Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

Sarah Palin’s War on Atheists

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

By Michael Kaufman

It isn’t even Thanksgiving yet and already Sarah Palin is kvetching about the so-called war on Christmas. And she’s not just kvetching. She’s written a whole megillah about it! Her latest book published by HarperCollins and released just in time for the start of the holiday season, is titled Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas. As described by Katy Steinmetz of Time magazine, “Many chapters center on made-up tales that illustrate Palin’s concerns, what she calls ‘stories based on reality.’ She bolsters these with related real-world examples.”

Steinmetz summarizes an “imaginative ghost-of-Christmas-future scenario,” in which Grandma Sarah visits grandson Tripp at college in 2028. There she learns that “the school has kicked out all the Christian groups, administrators liken the end of Christmas celebrations to the end of slavery and someone mistakes her for Tina Fey. Also, Mitt Romney finally gets elected on his sixth presidential run.” (Palin may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier but she does occasionally come up with a good line or two.)

Like fellow buffoon Bill O’Reilly, Palin hates the notion of making the holiday season a bit more inclusive. “A central trope in the book,” says Steinmetz, “is Palin’s disgust and frustration at people saying ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’” She lauds stores such as Hobby Lobby that use Christian religious imagery in advertisements (and by the way also does not stock any Chanukah items even in areas with a substantial Jewish population) and lambastes businesses like Target and Wal-Mart that have opted for a more universal approach.

In many ways, notes Steinmetz, “Christmas is just the occasion for Palin’s book.” Palin complains that Christians are being “reviled and marginalized in American society.” She thinks Christian faith should be more central to culture, politics, schools and public squares. Some chapters, says Steinmetz, “lean heavy on the evangelism,” as Palin recounts Biblical stories and pushes for more “Christ in Christmas.” (Now there’s an idea for a bumper sticker.)

“God,” writes Palin, “is the only cure for what ails us.” This brings to mind one of my favorite cartoons, by Jennifer Berman, titled “God Having an Identity Crisis.” Against a backdrop of the heavens the booming voice of God declares, “Yes, but who created ME?” Besides, Sarah Palin doesn’t know what she’s talking about: I know for a fact and have raised my children to believe that a dip in the ocean will cure whatever ails you.

Palin bemoans the recent increase in the number of people in the United States who openly identify as nonbelievers. She depicts atheists as aggressive and power-hungry, and claims that the logical result of atheism is severe moral decay. And so she proclaims, “We must resist their efforts to push God out of the culture, to characterize us as silly and superstitious.” I don’t quite know how to respond to that. But as an agnostic Jew I try to be respectful of the beliefs (and non-beliefs) of others. I don’t try to push mine on other people and I resent those like Palin, O’Reilly, and others of their ilk who do. And to that list we can now add George W. Bush, former president and war criminal (in the eyes of many) who at this writing is still scheduled to speak at a fundraiser for an evangelical Christian group devoted to getting Jews to “see the light” and convert to their beliefs. To all of them I say “Happy Holidays and Gai mit dein kop in drerd.”

Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com

 

 

The Iraq War’s Legacy of Lies and Alibis

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

In October 2003, my husband, Lance, and I made the trek to Washington, D.C., to participate in our first of several demonstrations against the Iraq War. Photos by Lance Theroux.

By Emily Theroux

Snippets of revisionist Iraq War lore have been popping up all over the Interwebs this week.

One long, dreadful decade since the neocons bamboozled a clueless “Commander-in-Thief” into launching America’s first preemptive war, apologists for the March 2003 invasion are offering every imaginable excuse but the real reason, the one none of them will ever admit: Dick Cheney and company lusted after the oil.

Like a pocketful of bad pennies, the architects of what was arguably the worst foreign-policy blunder in the past century are turning up again to tarnish history with their appalling mendacity. It’s a wonder none of them has been forced to spout his damned lies from a federal prison cell.

Read on for a rogue’s gallery of historic reprises, rewrites, and redactions:

 

Cheney’s chain of fools and tools

To hear the most manipulative veep in recent memory tell it, Dick Cheney was the hammer and Incurious George the hapless nail. In the recently released Showtime documentary, The World According to Dick Cheney, Bush 43’s overbearing “second fiddle” admits that he virtually occupied the office of his boss from the inside. When tasked with vetting possible vice-presidential candidates for Bush, Cheney set the bar impossibly high for everyone else and then appointed himself to the job, since nobody else measured up, in his estimation. Dubya bought it because Cheney carped endlessly about the danger of “ambitious” veeps, then convinced Bush that only he would be sufficiently unassuming.

