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Conspirators as Illuminati: Bush Administration as Juntocracy

by Bernd Greiner Friday, Jul. 28, 2006 at 2:10 AM
mbatko@lycos.com

A parallel or shadow government, a Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush axis, was established.. Groups, offices and departments were elimi-nated and ad hoc groups formed.. The NSC was developed into a kind of parallel govern-ment.

CONSPIRATORS AS ILLUMINATI

Beyond all Legitimation: The Bush Administration is a “Junto-cracy”

By Prof. Bernd Greiner, Hamburg

[This article published in: ZEIT-FRAGEN, July 2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.zeit-fragen.ch/. Bernd Greiner, 1952, is a professor of North American history at the University of Hamburg and member of the Hamburg Institute of Social Research.]




America wages a war without a foreseeable end. Freedom rights at home are in danger. How could the government machinery of American democracy become the spoils of faith-warriors?

“We are now an empire. When we act, we create our own reality. While you study this reality, we will continue acting and creating new different realities that you can study. In this way, things will be settled by themselves. We are actors in the commission of history. All of you together can only investigate what we do from a distance.”

- An advisor of George W. Bush, quoted in the New York Times Magazine, 10/17/2004

If George W. Bush were the problem, we would have no problems. This powerful statement provokes immediate objections.

That another president in March 2003 could have started a war and thrown a country to be liberated into chaos is inconceivable! Wasn’t it George W. Bush who redefined international law and issued rights to his torturers? However the sentence formulated above is more than a mere play with words. It summons us to expand our perspective. Concentrating only on the person of the officeholder and seeking comfort in the political calendar that earmarks the beginning of Bush’s retirement in November 2008 is not enough. Rather we must question a government system where institutional correctives are chronically unused and a political public seemingly lacks the strength to decry the scandalous conditions.

When the phrase “calculated coup d’etat” or a creeping transition to “Caesarism” made the rounds in Washington several years ago, this accusation was stylized as a denunciation of a political party. A series of detailed studies have appeared in the United States that underscore the concrete justification of this criticism in the example of the Iraq war. Former members of the National Security Council like Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon predicted the failure of the “war against terror” (“The Next Attack”). David J. Rothkopf, peace researcher and expert for security questions, describes the power structures of this National Security Council (“Running the World?). Renowned journalists like George Packer (“The Assassins’ Gate”), Mark Danner (“The Secret Way to War”) and the Pulitzer-Prize winner Dana Priest (“The Mission”) analyze the crusade against Iraq and its consequences. American studies that have not reached Europe are fervently discussed in the US.

The new texts show in detail how Vice-president Richard Cheney and Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld eliminated groups, offices and departments traditionally responsible for foreign policy and security policy decisions and replaced them with handpicked ad-hoc groups. Even before the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the inner circle around Bush was determined to wage war against Iraq. This circle encountered considerable doubts and resistance in the national security machinery. Therefore haste and unscrupulously were employed. At the end, everyone who stood in the way of the fast preparation of war against Saddam or was suspected of ideological unreliability had no influence any more on the course of things, neither the experts working for the National Security Council nor the heads of the armed forces branches, neither the office of the chief of staff, the CIA, the fourteen other secret services or the State Department.

A “coalition of the willing” took their place – dominated by a staff in the office of the Vice-president expanded to several dozen members, including the Office of Special Plans led by Douglas Feith loyal to Rumsfeld and the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, a unit of the Pentagon responsible for years for combating terrorism. Most secret service findings were phased out to make credible the existence of what did not exist - namely Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and his connections to Osama bin Laden. They were replaced by instrumentally distorted information. This material was hurled in usual ways to a gullible Congress and a simple-minded press after “9/11”.

“OLD EUROPE” REJECTED A POLITICS OF LIES

Returning from an American visit, the head of the British secret service spoke in the summer of 2002 of the inevitability of a new Iraq war. As Richard Dearlove said in a talk with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington only needed some time “to adjust information and facts […] to policy.” This can be looked up in the “Downing Street Memorandum.” This source documented Rumsfeld’s distinction of the “old” and “new Europe.” Those opposing a policy of deliberate lies were simply old-fashioned.

A battle of rival fractions hardly occurred in the American capitol. A bureaucratic revolution occurred there – in the words of critical political observers Daniel Benjamin, Steven Simon, Mark Danner, George Packer, Dana Priest and David J. Rothkopf. A “parallel” or ‘shadow-government,” a “Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush axis” was established with a half-dozen likeminded zealots that adopted practices usually ascribed to the Politburos of deceased empires. This was a procedure beyond all legitimation. Unscrupulous autocrats in a “putsch” or “junta” usurped the government machinery.

One question still unanswered in the most recent studies is: How could this happen? How could an enormous government machinery be so easily manipulated? What can be said about the extolled checks and balances against a minority’s desire for power? Why didn’t the lethargy inherent to all bureaucracies have a braking or controlling effect?

A classic of contemporary history, Arthur Schlesinger’s book about the “imperial presidency” could be helpful. In a detailed commentary on the 1789 constitution, the Harvard historian referred to the grey zone of presidential authority. On one side, the “founding fathers’ wanted to discipline and control. Unlike Europe’s regents with complete power, the American president was forced to get the approval of the legislature or Congress in ratifying foreign treaties and in declaring war. On the other side, the head of state could claim this “divided power” (Alexander Hamilton) for himself under certain conditions. In the case of a surprise attack or in times of a state of emergency, he could ignore the constitution at times to save the constitution – a power first utilized by president Abraham Lincoln (1860-1965) during the Civil War.

Afterwards the Congress successfully exercised its rights. Up to the end of the 1930s, the representatives kept the White House on a tight rein with neutrality laws – and called this “preventive risk minimization.” The executive should not be tempted to provoke dangers. These dangers could be reinterpreted as a state of emergency and exploited for a shift in power that would be incompatible with the constitution.

The state of emergency that really existed (or was artificially produced in phases) from December 1941 to January 1990 turned conditions upside down. Under the impression of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the Congress actually handed over all power – including emergency domestic orders – to Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945). Given the crises and nervousness of the Cold War, the possibilities of surplus power at the end of the Second World War were not used. Only cosmetic corrections like limiting presidential terms in office to eight years occurred. The legislators refrained from bolder steps to avoid the reproach of endangering “national security.” Harry Truman (1945-1953) sent American troops to Korea. He did not ask Congress and justified this by arguing he had the right to declare a state of war as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The consequences of this arrogance or presumption are known from the course of the Vietnam War.

This procedure went beyond all legitimation. Unscrupulous autocrats in a “putsch” and “junta” captured the government machinery.

INVITATION TO MACHIAVELLIANISM

The way that the high-handed expansion of presidential powers was supported institutionally since the early fifties is not as well known. David J. Rothkopf’s study “Running the World,” his insider history o the “National Security Council,” is very readable because it preserves the big picture and doesn’t get lost in the thicket of details.

In the course of the “national Security Act” passed in 1947, a group arose with the “National Security Council” (NSC) that on paper participated equally in forming foreign policy and security policy. In practice, the NSC developed into a kind of parallel government vested with extensive consultative posts. The NSC did not represent the collective will of bureaucracies but served the White House in political management beyond these bureaucracies or against them. In the long run, the “shadow cabinet” was an invitation to Machiavellianism. No president since Harry Truman was immune from this temptation. Some even claimed a kind of customary right and began an endless scandal history. No direct way leads from here to the paralysis of all checks and balances. However the American system is very susceptible to abuse of power. Triggered by the collapse of the rival Soviet Empire, different actors and groups cane onto the scene who radically redefined the political agenda: traditional cold warriors, neoconservative intellectuals and religious fundamentalists. They were all aggressive or belligerent. However they constantly stood in each other’s way on account of their aggressiveness as the authors George Packer, Dana Priest, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon document in their studies. Only in one point was there no disagreement. An executive with discretionary powers was necessary – whether in a military hegemony based on outer space, an activist projection of American power aiming at “regime change” in core geo-strategic zones or fantasies of ideological order.

In short, the eulogy to an “imperial presidency” is the Archimedean point of these designs for a “new world order.” Therefore the emphasis on the return to “unilateralism” should not be understood as cancellation of an annoying – compromise-oriented – “multilateral foreign policy.” “Unilateralism” was a domestic political formula intent on the absolute sovereignty of the White House, a challenge to Congress and civil society actors for whom a little table was reserved for discussing foreign policy.

The election victory of George W. Bush in 2000 relativized the hope of remodeling the world according to the will of the neoconservatives. While a phalanx of neoconservative missionaries occupied offices of the National Security Council, key positions were filled with hardliners like Rumsfeld and Cheney. No state is possible with a presidency based on election fraud. The Bush administration seemed without orientation in its first months. A new order of the Middle East like other points of the “democracy export project” was hardly discussed. The efforts around another military doctrine fell under the friendly fire of generality. After a few months, wagers were made about a premature departure of the Defense secretary. The end of an arrogant project seemed imminent before it really began.

The distribution of power between executive, legislative and judicial branches that was thrown off balance offers a possibility for the weak, our authors stress. The attribute “imperial” is not for charismatics of the stature of a Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt or Kennedy. Quite the contrary! An “accidental president” like George W. Bush can soar overnight to a political usurpator. The first important prerequisite was given with “9/11” – an unexpected, shocking event that paralyzed society for weeks and months. Therefore the Bush critic George Packer repeatedly quotes Richard Perle: “The world began with 9/11. There is no intellectual pre-history.” Political development could have taken another course with another political person.

The hope that the government will change its course is directed at the American public. The public does not lack information. More is known about the Bush administration than about most of its predecessors.

GOD’S AMBASSADOR IN THE WHITE HOUSE

George W. Bush assembled a little group that cultivated the self-image of an “illuminati”: of secret society members and conspirators blessed with a higher insight and chosen for a revolutionary mission. Changing the world is their commission. Whoever focuses on the ideological profiles of men like Richard Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle or Douglas Feith cannot comprehend their unscrupulous determination any more than the dynamic released since the fall of 2001. This is also true for the President’s religious picture of the world and society. After reading the current books by Benjamin, Simon, Packer or Rothkopf, even the most stubborn doubter will be convinced that George W. Bush means what he says – that he has to fulfill the role as God’s ambassador.

However the claim to self-authorization may be defined, it could only be realized under another condition: redefining the emergency situation into a permanent state of emergency. The state machinery could first become the spoils of ideological warriors when Bush’s claim to “total authority” in war times was publically confirmed.

What political structures are beyond the actors? What is the consent of the population, the sovereign? Why do Congress and the public not refuse the strange request for their own disempowerment? How could George W. Bush record a landslide victory in November 2004 – at a moment when Iraq sank in chaos and the war lies were known everywhere? A systematic discussion of this problem has not occurred. However important pointers are given.

Our authors emphasize the master national narrative passed on as a mythological sealing cement from generation to generation since the time of the founders. This narrative sees America as a special nation chosen to be the liberal model of the world. This ennoblement should not be confused with self-confidence in relation to foreigners. Quite the contrary. When the exceptional position is underlined, its backside strikingly appears – fear of a foreign environment and the assumption that only envy and jealousy rule beyond the Promised Land spurred on by the desire to discredit the model of America.

Unilateralism – insisting on a freedom of action undisturbed by a third party – draws its energy from that exceptional position. If an imagined threat changes suddenly into a real experienced threat, the temptation to a policy guided by vengeance is great. Bridling this impulse was hard for presidents like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. George W. Bush did not even make the attempt. From the beginning, he claimed the right to repay an eye for an eye and to fight the lawlessness of others by suspending America’s own laws.

TORTURE AS A SIGN OF DETERMINATION

According to the jurists Stephen Holmes and David Luban in the anthology “The Torture Debate in America,” Bush was reelected with a large majority because he gave the impression of a supreme commander capable of defeating terrorism with fewer scruples than his opponent. Therefore the photographs from Abu Ghraib did not cost any votes. The system of torture survived its disclosure. Torture, as Holmes and Luban argue, has an effective symbolic value to the public. Torture stands for determination and mercilessness. Whoever uses it to preserve the God-given way of freedom does not need to justify or excuse it.

However if this interpretation is true, corrections of a popular interpretation of the American malaise cannot be avoided. Reflecting over the role and function of Christian fundamentalism seems imperative. Bush owes a large part of his support to this clientele. Its appearance doubtlessly contributes to the new popularization of Manichaean black-white interpretations – to the matter-of-factness with which “elimination of evil” id demanded and the world is divided in clearly separated we- and they-groups.

The influential power of its religions must be understood to grasp America’s culture and society. In recent decades, a politization of religion reminiscent of the 19th century revivals occurred. The question remains: Is a politicized religion really needed to imprison public discourse about politics in the thought-patterns of the crusaders?

This question must be answered in the negative after reading Haynes Johnson’s treatise “The Age of Anxiety” where the amalgam of arrogance and anxiety is seen as a basic coordinate of the American self-image. Johnson convincingly explains that “civil religion” – the “secularized belief “ in the exceptional status of its own social model – becomes the draft of crude stereotypes capable of actualizing paranoia or persecution complexes. Seen this way, no “born-again Christian” in the White House was needed to stylize a “clash of cultures” as the foundation of its own survival.

The possibilities and limits of political self-correction must be discussed. Why aren’t obvious conclusions drawn from misdevelopments and another course taken? With view to the present government, no pessimistic expectation seems exaggerated.

One feels transposed into the situation of the reporter and historian Barbara Tuchman. In the late sixties, Tuchman wanted to know why no administration since John F. Kennedy could see or would see an exit-option from Vietnam. Political and military advisors had formulated alternatives and presented impressive warnings of the catastrophic consequences of the adventurous course.

Tuchman’s observations – including the book title “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam” – could not be more up-to-date. She spoke of a hubris recalling the infallibility dogma of the pope with view to President Lyndon B. Johnson and his Defense secretary Robert McNamara. This hubris explained the regression of political thought as a blind trust in the invincibility of its own military and called to mind the self-absorption of all empires that succeeded Rome.

30,000 DEAD CIVILIANS FOR “DEMOCRACY”

Working for the “New York Times” during the Vietnam War and active in the State Department under Bill Clinton, the journalist Leslie Gelb pointed out that Tuchman’s allusions to voluntarism and decisionism were accurate descriptions but a step further was necessary. The failure could be interpreted as an expected and unavoidable consequence of the “imperial presidency.” Whoever espouses Group Think – for reasons of maintaining power or mistrust of others – and only allows agreement in the process of shaping public opinion – is fixed in the circling movement of the status quo. Therefore Tuchman’s study could also be summarized in the sentence: “The system functioned.”

However the peculiarities of the Bush team exact an enormously high price in the scope of the “imperial presidency.” In the study on Iraq policy and in the recollections of L. Paul Bremer – responsible for stable conditions in Iraq within a year as Bush’s governor and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority – this administration had no ideas or plans about the postwar time. Rumsfeld and his team prevented the recruitment of qualified advisors with expertise. Whatever contradicted the command of a quick victory and a speedy withdrawal was forbidden. As a result, Americans invaded Iraq without knowing their enemy – those militia that already before the Intifada prepared for the time after Saddam and stole millions of tons of explosives and weapons from depots because of lack of allied security forces. Now they are perpetrating up to 80 attacks per day.

The shelling of the Khe Sanh position in South Vietnam appears today like a skirmish compared with the siege of the Green Zone in Baghdad. The skirmish forced Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to withdraw. In contrast, Bush is Johnson “to the second power,” as Leslie Gelb said to George Packer. “He really believes he can win… Bush is someone cut off from all information beyond the official line.” Bush dismisses 30,000 dead Iraqi civilians as a negligible price for the sake of “democracy.”

The hope for a new course of the American government must be directed at the outside world, first of all at the American public. This outside world is not lacking in information. Ironically more is known about the inner life of this hermetically screened administration than about most of its predecessors comparatively open to the public. Since the fall of 2001, offended and mostly anonymous bureaucrats provided scandal-rich material now compiled in books. The reactions have not occurred. People only shrug their shoulders and say “What else is new?”

In the latest case, six high-ranking retired generals urged Rumsfeld’s resignation because he refused to remove the nuclear option from plans for a possible air strike on Iran. Mark Danner describes this indifference as the “Age of Frozen Scandal” in which essential control mechanisms no longer operate. In the seventies and eighties, the press followed up on allegations. Congress appointed investigating committees and even special prosecutors or courts in very difficult cases. Nowadays the “Downing Street Memorandum” is not even worth a cover story. The legislature has pursued its public self-disempowerment since October 2002. At that time, consent to war was tied to the condition that the president would furnish more evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As everybody knows, Bush ignored this request. The announced investigation was stopped after the reelection in 2004.

