excerpted from the book
Secrecy & Privilege
Rise of the Bush Dynasty from
Watergate to Iraq
by Robert Parry
The Media Consortium Inc., 2004,
In the months and years before 9/11, the capability of Americans
to conduct ' the serious business of democracy had already weakened
to a dangerous degree. The U.S. news media - which had set the
world standard in the 1970s by exposing the crimes of Watergate,
the abuses at the CIA and the truth in the Pentagon Papers - had
been transformed. On one side was an aggressive conservative news
media that promoted a strong ideological agenda and helped to
organize conservatives politically nationwide. On the other side
was a mainstream press corps that had been intimidated by decades
of accusations about "liberal bias." Too many journalists
who had resisted those pressures had lost jobs or had seen their
The 9/11 Commission said, "In sum, the domestic agencies
never mobilized in response to the threat. They did not have direction,
and did not have a plan to institute. The borders were not hardened.
Transportation systems were not fortified. Electronic surveillance
was not targeted against a domestic threat. State and local law
enforcement were not marshaled to augment the FBI's efforts. The
public was not warned."
Almost from the minute that the second plane struck the World
Trade Center's south tower, George W. Bush was in dire need of
having the perceptions of the American people managed. The reality
was that Bush with his very thin qualifications to be President
- flunked his first big test. Not only had he failed to react
vigorously to the terror threat warnings as they rose in the summer,
but he froze in indecision when White House chief of staff Andrew
Card whispered in his ear that "America is under attack."
For about seven minutes, he at almost motionless in a second-grade
classroom at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota,
Bush was using the school as a backdrop
to promote his education initiatives. The plan was to read a children's
book, My Pet Goat. But before entering the classroom shortly before
9 a.m., Bush and Card were informed by political adviser Karl
Rove that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. "The
President's reaction was that the incident must have been caused
by pilot error," Card told the 9/11 Commission.
Less than three months after the attacks,
Bush gave a different account of what he knew and how he knew
it before entering the classroom. At a town hail meeting in Orlando
on December 4, Bush claimed to have watched the first plane hit
the north tower on television. He said, "I was sitting outside
the classroom, waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the
tower - the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly myself, and
I said, 'Well, there's one terrible pilot." But the Wall
Street Journal would later report that the television in the room
where Bush waited was unplugged. Plus, there was no footage shown
of the first plane hitting the tower until late on the night of
At 9:05 a.m., with Bush seated in the
classroom, Card walked over and whispered in his ear, "A
second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
The chief of staff then left the commander-in-chief seated in
At that moment, the nation was in desperate
need of decisive leadership. Two national landmarks were in flames.
Some people in the buildings were leaping to their deaths rather
than be burned alive. A third plane, American Flight 77, flying
from Duties to Los Angeles had been hijacked over Ohio about 11
minutes earlier. The hijackers were swinging it around as a flying
bomb headed for Washington, D.C. A fourth plane, United Flight
93, en route from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, would
be seized by hijackers about 30 minutes after Card whispered in
Bush's ear. It, too, would take aim at Washington.
... For about seven minutes, after being
told "America is under attack," 1e sat in a second-grade
classroom reading a children's story. His aides in the school
were equally nonplussed. None of them interrupted the photo op
to excuse the President so he could handle a national crisis.
An uncut videotape of the classroom scene showed that Bush - after
having been told "America is under attack" - listened
to children read the story about a pet goat and asked the children
That it took the President seven minutes
to react was a fact that few Americans knew until the 9/11 Commission
in early 2004 compiled a detailed chronology of the actions of
the key players. When Michael Moore showed footage from the seven
minutes in his documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," Bush's
indecision - measured by a clock superimposed in the corner was
a shocking revelation to millions of Americans.
... [Bush's] father was Vice President when Ronald Reagan made
combating terrorism a top priority of U.S. foreign policy, replacing
the Carter administration's emphasis on human rights. Reagan committed
his administration to the war on terrorism in the wake of the
Islamic revolution in Iran and the radical Arab nationalism of
Libya's Muammar Qaddafi. Reagan created special counter-terrorism
task forces and authorized the CIA to hunt down suspected terrorists
in preemptive attacks.
