george w. bush

Devilish Lies

Donald_Trump_official_portrait

(Credit: U.S. White House)

Lies—big and small, noble or not—are the way of the world, whether we speak of personal, social, and professional relationships or of advertising, media, and politics. Lying is normal—so it seems—yet still disturbing.

When we testify in court, we swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. That is our oath. But as a juror, I find it difficult to determine whether the testifier’s truth telling is stretched, selective, or faked. Truth is not so transparent or objectively known as we’d like to think. Indeed, it is the jury’s job to make a judgment about what is true and what is false.

Among the factors that influence our assessment of a claim to truth, whether in the courtroom, the political arena, or elsewhere, are the credibility of the testifier, the coherence of the story told, common sense, our own experience, and perspective. Seldom, if ever, are we absolutely confident of our judgment, which can leave us feeling uneasy—a little or a lot depending on the circumstances and consequences. (more…)

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The Wall

POTUS_visits_DHS_(32174751680)

Donald Trump signs Executive Order 13767. (Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

We will build a big, beautiful wall.

A great, great wall on our southern border. Big: thirty feet tall, six feet deep. Long: nearly two thousand miles, spanning mountains, canyons, rivers, lakes, floodplains, and desert lands. Strong: built to deter tunneling, prevent scaling, and withstand tampering. Beautiful: on the north side. Free: paid for by Mexico, or not, in the amount of twelve billion dollars, maybe twenty-one, maybe forty. Border secured. No more undocumented immigrants, criminals, or drugs. (more…)

Escape

The_Pentagon_January_2008

The Pentagon, 12 January 2008. (Credit: David B. Gleason)

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and now Donald Trump—all of whom grew up on Hollywood’s spectacle of America winning wars ad infinitum and none of whom fought in an actual war—“managed to remain quite deeply embedded in centuries of triumphalist frontier mythology.”

We’re still stuck in the fantasy of “an American world of forever war.”

Tom Engelhardt, “Rebecca Gordon, War Without End,” March 7, 2017

 

I was struck, while reading one of Peter Zhang’s exploratory essays and thinking about US war culture, by the metaphor of escape.[i] Escape is just one figure in Zhang’s extended comparison of Deleuze to Zen. The spirit of the essay’s multiple analogies is heuristic, especially for escaping debilitating conventions of political culture. (more…)

Iron-Ass Cheney, Arrogant Rumsfeld, Hot-Rhetoric Bush

Official portrait of George H. W. Bush, former President of the United States of America, circa 1989. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Official portrait of George H. W. Bush, former President of the United States of America, circa 1989. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I am not sure what to make of the prepublication report of Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H. W. Bush’s presidential “odyssey,” Destiny and Power. I am intrigued by the mythic overtones of calling the 41st president’s term an odyssey, a wandering, but I’ll have to wait to read the book to decide how that actually plays out.

The hype for the book is interesting both for what it reveals and what it implies. News reports (I saw them in the Guardian and the Washington Post)—serving as book advertisements—offer a tantalizing appetizer. I usually don’t order the appetizer at a restaurant because it ruins my appetite for the main course. In this case, the appetizer may be the meal. (more…)

Hitler, Our Disciple

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

A picture of Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler with members of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross First Class: Gerd Pleiss, Kurt Meyer, Gerd Bremer, Josef Dietrich, Theodor Wisch, Fritz Witt, Heinrich Springer and Otto Skorzeny. (Credit: German Reich Government; Ernst Krause (SS Sturmbannführer))

A few months before the second U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the German justice minister Herta Daubler-Gmelin compared the methods of then-president George W. Bush to those of Adolf Hitler: “Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler also used.”

The cries of indignation from the White House were strident. Ari Fleischer, Bush’s Press Secretary, commented: “The relations between the people of the United States and the people of Germany are very important to the American people. But this statement by the justice minister is outrageous and it is inexplicable.” (From the time of Shakespeare to the present day, it is useful to remember that when rulers or politicians “protest too much,” it is almost certain that something is being covered up.) German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder apologized to President Bush for the “impression” given by the statements of his justice minister.

An unstated premise of U.S. politics and the U.S. media is that comparisons with Hitler must be avoided, if not summarily condemned. Who is comparable to the Arch-Devil of history, responsible for the Holocaust and for millions of European deaths in violent conflicts? Certainly not us! And yet the irony is that Hitler himself would have been sympathetic to Daubler-Gmelin’s statement. (more…)

Return of the Evildoers

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Former Governor of Florida Jeb Bush, 7 November 2012. (Credit: The World Affairs Council)

Barack Obama generally avoids the use of the term “evildoers.” That is the language of his predecessor, Bush-the-warmonger. One can make too much of the differences between the two presidents on matters of foreign policy. Both are leaders of the war state and, accordingly, conversant with the demonology of US war culture, which can be more or less nuanced. Early signs are that Jeb Bush prefers his brother’s bluntness.

