Bush, who almost never admits his own presidential
mistakes, apologized for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s supposed acceptance
of a divided Europe at Yalta and taunted Vladimir Putin to apologize for
Soviet abuses during the Cold War. Bush also tossed out a few more U.S.
historical apologies, such as regretting slavery, to put Putin on the
But Bush’s V-E Day speech on May 7 contained a
dangerous and deceitful subtext that nearly everyone in the
ever-clueless U.S. news media missed as they fell over themselves to
praise the president’s performance on his European trip.
Bush’s troubling message was that the only real U.S.
mistake in the Cold War was not to aggressively challenge the Soviet
Union right after the defeat of Germany, even if that meant vastly more
bloodshed. Bush also expressed no regret for some of the most egregious
U.S. actions in the Cold War, such as complicity in genocide in
Guatemala, state terrorism in Chile or the fearsome death toll in the
By his silence on those points, Bush suggested that
he saw nothing wrong in the Cold War’s most brutal anticommunist
strategies, except that they weren’t ruthless enough. If Bush could go
back in time, he would have been an ally of Gen. Curtis LeMay and other
hard-line anticommunists who favored crushing the Soviet Union at all
costs, including the risk of nuclear war.
In Bush’s FDR apology, he also revived an old
right-wing canard about the Yalta conference where Roosevelt, Winston
Churchill and Josef Stalin reached agreement about principles to govern
the post-war world.
Contrary to the right-wing myth that the
Yalta agreement simply ceded control of Eastern Europe to the
Soviets, it actually foresaw a transitional period during which the
Allies would help “the liberated peoples to destroy the last vestiges of
Nazism and Fascism and to create democratic institutions of their own
The 40-year division of Europe developed in the
following years as Cold War tensions worsened. The United States focused
on preventing a communist victory in Greece and on assuring electoral
victories for anticommunist parties in Western Europe, while the Soviet
Union clamped down on political freedoms in Eastern Europe. [See Jacob
Again, the Big Yalta Lie,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2005.]
In his May 7 speech, Bush extrapolated from his
distorted historical analysis of Yalta to justify his invasion of Iraq
and other potential actions in his pursuit of a new world order.
“We will not repeat the mistakes of other
generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in
the vain pursuit of stability,” Bush said about the Yalta agreement. “We
have learned our lesson; no one’s liberty is expendable. …And so, with
confidence and resolve, we will stand for freedom across the broader
In other words, the bloody chaos in Iraq – including
more than 1,600 dead U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis
– has not shaken Bush’s faith in the neoconservative strategy of
worldwide “democratic” revolution, whatever the cost.
The U.S. press corps also continues it unwillingness
to question the sincerity of Bush’s supposed commitment to “democracy,”
even though Bush himself gained power after losing the popular vote in
Election 2000 and stopping a recount in Florida. He then joked,
“If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier – so
long as I’m the dictator.” [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush
& Democracy Hypocrisy.”]
What’s also left out is that the neoconservative
definition of democracy bears little resemblance to the word’s
traditional meaning, that of an informed electorate freely debating and
deciding policies in the public interest.
To the neocons, the term “democracy” means a
government that accepts “free market” economics and has some democratic
trappings, even if information is systematically manipulated or
repression exists behind the scenes.
Though the U.S. press corps often presents Bush’s
“democracy” strategy as a radical break from the “real-politik”
past, the Bush Doctrine actually fits well with the traditions of the
Cold War when Washington reacted hostilely to the popular will when it
threatened U.S. interests.
So, despite flowery rhetoric about “liberty,” Bush
and the neocons – just like their predecessors in the Cold War – are
disdainful of “democracy” when the people elect “irresponsible”
populists like Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti or Hugo Chavez in
Venezuela. In 2002, the Bush administration welcomed a short-lived coup
against Chavez. In 2004, Washington backed a coup that forced Aristide
Similarly, during the Cold War, U.S. administrations
worked to overthrow democratically elected governments in a number of
countries, including Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), the Congo (1961) and
Chile (1973). Sometimes elected leaders were killed, like Patrice
Lumumba in the Congo and Salvador Allende in Chile.
In nearly all these cases, the putchists followed
their coups with brutal dictatorial regimes that kept the population in
line through torture, imprisonment and murder. During these
depredations, the U.S. government helped the dictators or looked the
If George W. Bush truly wanted to make democracy more
than a rhetorical device, he would have given a very different speech at
the V-E Day anniversary in the Netherlands. He would have twinned his
call for Moscow’s apologies with admissions of Washington’s
anti-democratic excesses of the Cold War.
Bush would have apologized to the people of Iran for
the CIA’s sponsorship of the 1953 coup; he would have begged forgiveness
from Guatemala’s population for a quarter-century of repression that
included genocide against Mayan tribes in the highlands; he would have
expressed remorse over the tens of thousands of murdered, tortured and
disappeared in Central America, South America and Africa; he would have
voiced regret for the millions who perished in the Philippines,
Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. [For more details, see Robert
If Bush had given that speech, he might have achieved
enough moral high ground to squeeze an apology out of Putin for Soviet
repression in Eastern Europe, especially the invasions of Hungary in
1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.
