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He's Got the Whole World In His Hands

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George Bush's inept handling of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon-particularly his gauche performance at the G-8 summit-brings to mind the famous scene in The Great Dictator, where Chaplin's version of Hitler bounces a large inflatable globe. We're sliding into World War III and Dubya's playing with the whole world in his hands.

As the situation in the Middle East spirals out of control, as it becomes ever more apparent that we have lost the war in Iraq and are losing the war on terror, it's vital that we understand this strange man who's our 43rd President. Why did George make the dreadful decisions that have brought us to the brink of chaos? The decision to ignore warnings about Al Qaeda before 9/11; to abandon pursuit of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and instead invade Iraq; to attempt to occupy Iraq on the cheap in the face of a burgeoning insurgency; and to let Israel do whatever it wants in Lebanon and Palestine. What was Bush thinking?

Explanations for Dubya's bizarre behavior fall into four categories:

1. "Howdy Doody" Dubya: A common speculation is that Bush is not calling the shots; that he is a puppet President manipulated by Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and other sinister characters that lurk in the White House shadows. According to this view, Doody Dubya doesn't make any independent decisions and the White House has no planning mechanism; every Administration decision is made in reaction and the most important consideration is the political consequences. From this perspective, Bush had no input to the four major decisions of his administration; they were made for him. He didn't pay attention to warnings of an imminent Al Qaeda attack because his handlers didn't give any credence to this threat. He didn't consider an evenhanded approach to Israel and Hezbollah, because those who pull the strings maintain a close relationship with the most conservative elements of the Israeli government.

2. Christian Dubya: Another popular theory is that George Bush is an apocalyptic Christian who believes that the end-of-the-world is coming soon and is obsessed with preparation for the rapture. It's well known that the White House maintains a close relationship with apocalyptic Christians. Occasionally their language creeps into Bush's public statements: "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, "George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan." And I did, and then God would tell me, "George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq ..." And I did." From this perspective, Bush favors Israel because it's consistent with his brand of Christianity. "It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine."

3. Mogul Dubya: Another interpretation is that Bush is following an agenda dictated by powerful business interests. This logic argues that the President is not shiftless, but venal. This perspective observes that while Iraq may have been a failure in terms of American foreign policy, it has been a windfall for firms such as Halliburton and Bechtel. Similarly, the Israeli action in Lebanon has benefited American firms; it's forced Israel to buy more bombs from us, as well as specialized resources such aviation fuel. Dubya makes decisions that are in the best interests of a multinational cabal; it's "show me the money."

4. Emperor Dubya: The final explanation is that George Bush is obsessed with power. His behavior is the convergence of a grandiose vision of himself as emperor of America leading a crusade against evildoers, the political designs of the Republican Party, and the foreign policy objectives of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) Washington think tank. PNAC argues that the US should use its military preeminence to insure that American interests prevail throughout the world. There's a close relationship between the principals in PNAC and the key players in the Administration; most argue that Israeli and American interests are equivalent in the Middle East. Bush seeks absolute power and in the process has been absolutely corrupted.

So what? A cynical observer of American politics might argue that it makes little difference whether George Bush is a puppet, zealot, moneygrubber, or tyrant; the consequences are all equally bad. The reality is that in the words of the gospel song, "He's got you and me, brother, in his hands."

Yet, if Bush is a puppet or a tool of powerful business interests, there's a chance of changing America's suicidal course before the good ship USA goes over the falls. From those perspectives, the possibility remains that the bosses in the shadows can be brought to their senses and that at least some of Dubya's dreadful decisions can be reversed. If we're dealing with Christian Dubya or Emperor Dubya, then we have a dreadful problem: Bush is bouncing the whole world in his hands and it's not clear how to stop him.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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