December 19, 2002
Q. During the campaign and in the first months after he was installed in
office, Bush promised that he would not be one of those nasty, hard-edged
right-winger types but instead would be a "compassionate
conservative" and, in international policy, "humble," acting in
concert with our friends and allies to maintain the peace. What the hell
A. You mean you haven't figured it out by now. Watch my lips: politicians
lie. Bush's handlers knew the country wouldn't accept their bedrock rightwing
program, so their true intents were concealed behind slogans that said nothing
but conveyed an unthreatening, comfy aura. Once in power, the gloves came off.
The same pattern was followed in foreign policy.
Q. Wait a minute. There's that little matter of the 9/11 attacks and the
3000 Americans who died. You can't blame that on Bush and his handlers.
A. Let's see how Bush&Co. might have interpreted the realities. Their
first nine months in power in 2001 were not marked by much success, and Bush
appeared, to put it gently, a bit over his head. They were bogged down in
Congress trying to get their Hard Right agenda through, they were bumbling
around in foreign policy.
Then Jeffords' defection gave the Senate to the Democrats, making it even
more difficult to govern. Something drastic had to be done. They looked back
at the first Bush Administration and saw that the President had 91% approval
ratings during the Persian Gulf War; they looked at the world and saw that the
U.S. was the only Superpower and that Clinton had evidenced no overall vision
for how to approach that golden opportunity.
The truth was staring them in the face: they needed a war. But not just a
traditional one, where you defeat the opposing nation and go back to normality
-- they remembered well that after the Persian Gulf War was over, President
Bush's popularity ratings began to slide precipitously. Only a permanent war
would give them the time-cushion and the social support they needed for
enacting their agenda.
Q. You ARE going to get to 2002, aren't you?
A. Hang in there. To fully understand how we got to here, one must always
take a look back at there.
In the Spring and Summer of 2001, the highest echelons of the Bush Administration were receiving intelligence from all over the world that the
terrorist leader Osama bin Laden -- a former U.S. protégé in Afghanistan, trained to fight the Russian invaders in the early-'80s -- was about to
launch attacks inside the U.S., probably by air and aimed at icon targets. Bush&Co. were about to receive the gift of a "moral cover" for their true
ambitions. And so, as the attack time-period neared, they chose to do nothing -- probably they expected another symbolic attack, with fatalities ranging
from scores to no more than several hundred. After the surprising 3000+ deaths, Bush&Co. manipulated Americans' fears and outrage into the
launching pad for their programs: authoritarian tactics at home, a reach for empire
abroad. (We talked about this once before, you know; see
"The Bush 9/11
Scandal for Dummies."*)
This past annum, 2002, was their go-for-it year, and 2003 -- with the
Republicans in control of the Congress, the courts, the White House and most
of the conglomerate-owned media, and with the Democrats still in disarray,
searching for a new leader -- will be their consolidate-power-and
destroy-your-enemies year. They're thinking long-range: exercising total
control for at least another decade or two.
Q. That is so conspiratorial, I don't want to believe it. No American
government would be that Machiavellian, so dastardly.
A. Better get used to it. These guys play for keeps. They may even believe
they are carrying out their programs for benign, patriotic reasons -- to
protect American interests (which tends to mean mostly U.S. corporate
interests), to defend the homeland, etc. -- but, even if that were true, their
actions will do just the opposite. In the short run, those policies will
probably succeed -- lots of corporate folks will make a lot of money, the U.S.
will bomb the hell out of Iraq, have effective control of the oil fields, and
scare other leaders who might want to oppose the U.S. -- but in the long run,
the world will figure out how to screw up U.S. plans and operations, the
terrorists will gain more adherents and will carry out more devastating
attacks inside America, the fast-disappearing liberties inside the U.S. (and
the huge financial and moral costs of maintaining imperial control abroad)
will provoke massive resistance, etc. 2002 was just a prelude.
Q. What does "fast-disappearing liberties" mean? What happened in
2002 along those lines? I know about the USA PATRIOT and Homeland Security
Acts -- but those are aimed at finding terrorists. I want my government to
find terrorists. I want to feel protected.
A. Finding terrorists is a noble aim; there ARE bad guys out there planning
more attacks. But I'm reminded of the U.S. officer during the Vietnam War who
said they "had to destroy the village in order to save it." In order
to "save" the U.S. population from terrorists, Bush&Co. are
quite willing to "destroy" the very freedoms and civil liberties
that are the bedrock of American society, that make us the envy of so many
peoples around the world -- and that, not incidentally, threaten
Bush&Co.'s hold on power. The laws you mention were written in advance and
then rushed through Congress; to oppose them, especially in the 2002 election
year, was to risk being called "unpatriotic" or "soft on
terrorism." Which means that as long as the "permanent war on
terror" goes on, Bush&Co. believe they have patriotic cover for
whatever they want to do, and that the opposition will be hamstrung.
