In a Jan. 10 speech to the Veterans of Foreign
Wars, Bush marked out the parameters for an acceptable Iraq War debate,
excluding those who “claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or
because of Israel, or because we misled the American people.” On the
other hand, Bush said it’s permissible to “question the way the war is
But that safe zone isn’t exactly safe either.
People, such as Rep. John Murtha, who favor prompt withdrawal of
American troops from Iraq, can expect ugly personal attacks from Bush’s
In a smear reminiscent of Campaign 2004 when
Republicans mocked Sen. John Kerry’s war wounds, a right-wing news
outlet, Cybercast News Service, has publicized accusations that Murtha
misrepresented wounds he suffered during combat in Vietnam for which he
received two Purple Hearts.
Cybercast, formerly the Conservative News Service,
says the criticism of Murtha’s war record is justified “because the
congressman has really put himself in the forefront of the antiwar
movement,” according to Cybercast editor David Thibault. [Washington
Post, Jan. 14, 2006]
Cybercast is part of the conservative Media
Research Center run by L. Brent Bozell III, the Washington Post
reported. Bozell is a longtime right-wing operative in Washington who
has been funded by conservative foundations to denounce journalists as
“liberal” and pressure them to write stories more to the liking of
According to Marine records, cited by the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Murtha received his Purple Hearts for minor
wounds in “hostile” action in 1967 near Da Nang, Vietnam, one a
laceration to his right cheek and the other a laceration above his left
eye. Cybercast dug up a 1994 interview with Murtha talking about
injuries to his arm and knee.
The new attacks on Murtha’s war record follow the
same tactic used against Kerry during Campaign 2004. Kerry won a Silver
Star and a Bronze Star for heroism in Vietnam as well as three Purple
However, pro-Bush groups, such as Swift Boat
Veterans for Truth, challenged Kerry’s heroism and questioned at least
one of his Purple Hearts.
GOP operatives at the Republican National
Convention highlighted these allegations by handing out band-aids with a
Purple Heart printed on them. Republican delegates wore the band-aids on
their chins, cheeks and hands.
The “Purple Heart band-aids” were arranged by
Morton Blackwell, who runs a Virginia training school for Republicans
called the Leadership Institute. Blackwell honed his propaganda skills
as a special assistant for public liaison in Ronald Reagan’s White House
in the 1980s. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Reality
on the Ballot.”]
Now, the target is Murtha, who was in the Marine
Corps for 38 years and fought in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. The
Pennsylvania Democrat has long been considered one of the most
pro-military members of Congress.
Like Campaign 2004 – when Bush balked at
specifically repudiating the smears against Kerry’s war record – Bush
has issued no clear guidance to his supporters about the propriety of
questioning Murtha’s bravery. Indeed, conservative activists might
reasonably assume they are doing Bush’s bidding.
In November 2005, when Murtha called for
repositioning U.S. troops outside Iraq, While House spokesman Scott
McClellan accused the congressman of advocating “surrender to the
terrorists” and associated him with “Michael Moore and the extreme
liberal wing of the Democratic Party.”
Bush, who avoided combat in Vietnam by snagging a
prized spot in the Texas Air National Guard, later softened the White
House tone by calling Murtha “a fine man.” Bush also listed
disagreements over how the Iraq War is prosecuted as falling within the
permissible boundaries of public debate.
Nevertheless, Bush has continued slamming people
who advocate a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq as “defeatists.” He
said they are failing in their “responsibility to our men and women in
uniform – who deserve to know that once our politicians vote to send
them into harm’s way, our support will be with them in good days and in
bad days – and we will settle for nothing less than complete victory.”
Price to Pay
In his Jan. 10 speech, Bush also made clear that
war critics who continue raising questions outside his parameters can
expect to pay a price.
“We must remember there is a difference between
responsible and irresponsible debate – and it’s even more important to
conduct this debate responsibly when American troops are risking their
lives overseas,” Bush said. “The American people know the difference
between responsible and irresponsible debate when they see it. ...
“In a free society, there’s only one check on
political speech – and that’s the judgment of the people. So I ask all
Americans to hold their elected leaders to account, and demand a debate
that brings credit to our democracy – not comfort to our adversaries.”
According to Bush, outside the bounds of
responsible debate are questions about whether Iraq’s oil supplies and
Israel’s security interests were factors in Bush’s decision to invade
Iraq in March 2003.
Off the table, too, is whether Bush lied in citing
Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and its alleged ties to al-Qaeda
terrorists as justifications for war, despite growing evidence that the
“intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy,” as the
chief of Great Britain’s MI-6 observed in the so-called “Downing Street
Memo” in July 2002.
Bush also has made clear that he is asserting his
right as the nation’s “unitary executive” – a phrase coined by
right-wing lawyers who favor nearly unlimited presidential powers – to
do whatever he deems necessary as Commander in Chief.
Those powers apparently have come to include his
right to revise the pre-war history to put himself and his actions in
the best possible light.
On Jan. 11, in another speech, Bush repeated one of
his favorite lies about the Iraq War, that Saddam Hussein brought the
war on himself by refusing to let United Nations weapons inspectors
search the country.
In reality, Hussein opened up his country to U.N.
inspections in November 2002 and allowed them to search wherever they
wanted for the WMD that even Bush’s own inspectors later concluded
Yet, speaking to a friendly “town hall” audience in
Louisville, Kentucky, Bush told a folksy tale. “I went to the United
Nations,” he said. “Some of you were probably concerned here in Kentucky
that it seemed like the President was spending a little too much time in
the United Nations.
