A return to multilateralism, closer collaboration and a kinder, gentler foreign policy lasted just long enough for Pres. Bush to get over the jet-lag from his “make nice” trip to Europe.
The travelling party barely had time to unpack before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice trotted out John Bolton as the administration’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, an institution Bolton openly loathes. This is like Charles DeGaulle being named the French ambassador to the Court of St. James in London; the intensity of mutual animosity is about the same. The only coherent explanation for the peculiar choice is that perhaps Pres. Bush is a closet devotee of Chairman Mao T’se Tung, who decreed in his Little Red Book that revolutionaries should “make a noise in the East but strike in the West.”
Given the rhetoric, it is a hoary time to be a rationalist in Washington.
At one end of Pennsylvania Ave., Senate Republicans are considering the “nuclear option” -- doing away with the filibuster to ensure approval of troublesome, sometimes unqualified and, occasionally, openly anti-democratic judicial nominees. At the other end of the street, the president is embracing the “Armageddon” choice for ambassador. Former senator Jesse Helmes once described Bolton as “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for -- the final battle between good and evil.”
To Bolton’s mind, Armageddon is at hand. In July 2003, for example, he was forced to cancel plans to testify to Congress about Syria's plans to develop weapons of mass destruction because he had set off a “revolt” among US intelligence analysts who insisted that there was no evidence to warrant such a conclusion.
He also waged an on-going, lengthy battle with US intelligence agencies over his public charge that Cuba was running an offensive biological warfare program. Eventually, Bolton became a source of public embarrassment to the White House and especially his protector, Vice President Dick Cheney, after intelligence officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, and retired senior military officers dismissed the charge as absurd and accused Bolton of twisting intelligence to promote political ends.
Far from feeling chastised, he sabotaged -- some insiders say deliberately -- resumption of the Five Party talks with North Korean over its nuclear program by giving a highly publicised speech in which he called Kim Il Jong a “dictator” and “tyrant” some two dozen times. He also described North Korea as “a hellish nightmare.” Bolton may have been correct, and probably was, but it’s not the kind of speech a ranking diplomat makes to build bridges to the other side on the eve of critical and delicate multi-lateral negotiations. Not surprisingly, North Korea boycotted the meeting.
Clearly, what Bolton lacks in diplomatic perspective and foreign policy understanding, he makes up for by being a darling of the neo-con hawks running roughshod over reason in Washington.
Former Sec. of State Colin Powell is said to have detested Bolton, and never wanted him at State in the first place. That he was appointed undersecretary for arms control and international security anyway, and then kept the job despite his intemperate remarks and dogma-driven beliefs and policies, shows just how little authority Powell was given by the White House over his own department. Sadly, as if any more is needed, it is further proof that foreign policy under Bush is directed not from the top floor of the State Dept. in Foggy Bottom but across town in the Executive Office Building by the original UberHawk, Vice President Cheney.
Still, in a broader sense there is a cockeyed logic to Bolton’s appointment to the UN, as distressing as it may be and in spite of chest thumping from moderate Republicans -- an endangered species -- as well as from the left.
The Bolton appointment is consistent with nearly every move the administration has made since taking office in 2001. Bush is the silky front man for a hard core, take no prisoners, political movement that detests small “l” liberal thought as much as it detests liberals in politics. It has worked steadily to weaken institutions it dislikes philosophically, undermine civil liberties that it sees as inconvenient, dismantle parts of government that refuse to be cowed, ignore or “reinterpret” or rebuke international treaties that compel cooperation, and generally remake the United States in its own extreme image.
Institutions. There is a very long hit list, including the UN, Social Security and the CIA.
* Neo-cons never liked the UN, dating back to the 1950s when today’s neo-con rise to power was merely a glint in the eyes of the John Birch Society. To neo-con’s, the last straw came when the Security Council refused to authorize an unprovoked invasion of Iraq on suspect evidence. Now, if they cannot destroy the UN, they expect Bolton to turn it into a tame servant of American policy. I’m not sure there would be a difference.
* Social Security has been an anathema to the right ever since Franklin Roosevelt first proposed it. Despite being the most popular, and effective, social program enacted by perhaps any government anywhere, the current “reform” movement is really a cleverly disguised way to cut the legs out from under Social Security. No matter that for more than 70 years, Social Security enabled hundreds of millions of retired Americans to live a decent life with a modicum of financial independence. In Bush’s brave new world, it’s every old man, feeble woman and gimpy invalid for themselves.
* George Bush is not the first president to find the independent-minded analysts and operatives at the CIA an inconvenient thorn in his side. But the 9/11 Commission gave the White House the perfect excuse for denuding the institution. Granted, changes were needed; like most bureaucracies, the CIA housed some supernumeraries who should have been retired or transferred years earlier. But as Porter Goss was e-mailing the agency that it “must support the administration’s policies” -- so much for independent analysis -- the Defense Department was setting up its own CIA in addition to the Defense Intelligence Agency it has run for eons. No better way to ensure getting the right intelligence answers from the ranks of analysts than to have the ranks filled with captains, majors and colonels hoping for promotion.