Those laws you mention permit, indeed establish, police-state tactics.
Consider: Attorney/client confidentiality no longer exists; citizens no longer
have the right to privacy; government agents can conduct "black-bag"
operations inside your home; they can tap your phones, and enter your computer
and check out what you're saying and thinking; they can find out what you buy
and what books you take out of the library -- and all of this can be done
without your even being aware of the intrusions, and devoid of judicial or
Q. Wait a minute. Get those terrorists anyway you can. I haven't done
anything wrong, I don't have anything to hide, so I don't care if they snoop
A. The laws are so broadly written that if an angry neighbor or a
disgruntled fellow-worker tells the feds your loyalty may be in question, you
get a file opened on you. Agents start asking your neighbors and colleagues
questions implying traitorous behavior. Your computer is seized. Maybe you
lose your job. Maybe your friends begin to shun you. Maybe you're declared a
suspected "enemy combatant" and whisked off to an undisclosed
military site; there, you have no access to a lawyer, or even to tell people
where you are. You could be there for years, or until "victory" is
declared in the permanent war, which will be the 12th of Never.
Q. You're just making this up. I remember Ashcroft and Bush promising
before those acts were passed that American citizens need not worry, since
those laws would apply only to foreign terrorist suspects.
A. Guess again, my friend. Already, in 2002, several American citizens were
"disappeared" into the American gulag. It could happen to you, to
people you know, at any time Bush&Co. feel like it. The laws are in place,
and the courts, which would determine the constitutionality of those laws, are
packed with ideological supporters of the Bush Administration.
Q. And you're suggesting that because the population didn't rise up in 2002
to protest that shredding of Constitutional guarantees of due process, that
2003 will see the Bush Administration going after domestic political
"enemies" and locking them away?
A. You got it on the first try. Look, there's a war about to begin --
probably sometime in the next two months -- and those who are effective in
opposing that war, and those being too vocal and effective in opposing
Ashcroft's police-state tactics, must be dealt with, lest the foundational
base of power be weakened.
Would-be strong Democratic candidates against Bush will be trashed and
smeared early. Anti-war leaders will continue to be harrassed and kept off
commercial airplanes -- this began to happen in 2002 -- and the peace movement
will be compromised by violence initiated by undercover agents inside the
organizations. If the online progressive websites start reaching beyond their
relatively tiny constituencies and actually start organizing folks for
effective action, they will be closed down. More "enemies of the
state" will find themselves in the American gulag. In short, 2002 is
going to look like a cakewalk for liberals and progressives, compared to what
is about to come down -- all in the name of ensuring "patriotic support
for the war effort" and "homeland security."
Q. But I keep reading about cracks beginning to appear in the Bush
Administration, revealing them to be vulnerable. There's hope there, right?
A. True, there are a few fissures beginning to appear.
Internationally, the Bush Administration continues to alienate its allies,
and, when it launches its war against Iraq, will stir up an enormous hornet's
nest abroad. (In the Middle East, that, plus abandoning the Palestinians to
the tender mercies of Ariel Sharon, is like pouring gasoline on a simmering
fire.) Threatening to drop nuclear weapons on anyone it deems worthy of that
treat is another policy not designed to win the U.S. friends abroad.
Domestically, Gore dropping out opens the way for new ideas and new faces;
the internal debate will lead to more pointed attacks on Bush&Co., and
when the Dems finally settle on a new candidate, there may be unity on how to
go after Bush&Co. more aggressively and effectively. Additionally, there
still are the outstanding Bush Administration scandals that could pop up and
bite them. Plus the 9/11 victims' families are hanging tough for a real
investigation of what led up to the attacks. The forces of opposition to
Bush&Co.'s domestic and international politices are starting to coalesce
-- and even some GOP moderates and traditional, anti-big-government
conservatives are starting to complain about the police-state excesses. The
covert racism underlying the GOP's Southern strategy became evident when Lott
couldn't control his mouth. And so on.
But the HardRightists -- who began working decades ago to assume control --
aren't going to give up power easily. It's going to take a major effort to
dislodge them. As led by Rove and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, these
guys are clever and ruthless, a deadly combination. The saving grace is their
sense of themselves as invulnerable and their over-reaching greed and hunger
for power. They're in control. In short, their arrogance and
rapaciousness may lead to bad mistakes. So work, work, work, organize,
organize, organize, get ready to pounce. 2002 was just the run-up; the real
game starts now.
Copyright 2002 by Bernard Weiner
*John Wiley & Sons is the official holder of the trademarked
title "For Dummies."