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The Would-Be Dictator: How We Got to This Awful Place

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Message Bernard Weiner
"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just as long as I'm the dictator." -- George W. Bush, December 18, 2000 (during his first trip to Washington as President-Elect)

It's clear that Bush violated the law by ordering the National Security Agency to engage in warrantless domestic spying on U.S. citizens. So, once again, I have a question for those who, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, voted for George Bush: NOW do you get it?

I posed that same question several months ago, in the wake of the stupendous Bush Administration incompetency that left thousands dead and homeless after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Now more and more facts are being revealed (about spying, torturing, lying) that should make it obvious that those residing in the White House are not only bunglers on a grand scale but dangerous to the current and future health of our democratic republic. They should be impeached and removed ASAP before they take us all down with them.

We already knew how they lied and deceived the citizenry into supporting a war against a country that was weak, contained, posing little or no imminent threat to any of its neighbors, and certainly not to the United States. (Recent polls indicate that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the war was a mistake and the figures are steadily rising for those who think the troops should be brought home as soon as possible.) We already knew how the Bush Administration had effectively turned over environmental and public-health regulation to the polluting industries and drug companies.

But these new revelations about secretly ordering warrantless domestic spying is, as one senator said, an "astounding" violation of how America works as a country of laws.
How could this have happened in a free society? The reasons are many and varied, including a corporate-owned mass media that knew a lot more than it was telling the public. But before we get to the spying and torture scandals -- and the twisted legal reasoning that Bush&Co. use to justify their violating laws whenever they feel like it -- here's my abbreviated chronological take on how we got to this awful place:


One could begin with the reasonable presumption that plans for various Administration moves -- taking control of oil abroad, invading Iraq, packing the courts with HardRight judges, neutering the Democratic party, etc. -- were being discussed by Bush&Co. even before the election of 2000. But so much of that was secret.

Let's start with something more public: the tragic events of 9/11. The Bush Administration may not have known the details of those terrorist attacks -- the date, time, and exact targets -- but a barrage of intelligence reports were coming into the White House in the Spring and Summer of 2001 from allies around the globe that a "spectacular" event was about to be launched by al-Qaida on the U.S. mainland.

In the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.," Bush was told that the FBI had found evidence of "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York....CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the U.S. planning attacks with explosives." (The Bush Administration apparently ignored intelligence gained after the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center indicating that the terrorists wanted to use airplanes to strike government buildings in Washington.)

Given the urgent warnings from foreign governments along with this PDB, the logical, intelligent, professional thing for Bush to do would be to summon all his key military, intel and emergency-preparedness advisors and figure out how to disrupt the impending attacks. What did Bush and his colleagues do? Absolutely nothing. They chose to look the other way. Nearly three thousand innocents died.

On the morning of the attack, what did Bush do? Absolutely nothing. He sat there with those elementary-school students, and took photos with the teacher and kids, even after his chief-of-staff whispered in his ear that the second tower had been hit and America was under attack. Normally, when there's a possible threat to the president, the Secret Service is trained to surround the guy and whisk him immediately to safety; why was no such policy followed here? Very strange indeed.

What did Rumsfeld do at the Pentagon? Absolutely nothing. He was incommunicado at a meeting in another part of the building when the Twin Towers were hit and collapsed, and when the Pentagon was struck. He emerged only after all the mass-murders had taken place.

Whether all this behavior was simply evidence of utter confusion and/or total incompetence (or, as some would have it, something more sinister) isn't clear. The point is that the Bush Administration did nothing until after the attacks had transpired.

A few days later, then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told NSC staffers that, given 9/11, the key question now was "how do you capitalize on these opportunities" to fundamentally change American doctrine, and shape the world?..."It's important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions," she said.

In that sense, 9/11 was analogous to Pearl Harbor, freeing an administration to act boldly, both internally and abroad, in the face of enemy attacks. Recall the telling quotation, referring to radical military reform, from a 2000 Project for The New American Century report: '"[T]he process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor."' Note: The HardRight founders of PNAC -- among them Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Lewis Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad, et al. -- a year later became those in charge of U.S foreign/military policy.

Shortly after 9/11, deadly anthrax spores were mailed to media outlets and to Democratic leaders of Congress, causing additional fright and panic. Nobody ever has been charged in the anthrax attacks; the spores were traced back to stock from the Army's Fort Detrick Biological Weapons Lab.

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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
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