The ninth chapter of the video documentary series can be viewed here. The series can also be viewed in its entirety on Netflix, or purchased directly at untoldhistory.com. Below is our transcribed text, written by Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham and Oliver Stone.
narrated by Oliver Stone...
For a glorious moment in the late 1980s, the world was a hopeful, even joyous, place. Protracted bloody wars were ending in Afghanistan, Angola, Nicaragua, Cambodia, and between Iran and Iraq. PLO leader Yasser Arafat, under pressure from Moscow, "...totally and absolutely...renounce all forms of terrorism", and implicitly recognized Israel's right to exist. In December 1988 at the United Nations, Mikhail Gorbachev, in the spirit of ending the Cold War, asked for joint action to "...eliminate the threat to the world's environment...". He urged banning weapons in outer space and demanded an end to "...exploitation of the Third World, including a Soviet moratorium of up to 100 years on debt servicing by the least developed countries." He called for a UN-brokered cease fire in Afghanistan, and offered "...a joint effort to put an end to an era of wars...the terror of hunger and poverty..." and the tactic of "...political terrorism". The New York Times declared that not since Roosevelt's and Churchill's Atlantic Charter had a world leader demonstrated a vision like Gorbachev's at the UN - "breathtaking, risky, bold, naive, heroic...his ideas merit the most serious response."
Bush and Clinton: American Triumphalism - A New World Order
New president Bush had not yet moved into the White House after trouncing Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in the '88 election. After trailing trailing by 17 points that summer, Bush had struggled to overcome the so-called "wimp factor". Its odd that the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, who had flown 58 combat missions as a Navy pilot during World War II - and been shot down in the Pacific - would be derided as a WASP, wimp, beanie, every woman's first husband, bland conformist. But because of his nasaly voice and his sheltered upbringing, Yale education and oil money background, he appeared to be the ultimate insider establishment candidate.
Most of his political offices had been appointments - Ambassador to the United Nations, to China, and CIA Chief, but none of Ronald Reagan's charisma had rubbed off on him. He hadn't wanted him on the ticket. Seeking to improve his chances, Bush followed the advice, among others, of his eldest son, George W., adopting a more aggressive strategy agains the reserved and stoic Dukakis, who came from Greek immigrant roots and was reluctant to counter-attack. He questioned Dukakis' patriotism and openly played the race card with a campaign ad about the furloughed murderer Willy Horton. Like Nixon, Bush appealed to voters' racism and fear of crime. The strategy turned the tide and Bush took office in January 1989, placing the destiny of much of mankind in the hands of two men who had witnessed first hand the ravages of war - Bush as a victor, Gorbachev as a young eyewitness to Germany's brutal destruction of the USSR.
In the 1990s with America searching for a new role in a rapidly changing world, the mass media began elevating the World War II generation to especially heroic dimensions. At the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, the "greatest generation" was anointed. It became a nostalgic concept, and sales of books, movies and TV boomed. D-Day became the climactic battle of World War II. Even Pearl Harbor, in glorious technicolor, turned around into a victory.
Conveniently, the media ignored or overlooked the fact that influential Americans, opposed to Roosevelt's New Deal, had aided and abetted the Third Reich, even after the true nature of Hitler's anti-semitic regime was fully known. The motive, whether hatred of communism, fascist sympathies, or simply greed, was rarely openly discussed. Among these men was President Bush's own father, Prescott Bush. German coal and steel magnate Fritz Thyssen had been one of Hitler's early backers, and much of his wealth was protected overseas by the Brown Brothers Harriman investment firm through the holding company Union Banking Corporation, in an account managed by Prescott Bush. In 1942 the U.S. government seized Union Banking Corp, along with four other Thyssen accounts managed by Bush. Then, after the war, the shares were returned to the American shareholders, including Bush.
