Middle East right now ... I appreciate what President Clinton tried to do. He tried to bring peace to the Middle East. I'm going to try to bring peace to the Middle East."
It's about time. If Bush (or Dick Cheney) can figure out how to make peace and still keep oil industry profits up, peace might just have a chance. On the other hand, if the Mideast conflict were resolved, it might be bad for the arms business ...
George McGovern, in the April 22 Nation, proposed that instead of adding $48 billion to the Pentagon budget, as Bush has proposed, we would make the world a more stable, secure place if we invested half of that sum in reducing poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease in the world. We now rank 20th among nations in the percentage of gross national product devoted to improving life in the poor nations. If we invested $24 billion in lifting the quality of life for the world's poor we would be the first among nations in helping others. McGovern suggested we invest the other half of the proposed new Pentagon money in raising the educational, nutritional, housing and health standards of our own people.
Democrats have been reluctant to criticize Bush or move to repeal his ill-timed tax cuts for the rich, even when polls show that the public, by a 2-to-1 margin would rather cover prescription drugs for seniors under Medicare than continue the tax cuts. But Dubya's popularity is down to the 70s and falling, and Americans clearly favor other uses for the $1.35 trillion Bush tax cuts, most of which benefit the very wealthy. A recent Ipsos-Reid poll found that 76% of Americans would rather spend the money on prescription drug benefits for seniors, 72% on education, and 68% on unemployment benefits for laid-off workers.
The military-industrial complex and their conservative supporters have been looking for an enemy to replace communism ever since the fall of the Soviet Union. It's just not as much fun to fight hunger, ignorance, illness, and homelessness here and abroad. By all means, bag Osama and his allies. Just don't let them get away with another permanent war. -- JMC