By Robert Parry
September 22, 2004
W. Bush’s advisers call him “a transformational president,” meaning that
they believe his election to a second term on Nov. 2 will cement
Republican political control for the foreseeable future. Some outsiders
might consider the boast hyperbole, but this prediction of conservative
hegemony should not be underestimated.
The conservatives have been building toward this
objective for at least the past 30 years. Indeed, if one views the
emerging conservative dominance from the perspective of the past three
decades, it is an impressive – and, to many, a chilling – vista.
Combined with the rise of Bush family dynasty, this
historical development suggests that the United States may be moving
toward a significantly different form of government, far less open to
disagreement and debate, a process where even mainstream Democrats, such
as Al Gore and John Kerry, can expect to be turned into caricatures of
themselves and made effectively unelectable.
This emerging political future came into sharper
focus for me as I spent the last five months researching and writing a
book on the ascendance of the two George Bushes to the pinnacle of U.S.
political power. Entitled
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush
Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, the book examines how the two George
Bushes have intersected with scandals and other major political events
over the past 30 years.
Besides tracing how the Bushes crisscrossed these
events, the book examines the broader question of how the United States
reached today’s political crossroads. While George H.W. and George W.
Bush played significant roles at many turning points, they also were
beneficiaries of a sophisticated Republican strategy, which took shape
in the late 1970s.
‘War of Ideas’
The Republican strategy centered on building a
political/media infrastructure to fight what conservatives call “the war
of ideas,” a concept that they do not mean in a metaphorical sense.
Their goal has been to “win” this “war” by crushing their enemies.
The conservatives began building their “war”
machine in the 1970s mostly for defensive reasons, to protect a future
Republican president from “another Watergate” and to neutralize anti-war
protests against some future Vietnam. But this well-funded network of
think tanks, media outlets and attack groups also had an offensive
capability that George H.W. Bush exploited in the 1988 and 1992
campaigns and that George W. Bush used effectively in the 2000 and 2004
campaigns – as well as during the run-up to war in Iraq to silence
political objections to his planned course of action.
Indeed, the younger George Bush – with his thin
appreciation for the value of free-and-open debate – may be the perfect
vessel for transforming the U.S. political process into a more
authoritarian system envisioned by some hard-line conservatives. After
Election 2000, Bush joked that “If this were a dictatorship, it would be
a heck of a lot easier – so long as I’m the dictator.”
While the United States is not headed toward a
traditional dictatorship nor even a tightly controlled “democracy” on
the model of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, Republicans do envision the nation
undergoing a transformation into a new political model that would ensure
their party’s control of all levers of American power for a generation
In effect, the transformation would mean that any
candidate without the blessings of the powerful conservative echo
chamber will have about as much chance of winning as the Washington
Generals do against the Harlem Globetrotters. The contest might be
mildly entertaining, but the outcome will never be in doubt. Elections
will become largely ceremonial affairs.
The deconstruction of the Democratic candidates –
or even moderate Republicans – will fall primarily to the conservative
media, including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages,
the Washington Times, Rush Limbaugh, well-funded Internet sites, and an
army of over-the-top conservative commentators on TV, radio and in
Mainstream journalists, trying to protect their own
careers, will mostly play along or stay silent. No one will want to risk
taking these Republicans on, as CBS News and Dan Rather recently learned
when they were deceived about the origins of four memos purportedly
written by Bush’s former National Guard commander.
While there’s virtually no career risk in running
bogus accounts against Democrats – such as the ugly attacks on Kerry’s
Vietnam War record by the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” – there is a
huge downside for journalists if mistakes are made in criticizing a
As I discovered in researching Secrecy &
Privilege, this phenomenon of “protecting the Bushes” is another
feature of the emerging political process. Other related findings
in the book include:
--During the Nixon-Ford administrations, the elder
George Bush was viewed as a Mr. Fix-It with gold-plated connections.
Richard Nixon turned to Bush in 1973 during Watergate to lead the
Republican National Committee and to throw investigators off the
Watergate trail. President Gerald Ford later put Bush in charge of the
Central Intelligence Agency to stop the flood of politically damaging
stories about CIA abuses.
--In fall 1976, CIA Director Bush deflected a
scandal about a terrorist bombing in Washington that killed Chilean
dissident Orlando Letelier and an American co-worker. Though in
possession of incriminating evidence pointing to the U.S.-backed Chilean
government, Bush’s CIA steered investigators away from the real killers
while Ford almost surged from behind to catch Democratic challenger
--As CIA director, the senior George Bush also set
the stage for the “politicization” of the CIA’s analytical division by
letting in conservative ideologues for the so-called Team B experiment,
the first step in a systematic exaggeration of Soviet military power and
the gutting of the CIA’s tradition of analytical objectivity. In 1991,
Bush named Robert Gates, a key “politicization” figure, to run the CIA.
--George H.W. Bush brought disgruntled CIA veterans
into U.S. domestic politics during the 1980 campaign. After Bush was
picked as Ronald Reagan’s running mate, these former CIA officers
carried their intelligence skills – and their determination to oust
President Carter – into the Reagan-Bush campaign. One of Bush’s key
operatives was former clandestine services chief Ted Shackley, the CIA’s
legendary “Blond Ghost.”
--Shackley and other CIA veterans coordinated with
Bush in monitoring President Carter’s Iran hostage negotiations in 1980.
