This invitation applies in particular to those who say things like, "Just because you disagree with them on politics doesn't mean you shouldn't respect them." This line of argument pisses me off. I may not express my disagreement with the same vitriol as Caitlin Johnstone, e.g., but I understand where that vitriol comes from.
There is a difference between disagreeing on political matters, on the one hand, and perceiving the other person or party as culpable in mass slaughter of civilians in shelters and troops in retreat, on the other.
The mere act of dying does not absolve Bush of his crimes, any more than it did Jeffrey Dahmer or Timothy McVeigh. You may call it "shitting on his legacy," but I call it honesty.
Rationalizing Away Your Conscience
For the record, I have heard the late GHWB express something approaching regret about all the death and destruction from the invasions of Panamá and Iraq during his term. I credit him with having a conscience that continuing to nibble away at him for his last 25 years. The unfortunate detail is that, during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Bush considered it his duty as Commander-in-Chief to minimize US casualties and inflict grievous punishment on the nation of Iraq, because that's how the US Empire operates. Through a complex set of rationalizations, duty trumped conscience.
If we give US presidents the historical benefit of the doubt
- Nixon may have actually believed that bombing the shit out of North Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos would result in a net saving of lives.
- Truman may have believed the same when he ordered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- Lincoln took no pleasure in bringing death and destruction to the breakaway Confederacy; he saw warfare in the cause of restoring the Union as a necessary evil.
In my reading of US history, I extend no such clemency to Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, who, following the Spanish-American War, actively encouraged US occupation forces to hunt Filipinos for sport.
One could also argue that Poppy Bush, Nixon, Truman, and even the revered Lincoln were just bloodthirsty bastards. It's hard to find a US president, even among those we routinely lionize, without blood-stained hands. Even Jimmy Carter's record isn't exactly pristine on the foreign policy front.
Taking the position of Commander-in-Chief in a corporate empire such as ours requires either (a) shelving one's conscience when circumstances demand it, or (b) dismantling the whole imperial project. As a Green and a peacenik, I would prefer option (b).
Liberal politicians, pundits, and regular folks who praise either George Bush may do so just because society expects it of them. But in that praise they reveal themselves as either dishonest or deluded.
Panamá Was a Dress Rehearsal
Today's installment of Democracy Now! was devoted entirely to Bush's 1989 invasion of Panamá, which turned out to be a warm-up for the Iraq a year later. It served as the test case for whether the US populace could overcome "Vietnam Syndrome," or skittishness about foreign military adventures. It also established the Enemy of the Month Club pattern of manufacturing popular consent for military actions that continues to this day. This pattern is a variation on a very old formula, which traditionally uses religious justifications, but it now incorporates the human rights twist.
- Mr. A, the leader of country B, is a despot responsible for grave violations of human rights. (Yes, I use "Mr." in this example. So far the despot has always been male.)
- It doesn't matter that A was or is a CIA asset; he needs to go.
- It doesn't matter that Mr. C in neighboring country D is also a human rights violator; he's on our side.
- A does not give in to the unrealistic demands of the US, and economic sanctions only serve to enrich A while harming his people; this leaves only the military option.
- Let's make sure that, unlike the US in Vietnam or the Soviets in Afghanistan, this time the troops have sufficient numbers and resources to minimize US casualties.
- There must also be a clear objective: kill or capture A. Civilian deaths and destruction of infrastructure are just "collateral damage." Any ancillary benefits, such as taking control of B's oil reserves or international drug trade, are icing on the cake.
- We control the messaging in the mass media.
- We don't do civilian body counts.
- Repeat with that renegade dictator Mr. E in country F.
Results: War is normalized. As long as the Dow is high and most people don't see the connection between wars overseas and crumbling standards of living in the US, thousands or even millions of violent deaths is not an issue.
As I listened to a segment of DN! this morning, I thought back to one of the most bitterly ironic legacies of the Panamanian invasion, the story of the siege of Noriega's refuge. Manuel Noriega knew that the US could not risk alienating its Western allies by invading the home of the Papal Nuncio, and the US troops knew that he knew that. So they played rock & roll continuously, at absurdly high volume, to flush him out. Selections included tracks from anti-war artists such as The Doors and Jimi Hendrix, including Hendrix's Woodstock rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." And it worked.
Those motherfuckers co-opted, perverted, and weaponized rock & roll. For that alone, they should rot in hell for all eternity.
Reagan and Bush may have developed or perfected the pattern, but Republicans do not have an exclusive on modern American warmongering. With only minor tweaks, Bill Clinton continued the foreign and defense policies of Bush 41; Obama, of Bush 43. "It's the economy, stupid!" was another way of saying, "Forget about all the immoral shit we're doing overseas, and focus instead on issues that affect middle-class bank accounts."
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton counts among her personal friends fellow former secretaries Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, both of whom oversaw mass slaughters. So Ms. Clinton's role in the Honduran coup and the continuing nightmare in Libya came as no surprise. She also has pushed deadly neoliberal austerity regimes on poor nations such as Haïti, massively enriching her friends on Wall Street. None of that matters to liberal voters in the US, who will continue to love her as long as she hits all the right notes on equal pay, reproductive choice and LGBT rights.
Not to harp on this matter (well, actually, to totally harp on this matter), but the difference between the two corporate parties is one of packaging. The rancor between the party establishments, which the mainstream media constantly plays up, is superficial. It is pro wrestling in thousand-dollar suits. The Washington Consensus is called the Washington Consensus for a reason.
And one guy who was at the table creating that Consensus, carving up the world like a hunk of roast beef, George Herbert Walker Bush.
As a Progressive, I take the James Baldwin quote above a step further: "...unless your disagreement is rooted in anyone's oppression, denial of humanity, and right to exist." Therein lies my disagreement with both corporate parties, as well as with the Axis of Evil that our nation has formed with Israel, Saudi Arabia, et al.