Revolution #61, September 17, 2006
Bush’s Rampage. . . and the Real Alternative
George Bush has spent the past two weeks on an ideological and political rampage. The war-time rhetoric and crusader-posturing is back, and with a vengeance—this time aimed not only at shoring up and possibly escalating the occupation of Iraq, but also at attacking Iran. The fascist tone and measures are likewise being ratcheted up—with Bush demanding that Congress overturn a Supreme Court decision that put impediments in the way of the government openly torturing people, and legally lock in place the ability of the government to torture and remove basic legal rights from anyone it deems to be a “terrorist” and to spy on millions of Americans. And, once again, those who oppose this find themselves with no “official voice” in Washington, as the Democrats refuse to take on either the war-mongering preparations or the horrendous legislation now being shoved through Congress.
Anyone who thought that Bush and the people around him planned to spend two years as “lame ducks” needs to think again. Anyone who thought, or still thinks, that “they wouldn’t dare…,” needs urgently to understand: these people will dare. They are daring. And they are saying as much, in the loudest possible tones. They are answering, you see, to a higher authority: not “God,” but the imperatives of the imperialist system that they (and the Democratic Party as well) serve, and that requires that the U.S. not be seen to lose a war nor to be defied by an “upstart power” in what for them is a strategic region of the world.
Escalating the War(s)
The Bush regime began their offensive with speeches by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush at the end of August. In Salt Lake City, on August 31, Bush called for continuing the occupation of Iraq. Last winter’s talk of “drawing down” U.S. troops has now receded into the background, and John McCain—among others—has recently been calling for a serious increase in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. (Democratic talk of “setting a withdrawal date” is so vague and filled with hedges as to be meaningless, except for its function of clouding the issues and attempting to reassure people that those who purport to represent them are “doing something.”)
Then Bush turned up his next card: “This summer’s crisis in Lebanon has made it clearer than ever that the world now faces a grave threat from the radical regime in Iran.” Let’s pause here to note that the “crisis” to which Bush so blandly refers is nothing less than the Israeli military assault on Lebanon, in which nearly 1300 Lebanese people were killed and nearly a million made homeless. This war had been in the works for a year, jointly planned by the U.S. and Israel, and was apparently viewed by many in the Bush Regime as a dress rehearsal for a similar attack on Iran. And Bush’s use of the term “grave threat” to refer to Iran is itself a grave threat, echoing as it does Bush’s characterization of the Hussein regime in the run-up to that invasion.
Bush went on to accuse Iran of “pursuing nuclear weapons,” and concluded that “there must be consequences for Iran’s defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.” Of course, for all Bush’s scare-mongering about Iranian “pursuit” of nuclear weapons, Seymour Hersh revealed last April that the Bush Regime has been actively considering using nuclear weapons against Iran. Reuters news service reported on April 18: “U.S. President George W. Bush refused on Tuesday to rule out nuclear strikes against Iran if diplomacy fails to curb the Islamic Republic’s atomic ambitions. Asked if options included planning for a nuclear strike, Bush replied, ‘All options are on the table.’”
Almost as important in all this has been Bush’s casting of the current and possibly future U.S. wars as part of a titanic global struggle against “Islamo-fascism.” This enables him to evoke memories of World War 2 and to broaden the scope of his targets to every Islamic force that poses an obstacle to U.S. imperial plans. It takes those he aims to appeal to out of the unpleasant contemplation of the situation in Iraq—the continuing murderous U.S. occupation and, now, the terrible sectarian war between Sunni and Shia Muslims—and into dreams of an apocalyptic showdown where everything gets sorted out and U.S. domination is restored. It also provides the justification for what Bush supporters like William Kristol predict will be a war against Iran in early 2007.
As we have pointed out, and as we will continue to stress, such a war would be DISASTROUS. It would be a humanitarian disaster, with thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands killed and with unpredictable consequences and ramifications for the whole region. And it would be a political disaster, continuing the deadly dance in which U.S. imperialism on the one hand and the dead-end reactionary movements of Islamic fundamentalism reinforce each other as the only ideological and political alternatives available to hundreds of millions.