But as interesting as the institutions that are being undermined are the ones no one in the White House cabal is touching: The international development banks such as The World Bank.
Why not? After all, the US gives it and the alphabet soup of other such banks billions of dollars. It’s an expensive government program with no visible return. Or is it? The reason the banks are sacrosanct is both simple and complex. As John Perkins points out in Confessions of an Economic Hitman, very little of the development money handed out for large infrastructure projects funded by outfits such as The World Bank end up in the third world country borrowing the cash. Rather, the vast majority lands in the coffers of large engineering and construction companies in the US such as Halliburton and Bechtel.
So, on the one hand, the banks are a wealth-transfer device to move taxpayer dollars into private hands. At the same time, Perkins states, when the massive debt incurred by the borrowing threatens to cripple the already-lackluster economy of the borrower, an “economic hitman” arrives to offer relief in exchange for that nation’s support of US policies in the UN and elsewhere. Perkins speaks from experience: Being such a hitman was his job for many years.
Civil Liberties. A day or two after the 9/11 attacks, then-White House press secretary Ari Fleisher was asked a question at his daily, televised briefing about concerns being expressed by some Americans at the sweeping round-up of middle eastern men in the US. “Americans better be careful about what they say,” Fleisher replied. His words disappeared from the transcript when it was posted the next day on the White House website, but he tipped the hand of how the administration views civil liberties.
* This is the first administration since the Civil War to argue that a president has unlimited powers to seize and jail people indefinitely, without access to lawyers or the courts, and for no stated reason. Even the conservative Supreme Court couldn’t stomach the notion, and in two decisions basically slapped down the White House. Not to be outmanoeuvred by a bunch of stodgy coots in black robes, the administration has done everything in its power to stymie attempts by people held at Guantanamo and inside the US to have their day in court.
* The Patriot Act turns the Bill of Rights into nothing the nation’s founding patriots would recognize. When the president is in the neighbourhood, free speech is limited to “zones” that are out of eyesight of Bush and camera shot of the press corps. Libraries in the US post signs warning researchers, folks dropping in to read the newspaper and kids looking for “The Seven Chinese Brothers” that the FBI may ask for lists of what visitors read and the library is barred from objecting. Citizens have been arrested on trumped-up “terrorism” charges, then flown stealthily by night in a government Boeing 727 from one city to another so that neither family members nor lawyers can find them. I’ve taken university classes on the US Constitution, and nowhere does the 1st Amendment state, “Congress shall pass no laws abridging the freedom of speech in special zones where it won’t be seen or heard by too many people.”
Dismantling. From the FDA to the FCC and EPA to the agriculture department, economic neo-cons are systematically gutting the public’s protection from bad medicine, bad broadcasters, bad polluters, bad loggers, bad utilities, bad executives. Vast expanses of delicate public lands are under threat of being opened for development of all kinds, from vacation condos to oil and gas rigs. Regardless of who is elected president in 2008, once a well is in the ground and pumping, it will be impossible to remove it regardless of the cost to the environment. I’m glad that I am healthy and have visited all of the major national parks.
Treaties. From SALT2 to Kyoto to the Rome accord creating the International Criminal Court to the Geneva Convention itself, the administration has shown little interest in any international or multi-lateral treaty that might limit its ability to act as it damn well pleases.
Guess who led the charge? None other than John Bolton.
Bolton led the drive to repudiate the United States' signature on the 1998 Rome Statute which was the foundation of the International Criminal Court, the first permanent tribunal with jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The official reason given was that Washington didn’t want some poor Army PFC to be hauled off to The Hague and tried for killing people in a war. Given the White House’s lack of concern about providing body armour to protect those same PFCs when they were sent into Iraq, this seems disingenuous. One can conclude that there was a much greater concern that the president, the defence secretary and a few generals might be charged with war crimes. When Bolton signed the formal notification to Kofi Annan, he described the act to the Wall Street Journal as “the happiest moment of my government service.”
Bolton also killed off a move by the UN after 9/11 to develop a verification protocol which would add enforcement substance to a bio-weapons treaty. So much for White House declarations about stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
In so many ways, the Bolton appointment to the UN -- as disheartening as it might be -- is incredibly consistent with every other move the administration and its far right storm troopers in and out of government are intent on implementing. Most amazing is how, in only four years, the Bush people have managed to turn the country so dramatically away from its long tradition of liberal thought and ideals -- lower case “l” please -- and into an upside down world of reactionary policies, regressive thinking and a low tolerance for contrarianism.
James Charles, an ex-pat American, is a writer who has lived in Toronto since 1991. His next book is Life In The Dominion: An American’s Mostly-Affectionate Look At Living In Canada. E-mail him at: TheCurmudgeon382@hotmail.com.
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