Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Fall of the House of Bush

Well, it makes a change from finding out that picture of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein back in 1983...

At the moment, if visits to my local bookshops are any indication, I should be writing a book on Barack Obama to become an established (and well-paid) writer- the more gushing (with plenty of photos) the better. It seems the publishing industry, like most of the planet, is trying to forget that the Presidency of Geroge W. Bush ever took place.

So I feel a bit of a political archaeologist in bringing to your attention Craig Unger's The Fall of the House of Bush: The Delusions of the Neoconservatives and American Armageddon . However, I would recommend it, and if you can find a copy in the bargain bins of your local bookstore, purchase it- it is well worth reading.

I could do a really lengthy review. However, I will limit myself to certain themes that I noticed while reading it and some choice quotes.

1: The importance of Religion in American Politics

Reading this, I would hate to be an unbeliever in the US and trying to get somewhere in public life.

A Time/CNN poll from 2002 found that 59% of Americans believe that the events in the Book of Revelation will take place (p.19).

Between 1976 and 1988, the proportion of Americans defning themselves as born again evangelicals rose from 34% to 47% (p.85)

Furthermore, many who hold such views do not think their beliefs should be a private affair. To quote Kathleen Harris, Florida's Secretary of State at the time of the 'hanging chads' affair during the 2000 Presidential Election (pp.178-79):

'If people aren't involved in helping godly men in getting elected then we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers [Unger says for the likes of Harris, the Pilgrim Fathers, not the often Masonic and Deist founders of the USA, are America's real 'founding fathers'] intended and that's certainly isn't what God intended...we need to take back this country...And if we don't get involved as Christians then how could we possibly take this back?...If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, then in essence you are going to legislate sin.'

Unger argues that a lot of evangelical Christians in the US support Israel, and think the more militaristic Israel behaves the better, but only because they think that the state of Israel's existence is a sign that the end of the world as we know it prophesised in the Book of Revelation is close. (Unger points the curious to the website to see how long we have before 'the endtimes' start.)Many do not like Jews as a people. To quote Southern Baptist Convention president Bailey Smith: 'God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.' (p.103) The alliance between 'born agains' and Neoconservatives is, as Unger says, very combustible. Dubya may be a born-again believer, but much of the rest of his family are not. During the 1988 Presidential primaries, Neil Bush referred to supporters of Reverend Pat Robertson, running against Dubya's father for the Republican nomination, as 'cockroaches...from the baseboards of the Bible-belt.' (p.85).

2: Dubya's Stupidity

Whatever one thinks of the politics of Obama, or John McCain for that matter, I think it is hard to argue that he is stupid. The previous incumbent though...the expression 'They Saved Reagan's Brain' comes to mind. Before he found God (that must have been a day and a half for the Almighty) Dubya was in a church congregation in Midland, Texas when the pastor asked what a 'prophet' was. Bush replied 'That's when revenues exceed expenditure.' (p.84) (Unlike a lot of politicians ie Thatcher, Blair, who extol the virtues of free enterprise, Bush has been involved in business. He just wasn't very good at it.)

Dubya's stupidity, or more accurately, lack of curiosity about the world, was spotted relatively early on by those who advised him. Leading Neo-Con ideologue Richard Perle commented:

'The first time I met Bush 43, I knew he was different. Two things become clear. One, he didn't know very much, The other was he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn't know very much.' (p.166) A State Department source cited by Unger concurs: 'His ignorance of the world cannot be overstated.' (p.166) Or to quote the great man himself: 'I don't do nuance.' (p.198)In reference to the Middle East, Dubya once expressed the opinion that 'Sometimes a show of force by one side can clarify things.' (p.201).

3: Dick Cheney as Puppet Master?

'Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually.' (p.314)

Reading Unger, Dick Cheney's extremely secretive Office of the Vice President seems to be the place from where much of the genuinely 'dark' facets of The War Against Terror originated from: 'Cheney...was the man in charge of foreign policy. If Cheney wanted to keep something secret, he could classify it. If he wanted to leak information, or disinformation, to the New York Times or Washington Post, he could declassify it.' (p.293) I also noticed as well how many times Unger cites traditional Republican and military/diplomatic figures who were extremely uneasy, to put it mildly, about how Dubya and his acolytes (puppet-masters?) such as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz worked. For example, Bruce Fein, deputy Attorney-General under Ronald Reagan, described Cheney's post-9/11 domestic spying programme as being based upon:

'an imperial theory of inherent constitutional power that would empower[the President] to open mail, break-in and enter homes or torure detainees even inviolation of federal criminal statutes' (pp.221-2)

Fein also attacked Cheney for 'theories for evading the law and Constitution that would have embarrassed King George III', and military commissions for giving the President 'the functions of judge, jury and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes....the authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely [is]...a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XVI's exercrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille.' (p.224).

If Fein goes back to the late Eighteenth Century to find analogies, Colin Powell's chief of staff Captain Lawrence Wilkinson uses both the late 1700s and a more up-to-date analogy to decribe how Cheney et al worked:

'We used to say about both [Rumsfeld's office] and the vice president's office that they were going to win nine out of ten battles, because they are ruthless, because they have a strategy, and they never, ever deviate from that strategy. They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way that the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly foist it on the government and the rest of the government is all confused.

'When I say 'secret cabal', I mean 'secret cabal'....I see them as messianic advocates of American power from one end of the globe to the other, much as the Jacobins in France were messianic advocates of the French Revolution. I don't care whether utopians are Vladimir Lenin on a sealed train to Moscow or Paul Wolfowitz. You're never going to bring utopia, and you're going to hurt a lot of people in the process.'

With history-making often comes arrogance of an insufferable sort. One example from Unger is from an unnamed senior Bush advisor:

'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality- judiciously, as you will- wel'll act again, creating new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.' (p.242)

However, even the greatest empire-builders can suffer hubris. As the war started in Iraq, Cheney told 'Meet the Press' that 'I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.' (p.293) Obviously avoiding military service in Vietnam through five deferments (p.182) did not help his strategic acumen when it came to Iraq...

4: Why Obama was better than McCain

I read The Fall of the House of Bush on holiday in Vancouver back in September when I really started to take an interest in the US Presidential campaign. Although I never fell for Obama-mania, I was realising by then that on the big issue for us all, preventing a war to end all wars (and possibly life on Earth), McCain was extremely bad news: 'I'm sorry to tell you there's going to be other wars. We will never surrender, but there will be other wars.' (p.364) Throw Sarah Palin as his V-P into the mix, and it was 'please no!' I was peturbed earlier in 2008 by the news that Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter's hawkish former National Security Adviser, and erstwhile encourager of Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan, was advising Obama on foreign policy. However, this quote from Brzezinski in Unger, pouring cold water on the possibility of war with Iran, eased some of my worst fears:

'I think of war with Iran as ending America's present role in the world. Iraq many have been a preview of that, we'll get dragged down for 20 to 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world.' (p.346)

So to conclude, I hope I've shown that The Fall of the House of Bush is a worthwhile read, even though it may appear ancient political history. I have a horrible feeling that some of the characters around the great man may return...

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