George W. Bush is running for president mainly on his "war on terror," since his economic record is so poor. But if anything he ought to be impeached for botching the war on al Qaeda and invading Iraq under false pretenses.
Richard Clarke is the latest Republican to poke holes in the image of Bush as Anti-Terror Warrior. "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism," Bush's former counter-terrorism chief said. "He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11 ... I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."
In his new book, Against All Enemies, Clarke expands on allegations made by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who wrote in his own memoir that Bush was obsessed with toppling Hussein practically from the day he got in the Oval Office. But Clarke scored a direct hit with his insider account of the Bush White House pre- and post-9/11, and the Bushites have gone ballistic in attempts to refute and smear him.
No wonder Bush wants to limit his exposure to the 9/11 investigation panel. The record shows his administration failed to take al Qaeda seriously as a threat, despite its repeated attacks on US targets, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the USS Cole and US embassies in Africa. Bush ignored Bill Clinton's outgoing advice to keep an eye on Osama Bin Laden. Bush and company focused instead on getting Saddam Hussein and Iraq, even as Clarke kept churning out memos pushing for a Cabinet-level meeting to address the al Qaeda threat. "Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?" Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Clarke. The real threat, Wolfowitz said, was Saddam Hussein. Attorney General John Ashcroft chose to focus on drug trafficking and gun violence instead of terrorism and rejected FBI requests for more translators and counter-terrorism agents.
Still, by June 2001, Clarke said, US intelligence was picking up an unprecedented amount of ominous chatter. CIA Director George Tenet warned Bush that a major al Qaeda attack appeared imminent. A similar level of chatter in December 1999 caused Clinton to put his Cabinet on "high alert," holding meetings nearly every day. Clarke credited the "battle stations" mentality with helping to thwart a planned attack on Los Angeles International Airport, when an al Qaeda operative was stopped at the border with Canada, driving a car full of explosives.
But Bush couldn't be bothered. Let him know when they pick up some chatter out of Baghdad ...
Even after 9/11, when Clarke finally got to talk to Bush, the president pressed Clarke to find a link between Iraq and the attacks, despite being told there didn't seem to be one.
Bush finally was talked into clearing the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. But instead of finishing off that business, Bush and company turned their attention again to Saddam, the fight that they were spoiling for. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, practically the whole team stretched the facts and misinformed as they saw fit to justify the invasion of Iraq to seize supposed weapons of mass destruction, despite the misgivings of CIA analysts, military officials and NATO allies.
The CIA and other intelligence experts warned that invasion of Iraq would make the Middle East even more unstable, that it would help al Qaeda and other Islamic radical groups recruit more terrorists and that it would become a sinkhole for US troops and resources. When UN inspectors reported that their exhaustive searches turned up no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the Bushites replied that the lack of evidence was proof that the Iraqis were deviously hiding their weapons caches.
A year later, with still no sign of WMDs, the Bush apologists say the invasion was still warranted because it freed Iraq from Saddam's brutal regime. But that justification is ludicrous on its face. It might help some of us feel better about parking our army there and spending hundreds of billions of dollars, but Republicans don't do human rights, as Dubya repeatedly said during his presidential campaign ("no nation-building"). The rest of the world -- particularly the Arab world -- doesn't believe a word of Bush's humanitarian mission. Osama Bin Laden, who despised Saddam almost as much as Bush did, predicted that the US would invade an Arab nation to secure its oil fields. Cowboy Dubya rode right into that box canyon ...
On the March 20 anniversary of the invasion hundreds of thousands of people turned out to protest the ongoing occupation of Iraq. A crowd estimated at more than 30,000 gathered in New York City for the largest of about 250 anti-war rallies in the US. As Ralph Nader said before an antiwar rally that drew 800 to Bush's adopted hometown of Crawford, Texas, "It's very important for these rallies ... to hold the Bush administration accountable for plunging the nation into a war in Iraq based on a platoon of fabrications, deceptions and a refusal even to listen to many of the cautions inside the Pentagon ... inside the State Department and inside the CIA."
But rallies don't accomplish anything if participants just go home and watch their 15-second spot on TV. Bush showed his contempt for the will of the people last year when he dismissed as "focus groups" the demonstrations that drew millions.
Spanish voters were criticized as "appeasers" when they voted the conservative Popular Party, one of Bush's few European allies, out of power on March 14, three days after bombs linked to al Qaeda ripped through three Madrid trains, killing 190 people. But the vote was a perfectly rational response to the lies and misrepresentations made by Prime Minister José María Aznar, who last year disregarded the overwhelming opposition of the Spanish people to the invasion of Iraq. Then Aznar tried to blame the bombing on the Basque separatist group ETA. What probably helped the winning Socialists more than anything else was that the bombing spurred a record turnout of 77% of the eligible population, much higher than pollsters expected when they gave his Popular Party a 4-point lead the week before the election.
This should be a lesson for the US, where the Republican Party has become expert in getting its base to vote while suppressing working-class voters who are likely to vote Democratic if they are motivated to get to the ballot box. In Florida, GOP chances were enhanced in 2000 with the reckless purging of voter lists as well as roadblocks near Democratic voting precincts and the notorious "butterfly" ballots that sent Al Gore votes to Pat Buchanan. Add a mainstream media that feeds a cynical view of politics and it's a wonder that we get even half the eligible voters to the polls.
In The Party's Over, a documentary of the 2000 presidential campaign, released in 2001, Philip Seymour Hoffman follows the Republican and Democratic nominating process but finds events outside the convention centers, in the protests and police actions, more interesting than the highly orchestrated events inside. But while the left was proud of its street actions, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., observed that the right wing does a much better job of organizing: "The NRA doesn't hold demonstrations. They vote. And they're much more effective."
So it's not enough to get millions to demonstrate against the war. You have to get millions to vote for a candidate who will work with our allies to combat terrorism without resorting to imperialist wars -- and also give us universal health care and a fighting chance against multinational corporations.
We first need to make sure that electronic voting machines leave a paper trail, because software can be manipulated and computers can crash. Call your Congress member and senators via the Capitol Switchboard at 1-800-839-5276 or 202-224-3121 and tell them to support Rep. Rush Holt's HR 2239 in the House or Sen. Bob Graham's S 1980 in the Senate. -- JMC