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Thursday, February 7, 2008

An Appraisal on the Bush Presidency – Part III

It has been alleged that George Bush tampered with the election results in 2000 during his race against Al Gore. I understand the suspicion, because the final state to have its votes tallied happened to be Florida, where his brother Jeb is the governor. As you may recall, it was not until December 13, 2000 that Gore conceded the presidential election to Bush, ending an election that should have been over five weeks earlier. The American public will probably never know what happened in Florida on election night; however, despite the dubious activity that took place, there has been no proof that Bush ‘stole’ the election. Plus, if Gore had won his home state of Tennessee, Florida would not have been an issue.

I don’t think we’ll ever know if Bush stole Florida in 2000, but one thing is certain, there has been a trail of dishonesty that has followed his administration from the time he took his initial oath of office. It has been said that all Presidents lie, and if this is true, then George Bush is simply one more in a parade of presidential perjurers who have deceived the public. In fact, every President going back to Lyndon Johnson was involved in policies that deceived the American public; with the exceptions of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter:

  • Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin;
  • Richard Nixon lied about Watergate and then conspired to cover it up;
  • Ronald Reagan lied about Iran Contra and conspired with his vice president, George H.W. Bush, in the October Surprise where they negotiated a deal with Iran to delay the release of the hostages until after the 1980 elections;
  • George H.W. Bush lied about “no new taxes;” and
  • Clinton lied about his illicit relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.

If there is any truth to the saying that 'birds of a feather flock together,' then George W. Bush is right at home with his predecessors, with the only difference between he and his colleagues is that he seems to have rewritten the playbook on presidential deceit. It is ironic that he has a prominent position on the Mount Rushmore of presidential dishonesty, considering the fact that many of his supporters claimed he was bringing integrity back to the White House. The Bush presidency has been the most furtive of any administration in the 20th Century, and his lack of candor to the American people is astonishing.

One week after his first inauguration, Bush signed an Executive Order that created the National Energy Policy Development Group. The task force, also known as the Cheney Energy Task Force, was made up of executives from the oil industry, and it produced a national energy policy report in May 2001. Despite numerous demands by special interest groups, including the impartial General Accounting Office, the task force has refused to disclose the report to the public. This is particularly troubling since gas prices and other energy costs have skyrocketed since the task force was created.

What is so confidential about the energy taskforce’s report that the Bush administration continues to refuse to make public? Certainly if sections of the report need to be kept secret as a matter of national security, that’s understandable, but it is difficult to fathom that an entire energy report needs to be classified. There may not be any state secrets in the task force’s report. However, refusing to make it public may suggest that President Bush is embarking upon a new road where the President is not accountable to anyone including Congress; which would be a striking departure from previous administrations. To buttress this theory, the Bush White House has classified more documents than any other administration since WWII.

One of the most important policies of the Bush Administration is his Iraq War. This war, we were told, was necessary, because Saddam Hussein was vigorously pursuing an atomic weapon’s program and would be willing to launch a nuclear attack against the United States or one of its allies. This report was bolstered by a speech given to the United Nations by, then Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Powell urged the administration to obtain support from the U.N. prior to launching its offensive against Saddam. However, he did not realize until after the fact that his speech, written by Vice-President Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, Scooter Libby, contained dubious intelligence regarding Saddam’s quest to obtain weapon’s grade nuclear material from Niger known as yellow cake.

The theme of the yellow cake acquisition was not only forcefully presented in Powell’s speech to the U.N, but President Bush also made it the centerpiece of his 2003 State of the Union Address. This is highly disturbing, considering the fact that the CIA had already discounted this intelligence report as false (see former CIA director George Tenet’s statement on this issue). But what is more disturbing is that it appears that the WMD diversion and the alleged link between Saddam and bin Laden were smokescreens to obtain public support to overthrow Saddam; a foreign policy goal that the Bush Administration had developed prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Now, after nearly $500 billion, 4,000 America lives and 50,000 Iraqi lives, no series public official, Democratic or Republican, will testify that Saddam had a WMD program or was in anyway linked to the September 11th bombing. So public support for the War in Iraq hinged on the feedback from an unreliable source in the intelligence community; however, according to the Downing Street Memo, senior officials from the Prime Minister’s office believed that Bush had already formulated his intention to overthrow Saddam in early 2001.

