Selected quotations from the little red (white and blue) book of General Jerry Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, in charge of facilitating intelligence information for Donald Rumsfeld's "High Value Target Plan," aimed at hunting down Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and Mullah Omar:
Now, the above quotes and others caused national news consternation. The day the story broke in the press, it was also at or close to the top of the various network prime-time news shows, though largely in a round-up-the-usual-suspects kind of way. The President was generally shown not to be of General Boykin's type. Yes, he had slipped early on. That darn "crusades" reference (which Eisenhower got away with in a famous book title -- Crusade in Europe -- back in the days when nobody here knew there were Muslims in the world). But generally, as we all know, the President has "reached out" to the Islamic world (as has his attorney general to Islamic immigrants with somewhat analogous results domestically and globally).
But let's stop and consider General Boykin's comments a bit more closely. If, as he claims, the younger Bush was appointed by God -- who, I wonder, appointed the elder Bush? -- and the younger Bush, in turn, appointed Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, and Rumsfeld appointed Boykin to help hunt down the Satanic Triad, then it seems clear enough, from one point of view anyway, that Boykin (the poor sap had to offer public apologies yesterday) was himself deputized by and a deputy to God with a cap G.
Okay, you say - or so said most of the media - it's shocking, just shocking that such a man made it high into public life at such a moment. It was an obvious policy/appointment blunder. Somebody must not have vetted vet him well enough (though, strangely, Rumsfeld defended him in public after he was outed and I've heard nothing so far about resignations). But what if...
Well, let me put it this way. In a recent piece in the Village Voice, Sydney Schanberg, discussing a sympathetic, soon-to-be-published book by Stephen Mansfield about the President's "religious journey," The Faith of George W. Bush, wrote:
Mansfield also reports: 'Aides found him face down on the floor in prayer in the Oval Office. It became known that he refused to eat sweets while American troops were in Iraq, a partial fast seldom reported of an American president. And he framed America's challenges in nearly biblical language. Saddam Hussein is an evildoer. He has to go.' The author concludes: ' . . . the Bush administration does deeply reflect its leader, and this means that policy, even in military matters, will be processed in terms of the personal, in terms of the moral, and in terms of a sense of divine purpose that propels the present to meet the challenges of its time.'"
So perhaps Boykin is indeed God's deputy, not just from his perspective, but from the White House's. Certainly, most of this administration from the President on down is populated by fervor-struck men like the general, whether religiously, ideologically, or both, men who are congenitally incapable of listening to other viewpoints even when it might be in their own interest to do so. Only the other day, the President was faced with the most modest of Republican revolts in a Senate increasingly anxious over his Iraq policy and considering converting approximately $10 billion in reconstruction funds for Iraq into loans to Iraq. (Remember, on this $87 billion Iraqi give-away, the folks back home are screaming bloody murder in polls and in person or by phone and email.) George B's response to his own people, according to Guardian Washington correspondent Julian Borger, was interesting indeed:
The outburst did him little good. Eight Republican senators voted against the administration on Thursday. One rebel, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, said: 'It was very difficult to stop this train because it made so much sense.' It may prove to be a pivotal moment for the Bush government. Senators of either party defy a popular president at their peril, but this president is no longer all that popular, particularly when it comes to US involvement in Iraq. Fewer than 50% of Americans believe that Mr Bush's leadership can be relied on in a crisis."
The last time I remember a table being pounded by a major leader, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev did it (well, it was a lectern actually) with a shoe at the UN back in perhaps 1959. Or am I dreaming? This is an administration that pounds away but gives very little ground to anyone anywhere. The President got his money at the Senate this week, and his resolution at the UN as well (a resolution probably more crucial for the voters at home than governments abroad), and he gave up nada. As Fred Kaplan wrote in Slate:
A single small change in the Senate set tables a-pounding, while in the UN with next to nothing offered, the Europeans and Russia capitulated (while the Chinese made nice). In part, this simply is evidence of the imperial clout - never to be underestimated -- of the world's sole remaining superpower exercised by men who, faced with restraints of any sort, can seldom restrain the urge to pound the odd table (or city). But there has to be more to it than power. My own guess is that the French, Germans et. al., who theoretically could have sat back, watched Iraq (and the Middle East in general) slide as if off a cliff slowly, and then offered your basic "I told you so," are in fact terrified that this administration may take them down too. A catastrophe for the United States, given the economic linkages in this world, can't but seem a potential one for other major powers as well.
