In a new piece at TomDispatch, David Swanson and Tom Englehardt do a good job of encapsulating the continuity that has become the hallmark of our so-called Age of Change. The title says it all: "Bush's Third Term? You're Living It." It is a very thorough and detailed demolition job; but the roots of the corruption go much deeper than the current administration – or the last one.
But first, a few excerpts (though do go and read the whole piece, especially for the copious links):
It sounds like the plot for the latest summer horror movie. Imagine, for a moment, that George W. Bush had been allowed a third term as president, had run and had won or stolen it, and that we were all now living (and dying) through it... There’s Dubya now, still rewriting laws via signing statements. Still creating and destroying laws with executive orders. And still violating laws at his whim. Imagine Bush continuing his policy of extraordinary rendition, sending prisoners off to other countries with grim interrogation reputations to be held and tortured. I can even picture him formalizing his policy of preventive detention, sprucing it up with some “due process” even as he permanently removes habeas corpus from our culture.
I picture this demonic president still swearing he doesn’t torture, still insisting that he wants to close Guantanamo, but assuring his subordinates that the commander-in-chief has the power to torture “if needed,” and maintaining a prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan that makes Guantanamo look like summer camp. I can imagine him continuing to keep secret his warrantless spying programs while protecting the corporations and government officials involved.
If Bush were in his third term, we would already have seen him propose, yet again, the largest military budget in the history of the world… And of course, he would have held onto his secretary of defense from his second term, Robert Gates, to run the Pentagon, keep our ongoing wars rolling along, and oversee the better part of our public budget.
Bush would undoubtedly be following through on the agreement he signed with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for all U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 (except where he chose not to follow through). His generals would, in the meantime, be leaking word that the United States never intended to actually leave. He’d surely be maintaining current levels of troops in Iraq, while sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan and talking about a new “surge” there. He’d probably also be escalating the campaign he launched late in his second term to use drone aircraft to illegally and repeatedly strike into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands with Afghanistan….
If the Democrats in Congress attempted to pass any set of needed reforms like, to take an example, new healthcare legislation, Bush, the third termer, would have held secret meetings in the White House with insurance and drug company executives to devise a means to turn such proposals to their advantage. And he would have refused to release the visitor logs so that the American public would have no way of knowing just whom he’d been talking to.
During Bush’s second term, some of the lowest-ranking torturers from Abu Ghraib were prosecuted as bad apples, while those officials responsible for the policies that led to Abu Ghraib remained untouched. If the public continued to push for justice for torturers during the early months of Bush’s third term, he would certainly have gone with another bad-apple approach, perhaps targeting only low-ranking CIA interrogators and CIA contractors for prosecution. Bush would undoubtedly have decreed that any higher-ups would not be touched, that we should now be looking forward, not backward. And he would thereby have cemented in place the power of presidents to grant immunity for crimes they themselves authorized.
There is much more in this vein, as the authors skillfully morph Barack into the spitting image of Bush.
But of course, in many ways, we are not really living through Bush's third term, but the 16th term of the National Security State that was founded by secret presidential directives during Harry Truman's second term. Beginning with the ur-document, NSC-68, these directives mandated a thoroughgoing militarization of the American state, complete with vast secret forces specifically designed to carry out criminal actions – subversion, coups, "black ops," break-ins, kidnappings, torture, assassination programs, gruesome medical experiments: "the dark side, if you will." Not that things were all peaches and cream before then, of course; just ask the Filipinos (or the Cherokee, or the slaves, etc.) But in 1951, the new National Security State raised the war machine budget by 400 percent in a single year. And it has never looked back, not even after the collapse of the Soviet Union – the ostensible reason for devouring the lifeblood and seed-corn of the nation and giving it to war profiteers. As we noted here a couple of years ago:
[NSC-68] constituted the re-founding of the country as a "National Security State," controlled by the military-industrial complex and driven by a nightmare vision of exaggerated threats, craven fear, secrecy and deception, bellicosity and brinkmanship. This vision has waxed and waned in intensity at various times over the years, but it has never been displaced as the central dynamic of American power. The demonic, all-powerful enemy has now morphed from the Soviet Union to Islamic extremism, but the paranoid rhetoric and "Pentagon uber alles" philosophy of the Cold War has been seamlessly transferred whole cloth to the supposedly transformed "post-9/11 age."
Indeed, these fanatical tropes are encoded in the very genetic structure of the National Security State. As NSC-68 itself says:
"The Soviet Union, unlike previous aspirants to hegemony, is animated by a fanatical faith, antithetical to our own, and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world."
Substitute "islamofascism" for the Soviet Union, and you suddenly reading Mark Steyn, Christopher Hitchens, Dick Cheney – or the lates dispatches from Hillary Clinton's State Department.
What's more, consider for a moment that the above passage from NSC-68 was written just five years after the defeat of Nazi Germany. Did these mandarins – most of them "liberal" Democrats at the time, by the way – really believe that the previous aspirant to hegemony, Adolf Hitler, was not animated by a fanatical faith, antithetical to our own, and eager to impose his authority over world affairs? That the Soviet Union represented the eruption of some unique evil, whose threat justified any crime, any atrocity, any gutting of liberty? Just five years after the Holocaust, after the deaths of 40 million people (20 million in the Soviet Union alone)? The late David Halberstam, who quotes the passage in his remarkable last book, The Coldest Winter, points out the chilling fact that the NSC-68 was a top-secret document, intended only for the eyes of the very highest poobahs; it was not a propaganda piece designed to snow the rubes.
Here we have a glimpse into one of the central processes which lead human beings to perpetrate inhuman slaughter and suffering: the self-hypnosis by which elites convince themselves of the absolute righteousness of their own barbaric urge for domination – and the absolute, irredeemable evil of those who stand in their way.
In any case, there is nothing new or unusual in Obama's "continuity." It has been the very air we've breathed for generations –a fetid, poisonous, cancerous vapor. Still, it is always salutary to have reality delineated as clearly as possible as often as possible. After all, someone must tell the children – and the millions of adult "progressives" who evidently have to re-learn these harsh lessons after every electoral victory for "hope" and "change."