But Bush didn’t apologize for U.S. excesses in the
Cold War and the reason appears obvious: he doesn’t consider them to be
That also may explain why Bush has shown no
inclination to hunt down and arrest anti-Castro Cuban terrorist Luis
Posada Carriles, who reportedly has been hiding in South Florida for the
past six weeks. Posada, who has been linked to terrorist attacks over
three decades, is wanted in Venezuela for allegedly masterminding the
1976 in-air bombing of a Cubana airliner, killing 73 people.
Although U.S. inaction on the 77-year-old Posada
muddies up the “moral clarity” of the War on Terror, Bush won’t crack
down on Posada or other anticommunist Cold War terrorists. Bush
apparently accepts the right-wing view that terrorism directed against
Fidel Castro’s Cuba doesn’t deserve the same moral condemnation as other
So even as Bush demands that countries around the
world arrest and extradite terrorists regardless of political concerns,
he is unwilling to live by the same rules in the United States. [See
Posada & Terrorism Hypocrisy.”]
One could argue, too, that if Bush really believed in
“democracy,” he never would have dispatched thugs to Florida in November
2000 to intimidate vote counters or have sent his lawyers to the U.S.
Supreme in December 2000 to stop a state-court-ordered recount of votes.
[See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s
Conspiracy to Riot” and “So
Bush Did Steal the White House.”]
On the contrary, Bush would have joined Al Gore in
insisting on a full-and-fair recount so the American people and the
world would see a true commitment to the principles of democracy, where
the people’s will is more important than who wins.
In 2002-03, a leader who truly cherished the
principles of democracy would have told his supporters to respect
dissidents who questioned the justification for the Iraq War. He would
have resisted any temptation to win an important policy debate by
impugning the patriotism of Americans who disagreed with him. [See
In 2004, such a leader would have vigorously objected
when his political allies besmirched the war record of his political
opponent. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Reality
on the Ballot.”] A real pro-democracy leader would demand that his
opponents get a fair shot at winning national elections and would fire
political aides who muse about establishing a de facto one-party
state. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s
He would order his party’s apparatchiks to bend over
backward to avoid electoral dirty tricks. He would want to ensure that
all votes are counted, especially those of African-Americans who
suffered from centuries of racial prejudice, as Bush noted in his V-E
Day speech. He would want America’s democracy to be the gold standard
for the world.
If Bush were that true champion of democracy, he
would insist, too, that his supporters do nothing to intimidate the
nation’s news media. For instance, he would not have appointed a
conservative ideologue, like Ken Tomlinson, to oversee public
broadcasting with the goal of discouraging tough journalism in the name
Bush also would not have sat by silently as his
supporters pressed for the dismissals of CBS journalists who had
correctly reported on Bush’s shirking of his National Guard duty as a
Even though the journalists did fall short in
verifying the authorship of a memo that accurately summarized Bush’s
actions, a leader truly committed to democracy would have admitted that
the facts were true and warned against the chilling effect from firing
journalists in that sort of dispute. Four “60 Minutes” producers did
lose their jobs and Dan Rather was pushed out as evening news anchor
over the memo.
For some Americans, one of the most painful moments
of the V-E Day events came when Russian leader Putin was interviewed on
CBS’ “60 Minutes” and launched into a lecture that included genuine
criticisms of the U.S. democratic process.
Russia’s authoritarian leader cited how Bush’s allies
on the U.S. Supreme Court had appointed him president over the electoral
will of the American people and how American journalists had lost jobs
for criticizing the U.S. president.
A visibly perturbed CBS interviewer, Mike Wallace,
challenged Putin on his last claim by getting Putin to admit that he was
referring to Dan Rather. “On our TV screens, we saw him resigning,”
Putin said. “We understood that he was forced to resign by his
bosses at CBS. This is a problem of your democracy, not ours.”
Defensively, Wallace pounced on Putin’s reference to
Rather. “He still works for CBS News,” Wallace said. “He continues to
work as a matter of fact on ’60 Minutes.’”
Wallace’s comment, however, was disingenuous. Putin
was far closer to the mark in noting that Rather was forced into early
retirement from his powerful CBS anchor slot and that four CBS producers
were ousted amid a clamor for their heads from Bush’s defenders.
In dozens of cases over the past five years, when
Bush could have stood up for democratic principles inside the United
States, he didn’t. Instead, he has approached all political issues with
scorched-earth strategies that enlist angry supporters who never grow
tired of acting the part of the victim while shouting down weaker
Nevertheless, when Bush steps onto the world stage
and professes his love of democracy, U.S. journalists know that they
can’t afford to show any skepticism. If they did, they would face
denunciations from Bush’s minions as unpatriotic, un-American or
“liberal.” Jobs would be lost; careers would be ruined.
So, the United States marches forward into a Brave
New World where Washington’s international policies are virtually beyond
criticism at home, where George W. Bush is the wise and idealistic
leader, where history can be changed or ignored to suit his purposes,
and where “democracy” becomes the justification for doing pretty much
whatever the leader wants.