Street must have a strong stomach to actually go through Bush's meanderings paragraph by paragraph subjecting them to a detailed critique. To counterpoise the high sounding phrases about democracy and liberty against the historical realities is quite effective.
ZNet | U.S.
Grading Bush’s History Speech
by Paul Street; August 27, 2007
As a former college history teacher, I have an ingrained habit developed over years of grading. I often mark up things I read, adding commentary in the margins. The commentary is generally addressed to the author by first name.
Yesterday, I read former Yale history major and current day messianic militarist George W. Bush’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In this disturbing oration, the United States' "Worst President Ever" (according to distinguished U.S. historian Eric Foner) attempted to make an historical case for continuing the criminal United States occupation of Iraq.
Below I present selected passages of Bush’s speech followed by commentary I have typed up from my red-inked margins. The commentary is addressed to "George," as if the president had submitted his speech as an essay I was expected to evaluate and comment upon.
A grade is given at the end.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Please be seated. The VFW is one of this nation's finest organizations. You belong to an elite group of Americans. (Applause.) You belong to a group of people who have defended America overseas. You have fought in places from Normandy to Iwo Jima, to Pusan, to Khe Sahn, to Kuwait, to Somalia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. You brought security to the American people; you brought hope to millions across the world.
Street: Careful George. There were strong U.S. imperial ambitions related to – and expressed in --- all of the wars you indirectly reference, including even WWII. The most transparently imperial of them all is the last one: the brazenly colonial occupation you so criminally and disastrously launched against Iraq. The U.S. wars on Korea, Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq had and (since the last two are ongoing) have nothing to do with defending America or spreading hope abroad. The last two assaults are endangering Americans and spreading hatred abroad.
BUSH: I stand before you as a wartime President. I wish I didn't have to say that, but an enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001, declared war on the United States of America. And war is what we're engaged in. The struggle has been called a clash of civilizations. In truth, it's a struggle for civilization. We fight for a free way of life against a new barbarism -- an ideology whose followers have killed thousands on American soil, and seek to kill again on even a greater scale.
Street: George, please. You know very well that you wanted to be “a wartime president.” Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and other handlers told you (and you certainly agreed) that you needed a quick and easy victory over a defenseless but trumped up foe (Saddam Hussein’s severely weakened Iraqi regime) to guarantee a second term in office. You and your handlers found 9/11 to be a useful and misleading pretext for that war (which didn’t turn out so quick and easy). Now you have turned Iraq into a terrorist training and breeding ground with a terrorist occupation that may have killed 1 million Iraqis and which feeds the flames of Islamic bitterness. Your occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have managed to identify America’s concept of "freedom" with barbarian torture practices and indiscriminate mass bombings and murder. You have used the terror threat as a pretext to rollback freedom and democracy at home.
BUSH: We fight for the possibility that decent men and women across the broader Middle East can realize their destiny -- and raise up societies based on freedom and justice and personal dignity...I'm confident we'll prevail because we have the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known -- the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.
Street: George, with all due respect, your claim to support “freedom and justice and dignity” in the Middle East is more than a little dubious. After all, your government is the leading ally, sponsor and arms supplier of possibly the most reactionary and totalitarian government on earth: the arch-repressive Saudi Arabian regime (to whom you have long been especially close). You also strongly support Israel’s oppressive and racist occupation of Palestine. And you can’t enhance “freedom and justice and dignity” in Iraq by killing a million of its people, forcing the exodus of 2 million (including especially the nation’s professional class) and generally devastating its society and infrastructure.
The “greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known” is popular struggle, not the U.S. military, which has a long history of supporting repressive regimes abroad.
BUSH: Now, I know some people doubt the universal appeal of liberty, or worry that the Middle East isn't ready for it. Others believe that America's presence is destabilizing, and that if the United States would just leave a place like Iraq those who kill our troops or target civilians would no longer threaten us.