The secret memo recorded the head of MI6 (British equivalent of the CIA) as expressing the view following his recent visit to Washington that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The Downing Street Memo was leaked to the Sunday Times and was first published on May 1, 2005. It is considered by many to be the smoking gun of an alarming abuse of presidential power; especially when one attempts to reconcile Bush’s public comments concerning the buildup towards war in Iraq with the facts of the secret memo. In a March 8, 2003 Radio Address President Bush is quoted saying, “We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.” However, the memo quotes the head of the MI6 as saying, “Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.

The bigger issue is not that George Bush fixed the facts and intelligence around a pre-September 11th policy to invade Iraq, but why was an Iraq invasion important to his administration. Since the “why” question is beyond the scope of our current subject, I will address it in a subsequent article. However, the Downing Street Memo demonstrates an unprecedented betrayal of the public trust by the President of the United States.

…to be continued

Monday, February 4, 2008

An Appraisal on the Bush Presidency - Part II

President Bush narrowly won a second term in the 2004 election against Democratic rival John Kerry. This victory was largely due to the support from the Christian conservatives, who firmly held that Bush was God’s selection to run this country…Well the only response I have to that is the same Christian leaders more recently threw their support behind Rudy “pro-choice” Giuliani, who dropped out of the campaign after losing every primary. Although hindsight is 20/20, one would think that spiritual leaders claiming to have a direct connection with the Lord would demonstrate foresight when making decisions that indirectly affect the entire world, like who to endorse for President of the United States.

I had a friendly debate with an internationally recognized minister of the Gospel shortly after Bush’s first election. He sang the party-line that Bush was God’s man and that he would advance Christian principles while in office. Although I can’t claim to have had a conference with the Good Lord on this subject, I gave this minister numerous reasons why Bush was most likely not God’s choice to run America. After about 30 minutes, I concluded my discussion by saying “If George Bush is God’s man who will support Christian principles, then let’s see if he fights for an anti-abortion law the same way he fought for tax breaks for the wealthy.”

Bush did sign the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act into law on November 5, 2003; however, there is no record of him actively promoting the Pro-Life cause in more than whispered tones. He campaigned on a Pro-Life platform, but he did not sponsor or promote this limitation on abortions. The chief sponsors of the bill that he signed were Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). Unlike President Clinton who vetoed a similar bill when it was passed by Congress in 1995, I’ll give Bush credit for signing the bill into law. This law surprisingly describes the heinous nature of the partial birth abortion procedure:

The Congress finds and declares the following…A moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion--an abortion in which a physician deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living, unborn child's body until either the entire baby's head is outside the body of the mother, or any part of the baby's trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother and only the head remains inside the womb, for the purpose of performing an overt act (usually the puncturing of the back of the child's skull and removing the baby's brains) that the person knows will kill the partially delivered infant, performs this act, and then completes delivery of the dead infant--is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited (emphasis mine).

President Bush’s support of this bill should not be mistaken as the campaign of a Pro-Life President who is on a crusade to outlaw abortion. This medical procedure is so grotesque, that many Pro-Choice physicians refuse to perform it. If Bush was out to ban abortions, certainly he would have given the issue more than the lip service that he offered. It would have been much more meaningful to the Pro-Life lobby if President Bush had campaigned for an abortion ban. Despite his support of the partial birth abortion ban, this abortion procedure is only performed between 2,200 and 5,000 times per year, while the traditional abortion procedure is performed more than 1 million times per year.

Perhaps the partial birth abortion ban will rescue a few children from the abortion mills of America; however, all the law really does is put women on notice that they must seek to terminate their pregnancy at an earlier stage. But for sake of an argument, let’s say that this law does save the lives of all 5,000 children whose lives would have ended through partial birth abortions. This hypothetical example still leaves more than 995,000 unborn children whose lives will be ended by abortion. Real protection against the rights of the unborn will only come when this country sees abortion for what it is – state sanctioned murder.

What was implied in Bush’s 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns, but has not been delivered was a Pro-Life President that will fight for the rights of the unborn. One should not expect a leader to champion the Pro-Life cause who doesn’t embrace it. However, President Bush claims to be a defender of the unborn, and many of his followers claim that he is Christian; therefore, he should be judged on the effort he made towards banning abortion.