“But I felt it was important to say to the world
that this international body, that we want to be effective, spoke loud
and clear not once, but 15 odd times to Saddam Hussein – said, ‘disarm,
get rid of your weapons, don’t be the threat that you are, or face
“That’s what the international body said. And my
view is, is that in order for the world to be effective, when it says
something, it must mean it. We gave the opportunity to Saddam Hussein to
open his country up. It was his choice. He chose war, and he got war.”
Bush’s listeners applauded this fictional account
of the run-up to war in Iraq – which portrays Bush as some
slow-to-anger-but-a-real-mean-dude-when-he-does-get-mad hero. The story
also suggests falsely that Bush’s invasion was sanctioned by the U.N.,
rather than in violation of the U.N. Charter.
Bush has been presenting this bogus history –
virtually without challenge – since July 2003 when the absence of WMD
was becoming obvious and an Iraqi insurgency was beginning to kill
scores of American soldiers.
In his first version of this revisionist history
two-and-a-half years ago, Bush said about Hussein, “we gave him a chance
to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in. And, therefore,
after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power.”
When the mainstream U.S. news media failed to
object to Bush’s deception, he continued to spin out this lie in various
forms, including at the Republican National Convention and during the
presidential debates. [For more on this longstanding falsehood, see
Bush, With the Candlestick…”]
Bush’s threats of political reprisals against those
who criticize his war policies also are not new. Ever since 2002, when
Bush unveiled the “Bush Doctrine” of “preemptive” wars, targeting
nations that represent what he considers a “gathering threat,” there has
been a domestic component to his aggressive foreign policy. [See
This domestic “politics of preemption” has a covert
side, including surveillance of U.S. anti-war groups, but the largest
part is out in the open, using right-wing media and sympathetic
columnists to denounce, ridicule and drown out critics.
A test run of this propaganda operation occurred in
early fall 2002 when Bush was starting a war fever among the American
people and former Vice President Al Gore delivered a tough-minded
critique of the “Bush Doctrine.”
“I am deeply concerned
that the course of action that we are presently embarking upon with
respect to Iraq has the potential to seriously damage our ability to win
the war against terrorism and to weaken our ability to lead the world in
this new century,” Gore said in a speech on Sept. 23, 2002.
“To put first things
first, I believe that we ought to be focusing our efforts first and
foremost against those who attacked us on Sept. 11,” Gore said. “Great
nations persevere and then prevail. They do not jump from one unfinished
task to another. We should remain focused on the war against terrorism.”
Now – with more than
2,200 Americans soldiers dead in Iraq along with tens of thousands of
Iraqis – Gore’s comments sound prescient. In early fall 2002, however,
Gore’s speech received scant media attention, except for denunciations
from pro-Bush commentators.
Some epithets were hurled
by Bush partisans. Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke
called Gore a “political hack.” [Washington Post, Sept. 24, 2002]
Other slurs came from
conservative opinion-makers on editorial pages, on talk radio and on
television chat shows.
“Gore’s speech was one no
decent politician could have delivered,” wrote Washington Post columnist
Michael Kelly. “It was dishonest, cheap, low. It was hollow. It was
bereft of policy, of solutions, of constructive ideas, very nearly of
facts – bereft of anything other than taunts and jibes and
embarrassingly obvious lies. It was breathtakingly hypocritical, a naked
political assault delivered in tones of moral condescension from a man
pretending to be superior to mere politics. It was wretched. It was
vile. It was contemptible.” [Washington Post, Sept. 25, 2002]
“A pudding with no theme
but much poison,” declared another Post columnist, Charles Krauthammer.
“It was a disgrace – a series of cheap shots strung together without
logic or coherence.” [Washington Post, Sept. 27, 2002]
At Salon.com, Andrew
Sullivan entitled his piece about Gore’s speech “The Opportunist” and
characterized Gore as “bitter.”
While other writers
followed Sullivan in depicting Gore’s motivation as “opportunism,”
columnist William Bennett took an opposite tack, saying Gore had
committed political “self-immolation” and had banished himself “from the
mainstream of public opinion.”
“Now we have reason to be
grateful once again that Al Gore is not the man in the White House, and
never will be,” Bennett wrote. [WSJ, Sept. 26, 2002] [For more details,
see Consortiumnews.com’s “Politics
More than three years
later, Bush’s “politics of preemption” have advanced along with the
complementary theory of the “unitary executive,” a notion espoused by
right-wing jurists who argue that the President has virtually unlimited
powers in a time of war.
Bush, for instance, cited
his “unitary” powers in announcing that he can ignore Sen. John McCain’s
anti-torture amendment, which was passed and signed into law in December
2005. Bush tacked on a “signing statement,” which effectively called the
law null and void if Bush wishes it to be.
While Bush’s supposed
power to override laws is certainly not spelled out in the Constitution,
he is now filling the U.S. Supreme Court with advocates of the “unitary
executive” who may interpret the Constitution to give Bush that
Bush’s two high-court
nominees – John Roberts and Samuel Alito – are supporters of the
“unitary executive” as are Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
[See Consortiumnews.com’s “Alito
& the Ken Lay Factor.”]
Bush’s status as “unitary
executive” also is bolstered by Republican control of the Congress and –
perhaps most importantly – by the existence of a powerful conservative
Based on his recent
comments about acceptable boundaries for the Iraq War debate, Bush may
have concluded, too, that his unfettered authority as “unitary
executive” covers setting limits on “responsible” American political