A Brief Rationale on Why George W. Bush Should be Fired on November 2, 2004.........
(Alas, it was not to be. Let us, therefore, hope for the best, lest I be forced to utter that obnoxious refrain: "I told you so!")
(Several years later, now: I told you so.)
I. The Economy
George Bush has completely mismanaged his trust when it comes to both the economy and federal expenditures. It is true, there is only so much a president can do to affect the economy; however, what he has done has been mostly negative. He has completely squandered the record surplus he inherited, and he has managed to put the nation in a serious financial deficit, adding billions to our national debt. Over half of the current deficit is attributable to expenditures that are not even related to defense. He accuses others of being "tax and spend" politicians when he is the very soul of something much worse, a "spend and borrow" politician. His extensive borrowing, with interest, will cause future taxpayers to have to pay even more; he is simply deferring the inevitable pain that will be incurred by our heirs.
The deficit has put an enormous drag on the economy, for it affects the confidence of investors both at home and abroad, and it competes with borrowers for financing in the marketplace. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reports that the president is woefully ignorant on economic issues (he also said that even before 9-11, President Bush was obsessing about Iraq) and that he showed no interest in learning about them in the many, high-level policy meetings he attended.
The economy needed a stimulus to promote reducing high inventories through purchasing, or what economists call a demand stimulus. Productivity was not the problem; we remained highly productive. The problem was too much supply. The president's tax program gave too much to wealthy investors who did not spend their money, standing on the sidelines waiting for a recovery, thereby not helping the economy on the demand side, providing the wealthy an unnecessary windfall that simply exacerbated the deficit, in effect, helping those who required the least amount of help.
There are many examples of President Bush's mismanagement of the economy. The president promoted a highly questionable Medicare drug proposal, the projected cost of which his administration intentionally understated by billions of dollars, his minions having instructed the fund's actuary to remain silent about the true cost; consequently, the Senate passed the proposal based on bogus information. The president has not vetoed one major spending measure in over three years. To illustrate how unprincipled on economic matters this president is, though he pretends to be a supporter of free enterprise and trade, he imposed steel tariffs on foreign imports in order to curry favor with the steel industry during the mid-term elections; this hardly represents what an honest proponent of free trade would do. More jobs have been lost under President Bush's watch than in any other administration since Herbert Hoover's. And, not least of all, his having made us a veritable pariah among other nations has adversely affected our nation's negotiating power in international trade, including getting others to adhere to their agreements with us, an area where presidents have especially been able to exercise some economic clout.
It is a complete mystery to me how it is that many have come to see President Bush as an effective anti-terrorist, security-oriented president, and how it is that he has escaped sharing in the responsibility for our lack of preparedness for 9-11. One observer recently said this misconception might be the result of our natural tendency to want to believe the president is doing what is necessary to protect us, much as children assume this is the case with their parents, whom they instinctively trust.
President Clinton and his staff warned the incoming president that al Qaeda was his number one priority, for the true scope of the terrorist threat had become abundantly clear by the end of Clinton's second term. President Bush's own intelligence staff and his chief of anti-terrorism told him and his key staff members that al Qaeda was very likely to make a move against us on the United States' soil in the near term. The president and key members of his staff paid virtually no attention this and, instead, focused on an anti-ballistic missile system, a pet project of cold warriors more suitable for another era. Indeed, Vice President Cheney, head of the anti-terrorism task force, did not convene a meeting from May 2001 until 9-11 itself. Had the president and the vice president exhibited an appropriately heightened interest in the al Qaeda threat, one that had been repeatedly and clearly identified to them, it is not inconceivable that the 9-11 plot could have been completely or even partially foiled; after all, a visible interest at the highest levels would have certainly caused the various intelligence and police agencies to have assumed a much more vigilant posture. The fact is that the president failed both to understand the threat and to react aggressively to it. He utterly failed in his responsibility to protect the nation, and, therefore, he should be held accountable for this.
III. Osama bin Laden
President Bush and his closest advisers completely mishandled the attempted capture of Osama bin Laden (OBL) when he was trapped in the mountains of Afghanistan. Rather than risk the political fallout of sending in American ground forces, forces that were well equipped to interdict OBL before he could escape, the administration relied upon a ragtag Afghan militia led by warlords.
President Bush has used Iraq and Saddam Hussein and a series of lies about weapons of mass destruction despite evidence to the contrary to distract the American public from his failure to capture our greatest enemies, OBL and other key leaders of al Qaeda. It is remarkable that the president who ignored his predecessor's warning that OBL was his greatest international threat; who wiled precious hours away in confusion and inaction immediately after the 9-11 tragedy occurred; and who has still not caught OBL several years later has somehow convinced people that he is a capable and serious anti-terrorism leader. This speaks to the incredible power of the Bush marketing apparatus, making full use of all of the symbols of our military might and the iconic imagery of the presidency to create a public perception that is belied by reality. Had only similar talent and energy as this marketing required been put into subduing the man responsible for taking so many lives on American soil.
