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(DV) Street: "To All Who Wear the Uniform"







“To All Who Wear the Uniform”
Messianic Militarism Versus Democracy in Imperial America 

by Paul Street
December 3, 2005

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It's getting hard not to notice that most of president Bush's major speeches are being delivered in military forums -- at bases, war colleges, naval academies, and the like. 

It makes sense.  A rising percentage of the U.S. citizenry -- 62 percent in a November AP-Ipsos poll -- disapproves of Bush's Iraq policy. 

Thanks largely to that policy, the president's approval ratings are at an all-time low. He's being openly mocked on dominant entertainment media and challenged in the halls of Congress. 

Earlier this week, General Electric Television (NBC) gave the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh a couple minutes on the happy morning Today Show to pitch an article that starkly depicts the militaristic madness of boy-king George. Hersh quotes a number of current and former military, intelligence, and administration officials to reveal an increasingly detached and messianic president who is "impervious to political pressure even from fellow Republicans." According to insiders, Bush believes "God put me here" to occupy Iraq. A "Pentagon adviser" told Hersh that Bush is "not going to back off" the occupation" because the president sees his illegal and immoral Iraq policy as "bigger than domestic politics." By Hersh's informants' account, "bigger" means "divinely inspired." 

It's also hard not to observe that Bush justifies his defiance of democratic mass opinion by claiming a special, direct, and higher relationship between the president as Commander-In-Chief and the supposedly loyal soldiers of his curiously terrorist "war on terror." 

Most U.S. citizens want a quick exit from Mesopotamia. A rising number of the nation's Congresspersons are calling for a timetable for the pullout of troops. And, for what it's worth to U.S. policymakers, more than 70 percent of the Iraq's lawmakers and more than 80 percent of that nation's populace want U.S. and British forces out. 

So what?, says Bush, appealing above the heads of the mere citizenry (the supposed masters of policy in a democratic society) to the noble and virtuous mercenaries and gendarmes of U.S. empire. 

"To all who wear the uniform," Bush told the Naval Academy's junior cadets Wednesday, "I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins as long as I am your commander in chief." 

Is "Bring'Em On" Bush still trying to make up for his flight from "service" in an earlier imperial and racist war (the War on Vietnam) that he supported? 

Whatever, the president appears to think that his most solemn pledge of allegiance is to his mercenary ("volunteer" and therefore non-citizen) military, not the populace.  

"We the People" may have decided that its time for U.S. policymakers to show the courage to reverse the criminal "mistake" that is the occupation of Iraq. But Bush has "bigger" duties to fulfill than honoring public opinion. His obligation to God and "all who wear the uniform" trumps his secondary responsibility to the citizenry. 

Barely acknowledging and severely downplaying antiwar sentiment at home, Bush told the Naval Academy's recruits that "the many [Americans] advocating an artificial timetable for withdrawal are sincere. But I believe they're sincerely wrong. Pulling our troops out before they achieve their purpose," Bush insisted, "is not a plan for victory." Withdrawal will only make things worse, the president argued, for the Iraqis, the Middle East, the U.S., and the world. 

Troop levels in Iraq, Bush proclaimed, will be determined by "the good judgment of our commanders" and "not by artificial timetables sent by politicians in Washington." 

Someone should inform the citizens' elected (however imperfectly) officials that they only seek fake ("artificial") schedules for withdrawal. 

And someone might remind the Commander-in-Chief that Congresspersons are sent to Washington as representatives of the people from the far-flung geographic corners and districts of the entire nation.

Bush is incorrect in his claim that American withdrawal would worsen the situation for Iraqis and others. Still, the president should be reminded that democracy is not contingent on the people being correct in its policy views. As Thomas Jefferson once observed, the democratic ideal elevates popular government as in and of itself, not merely a cover for the wishes of the supposedly smarter and superior "elite". 

With his miserable Iraq policy revealed as an historic and monumental crime and fiasco, the "messianic militarist" (Ralph Nader's description of Bush in 2004) president is assaulting the most valuable strands of the American political tradition. He is wrapping his terrible war crimes in the falsely patriotic and inverted flag of militarism as an end in itself. In his rhetoric and that of others on the right (e.g. Fox News), militarism as such is the rising rallying cry. 

The call for militarism qua militarism is buttressed by treacherous charges of cowardice. It relies on Mafia-like appeals to credibility in the threat to use violence and on chilling calls to "honor the dead" with more dead. 

It's a curious approach, perhaps, for a former draft-dodger like Bush II, but the deeper issue goes beyond "Dubya's" character. It even eclipses the near-term direction of U.S. policy in Iraq.  

Beneath it all lurks the fateful question of whether the world's most powerful nation is going to follow the enlightened path of popular government and democracy or the authoritarian trail of imperial militarism and divine right. 

Paul Street is a Visiting Professor of American History at Northern Illinois University. His latest book is Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, October 2004). He can be reached at:

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