Street: George, you know very well that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to with a desire to spread “liberty.” You attacked that nation to boost your political profile (that didn’t work out too well, I’m afraid) and to deepen U.S. control of super-strategic Middle Eastern oil resources. You have naturally and consistently opposed substantive and meaningful liberty for the Iraqi people and nation state. That’s why you got rid of Garner and replaced him with Bremer as Iraq viceroy as you could, remember? (Garner thought they should have real elections as soon as possible, but this was too quick for your economic and oil takeover plans).
You are desperate to see the Iraqi government pass an oil law that happens to be opposed by most Iraqis because the law would open Iraq's stupendous petroleum reserves to foreign and principally U.S. control and profit.
The notion that the U.S. occupation has destabilized Iraq is simply an obvious empirical fact readily noted by all honest and competent observers. We Americans are threatened by the Islamic terrorism you fuel with such bloody and illegal actions as the occupation of Iraq.
BUSH: There are many differences between the wars we fought in the Far East and the war on terror we're fighting today. But one important similarity is at their core they're ideological struggles. The militarists of Japan and the communists in Korea and Vietnam were driven by a merciless vision for the proper ordering of humanity. They killed Americans because we stood in the way of their attempt to force their ideology on others. Today, the names and places have changed, but the fundamental character of the struggle has not changed. Like our enemies in the past, the terrorists who wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places seek to spread a political vision of their own -- a harsh plan for life that crushes freedom, tolerance, and dissent. Like our enemies in the past, they kill Americans because we stand in their way of imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world. This enemy is dangerous; this enemy is determined; and this enemy will be defeated.
Street: George, there’s an enormous amount of nonsense and ignorance on display here. The U.S. was fine with European and Japanese fascism until the U.S. miltary was attacked in a colonial possession it had stolen from its island inhabitants – Hawaii. The U.S. empire was attacked because it had been acting to strangle Japan’s economy in accord with perceived U.S. interests in Asia. The Japanese military killed Americans because there was a great power conflict over Asian resources and markets; nothing in the Japanese militarists’ world view required killing Americans.
The U.S. fought a brutal “race war without mercy” (John Dower) against the Japanese because Japan had challenged U.S. imperial interests in a region of the world over which the Japanese had a more legitimate claim to influence. It had nothing to do with Japan’s purported ideological ambitions.
Vietnam was a U.S. colonial war (also quite racist) fought to prevent a small peasant nation from breaking free from imperial control and to stop it from developing outside the supervision of the U.S.-controleld world capitalist system. It was waged against ordinary and predominantly Buddhist Vietnamese peasants and workers who were driven by the desire for social justice and national independence – not by some faceless ideology of international "communism." Vietnamese revolutionaries and independence (freedom) fighters “killed Americans” because the U.S. invaded and attempted to destroy their country. The U.S. savagely killed 3 million Indochinese people between 1962 and 1975.
Iraq is under U.S. occupation because you wanted what you thought would be a quick victory (remember that little “Mission Accomplished” scam you pulled?) for your political resume and because you and your handlers wanted to deepen U.S. control over the remarkable oil resources that sit beneath Iraq’s not-so sovereign soil. You used the “ideological struggle” with radical Islam as a fraudulent pretext to invade. You continue to brandish this false justification to rationalize the continuation of that inherently mass-murderous operation, which happens to be opposed by most U.S. citizens along with the preponderant majority of the morally and politically cognizant planet.
BUSH; At the outset of World War II there were only two democracies in the Far East -- Australia and New Zealand. Today most of the nations in Asia are free, and its democracies reflect the diversity of the region. Some of these nations have constitutional monarchies, some have parliaments, and some have presidents. Some are Christian, some are Muslim, some are Hindu, and some are Buddhist. Yet for all the differences, the free nations of Asia all share one thing in common: Their governments derive their authority from the consent of the governed, and they desire to live in peace with their neighbors.
Street: George, you know very well that U.S. opposes the will of Asian nations and people when that will is perceived to work against U.S. global interests. And by the Jeffersonian criteria you embrace – that governments derive their just authority from the consent of the governed – the current U.S. government should be dissolved. You continue to pursue numerous policies (including but not restricted to the Iraq War) for which ordinary Americans do not give their consent.
