the nine months since Sept. 11, George W. Bush has put the United States
on a course that is so bleak that few analysts have as the saying goes
connected the dots. If they had, they would see an outline of a future
that mixes constant war overseas with abridgment of constitutional
freedoms at home, a picture drawn by a politician who once joked, "If
this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier so long
as I'm the dictator."
The dots are
certainly there. Bush's speech at West Point on June 1 asserted a
unilateral U.S. right to overthrow any government in the world that is
deemed a threat to American security, a position so sweeping that it lacks
historical precedent. "If we wait for threats to fully materialize,
we will have waited too long," Bush said in describing what he calls
a "new doctrine" and what some acolytes have dubbed the
In a domestic corollary to this Bush Doctrine, Bush is asserting his
personal authority to strip even U.S. citizens of due-process rights if he
judges them "enemy combatants." With Vice President Dick Cheney
and Attorney General John Ashcroft warning critics not to question Bush's
policy, it's not too big a jump to see a future where there will be spying
on dissenters and limits on public debate, especially now that Ashcroft
has lifted restrictions on FBI surveillance activities.
possibility would grow if the Republicans succeed in regaining control of
the Senate and place more of Bush's conservative political allies in the
Bush's grim vision is of a modern "crusade," as he once put it,
with American military forces striking preemptively at
"evil-doers" wherever they live, while U.S. citizens live under
a redefined Constitution with rights that can be suspended selectively by
one man. Beyond the enormous sacrifices of blood, money and freedom that
this plan entails, there is another problem: the strategy offers no
guarantee of greater security for Americans and runs the risk of deepening
the pool of hatred against the United States.
With his cavalier tough talk, Bush continues to show no sign that he
grasps how treacherous his course is, nor how much more difficult it will
be if the U.S. alienates large segments of the world's population.
One of the most stunning results of Bush's behavior over the past nine
months has been the dissipation of the vast reservoir of goodwill that
sprang up toward the United States in the days after Sept. 11. In cities
all over the world, people spontaneously carried flowers to the sidewalks
outside U.S. embassies and joined in mourning for the more than 3,000
people murdered in New York, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.
I joined a kind
of pilgrimage in Copenhagen, Denmark, as people carried bouquets, a New
York Yankees cap and other symbols of sympathy to the U.S. Embassy. More
substantively, governments around the globe opened their files to help
U.S. authorities hunt down those behind the murders.
European nations, which earlier had been alarmed by Bush's tendency toward
unilateralism, hoped the inexperienced president would gain an
appreciation for multilateral approaches toward addressing root causes of
global problems and finding ways to create a more livable world. Some
Europeans, for instance, thought Bush might reverse his repudiation of the
Kyoto agreement, which seeks to curb global warming and avoid economic
dislocations that would follow dramatic climate changes.
Bush, however, appears to have learned the opposite lesson. He's grown
more disdainful of international opinion. He seems intent on throwing
American weight around and demanding that other nations follow whatever
course he chooses. As for global warming, his administration now has
accepted the scientific evidence that human activity is contributing to a
dangerous heating of the planet, but he continues to favor voluntary
approaches to the problem and opposes collaborating with other nations to
limit emissions to retard those trends.
On the war against terrorism, Bush has asserted that he will judge whether
another country is "with us, or you are with the terrorists."
[Sept. 20, 2001] If a country picks the wrong side, Bush will decide when,
how or if that country's government will be overthrown. Bush started with
Afghanistan before fingering the "axis
of evil" states: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. His supporters have
lobbied to expand the list to add nations as diverse as Syria, Saudi
Arabia, Pakistan and Cuba.
Bush's actions have alarmed traditional U.S. allies in Western Europe. To
them, the first clear post-Sept. 11 signal that Bush still had little
interest in multilateral cooperation was his disregard of international
concerns over the treatment of prisoners locked in open cages at Camp
X-Ray on the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Bush drew criticism from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights when he effectively waived the Third Geneva Convention's
protections of prisoners of war. The Bush administration announced that
contrary to the Convention's provisions, the United States would
unilaterally declare which Guantanamo prisoners qualify for POW status and
which POW protections they would enjoy. [See Consortiumnews.com's Bush's
Return to Unilateralism, Feb. 18, 2002]
Since then, the administration has ignored or renounced a string of
international agreements. Bush formally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic
Missile Treaty, which had been a bulwark of arms control since 1972. He
flouted the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by pointing nuclear warheads
at non-nuclear states. He breached World Trade Organization rules by
erecting tariffs for foreign steel.
