The Parallax Brief

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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Bush Administration Went Exactly As Planned

The Bush Administration’s rap sheet is longer than my arm. So well catalogued are the failures that listing them all here would be superfluous, but suffice to say, from Dick Cheney’s opaque Energy Task Force in the early days, through to by far the biggest economic mess since 1929 at the end, the Bush Administration has been one, nightmarish, sparsely punctuated litany of disaster and criminality.

On this matter, Guardian.co.uk today has an interesting video collage of journalists’ verdict on the Bush administration’s legacy, which briefly garners analysis on each disaster. For me, it doesn’t go far enough in its criticism, but its overt efforts to refrain from shrill invective makes it all the more damning. 

This raises an interesting question, though: the evidence strongly suggests that Bush was the worst president ever, but how exactly did it all go so very wrong? 

The best way to understand the Bush Administration, in my view, is to realize that it didn’t go wrong. In fact, it went exactly as planned. 

Take, for instance, the administration’s criminal abuse of executive power and willful disregard for the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. A significant number within the Bush Administration had been bristling for 20 years against the restrictions placed on executive power after Watergate. According to Jane Mayer in her brilliant expose of the war on terror, The Dark Side, Cheney told Bush early on that at the very least they needed to leave the office of the president ‘stronger’ than when they found it.

This conceited, authoritarian bent, rather the need to fight terrorists, gave birth to the abuses of executive power, the rip-tide roll back of individual freedoms in America and abroad, the abjuring of the legislative branch, and the disregard for international law and the Geneva Conventions that have characterized the Bush administration.

Similarly, Bush was successful in pushing through his economic and social policies, such as giving tax breaks to the rich and large corporations, and blocking additional healthcare provisions. Having so many more Americans outside health insurance, and turning a huge budgetary surplus into a deficit so big it could redecorate Solomon’s Temple, was not some form of bad luck, but a direct consequence of the successful passage of the Bush Administration’s economic and social policies.

Of course, the best example of this phenomenon is that no matter how many times the Bush Administration was warned prior to 9/11 of the dangers of Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, they simply wanted to ignore it. Again, they were successful in implementing their ideals, namely, that Bin Laden should not be treated as a priority. 9/11 was job done for the Bush Administration as well as Al-Qaeda.

On the question of ‘how did it all go wrong,’ Vanity Fair this week is running a must-read oral history of the Bush Administration in which a plethora of senior American and foreign diplomats, politicians and bureaucrats, as well as senior figures within the Bush Administration itself, provide an insider view of the key moments of Bush’s presidency.

I’ll leave you with one quote from the article which in particular reminds us of just how pregnant with failure even the early days of the Bush Administration were. 

Richard Clarke, chief White House counterterrorism advisor:

The contrast with having briefed his father and Clinton and Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader—well, shit. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?

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Defending Bush Administration’s Record an Impossible Task

It was not a surprise to see self-described “extremely right wing” historian Andrew Roberts (right) penning a piece in the Telegraph to defend the Bush Administration

And he certainly does a better job than Bush Administration counselor, Ed Gillespie, who mustered a set of monumentally pathetic arguments, reliant wholly on weasel words, to debunk the ‘myths’ of the Bush Administration.

Even Roberts, though, adept as he is at crafting a compelling argument, has to rely on some pretty tenuous reasoning to defend what is ultimately indefensible.

Says Roberts:

History will show that, in common with the rest of his administration, the British Government, Saddam’s own generals, the French, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies, and of course SIS and the CIA, everyone assumed that a murderous dictator does not voluntarily destroy the WMD arsenal he has used against his own people. And if he does, he does not then expel the UN weapons inspectorate looking for proof of it, as he did in 1998 and again in 2001.

Mr Bush assumed that the Coalition forces would find mass graves, torture chambers, evidence for the gross abuse of the UN’s food-for-oil programme, but also WMDs. He was right about each but the last, and history will place him in the mainstream of Western, Eastern and Arab thinking on the matter.

For a moment, let’s ignore evidence that suggests the CIA and SIS, as well as UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, did not believe Hussein had the ability to use weapons of mass destruction. What Roberts claims here, in effect, is that being wrong about WMDs was acceptable because plenty of other people were wrong, too.

Roberts is arguing that his and the Administration’s logic was so valid that even though he, Bush and the rest of the Right were proved wrong – disastrously, murderously wrong – it doesn’t mean that they were actually wrong. Oh no, not for a moment wrong: it was simply a case of that pesky evidence getting in the way of an otherwise sound argument. Again.

You know something is very seriously lacking with the George W Bush presidency when his die hard supporters have to resort to arguments as feeble as that to defend his Administration.

Wisely, Roberts avoids domestic policy.

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Why is Closing Guantanamo Bay so Difficult?

guantanamo1It is clear to me that extra-judicial captivity has no place in a civilized society. What makes us better than the despots and the terrorists is our moral code, and when we forgo that, there really isn’t much between us and the bad guys.

No doubt those on the lunatic fringes of the Right would accuse me of ‘moral relativism’, or else some other barely understood buzz-phrase. 

On this point, I would argue that the west’s (or,  if you prefer, the liberal democracies’) way of doing things is better not because we’re ‘us’ and they’re ‘them’, but because of our actions. Britain’s system of government isn’t better than, say, Iran’s just because Britain’s Britain: It is better because it offers democracy, free speech, enshrines the rule of law, etc, etc. If suddenly Britain converted to a dictatorship, repealed democracy, and crushed any dissenting voices, then we couldn’t claim to be better than Iran.

Similarly, I don’t think we can hold people in prison indefinitely, denying them their basic human rights in the process, without sacrificing some moral capital.

It certainly makes one feel less like a sandal wearing, feeble voiced peacenik to say: “Do you think you can play nice with these people?”, or “We need to fight at their level,” but it’s worth considering whether we really want to do anything on “their level.”

On that score, it should be obvious to most sane observers, that Guantanamo is an example of a moral repugnance I’d have scarcely considered possible before the neo-con kabal of moral degenerates and criminals seized the White House

However, GTMO is not only a violation of every ideal we in the West hold dear, it also has another, quite pernicious side effect. Once an individual is taken out of the judicial system, it is virtually impossible to put him back in, and all evidence acquired under torture – or advanced interrogation techniques – will be inadmissible. This means that we can never establish properly who is guilty and who is not, who did what and where, and the victims of these terrible crimes will never have the comfort of knowing justice has been done.

But, there is a final knot left to untie: GTMO is also extremely difficult to close. If one cannot put an individual back in the justice system to be tried and/or imprisoned, and one cannot release him for suspicion he may be a danger, how can one close it?

This is a question addressed far more effectively by the Financial Times’ Willem Buiter, so I thought I’d share.

http://blogs.ft.com/maverecon/2009/01/spineless-in-washington-obama-and-guantanamo-bay/

It’s also one that Barak Obama is going to have to deal with more decisively when January 20th comes around. Good luck with that.

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