Traditionally, a lame-duck president has a two-year window
of opportunity to successfully push his foreign and domestic agenda. Karl
Rove knows this well.
Since the Bush/Rove/Cheney bullyboy approach worked for them so successfully
during their first term, the Administration is using the same strong-arm
tactics in its foreign/military policy, and in quickly trying to ram its
domestic agenda through Congress.
But something is different this time; there now is an odor of reckless haste
emanating from the White House. The result is that they are now making
mistakes, big time.
Just two examples: the nomination of John Bolton as Ambassador to the United
Nations, and the Social Security "reform" campaign.
Bolton, a founding
member of the neo-con Project for The New American Century (PNAC), is a
mad-dog unilateralist who wants the world to bow to U.S. demands now that
America is the only remaining superpower. Bolton has said: "If I were doing
the Security Council today, I'd have one permanent member [the United
States] because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in
the world." Treaties and international laws are irrelevant, he believes,
since they are attempts to constrict the justified use of American power
around the globe.
If other countries refuse to bow to America's wishes, according to Bolton,
the U.S. should either find a way around them to get what it wants, or
unleash its full diplomatic, economic or military might on them.
Bolton despises multi-lateralism and thinks the U.N. is an abomination. His
mouth, by any accounts, is an undiplomatic sewer. By appointing him, Bush is
telling the world: Screw you, we're making no concessions, get out of our
way or get run over.
What a nominee! It's like giving matches and a can of gasoline to a known
arsonist and sending him into a building where firecrackers are stored.
SOCIAL SECURITY "REFORM" UNPOPULAR
Bush's campaign to shred (and eventually destroy) the Social
Security program is going nowhere fast -- even normally supportive GOP
members of Congress, anxious for re-election in 2006, are distancing
themselves from the privatization scheme -- but Bush and Rove continue their
whirlwind tour of pre-screened audiences around the country, to try to
generate traction for such "reform."
But as Democrats.com's Bob Fertik puts it: "House Republicans are already
running for their lives over Social Security privatization. When Tom DeLay
ordered them to hold town hall meetings on privatization two weeks ago,
two-thirds of them flatly refused. When George Bush took Air Force One for a
Bamboozlepalooza rally in Alabama -- Alabama! -- six of the seven
House Republicans announced they suddenly had to attend urgent Congressional
"It's only going to get worse for House Republicans," Fertik continues,
"because George Bush is determined to march them off the cliff for
privatization. It is important to remember that 2006 is an off year, and the
people who turn out most reliably in the off year are Social Security
recipients! And it is essential to remember that every House member is up
for election in 2006, compared to just one-third of the Senate."
In short, debacles on the order of this Social Security madness, and the
nomination of John Bolton for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., provide openings
for progressive/moderate victories, both big and small, if effective
oppositional strategies can be put in place.
1. Circling the Bush-Bunker Wagons.
Clearly, from the Administration's point of view, there were far too many
leaks and covert acts of disloyalty to The Leader during the first term --
from the State Department, CIA, EPA, etc. -- so everything is being done to
make sure that will not happen again. The various departmental purges and
staff changes at the top are a key part of ensuring a more leakproof
To guarantee this tighter command structure, Bush has assembled those few
officials pledging total fealty to The Leader, and has headed for the
political bunker. This select group includes Karl Rove in the White House,
Cheney* and Libby* in the Vice President's office, Gonzales at Justice,
Rumsfeld* and Wolfowitz* at Defense, Rice and Abrams* (and now Karen Hughes
as well) at State, Goss at the CIA, Hadley at the National Security Council,
Chertoff at Homeland Defense, and now Bolton* on-deck for the United
Nations, and Zalmay Khalilzad* as Ambassador to Iraq.
The executive committee, as it were -- the ones who set the militarist
policy, and run the show -- would appear to consist of Rove, Rumsfeld*,
Cheney,* Wolfowitz* and, ex officio, Bush. (Those asterisked above are
members of PNAC.)
To see how this little circle-jerk game is played, last week Rumsfeld
ordered more "extraordinary renditions" -- i.e., sending detainees in U.S.
care abroad to countries where torture is the method of choice in eliciting
information -- and Gonzales provided the "legal" cover for such shameful
behavior. (His logic is classic Bush Administration: "Our policy is not to
render people to countries where we believe or we know that they're going to
be tortured," said Gonzales. But "once someone is rendered, we can't fully
control what that country might do.")
Each of those bunker occupants is dirty, fully worthy (along with departed
co-conspirator Ashcroft) of prosecution for one crime or another. But that's
what we've come to in this country: a cabal of liars and crooks and
torturers and warmongers and would-be dictators running the ship of state --
right toward the icebergs that reality is placing in their way. And that
threaten to take us all down with them.
During the past four years, when encountering one of those realitybergs, the
Bush Administration tended to ram them full speed, and damn the
consequences. They got what they wanted through such reckless, arrogant
tactics -- most specifically, their war against Iraq -- but at a horrific
They alienated their allies, engendered (especially as a result of the
torturing and sexual abuse of male, female and child Iraqi prisoners) a
deadly and resourceful insurgency among Iraqis, united a good share of the
Muslim world against them, wound up with several thousand "Coalition" forces
dead and nearly 20,000 American troops wounded, an estimated 100,000 Iraqis
slain, most of them civilian women and children.
