My understanding of Buddhist practice -- big on compassion and
understanding, small on coercion and retribution -- kicked in after
watching Frontline's "The Dark Side" last week, the powerful 90-minute
documentary examination of how the CheneyBush White House manipulated the
country into war with Iraq.
I wondered whether a shift in thinking about Bush and Cheney and Rumseld
and the rest of the crew would alter the way I viewed them and the war.
(By the way, if you missed the show -- the first such full-length
documentary on a major network laying out the lies and deceptions --
it can now
be seen online.
Here's what I mean:
Suppose one viewed the members of Bush&Co. as sincere idealists. They had
been warned by the outgoing Clinton administration that al-Qaida was
extremely dangerous, but it wasn't until the terrorist attacks of 9/11
that they woke up and, out of love of country, decided to do something
about it. (Even if you don't think this scenario accords with the facts, I
beg you to stick with me here, and see where this line of argument is
THE "NEVER AGAIN" MENTALITY
Sure, there was a political component to their action -- their agenda was
floundering in Congress, and 9/11 presented them with an "opportunity"
(Condi Rice's term) to hook their domestic and foreign goals to the fight
against terrorism. But mainly they were determined that the U.S. would
never again suffer such a deadly humiliation. This was the United States
of America -- don't tread on us!
So, looking around, they saw a growing militant-Islamist threat. They also
saw that the U.S. was the one remaining superpower on the planet, and thus
believed that America would face little military opposition in going after
the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and, more importantly, after anyone
who supported and encouraged them.
Since the Muslim world in general was relatively weak and defenseless, the
Bush crew felt that Islamic extremism could be attacked and rooted out
with very little meaningful opposition before that fundamentalist force
became even stronger and more dangerous. The U.S. could move to establish
a new political system in the Middle East, based in democracy and free
markets. Bringing calm to that volatile area of the world would be a boon
to all concerned. A side-benefit would be to stabilize, and in effect have
more control over, the immense energy resources (oil, gas) in that area of
BUSH BASE AT LEAST A THIRD
Of course, in 2006 we (and they) know that changing the world doesn't
happen that simply or quickly. But at the time, in this scenario, Bush&Co.
were operating not so much out of greed and lust for power as out of a
sincere belief that they would be doing good works by using their
considerable military and economic muscle to alter the region, and thus
the world, for the better.
Now one can believe that the above sketched scenario in no way meshes with
the truth: That, in reality, President CheneyBush and their
co-conspirators are rapacious, greedy, power-hungry felons. But I suggest
that they may have talked themselves into believing they are operating out
of truly idealistic motives, for the good of the country and the world,
with a positive by-product that their policies aid them politically and
their political friends financially. Do well by doing good, that sort of
More importantly for our purposes today, a large percentage of the
American population, at least a third and possibly more, accept this
aggressive, "muscular" approach and operate under its suppositions. They
truly believe that America, especially beloved by God and able to exercise
its power for good in the world, should be supported in all such
No matter where you live in this country, you have neighbors or colleagues
or friends (or sometimes even family members) who believe that America is
engaged in righteous work in the world by attacking "evil" countries and
bringing the glories of democracy and free markets to these unfortunate
peoples. Some of those Americans believe this out of religious conviction,
others out of idealistic motives.
SEEING BUSH SUPPORTERS DIFFERENTLY
So the opposition gains no political advantage by regarding this large
slice of the population, at least 30% and perhaps as much as 40%, as
ignorant oafs. The point is that they are True Believers and, by and
large, tend not respond to logical and/or factual argument.
To reach them, I suggest, one has to approach them not as calamitously
dumb, but as sincere, patriotic citizens, dedicated to the best interests
of the country, and greatly influenced by their religious/political
leaders and by the parroting mainstream media and the HardRight pundits on
talk-radio and cable TV.
In short, the possibility of breaking these citizens away from being
automatic Bush/GOP supporters rests in approaching them in a different,
more sympathetic way, using their language and set of ideological
constructs. Put another way, the "framing" of our arguments must take into
account their way of thinking.
Or, phrased more benevolently: These are frightened human beings, just as
worthy of understanding as are we, who also are fearful of different
aspects of our social/political world. If we treat the Bush/GOP supporters
mainly as "enemies," ignorant ones at that, we will have no chance of
reaching them and explaining why we believe what we believe. If we treat
them as fellow citizens worthy of our respect and understanding, true
dialogue may be possible.