More than a few people brush this off. “The Bush people wouldn’t do it,” some people say. “They don’t have the forces or the political support, and it would be too dangerous, too filled with unforeseeable consequences.” This kind of thinking ignores what a spate of recent books about the war against Iraq—Fiasco, by Thomas Ricks, or Cobra II, by Gordon and Trainor to take just two—illustrate: this regime does not let the contemplation of possible negative consequences get in the way of the urgency they feel to remake the world. It also ignores the fact that no less a figure than John McCain—who, remember, is now positioned as the “responsible opposition”—has called for both raising the level of troops in Iraq and going after Iran, should that government refuse to end its nuclear program. And finally, it ignores the concrete preparations being made by the regime, their exposure by people like Hersh, and the lack of any high-level political opposition to this.
Making Fascism Legal
Last week witnessed yet another chilling spectacle—Bush’s announcement, complete with the tone and body language of a braggart, that yes, the U.S. had been holding people in secret prisons and his demand that Congress now ratify his policies that allow torture and that deny what has come to be seen over centuries as “due process” in courts of law, as well as approving what has been up to now his utterly outside-the-law programs of massive surveillance.[See "Bush Calls for Fascist Changes to Laws on Trials and Torture."]
This is NOT a mere “election-year ploy” as some maintain (though the elections do figure strongly into this whole offensive—a point we’ll address later). This marks a very serious LEAP in what has been a trajectory toward fascism. Bush is now demanding to lock in as law the outrageous illegal practices of his administration. This is an important part of his program: permanently changing what had been certain “core” elements of American society. Some of these—the right of the accused to see the evidence being used to convict them, and to defend against that evidence—have been around since before the U.S. was even founded. The right to be free of a search without probable cause a crime has been committed—and wiretapping is a search—goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215! The abolition of torture was a core demand of the bourgeois revolutions of the 1700s and 1800s, and the U.S. Constitution itself forbids “cruel and unusual punishment.” In actual practice, the U.S. bourgeoisie has often construed these rights very narrowly and flagrantly violated them, sometimes in extreme fashion—the torture of suspects by the Chicago police during the 1980s and 90s, for instance, was just admitted this past summer. And if you go back to the 1960s, thousands of people had their homes illegally searched and their phones illegally tapped, and the revolutionary leader Fred Hampton was murdered while he slept in his Chicago bedroom, by a joint operation of the local and federal governments. And there was torture as well by U.S. troops in Vietnam, amply documented in news photos of the times.
But it is something else when things that were once admitted to be violations of the law, even if done by the authorities, becomes the law. Such steps are not lightly taken, and signal that the core of the ruling class has agreed that it is time to go to new extremes and to actually remake the legitimating norms of society to accommodate those extremes. This amounts to taking some of the moves toward fascism from the shadows into the light of day, with Congress—including the Democratic leadership—signing their names in blood on the dotted line.
We said above that this was not an election-year stratagem. You don’t prepare the ground for a new war and remake what had been historical norms of U.S. law to defend a few seats in Congress.
But you do, if you are the Bush Regime, take advantage of the politicized atmosphere of the elections to marshal public opinion for radical changes in extreme times. Case in point: 2002. Bush campaigned hard on the need to go to war with Iraq and the need to clamp down at home (the so-called “homeland security” bill). But this was not so much about winning those elections (the verdicts of which are generally decided elsewhere anyway), as it was one part of a bigger agenda: to actually prepare public opinion for exactly what he said he was going to do—launch an unprovoked war against Iraq and ratchet up the repressive apparatus. He’s gone back to that playbook this year, and no one can afford to ignore that pattern.
During that electoral season, the Democrats refused for the most part to oppose Bush’s saber-rattling. They even tried to outdo Bush on the need to bulk up the repressive apparatus. Again, this was not due to spinelessness or poor political judgment: it flowed from their essential agreement, based on their class nature and interests as imperialist politicians, with Bush’s objectives. The result was a war for empire in Iraq that has left over 100,000 dead in its wake and a regimen of torture, unlawful detention and surveillance, and the destruction of fundamental rights at home and abroad. And further: the acceleration of a fascist, theocratic trajectory for U.S. society.
And what are the Democratic leaders doing now? Complaining that Bush and his people aren’t giving them the proper credit for supporting the “war on terror.” Remaining silent, if not supporting, the Bush course on Iran. Staying mute on the question of legalizing torture and removing due process, and letting John McCain be “the opposition” to this. To judge by last fall’s brouhaha around legislation that was going to supposedly ban torture (remember that?), this means that McCain will make some high-profile petty amendments, then gut these in a backroom deal, and finally and quietly allow the whole thing to be nullified by a presidential signing statement anyway.