The war on terrorism even led the Reagan-Bush
administration to engage in terrorism itself. For instance, in
a 1985 strike against Hizbollah leader Sheikh Fadlallah, CIA Director
Casey helped finance an operation that included the hiring of
operatives who detonated a car bomb outside the Beirut apartment
building where Fadlallah lived.
As described by Bob Woodward in Veil,
"the car exploded, killing 80 people and wounding 200, leaving
devastation, fires and collapsed buildings. Anyone who had happened
to be in the immediate neighborhood was killed, hurt or terrorized,
but Fadlallah escaped without injury. His followers strung a huge
'Made in the USA' banner in front of a building that had been
Military retaliation against al-Qaeda and their Taliban protectors
in Afghanistan was an obvious first step after the September 11
attacks. But Bush and his senior advisers turned their attention
as well to preparing for war against another old nemesis, Iraq's
Saddam Hussein. Counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke asserted
in his book, Against All Enemies, and in testimony before the
9/11 Commission that Iraq had been a Bush administration obsession
since the first days, while al-Qaeda had not been viewed as an
The day after the September 11 attacks,
Clarke said Bush confronted him in the White House Situation Room
and demanded that Clarke investigate Saddam Hussein's involvement.
"See if Saddam did this," Bush said, according to Clarke.
"See if he's linked in any way." Clarke said he told
Bush that the evidence was clear that al-Qaeda was behind the
attacks, not Iraq. Indeed, the Islamic fundamentalists in al-Qaeda
considered Hussein's secular regime an enemy.
Though George W. Bush's political adviser Karl Rove appears to
have masterminded this political strategy to question the patriotism
of Iraq War skeptics, Bush himself joined in during a campaign
speech in Trenton, New Jersey, on September 23. Bush declared
that Democratic opposition to deleting labor protections from
the law creating a new Department of Homeland Security meant that
the Democratic-controlled Senate "is more interested in special
interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of
the American people."
The normally mild-mannered Senate Majority
Leader Tom Daschle fumed that Bush's shot was a punch below the
belt. Daschle demanded an apology in the name of many Democrats
who had fought for their country, including Senator Daniel Inouye
of Hawaii who lost an arm in World War II and Senator Max Cleland
of Georgia who lost both legs and one arm in Vietnam. Many other
Democratic leaders served the country in war, including Senator
John Kerry who won the Silver Star in Vietnam and Daschle who
served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force Strategic
Air Command during the Vietnam War.
By contrast, both Bush and Dick Cheney
avoided national military service in Vietnam, Bush by joining
the Texas Air National Guard and Cheney by taking advantage of
five separate draft deferments. But Bush refused to apologize
and the press corps turned on Daschle for his intemperate behavior.
Moon's Washington Times pictured the South Dakota Democrat as
headless in an editorial cartoon. Another Washington Times cartoon
drew Gore as Pinocchio because of his supposedly dishonest criticism
of Bush's Iraq policy. Rather than addressing the substance of
the criticism, the conservative media simply ascribed bad political
On the night of March 19, 2003 - already March 20 in the Middle
East George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq. Senior administration
officials were filled with optimism that Saddam Hussein's government
would collapse in the opening hours as the United States blasted
selected targets with a "shock and awe" bombardment
from the skies. Sitting with a panel of ex-generals, NBC anchor
Tom Brokaw said, "One of the things that we don't want to
do is to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq because in a few days
we're going to own that country."
... the carnage mounted, Washington witnessed a precipitous decline
in U.S. standing with the rest of the world. For instance, in
Spain, whose government was part of Bush's "coalition of
the willing," 91 percent of Spaniards opposed the U.S. invasion,
according to polls. The Pew Global Attitudes Project found that
majorities in every country surveyed except the U.S. felt that
the Iraq War hurt, rather than helped, the worldwide fight against
terrorism. In the seven countries that were surveyed that did
not take part in the Iraq War, disapproval of the war hovered
at around 85 percent.
