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Quicker Than Vietnam,
"Worse Than Watergate"

By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor,
The Crisis Papers

June 1, 2004

The speed with which the anti-war forces have coalesced and influenced the general mood of the country about Iraq has amazed the peace-movement. "Amazed" because it took years and years for those of us active in the anti-Vietnam War period to educate the general public to the point where they could even consider that their leaders might have lied to them and led the country into an unwinnable war.

And here we are, just a little more than a year after Bush started "shocking & aweing" in Iraq, and most of the American citizenry -- who once had been overwhelmingly behind the U.S. adventure in that country -- already has moved toward strong opposition to Bush's war policies. Truly remarkable!

How to explain this relatively quick development? Here are seven likely reasons:

FIRST, we have to understand that, in all likelihood, Bush&Co. would have had a free ride with their war -- or at least a freer ride -- if the Iraqis had simply acquiesced to the occupation of their country. The U.S. would have marched into Baghdad to flowers and cheers, set up shop, distributed the oil and reconstruction contracts to the various U.S. and multinational corporations -- and all of this would have been accompanied by widespread acceptance by a docile Iraqi population.

That was the expectation of the naive neo-con planners in the Bush Administration, led by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle, et al. This was the "liberation" fantasy. The U.S. would set up a puppet or at least American-friendly Iraqi government, steal the country blind for the benefit of the GOP-supporting corporations, establish military bases in Iraq from which to reshape the geopolitical map of the Middle East, lean harshly and heap abuse on whatever Iraqis got swept into the detainee net (whether innocent or guilty) -- and the Iraqis would not object, but would be eternally grateful and accepting because the brutal dictator Saddam was no longer in power.

Lo and behold, it turned out that Iraqi society is much more complex and nationalist than those genius neo-cons ever imagined. (When you get locked into a simplistic, black-and-white way of looking at the world, you are unencumbered by bothersome complexities.) And, more than a year later, it's finally dawning on Bush&Co. -- though, of course, they will not come right out and admit it -- that they wildly miscalculated, with the result being the death and maiming (still going on) of many hundreds of young American soldiers, along with thousands of Iraqis, many of them innocent civilians.

Surprise! Iraqis don't like being brutalized and treated as subhumans in their own country by an Occupation army. "Liberation" takes on a whole new meaning. Now it has become a term used by Iraqis to describe their goal after the Americans leave or are driven out.


SECOND, one can point to the democratizing impact of image-technology. One can take digital photos and video -- and pictures on tiny cell phones -- and beam them around the world in a few seconds; one can log on and instantly send an email describing a wartime event. Rumsfeld, a man in his 70s, was astounded and shocked; he saw these technological breakthroughs as terrible things, permitting the Abu Ghraib tortures and abuses to be seen worldwide. Otherwise, the various written reports on prisoner-interrogation techniques could have remained buried in the military bureaucracy. (Given what happened when soldiers had sent their snapshots back to the States, the Pentagon now has taken steps to severely limit troop access to email in Iraq, and the taking of photos and videos and cell-phone pictures.)

The real impact of their leaders' immoral war in Vietnam was brought nightly into citizens' living rooms via the network newscasts. But it took years to get to that point. The Abu Ghraib images took less than few days to make Americans question what the Bush Administration was doing in their names -- aided, no doubt, by their increasing knowledge of how they'd been lied to about the justifications for this war. Iraqis, of course, already had known of the tortures, but it fired their resolve to get the U.S. out of their country as soon as possible.


THIRD, connected to #2 above, the 24-hour news cycle requires a constant supply of events and images. The result is a never-ceasing, instantaneous bombardment of news and visuals from the field, beamed all across the world but most importantly to the American homeland. It took years and years for this kind of reporting to have an impact in the Vietnam days -- when film had to be flown back to the States for processing each day -- and less than a year for the barrage of images from Iraq to build up that anti-war momentum.

FOURTH, despite the fact that the Bush Administration uses a mercenary army -- both volunteers, often from poor and minority communities, and "contractors" -- and that dead bodies (and images of the flag-draped coffins) of U.S. soldiers are not permitted to be seen by the American electorate, the word is filtering out. These 800+ American dead, and nearly 17,000 American wounded, are seen as dying and getting maimed for an invasion that may or may not have seemed justifiable in the first place, but which is understood these days as being run by incompetents who are clueless as to what they are doing.

It was (and remains) ad hoc, on-the-run military planning, based on a forlorn hope that somehow it will all pull together eventually into something that could look vaguely like a "victory." Our young men and women were (and are) being placed in harm's way for no good military or political reasons, without adequate equipment and numbers, and with bumbling military and civilian leaders in charge. Disgraceful!