In short, on issues ranging from Iraq to global warming to the U.S.'s
unilateral approach to international agreements (Kyoto, International
Criminal Court, the Geneva Conventions, etc.), America was feared greatly
but barely respected as a moral nation, regarded as a pariah state by many
in the international community. And, despite the photo-ops on his recent
Europe tour -- which showed Bush and European leaders smiling and shaking
hands -- the situation hasn't changed much today.
2. The Illusion of Peace in the Middle East.
Bush&Co. finally seemed to realize that in order for their policies to be
successful in the greater Middle East, there would have to be something that
could pass for major progress on the incendiary issue of Palestine. And so
they encouraged the Palestinians to get their post-Arafat house in order,
and Sharon to make some moves toward peace.
The problem is while the Likudniks in charge of Israeli policy have no
inclination to do anything but pull Israel out of poor, destitute Gaza, the
more valuable real-estate in the West Bank will remain under effective
Israeli control, with no pullback from the major settlements there. The
separation wall will continue to be built, ratifying that decision. An
official report issued this week in Israel noted that the Israeli government
secretly has been complicit in expanding the West Bank settlements and
outposts, contrary to the law.
In short, once it becomes clear to the majority of Palestinians that they've
been had yet again -- that the contiguous, viable state they've been
promised will not materialize, and that the Americans will not force the
Israelis to end the Occupation and remove most of their huge settlements in
the West Bank -- the shooting/bombing war will re-erupt in earnest. And more
suicide bombers will join up also to attack U.S. interests -- perhaps in
mainland America itself.
3. Moving Against Syria and Iran.
Meanwhile, Bush&Co. are moving relentlessly against their next targets in
the Middle East region: the governments running Syria and Iran.
Because Syria is far the weaker of the two, Bush has felt more free to issue
an ultimatum to Syria to execute an immediate withdrawal of its military and
spy forces from Lebanon, while he praised the anti-Syria demonstrators in
the streets of Beirut as representing the great force of democracy in the
region. (Strangely, when pro-Syria/pro-Hezbollah demonstrators appeared in
the streets of Beirut, Bush did not praise that huge crowd as being
pro-democracy activists in Lebanon. Nor has Bush acknowledged the irony of
calling for all "foreign troops" to leave so that Lebanese citizens can work
out their own future, whereas he used the term "terrorists' to describe
those Iraqi citizens who feel likewise about the foreign Occupiers in their
With reference to Iran, Bush has agreed to work with Europe in an attempt to
bribe that country's mullahs from continuing to authorize work on their
nuclear projects. But such a turnaround appears to be mainly a front, a way
for Bush to spin later that he exercised the "full measure of diplomacy" in
trying to resolve the Iranian situation peaceably before he was "forced" to
In Syria and Iran -- and perhaps in Lebanon as well -- the goal is regime
change; to get a more U.S.-compliant government in place that will not put
up much of a fight while the Americans lock up the natural resources and
build their huge military bases.
INCREASING BUSH'S VULNERABILITIES
Domestically, Bush already has won significant major battles -- victories
aided by timid Democratic sell-outs -- in getting Rice and Gonzales and
Chertoff approved, and in passing bills that make class-action lawsuits and
bankruptcy more difficult to file by ordinary citizens, especially the poor
and lower-middle class.
But Bush&Co. have suffered significant setbacks as well: their major
overhaul of Social Security, especially instituting private savings accounts
(the first step in destroying the program), is not likely to be passed in
And last week, a key piece of anti-environmental legislation -- which would
have rewritten the Clean Air Act to permit more pollution from coal-fired
power plants -- was defeated in Senate committee. In addition, several
federal judges have come down hard on the Bush Administration's violations
of detainees' civil-liberty rights. It's not surprising to find that Bush's
approval numbers are well below 50%.
If Bolton's nomination can be killed in the Senate, along with the Dems
holding firm against Bush's extremist judges, the tenor of his second term
could change drastically. The more Bush seems vulnerable, the more
vulnerable he would become. But, as of this writing, one cannot count on the
GOP-ruled Senate to do the right thing.
As the Administration sees it, moving fast on the Bush agenda is a rush
against that time when his second-term clout is irrevocably lost -- so it's
now or never for Bush&Co.'s domestic and foreign agenda.
Let's help make it never.
Progressives, moderate Republicans, Democrats of all stripes need to unite
to ensure defeats of Bush's Social Security "deform" plan, his nomination of
Bolton for the U.N. job, his putting forward extremist judges for the
appeals courts, his plan to bring "democracy" to Arab states by force.
We need to make clear to the American people that Bush's bellicose war
policies are not only putting our military forces (and civilian "collateral
damage") at grave risk, but are endangering our country's long-term national
It's time to protect our country better -- it's certainly not going to
happen under the current regime in the White House.
Copyright 2005, by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught at Western Washington
University, San Diego State University and San Francisco State University.
Formerly a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, he currently
co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).