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
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
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
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
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
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: email@example.com.