FIFTH, the internet has become the contemporary equivalent of the Vietnam-era TV news networks. Those journalists then were revealing far too much for the powers-that-be to accept. And so, the far-right in the decades after Vietnam made sure to corner the market on mass-media information, buying up network after network, cable outlet after cable outlet, etc. The result is that the mass-media in the Bush era basically were (though this is starting to change) cheerleaders for Bush policy, and the normally objective print-media outlets -- such as the New York Times, Washington Post and others -- followed their lead, even into the killing zone that is Iraq, though this is starting to change as well.

But a huge segment of the population was turned off by the propaganda being peddled as "fair and balanced" news reporting by these mass-media outlets; hungry for a more objective, or at least an alternative, source for news, they turned to the new technology: the internet. There, super writers and analysts -- some working for non-American papers such as the Guardian and Independent in England, Globe&Mail and Toronto Star in Canada, et al., others writing solely for internet websites -- report unfiltered news and supply alternative takes on what it all means. For access to the best of these websites, see The Crisis Papers' Dissenting Internet list.

The best demonstration of the power of the internet as an organizing political tool can be seen in the following examples: 1) When more than 10 million citizens worldwide marched in the streets in February of 2003 to protest the impending U.S. war on Iraq, virtually all of the organizing for that demonstration came via the internet. 2) MoveOn.org  can mobilize millions of dollars in support for its liberal causes within hours or days, just by sending a bulk e-mail to its two million members. 3) Howard Dean shot off to an amazing head-start in the Democratic primaries largely due to the "meet-ups" and fundraising he was organizing via the internet.

This doesn't even mention the number of public issues that have been kept alive and highlighted by constant internet attention, eventually forcing many of the mainstream, conglomerate-owned media to pay attention to the issues raised, and even to begin reporting on them in their mass-media outlets.


SIXTH, Bush&Co. are their own worst enemies, both in their policies and in their incompetency in implementing them. They come across as arrogant bullies, swaggering their way across the post-Cold War landscape, grabbing what they can get (because with the Soviet Union gone, they believed there was nobody to stop them), and woe to those who get in their way. Their lies and deceptions are so bald-faced as to be almost laughably obvious.

If they had just told the truth -- that the U.S. needed to take Iraq so as to re-shape the geopolitical map of the Middle East, and to guarantee that the natural resources there would be safeguarded from the potential grasp of terrorist fanatics and put into the hands of friendly business interests -- at least some might have gone along with them, for the "idealism" of their cause. But no, in order to justify an invasion, they had to hornswoggle the Congress and the American people and the United Nations into believing all sorts of crude bullcrap. (Most of the globe's citizens saw through the deceit from the git-go; it took Americans a bit longer to wake up to the true nature of this Administration.)

And then, once Bush&Co. got their way and invaded Iraq, they revealed themselves to be absolute incompetents, with no "post-Mission Accomplished" plan, not enough troops, not enough life-protecting equipment for our young men and women in harm's way, no understanding of the complexities of Iraqi culture and politics, no sense of the tenacious nationalism that animates a proud culture under Occupation. In short, everything Bush&Co. touched turned to dust; with an election coming, it was time to make and take the best deals that could be arranged, to get American deaths off the front page of voters' minds.


SEVENTH, one has to point out and celebrate the individual citizens of courage who chose to tell the truth from inside the belly of the beast.

It's fairly easy for those of us writing screeds and exposes on the "underground" internet to step forward and take the heat. It's far more difficult for those on the inside, or who were on the inside and still walk the corridors of power, to step up to the truth-plate and tell what they know.

When they do, their revelations are attended to with great interest by the populace precisely because these individuals were at the center of the action and have chosen courageously to reveal what really happened. There are such lesser-known whistle-blowers as Sibel Edmonds, Joseph Darby, Katherine Gun, anonymous souls within the CIA and Pentagon -- who have had to deal with threats, loss of their jobs, mass-media denunciations, etc., as they revealed embarrassing secrets involving the Bush Administration.

But I'm thinking also of books and articles by, among others, such Bush Administration luminaries as White House aide John DiIulio, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Anti-Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke, Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, Gen. Anthony Zinni and so on. Because of their willingness to step forward, we now know a hell of a lot more about how Bush&Co. really works, the level of corruption and incompetence, the unrealistic and wacky HardRight theories that substitute for effective policy analysis, the lies and deceptions that led us into Iraq, and so much more.


One more recent book must be mentioned at length, because it so rigorously and completely reveals the true levels of awfulness of the Bush Administration: John W. Dean's Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (Little, Brown&Co.).

