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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING PRESIDENCY
By Mel Goodman
U.S. Tour of Duty
September 10, 2005
Mel Goodman, co-author of "Bush League Diplomacy: How the Neoconservatives Are Putting the World at Risk," is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy.
Over the past three years, we have been watching the gradual unraveling of the integrity and credibility of President Bush and his entire administration. In the winter of 2002-2003, there was the calculated misuse of intelligence collection and analysis to justify the invasion of Iraq, the first preemptive war in the history of the United State. Then, there was the war itself with President Bush donning a flight suit on the USS Abraham Lincoln to make a premature declaration of ³mission accomplished.² The post-war period revealed the absence of any coherent plan, let alone strategy, for U.S. forces in Iraq. Finally, we have the tragic events of the past two weeks on America¹s Gulf Coast, marked by the loss of a great American city and thousands of lives in the poorest and most powerless reaches of New Orleans. The president actually defended the government¹s response to Hurricane Katrina, and his mother declared it a success for the evacuees who ³were underprivileged anyway, so this is working well for them.²
Over the past three years, we have witnessed the results of the libertarian policies of the Bush administration, which includes reduced spending on social programs and even medical programs for U.S. veterans and exploiting the tragedy and terror of 9/11 to provide huge sums of money to the richest and most powerful bureaucracies in the American system of government. The Pentagon¹s budget is climbing toward $450 billion, which does not include the $5 billion monthly stipend for Iraq and Afghanistan. The intelligence community has a budget of nearly $45 billion, which is more than the rest of the world spends on intelligence activities. And the gargantuan Department of Homeland Security, which was unprepared for the devastation of a major American city, has a budget of nearly $40 billion for its 180,000 personnel.
These three agencies have conducted themselves in an inept and even wanton fashion in the past three years. The Pentagon is not up to the task of the post-war period and the war itself was marked by the greatest stain ever inflicted on the American military, the terrible tortures of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other U.S. military facilities in Guantanamo and Afghanistan. We have been spared the worst of the pictures and films from those places. The intelligence community provided no strategic warning of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and no strategic assessment of the decrepit Iraqi society, which would have anticipated the post-war chaos that enveloped Iraq after the U.S. invasion. The politicization of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War marked the greatest intelligence scandal in American history, which didn¹t stand in the way of giving CIA director George Tenet the nation¹s highest award for civilians, the Presidential Freedom Medal. Amtrak and the nation¹s airlines canceled service to New Orleans three days before the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Katrina, but the Department of Homeland Security couldn¹t get its decision-making command up-to-speed until three days after.
Typically the Bush administration has summoned Karl Rove to blame the consequences of the hurricane on the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans, while the president himself is posturing that he wants no part of any blame game. Actually, there is much blame to go around, but Governor Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency before the hurricane, which should have triggered the government¹s National Response Plan to coordinate all federal capabilities and resources. At least Rove¹s maneuverings are out in the open, unlike his behind-the-scenes role in outing the CIA¹s clandestine operative Valerie Plame because her husband had exposed the president¹s fabrications regarding Iraq¹s nuclear capabilities in his state-of-the-union speech prior to the war.
The president also looked beyond his tight decision-making circle to find responsibility for the Iraqi decisions that went awry. He blamed his decision to go to war on faulty intelligence from the CIA and charged that the post-war chaos in Iraq was due to the appearance of foreign forces from neighboring countries, which actually represent a very small part of the insurgency. In fact, much of the chaos in Iraq was assured by the inadequate numbers of American forces in Iraq, due to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld¹s arrogant and even brutal disregard for the opinions of his professional military advisers regarding troop strength. Inadequate troop strength is forcing the same young servicemen and women to perform two and even three tours of duty in Iraq.
Thus far, the American people, along with the Congress and the American media, have been incredibly complacent in responding to the brutalities of Abu Ghraib, the horrors of the war in Iraq, and even the criminal negligence in New Orleans. There is still no anti-war movement in this country and the few attempts to rally opponents of the war have been disappointing. Such voices of conscience as Cindy Sheehan in Crawford and Senator Robert C. Byrd in the Congress have been largely ignored or marginalized. Fortunately, we the people have one more chance to demonstrate our opposition to the policies of the Bush administration. On September 24, 2005, there will be a series of anti-war rallies in Washington, D.C. and other American cities. If we cannot assemble hundreds of thousands of citizens on that day, then our silence will have established that the American people have the government that they want and even deserve. For the sake of the nearly 1,900 lives that have been lost in Iraq and the untold thousands that have died on the Gulf Coast, it is time for the American people to speak with the only voice left to tell truth to power.