Beyond those policy rebuffs to multilateralism, Bush went on the offensive
against individual U.N. officials who have not conformed to his
administration's desires. These officials, who insisted on holding Bush to
standards applied to other leaders around the world, soon found themselves
out of jobs.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary C. Robinson, was the first
to experience the administration's displeasure. The former Irish
president's efforts had won acclaim from human rights groups around the
world. But her fierce independence, which surfaced in her criticism of
Israel and Bush's war on terror, rubbed Washington the wrong way. The Bush
administration lobbied hard against her reappointment. Officially, she was
retiring on her own accord. [http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/26/14/feature1.shtml]
The Bush administration also forced out Robert Watson, the chairman of the
U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]. Under his
leadership, the panel had reached a consensus that human activities, such
as burning fossil fuels, contributed to global warming. Bush has resisted
this science, which also is opposed by oil companies such as ExxonMobil.
The oil giant sent a memo to the White House asking the administration,
"Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the U.S.?" [http://www.foreignpolicy-infocus.org/commentary/2002/0204un_body.html]
The ExxonMobil memo, obtained by the Natural Resources Defense Council
through the Freedom of Information Act, urged the White House to
"restructure U.S. attendance at the IPCC meetings to assure no
Clinton/Gore proponents are involved in decisional activities."
On April 19,
ExxonMobil got its wish. The administration succeeded in replacing Watson
with Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian economist. Commenting on his removal,
Watson said, "U.S. support was, of course, an important factor. They
[the IPCC] came under a lot of pressure from ExxonMobil who asked the
White House to try and remove me." [Independent, April 20, 2002]
The next to go,
on April 22, was Jose Mauricio Bustani, the head of the Organization for
the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW]. Bustani ran into trouble when
he resisted Bush administration efforts to dictate the nationalities of
inspectors assigned to investigate U.S. chemical facilities. He also
opposed a U.S. law allowing Bush to block unannounced inspections in the
under criticism for "bias" because his organization had sought
to inspect American chemical facilities as aggressively as it examined
facilities of U.S.-designated "rogue states." In other words, he
was called biased because he sought to apply the rules evenhandedly. [http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/26/14/feature1.shtml]
The final straw for Bush apparently was Bustani's efforts to persuade Iraq
to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which would allow the OPCW to
inspect Iraqi facilities. The Bush administration denounced this move an
"ill-considered initiative" and pushed to have Bustani deposed,
threatening to withhold dues to the OPCW if Bustani remained.
Washington's reasoning was that Bush would be stripped of a principal
rationale for invading Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein if the Iraqi
dictator agreed to join the international body designed to inspect
chemical-weapons facilities, including those in Iraq. A senior U.S.
official dismissed that interpretation of Bush's motive as "an
atrocious red herring."
Bustani of mismanagement, U.S. officials called an unprecedented special
session to vote Bustani out, only a year after he was unanimously
reelected to another five-year term. The member states chose to sacrifice
Bustani to save the organization from the loss of U.S. funds. [Christian
Science Monitor, April 24, 2002]
"By dismissing me," Bustani told the U.N. body, "an
international precedent will have been established whereby any duly
elected head of any international organization would at any point during
his or her tenure remain vulnerable to the whims of one or a few major
contributors." He said that if the United States succeeded in
removing him, "genuine multilateralism" would succumb to "unilateralism
in a multilateral disguise." [http://www.opcw.org/SS1CSP/SS1CSP_DG_statement.html]
Despite Bush's success bending some international organizations to his
will, Europe and other parts of the world have continued to promote
multilateral strategies, even over Bush's objections.