Dean, you may remember, was President Nixon's chief legal counsel during the Watergate scandal. He saw, from the inside, the crimes being perpetrated against the Constitution and the American people by leaders of his own Republican Party. Eventually, Dean testified before the Senate Watergate Committee, exposing the rotten West Wing core of charlatans and felons who ran the place. His testimony helped lead to the only resignation of an American president, when Nixon departed in disgrace in the face of impeachment.

Dean, of course, is no longer inside the White House. But his GOP contacts, sources, experience, and insights give his words more gravitas than would similar expressions coming from a Democratic reporter. He knows whereof he speaks, and we'd best pay attention.


The title of his book indicates how bad the situation is. For those who've forgotten, Watergate was the Nixon-era umbrella term that represented the felonies and other crimes committed by that administration in an effort to gain and stay in power -- everything from setting up a secret police unit inside the White House to "get" the president's enemies, to breaking-and-entering to bribery to burglary to dirty election tricks to a massive cover-up to hide all these nefarious activities from the public.

So when John W. Dean says that the Bush Administration is "worse than Watergate," you know we're dealing with real "worstness" here, not merely a repetition of the Nixon-like felonies, which look almost quaint in comparison. With Bush&Co, we're talking about acts that have resulted in thousands of deaths, among many other high crimes and misdemeanors.

But let Dean speak for himself on the variety of chapter topics he covers in this extraordinary book: the comparison to the Nixon-era felonies; stonewalling and cover-ups; the obsessive secrecy of the Bush Administration; the "secret government" that has resulted; Bush&Co.'s "hidden agenda," and the various unfolding scandals. (The prisoner-torture exposure came too late to be included, but certainly Dean would have added it to his list of impeachable offenses.)

In the few excerpts that follow, Dean gives the general flavor of his argument against the "shared presidency" of Bush/Cheney, all well-sourced and with footnoted factual evidence.


"Their secrecy is extreme -- not merely unjustified and excessive but obsessive...It has given us a presidency that operates on hidden agendas. To protect their secrets, Bush and Cheney dissemble as a matter of policy...Cheney openly declares that he wants to turn the clock back to the pre-Watergate years -- a time of an unaccountable and extraconstitutional imperial presidency. To say that their secret presidency is undemocratic is an understatement."

"Cheney formed what is, in effect, a shadow NSC [National Security Council]...It is a secret government -- beyond the reach of Congress, and everyone else as well...Cheney knew that terrorism was the perfect excuse, an ideal raison d'etre, for his 'let's rule the world' philosophy. Politically, it would be much easier to be seen as shooting back instead of shooting first, given the caliber of weapon Cheney sought to wield. But he and his team did far worse than simply waiting for an attack that would kill a sufficient number of Americans...It is reasonable to believe that they planned to exploit terrorism before 9/11 handed them the issue ready-made for exploitation -- a fact they obviously want to keep buried."

"Not since Lyndon Johnson hoodwinked Congress into issuing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorizes sending American troops to Vietnam, has a president so deceived Congress about a matter of such grave national importance...Bush and Cheney took this nation to war on <i>their<-i> hunches, their unreliable beliefs, and their unsubstantiated intelligence -- and used deception with Congress both before and after launching the war....The evidence is overwhelming, certainly sufficient for a prima facie case, that George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have engaged in deceit and deception over going to war in Iraq. This is an impeachable offense."

"Their secrecy helps corporations and industries that are major contributors. But with a deadly difference. Bush and Cheney have, from the outset of their presidency, shown utter disregard for the human consequences of their actions, both at home and abroad...What Bush and Cheney are doing to the environment to curry favor with their contributors is far worse than anything Nixon's 'responsiveness program' ever did. The Bush-Cheney presidency is engaged in crimes against nature, not to mention failing to faithfully execute the laws of the land."


"The Bush-Cheney secrecy and style of governing carries with it potential consequences that are far worse than any political scandal. Their secret presidency is a dangerous threat to democracy in an age of terrorism...Bush and Cheney have picked up where Nixon left presidential power. They seek to free the presidency of all restraints. They want to implement their policies -- a radical wisdom they believe serves the greater good -- unencumbered by those who view the world differently."

"When the moment comes and terrorists surprise America with an even greater spirit-shattering attack than 9/11, Bush and Cheney will simply push aside the Constitution they have sworn to uphold, inflame public passions with tough talk to rally support...and take this country to a place it has only been once. For eleven weeks during the outset of the Civil War, President Lincoln became what scholars have euphemistically called a constitutional dictator. But with terrorism it will likely not be so brief. Bush once quipped, 'If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.' George Bush, however, is no Abraham Lincoln."

Copyright 2004, by Bernard Weiner


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances