[Note for Tomdispatch Readers: Last week, I offered my initial take, a year early, on the Bush legacy, “Journey to the Dark Side.” Here’s take two.]
The $100 Barrel of Oil vs. the Global War on Terror
The Bush Legacy (Take Two)
By Tom Engelhardt
Consider the debate among four Democratic presidential candidates on ABC News last Saturday night. In the previous week, the price of a barrel of oil briefly touched $100, unemployment hit 5%, the stock market had the worst three-day start since the Great Depression, and the word “recession” was in the headlines and in the air. So when ABC debate moderator Charlie Gibson announced that the first fifteen-minute segment would be taken up with “what is generally agreed to be… the greatest threat to the United States today,” what did you expect?
As it happened, he was referring to “nuclear terrorism,” specifically “a nuclear attack on an American city” by al-Qaeda (as well as how the future president would “retaliate”). In other words, Gibson launched his version of a national debate by focusing on a fictional, futuristic scenario, at this point farfetched, in which a Pakistani loose nuke would fall into the hands of al-Qaeda, be transported to the United States, perhaps picked up by well-trained al-Qaedan minions off the docks of Newark, and set off in the Big Apple. In this, though he was surely channeling Rudy Giuliani, he managed to catch the essence of what may be George W. Bush’s major legacy to this country.
The Planet as a GWOT Free-Fire Zone
On September 11, 2001, in his first post-attack address to the nation, George W. Bush was already using the phrase, “the war on terror.” On September 13th, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz announced that the administration was planning to do a lot more than just take out those who had attacked the United States. It was going to go about “removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism.” We were, Bush told Americans that day, in a state of “war”; in fact, we were already in “the first war of the twenty-first century.”
That same day, R.W. Apple, Jr. of the New York Times reported that senior officials had “cast aside diplomatic niceties” and that “the Bush administration today gave the nations of the world a stark choice: stand with us against terrorism… or face the certain prospect of death and destruction.” Stand with us against terrorism (or else) — that would be the measure by which everything was assessed in the years to come. That very day, Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested that the U.S. would “rip [the bin Laden] network up” and “when we’re through with that network, we will continue with a global assault on terrorism.”