Cworld Editorial: watching the dust settle at the White House

Below you can read Chameleon’s Editorial Number 5, first published in early February 2001, just after the coup d’etat that put G.W. Bush into the White House and catapulted us towards the most disastrous war of the century, hastening and creating so many of today’s political disasters.

Of course we know that a massive amount has changed in the intervening 16 years – you can see alone from the opening paragraph below what a remarkable departure Trump is from anything that came before, even George W. Bush – but as you get to the final paragraph, written 7 months before 9/11 and years before the ensuing ‘terror’ wars: “Bush will be … predisposed to reach for the trigger when things get rough. Fasten your seat belts: it could be a rough ride”, ask yourself, ‘anything familiar sounding here?’

Chameleonworld Editorial Number 5
February 2001

‘Watching the dust settle at the White House’ 

Once a upon a time the movies were silent: now it is the turn of aspiring politicians. The increasing commercialisation in the Western world over the last decades has gradually lead candidates in high profile elections to say as little, rather than as much, of substance on any issue of world importance. The UK stance on the Euro: don’t say a word. Peace intentions for the Middle East: keep quiet. US policy in almost any area: stick to meaningless euphemisms. Anything important that you say on any critical issue is a potential hostage to bad fortune, so say nothing. All you need to wax eloquent over is whether you favour low taxes or high spending. The rest: foreign policy; the environment; health; education; transport, it’s just cotton wool.

It is in this climate that the marketing and PR people have taken over with the realisation that what makes people vote, what informs their actual choice is not what politicians say as much as how they look. The death of argument and persuasion – what was known in another age as ‘Rhetoric’ – has cast us into the land of the dumb. The lipstick is well and truly back on the gorilla. And nothing could better portray the resulting electoral landscape and its simian like behaviour than the recent coup d’etat which catapulted George W. Bush into the most powerful political post in the world.

Bush (or rather his minders) displayed an uncanny ability in this game of don’t tell, so much so that the most revealing facet of George W. during the election was the plaster on his face. So up until now we have been forced to rely on rune diviners and soothsayers to look beyond the obvious in searching out the political landscape which will be visible when the dust has eventually settled and the Republican boys come down from the trees.

They say that in any relationship the first three months are what count. Well as I write we are a third of the way through the honeymoon fog, and indeed it wasn’t until last week, almost a month after the ‘healing moment’ of inauguration day, that a portend appeared telling us just what we might be about to hit in the next four years.

Of course we knew that this was likely to be a difficult period. The US has looked for some time to be heading for a recession after the most sustained period of boom in its history; Israel is now lead by a psychopath who has supervised and lied his way through half a century of terrorising; Saddam Hussein has spent the last two years rearming and charming his way back into a position of considerable power and prestige, and the ‘allies’ continue to be bogged down and hapless in Kosovo. Africa, the old USSR and South East Asia continue with their own disastrous areas but impinge little (as yet) on Western security, and so are left more or less to their own devices. Planet Earth staggers on. If rogue states don’t get us, then the environment probably will. But in the end of course the biggest decider will be the state of the US economy.

In such a context what have we seen so far from Bush? Well he kicked off with a few obvious steps, withholding aid to a number of foreign groups promoting abortion, signalling a clear intention to develop the insane National Missile Defence project, and letting the US Defence Secretary snub his Russian counterpart in Munich. Not much new there. But then in the first week of February, tucked away in the inside pages of a few newspapers, were cursory reports of a meeting at the White House devoted to US policy in Iraq, and chaired by George W. himself.

The meeting issued an order directing “the collection of informational materials” in Iraq. The meaning of this inept and inelegant morsel of linguistic evasion is that the IRC (Iraqi National Congress), the major opposition group in northern Iraq, is to receive $4m in return for which it will supply the US with details of Iraqi war crimes, military operational intelligence and any other spying information that it can gets its hands on. And you can bet this will just be a first down payment. According to one newspaper “Further orders not yet authorised would permit the INC to use US funds to open a permanent centre of operations in northern Iraq”.

So Bush’s first significant foreign policy move is an authorisation to fund opposition and destabilisation within another sovereign country. It looks as if we are back to the ‘Reagan’ years, and that particularly Republican tradition, post-Vietnam, of funding dissent in the stronger countries not within the US empire by buying into revolution. What you might call a no-body-bags policy. So Ollie North, throw away that shredder and come back home, all is forgiven. The only surprise is that the decision is being presented as an overt not a covert operation. This looks suspiciously like the opening move of a long game.

As with other Republican administrations you see that foreign policy is going to function as a conduit to bolster domestic support and justify increased military expenditure. And there are numbers of reasons why the administration may have opted for Iraq as the enemy of choice. It looked like a pushover ‘last’ time and besides, there are scores to settle. The US is still smarting from having the arms inspectors team thrown out after the discovery of its use by the CIA as a channel for military information, most other members of the Security Council have long since become tired of the sanctions and irritated by the continued bombing of Iraq by the US and the UK, and there’s still the ache from the fact that Hussein got away when Bush senior was in charge.

So the Kurds in northern Iraq will be exploited as a Trojan horse to get at Hussein, and then promptly dumped. Turkey, as a good NATO member, will already know this. But the decision as to whether this is going to lead to a second gulf war is probably going to hinge as much on the argument between Colin Powell and the Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as on events on the ground. Powell’s stated doctrine of using force to support political objectives only where there is an overwhelming force to hand is going to suggest more caution than the right wing of the party will want to use. Keep watching this space for signs on who gets the upper hand, because sooner or later one side will.

In the meantime it’s all down to the Merlin of the US markets, Alan Greenspan. His swathing interest cuts look like strong medicine but those CNN analysts attempting to talk down the present economic problems as a mere “stock overvaluation clear out” don’t fool anyone. And there isn’t actually that much time for Bush. In two years there will be elections for Congress. Without control there Bush will be in just as much trouble as Clinton, but far more predisposed to reach for the trigger when things get rough. Fasten your seat belts: it could be a rough ride.

February 2001 Chameleonworld.

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