Poor George. He never knew what hit him “upside the head.” As for Dickie-boy, this frighteningly unexamined individual claims to have no regrets about usurping the power of the presidency:

“I did what I did. It’s all on the public record, and I feel very good about it. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it in a minute.”

 

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of Rummy!

Donald Rumsfeld infuriated the Twittersphere yesterday afternoon with the following self-serving recommendation:

“10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”

Never mind those pesky WMDs  — you know, the “smoking gun” that might come in the form of Condy’s infamous “mushroom cloud” — which Rumsfeld insisted (and later denied ever having insisted) would be found expeditiously in the vicinity of Tikrit and Baghdad. “Liberating” several gazillion Kurds and Shiites was what all those nefarious neocons really meant to say, before they inexplicably “misspoke.”)

Far from anything resembling the homage Rummy expected to result from his 10th-anniversary tweet, George W. Bush’s original defense secretary found himself carpet-bombed by a Twitstorm of revulsion and abuse. “Except you & your bosses, you blood-gargling psychopath,” comedian Rob Delaney fired back (a retort that’s been retweeted 780 times so far). “War criminal,” numerous others responded.

“You horrible, delusional person,” tweeted a guy from Philly. “You’ll get yours.”

 

Dispensing Perles of ‘wisdom’

On National Public Radio, the Prince of Darkness himself, Richard Perle, dismissed the host’s query about whether, after causing the deaths of nearly 4,500 American soldiers and tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of Iraqis, the war was “worth it”:

“I’ve got to say, I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done in the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can’t, a decade later, go back and say, ‘Well, we shouldn’t have done that.”

In the aftermath of what most Americans consider a terrible mistake, I’d like to know why not. Relative centrists like Joe Biden, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton may have been cowed into vocally supporting neocon claims that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” and voting in favor of authorizing the war, but many on the left weren’t fooled by Bush administration bombast, exaggeration, and fear-mongering. We may not have known yet that the Niger yellowcake claim was a deliberate scam, but we knew when we were being fed a crock of “cakewalk.”

The problem, back in 2002 when Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and Rumsfeld were actively fomenting their longtime plan to topple Saddam Hussein (which predated Bush 43’s presidency): Congress had been seized by a wave of jingoistic fervor after the terrible events of 9/11. Anyone facing an election lived in fear of even appearing seditious. Hence, the spectacle of Democratic stalwarts falling in line behind right-leaning Republicans to approve the “USA PATRIOT Act” (a “backronym,” I am informed by Wikipedia, which stands for the “Uniting [and] Strengthening America [by] Providing Appropriate Tools Required [to] Intercept [and] Obstruct Terrorism Act” of 2001)  — not to mention disparaging “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” (the perfidious French, a la Groundskeeper Willie of The Simpsons), and spurning America’s favorite fast-food snack as “freedom fries.”

Perle was reportedly a fount of misinformation, stating days after 9/11 that Saddam had ties to Osama bin Laden, claiming that war with Iraq would be “easy” and that Iraq could finance its own reconstruction, and insisting that Saddam was “working feverishly to acquire nuclear weapons.”

 

Who’s afraid of the big bad Wolfy?

Paul Wolfowitz, Rummy’s comb-licking right-hand man, actually admitted, during an interview with The Sunday Times, that the U.S. bungled the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (which he was the first neocon to advocate), by purging the ruling Ba’athists and installing an American “viceroy” at the helm of an ill-advised occupation. (Disbanding the fully armed Iraqi army, I might add if anyone asked my opinion, was at least a comparable blunder.)

Wolfowitz, of course, was absolutely indignant that anyone would dare call Bush 43 a liar. The “conclusion” that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, he averred, was “the consensus judgment of the intelligence community” and of most Democratic senators.  “Hillary Clinton certainly was one of them,” said Wolfowitz, who obliquely added:

“The falsehood that the president lied, which by the way is itself a lie, is so much worse than saying we were wrong. A mistake is one thing, a lie is something else.”