But in the United States, Bush benefited
from near shoulder-to-shoulder support for the war in the major
U.S. news media. The cable news channels, in particular, competed
to demonstrate the greatest degree of "patriotism."
The "fair and balanced" Fox News broadcast showed stirring
sequences of American and British soldiers being interviewed about
the war while a harmonica soundtrack in the background played
"The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Fox's super-patriotic tone apparently
helped it outpace its chief rivals, MSNBC and CNN, in the ratings
war. Though lagging in the Nielsen ratings, MSNBC and CNN did
not trail Fox by much in branding their own news in red-white-and-blue.
Like Fox, MSNBC used a logo superimposing the American flag on
scenes of Iraq. To avoid a discordant message in the run-up to
war, MSNBC also dumped a show hosted by war critic Phil Donahue.
For its part, CNN adopted Bush's name for the war - "Operation
Iraqi Freedom" - as the title for much of its coverage, even
when the scenes showed Iraqis being rounded up and handcuffed.
As U.S. forces captured Baghdad after
three weeks of fighting and toppled Hussein's statue in Firdos
Square, the news networks intensified their competition for the
hearts and minds of American TV viewers. MSNBC began presenting
Madison-Avenue-style montages of the Iraq War. One showed U.S.
troops in heroic postures moving through Iraq. The segment ended
with an American boy surrounded by yellow ribbons for his father
at war, and the concluding slogan, "Home of the Brave."
Another MSNBC montage showed Iraqis rejoicing after Hussein's
statue fell. The stirring pictures ended with the slogan, "Let
The Wall Street Journal took note of the
dueling coverage presented by domestic CNN versus its CNNI Network,
which broadcasts to international viewers. While domestic CNN
focused on happy stories, such as the rescue of U.S. prisoner-of-war
Jessica Lynch, CNNI carried more scenes of wounded civilians overflowing
Iraqi hospitals. "During the Gulf War in 1991, [CNN] presented
a uniform global feed that showed the war largely through American
eyes," the Journal reported. "Since then, CNN has developed
several overseas networks that increasingly cater their programming
to regional audiences and advertisers. "
Left unsaid by the Journal's formulation of how CNN's overseas
affiliates "cater" to foreign audiences was the flip
side of that coin, that domestic CNN was freer to shape a version
of the news that was more pleasing to Americans and to U.S. advertisers
- largely by leaving out scenes of Iraqi suffering.
As unprofessional as much of the U.S.
media's war coverage was, flagwaving journalism worked in the
ratings race. While MSNBC remained in third place among U.S. cable
news outlets, it posted the highest ratings growth in the lead-up
to war and during the actual fighting, up 124 percent compared
with a year earlier. Fox News, the industry leader, racked up
a 102 percent gain and No. 2 CNN rose 91 percent.
U.S. cable news networks and talk radio often went beyond boosting
the war to act as the Bush administration's public enforcers.
On MSNBC, Republican host Joe Scarborough accused actors Sean
Penn and Tim Robbins of whining when their war criticism led to
retaliations against their careers. "Sean Penn is fired from
an acting job and finds out that actions bring about consequences.
Whoa, dude!" chortled Scarborough, who cited Penn's skepticism
about Iraq's WMD stockpiles as justification for depriving Penn
To some foreigners, the uniformity in
the U.S. war coverage had the feel of a totalitarian state. "There
have been times, living in America of late, when it seemed I was
back in the Communist Moscow I left a dozen years ago," wrote
Rupert Cornwell in the London-based Independent. "Switch
to cable TV and reporters breathlessly relay the latest wisdom
from the usual unnamed 'senior administration officials,' keeping
us on the straight and narrow. Everyone, it seems, is on-side
and on-message. Just like it used to be L when the hammer and
sickle flew over the Kremlin."
Cornwell traced this lock-step U.S. coverage
to the influence of Fox News, which "has taken its cue from
George Bush's view of the universe post-11 September - either
you're with us or against us. Fox, most emphatically, is with
him, and it's paid off at the box office. Not for Fox to dwell
on uncomfortable realities like collateral damage, Iraqi casualties,
or the failure of the U.S. troops to protect libraries and museums.