You attempted to manufacture mass U.S. consent for the Iraq War through technically illegal and fraudulent means --- false WMD claims, false linkages of Iraq to al Qaeda and 9/11, and false claims to be trying to advance “liberty” to Iraq, etc. You have consistently used your imperial entanglements adn crimes as justification for your repeated efforts to roll back U.S. civil liberties.
BUSH: Along the way to this freer and more hopeful Asia, there were a lot of doubters. Many times in the decades that followed World War II, American policy in Asia was dismissed as hopeless and naive. And when we listen to criticism of the difficult work our generation is undertaking in the Middle East today, we can hear the echoes of the same arguments made about the Far East years ago.
In the aftermath of Japan's surrender, many thought it naive to help the Japanese transform themselves into a democracy. Then as now, the critics argued that some people were simply not fit for freedom.
Street: George,the problem with you and your fellow war-makers isn’t that you are naïvely pursuing freedom and hope. The problem is that you are cynical imperialists who use deceptive and disingenuous claims (falsely claiming in this case to be spreading exporting democracy and “helping” others) as cover for your efforts to deepen U.S. control over global energy resources and (you hoped) to advance your own political career.
You don’t help make people “fit for freedom” by deepening America’s already advanced devastation of their society. But then, actual freedom is the last thing you and your comrades want for the Iraqis.
BUSH: Finally, there's Vietnam. This is a complex and painful subject for many Americans. The tragedy of Vietnam is too large to be contained in one speech.
Street: George, I’ll give you one sentence: the tragedy of Vietnam is a long record of outside imperial domination that reached its apex when the U.S. killed millions of Vietnamese to prevent them from completing a socially egalitarian national independence revolution in the 1960s and 1970s
BUSH: I'm going to limit myself to one argument that has particular significance today. Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end. The argument that America's presence in Indochina was dangerous had a long pedigree...many argued that if we pulled out there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people.
Street: Let’s see: 2 million dead Vietnamese plus 57,000 dead Americans....what’s your definition of “dangerous” presence?
And who argued “no consequences?” The antiwar movement you are attempting to criticize here argued that a U.S. pullout would permit the Vietnamese to consolidate their national independence movement and would save untold numbers of lives being lost because of the United States’ determination to sustain a hated colonial invasion.
BUSH: Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left...Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "re-education camps," and "killing fields."
Street: George, this is too much. After killing 3 million Indochinese and practically bombing Vietnam and parts of Laos and Cambodia “back to the Stone Age” you have the audacity to claim that subsequent miseries there – exacerbated by a crushing U.S. embargo meant to complete Vietnam’s transformation into a basket case --- were because of our withdrawal? Have you ever heard about the critical role that Nixon and Kissinger’s mass bombing campaign in Cambodia played in the rise of the Khmer Rouge?
The U.S “crucifixion of Southeast Asia” (Noam Chomsky’s excellent phrase) is critical context for the consolidation of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in Vietnam and Cambodia. Curiously enough, it was the North Vietnamese regime that most significantly intervened against the killing fields in Cambodia.
Do you really think we should have stuck around to directly kill, what, 10 million Indochinese and lost, how many --- 100,000, 200,000 troops?
Interesting, isn’t it, that YOU were a draft dodger, even through you supported the war. That wouldn't have been a good thing to mention to the VFW folks, I guess.
BUSH: There was another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam, and we can hear it in the words of the enemy we face in today's struggle -- those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens on September the 11th, 2001. In an interview with a Pakistani newspaper after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden declared that "the American people had risen against their government's war in Vietnam. And they must do the same today."
His number two man, Zawahiri, has also invoked Vietnam. In a letter to al Qaeda's chief of operations in Iraq, Zawahiri pointed to "the aftermath of the collapse of the American power in Vietnam and how they ran and left their agents."
Zawahiri later returned to this theme, declaring that the Americans "know better than others that there is no hope in victory. The Vietnam specter is closing every outlet." Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price to American credibility -- but the terrorists see it differently.