Come again, Wolfy? What was it that Rummy said about “unknowable unknowns” — or was it “lies and the lying liars who tell them,” as a certain current Senate Democrat once put it?

Peg that one for the Department of Redundancy Department.

Drones: The Real Petraeus Controversy

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Former C.I.A. Director David Petraeus

If it took adultery and flirty emails to force people to discuss U.S. military and intelligence policy, I’m fine with that.”

– Micah Zenko, Council on Foreign Relations

By Emily Theroux

As if Republican melodrama over losing the election (come on, people – secession?) and Democratic schadenfreude (well, okay, outright gloating) weren’t bad enough, now we have “Generalized mission creeps” to contend with, and the 2012 election results are only a week old!

The sexual peccadilloes of former four-star combat general and CENTCOM commander David Petraeus would be as insignificant as those of Bill Clinton, if the latter didn’t happen to be our 42nd president and the former, the director of the C.I.A. Whether state secrets were divulged as careless pillow talk concerns me less than the pass the press seems to have given both Petraeus and our just-reelected 44th president, after the latter appointed the former to preside over the dangerous militarization of our national intelligence agency.

Petraeus’ pursuit of “a more militarily overt role” for the C.I.A. developed at a time when drone strikes had begun to make both warfare and national security policy look as arbitrary and disconnected as contract execution. By adding intelligence gathering into the mix, the erstwhile general betrayed more than his marriage vows. Why the powerful cheat “is a sociologically interesting question … but a more important question to the political life of our republic is why powerful men such as Petraeus and his recently reelected boss cheat on their oaths of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”

Obama did so by significantly expanding both drone strikes (into North Africa and Pakistan) and executive power. Not that drone policy would have been much different in a GOP presidency, had Mitt Romney won the election. Obama and Romney agreed, during the final presidential debate, that targeted strikes by UAVs  – unmanned aerial vehicles,” the preferred military euphemism for drones – offer the ideal method for dispatching America’s designated enemies. Drone strikes are “surgical,” both would tell you, “precise,” and  “save American lives” because we don’t have to send our troops into a war zone.

No politician who is actively running for office, however, wants to talk about the “collateral damage” of wiping out any hapless bystanders in the vicinity of a Hellfire missile’s human target when the weapon incinerates him.” The number of estimated deaths from the Obama administration’s drone strikes is more than four times what it was during the Bush administration – somewhere between 1,494 and 2,618,” CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and Megan Braun wrote last month. “Under Obama, the drone campaign, which during the Bush administration had put emphasis on killing significant members of Al Qaeda, has undergone a quiet and unheralded shift to focus increasingly on killing Taliban foot soldiers,” the article’s co-authors added.

Jane Mayer’s seminal 2009 New Yorker expose of the dual U.S. unmanned drone programs – the official targeting by the military of known members of Al Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the unofficial killing by the C.I.A. of suspected terrorists in countries with which we are not at war – noted the fact that President Barack Obama had dramatically stepped up American drone strikes since taking office earlier that year. Mayer’s piece included the following horrific description of drone-strike carnage:

“People who have seen an air strike live on a monitor described it as both awe-inspiring and horrifying. ‘You could see these little figures scurrying, and the explosion going off, and when the smoke cleared there was just rubble and charred stuff,’ a former C.I.A. officer who was based in Afghanistan after September 11th says of one attack. … Human beings running for cover are such a common sight that they have inspired a slang term: ‘squirters.'”

The “targeted killing” policies that have developed  – since the 9/11 attacks shifted the tactics of warfare and national security in a frightening new century onto morally ambiguous ground – should shake progressives to the core. Yet we’ve scarcely heard a peep, much less a sustained outcry, from anyone but a small but strident chorus of voices on the far left.

Some are idealists for whom matters of conscience trump political expediency; others are sticklers for ideological “purity,” who refused to acknowledge even the narrowest sliver of difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, declining on principle to vote for “the lesser of two evils.” The rest are pragmatists who voted for a third-party candidate only if they lived in a solidly blue (or dismally red) state, or voted against Romney to reelect Obama in battleground states – as antiwar luminary of Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers fame, Daniel Ellsberg, advised in an open letter to swing-state progressives.