If you use yourself as a focus group, how often have you heard him defend his tax cuts? or stubbornly pursue his war aims? or discuss his “Roadmap” of the Middle East? Now compare his enthusiastic defense of these three issues with the number of times you have heard him advance the anti-abortion theme.

Other than the campaign promises Bush made concerning his stance on abortion, I’ve never heard him promote the Pro-Life agenda. Now that is not to say that he has never mentioned the issue away from the campaign trail; it simply means that he certainly is not pushing it with the same enthusiasm as he has his other domestic and foreign policies.

…to be continued

Friday, February 1, 2008

An Appraisal on the Bush Presidency - Part I

As President George W. Bush enters the final year as Commander and Chief of the United States, the bright optimism that he possessed after his second campaign victory has taken on a more subdued nature. This restrained posture was evident as he delivered his last State of the Union (SOTU) address the other evening. As he recalibrated his approach to a congress now controlled by Democrats, I saw a chameleon of sorts standing at the rostrum. Gone were the bold assertions that he would not pander to the demands of North Korea, or waste time mediating between the Israelis and Palestinians or he would not extend diplomacy to rogue nations.

For a president who prides himself in being decisive, he seemed to morph into his own Jimmy Carter moment when he asked Congress to send him a remedy for social security. This brought back memories of President Carter asking for suggestions on how to solve the financial problems of the late 1970s. When compared with his previous SOTU addresses, this appeared to be more on the scale of little league baseball. As President Clinton’s former speech writer, Michael Waldman, put it, “For him to aim for big-altitude, swing-for-the-fences moments at a time when both parties are competing for who could turn the page from his presidency faster would look silly.”

I believe we can take a four-pronged approach to adequately judge Bush’s presidency: How well has he managed what will be the defining policy of his eight years – the two wars that he is waging – the War on Terror and the Iraq War; compare the nation that he inherited in 2001 with the nation that he will deliver to his successor in 2009; was he forthright with the American public; and what type of judicial appointments did he make.

First, in regards to the War on Terror and the Iraq War, I believe the priorities were not properly established. The President sent more than 100,000 troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein, under false pretenses I may add (see the article titled, A Disturbing Update on the Global War on Terror), while sending only 15,000 troops to the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan to wage a war against the perpetrators of September 11th. This strategic mistake of understaffing the war theater in Afghanistan is underscored by a recent report by the Atlantic Council of the United States that the U.S. is not winning the war in Afghanistan. And with terrorist attacks occurring on almost a daily basis in Iraq and the lack of public utility services, if it were not for the United States’ presence there with the ongoing war, the United Nations would probably have declare it a failed state by now.

On both war fronts, Bush has dragged the country into a quagmire that may take a decade or more for it to extricate itself. Colin Powell is attributed with using the pottery barn metaphor with regards to Iraq – “The Pottery Barn rule” says that if “you break it, you own it.” Despite the bipartisan call for withdrawing out of Iraq, it is unlikely that we will withdraw anytime soon, because Iraq’s government is less stable than it was under Saddam’s rule. And an American withdrawal will no doubt result in a total collapse of the fledgling democracy.

It is apparent to me that history will not be kind to President Bush’s handling of the two wars, the centerpiece of his administration. In fact, he boasted about his experience as a war-time leader as the main theme for his reelection campaign in 2004.

The second prong that we will examine in evaluating the Bush presidency will be to compare the nation that was handed off to him in 2001 to the nation that he will deliver to his successor in 2009:

· He received a balanced budget with a $236 billion surplus from his predecessor Bill Clinton; he will deliver an additional $3.5 trillion in debt to his successor.

· Bush inherited a middle class whose income rose by an average of $6,000 from 1993 through 2001; he will hand off a nation whose median household income has dropped by $1,000 during his tenure.

· During his eight years in office, health care premiums doubled from about $6,000 to $12,000 per family.

· Clinton handed President Bush a military that was at a high state of readiness, prepared to fight a two-front war; however, Bush will deliver a military to his successor that has such low morale it is unable to meet its recruitment goals.

· Bush inherited a nation where gasoline prices were less than $1.00 per gallon in many places; while he will deliver to his successor a nation that is paying more than $3.00 for a gallon of gasoline.

· America was respected as an international leader when George Bush took over as President; but as he is about to turn the reigns of power over to a successor, some countries believe that the United States in the biggest threat to world peace.

