Wednesday, December 17, 2008

George Bush: "On the Road Again"

It has been work trying to stay up with President Bush as he makes the rounds on what one wag called “a victory lap without a victory.”

Since the election of Barack Obama to succeed Bush as president, the news cycles have been dominated by two stories. The first, understandably, is Obama’s announcements of his selections of those who will occupy top policy-making posts in his administration once the nominees have been vetted by the U.S. Senate as provided by the Constitution and statutes. The second thread, which seems to absorb more and more time, is the economy – both the U.S. and the broader world economy.

But every now and then a report will cite a Bush visit to some location. If something unusual occurs, such as the “shoe incident” in Baghdad, the visit’s visibility naturally is higher. Once the Baghdad visit became known, the visit to Afghanistan was predictable. But Bush recently (November 25) visited Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne (Airmobile) Division to thank the troops for their service and their sacrifice.

Less understandable are two December visits by the President: to the United States Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. His objective in each case was to re-iterate his record on the “global war on terror” – a record which he clearly sees as successful even if the majority of the U.S. public does not.

Of particular note in Bush’s remarks at both locations was his self-identification with the cadets and the older students at the War College (usually lieutenant-colonels and colonels). “We have been called to serve,” he said to the War College audience, trying to use their war experiences to justify his personal mission from the deity to rid the world of the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

It is a vision, a mission, that Bush believes extends beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, for he also made the point that it is the official policy of the United States to oppose all dictators and to aid democratic reformers and dissidents anywhere in the world.

Bush also is setting a bar that the new administration (he hopes) will have to clear in terms of Homeland Security. He noted that his administration is leaving a structure that can carry on the fight against terror with hardly a ripple on January 20, 2009. He noted that the intelligence community had been re-organized (many critics say the “reform” simply added another layer of bureaucrats). Congress established a new executive department, the Department of Homeland Security (which critics contend is too unwieldy to function). Local police and state and city governments have early warning technology capable of detecting chemical and biological agents and visual monitoring of tunnels and bridges.

Bush also claimed that his administration‘s anti-terror coalition stood at 90 countries. Among its members he specifically noted four: Saudi Arabia once a supporter and financier of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the home country of 15 of the 19 hijackers; Pakistan, which also established formal diplomatic links with the Taliban; and Iraq and Afghanistan, the two regional states that arguably had the most to win – or perhaps the most to throw off.

Bush mentioned two other programs his administration started. The first is the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) directed primarily against North Korea’s transfer of long-range missiles, missile spare parts, and even nuclear weapons-related technology. The second is the Global Millennium Challenge Account under which the administration rewarded developing countries that were “active” in the “war on terror” and promoted good governance and the rule of law.

Of all that happened, of all that he did in response to what happened, Bush seems to believe that the absence of any direct attack on the United States after September 11, 2001, was the result of the development and implementation of homeland security measures that thwarted or at least discouraged numerous terrorist plots. Maybe so. But I still think geography – albeit breachable – is a more probable explanation.

Meanwhile, Bush travels – seemingly oblivious to the fact that Air Force One is adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.


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