There was also the question of whether
Bush's attacks crossed the line into war crimes. One U.S. bombing
of a neighborhood restaurant where Hussein was mistakenly believed
to be eating, killed 14 civilians, including seven children. "When
the broken body of the 20-year-old woman was brought out torso
first, then her head," the Associated Press reported, "her
mother started crying uncontrollably, then collapsed." The
London Independent cited this restaurant attack as one that represented
"a clear breach" of the Geneva Conventions ban on bombing
But the restaurant bombing attracted little
interest from U.S. television news networks on the lookout for
upbeat stories. "American talking heads, playing the what-if
game about Saddam's whereabouts, never seemed to give the issue
(of the errant bombing) any thought," wrote Eric Boehiert
in a report on the U.S. war coverage for Salon.com. "Certainly
they did not linger on images of the hellacious human carnage
left in the aftermath."
Hundreds of other civilian deaths were
equally horrific. Saad Abbas, 34, was wounded in an American bombing
raid, but his family sought to shield him from the greater horror.
The bombing had killed his three daughters Marwa, 11; Tabarek,
8; and Safia, 5 - who had been the center of his life. "It
wasn't just ordinary love," his wife said. "He was crazy
about them. It wasn't like other
The horror of the war was captured, too,
in the fate of 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas, who lost his two
arms when a U.S. missile struck his Baghdad home. All's father,
his pregnant mother and his siblings were all killed. As he was
evacuated to a Kuwaiti hospital, becoming a symbol of U.S. compassion
for injured Iraqi civilians, All said he would rather die than
live without his hands. For its part, the Bush administration
announced that it had no intention of tallying the number of Iraqi
civilians who were killed in the war. Some estimates exceeded
Stretched thin controlling the California-sized
country, U.S. troops also couldn't stop widespread looting after
the fall of Hussein's government. Among the destroyed buildings
was the central library where ancient Arabic texts were stored.
The national museum - one of the prides of the Islamic world -
was ransacked with many priceless antiquities stolen and others
"They lie across the floor in tens
of thousands of pieces, the priceless antiquities of Iraq's history,"
wrote Robert Fisk of London's Independent newspaper. "The
looters had gone from shelf to shelf, systematically pulling down
the statues and pots and amphorae of the Assyrians and the Babylonians,
the Sumerians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks and hurling
them on to the concrete. "Our feet crunched on the wreckage
of 5,000-year-old marble plinths and stone statuary and pots that
had endured every siege of Baghdad, every invasion of Iraq throughout
history only to be destroyed when Americans came to 'liberate'
As Marines and other front-line combat
troops were forced into controlling anti-American demonstrations,
killings of civilians followed. In the northern city of Mosul,
Marines fired into angry crowds, killing 17 Iraqis in the city's
main square, the director of the city's hospital said. Marines
said they had been fired upon, but Mosul residents denied those
claims - and Islamic fundamentalists began to emerge as the chief
political beneficiaries of the swelling hostility."
"We must be united and support each
other against the Anglo-American invasion," declared Sheik
Ibrahim al-Namaa, a rising leader in Mosul, where the looting
of that city's ancient treasures also fed anger over the U.S.
occupation. "We must try to put an end to this aggression."
"You are the masters today,"
another Islamic leader, Ahmed alKubeisy, said about the Americans.
"But I warn you against thinking of staying. Get out before
we kick you out.
The Bush administration, however, had
no intention of withdrawing U.S. military forces for the foreseeable
future. Though eager to hand over a limited "sovereignty"
to a pro-U.S. government of Iraqis, the administration viewed
Iraq as a site for military bases that could be used to project
American power throughout the Middle East. American military officials
wanted four bases in Iraq, including one at the international
airport outside Baghdad and one near Nasiriya in the south, senior
administration officials told The New York Times. "There
will be some kind of a long-term defense relationship with a new
Iraq, similar to Afghanistan," one official said.
Bush's first term may have reached its heroic peak on May 1, 2003,
when Bush donned a flight suit and landed on the deck of the U.S.S.