So it might look like a good week for the President. He has his Iraq money, his UN resolution, and polls that seem at least to have stabilized. He's put the media, that hideous "filter," on the defensive -- and, gosh, wasn't it only weeks ago that our press and the networks came out of the closet? What more could he ask for?
Okay, but what about all those potential Vesuviuses pulsing just under the surface of imperial life? After all, the President can't, just for starters, seem to control his own administration. Remember when no unauthorized leaks came out of his Washington? I think that was in August, 79 BC, but still... this week, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer:
And okay, the only country rushing to offer troops for Iraq is Turkey and the idea of Turkish troops in Iraq is such a raging turkey that even L. Paul Bremmer has gotten nervous. The result? American planners have put their heads together yet again and come up with an idea or two for the Turkish troops, whose commanders would love to fight it out with the Kurds in the north, just dotty enough to fit in with the rest of this woebegone occupation:
Here's a brilliant example by Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian: "One [idea] being floated is for Turkish troops to serve in Iraq but not in uniform, a proposal that is unlikely to go down well with the Turkish high command." Gee, if they could only get the Turkish high command to agree though, that would fool the Iraqis, wouldn't it? Maybe they could even pass themselves off as Pakistani troops or DynCorps employees.
Meanwhile, without significant numbers of foreign troops to ship in -- a few extra South Koreans or Thais aren't going to do the trick -- the Pentagon is preparing to call up yet more reserve and National Guard units, a potential heartland disaster for George. And while the President's men have been making "sunny" at home about "progress" in Iraq, a Stars and Stripes poll indicates spreading trouble in the military itself, especially among the reservists in Iraq. As the Washington Post reports:
In recent days, the Bush administration has launched a campaign to blame the news media for portraying the situation in Iraq in a negative light. Last week, Bush described the military spirit as high and said that life in Iraq is 'a lot better than you probably think. Just ask people who have been there.'
But Stars and Stripes raised questions about what those visiting dignitaries saw in Iraq. 'Many soldiers -- including several officers -- allege that VIP visits from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill are only given hand-picked troops to meet with during their tours of Iraq... The phrase 'Dog and Pony Show' is usually used."
(For those who remember the Vietnam era, that should certainly ring a little bell or two. I'd love to be able to listen in on a few conversations among top military men in the Pentagon right now. I'll bet a few ears are ringing as I write.)
Tyler Marshall and John Daniszewski of the Los Angeles Times offer this small scene from today's Iraq:
And that's just an edge of the trouble brewing in the kingdom of incipient crisis. Yet the Bush machine rushes onward, as the President has been doing in Asia this weekend, strangely oblivious, pushing yet more wars onto the horizon of the war on terrorism. The men of this administration combine, to put it politely, a certain religious "conviction" not to be denied -- as in Gen. Boykin's case -- with, for some of them, a near religious belief in the power of power and in the subterfuges that must be called upon to use it "well." There has been much shock recently in the mainstream media and elsewhere about the lies we were told to get us as a people into the Iraq war.
Senator Robert Byrd, the bluntest of all Congressional opponents of the President's Iraq policy, gave a rousing speech (found at the www.commondreams.org website) explaining why he voted against the $87 billion dollar request of the President. He begins with a fairy tale and ends with Hermann Goering and in between suggests that we're mortgaging our children's future to a vast lie:
The best and most inventive accounting I've recently seen of these lies can be found at the Foreign Policy magazine website. It's a parsing of a presidential speech delivered in Cincinnati on Oct 7, 2002, in which the President made his detailed case for an Iraq war. If you run your cursor across the highlighted lines of the speech, you can check out both the lies and reality. If only someone would do the same for Colin Powell's shameful collection of lies, his "Stevenson moment" at the UN. His former aide, Greg Thielmann recently appeared on 60 Minutes II and was questioned on the subject. CBS described the interview this way:
But it turns out that, for the neocons, lying is seen as an honest way of life in a democratic society. At the openDemocracy website, Danny Postel has conducted an interview with Shadia Drury, a Canadian professor of political theory. Drury is an expert on the work of the philosopher king who "appointed" many of the neocons -- the long-dead Leo Strauss who inspired many of them with his readings of Plato. As she points out:
The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.
I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny."