President Bush's diversion of military and financial resources to Iraq; his mismanagement of our nation's budget, thereby reducing the available resources; and his failed policies on the ground in post-war Afghanistan have left that poor country in a complete mess, with substantial parts of it now being managed by warlords and a resurgent Taliban. Our military.....one built primarily during preceding administrations.....performed brilliantly. The efforts of our courageous and dedicated soldiers should not be diminished by virtue of the poor leadership of the Commander-in-Chief.
Afghanistan had a chance to become a model democratic state, had we stayed the course and not diverted our attention and resources to fulfill President Bush's vendetta war. We abandoned it along with our focus on capturing OBL. Let us hope that this nation can overcome its profound difficulties. With any luck, a new administration will be able to give it the assistance it deserves.
Saddam Hussein was a bad guy and it's good to be rid of him. However, doing what we did, when we did it, and, most importantly, how we did it, were mistakes. It is simply not enough that he was a bad guy, for there are lots of them around the world. The president ruined our international standing with his preemptive war and his arrogance; it could take years to repair the damage he has done. And the price for this malfeasance was tens of thousands of lives, mostly innocents. Even those who supported us did so without the majority of their citizenry behind them, and, more than likely, because they were reluctant to defy us. And their support has been weak, all along, and primarily symbolic, with very few troops committed to combat roles and very little financial support. Whereas other countries bore the financial burden (about 90%) of the first Gulf War, we took on nearly the entire burden of the current war and the reconstruction, something our economy could ill afford, and all as a result of the president's utter arrogance and lack of finesse in dealing with the world community (and I do not mean just the insufferable French).
Now, the worst thing is that our planning for the aftermath of ousting Saddam and the occupation of Iraq was completely inadequate. The results speak for themselves. Over one thousand American lives have been lost and thousands more have been wounded....most of which occurred after the president's stupid declaration that "Major combat operations are over" and his "Mission Accomplished" display of bravado. What is more, and we don't hear as much about this, many tens of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives. Thousands more have been wounded, lost their homes and businesses, and their lives have been left in shambles.
Yes, Saddam is gone....and no one laments that fact....but did the Iraqi and American people need to pay such a high price? And having gone to war mistakenly, certainly in the aftermath we could have managed things better than we did. For example, disbanding both the Iraqi Army and civilian governmental infrastructure were catastrophic errors, actions based on the advice of the neocon crony and Iraqi expatriate, Ahmed Chalabi, a man of very dubious character and of virtually no influence among Iraqis. Clearly, we could have waited until we had made more progress in Afghanistan and in capturing bin Laden, not to mention completing the WMD inspections in Iraq, and gathering sufficient international support for further action. The president and his staff blatantly took advantage of the heightened emotions surrounding 9-11 and implied at every step along the way that there was a connection between Iraq and international terrorism, including al Qaeda, despite the fact there was no evidence for this.
Yes, there were reasons for the public to believe there could have been weapons of mass destruction. After all, we depend on our president to tell us the facts on such matters. Nonetheless, several authorities cast considerable doubt on their existence in advance of the invasion, including a skilled United Nation's inspector and one of our own chief analysts, Richard Clark. No respected military analyst ever maintained that Saddam posed an immediate threat to the United States...this, pure and simple, was concocted by the politicians in the Bush Administration, especially Vice President Cheney and the neoconservative echo chamber. I cannot say that I never would give countenance to striking another country preemptively if there was considerable evidence it posed a grave and imminent threat, but it is clear that Iraq was not a candidate for it, and that inspections and international diplomacy could have gone on for a longer time.
The president has capably shifted the blame for his malfeasance to the FBI and CIA, upon whose information he says he relied. This should not surprise us, for the president has a long track record of not accepting responsibility for his actions, one that dates back to his youth. Had he listened to the professionals (as opposed to the political appointees) in the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense, and State Department, he might have come to a different conclusion, waited until we had exhausted all alternatives, completed the job in Afghanistan, and developed a workable plan for the occupation. The bottom line is that President Bush is responsible for the decisions he makes and, ultimately, for what occurs in government on his watch, including intelligence and planning failures.
VI. Civil Liberties
From a domestic standpoint, the most important reason to fire President Bush is not the economy. It will right itself in due course, with or without him. One thing that is even more vital to our nation's well being, that which separates us from all other nations today and in history, and the reason that we are the beacon of hope for so many around the world, is our liberty. President Bush, who likes to say our enemies "hate us for our freedom," has himself shown that he has very little regard for human rights: holding people for months without charging them; not providing them with legal counsel; not even disclosing who is held; flouting not only the principles we hold dear and purport to defend, those enumerated in the Bill of Rights, but also those codified in international convention. And then, of course, there are the various abuses of prisoners....physical torture, humiliation, inhumane living conditions, even forcing old men to live in their own excrement, all of a piece of the utter contempt for civil liberties that began in the Oval Office and worked its way down through the ranks, even to the point of disgusting career military commanders. Of course, President Bush and his staff would like to blame this on privates and corporals. And this is the man who is likely to appoint the next two Supreme Court justices. This simply cannot be allowed to happen.
