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How 'Bout Dem Bushes? 
Published: Jan 09 2004

New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning journalist who covers politics and media.

The Bush administration, without conservative (or any) primary opposition, is moving swiftly to secure victory in November by neutralizing the political middle. It has hit on the perfect solution: at least with regard to foreign policy, morph the prez into a Democrat.

If you don't believe me, you missed a recent New York Times op-ed by Secretary of State Colin Powell—well, more likely written by members of Powell's staff with presidential Machiavelli-in-residence Karl Rove looking over their shoulders.

The advantages of incumbency are immediately apparent when you consider that the White House persuaded the Times to run this disingenuous pitch front-and-center in the paper that arrived in American homes on January 1—that traditional day of spiritual and philosophical re-evaluation. The message of the piece was enough to give anyone who has actually been paying attention to the Bush administration's foreign policy a hangover.

After a pleasant little holiday quip about the challenges of an expandable waistline, Powell-by-committee lays out a set of high-minded resolutions for 2004 that amount to this: Creating peace and goodwill among men, through a variety of past, ongoing and future initiatives.

The particulars would not have been out of place in a speech by Al Gore if he'd been rounding out a first term: A new constitution for Afghanistan, pro-democracy diplomacy in the Middle East and elsewhere, funding for AIDS, battles against slavery and child labor, peaceful pressure on troublesome states Iran and North Korea and downright friendliness with the likes of Russia, China and India.

In one sense, it's not surprising that the Bush people sent out Powell to unpack this loot bag of foreign policy goodies. Even with the stock market bent on a double-dip of irrational exuberance, the domestic front offers few positive sound bites. Joblessness, especially for the long-term unemployed, remains high. And this just in: Most upcoming budget cuts will not—surprise! surprise!—come out of corporate profits, but from programs that affect society's most vulnerable—by slashing veterans' benefits, biomedical research, housing vouchers, environmental protection... Is it any wonder the administration prefers to change the subject?

Bush, the man who knew nothing—and cared less—about foreign policy now wants to define his presidency by citing his "successes" on that front. And if you take Colin Powell at his word, this administration's foreign policy is following in the footsteps of the likes of Kennedy and Carter.

"We are resolved... to turn the president's goal of a free and democratic Middle East into a reality," Powell writes. But this resolution seems aimed only at our enemies, not our friends. As The Washington Post pointed out in a recent front-pager, rights advocates, opposition politicians and knowledgeable analysts broadly and deeply lament Egypt's human rights record. Nearly $2 billion in U.S. aid to the most populous Arab state directly funds continuation of the repressive regime of President Mubarak, and even the few grants targeted to pro-democracy forces have to be cleared with the Egyptian government, which, not surprisingly, often sees little incentive to do so. As for our staunch ally Saudi Arabia, the Riyadh government's embrace of a particularly regressive form of Islam is likely to remain far stronger than its commitment to, say, multiparty democracy.

Besides political freedom, Powell resolves to spread prosperity around the world. "A new international consensus is helping poorer countries develop themselves through good governance, sound economic, trade and environmental policies and wise investments in their people." Word of this consensus will surely come as welcome news to the millions living in crushing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, not to mention the thousands upon thousands elsewhere who have lost their livelihood in the no-safety-net rush to globalization.

They will also be cheered by Powell's assurance that "President Bush's vision is clear and right: America's formidable power must continue to be deployed on behalf of principles that are simultaneously American, but that are also beyond and greater than ourselves."

There's no mention, however, of the guiding principle that actually animates much of the "new" Bush foreign policy: a belief that might makes right, and that the world's only superpower has authorization from higher authorities to "kick ass" whenever it suits our current notion of national interest.

The biggest reality check on Powell's New Year's rhetoric is the claim that thanks to the administration, Iraq is no longer "an incubator for weapons of mass murder that could have fallen into terrorists' hands." The beauty of this formula is that, like most White House jabber on this issue, it utterly ignores the fact that those weapons, cited as the primary reason for going to war, did not then exist—as the administration recently conceded when it removed its team of inspectors from Iraq, without having located a single nuke or long-range missile or poison-gas canister. As any good writer knows, for credibility purposes, one must be at least slightly sincere—or know how to fake it. The utter shamelessness of Powell's flacking for the administration is that every point he makes is virtually the opposite of what Bush and his team promised in 2000—an America-First-and-Only philosophy that rejected nation-building and tended to blame the poor for their poverty both here and abroad. I suppose we should be grateful that 9/11 forced the Bushistas to abandon their know-nothing isolationism.

But it tells you something about the sensitivities and priorities of this administration that Powell talks about a world in which more people go to bed hungry than ever before—then ends his foreign policy overview, as he started, with a holiday diet joke about "shedding a few pounds."

Am I the only reader who came away with the feeling that even Powell can barely stomach this misleading drivel? At the end of the op-ed, the Times, in its standard biographical blurb, helpfully notes that "Colin Powell is Secretary of State." Yes, he is, but he works for George Bush—whose foreign policy is clearly determined less by State than by the Pentagon and his own old boy network. And huh—George Bush sure ain’t no internationalist Democrat, despite his minders’ best efforts to dress him up as one these days.


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