The valley of the shadow of Bush

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 2008, 12:00am

Further depressing details of the disaster also known as the presidency of George W. Bush were unveiled this week. US forces commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and US ambassador Ryan Crocker went before Congress and made it plain that the US is getting very little for its US$3 trillion war in Iraq except for continuing grief, on a daily basis, in homes across Iraq and America.

In reality, the immense expenditure and the continuing deaths are only the tip of the iceberg of the true damage, not merely to the US but also to this fragile planet.

This week saw the fifth anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's Baghdad. The American military death toll is now about 4,000, or over 1,000 more than were killed on September 11, 2001. Iraqi deaths have been far higher - at least 150,000, according to the respected New England Journal of Medicine.

Deaths are only part of the sad toll. The occupiers have failed to create a society in which Iraqis can enjoy even basic daily necessities, let alone the democracy and freedom that Mr Bush promised when he launched his latter-day crusade against Hussein and his illusory weapons of mass destruction.

According to the testimony of the medal-bedecked General Petraeus, the troop surge has had some 'significant and uneven' successes. But he warned that 'countless sectarian fault lines still exist in Baghdad and elsewhere'. He resorted to cliches to underline the grim situation: 'We haven't turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel' and, then, later: 'The champagne bottle has been pushed to the back of the refrigerator. Progress, while real, is fragile and is reversible.'

The recent attempt by the Iraqi government to assert itself in Basra failed ignominiously, and various Shiite gangs proved that they really rule the roost. General Petraeus' admission about the increasing involvement of Iran should cause Washington to think more than twice: how did the US blunder into Iraq in the quest for weapons of mass destruction that did not exist and then lay the table for a key player in Mr Bush's 'axis of evil' to feast?

Depending on your assessment, the departure of US troops will either be the signal for all-out internecine warfare in which Iran plays a devilish role or it may force the various gangs and warlords to reach local compromises. Either way, no party will thank the US for staying as occupiers.

Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz may have erred on the high side with his US$3 trillion cost of the Iraq war, or he may not, if John McCain becomes president and prolongs the US occupation. But 140,000 American troops in Iraq, currently costing US$150 billion a year, is a heavy price. For US$150 billion, you can provide a lot of jobs, rescue thousands of homeowners who can't pay their mortgages or bail out a few bust banks. The economic downside of the misadventure in Iraq is all too evident as the US slides into recession with the loss of homes and jobs, a falling dollar and soaring prices for oil and other commodities. Did Mr Bush really think he could burn US$150 billion a year without pain?

Worse, the decision to topple Hussein was just one hallmark of an imperial presidency that has crushed America's own cherished democratic traditions. Egged on by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Mr Bush has sought to put his decisions beyond the review of Congress and the courts.

Unfortunately, Mr Bush's imperial claims do not stop at the borders of the US. He has espoused a global mission and, at times, invokes his Christian faith in justification, almost as if he were the angel of God charged with using his flaming sword to guard entry to the kingdom of democracy and freedom. As a fellow Christian, I find Mr Bush's muscular Christianity in taking the law into his own hands - bloodily when he deems it necessary - contrary to the message that Jesus Christ preached.

At this season of Easter, it may be worth recalling the reaction of Christ when his apostle Simon Peter, later to be the first Pope, took out his sword and sliced off the ear of one of those coming to arrest his master and send him to death. Christ reattached and healed the ear, and admonished Peter: 'Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword', and then went calmly to be tried and killed.

Yet on issue after issue, from Iraq to world trade, reform of the international financial system, the environment and global warming, Mr Bush has claimed that his is the only vote. His former United Nations ambassador, John Bolton, taught his lesson in realpolitik, claiming: 'There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States.'

This is dangerous for the world and, ultimately, for the US. In the last 60 years, most of the world has benefited from relative peace, economic globalisation and efforts to see that a fledgling and ever-sickly UN system is put in place. Economic and political empires come and go, and it is better for the peace and harmony of this planet that 'right' is established rather than might.

It is ironic that Mr Bush has tried to establish his imperial presidency just when the US empire has passed its zenith and is reeling from the multiplicity of conflicting demands.

What incentive does an opportunist like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have to play by global rules when he can gain more by tweaking the US? Why should China listen to America when the US plays god? Was Mr Bush watching his own country's streets as General Petraeus spoke? He would have seen the Olympic torch, supposedly the symbol of global peace and harmony, carried through San Francisco protected by US and Chinese security against interference from protesters for and against China's record on human rights and in Tibet .

Beijing should, in its own interests, be more understanding of Tibetan feelings, and listen as well as talk. But it has every reason to refuse to be bullied by an arrogant US whose time is running out.

Kevin Rafferty was editor of The Universe, the British Catholic newspaper