Abraham Lincoln. The aircraft carrier circled offshore, delaying
its return to port in San Diego, California, after its 10-month
tour in the Persian Gulf so the President could have a dramatic
backdrop for a televised speech declaring victory in Iraq. Though
the ship was within helicopter range of the coast, Bush opted
for an arrival on a military jet, which he helped co-pilot.
After landing, Bush swaggered around the
deck in his Top Gun outfit with his flight helmet under his arm
and posed for photos with the crew members. In his later speech,
standing under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished,"
Bush declared that "major combat" in Iraq was over.
His political adviser Karl Rove undoubtedly envisioned the scene
as a killer 30 second commercial for Bush's 2004 campaign.
"U.S. television coverage ranged
from respectful to gushing," observed New York Times columnist
Paul Krugman. "Nobody seemed bothered that Mr. Bush, who
appears to have skipped more than a year of the National r Guard
service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying
Indeed, the likes of MSNBC's Chris Matthews
used the occasion to praise Bush's manliness in contrast to Democratic
presidential candidates, including Senator John Kerry, a decorated
Vietnam War veteran. "Imagine Joe Lieberman in this costume,
or even John Kerry," Matthews said on MSNBC on May 1. "Nobody
looks right in the role Bush has set for the presidency-commander-in-chief,
medium height, medium build, looks good in a jet pilot's costume
or uniform, rather has a certain swagger, not too literary, certainly
not too verbal, but a guy who speaks plainly and wins wars. I
think that job definition is hard to match for the Dems."
Many Americans so enjoyed the TV-driven nationalism of the Iraq
War that they didn't want it spoiled by troubling facts. During
the conflict, they objected when news outlets showed mangled bodies
or wounded children or U.S. POWs. Only positive images were welcome.
According to polls, majorities of Americans
also believed a pattern of supposed "facts" that weren't
facts: they thought WMD stockpiles had been discovered and that
Iraq's government was complicit in the September 11 terror attacks.
Other Americans said they simply didn't care that Bush may have
misled the world with his pre-war claims.
Among U.S. politicians, ailing Senator Robert C. Byrd, shaking
as he stood on the Senate floor, was one of the few voices addressing
the dangers to democracy and to U.S. troops that resulted from
pervasive government lying.
"No matter to what lengths we humans
may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way
of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually," the West
Virginia Democrat said on May 21, 2003. "But the danger is
that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that
damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality
is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts
and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue."
Byrd continued, "Regarding the situation
in Iraq, it appears to this senator that the American people may
have been lured into accepting the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign
nation, in violation of long-standing international law, under
false pretenses . ...The run up to our invasion of Iraq featured
the President and members of his Cabinet invoking every frightening
image they could conjure, from mushroom clouds, to buried caches
of germ warfare, to drones poised to deliver germ-laden death
in our major cities."
"The tactic was guaranteed to provoke
a sure reaction from a nation still suffering from a combination
of post traumatic stress and justifiable anger after the attacks
of 9/11. It was the exploitation of fear. It was a placebo for
the anger . ... Presently our loyal military personnel continue
their mission of diligently searching for WMD. They have so far
turned up only fertilizer, vacuum cleaners, conventional weapons
and the occasional buried swimming pool. They are misused on such
a mission and they continue to be at grave risk," Byrd said.
"But the Bush team's extensive hype
of WMD in Iraq as justification for a pre-emptive invasion has
become more than embarrassing," Byrd said. "It has raised
serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of
power. Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless
Iraqi civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary?
Was the American public deliberately misled? Was the world?"
Commemorating the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, George
W. Bush gave the American people a glimpse of his vision of the
future: a grim world where a near endless war is waged against
forces of evil by forces loyal to Bush, representing what is good.
"There is no neutral ground - no
neutral ground - in the fight between civilization and terror,
because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom
and slavery, and life and death," Bush said on March 19,
2004. "The terrorists are offended not merely by our policies;
they're offended by our existence as free nations. No concession
will appease their hatred. No accommodation will satisfy their
So to Bush, the "war on terror"
was a fight to the finish. Eliminate everyone who would or might
engage in terrorism before they destroy civilization and impose
slavery on everyone else. To Bush's many supporters, this black-and-white
analysis represented "moral clarity." To others around
the world, it had taken on the look of madness.