But our administration's evangelical convictions and a no less faith-based belief that, once the wise know the path to be taken, the ignorant masses of a democracy must be lied to in order to be lead down that path is only the beginning of the story. For there are obviously other players with conviction in this stew of a mess of a world, driving no less hard and just as incapable of hearing others. There are, of course, the Islamicist apocalypts who truly do hate the United States. A Bush-inspired world, driven via faith-based passions, imperial or otherwise, toward a borderless chaos is heaven itself for them. A recent Guardian piece on al Qaeda by Richard Norton-Taylor, based on a report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, suggests that, despite the blows leveled at the organization by the Bush administration things are looking up:
Clearly lessons are being exchanged in an increasingly borderless world. Tony Karon of Time magazine, for instance, reports on the recent roadside bombing in Gaza, visibly similar to those in Iraq, that killed three American private security guards and wounded an American diplomat:
And recently, there were rumors that al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the Baghdad Hotel double-suicide bombing.
But why stick only to the apocalypts who loathe the United States and its policies when the Bush administration. in its drive to "remake" Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, is being aided and abetted by fanatics who love us, perhaps literally to death? Take, for instance, the Tourism Minister in Ariel Sharon's Israeli government, Benny Elon. In the wake of the Gaza deaths, he issued a statement aimed at Americans which reads like a set of condolences from Hell. Here's a sampling, passed on by an alert reader, of what Mr. Elon has in mind (some of the lines about terrorism seemingly drawn directly from our President's speeches), and what the Bush administration has more or less given a green light to in the region. (I've highlighted a few not-to-be-overlooked phrases or passages.) Put your winter coat on. It should give you a chill:
'We call upon the world to recognize that the people who hate Israel are the same people who hate America, and the ones blowing up American convoys today, whether in Gaza today or Baghdad tomorrow are the same ones killing Israel. There can be no double standard - Just as America confronted Iraq, so too we must stand together and confront terrorists without limits. During times such as these, our friends in the U.S. understand that we cannot reward terrorism. We will not remove settlements or make concessions as our stay in Judea and Samaria (The West Bank) is not temporary, and we will not permit the creation of a terrorist state in our biblical heartland."
Meanwhile, the friends of our apocalyptic friends in Congress (where Elon has showed up in the past to talk "tourism" - no, Eliza, right now there isn't any to speak of in Israel) have been hard at work making his work easier. The latest symbolic gesture on this score is the charmingly entitled "Syria Accountability Act" -- this from an administration and its supporters unwilling to be held accountable for anything. As a recent Nation magazine editorial put it:
And behind all this has been a recent expansion of the Axis of Evil itself, a reminder that long ago the Bush men were planning for unending wars to take out enemies of every sort. You would think, with Iraq gone and only two points left to connect, it might at least have been renamed the Straight Line of Evil, but, reports the Christian Science Monitor, instead Syria, Libya, and Cuba have simply been added in. One former U.S. official calls them "the ladies' auxiliary of the axis of evil."
Meanwhile, in Iraq, let me just try to summarize a few of the many chaotic developments of a week in which American postwar combat casualties topped the hundred mark. In Baiji, according to the Independent's Patrick Cockburn, "New babies are being named Saddam by their parents in this oil refinery town 160 miles north of Baghdad, such is the hostility to the US occupation, an official at the local births and deaths registration office said."
But by now we expect that of the Sunni Triangle. What's new is that, in the last bloody week of ambushes and skirmishes for Americans and Iraqis, the fighting and dying which, this administration has reassured us, was and would remain confined to "five percent of Iraq" - all in that Triangle - moved first to Sadr City, the Shi'ite slums of Baghdad, and then, ominously, south to Karbala, like a dagger heading for the Shiite heartland. There, in a city where there had previously been no trouble at all since the war, at least three American military policeman, two Iraqi policemen and eight Iraqi Shi'ite members of an informal religious militia died in a fire fight or an ambush of some sort. Many more were wounded. I'm skipping here the rising average of 22 ambushes a day to the north, the attempted assassination of a provincial governor, the various ill-aimed mortar attacks, and the endless sabotage of oil pipelines, too ordinary to be reported much of the time, which has slowed northern oil exports to a trickle.