That Bush’s poll ratings have fallen to their lowest point does not mean much. The conservative mainstream once withdrew its trust from Lyndon B. Johnson and years later gave a landslide victory to Richard Nixon – on the backdrop of an escalating air war in Vietnam.

VIOLENCE IS REDEFINED WHEN VICTORY IS IMMINENT

“Get out or win” was the slogan at that time. A majority today does not seem to have anything against a “victory strategy” or in the vulgar sense against violence. Who worries about the means when a victory is imminent?

Mark Danner speaks of a “political ice age.” America does not fight any more. The oppositional democrats are glad when the neoconservative theorist Francis Fukuyama gives them reason for malice with a book of terrible banality and provinciality (titled “America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy”). An author who reproaches Cheney and Rumsfeld for not being true intellectuals and speaks of a “missionarism light” is hardly a substantive critic. For lack of his own ideas, the mocker falls back on the democratic disgrace. What about observers from outside? To them, not much remains besides perplexity and shaking their heads. Does America have no strength any more for self-examination because it has lost faith in the persuasiveness of its ideals? Is David J. Rothkopf right that this land has not mentally adjusted to the age of globalization and is overstrained by criticism? People do not want to see this. George W. Bush seemingly affirmed this when he recommended after September 11, 2001: “Go shopping.”

Literature discussed:

Daniel Benjamin, Steven Simon. The next Attack, The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right. New York 2005.

L. Paul Bremer III, with Malcolm McConnell. My Year in Iraq. The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. New York 2006.

Mark Danner. The Secret Way to War. The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History. New York 2006.

Francis Fukuyama. Scheitert Amerika? Supermacht am Scheideweg. Aus dem Amerikanischen von Udo Rennert. Berlin 2006.

Karen J. Greenberg (Hg.). The torture Debate in America. New York 2006.

Haynes Johnson. The Age of Anxiety. McCarthyism to Terrorism. Orlando/New York 2005.

George Packer. The Assassins’ Gate. America in Iraq. New York 2005.

Dana Priest. The Mission. Waging War and Keeping Peace with America’s Military. New York 2003.

David J. Rothkopf. Running the World. The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power. New York 2005.

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. The Imperial Presidency. Reprint: Mariner Books, Boston 2004.

Barbara Tuchmann. Die Torheit der Regierenden. Von Troja bis Vietnam. Aus dem Amerikanischen von Reinhard Kaiser. Frankfurt am Main 2003.









A DAY OF RECKONING FOR THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION

By The Privateer (Australia), July 2006, Nr. 556




On June 29, 2006, the US Supreme Court ruled that the military tribunals established by the Bush administration violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed by the US in 1949. The decision of the Supreme Court was based on Article 3 of the 1st Geneva Convention in the case of military tribunals and shook the core of the legal position of the White House in its self-styled worldwide war against terror. The judgment of the Supreme Court has far-reaching effects. With the statement that Mr. Bush violated the Geneva Conventions, this decision creates a legally justiciable fact that could be important for further accusations against Mr. Bush as an international war criminal.

THE LAW IS IN EFFECT

According to federal US criminal law, everyone who “commits a war crime […] is subject to life imprisonment or imprisonment for many years. If dead persons are among the victims, he could be punished by death. A war crime is defined as “a violation of Article 3 of the international Geneva Conventions.” As the core of the decision, the court held that Article 3 of the Geneva Convention could be applied to all military conflicts involving the US. This makes possible prosecuting members of the Bush administration for violating federal laws on war crimes. In any case, the significance of this Supreme Court decision is that president Bush violated the Geneva Conventions and that the highest court in the United States confirmed this violation.

THE CHAIN OF COMMAND AND THE CHAIN OF JURISPRUDENCE

In full agreement with the principles of the American constitution, a broad legal connection exists between the Geneva Conventions signed by the US (that have the power of law within the US), US federal criminal law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (that applies to President Bush according to his own title as “commander-in-chief”) and a federal court that can make the whole military chain of command – from the supreme commander to the lowest officer responsible for war crimes. No one is excused!



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