Three years into his Presidency, Bush saw crushing terrorism -
or "evil" as he put it - as a religious and historic
duty that must be carried out regardless of the costs. In his
March 19 speech, Bush employed quasireligious language when he
said the war on terror "is an inescapable calling of our
generation." The concept of a "calling" has a powerful
meaning among Bush's fundamentalist Christian political base,
suggesting a divine duty. In other words, Bush's strategy was
not really about a practical means to reduce tensions, resolve
political differences and isolate hard-core enemies. It was about
the opposite, escalating a low-intensity conflict into a full-scale
war with a goal of not simply prevailing over a foe but eradicating
In a healthy democracy, Bush's speech
would have been cause for alarm, possibly outrage, certainly a
fierce debate. But Bush's grim vision was greeted with remarkably
little comment in the United States even though it could have
calamitous real-life consequences: generations of young Americans
dying in a worldwide version of the Hundred Years War; the U.S.
national treasury drained; and the Founding Fathers' grand experiment
of a democratic republic ended.
"There was no hatred of Americans," Mubarak said, but
"after what has happened in Iraq, there is unprecedented
hatred." He said, "The despair and feeling of injustice
are not going to be limited to our region alone. American and
Israeli interests will not be safe, not only in our region but
anywhere in the world."
On July 26, 2004, the second night of the Democratic National
Convention in Boston, Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly brought Michael
Moore onto the "O'Reilly Factor" for a confrontation.
O'Reilly challenged the documentary maker to apologize to George
W. Bush for accusing the President of lying about the pre-war
dangers from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. O'Reilly acknowledged
that Bush's WMD claims had been false but argued that Bush had
made his assertions in good faith. In other words, Bush was not
a liar; he had simply acted on bum information.
Not surprisingly, Moore refused to apologize,
noting that more than 900 American soldiers had died in Iraq because
Bush sent them into harm's way for a bogus reason. Moore said
Bush was the one who should apologize to those soldiers and to
the American people. O'Reilly went on badgering Moore through
much of the segment, but neither media star backed down.
What was extraordinary about the encounter,
however, was how it demonstrated the role that the conservative
media apparatus has long played for both George Bushes. Normally,
news organizations don't rally to the defense of politicians who
have misled the American people as significantly as George W.
Bush had on Iraq or as George H.W. Bush had on the IranContra
and other scandals of the 1980s. The offending pols are sometimes
allowed to make their own case - explaining how their false statements
weren't exactly lies - but rarely would a journalist make the
case for them. At least those were the rules of the game 30 years
ago at the time of Watergate.
But the rules changed with the development
of the conservative media-political infrastructure, with the George
Bushes two of its principal beneficiaries. While Democrats and
liberals could expect to be skewered over minor or even imagined
contradictions, Republicans - especially the Bushes - would find
themselves surrounded by a phalanx of ideological bodyguards.
Not only would O'Reilly and his fellow conservative media personalities
defend George W. Bush over his false statements about Iraq, they
could be counted on to go on the offensive against anyone who
dared criticize him. That was true during the run-up to war when
they wouldn't permit a serious debate about the WMD and other
issues - and it was true after the invasion.
Some liberal activists wonder why Democratic leaders are often
circumspect about what they say. Why, these activists ask, don't
the Democrats just let it fly like the Republicans do? The cautious
tone turns off much of the Democratic base while leaving many
independent voters questioning whether the Democrats really know
what they stand for.
The Democratic-defensive dynamic, however,
is another consequence of the media-political infrastructure that
Republicans and conservatives have spent three decades - and billions
of dollars - creating. Especially since liberals have failed to
match the investment and dedication, the Right-Wing Machine has
given Republicans a powerful advantage - and one that does not
seem likely to go away. As long as conservatives, such as Sun
Moon and Rupert Murdoch, continue to pour vast sums into this,
media-political apparatus, the Republicans can expect to be protected
when they make missteps. At the same time, Democrats can expect
to pay a high price even for innocuous mistakes.
