US: Bush presidency goes into freefall

Iraq war – lies and rising body count, Hurricane Katrina failures, conspiracy and cover-up

If you enter Google on the internet and type in the word ’failure’, and then click on ’I feel lucky’, the search engine comes up with the biography of George Bush! However, the perception of Bush as a failure, a lame duck president, is now widely recognised. The last few weeks have been the worst of the 248 in which he has been in office.

First came the death of the 2,000th US soldier in Iraq – Staff Sergeant George Alexander, whose photographs covered most US newspapers – then the withdrawal of the hapless Harriet Miers, Bush’s ’personal legal adviser’ and nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy. This was followed by the hammer blow of the indictment of leading neo-conservative and White House aide Lewis ’Scooter’ Libby on five criminal charges and the possibility of a lengthy jail term.

He is accused of revealing the identity of undercover CIA spy Valerie Plame in order to discredit her husband Joe Wilson, a former diplomat. Wilson’s crime was to discredit the Bush administration’s false claims in the run-up to the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium from Niger for nuclear weapons.

These events had been preceded by the catastrophic failure of Bush over Hurricane Katrina, as well as corruption charges levelled against top Republicans like Tom DeLay and Bill Frist. Together with the Miers disaster, these expose the rottenness and cronyism at the heart of the Bush presidency. The ’legal profession’ was up in arms, it seems, because her main qualifications for the Supreme Court seemed to be her friendship with Bush and her "work as commissioner of the Texas lottery" [New York Times].

The real reason, however, as Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy pointed out, was "the extreme right wing of the Republican party have effectively undermined this nomination. They have a litmus test, and Harriet Miers didn’t pass that test".

This test was the religious right’s opposition to abortion and, consequently, a preparedness to overthrow the famous Roe v Wade judgement, which legalised it in the US. They linked up with other ’liberal’ Republicans who fear Bush is going to drag them down in the mid-term congressional elections next year.

Ghost of Watergate

To the Republican right she was not ’sufficiently trustworthy’ to do the bidding of the religious zealots at the ’base’ who now control significant sections of the Republican Party. They vilified even members of their own administration and party for supporting her: "A White House counsel with distinguished credentials was compared to Caligula’s horse and Barney the Dog on National Review’s website." [New York Times]

When Bush asked the religious right to support him, one of their leaders declared, "In God we trust – all others pay cash." Bush is in thrall to them and has now nominated a conservative candidate to the Supreme Court.

This was a spat compared to the problem which looms for Bush over the ’Plamegate’ affair. Already, this has some of the ingredients of the Watergate conspiracy which brought down Republican President Nixon in 1974.

The charges against Libby, that he lied on oath, could yet bring down Bush’s grey eminence and alleged ’electoral genius’ Karl Rove on a similar charge. It could also draw in Vice-President Cheney. Bush himself is at the centre of their web of intrigue and corruption.

What is involved is not primarily the exposure of a CIA agent – which is serious in its implications for the workings of an arm of US imperialism – but the Iraq War. As The Observer commented: "Iraq is the central issue in the Bush administration. It is from there that many of the other disasters that have rocked the White House have sprung. The ’V-word’ – comparing Iraq to Vietnam – is no longer taboo in Washington. Some politicians on both sides openly talk of a need for an exit strategy."

Howard Dean, failed candidate for the Democrat nomination for the 2004 presidential elections, now chairman of the party, also stated: "This is about the fact that the president didn’t tell us the truth when he went to Iraq, and all these guys are involved in it."

The US ruling class, including sections of the Republican Party, have taken fright at the catastrophe which the Bush gang has led them into. There is open contempt amongst the military top brass for the ’Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal’. One of their number, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former aide to Colin Powell at the State Department, expressed this when denouncing Bush for "cowboyism". He also described Douglas Feith, defence under-secretary in Bush’s first term, with the words: "Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man."

His central charge is that Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest of them "engaged in secret decision-making that inflicted grave harm on the United States." The Boston Globe said it was as though he was describing the secret "workings of a Soviet Politburo".

And the American people share this low opinion of Bush. His personal standing in opinion polls is lower even than Ronald Reagan’s during the Iran-Contra scandal, who had 45% support compared to 39% for Bush. On Iraq, 63% of the US people now say that some or all US troops in Iraq should now be withdrawn, while a record high 59% said the invasion was a mistake.

The deadly combination of an unwinnable war, a web of intrigue and corruption and Hurricane Katrina – which lifted the lid on the poverty and racism scarring the US – means this is a generalised crisis not just for Bush and his presidency but for the system itself.

The dissatisfaction of the American people and particularly the working class is now of volcanic proportions. But, as with Britain, there is not as yet a mass force capable of galvanising this mood.

The Democrats, as a party of big business, are no alternative. Hilary Clinton, in the running for the 2008 Democrat presidential nomination, is a hawk on Iraq, calling for a bigger military and refuses to condemn the war. She has also moved to the right on legal abortion.

John Kerry, on the other hand, has belatedly spoken out against the war, "defining his Iraq policy a mere 51 weeks after losing to Bush last year". [The Observer] Yet the "polls show support sliding away from the Republicans but not yet benefiting the Democrats. Indeed they show both parties at their lowest point in their popularity in 50 years." [the Guardian]

The ’ins and outs’ of Democrats and Republicans – against the background of an ever-worsening position for the US working class – is a dead end. Only by preparing for a US mass workers’ party will a new road be opened up which can end the nightmare of unwinnable and bloody wars, a failing economic system and increasing class divide.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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November 2005