IBM's legendary founder Thomas Watson, through his German subsidiary Dehomag, helped the government in tabulating its census with its punch card machines that later proved effective in identifying jews and helping make the trains run on time. On an even larger scale, General Motors' Alfred Sloan, through his subsidiary Opel, built cars and transport vehicles for the German army. Sloan, on the eve of Germany's invasion of Poland, said his company was "...too big to be affected by a petty international squabble." Henry Ford's German subsidiary manufactured an arsenal of military vehicles throughout the war with the consent of the parent company in Michigan. Ford himself had earlier published a series of articles, later a book, titled The International Jew - The World's Problem. Hitler hung a portrait of Ford in his Munich office and told the Detroit News in 1931 "I regard Heinrich Ford as my inspiration."
When the European war was declared in 1939, Ford and GM, despite subsequent disclaimers, refused to divest themselves of their German holdings and even complied with German government orders to retool for war production while resisting similar demands from the U.S. government. Ford, GM, Standard Oil, Alcoa, IT&T, General Electric, the munitions maker Dupont, Eastman Kodak, Westinghouse, Pratt & Whitney, Douglas Aircraft, Singer, United Fruit, and International Harvester continued to trade with Germany up to 1941. American authorities knew of the death camps by August of '42, but until this could be clarified said nothing to the American public. Rabbi Stephen Wise finally broke the story in late '42; the story was carried on page 10 of the New York Times, and not much was made of it.
Although the U.S. declared many of these business practices illegal under the Trading With The Enemy Act, several corporations still received special licences to continue operations in Germany, and in some cases shipped supplies via fascist Spain under flags of neutrality. After the war, IBM fought and succeed in recovering all of its sequestered profits; Ford and GM both absorbed their German subsidiaries, audaciously suing and winning tens of $millions in reparations for European factories that had been destroyed or damaged in Allied bombing raids.
The subject of collaboration is highly taboo. To facilitate such dealings, of course, banks and law firms were needed. The corporate powerhouse law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, whose Managing Director was future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, with his brother Allen Dulles as a Partner, had as clients many of these powerful institutions, including the very important Bank for International Settlements, which was set up in Switzerland in 1930 to channel World War I reparations between the U.S. and Germany. After the war was declared, the Bank continued to offer financial services to the Third Reich, and the majority of gold looted during the Nazi conquest of Europe ended up in BIS vaults, which allowed the Nazis access to money that would normally have been trapped in blocked accounts. American lawyer and Chairman of BIS, Thomas McKittrick, claiming neutrality in Switzerland, managed this process. Roosevelt's Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, unsuccessfully tried to close the Bank down after the war, claiming it had acted as an agent of the Nazis.
Morgan Bank, Chase Bank, Union Banking Corporation and BIS were the four dominant banks who succeeded in obfuscating their collaborations with the Nazis. William Randolph Heart, the newspaper baron, who had done his best to provoke the Spanish-American War, throughout the 1930s, in his vast media empire, demonized the Soviet Union, depicting Hitler in a friendly light. And Charles Lindbergh, one of the most celebrated Americans in the 1920a, became a poster boy for the isolationist America First movement. After Hitler conquered France, Lindbergh openly feared Germany's ultimate defeat and implored the American public:
"Hitler's destruction would open Europe to the rape, brute and barbarism of Soviet Russia's forces, causing possibly the fatal wounding of Western civilization."
Thus, almost 50 years after the start of World War II, in January 1989, the past once more echoed the present. Could Prescott Bush's son, George, like John Kennedy, repudiate his father's murky past and partner with the communist Gorbachev in changing the world? Bush perhaps pondered his options, but he neither a deep or bold thinker. Several times he had scorned what he called the "...vision thing", distrusting individualistic thinking. Like Harry Truman after World War II he surrounded himself with anti-Soviet conservatives.
Among them, Dick Cheney as his Defence Secretary, and as his Deputy National Security Advisor, Robert Gates, the man who had made his stripes as deputy to the fanatic, William Casey. They all agreed, reaching out to Gorbachev would weaken Western resolve. Whereas Gorbachev was calling for eliminating tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, an offer most Europeans applauded, the United States counter that the Soviet Union should remove 325,000 troops in exchange for a U.S. cut of 30,000.
