‘I Broke It, You Bought It’
If nothing else, this was clear in the address he gave to the Nation, Sunday September 6th. It was a speech which was intended to mollify the American public’s concerns over the steadily deteriorating situation in Iraq, and the scarcely conceivable sums that the President is asking us to spend to help keep the peace in that increasingly unstable atmosphere.
Make no mistake about it, in the end, George W. Bush was simply asking us to paper over his mistakes with hundred dollar bills (660,000,000 of them, in fact) and he did so while refusing to acknowledge that the bungled misadventure he dragged the country into was a bad idea.
Of course, and in all fairness, one has to qualify such blanket statements by noting that the war wasn’t such a bad idea for everybody. For instance, Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s former employer, has so far reaped $1.7 billion in no-bid contracts associated with rebuilding the country that Cheney and Bush destroyed. And all the way back in February Richard Perle, then chairman of the Defense Policy Board, was already giving paid speeches to investors groups detailing where best to place their money in order to reap profits from the upcoming war.
WorldCom, which, in July was fined $750,000,000 for defrauding investors through illegal accounting practices that resulted in the largest corporate bankruptcy in US history, and which was subsequently accused of compromising national security by illegally routing sensitive government calls through third countries to lower transaction costs, was recently awarded the sole government contract to build a new wireless phone network in Iraq. And this says nothing of the defense contractors who supplied the weapons that leveled the country (the 800 Tomahawk cruise missiles that rained down on the country at $600,000 apiece, or the 8,600 laser-guided bombs wrought devastation at between $70,000 and $150,000 each, and the 6,500 JDAM munitions sowing death at $20,000 a shot).
Indeed, the war was such a great idea for the sorts of people that Bush hangs with that one can almost forgive him for not realizing that it was a bad idea for the rest of us. That the war wasn’t such a great idea for the citizens of Portland Oregon, for instance, who last summer found it necessary to close schools three weeks early because the money simply could not be found to keep them open, might simply have escaped his attention.
The war was also not a great idea for the 40 million Americans who find that they cannot afford basic health insurance each year, or our senior citizens to whom Bush had promised a workable prescription drug benefit.
And it wasn’t such a hot idea for future generations of working Americans who will eventually find themselves paying off the trillions of dollars in government debt that the Bush administration is incurring with its classic Republican, borrow and spend, thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another-tax-cut, policies.
But, of course, Bush does realize that his costly little adventure is serving only to further impoverish the bottom 99% of America that will soon find itself paying for reconstruction projects that the top 1% just can’t wait to start billing us for—and more significantly, he realizes that we realize it too. And it is for this reason that America is now witnessing the Second Coming of Colin Powell.
It is a remarkable transformation that has taken place in Republican circles recently. Just six months ago the State Department was being vilified daily by the influential neo-conservative clique in Washington who rushed us to war, and who saw Powell’s efforts at diplomacy and coalition building as the tallest barrier standing between them and their war profits. On conservative talk-radio shows Powell was regarded with suspicion and often derided as the darling of the effete liberal establishment (might he be the mole?).
Shortly after the war, Newt Gingrich blasted the State Department before the American Enterprise Institute, contrasting that institution’s reverence for "process, politeness, and accommodation" with the president's more laudable approach of "facts, values and outcomes."
But these days Bush is once again putting Powell at the forefront of his foreign policy team as he shuttles the Secretary of State to and from the United Nations with begging bowl in hand. It seems the daily loss of life and the skyrocketing costs of Empire are steadily nibbling away at the President’s poll numbers and in the process threatening his chances for re-election. It’s really quite remarkable that a re-election campaign that quite confidently predicts it will raise and spend $200 million in the primary season alone (when Bush will almost certainly run unopposed) is eyeing the 2004 contest with a bead of sweat rolling down its brow. Bush is in trouble, and he knows it, and his sorry solution is clear and two-fold: First, America cannot be made to clean up her own mess; the Germans and the French must help us pay our Halliburton and WorldCom bills. And second, we need to get some Indians and Pakistanis to stand between those Iraqi bullets and our soldiers.
It might have helped Bush’s admittedly weak case had he faced us and the rest of world with the humility of the man who knows he’s screwed up but is willing to reform if you’ll just help him out of his mess. Instead he addressed the world with the same petulant swagger and unearned arrogance that he displayed on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln when he declared the war won... 148 U.S. casualties ago.