On April 11, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was
ratified by enough countries to make the court a reality. Treaty
ratification surged past the necessary 60 countries with the approval of
Bosnia-Herzogovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Ireland, Jordan, Mongolia, Niger, Romania and Slovakia -- to go along with
the support of all the nations of Western Europe and virtually every major
Taking effect on July 1 with an inaugural ceremony of the
International Criminal Court expected as early as February 2003 the
court will try people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and
war crimes. Amnesty International has called the court "a historic
development in the fight for justice." Human Rights Watch has called
it "the most important new institution for enforcing human rights in
Reacting hostilely to the Rome Statute's ratification, Bush reiterated his
opposition and repudiated President Clinton's decision to sign the
accord. "The United States has no legal obligations arising from its
signature on Dec. 31, 2000," the Bush administration said in a May 6
letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. "The United States
requests that its intention not to become a party
be reflected in the
depositary's status lists relating to this treaty." [http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2002/9968.htm]
While the "unsigning" was a remarkable snub at the world's
diplomats and at principles of civilized behavior that the U.S. has long
championed, it will not itself stop the court's creation, nor does it
legally absolve the United States from cooperating with it. But the letter
does signal Bush's intent to undermine the court at every turn.
With strong administration support, House Republicans promoted a bill that
would allow U.S. armed forces to invade the Hague, Netherlands, where the
court will be located, to rescue U.S. soldiers if they are ever prosecuted
for war crimes. The bill, sponsored by House Majority Whip Tom DeLay,
would bar U.S. military aid to countries that ratify the treaty. The bill
also would prevent the U.S. from participating in peacekeeping missions
that might put American soldiers under the court's jurisdiction. DeLay's
bill even would prohibit the U.S. from sharing intelligence with the court
regarding suspects being investigated or prosecuted. [http://www.wfa.org/issues/wicc/wicc.html]
The Bush administration's active campaign against the court places the
U.S. alongside only one other country, Libya.
Washington's opposition to the court contrasts, too, with the staunch U.S.
support for the war crimes tribunal that was created to try former
Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In that case, the U.S. threatened
to withhold financial aid to Yugoslavia if it did not hand over Milosevic
and cooperate with the tribunal.
When Yugoslavia complied, Bush hailed the move as "a first step
toward trying him for the crimes against humanity with which he is
charged." Bush's opposition to a permanent war crimes court seems
driven by fear that his freedom to wage war around the world might be
proscribed by fear of war-crime charges.
Bush's selective unilateralism has sparked anti-Americanism even among
former close allies. Reflecting the widespread view that Bush is asserting
an American exceptionalism disdainful of world opinion, critics have come
to routinely refer to the United States as "the empire."
During his May
trip to Europe, demonstrators went into the streets to protest Bush's
policies. The scene that I witnessed in Berlin in late May was almost the
opposite of what I had observed in Copenhagen in mid-September. Instead of
a warm affection for the United States, there was ridicule and contempt.
At the Cowgirls and Cowboys Against the War protest march in Berlin,
demonstrators wearing cowboy outfits followed a truck with a country music
band mocking Bushs Wild West approach to foreign relations. At the
protest, I saw people holding signs that read, George W. Bush: Usurper,
Oil Chieftain, Super-terrorist and Bush: System Robot. Another
sign I saw had a photograph of Bush with a goofy expression on his face
and a caption reading, Do you really want this man to lead us into
The estimates of the Berlin protests ranged from 20,000 to 50,000 people.
But it is clear from opinion polls and press commentaries that the
protesters were expressing sentiments widely held in Europe. According to
European polls, approval ratings of Bushs international policies hover
at around 35 percent. [http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=153]
Many Europeans believe Bush offers only lip service to the American ideal
of democracy. Not only is Bush building alliances with undemocratic human
rights violators, such as Uzbekistan and Georgia, but Bush's diplomats
were supportive when coup plotters briefly ousted the elected president of
Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, on April 12.
The Bush administration viewed Chavez as a troublesome populist who
threatened the stability of Venezuela's oil industry. Washington retreated
only when Chavez backers poured into the streets and reversed the coup.
Now, Bush has established a domestic corollary to the worldwide "Bush
Doctrine." Along with asserting his unilateral power abroad, Bush is
limiting freedoms within the United States.
of police powers began immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks when Middle
Easterners living in the U.S. were swept off the streets and held
incommunicado as "material witnesses" or for minor visa
violations. Attorney General Ashcroft likened their detentions to
arresting gangsters for "spitting on the sidewalk."