In addition to all of this, President Bush has the worst record on environmental issues in modern history; he has abandoned decades of progress and ignored scientific evidence. He has stood by while the medical insurance crisis grows, allowing more Americans to join the ranks of the uninsured every day. He has permitted Medicare premium rates to soar, increasing the already difficult burdens of the elderly. After promising not to do so in his campaign, he has dipped into Social Security funds to hide his gross fiscal irresponsibility (and his supporters say he is consistent!). A shameless pawn of the gun lobby, he has not renewed the assault weapons ban, thereby jeopardizing the lives of innocent citizens and members of law enforcement for the gun industry. And, as he has shown time after time, he is simply unwilling to learn or to admit error, elevating consistency to a moral principle, even when the facts clearly warrant a change in direction. Consistency is not in and of itself a virtue, however, and especially when one is consistently mistaken.
Much has been made of the President's character. His self-proclaimed piety and his dedication to moral principle are simply not supported by the empirical evidence. A set jaw and powerful, belligerent words behind a podium do not exemplify one's character: one's actions do. One can forgive him for his youthful indiscretions...including being AWOL when others served, substance abuse, driving while under the influence, business failures, and so forth...but what about examining his more recent actions? How about the way Senator McCain was smeared by the Bush campaign with such calumny and innuendo in the 2000 primaries, even questioning the senator's heroism during Vietnam (sound familiar?), and suggesting that his children were illegitimate, appealing to the basest sentiments of some because his kids are of a different race? What about lying, for example, by taking credit for health care reform in Texas during the presidential debates, when, in fact, as governor, President Bush was an ardent opponent of the reform? Who could forget his admonishment of past administrations for not being sufficiently "humble" in our international relations, something that must amuse other world leaders? Then there are his many declarations of being against "nation building," no doubt, something that would surprise the good people of Iraq, those who have had to suffer under his own inept version of it. And what about the contempt he shows our brave veterans, sending them off to war, utilizing his position as Commander-in-Chief to curry favor with them with pomp and circumstance, and then leaving them high and dry when it comes to providing veterans' health benefits, which he has systematically reduced?
One of the most galling traits of this president is his penchant for showing his contempt for those allies who dare to disagree with him, while, at the same time, he shows no shame at all when he hobnobs with the brutal, medieval, sheeted royals of Saudi Arabia. He is willing to show a good time to these benefactors of fundamentalist madrasahs around the world, the cauldrons of hate that taught many young Muslims to despise America. He is willing to fete the people who practice all manner of cruelty and oppression against their own citizens, who are enemies of our most basic principles of liberty and democracy. His hypocrisy is shameful.
The past is not necessarily a prologued to the future in predicting how a president will fare once he is in office. The experience of other presidents, even great ones, could not have been foretold by their lives before they took office. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was an undistinguished trail lawyer, a one-term congressman of lackluster accomplishment, and a failed senatorial candidate. FDR was an effete aristocrat, something of a dissembler and a cad. Theodore Roosevelt was an egotistical seeker of glory, a medal hunter, just as young Winston Churchill was across the Atlantic. But each of these men rose to greatness once they were office and events tried them. The fact that a president had an unremarkable past or even a questionable one, does not mean he cannot rise to greatness.
However, once a president has been in office for over three years, we no longer need to rely on his record in other positions to imagine what kind of president he would be. We know. We have had sufficient time to see what he is made of. We need no longer speculate about how President Bush will perform: he has already failed. He has mismanaged the economy; we have not caught or killed our number one enemy; we are not appreciably safer than we were before 9-11; we went to war with someone who did not attack us based on false information and misrepresentation, for we were misled into believing we were fighting international terrorism in Iraq; we have incurred the wrath of the entire Muslim world because of our ham-handed methods, and we have provided new incentives for terrorism among the disaffected; our defense forces are overextended and overtaxed; we have failed thus far in both our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq; our international relations, even with our traditional friends, are in complete disarray; and, not least of all, our most sacred civil liberties are in jeopardy.
Unless the leading alternative can be shown to be even more flawed in his character and judgment, George Bush should be sent packing. It is true that we always take a chance whenever we elect a new president. But the facts are clear, our nation has already suffered enough as a result of the last election, an election that did not reflect the will of the majority, and, at the very least, that was of very dubious legitimacy. It is certainly a chance worth taking.