ANALYSIS OF ELECTION 2004:
What To Look At
Afghanistan, Osama's headquarters, was attacked, thousands of civilians were killed, the Taliban were put to flight, but Osama wasn't caught. A Gucci-clad leader whose siblings run American restaurants was put in to head a nonexistent government. The country went back to tribal chaos and opium exportation.
The next push was for Iraq, bombed and invaded without UN or general European approval in spring of 2003. The new "democracy" thus allegedly created was "turned over" to an unelected puppet government in the summer of 2004, and now, in late October, Iraq grows more dangerous every day for the "Coalition," for newsmen, businessmen and mercenaries, and last but not least for Iraqis.
Eroded rights and tarnished imagesSeptember 11, 2001 has been the pretext for widespread US human rights abuses. These are of many kinds. Most visible are the crypto-Nazi-named Homeland Security, the civil rights-crushing Patriot Acts I and II, and Attorney General John Ashcroft's Gestapo-esque arrests and lengthy imprisonments of suspect foreigners. Even worse is the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq, but it will have an echo when practices at Guantanamo, where prisoners are held in overt violation of the Geneva Convention, are fully revealed. These are, alas, homemade horrors: investigative reporters say similar conditions already prevailed in US prisons, whose population is the world's largest. All these things are increasingly visible blights on the US's image as a "showplace of western democracy."
And yet the Bush administration's assault on the US economy isn't the result of extravagant expenditures on repressive but ineffectual "security," as one might assume, because reforms in that area have been only a matter of façade, underfunded and neglected. The true origins of America's continuing economic woes lie elsewhere. Perhaps Bush's successful efforts to play upon collective fears in many of his speeches since 9/11 have had a dampening effect on the US economy; 9/11 had of course already done that, without him, worldwide. His vast tax cuts for the rich (and tiny ones for the middle class) haven't helped business. There is a good chance that Bush will end his term with a net job loss, the first time in America in seventy years, since the Hoover administration.
Deceptions and liesA "war on terrorism" is a fake concept, like a "war on drugs," though an effective intelligence system whose advice was judiciously followed might have lessened Al Qaeda's influence. Instead, as US intelligence professionals warned, the war on Iraq has increased insurgency and spurred a growth of Al Qaeda and similar groups, particularly Islamic ones, throughout the world. Al Qaeda attacks have exploded in frequency since 9/11: so much for Bush's "war on terrorism."
By now the motives (and false excuses) for America's new Vietnam have been endlessly explored. No even minimally informed US citizen is unaware that "Saddam had no WMD's." Those who care to do a little further research, or have viewed one of a number of documentaries, know the Iraq venture, whatever its primary motives, was conceived before the Bush non-elected presidency under the aegis of a right-wing ideologue group called The Project for a New American Century.
A war on many frontsWhile 9/11 was used as a wedge to move away civil rights from the reach of every citizen, the general focus on "terrorism," a "war presidency," and "the Saddam threat" in Iraq made the Bush administration better able to conduct an assault on the availability of medical care for the poor and aged, on the pursuit of legitimate scientific research, on the fabric of international treaties and alliances, and, both domestically and internationally, on the environment. Is there anything left? Education? Does "No Child Left Behind" bode well for the public schools? What about Head Start?
No, this has been more than just another Republican administration favoring the wealthy and cutting social services. It has gone further than that. Its spendthrift ways, transforming a large surplus into a huge national debt, go against traditional Republican principles. Its focus in the hands of neo-conservative ideologues and its pandering to the Christian right's most lunatic elements have alienated many longtime Republicans. As Noam Chomsky has said in a recent interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, George Bush's administration and "handlers" represent a dangerous minority: "They happen to be both domestically and internationally a very extremist group of radical reactionary nationalists," dedicated to "dominating the world by military force," "dismantling and destroying" (as we have been saying) "whatever there is of progressive legislation and social welfare," focused on "things that are less talked about [but] more dangerous," such as a "vast escalation of offensive military power." The momentum of this multi-front effort is breathtaking.
Does this election matter?Is Kerry, then, a man from the same background of wealth and privilege and posh schools, even the same establishment secret society (far wealthier, by marriage, than any previous presidential candidate ever) "the lesser of two evils"? Yes, certainly, he is that. But the gap between greater and lesser evil promises to be larger than usual this time, because it's not simply Bush the US and the world need to be freed from, but that dangerous and destructive crew and world view for which he is the figurehead, and whose aims we have seen writ large over the last four years.
Americans, as manipulated by the media, have room in their heads for very little at a time. This is particularly unfortunate now, because the focus is so strongly on the personality contest of the presidential elections that there's not much room to consider Iraq. And Iraq is Exhibit A. Let's not be deceived into thinking that talk by the candidates of "getting tough" or "increasing troop strength" or withdrawal strategies constitutes a realistic look at the situation in Iraq. For such a look, the Wall Street Journal Middle East correspondent Farnaz Fassihi's recent "leaked" email to friends and associates which is now available on the Internet is a good place to go, even if she is only updating things that Robert Fisk was saying two months ago. This firsthand cri de coeur of a disenchanted young loyalist reporting from Iraq is another proof, for those who need it, that George W. Bush is not good for America or for the world: "Despite President Bush's rosy assessments," Fassihi writes, "Iraq remains a disaster. If under Saddam it was a 'potential' threat, under the Americans it has been transformed to 'imminent and active threat,' a foreign policy failure bound to haunt the United States for decades to come....The insurgency, we are told, is rampant with no signs of calming down. If anything, it is growing stronger, organized and more sophisticated every day. The various elements within it--baathists, criminals, nationalists and Al Qaeda--are cooperating and coordinating."
The election is a marginal affair, it should not distract us from the serious work of changing the society, and the culture and the institutions, creating a democratic culture. That's what you work on. You can't ignore the election. It's there. But it's designed as a method of essentially marginalizing the population. There's a huge propaganda campaign to get people to focus on these personalized extravaganzas, and make them think "That's politics." Well, it isn't. That's a marginal part of politics, and here, a very marginal part. So the main thing is keep on with your work. You can't ignore it. You should spend five minutes, maybe, thinking about what you should do. In that five minutes, you should recognize there is some difference between the two groups contending for power, and one of them happens to be really extremist, and very dangerous, and it's already caused plenty of trouble and could cause plenty more. The other is bad, but less extremist and less dangerous. So in that five minutes that you devote to the topic, you should come to the rational conclusion, if it's a swing state, keep the worst guys out. If it's another state, do what you feel like.
For a more detailed roundup, see The Nation's "100 Facts and One Opinion: the Non-Arguable Case Against the Bush Administration," which also lists examples of "Cronyism and Corruption" not mentioned here.
Chris Knipp, a San Francisco artist and writer, has been a soldier, Arabist, teacher, and long-distance runner. He grew up in Baltimore and has lived in New York, Cairo, Rabat, and San Francisco.
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This story was published on October 27, 2004.