King George in Decline: The Misadventures of an Aging Prep-School Cheerleader

Feb 01, 2008

George W. Bush still has a year left in his term, but many reporters are focusing all their attention on the presidential race. The corporate media never did its job when it came to scrutinizing Bush, and now that everyone’s looking forward to turning the page, he may be more dangerous than ever. Bush has a history of circumventing the Constitution’s limits on presidential power. He no longer has to worry about his party losing control of Congress. He is currently challenging Nixon’s record for presidential unpopularity and, on the other hand, most of the supporters he has left probably wouldn’t desert him no matter what. The outgoing president has little to lose, but that’s not true for the rest of us.

So I decided to write a column chronicling Bush’s follies during his last year in office. I’ll also be looking at the president’s policy gurus and helpers, because he sure as hell isn’t thinking up this stuff himself.

The latest crazy idea to come out of the White House is a plan to launch a bombing campaign against Iran, a move that would cause further chaos in the Middle East and a large jump in oil prices. Administration officials have repeatedly painted Iran as a nuclear threat, but a new U.S. intelligence estimate this past December showed that the Iranians shut down their nuclear weapons program in 2003. That report should have ended the Bushites’ saber-rattling, but it didn’t.

Seymour Hersh, a veteran journalist for the New Yorker, has reported extensively on the administration’s foreign policy, using a wide range of inside sources. Months before the new intelligence estimate went public, Hersh stated that Bush and his aides recognized that they had failed to convince the American people that Iran posed an immediate nuclear risk. However, Hersh wrote, the administration had come up with another justification for attacking Iran—by claiming that the Iranians are “destabilizing” Iraq.

While there is no question that Iran’s government is made up of religious fanatics, there are two problems with blaming them for Iraq. First, we don’t need to look for another government to blame for messing up that country. Iraq is really three nations (a Sunni Muslim state, a Shi’ite Muslim state, and a Kurdish state) that don’t like each other or the U.S. occupation. Second, Sunni insurgents have caused the vast majority of U.S. casualties in Iraq. The Iranians are allied with their fellow Shi’ites and opposed to the Sunnis. The Sunni militants are aligned with Bush’s friends and financial backers in Saudi Arabia, and the president won’t point the finger at the Saudis. So Iran it is.

The administration seems to be accelerating plans for an attack. Bush and his staffers are intensifying their rhetoric. In mid-January, for instance, the president called Iran “the world's leading state sponsor of terror.” Also, in 2007, a former intelligence official told Seymour Hersh that Vice President Cheney had decided that (in Hersh’s paraphrase) “if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq.” Last October, Hersh quoted an ex-CIA staffer who said that the agency is “moving everybody to the Iran desk.” “It’s just like the fall of 2002,” the source added, referring to the months before the invasion of Iraq.

If Bush & Co. decide to attack Iran, they will claim that the U.S. Senate gave them the go-ahead last September when it passed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. The amendment states that it is “critical” for the president to prevent Iran from destabilizing the Middle East and exporting terror, but does not explain how to do that. Cheney and Bush will be happy to fill in those blanks.

Senator Hillary Clinton was among those who voted for Kyl-Lieberman, continuing her career as one of Bush’s biggest enablers among Congressional Democrats. (Clinton also continued to support the Iraq War long after most of her fellow Democrats had seen the light.) She remains the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, which is bad news for those who want to see a change from the current administration’s failed policies.

Senator Clinton talks a lot about fighting against privilege and supporting workers’ right to join a union, but a look at her record--and her circle of advisers--tells a different story. Her chief strategist is Mark Penn, one of the engineers of President Bill’s shift to the right after 1994. Penn’s public-relations firm has been extensively involved in union-busting. Penn also worked for Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and close Bush ally. The best indicator of Berlusconi’s views is the fact that he chose the leader of the Fascist Party to be his deputy. It was the highest appointment achieved by a member of that party since World War II.

More ominous still is Senator Clinton’s six-year stint on the board of directors of Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has a long history of anti-union activities and Clinton’s time on the board coincided with renewed efforts by the company to buy products made with cheap foreign labor. If any of that bothered Clinton, she did not let on. The New York Times, which endorsed Clinton in this year’s presidential race, ran a 2007 article on her relationship with Sam Walton’s company. Citing two of Clinton’s fellow board members, the Times reported that “during their meetings and private conversations, Mrs. Clinton never voiced objections to Wal-Mart’s stance on unions.” Despite her populist talk now, Hillary Clinton showed her true loyalties when she let Walton turn her into a made-in-China boardroom bobblehead.

If Democrats are serious about fighting Bush’s agenda on Iran and on the economy, they can start by using their primary votes to reject one of the president’s most reliable Democratic allies.

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** This piece was originally titled: King George in Decline: The Misadventures of an Aging Prep-School Cheerleader, His Handlers, and His Helpers, but the title was too long to fit into our code. Apologies to Chris Pepus.