CULTIVATING LIBERALISM
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Uniform Defeat
Little Big Bush

Salvador Dali was the surrealist painter to whom distortion was means, ends and art all in one. These are Dali times, minus the art. George W. Bush is the surrealist president to whom distortion is means, ends and crime. Dali’s dalliance with fascism was the harmless product of a man infatuated with schlock. Bush’s dalliance with fascism is the by-product of a man who thinks being on a mission from God is not just a line in “The Blues Brothers,” but an executive order from a gospel of his own discovery. Dali would have appreciated the gall of a president still pushing the hallucinogens of 9/11, especially this month, when the American death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan will exceed that of Ground Zero. Bush is just glad a third of the nation and most of Congress are still inhaling.

A quick example. On the inhaling side, there’s the $70 billion in tax cut extensions for the rich (those who profit from capital gains and stock dividends) that the Senate just approved. On the exhaling side, it’s exactly the amount Bush is requesting in his latest “supplemental” bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supplementals are the accounting deceptions that hide how the United States spends more on its $600 billion military than all other nations combined. The latest supplemental will bring the cumulative cost of Iraq and Afghanistan to $438 billion by midyear, and past the half-trillion dollar mark by the time American deaths in Iraq alone are likely to exceed all those of 9/11, in time for Christmas.

Here’s the odd part. Bush promises a veto if the spending bill includes $14 billion in so-called domestic pork, like promoting Gulf of Mexico fisheries or moving a railroad or building a bridge here and there. Headlines have focused on that $14 billion as pointless spending by a typically pork-ridden Congress. But what’s the true obscenity — the cost of wars that are undermining national security and jeopardizing the nation’s fiscal future, or a few congressional pet projects that will at least create jobs, improve life, maybe even produce some useful research along the way? But distortions of national purpose have become so perverse that any civilian spending is presumed suspicious, while any military spending is presumed worthy. That’s how military regimes are born.

One of Dali’s last paintings is called “Warrior,” an up-close portrait of a helmeted soldier whose face looks eerily like the Statue of Liberty’s. Bush’s triumph has been to draft liberty in the service of war — a fundamental reversal that hasn’t quite registered in the national psyche. Most of us still think that we fight wars to protect freedom. In fact, not a single war since Korea can make that claim (no, not even Gulf War I, which only restored Kuwait’s playboy caliphate and secured Saudi oil’s intravenous pipeline to America’s arteries). Most wars since, Iraq, Afghanistan and the “war on terror” most of all, are doing the reverse: Mocking liberty where they’re being fought, and systematically undermining it at home. Two acronyms suffice to illustrate this point for now: GWB and NSA.

Americans love a uniform. They instinctively equate the military with the efficient and the victorious. The assumption is as outdated as Ernie Pyle-like war reporting. Vietnam was a catastrophe. Lebanon was a disaster. Grenada was like sending the New York Yankees to beat up on a little league team. Somalia and Haiti were disasters, especially in retrospect. Iraq is a Vietnam-size catastrophe. Afghanistan is getting there. Conservatives pretend that they don’t throw money at a problem (though they have no issue with throwing money their way; see tax cuts above). They rarely hesitate to throw troops at a problem. The waste in lives, money, resources and liberties has been criminal.

Inefficient in everything, victorious in nothing, Bush knows at least this much: When he puts on a uniform, speaks to military audiences or starts wars, his approval numbers go up. After Iraq, Afghanistan and Old Europe, he’s run out of places to start wars. So he’s invading the U.S.-Mexico border. Troops there won’t make a difference. But illegal immigration isn’t his concern. He’s militarized foreign policy. He’s militarized spying and intelligence. The Department of Homeland Security is a quasi-military operation. He had no “boots on the ground” here at home, visible and enforcing federal will. Now he’ll have them. Legislative and judiciary branches abdicated years ago. The dissident media is its own echo chamber. Dangle a uniform and the public will still inhale deeply. With such willing collaborators who needs a coup?


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