Street: George, don’t you think this line about how the terrorists “came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens” is getting a little OLD after we’ve spent five and half years fighting state terrorist wars of imperial aggression that have killed HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of innocent Arab and Pashtun (and other) citizens on THEIR SOIL?
Another question here is what kind of “credibility” America wants in the world: the true integrity that emerges from engaging peacefully and democratically with the world or the dangerous, false, terrorist and terrorism-inviting authority that comes from delivering on the promise to butcher masses of people from land, sea and sky? Imperial state mass murder garners only the latter type of so-called “respect.”
The Nazi Third Reich had similar concerns about credibility. So does any good Mafia boss!
BUSH: Iraq is one of several fronts in the war on terror -- but it's the central front -- it's the central front for the enemy that attacked us and wants to attack us again. And it's the central front for the United States and to withdraw without getting the job done would be devastating.
Street: George, even the overworked, bewildered, atomized, and heavily propagandized (the childish tale notion that the U.S. invaded Iraq to “help” it is still ubiquitous across dominant narrow U.S. media and political spectrums) American people no longer believe this. The U.S. majority no longer accepts your conflation of the terrorist U.S. war on Iraq with the so-called war on terror. And they think your war on Iraq is endangering us – with good reason. It's been this way for a while now.
BUSH: Unlike in Vietnam, if we withdraw before the job is done, this enemy will follow us home. And that is why, for the security of the United States of America, we must defeat them overseas so we do not face them in the United States of America.
Street: But George, the U.S. didn’t leave before “getting the job done” in Vietnam. It devastated Vietnam so thoroughly that the country was incapable of becoming a successful model of democratic and independent development outside U.S. (and world capitalist) supervision. That was the basic minimal job of the U.S. assault (readily discernible in U.S. planning documents) and it WAS attained. (We had more than a few assigned readings on this, George)
That point aside, you’ve got the whole Middle Eastern danger thing backwards. Americans faced and continue to face threats from Islamic terrorists precisely because of our -- well, your --- vicious, alienating and (sorry) imperialist foreign policy. The U.S. must dismantle its massive Empire in the Middle East or continue to face the threat of terrorist assault.
BUSH: In Iraq, our moral obligations and our strategic interests are one. So we pursue the extremists wherever we find them and we stand with the Iraqis at this difficult hour -- because the shadow of terror will never be lifted from our world and the American people will never be safe until the people of the Middle East know the freedom that our Creator meant for all.
Street: whose American moral obligations and whose American "strategic interests," George? The moral obligation to encourage freedom and justice there stands in direct contradiction to you and your fellow imperialists’ determination to seize control of Iraq’s oil reserves (the essence of your "strategic interests"). You do not stand with the Iraqis (the great majority of whom have long wanted the U.S. to leave) on that or countless other vital matters. And your glorious Armed Forces (the very military you refused to “serve” with during the 1960s) are in many ways the very “shadow of terror” you claim to oppose as far as millions of Iraqis are concerned.
Again with the “freedom” nonsense that nobody outside your closed imperial circle pretends to believe.
And for God’s sake, you must know how volatile that “Creator meant for all” line must be in the Muslim world. But then that’s the point, isn’t it? You are all about egging your opposite number messianic fundamentalists on, aren’t you? You are all about advancing permanent war as the glorious agent of wealth and power concentration at home and abroad. Much of your "base" (the top 1 percent) likes that.
BUSH: In a world where the terrorists are willing to act on their twisted beliefs with sickening acts of barbarism...
Street: George, please take a look in the mirror of your own nation’s twisted imperial record, which you have taken to a new level of hypocrisy and shame.
George, you have a chilling “Orwellian” penchant for distorting and selectively interpreting the past, something that has unfortunate implications for your understanding of the present and future. This would be less of a problem if you did not shockingly happen to still be the “Commander in Chief" (as you love to describe yourself). This is the fifth straight inadequate paper you've handed in. Please schedule an appointment with me as soon as possible.
Paul Street's latest book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007). Paul can be reached at email@example.com.