Battered and Bruised America Looks Beyond the Bush Warriors
Part 4: Bush on Trial?
Colin Powell, 71, was the biggest loser on the Bush team, and yet he could still end up being the biggest winner. As Rice's predecessor, he was a paragon of weakness and misunderstood loyalty. Although he was the only member of Bush's inner circle to argue against the Iraq war, Powell, ever the military man accustomed to obeying orders, had the president's support at the critical moment. The man who helped President George H.W. Bush win the first Gulf War over Kuwait, a war approved by the UN, accepted the unilateral American invasion in 2003. And, in February of that year, he argued the case for the war with an impassioned speech before the UN Security Council.
None of the "evidence" of weapons of mass destruction Powell presented to the international community held up to closer inspection. It was a house of cards constructed of lies. Powell later referred to his appearance at the UN as a "blemish" on his career and said that he felt used. Only when his resignation could no longer have any effect did he draw the necessary conclusions. He wrote bestseller memoirs, gave talks and appeared to have removed himself from active politics -- until two weekends ago, when he dropped a bombshell: Powell, a Republican and successful African-American, endorsed Barack Obama, a Democrat and successful African-American. Because everyone knows that Powell has been friends with McCain for decades, the endorsement was especially significant.
In explaining his decision, the general said that Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is not ready to be vice-president, criticized McCain's response to the economic crisis and praised his opponent as a "transformational figure."
Always an Option
Is Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants, who was national security advisor under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and one of the Republican Party's leading figures, about to embark on a new career in a Democratic administration? Obama has not ruled it out, while Powell remains reticent on the subject. But he also appears to be enjoying the personal settling of scores for countless humiliations he suffered under Cheney, Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. None of these men is truly among the ranks of the powerful anymore, but Powell still is.
While Powell exacts his revenge on George W. with political finesse, others want to see Bush put on trial -- always an option in the "Land of the Free."
The creases in his suits are as sharp as the furrows in his hawk's face and his gift of gab. This man, the Hollywood archetype in the fight against crime, is not someone one would want to be up against in a courtroom. He has prosecuted 21 murder cases -- and he has won all 21.
Vincent Bugliosi, 74, is considered a legend in American criminal justice. He put Charles Manson in prison for life in 1971, even though the Satanist did not kill Sharon Tate himself. Now Bugliosi wants to see a new spectacular case go to trial. He wants to prosecute George W. Bush -- for committing murder thousands of times. Is he serious? Or is it just a PR gag to help him work his way through the talk shows and feed his ego as he promotes a highly provocative book?
Anyone who meets Vincent Bugliosi quickly notices two things. First, the man is not a stranger to vanity. He knows how to capture media attention for himself and his cases. After the Manson trial, Bugliosi wrote "Helter Skelter," the highest-selling nonfiction crime book in history. But, all commercial ambitions aside, the second thing about Bugliosi is that he is angry and determined, out of deep conviction, to conduct a crusade against George W. Bush.
If the president had started the Iraq war to avert an imminent threat to the American people, there would be no "case," Bugliosi argues in his book, "The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder." But, as the legal expert argues, because Bush concocted an imminent danger posed by Saddam Hussein and led the nation into a "criminal war," he should be held responsible. And that responsibility, in Bugliosi's view, extends to the death of each and every one of the 4,000 US soldiers killed in Iraq.
Bugliosi argues that any of the 50 state attorneys-general "could bring a murder charge against Bush for any soldiers from that state who lost their lives fighting Bushs war." In his book, Bugliosi writes: "Remember, Clinton was impeached for allegedly trying to cover up a consensual sexual affair. What do you recommend for Bush for being responsible for more than 100,000 deaths? Nothing? He shouldn't be held accountable for his actions?" Bugliosi is clearly a show master on a mission.
America is still licking its wounds, is still caught up in an election campaign more thrilling and full of substance than any other campaign has been in decades. But the new man in the White house will inherit two costly wars that are almost impossible to win, a record deficit and a deep recession, all of which will sharply curtail his ability to govern. What options does the next, the 44th president of the United States, have left, and which of the two candidates is better equipped to cope with the challenges?
The United States is in the midst of fundamental change. Everything for which the country was famous is now being questioned, both at home and abroad. The "liberal democracy" based on the Washington model is no longer considered necessarily the best path to guaranteed prosperity, now that the deregulated US economy has experienced its own fiasco and the doctrine of allowing the markets to regulate themselves has imploded. For much of the world, the phrase "exporting democracy" is now synonymous with unilateral military intervention and hegemonic ambitions.
Quietly Slipped Away
Ironically, nations with authoritarian regimes now play, as a result of their large foreign currency reserves and sovereign wealth funds, a key role in shaping the economic future of the United States: the People's Republic of China, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. And Europe, long derided from across the Big Pond as an "economic museum" and a region contaminated by socialism, is now looking much better, writes the International Herald Tribune, "as old perceived faults -- greater state involvement in the economy, taxes on consumption to encourage savings, a broader social safety net in times of recession -- suddenly look far-sighted in the wake of Wall Street's near collapse."
Many of the neocons who supported Bush's course intellectually, like Richard Perle and David Frum, have quietly slipped away. Sorry boys, it was just an idea, seems to be their motto. Only a few staunch American conservatives, like McCain advisor Robert Kagan, still believe that the United States "is definitely still number one." According to the leading voices in the Democratic Party now shaping the political debate, the United States is an empire in decline, at least at the moment. They want to see the country acknowledge this and take advantage of the inherent opportunities in any crisis.
In their view, the American model is discredited, at least temporarily. Many in the Third World are now more attracted to Chinese-style autocracy, a state capitalism that limits the freedom of the individual for the good of the nation. Europeans recognize the deficits of authoritarianism and want to retain a free market economy, while at the same time calling for more government intervention. The well-known British philosopher and author John Gray calls it a "historic political shift" and notes: "The era of American global leadership, reaching back to the Second World War, is over."
In a world in which the human pyramid at Abu Ghraib has replaced the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of the United States (particularly in large parts of the Middle East), the first task for George W. Bush's successor must be to reestablish America's moral authority. This includes the immediate closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo, an unequivocal termination of CIA practices like the kidnapping of terror suspects and the condemnation of all forms of torture. On the home front, the new president will have to discipline and regulate Wall Street, reform the healthcare system from the ground up, introduce a rigorous energy conservation program and straighten out the tax system so that the very rich are asked to pay their fair share and the middle and lower classes face less of a tax burden.