HOW IT WORKED DURING VIETNAM
We have seen this happen before, also in a society riven with pro- and
anti-war division. In the Vietnam '60s, we Movement activist types finally
came to realize that the war wouldn't end until ordinary, middle-class
Americans abandoned Nixon and his mad war policies. So, across the
country, many of us stopped denouncing the war-supporting "bourgeoisie"
and made sure to meet them in non-threatening surroundings -- church
picnics, community events, school classes, in their homes, one-on-one
meetings, etc. -- to let human contact work its magic.
They discovered that despite the hippie garb and habits that so outraged
and threatened them, we were just ordinary, worried young people, sincere
in our beliefs; we came to know these middle-class types as caring,
anxious, intelligent citizens.
Within a few months, many of them were marching with us, or at least doing
anti-war work in ways that felt more comfortable to them. When Nixon
shortly came to understand that he'd lost his middle-class base, he ended
I don't want to make it seem that it was us scruffy protesters who ended
the war -- but our activities, especially in helping erode the pro-war
base in the American middle class, certainly had some salutary effect in
bringing that immoral war to a close. Similarly, such compassionate
reaching-out could help end the current Iraq War -- one that not only is
immoral and illegal but incompetently managed, and which will, in the long
run do untold damage to the national interests of the United States.
WHY MANY REPUBLICANS ARE SHIFTING
You might say: Yes, these Bush supporters represent only 30-40% of the
population, so why should we even try to convince them? Let's solidify our
own base, roughly 40%, and convince those in the middle to join us. But
the truth is that Rove knows he can count on the GOP's 40% no matter what
transpires, and thus has to concentrate only on a tiny sliver of the
population, apparently about 10%. Time after time, using fright,
scapegoatism, manipulation, and dirty electoral tricks, he's been able to
cobble together just enough GOP votes to maintain control, claim a
"mandate," and continue his smash-mouth, in-your-face politics. And so,
here we are, two wars in (with another one probably on the way) and our
society more and more resembling a one-party police state.
In approaching Bush supporters, the key, it seems to me, can be found in
the reasons why so many traditional and moderate Republicans -- along with
so many military officers -- already have broken away from the
Administration and, to some extent, from the GOP. By and large, they
believe that the policies being carried out by the Bush Administration are
not in the country's best interests, in the economy's best interests, or
in their own best interests.
There are many, occasionally overlapping, reasons for these previous Bush
supporters dropping off the GOP bandwagon: starting wars that can't be won
and that endanger the national security of the United States, spending the
treasury into profligate deficits that lay extreme burdens on future
generations and that hinder the possibility of real economic growth, the
out-of-control mushrooming of big government and the concomitant snooping
into all our private lives, the demonstrated incompetency and corruption
(and alliance with torture as sanctioned state policy) that stain the
Administration and Republican Party, the violation of our time-honored
checks-and-balances system that in the past has provided a brake on
executive excesses, and so on.
There are millions of disaffected Republicans -- traditional
conservatives, as well as moderates, and the numerous military types --
who have had enough and are either planning on staying home on election
day or will hold their noses and vote for a Democrat. (I know and hear
from these Republicans each day; to a person, these disenchanted
conservatives -- part of the estimated 10% who no longer can be
automatically counted as part of the GOP base -- express revulsion at what
far-right ideologues and extremists have done to their political party, to
their young men and women sent abroad to be killed in unnecessary foreign
adventures, to the static economy, to the shrinking and stressed middle
class, to the Constitutional protections that are fast disappearing under
this Administration's authoritarian rule, etc.
ROVE AND HIS MANIPULATIVE AGENDA
Greens, Libertarians, Independents, disaffected Republicans are potential
allies with progressives and Democrats. But the elements of that loose
alliance, which perhaps only will come together on Election Day, need to
start sharing and talking and coalescing now; Karl Rove already has
started his campaign.
Indeed, he's made clear how the GOP will remain in power; it's worked
several times already, so he's returning to it once again: Heighten the
fear quotient in the general population but especially in the GOP base
("terrorists," "gay marriage," swarthy immigrants, et al.), paint the
opposition as unpatriotic wimps; and do what needs to be done to control
the election results (remove hundreds of thousands of would-be Democratic
voters from the key state rolls in advance, make sure your corporate
friends remain in charge of the vote-counting software and that nobody can
double-check the vote-tallies on Election Day, etc.).