The conservative infrastructure also has
helped the Republicans achieve a unity that often has been lacking
on the Democratic side. Conservatives can tune in Fox News, listen
to Rush Limbaugh, pick up The Washington Times .. or consult dozens
of other well-financed media outlets to hear the latest pro-Republican
"themes," often coordinated with the Republican National
Committee or Bush's White House. The liberals lack any comparable
media apparatus, and the committed liberal outlets that do exist
are almost always under-funded and often part-time.
... During George W. Bush's administration,
in particular, the CIA has become a conveyor belt for propaganda
with senior officials often delivering to Bush the information
that they think he wants, with his wishes made clear by his public
speeches and visits to the Langley headquarters by Vice President
Politicized intelligence is another problem
that dates back at least to the mid-1970s when then-CIA Director
George H.W. Bush allowed Paul Wolfowitz and other members of Team
B into the CIA's analytical division to challenge its tempered
assessment of the Soviet Union. Slanting of intelligence became
a way of life at the CIA during the reign of William Casey and
Robert Gates from 1981 to 1993 - and was not corrected during
President Bill Clinton's administration. By 2001, when Bush arrived,
the behavior was deeply entrenched. Careerism was rewarded; objectivity
in the face of political pressure was punished.
While some Washington insiders respond
to criticism about their factual errors by suggesting that historians
will correct the mistakes, there are growing warning signs that
history may become the next "broken toy" unable to fulfill
its responsibilities. The week-long hagiography of Ronald Reagan
after his death in June 2004 revealed the same patterns that have
become apparent in U.S. intelligence analysis and in U.S. journalism.
To maintain their mainstream credibility, some popular historians
filled the hours of TV time with uncritical discussions about
Reagan's legacy. Indeed, rather than the historians supplying
a more accurate account of Reagan's Presidency, they arguably
did a worse job in telling a straight story than the journalists
had done in the 1980s.
... Immediately after taking office in
January 2001, George W. Bush stopped the legally required release
of documents from the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George
H.W. Bush. Then, after the September 11 terrorist attacks as a
stunned nation rallied around him, Bush issued an even more sweeping
secrecy order. He granted former Presidents and Vice Presidents
or their surviving family members the right to stop release of
historical records, including those related to "military,
diplomatic or national security secrets." Bush's order stripped
the Archivist of the United States of the power to overrule claims
of privilege from former Presidents and their representatives.
... Bush's order eventually could give
him control over both his and his father's records covering 12
years of the Reagan-Bush era and however long Bush's own presidential
term lasts, potentially a 20-year swath of documentary evidence.
Under Bush's approach, control over those two decades worth of
secrets could eventually be put into the hands of Bush's daughters,
Jenna and Barbara, a kind of dynastic control over U.S. history
that would strengthen the hand of Bush apologists even more in
controlling how history gets to understand this era.
Many of these changes over the past three decades have come gradually,
failing to cause alarm, as with a frog not recognizing the danger
of sitting in water slowly being brought to a boil. Many of the
events may seem on the surface disconnected, although many of
the central characters have reappeared throughout the course of
the drama and others were understudies of earlier characters,
carrying on their mentors' tactics and strategies.
But viewed as a panorama of 30 years,
a continuity becomes apparent. What one sees is an evolution of
a political system away from the more freewheeling democracy of
the 1970s toward a more controlled system in which consensus is
managed by rationing information and in which elections have become
largely formalities for the sanctioning of power rather than a
valued expression of the people's will.
Privately - and sometimes publicly - Bush
insiders celebrated this transformation of the United States from
what George W. Bush used to call a "humble" nation into
a modern-day empire driven by a quasi-religious certainty in its
own righteousness. In some political quarters, it became fashionable
to suggest that God picked George W. Bush to be President. On
December 23, 2001, NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert
joined New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
and First Lady Laura Bush in ruminating about whether divine intervention
had put George W. Bush in the White House to handle the 9/11 crisis.