The Shiites were to be our crucial allies in that epic at the center of neocon dreams, the makeover of the Middle East. We were to turn in Saudi Arabia for a reconstituted Iraq, where the oil would flow like wine. (Somebody should have had a chat with the Elder Bush, who stopped American troops from marching on Baghdad in the first Gulf War in part because he and his advisers feared a Shiite government in Baghdad that might look unnervingly like the one in Iran.) In a brilliant recent analysis of administration policy in the Boston Review, Juan Cole, Middle Eastern expert and one-man band, argues that of all the mistakes the hubris-ridden Bush administration made, none was greater than its misreading of the history and character of the Shiites, or more fantasy-ridden than its belief that a new American-style Middle East could be based on them. He writes in part:
To wield the geographical equivalent of a mixed metaphor, there was a phrase used in imperial China with horror, and by the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong with a more positive twist: "Great disorder under the heavens." It seems to me now simply a useful descriptive phrase to encapsulate where we're headed in the Middle East and allied regions.
It's this principle of chaos that this administration, increasingly embattled and riven at home, may simply embrace. If the faith holds, the response, however illogical, may only be to drive us (or Israel as our proxy) into an ever widening "war" without borders. Take down Syria, for instance, and you have but more - and far more dangerous chaos - on your hands. After victory, what? That's a post-Iraq question with far deeper meaning for all of us today. And under the faiths, religious or Straussian, what? There's another question worth asking. It may turn out that what lies buried there is a kind of nihilism, a darkness, a smudge on the city of us that could - with a bow to General Boykin - seem little short of satanic.
A sidelong glance in any direction only reveals more possibilities for chaos.
While Israel is evidently making its subs nuclear and Iran seemingly races for its own bomb, at the eastern edge of the "arc of instability," the India-Pakistan "stand-off" is again starting to look suspiciously like a nuclearized stand-on. Both militaries have been rushing to brush up and improve their missile systems and nuclear arsenals in what can now only be called an arms race at the brink of time. Praful Bidwai reports in the Asia Times ('India, Pakistan walk a fine nuclear line'):
The smugness of the Indian authorities is astonishing and shocking. It speaks of a cavalier disregard for security, and an obsessive wish to accelerate the arms race with Pakistan... Islamabad claims the tests demonstrated "Pakistan's technical prowess" in missile technology. 'They also reflect Pakistan's resolve and determination to continue to consolidate its minimum deterrence needs and national security.'
However, many media reports say the tests were aimed at showing Pakistan's 'protest' and 'frustration' at India's procurement of an airborne radar system from Israel, with Washington's approval. The Phalcon early warning system was jointly developed by Israel and the United States."
For that matter, a seemingly modest but impressive Chinese triumph - the brief placing of an astronaut in space - holds its own dangers. Don't forget, one bedrock belief of many in this administration is that we must dominate space militarily and alone until the end of time:
A report, "Rebuilding America's Defenses," published just two months before the Bush election by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), many of whose adherents would soon enter the upper reaches of the new administration, put it this way: "Develop and deploy global missile defenses to defend the American homeland and American allies, and to provide a secure basis for U.S. power projection around the world. Control the new 'international commons' of space and 'cyberspace,' and pave the way for the creation of a new military service-U.S. Space Forces-with the mission of space control."
Many of the same men believe that, in the end, China is America's natural enemy of the 21st century. Dan Plesch writing in The Guardian, discussing the Chinese achievement, offers these comments:
One of the Pnac members explained that: 'The US has never accepted a deterrent relationship with China, the way we did with Russia.' To the US military, any space programme it does not control is a challenge to its formal policy of dominating space militarily.
The likely reply from the Pentagon to the Chinese space programme is an intensification of the 'son of star wars' project... In contrast to the US quest to dominate, the Chinese have been campaigning for a UN treaty banning weapons from space.... Right now, there are no weapons above our heads. It is not necessary to put Hans Blix in a space suit to carry out inspections."
Those analogies again:
Just a couple of quotes from the week past:
Sydney Schanberg in his Village Voice article: "No one seems to be asking themselves: If in the end the crusade is victorious, what is it we will have won? The White House never asked that question in Vietnam either."
And Julian Borger in his Guardian piece: "The finger-pointing over an increasingly unpopular military involvement, and the finger-waving at the media reminded Robert Dallek, a presidential historian, of another president and another debilitating war: Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. 'I think there is an emerging quality to the tensions Bush faces and his reactions to the criticism that is reminiscent of Johnson in Vietnam. If the enterprise in Iraq keeps faltering this is George W Bush's war, just as Vietnam became Johnson's war.'"
And in a column by Renato Redentor Constantino in the Philippine paper Today, suggesting certain parallels between past American wars and what our President called "one of the... most humane military campaigns in history."
Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.