New evidence also supports allegations that senior Republicans went
beyond keeping track of Carter’s progress in gaining a last-minute
“October Surprise” release of 52 American hostages. Senior Republicans,
including CIA personnel, appear to have met directly with Iranian
representatives and disrupted Carter’s negotiations. The hostages were
finally released after Reagan was sworn in as President on Jan. 20,
--In 1992, while seeking reelection, President
George H.W. Bush succeeded in containing a congressional probe into the
1980 hostage controversy by hiding behind shaky or false alibis. In
January 1993, the Russian government delivered a classified report to
the U.S. Congress corroborating allegations that senior Republicans,
including Bush, met with Iranians in 1980. But the House investigative
task force, headed by Reps. Lee Hamilton and Henry Hyde, kept the
Russian report secret from the U.S. public.
--During the 1992 campaign, President George H.W.
Bush personally encouraged his subordinates to dig up dirt about Bill
Clinton’s anti-war activities and his student travels to Eastern Europe.
Bush’s pressure led to an illegal search of Clinton’s passport file at
State Department archives and the leaking of a baseless criminal
referral that opened the door to attacks on Clinton’s patriotism.
--George W. Bush adopted similar hardball tactics
in his campaigns. In Campaign 2000, the younger George Bush was aided by
a powerful conservative news media that had been constructed in the
quarter century since Watergate. A key feature of that right-wing
machine has been the Washington Times, a publication financed by South
Korean theocrat Sun Myung Moon. Secrecy & Privilege unearths
evidence that Moon’s fortune has relied on illegal money laundering and
that investigations of this criminal conspiracy have been
short-circuited by Republican administrations.
--During the Florida recount in 2000, George W.
Bush’s campaign paid the expenses of Republican operatives who were
flown to Florida and staged a riot that stopped the counting of votes in
Miami. Campaign documents also show that Bush picked up the tab for a
post-riot celebration that included crooner Wayne Newton signing “Danke
Beyond those specific findings, Secrecy &
Privilege shows how the elder George Bush injected CIA-style
propaganda strategies – such as the concept of “perception management” –
into the U.S. political process. In covert operations, intelligence
operatives use “perception management” techniques to control how a
target population perceives events by tailoring propaganda “themes” to
exploit the population’s cultural weaknesses or biases.
Working with former CIA officers who joined him in
the White House in the early 1980s, then-Vice President Bush helped
craft secret policies for manipulating U.S. public opinion and for
hiding controversial policies from the public’s view.
The evidence now shows that Bush played a key role
in carrying out clandestine U.S. foreign policies in Central America and
the Middle East. Some of those policies were exposed in the Iran-Contra
Affair in the late 1980s, but the emerging conservative political/media
infrastructure helped the Reagan-Bush administration limit the
Iran-Contra disclosures in ways not available during the Watergate
scandal a little more than a decade earlier.
The impact of the conservative Republican
political/media strategy was compounded by a corresponding failure of
liberals and Democrats to respond in kind. Secrecy & Privilege
reveals that Democrats, including President Bill Clinton, repeatedly
sought accommodation rather than confrontation with Republicans,
apparently out of false hope that meaningful bipartisanship was
Toward that end, national Democrats often joined in
shutting down investigations of alleged Republican wrongdoing, such as
occurred with probes of the Iran-Contra scandal, the Iraqgate evidence
of Reagan-Bush coddling of Saddam Hussein, and the October Surprise
allegations of Republican interference in Jimmy Carter’s 1980 hostage
The Democrats were “rewarded” for these bipartisan
gestures with an even more powerful dose of the Republican attack
strategies. Clinton’s presidency was pounded with allegations of
wrongdoing over his Whitewater real estate investment and a host of
other minor issues, such as the firing of employees in the White House
Though those allegations led to no charges against
Clinton, the scandal frenzy eventually led to Clinton’s 1998 impeachment
for lying about a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica
Clinton survived a trial in the Senate in 1999, but
Clinton’s legacy was forever tarnished and Vice President Gore’s
campaign to succeed Clinton was badly damaged by the impeachment
In Campaign 2000, mainstream journalists joined
with their conservative colleagues in bashing Gore out of what appeared
to be a sense of frustration over Clinton’s survival. From the New York
Times to the Washington Times, the national press corps exaggerated
Gore’s alleged proclivity for exaggeration, creating what became a
decisive issue in the minds of many American voters who came to doubt
Gore’s honesty. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al
Gore vs. the Media” and “Protecting
Campaign 2004 is turning out to be a kind of sequel
to Campaign 2000, with the potent conservative machine churning out
personal attacks against Sen. John Kerry’s integrity, honesty and
patriotism. At the Republican National Convention in New York, some
delegates wore band-aids with purple hearts to mock Kerry’s war wounds
and reinforce the attacks on Kerry’s heroism from the Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth.
Kerry, who won the Bronze Star and the Silver Star
for heroism in Vietnam, had skippered a Swift boat in the Mekong Delta
during Operation Sealords, one of the most hazardous assignments in the
Vietnam War. Vice Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, Navy commander in Vietnam,
estimated that sailors in Operation Sealords suffered a 75 percent
But the conservative news media and mainstream news
outlets, such as CNN, let themselves be used to promote the dubious
Swift Boat Veterans for Truth charges challenging Kerry's heroism and
honesty. The impact on Kerry’s reputation was devastating, sending him
into freefall in some national polls and making him the subject of
For his part, George W. Bush refused to
specifically denounce the attacks on Kerry, saying only that all
political advertising from independent groups should be banned. In
effect, Bush was equating the spurious attacks on Kerry’s war record
with questions raised by some liberal groups about how Bush slipped past
better-qualified candidates to get a position in the Texas Air National
Guard and then failed to fulfill even those duties.
This summer’s dismantling of John Kerry is a sign
of what the “transformed” American political system may look like for
years to come.
Robert Parry, who broke many of the Iran-Contra
stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s, has
written a new book entitled, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush
Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. Copies can be obtained from the
publisher at www.secrecyandprivilege.com .
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