Summary: Dazzled by Nobel Peace Prize President Hope and Change, people (including historians and political scientists) and have only slowly recognized that Obama has largely continued the policies of his greater predecessor — a man who truly changed the course of American history. Until we understand our past we cannot effectively cope with our future.
Passing years make it ever more clear that Bush Jr was one of the few transformative Presidents in US history, decisively changing the course of both domestic and foreign policy. Consider just a few of his major policy initiatives. The roots of these policy changes lie in the past, but he brought them to maturity.
- His tax laws shifted the burden of Federal taxes from the rich to the middle-class (only slightly rolled back by Obama; State and local taxes were already regressive), continuing the work of our previous transformative President — Ronald Reagan.
- He shifted the US from its post-WWII policy of containment and support for international law (largely a US-driven creation) to one of militaristic aggression — quite mad for a world in which new power centers are arising).
- He decisively broke with the New Deal patterns, weakening the regulatory apparatus ability to interfere with corporate profits — and diminishing the influence of other interests, such as unions and environmentalists.
- He decisively broke with generations-old legal precedents (e.g., torture, preemptive war, indefinite detention without trial) or centuries-old (e.g., use of mercenaries).
As with many such key moments in time, historians only slowly recognized the change in course if America, and even more slowly explore the factors that made it happen. In the New York Review of Books Mark Danner continues his work reviewing books about this remarkable story (one reason the NYRB should be on everybody’s subscription list). Here we examine the person most responsible for crafting America’s new grand strategy. The origins of Bush’s domestic policies remain to be explored, on another day.
Excerpt from “In the Darkness of Dick Cheney“
By Mark Danner
New York Review of Books, 6 March 2014 (red emphasis added)
- “The World According to Dick Cheney” a film directed by R.J. Cutler and Greg Finton
- In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir by Dick Cheney, with Liz Cheney
- Heart: An American Medical Odyssey by Dick Cheney & Dr Jonathan Reiner, with Liz Cheney
This was the heart of the Bush Doctrine: henceforth terrorists and the states harboring them would be treated as one and, as President Bush vowed before Congress in January 2002, “the United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” It was according to this strategic thinking that the United States answered attacks on New York and Washington by a handful of terrorists not by a carefully circumscribed counterinsurgency aimed at al-Qaeda but by a worldwide “war on terror” that also targeted states — Iraq, Iran, North Korea — that formed part of a newly defined “axis of evil.”1 According to those attending National Security Council meetings in the days after September 11,
“The primary impetus for invading Iraq…was to make an example of [Saddam] Hussein, to create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States.”
… By invading Iraq Bush administration policymakers — and at their head, Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld — had managed to demonstrate to the world not the grand extent of American power but its limits. The most one could say is that the “demonstration model” had had the opposite result of that intended, encouraging “rogue states,” faced with the prospect of an aggressive United States determined to wield its unmatched conventional military forces, to pursue the least expensive means by which to deter such an attack: nuclear weapons of their own. Now the Iraq war suggested that even if the Americans did invade, a determined core of insurgents equipped with small arms, suicide vests, and other improvised explosive devices might well be enough to outlast them, or at least outlast the patience of the American public.
… And yet we live still in Cheney’s world. All around us are the consequences of those decisions: in Fallujah, Iraq, where al-Qaeda-allied jihadis who were nowhere to be found in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq have just again seized control; in Syria, where Iraqi jihadists play a prominent part in the rebellion against the Assad regime; in Afghanistan, where the Taliban, largely ignored after 2002 in the rush to turn American attention to Saddam Hussein, are resurgent.
And then there is the other side of the “war on terror,” the darker story that Cheney, five days after the September 11 attacks, was able to describe so precisely for the country during an interview on Meet the Press:
“We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies…. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”
The day after Cheney made these comments President Bush signed a secret document that, according to longtime CIA counsel John Rizzo, was the most comprehensive, most ambitious, most aggressive, and most risky Finding or MON [Memorandum of Notification] I was ever involved in. One short paragraph authorized the capture and detention of Al Qaeda terrorists, another authorized taking lethal action against them. The language was simple and stark…. We had filled the entire covert-action tool kit, including tools we had never before used.8
This memorandum, as Rizzo remarks, “remains in effect to this day.” So too does Congress’s Authorization for the Use of Military Force that Bush signed the following day. More than a dozen years later these are the two pillars, secret and public, dark side and light, on which the unending “war on terror” still rests.
Please read this article in full. It’s vital that we understand what happened before we blindly stumble further down this path. We can still change course, before we do irreparable damage to America.
About Mark Danner
Mark Danner is the author, most recently, of Stripping Bare the Body: Politics Violence War. He is a Professor of English and Journalism at Berkeley, and a Professor of Foreign Affairs and the Humanities at Bard. His writing and other work can be found at his website.
For More Information
(a) Another post about George W. Bush, a transformative president: Let’s honor our generation’s greatest leader, one of the chief builders of a New America. Also see Tom Engelhardt’s introduction to this article Still Living in Cheney’s World and “How Obama Took the Brakes Off the War Machine: Three precedents that make it even easier to use lethal force abroad without congressional approval.”
(b) Mark Danner’s articles at NYRB about Bush Jr’s SecDef Rumsfeld:
- “Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now“, 19 December 2013
- “Donald Rumsfeld Revealed“, 9 January 2014 (gated)
- “Rumsfeld: Why We Live in His Ruins“, 6 February 2014 (gated)
(c) Posts about continuity of US foreign policy between Bush Jr and Obama (that neither Left or Right see this is strong evidence of our inability to clearly see the world around us):
- A guide to our Middle East Wars – change you cannot see, 31 March 2009
- Quote of the Day, 20 May 2009 — Connect the dots between Bush and Obama to see the nice picture.
- Stratfor looks at Obama’s foreign policy, sees Bush’s foreign policy, 30 August 2009
- Motto for the Obama administration: “The more things change, …”, 5 September 2009
- Change, the promise and the reality, 11 October 2009