Remember, that in the coming Congressional elections, all Rove needs is a
simple majority. Then BushCheney claim a "mandate," and continue to swing
their wrecking ball, taking this country further down the road of
self-destruction. They've used this scenario in 2000, 2002 and 2004 --
aided and abetted by the cooperative mainstream media -- and Rove has made
it plain he's sticking with it for 2006.
Thus, why should we be surprised that scary stories are suddenly appearing
about terrorists wanting to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and
planning to disperse deadly chemical agents in the New York subway? Of
course, if you read below the frightening headlines, you learn that
there's not much substance there -- for example, the alleged Sears Tower
crew may well be little more than a rag-tag bunch of big-talking
malcontents -- but the fear-factor is at work nonetheless. The GOP message
is: Stick with us, we'll protect you.
WE'RE LESS SECURE NOW UNDER BUSH
So, we in the opposition have to tackle this genuine and sincere fear
head-on by showing would-be GOP voters -- in non-threatening language and
with examples they can accept -- that the Bush Administration by its
actions actually has made life in the U.S. far more dangerous for the
citizenry. While making sure that our shoes are X-rayed when we fly on
airplanes, the Administration has neglected serious examination of
containers in our ports, toxic-chemical movements in our cities, and
chemical plants inside their laughable "security fences." Bush's wars
abroad have made America and Americans much more likely targets for
terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security, as demonstrated by
post-Katrina failures that resulted in thousands of people dying, is a
bureaucratic nightmare of inefficiency and incompetence. In short,
Bush&Co. policies have made us less secure.
Rove and Company, true to their usual M.O., are trying to turn their major
weakness -- the disastrous war in Iraq -- into their major strength. They
realize they simply have to turn around the numbers of Americans who have
come to believe that the war was a mistake and needs to be terminated as
soon as is practicable. Right now, the polls indicate that nearly
two-thirds of the citizenry is looking for a decent and certain way out of
But rather than change the war and Occupation policies, Rove and friends
are attacking as unpatriotic those who raise questions about the Bush
Administration's approach or even as witting or unwitting supporters of
Al-Qaida. It's the old Swiftboating of the opposition, smear and sleeze,
in place of intelligent policy changes.
DELAYING THE INEVITABLE
Simply put, the Bush Administration has no real plan for Iraq. They're
winging it, hoping that they can make it through the 2008 election, and
then dump the problem on the next president. I'm not making this up,
that's what Bush himself has said.
As ##CBS reported:
"President Bush made it clear Tuesday that there will be
American troops in Iraq when he leaves office and it will be his
successor's job to bring them home. In response to a question in a White
House news conference about if there will come a day that when there
will be no American forces in Iraq, Mr. Bush answered, 'That, of course,
is an objective. And that will be decided by future presidents and
future governments of Iraq'."
Prior to the November election, Bush will "withdraw" some
American troops (trial balloons for this are being floated by U.S.
generals), which can be re-inserted in-country after the balloting. Don't
forget that construction proceeds apace in building the huge, permanent
military bases in Iraq and the massive new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
It will be interesting to see how the Bush crew responds to the recent
denunciations of U.S. military and occupation policy coming from
Afghanistan's leader Karzai, and Iraq's Prime Minister Maliki and other
elected Iraqi officials, calling for a timetable for withdrawal -- very
much what the GOP shot down in Congress when the Democrats suggested it.
Lest we forget, polls inside Iraq report 80% of the population wants the
U.S. Occupiers out.
MAD DOGS ON A PANT LEG
It is a long-established pattern that Bush&Co. never give up on their
goals, but prior to elections they make all sorts of tactical adjustments,
doing and saying whatever is necessary to convince the voters that they've
become more reasonable and less ideologically extreme; then, once they've
managed to scrape by with one vote more than the other guys, it's back to
their original plans.
Our oppositional goal must be to convince those in "Middle America" who
can be convinced that the only hope for a decent U.S. future is to
jettison that incompetent bunch of reckless ideologues at the top and
their rubber-stamp lackeys in Congress, and try a fresh start.
We've got four months in which to do it. Let's saddle up.
Copyright 2006, by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international
relations, has taught at universities in Washington and California, worked
as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currenty co-edits
The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). For comment: >>