· Bush inherited a country that was strong economically; however, he will deliver a nation to his successor that must rely on foreign investments of treasury bonds to prop it up.

· The housing market was blazing when Bush took the oath of office; and he will hand off a mortgage crisis to his successor, not to mention the credit crisis that we are now seeing.

I believe on prong number two, history will judge Bush harshly as well. With this record, I kept wondering while he was delivering his State of the Union Address this past Monday if he would quote Mike Tyson after his final fight against Kevin McBride in 2005 – “I don't have the guts to fight anymore. My heart is not in it anymore. I don't want to disrespect the sport I love. I wish I could give the fans their money back.”

…to be continued

A Disturbing Update on the Global War on Terror

Hold the Presses! I was working on a critique of the Bush Presidency when I saw a very disturbing article in the Washington Post – NATO’s Not Winning in Afghanistan, Report Says. According to a report by the Atlantic Council of the United States, “Afghanistan remains a failing state.” This is after the United States has spent billions of tax dollars to capture the perpetrators of 9/11. After six years, the Taliban insurgents have fought the vaunted U.S. military to a strategic stalemate, according to an independent assessment released by NATO’s former commander, General James L. Jones. “It could become a failed state,” warned the report, which called for "urgent action" to overhaul NATO strategy in coming weeks before an anticipated new offensive by Taliban insurgents in the spring. “Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan,” said the report.

Before I examine this report more closely, I need to draw the distinction between the War on Terror and the War in Iraq.

The War on Terror, also referred to as the Global War on Terror (GWOT), is a military campaign that was initiated by the United States as a result of the attacks of September 11th. The GWOT has been a source of controversy for some critics who believe that it has led to reckless domestic and foreign policy objectives like preemptive strikes; the One Percent Doctrine; violations of the Geneva Convention, including torturing prisoners of war; and domestic spying.

The War in Iraq; though initially put forward as part of the GWOT, has unraveled as perhaps the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of this country. We were told by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein had an aggressive weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program designed to create nuclear weapons to use against America and its allies. We were also told that Saddam was an ally of Osama bin Laden and that he was also responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The American public later discovered that neither did Saddam have a WMD program, nor was he linked to September 11th. Consequently, the war in Iraq was a preemptive strike for reasons still debated, while the GWOT is a war of retaliation against Osama bin Laden.

Iraq is the logical result of the One Percent Doctrine also known as the Cheney Doctrine since he is largely credited with its formulation. This policy basically states –

“If there's a 1% chance that [any country is] helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.”

This is an absolute preposterous way to run a country’s foreign policy. At 1% certainty, the threshold for military action would be lower than if the president had a suspicion that al-Qaeda was prepared to launch an attack. I’m not a foreign policy expert; however, I would not think that the United States would launch a military attack based on someone's suspicion. America is not some third world country that has to rely on soothsayers to warn it of an impending invasion or attack. This country has the most unbelievable intelligence apparatus that the world has ever seen. It is not like U.S. secret agents (spies) send intelligence information back to the White House via carrier pigeon. America has an intelligence infrastructure that can basically listen to practically every telephone conversation on earth; can read practically every email message, fax message, text message on earth; and can spot a dime on the hump of bin Laden’s camel from 22,000 miles away. Don’t believe it? Click here to access TerraServer USA, which is a public website that has millions of satellite photographs of properties throughout the United States. Simply enter an address and watch the ‘eye in the sky’ from 22,000 miles away.

Does this sound like a country that needs to deploy military action over a dream that a policy maker may have had about an attack?

The Post article is disturbing on two fronts: First it obscures the fact that this is the GWOT that is suffering from a lack of forward motion; despite the President’s mantra that the “enemy is on the run.” And second, the article was printed on the last page of the World Section (page A18 of the print edition). Huh?! President Bush’s legacy will likely be defined by how he managed the GWOT. This is not like his social security or immigration proposals being shot-down in Congress. This is America defending itself from a band of nomads who have been charged with murdering nearly 3,000 American citizens. I would think that a news report of this magnitude merits the first page, above the fold.

The media has commonly been referred to as the fourth branch of government, and from the strategic placement of this article, a blind man would have to agree; unless, however, he is not smarter than a fifth grader.