 

Liberals who protested Bush policies silent about Obama

Just after Obama took office in January 2009, Bush-era national security policy still shocked the conscience. When it was revealed soon afterward that Obama had ordered his first drone strike on the third day of his presidency, surprisingly little negative reaction from the public ensued. That the reliance on drones to “eliminate” foreign nationals as if they were cockroaches – and carry out once-prohibited extrajudicial assassinations of U.S. citizens abroad) seems almost commonplace now is a hideous testament to the darker elements of human nature.

Did liberals “accept” these morally ambiguous policies because a new, Democratic president had enacted them? Did we go on to largely ignore “targeted killing” because it would have been politically inconvenient to bring it up before the election? The left was extremely vocal when the “culprits” (in that case, the Republicans who espoused “preemptive war” and condoned violating the Geneva Conventions by permitting the torture of captive suspects believed to be “enemy combatants”) were George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

The neocons were easy villains for progressives to revile. When a likeable and iconic Democrat, however (who also happened to be America’s first black president, an epic milestone for a republic that once condoned slavery, as well as a point of progressive pride), not only perpetuated but accelerated a number of execrable Bush administration policies on national security, center-left Democrats dropped the ball.

 

You, too, can be targeted for assassination by the C.I.A.!

The summary execution of terrorism suspects without indictment, trial or conviction can still be ordered against American citizens abroad, thanks to the Obama administration’s acknowledgement in February 2010 that it planned to preserve that particularly odious Bush-era policy.

“Being a U.S. citizen will not spare an American from getting assassinated by military or intelligence operatives overseas, if the individual is working with terrorists and planning to attack fellow Americans,” then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair threatened, while testifying before a congressional committee.

Lovely. (No possibility of abuse there, right?) But drones can be deceptively invasive predators.

“The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,” Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counter-terrorism adviser, told The Washington Post. “You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.”

The terrorists, I assume he meant, will inevitably proliferate if we don’t keep mowing them down. I’ve got a few problems with that:

  • Our drones, despite assurances from Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, that they’re capable of “surgical precision” with “very few instances of collateral damage,” have killed numerous innocent bystanders, including the wives and children of their targets. I can’t think of a more calamitous definition for the term “overkill” than a Hellfire missile aimed from a great distance at a single individual.
  • Drone strikes are perfectly legal, constitutional, and consistent with international law. Why? Because Attorney General Eric Holder, top State Department attorney Harold Koh, Defense Department general counsel Jeh Johnson, and President Obama himself said so. (John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez said “enhanced interrogation techniques” were also legal. I didn’t buy their rationalizations when Bush was president; why am I so afraid of even considering such a thing about Barack Obama?)
  • In April, Obama authorized the CIA and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) “to fire on targets based solely on their intelligence ‘signatures’ patterns of behavior that are detected through signals intercepts, human sources and aerial surveillance, and that indicate the presence of an important operative or a plot against U.S. interests,” wrote Julian E. Barnes in The Wall Street Journal. “Under the previous rules, the CIA and the U.S. military (were) only allowed to use drone strikes against known terrorist leaders whose location could be confirmed and who appeared on secret CIA and JSOC target lists.”
  • Of course you have to mow the “lawn” all the time! Rain sudden death down from the sky by mistake at a Pakistani wedding or two, a meeting of Afghan tribal elders, or the funeral of your most recent Somalian or Yemeni victim. Then watch what “crops up”: a whole village full of mourners, at least a few of whom will be galvanized by a torrent of grief, anger, and blind hatred for America into seeking revenge.
  • The same caveat applies to those who open this particularly seductive Pandora’s box. Once you acquire the power to kill anyone you choose simply by pronouncing him a terrorist, an “enemy combatant,” a “terrorist sympathizer,” or even a “suspected terrorist,” where do you draw the line? Anarchists? Occupy protesters? Antiwar demonstrators?

Holding dominion over life and death (for enemies designated on a “kill list” at the behest of the chief executive alone) is an exercise in unadulterated power, no matter who wins the election. Drone strikes are also frightfully remote acts. Targeting people in a faraway country who resemble ants or specks of dirt on a computer monitor, and then issuing the order to obliterate them from a safe, mind-numbing distance by pushing a button, is so impersonal that it may soon become easy or even routine – the ultimate banality of evil.