On Tuesday, to a chorus of boos and a few joyful bars of Na-Na-Hey-Hey-Goodbye, America bid farewell to George W. Bush, her most unpopular president in modern history.
Bush and his VP Dick Cheney, and several members of his cabinet, ought to be on trial for war crimes, but nobody in America has yet found the courage to pursue them to their deserved destiny.
Bush’s crimes have been legion. They have also been obvious to the least astute observer. He quite clearly misled the American public in order to lead them into a war in which thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of others were killed, maimed, or left psychologically damaged, perhaps for life.
Under Bush’s watch, “rendering” suspected terrorists to foreign countries to be tortured, sometimes to death, became common practice and public knowledge. He suspended human rights and created torture camps around the world. His evils became so blatant that even the cheerleaders in the American media eventually had to call him on them.
Many hold Bush’s predecessor, Bill Clinton, responsible for similar crimes, but the case is harder to make, in part due to underreporting or false reporting by those same cheerleaders. For instance, almost every news outlet in the US and Canada endorsed wholeheartedly the fiction that we bombed Serbia in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army, glossing over their earlier status as terrorists and allies of al-Qaida.
Like Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Clinton’s war on Serbia was built on a foundation of lies, was undertaken in defiance of the UN Security Council, and was characterized by illegal bombing of civilians, and wanton destruction of civil infrastructure.
And speaking of bombs, when Clinton ordered the bombing of Sudan’s only pharmaceuticals plant in 1998, he committed many of the sins for which Bush is now one of the world’s most hated men. He relied on scanty evidence that the factory was connected to the production of weapons of mass destruction and to al-Qaida and ignored the protests of at least one CIA analyst that it was all hogwash.
According to a report by Germany’s then ambassador to Khartoum, Clinton’s action caused the deaths of “several tens of thousands” of Sudanese civilians by depriving them of anti-malaria medicines.
As to ‘extraordinary rendition,’ or torture by proxy, the CIA was first granted permission for this practice in 1995, in a presidential directive signed by none other than Bill Clinton.
So while we’re all quite justified in celebrating the demise of the hated Bush regime, it would be wise to bear in mind that Bush is not America, and it remains to be seen what effect his retirement will have on the conduct of American foreign policy.
We have had hints. Obama has retained Bush’s defence secretary, Robert Gates, not only a War On Terror hawk, but Ronald Reagan’s old CIA boss, and deeply implicated in Reagan’s many brutalities in Latin America.
Given the choice of filing the equally hawkish Hillary Clinton in the vice presidential waste basket, Obama chose instead to offer her the very powerful post of Secretary of State. As an example of Clinton’s world view, she wholeheartedly supports the slaughter of Palestinian civilians under the rubric of “Israel’s right to self-defense.”
Obama has made it clear that he will escalate the WOT. He has promised to “surge” at least 20,000 US troops into Afghanistan. Nothing he has said suggests a change in tactics, so expect more aerial bombing of villages and wedding parties, more civilian deaths, and continued support for Karzai’s gang of torturing thugs.
Barack Obama has inspired Americans to believe in their country again, in its grand ideals and its glowing future. This could be a great thing if the future into which he leads them is one of real change. If, on the other hand, he turns out to be simply a better spokesperson for the military industrial complex, he will have the power to lead America into even greater evils than Bush’s.
Obama has the overwhelming sympathy of the American people. He has majority support in Congress. He is a powerful orator, and enjoys the popular belief that he is a moderate—though transplanted to Europe, Scandinavia, or even Canada he’d look like a strong right-winger.
He is in a position to wield power such as Bush never imagined. We can only hope he wields it wisely and with compassion.
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes,
is available in bookstores.