And while Bush neglected to pursue real progress with the Soviet Union, he wavered when hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were slaughtered in Beijing in Tiananmen Square by the Peoples' Liberation Army, condemning the crackdown publicly, and banning military ties, but behind the scenes making it clear that this would not jeopardize relations between China and the U.S.
Gorbachev pursued the reform of the Soviet system, rejecting the long-held view that controlling Eastern Europe was necessary to Soviet security. In a few extraordinary months in 1989 and '90, all the Central and Eastern European communist governments fell, one by one, as the world watched in disbelief. It was possibly the most peaceful peoples' revolution ever carried out in recorded history - Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Romania changed their governments without fear. On November 9, 1989, East and West Berliners jointly tore down the Berlin Wall, desecrating the Cold War's most reviled symbol. It was a grand moment, evidence of a new beginning.
This structure essentially lasted through proxy wars, near-nuclear conflagrations, intense propaganda and espionage activity, for 45 years. Now this was all changing, and quickly.
Yet, many Americans hailed these actions as the ultimate vindication of the capitalist West, after decades of Cold War. State Department Policy Planner, Francis Fukuyama, made a name for himself, declaring "It was the end of history...", anointing Western liberal democracy as the final form of government. At Yalta, in early 1945, on the eve of Germany's surrender, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill went a long way towards dividing Europe and Asia into Western and Soviet spheres of influence. This structure essentially lasted through proxy wars, near-nuclear conflagrations, intense propaganda and espionage activity, for 45 years. Now this was all changing, and quickly. Gorbachev hoped that a new trust might lead to the dissolution of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and astonishingly he was even willing to allow East and West Germany to reunite, on the understanding that NATO would not expand eastward. Bush led him to believe so, but would be out of power by 1993, and Gorbachev would pay the price for trusting America, as Clinton and the second Bush administrations expanded NATO right up to Russia's doorstep. The Russians felt thoroughly betrayed, and although U.S. officials throughout the years have insisted that no such promises were ever given, recently released statements from the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time (Jack F. Matlock Jr.), and previously classified British and West German documents, substantiate the Russian claims that there was a clear commitment.
It was becoming increasingly clear to some that the U.S. was not changing its colours to celebrate this new mood of peace. Barely a month after the Berlin Wall fell, in December 1989, Bush and his administration launched its invasion of Panama. Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega had long been one the U.S.'s errand boys in Central America. On the CIA payroll since the 1960s, corrupt and unscrupulous, he profited assisting the Medellin Drug Cartel. His assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua won him protection from top Reagan officials, including Casey and Oliver North. But a 1988 drug indictment, and his overturning of Panama's 1989 presidential election, convinced Bush that Noriega was more a liability than an asset. He acted. Operation Just Cause he called it, sending in 12,000 troops to assist the 12,000 already in-country, and levelling the impoverished Panama City neighbourhood of El Chario, which abutted the headquarters of the Panamanian Defence Forces, killing hundreds of civilians.
This was justified as the War on Drugs, declared by Nixon in 1971, and which was now being shifted to fight proaction and the source, which meant, among other things, targeting foreign countries, if need be, for military action. Noriega would be sent to jail in the U.S. for drug trafficking. To much of the world the invasion was shocking and illegal, but to most North Americas, indoctrinated to the idea of a war on drugs, it was business as usual in their backyard. Congress failed to challenge Bush's flagrant violation of the 1973 War Powers Act. The new message was clear - Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell declared "we have to put a shingle outside our door saying 'Superpower lives here' no matter what the Soviets do." Soviet hardliners, concerned about Gorbachev's reforms, understood that their concessions would not curb U.S. bellicosity. They might, in fact, embolden the U.S. to act more recklessly. It did just that. Within 14 months Bush once again showed how tough he could be, this time in the Middle East.
The Reagan administration had cozied up during the Iran war to Iraq's Saddam Hussein, turning a blind eye to his repeated use of chemical weapons, sometimes against his own people, made in part from U.S.-supplied chemicals. When tensions flared between Iraq and oil rich Kuwait, the U.S. Ambassador personally assured Saddam that Bush wanted better relations and had no opinion on Iraq's border dispute. Hussein took this as a signal from Bush, and the following week with estimates of 250,000 troops and 1,500 tanks, took over Kuwait with little resistance.
