Monday, September 17, 2007

Politics as Usual

OK, this is a test: Is the picture above from the demonstration in Washington last Saturday, or is it a photo from the archives of one of the many other marches for peace in Iraq held over the last six years. How can you tell?

Alert readers will have noticed the paucity of political rants in this blog since I settled down in Bangkok. Religion & sex trump politics in the Land of Smiles. The military coup that toppled the civilian government of Thaksin Shinawatra took place a year ago this week. Since the rewritten constitution, which favors military control, was passed by the voters last month, the English press has been full of news about political realignments in anticipation of elections to be held in December. Much of it bewilders me, but I read the news and editorials faithfully in hopes of eventually understanding the players with long, unpronounceable names and their often obscure (because I don't yet understand the culture) motives. The present military government is seeking extradition of Thaksin from England on charges of corruption, and the political fault line here seems to divide between Thaksin supporters (the poor northeast and some business interests) and his detractors (the army and most of Bangkok's middle and upper classes).

But what about my homeland? I try to keep up with events, reading Google News faithfully every morning, along with the New York Times,, Common Dreams, Truthout, and a number of other sites. I know about Britany's latest missteps, and I've seen the nude photos of "High School Musical" star Vanessa Hudgens. Is nothing sacred? And isn't the arrest of Idaho's Sen. Larry Craig a hoot? Is he or isn't he? O.J. is back in the limelight. The big news here this morning is the crash of a plane carrying tourists to Phuket at the airport I flew into two weeks ago, killing 88 people. It was the worse air disaster in Thailand in almost ten years. This puts the celebrity-obsessed U.S. journalism in perspective.

I am appalled that Bush is still in power. Despite the departure of Powell, Rummy, Rove, Gonsalves and others, the out-of-control train keeps roaring down the track while Americans who long ago lost any sense of reality continue to applaud the engineer. Don't they see? Can't they tell that he and the Republicans clinging desperately to the last vestiges of power are destroying the country? The Washington Post said "thousands" attended last weekend's march and die-in in Washington; another source said upwards of a hundred thousand. We know by now that numbers make no difference to the President and his deluded supporters. A few hundred were arrested; will civil disobedience, Martin Luther King's way of "speaking truth to power," make any difference? The government has a monopoly on violence and it is using it indiscriminately in the Middle East. What a sad state of affairs.

British columnist Robert Fisk, an astute observer of the Middle East, links the west's obsession with violence to the martyrdom of the Muslim extremists. Writing after Al Quaeda assassinated a Sunni leader favorable to U.S. interests, Fisk said “we believe in violent death. We regard it as a policy option, as much to do with self-preservation on a national scale as punishment for named and individual wrongdoers. We believe in war. For what is aggression - the invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example - except capital punishment on a mass scale? We “civilised” nations - like the dark armies we believe we are fighting - are convinced that the infliction of death on an awesome scale can be morally justified.” How much difference is there really, between Bush and Obama?

Paul Krugman in the New York Times has figured out that Bush's policy now is nothing more than a delaying tactic to get himself off the hook. “All in all, Mr. Bush's actions have not been those of a leader seriously trying to win a war. They have, however, been what you'd expect from a man whose plan is to keep up appearances for the next 16 months, never mind the cost in lives and money, then shift the blame for failure onto his successor."
In fact, that's my interpretation of something that startled many people: Mr. Bush's decision last month, after spending years denying that the Iraq war had anything in common with Vietnam, to suddenly embrace the parallel.

Here's how I see it: At this point, Mr. Bush is looking forward to replaying the political aftermath of Vietnam, in which the right wing eventually achieved a rewriting of history that would have made George Orwell proud, convincing millions of Americans that our soldiers had victory in their grasp but were stabbed in the back by the peaceniks back home.

What all this means is that the next president, even as he or she tries to extricate us from Iraq - and prevent the country's breakup from turning into a regional war - will have to deal with constant sniping from the people who lied us into an unnecessary war, then lost the war they started, but will never, ever, take responsibility for their failures.
Although I thought it a mistaken cliché, history is certainly repeating itself now. The sins of Vietnam are returning to haunt its children. Bush and Cheney, who avoided rising their lives in Vietnam, are now overseeing the destruction of another generation. The dead are the lucky ones; the maimed (a larger number than we are told) will carry this tragedy forward into the future.

Bush's legacy is doomed. Even Colin Powell has admitted he made a mistake at the United Nations. Now Alan Greenspan, retired chairman of the Federal Reserve, has charged Bush with promoting politics over policy in a new memoir, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World. According to Greenspan, described as a "libertarian Republican," and a disciple of that apostle of greed, Ayn Rand, the Bush administration was so captive to its own political operation that it paid little attention to fiscal discipline. The first two Treasury secretaries, Paul H. O’Neill and John W. Snow, Greenspan writes, were essentially powerless.

The President was never willing to contain spending or veto bills that drove the country into deeper and deeper deficits, as Congress abandoned rules that required that the cost of tax cuts be offset by savings elsewhere. "The Republicans in Congress lost their way. They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose” in the 2006 election, when they lost control of the House and Senate.

About Iraq, Greenspan writes: "I'm saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war is largely about oil." He later clarified this by telling the Washington Post that removing Saddam to secure the world's oil supply was a "good" thing to do. Rand would be proud.

Greenspan's harsh criticism should have some impact on the fiscal conservative base of Bush's support. The cultural conservatives are untouchable, as they dream of Armaggeddon and rattle their sabers at Godless Iran and applaud the recent bombing by Israel of Syria's suspected nuclear supplies.

When all else fails, I listen to the indefatigable Cindy Sheehan, the Mother Theresa of peace:
The only thing that will stop BushCo is when we the people put unbearable pressure on Congress, Inc. to de-fund the war and impeach the crooks.

We have marched the marches; signed the petitions; called, emailed and faxed our politicians; and the situation only becomes more desperate with each passing day.

It is time to put our bodies on the line so our children and grand-children and the children and grand-children of Iraq won’t have to. The only thing that has ever made any kind of positive impact in this country is people power.
The problem with America today is there are too few Cindy Sheehan's.

I may be on the sidelines now, but I'm cheering you on.

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