Jeb’s anticipated run for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination has occasioned the return of the language of evildoers (Ed O’Keefe, “The World According to Jeb Bush,” Washington Post, April 16, 2015). The term distances him from Obama’s foreign policy, which is a policy of “retrenchment,” according to the younger brother of George. (more…)

The Ebola War

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby describes the latest Defense Department developments in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and deployments to Africa to help contain the Ebola crisis during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Oct. 3, 2014. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby describes the latest Defense Department developments in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and deployments to Africa to help contain the Ebola crisis during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Oct. 3, 2014. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Linguistic habits make strange thoughts seem normal. When we go to the grocery store, we shop for cuts of meat, not pieces of flesh. We’re not perverse flesh eaters.

Likewise, we are not warmongers. Yet, language gives us away from time to time, if we take notice, which is rare.   We routinely structure our thoughts about the world with fighting words.   Couples don’t argue; they fight. We declare war on poverty, on crime, on illegal drugs, on just about any problem that comes to our attention. Our police forces are militarized.

9/11 triggered the ubiquitous war on terror. Hijacking commercial airplanes and flying them into buildings wasn’t just a heinous crime. Even if it were, we fight wars on crime. After 9/11—but really well before—everything was a national security issue. President Bush spoke not only about homeland security but also border security, economic security, health security, retirement security, energy security, and more. There is no conceptual limit to the purview of the National Security Agency. NSA might monitor anyone saying anything.

So we’re not surprised when our government responds to a rogue virus as if it is an invading army. (more…)

We Fight Wars Why?

Photo taken by Brian Glanz of a Times Square billboard on 22 October 2004.  It was his contribution to A Message for Obama (https://www.flickr.com/groups/messageforobama/pool/), with the admonition:  “President Obama, do bear this in mind before you send anyone to bear arms.”

Photo taken by Brian Glanz of a Times Square billboard on 22 October 2004. It was his contribution to A Message for Obama (https://www.flickr.com/groups/messageforobama/pool/), with the admonition: “President Obama, do bear this in mind before you send anyone to bear arms.”

There are a lot of theories about why human beings make war on one another. Some postulate that the motive is primal. Others counter that it is a cultural invention. Still others insist that war is motivated by economic considerations. There is a wide array of possibilities. I’ve written elsewhere that:

Nations fight for land, vital resources, markets, independence, security, a way of life, a political system, an alliance, human rights, prestige, and power. People make the blood sacrifice for “God, country, nation, race, class, justice, honor, freedom, equality, fraternity,” and more. Truth be told, war is less a matter of strict rationality and cold calculation of strategic interests than it is an exercise in ritual, a sacrament of symbolism, and an enactment of tragic theater. (Dissent from War, p. 2)

It helps to keep the mythic function in mind when we consider any of the theories about human desires, impulses, or incentives for war. (more…)

On the Category of Evil

Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the "Islamic State of Iraq" and by al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the “Islamic State of Iraq” and by al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The President considers what kind and how much of a military engagement the U.S. should undertake against the “cancer” of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, high-ranking administration officials (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State) characterize the Islamic State as a “barbaric” and “apocalyptic” terrorist organization that must be “contained,” “defeated,” and “destroyed” because it poses an “imminent threat.” This enemy is “beyond anything we’ve seen,” the Defense Secretary insists, “so we must prepare for everything” (The Guardian, 22 August 2014).

Columnist Richard Cohen, originally a supporter of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, says now “we are once again up against the question of evil.” The slow and painful decapitation of photojournalist James Foley in the name of the Islamic State was an act of “pure evil.” This enemy “murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did.” It “massacres” Shiite Muslims and kills Yazidis, taking “as plunder their women as concubines.” (more…)

The Tucson Ring

Brushing Against, Little Squint Eyes, San Carlos Apaches, 1897. (Florn88 / Wikimedia Commons)

Brushing Against, Little Squint Eyes, San Carlos Apaches, 1897. (Florn88 / Wikimedia Commons)

We are still fighting the Indian wars, and we treat the rest of the world—with the possible exception of Europe—as if it were Indian Territory. In the pages of John G. Bourke’s ethno-history of the late nineteenth-century North American Southwest, On the Border with Crook (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1891), we note the formation of a shadowy group in Arizona that was dedicated to the diabolical proposition that success in life is measured by profits:

[At Camp Verde] the prospects of the Apaches looked especially bright, and there was hope that they might soon be self-sufficient; but it was not to be. A “ring” of Federal officials, contractors, and others was formed in Tucson, which exerted great influence in the national capital, and succeeded in securing the issue of peremptory orders that the Apaches should leave at once for the mouth of the sickly San Carlos, there to be herded with other tribes. It was an outrageous proceeding, one for which I should still blush had I not long since gotten over blushing for anything that the United States government did in Indian matters. (216-217)

This relocation to Camp Verde was prompted by the earnings that would ensue from the selling of provisions to the federal government for the allocations promised to the Apaches. If the Indians ever became self-sufficient, the stream of federal funds would dry up. It was necessary for the Tucson Ring to insure that the Apaches remained wards of the government: (more…)