On Sunday evening, September 7, George W. Bush decided to explain to the American people why he was asking them to spend billions more on Iraq, and also to ask Europe to pitch in. What did we learn from that speech? Well, the most important thing we learned was that the man who ran on a platform of humility ("if we're a humble nation, they'll respect us as an honorable nation." – Bush/Gore debate 10/11/2000) but who can’t seem to find it within himself to admit his mistakes, also finds it exceeding difficult to ask for favors. He is much better at issuing commands and ultimatums: "Europe, Japan and states in the Middle East all will benefit from the success of freedom in these two countries, and they should contribute to that success," the President noted matter-of-factly.
Of course, it might also have helped Bush’s case if he hadn’t burned so many bridges in the run up to the war. It’s easy enough (at least on this side of the Atlantic) to have forgotten how obnoxious this administration has behaved at times, but in the months immediately preceding and following the war, Bush and the Republican congress displayed a stunning level of vindictiveness, both petty and substantive, which was directed at traditional allies that opposed George & Dick’s Excellent Adventure (or was it a Bogus Journey?). Petty insults included such inane acts of Francophobia as the substitution of "Freedom Fries" for french fries on House cafeteria menus. They also included Bush’s refusal to grant Gerhard Schroeder a customary telephone call upon the conclusion of his successful reelection campaign, his pointed refusal to meet with Nelson Mandela on a visit to South Africa, his snubbing of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Helen Clark, and the cancellation of a meeting with Canada’s Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.
Meanwhile, the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas was transformed into the "Studio 54" of the neo-imperialist political set. If you had been with Bush on Iraq, you were allowed in. If you hadn’t, then clearly you weren’t one of the beautiful-people-of-the-coalition-of-the-willing and had to wait in line outside. Thus it was that Australian Prime Minister John Howard was invited, but as for French President Jacques Chirac, Bush once commented to NBC’s Tom Brokaw: "I doubt he’ll be coming to the ranch any time soon."
The Administration’s fury also had a much uglier and threatening side, as when, in an interview with the Copley News Service in March 2003, Bush suggested that Hispanics in this country might be subject to popular reprisals should Mexico vote against the US on the Iraq question. Alluding to "a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except by the people, " Bush suggested that Mexicans might find themselves in a similar situation, adding that "there will be a certain sense of discipline" towards Mexico should that nation’s security council vote go the wrong way.
And then, of course, there were measures aimed at causing real economic pain to dissenting nations. Donald Rumsfeld, for instance, instituted a US boycott of the Paris Air Show, while House Speaker Dennis Hastert threatened to impose onerous health standards on French bottled water products to drive them from the American market. A free trade agreement with non-supporter nation Chile was put on the back-burner, while a similar agreement with pro-war Singapore was expedited. The Administration also threatened to close US military bases in Germany, and move its personnel to Poland, the Baltic States and the Czech Republic (out of "Old Europe" and into "New Europe" as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it). And finally there was the resolution which passed the House on April 3rd of 2003, which specifically barred Germany, France, an Russia from being rewarded with contracts related to the reconstruction of Iraq, and which took the additional step of lumping them in with Syria for good measure.
Today the picture has changed, of course, and the Bush administration finds itself passing the hat around Old Europe asking for contributions to buy its way out of the quagmire it managed to get itself into against the advice of most of its one-time friends. European nations, for their part, are suitably unimpressed by our leader’s pointed lack of contrition, by the way America still insists on a leadership role far out of proportion to the burdens it seeks to impose on others, by our almost paranoid refusal to enter into any arrangement that might place any US troops anywhere but at the very tippy top of any given UN chain of command, and by our almost kleptomaniac greed in guarding the few remaining spoils of an increasingly despoiled and battered nation.
One might think that these are difficult times for the Administration and its legion of "Iraq is gonna be a cakewalk" war boosters, or that nothing could possibly be worse over the next few years than finding oneself in the unfortunate position of being a lower- to middle-class American taxpayer.
But of course there is one group of people that is going to have it far worse than all of us for the next couple of decades. The true victims of this tragedy will almost certainly be those who have already suffered the most—namely, the Iraqi people themselves.
On March 17th, George W. Bush prepared the nations of the world for the imminent incursion of American troops into Iraq with a very carefully worded warning to Saddam Hussein: "Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people." But with US war, occupation and reconstruction costs already soaring into the hundreds of billions of dollars and with Republican manufactured deficits totaling hundreds of billions of dollars annually for the foreseeable future, only the terminally naïve can possibly believe that the average Iraqi will ever see a dime in proceeds from oil wells that, for all intents and purposes, already belong to the U.S. of A.
David Flores, of Baltimore, is a college language teacher.
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This story was published on September 18, 2003.
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