The total number and the identities of those arrested remain state
secrets. Government officials have estimated that about 1,100 people,
mostly Middle Eastern-born men, were caught up in the dragnet. Some legal
observers outside the government put the number much larger, at about
1,500 to 2,000 people. Only one of these detainees has been charged with a
crime connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, Zacarias Moussaoui, who was in
custody before the attacks. [For details, see Salon.com's
The Dragnet Comes Up Empty, June 19, 2002]
Next came the
hundreds of combatants captured in Afghanistan and put in cages at the
U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bush refused to grant them
protections under the Geneva Conventions and said they could be tried by a
military tribunal established by his fiat.
Initially, many Americans reconciled themselves to the array of post-Sept.
11 detentions and the Guantanamo cages, believing that the arrests without
trial only affected foreigners and were a reaction to a short-term
emergency. But that comfort level shrank when Jose Padilla, a 31-year-old
U.S.-born citizen who had converted to Islam, was arrested on May 8 in
Ashcroft announced the arrest at a dramatic news conference in Moscow more
than a month later, on June 10. Ashcroft depicted Padilla's capture as a
major victory in the war on terror. Administration officials said Padilla
had met with al-Qaeda operatives abroad and was in the early stages of a
plot to develop a radiological "dirty bomb" that would be
detonated in a U.S. city.
But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said later that the bomb plot
amounted only to "some fairly loose talk." [Washington Post,
June 13, 2002] Nothing concrete had occurred. Padilla had no bomb-making
materials, no target, no operational co-conspirators, no plan. Beyond
assertions, the administration offered no evidence of Padilla's guilt.
Bush described Padilla as an "enemy combatant" and ordered him
detained indefinitely at a military prison in South Carolina. No trial,
not even one before the military tribunal, is to be held. Attempting to
justify this extra-constitutional detention, Bush explained that Padilla
is a bad guy and he is where he needs to be, detained. The
Bush administration said Padilla would be jailed for as long as the war on
terrorism continues, potentially a life sentence given the vague goals and
indefinite timetable of this conflict. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/americas/newsid_2039000/2039214.stm]
Even though the Clinton administration had succeeded in winning
convictions against both Islamic and domestic terrorists in open court,
Bush was demonstrating his Clint-Eastwood-style impatience for such legal
Though many Americans may feel little sympathy for Padilla, a street tough
who allegedly consorted with al-Qaeda terrorists, the principle behind the
case is clear: Bush is arrogating to himself the unilateral right to judge
whether an American citizen is part of a terrorist cabal and thus can be
stripped of all constitutional rights.
Under this precedent, a U.S. citizen can be denied his right to an
attorney, his right to a speedy trial before a jury of peers, his right to
confront accusers, his right against self-incrimination, even his right to
have the charges against him spelled out. Simply on Bush's say-so, an
allegation of conspiracy can become grounds for unlimited imprisonment,
even with no overt acts and no public evidence.
A Bleak Future
It no longer seems farfetched to think that George W. Bush might someday
expand his extraordinary powers to silence those who ask difficult
questions or criticize his judgment or otherwise give aid and comfort to
When some Democrats demanded to know what Bush knew about the terror
threats before Sept. 11, Cheney delivered a blunt warning. "My
Democratic friends in Congress," Cheney said, "they need to be
very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary
suggestions, as were made by some
today, that the White House had advance information that would have
prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11." [Washington Post, May 17,
Bush, the first man in more than a century to take the White House after
losing the popular vote, seems to have developed an abiding trust in his
personal right to wield unlimited power. After succeeding in getting his
allies on the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the counting of votes in Florida
in December 2000, Bush may feel confident that he will have their help,
too, in redefining the U.S. Constitution. Bush also may be confident that
a frightened American populace will support his every move, regardless of
how many freedoms they must surrender in the name of security.
Unthinkable a year ago, there is now the shape of an American Gulag where
people can disappear without public legal proceedings or possibly no legal
proceedings at all.
The American people may learn too late that relying on repression to gain
security can mean sacrificing freedom without actually achieving greater
security. As counterinsurgency experts have long argued, only a wise
balance between reasonable security and smart policies to address
legitimate grievances can reduce violence to manageable levels over the
long term. Often, repression simply breeds new generations of bitter
Over the past nine months, George W. Bush has marched off in a political
direction so troubling that American editorial writers don't dare speak
its name. He is moving toward a system in which an un-elected leader
decides what freedoms his people will be allowed at home and what
countries will be invaded abroad. If carried to its ultimate conclusion,
this political strategy can degenerate into what would be called in any
other country a dictatorship.
reporting by Robert Parry