Clearly, the script for the next two months runs like this: at a time when Americans have their attention turned to politics, the alternatives presented to them will be about who will be “tougher” on Iran, who will fight the war “better” in Iraq, and who will more efficiently and thoroughly clamp down on people’s civil and legal rights. No matter who wins, the net political effect of such an election campaign will be a mandate for more war and more repression, with consequences likely to be even more deadly and significantly more extreme than they were four years ago.
To repeat, this is not a new script. This is something people have been through—and gone for—before. And if you have, you have to ask yourself: where has this led you? And now, where will more of the same lead you? The reality is this: right now, anyone who confines or focuses their political activity to electing Democrats must confront that this really amounts to complicity with the direction things are headed. Wake the hell up—and change course.
A Real Alternative Emerges
Thom Hartman, an Air America radio personality speaking at the New York World Can’t Wait meeting this past week, likened the situation in the U.S. to Germany, 1937. He was far from the only person to draw this sort of comparison. There is a growing feeling that this trajectory must be stopped and that to do that, one must identify and confront, fully, where it could very possibly lead. The time for mincing words, if ever such time existed, is by now long since over. There is a sentiment gaining momentum and confidence—and it is a sentiment based on reality—that the window could close, and quickly; that one must act, now.
In this light, it was very revealing that the August 31 Boston Globe editorialized against both Rumsfeld and the recent World Can’t Wait ad in the New York Times for using the word “fascism.” First, it must be said that the Globe mischaracterized the Times ad, by making it appear as if the ad only concerned the racist attack concentrated in the Bush Regime’s handling of Hurricane Katrina and that same regime’s assault on the right to abortion. While extremely important issues in their own right, the genocidal elements concentrated in Katrina and the patriarchal attempts to severely control women’s reproductive rights form parts of a larger package which includes—in the words of the ad in question—”endless wars,” “torture,” and “theocracy.” And in fact, the wars of aggression and the evisceration of political and legal rights, including the criminalization and persecution of whole sections of the people, along with the increasing imposition of a repressive ideology (in this case, fundamentalist Christianity)—all of which have been carried out by the Bush regime and which continue to accelerate—are all things that people rightly associate with fascism. But the Globe editorial writers left out all other “inconvenient truths.”
Beyond that, the Globe editorial board evidently feared that the Times ad had struck a nerve, and hoped to quiet any feeling among their mainly liberal readership that things are heading in an extreme–even fascist–direction, by equating such thinking to Rumsfeld. But it is also significant that the Globe implicitly cast these—the Bush Regime (personified in Rumsfeld) and World Can’t Wait—as the two potentially contending forces. There is work to do to realize that potential—but the reality of that potential is beginning to emerge.
A week later, on September 7, some of what the Globe seems to fear took a big step toward coming into being. Over 1200 people attended organizing meetings in over 50 cities to make October 5 a nationwide day of resistance to bring this to a halt. The size and breadth of the turnout, the prominence and spirit of the speakers, and the plan put forth by the World Can’t Wait leadership have made their vision for October 5 assume a whole new dimension of possibility.
This is something very important to build off. The extreme necessity facing people, underlined by the past two weeks of the Bush offensive, as well as the growing possibility of actually doing something real about it, must be made known to millions more in the days ahead. They must hear, and be won and organized to act on, the truth of what is said in the essay on worldcantwait.org entitled “October 5: There is a Way! There is a Day!”:
"On October 5, 2006, on the basis of the Call, the World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime!, people throughout the country will be stepping forward in a day of mass resistance. The breadth, the depth, the impact and the power of that day depends not only on those in The World Can’t Wait organization, and others, who are already organizing for this day—it depends on you, on us, on all those who have been hoping and searching for a means to do something that will really make a difference.
"If we fail to act to make this a reality, then it will definitely make a difference—in a decidedly negative way. But if we take up the challenge to build for this, and then do take history into our hands on that day, through political action on the massive scale that is called for—it can make all the difference in the world, in a very positive sense and for the possibility of a better future for humanity."
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