US President George W. Bush said something the other day Jay Leno could have used for his “Tonight Show”. If he hasn’t, he’s missed an opportunity to get a laugh at the expense of someone who truly deserves global derision.
For the information of non-cable TV subscribers, comic Leno has been the subject of the ire of our instant nationalists—some of the very same people who cheered Bush when he visited last year, but who’re bristling in indignation over Leno’s remark about how quickly the Philippines got its tiny military contingent out of Iraq.
That would have been it. Leno could have brought the house and his entire late night viewership down with that one sentence—although the laughter could have been more nervous and outraged rather than mirthful in some quarters.
Bush did make those outstanding claims, in a shift of emphasis from his previous strategy of scaring Americans into voting for him. In past speeches, Bush had emphasized that the threats to the United States and its people from Al Qaeda and its allies were continuing, and that he’s the only one who can meet those threats.
Bush’s publicists have been hard at work, depicting him as a decisive, hard-working, hands-on “wartime president” who’s the US’ only hope of winning the “war on terror.”
But informed Americans know Bush wasn’t overly interested in terrorism, at least not before September 11, 2001. Bush’s former anti-terrorism specialist, Richard C. Clarke ( author of Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror—What Really Happened), said after he resigned that Bush and company were locked in a Cold War time warp and weren’t paying much attention to the terrorist threat. Those Americans who’ve seen filmmaker Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 documentary relish that moment when Bush is told about the September 11 attacks—and he goes on reading from a story book to a group of schoolchildren about a little goat.
As to his being hard-working, hours of research have been expended on how often Bush has taken vacations, sometimes at the most critical moments. And it hardly says much about his being a “hands-on” president that he’s allowed his vice president and the latter’s cohorts to shape some of the most critical decisions he’s ever made, including that of attacking Iraq.
But that’s only as far as informed Americans go. The Americans who’re in this category belong to such an infinitesimal portion of the total US population it wasn’t surprising that the residents of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who heard Bush made his outlandish claim cheered him.
Years ago, what distinguished Cedar Rapids from Iowa City was that it had an airport. But it wasn’t any different from other towns in the US heartland—the Midwest where “average” Americans reside—in terms of their isolation not only from the rest of the world but even from what goes on in the coastal cities of the United States, where the centers of culture and intellectual life are.
Filipino creative writers know Iowa for the International Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where the annual influx of writers from all over the world used to be so extraordinary an event John Deere, the tractor company, for years hosted a dinner and a tour of its factory in Ames town. The workshop was about the only thing that made Iowa City distinct from other postcard-pretty towns in the US Midwest. Almost everyone was White Anglo Saxon Protestant in the first place—and astoundingly unaware of what went on out there in the rest of the world, where the soybean fields ended.
That’s why Bush has been going to places like Cedar Rapids. It’s places like this that helped hand him the US presidency in 2000. These are places where the claim that the US and the world are much safer now thanks to Bush is likely to be believed.
As for the rest of the world, including parts of it that are in the United States, Bush’ claim makes more sense as a joke. Maybe he can take over Jay Leno’s show if he loses his campaign for another four-years in the US presidency this November?
As earlier noted, Bush had previously been emphasizing how much Americans and the world need his leadership, given the continuing threat from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. In aid of this claim that the threats were continuing, what is now the biggest bureaucracy in the US government, Bush’s brain-child (if you can call it that), the Department of Homeland Security, had been issuing one alert after another, including one predicting a major terrorist assault on a US city. The US State Department, on the other hand, had been issuing advisories warning Americans about traveling to certain countries including the Philippines, where “credible threats” to Americans persist.
The scare-them-into-voting-for-you approach hadn’t been working too well, however. It was undermining Bush’s campaign for Americans to keep him in the White House, because if Americans are still in danger, that means Bush has been a failure. Thus the shift. Apparently Bush will say anything to get reelected, just as he was willing to lie through his teeth to get the support of Americans for the attack on Iraq.
The DHS and State Department alerts and advisories used to occupy pride of place in the websites of both these departments. A check of both websites yielded the discovery that both have withdrawn them. The DHS website is instead issuing more alerts on computer viruses than possible terrorist attacks, while the State website gives the impression that all’s really quite well, thank you, and that Americans need not be overly fearful of traveling to places like Indonesia, where one of Al Qaeda’s supposed allies, the Jemah Islamiya, is in residence. The impression is that it’s business as usual—Bush has, indeed, made the US and the world safer.
Those who live in places other than Never Never Land know otherwise. Congressman Prospero Pichay, for example, said in reaction to US threats about retaliating for the Philippine’s withdrawal of its military contingent from Iraq that flawed US intelligence led to the invasion of that country—where, “despite extensive effort by (US occupation forces) there has been no definitive evidence that weapons of mass destruction really existed.” As a result, Iraq has become “a dangerous place for all nationalities.”
Pichay is quite correct about Iraq’s turning into a dangerous place for all nationalities including Filipinos, thanks to the US attack and occupation. But he’s not quite right about the charitable assumption that “flawed US intelligence” drove Bush to attack Iraq.
There’s ample evidence that Bush’s vice president, Richard Cheney, and his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, pushed hard for an attack on Iraq on the basis of a September 2000 study by their ultra-conservative Project for a New American Century (www.pnac.org) that urged the attack to secure Iraqi oil resources and as a first step in an ambitious plan to remake the Middle East.
But it’s not true either that there were never WMDs in Iraq. The Saddam Hussein government did have WMDs at one point—mostly supplied by the US and Britain, but not after more than ten years of UN sanctions and US bombing from 1992 onwards, and certainly not in March 2003.
Pichay’s point about how unsafe Iraq—which has a history of hosting Filipino workers and immigrants—has become applies as well to the rest of the world including the United States. Every credible student of US and world affairs has said so in so many words. At least one US historian, Gabriel Kolko has predicted that the danger is not likely to pass soon. Kolko predicts that thanks to the US, particularly to Bush and his cohorts, the 21st century is likely to be another century of war as the 20th was.
Bush’s claim about making the US and the world safer would be funny and worthy of stand-up comic material—if it were not being made against the background of death and destruction not only in Iraq, but in many parts of the world during this, The New American Century.