Russert asked Mrs. Bush if "in an
extraordinary way, this is why he was elected." Mrs. Bush
disagreed with Russert's suggestion that "God picks the President,
which he doesn't." But Giuliani thought otherwise. "I
do think, Mrs. Bush, that there was some divine guidance in the
President being elected. I do," the mayor said. McCarrick
also saw some larger purpose. "I think I don't thoroughly
agree with the First Lady. I think that the President really,
he was where he was when we needed him," the cardinal said.
Theologically speaking, it was less clear why God didn't simply
let Bush actually be elected, rather than forcing him to get a
U.S. Supreme Court ruling to stop the vote count in Florida.
Attorney General John Ashcroft [said] ... signs of dissent "give
ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends"
... at congressional hearings in December 2001.
... Bush ... asserted virtually unlimited
authority as President, according to a series of administration
legal opinions. Bush declared that he had the power to arrest
and indefinitely imprison anyone he deemed an "enemy combatant,"
no need for charges or a trial. Bush's lawyers also claimed for
him the right to order the torturing of anyone in U.S. government
custody and the power to kill his international enemies whenever
he judged that necessary, even if civilian bystanders also would
die. In effect, Bush claimed that no law can infringe on his inherent
power to do whatever he wishes as commander-in-chief.
In August 2002, the Justice Department
asserted that international laws against torture don't apply to
interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects. Around the same time, White
House lawyers asserted that the President has the right to wage
war without authorization from Congress.
To understand how the United States got to where it is today,
one must recognize that the changes have not been sudden. The
terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, may have ignited the
fire that has driven the United States in the direction of a more
authoritarian system. But the kindling was put in place over three
decades. It also seems likely that many of the conservatives who
set the United States off in this political direction in the 1970s
had no idea where the journey would end. Their original thinking
was more defensive than offensive.
The elder George Bush started out as a
kind of Mr. Fix-it with goldplated connections in both the Eastern
Establishment and the Texas Oil World. He knew how to defuse a
scandal and hide the incriminating evidence. He worked diligently,
though ultimately unsuccessfully, to protect Richard Nixon from
Watergate. He was more successful in getting the CIA off the front
pages for Gerald Ford in 1976. Bush's cover-up skills enhanced
his own power during the Reagan-Bush era of 1981 to 1993 and saved
the family name so his sons could build their own political careers.
In the 1990s, the younger George Bush
entered a political world where the conservatives were already
in the ascendancy and the liberals were on the run. His contribution
was an intuitive grasp of how hardball Republican strategies,
aggressive conservative news outlets and mystical Christian fundamentalism
could blend into a potent political coalition and consolidate
the Right's dominance of U.S. government power.
... Given the shortcomings of other presidential
candidates in 1999 and 2000, Bush became the darling of the conservative
news media and a favorite of many mainstream journalists. His
easygoing style, which conceals a fierce competitiveness, made
Bush a sellable commodity to the American people, especially to
Add the fear and the sense of victimization
from the 9/11 attacks and a new political model suddenly lay open
as a possibility for the United States. It would-be a post-modem
authoritarian system that would rely less on traditional repression
of political opponents than on a sophisticated media to intimidate
and marginalize dissidents.
The new system would be the sum of the
parts gradually arising out of the ruins of Watergate. At its
core would be the intelligence concept of "perception management,"
not so much Orwellian as post-Orwellian. While Orwell's 1984 envisioned
sophisticated torture to extract confessions and mass speeches
to stir up ethnic hatreds, this new system would rely on ridicule
to make those who get in the way objects of derision, outcasts
whose very names draw eye-rolling chuckles and knee-slapping guffaws.
Think of Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton and Al Gore - or any number
of lesser-known public figures who objected to the rush to war
George W. Bush was perhaps the perfect
candidate for exploiting this transformation. Lacking a deep appreciation
for the American constitutional system of checks and balances,
Bush wasn't personally repulsed by the notion of shifting to a
more authoritarian structure of governance and silencing meaningful
dissent. Indeed, he was attracted to the idea.
After claiming the Presidency in December
2000, Bush once joked, "If this were a dictatorship, it would
be a heck of a lot easier - so long as I'm the dictator."
It is hard to imagine that any other American President would
have said such a thing.