Long desiring a stronger footprint in the Middle East, the U.S. sent Secretary of Defence Cheney, General Powell and General Schwarzkopf to meet with Saudi King Fahd to convince him to accept a large American military force as a buffer. When they showed the King apparently doctored photos of Iraqi troops and tanks at the Saudi border, and even across it, the King, upset, reacted and asked for help. But at the same time, U.S. satellite photography had been edited to erase all signs that Iraqi forces were digging in with fortifications and trenches nowhere close to the border - there is no evidence is no evidence that Hussein intended to invade Saudi Arabia. The deception was exposed when a Japanese newspaper obtained photos taken by a Soviet commercial satellite company showing no military activity near the border. Newsweek followed up calling it the "missing" military presence.
Pressure nonetheless mounted quickly. If Hussein took Saudi Arabia, he'd have control of at least one-fifth, if not more, of the world's oil supply. The Israeli press lead the charge, decrying U.S. impotence and the weakness of Bush who resembled, one editorial said, Neville Chamberlain in his knowing capitulation to Hitler. The ever adaptable Bush turned the tired analogy on its head, repeatedly comparing Saddam to Hitler:
"We're dealing with Hitler revisited, a totalitarianism and a brutality that is naked and unprecedented in modern times. That must not stand!"
Concerned that Saudi Arabia might come up with an alternative solution to the crisis, he quickly announced that U.S. troops were headed to the Persian Gulf.
Meanwhile, Kuwaiti officials hired the world's largest public relations firm, Hill & Norton, to orchestrate the largest foreign effort to manipulate US public opinion. In October '90, at a Congressional Caucus organized by Hill & Norton, a fifteen year-old Kuwaiti girl testified that she had been a volunteer in a Kuwaiti hospital when Iraqi troops burst in:
"They took the babies out of the incubators ...tearful pause... and left the children to die on the cold floor."
It was a masterful performance. Bush cited the story repeatedly in making the case for war:
"Turns your stomach when you listen to the tales of those who have escaped the brutality of Saddam the invader - mass hangings, babies being pulled from incubators and scattered like firewood across the floor."
It was later discovered that the young witness had never been at the hospital, but was the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the U.S., and a member of the ruling family.
By the time the fraud was exposed, the U.S. bombing of Bagdad had begun. The U.S. public was nonetheless divided - the leaders of Saudi Arabia and especially the loathsome anti-semitic regime of Kuwait, were cruel despots, hardly enamoured of democracy for their own people. Nor were crucial U.S. interests at stake when Iraq and Iran's oil combined for less than 10% of U.S. imports.
In late November, Cheney warned that Iraq could have a nuclear device within a year and would likely use it, a card Cheney would play again in coming years. NSC Advisor Brent Scowcroft added a terrorist threat for good measure. Stung by the criticisms of his illegal Panama invasion, Bush took the measure to Congress and though anti-war protesters filled the streets, Congress narrowly passed the resolution in January '91. By that time, over 560,000 U.S. troops were in the region - the total would reach 700,000. Schwarzkopf claimed the U.S. faced a million man Iraqi land force, with high quality Soviet tanks and openly willing to use chemical weapons.
Operation Desert Storm, which began on January 17 1991, by openly sending combat troops in huge numbers into a Middle Eastern country, marked the beginning of a new era in American geopolitics. It would take the country deeper into a rabbit hole it had never been before. For five weeks, with new awe-inspiring, television friendly high-tech weapons, including Tomahawk and Cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs, U.S. airstrikes pulverized Iraq's communications, military and industrial infrastructure. On television, the American population had never seen fire-power like this. It was the beginning of the video game era, and it was dazzling, as Iraq was reduced, according to the UN, to a near-apocalyptic, pre-industrial age.
The ground invasion lasted 100 hours, with U.S. and Saudi forces routing demoralized and poorly trained Iraqi troops from Kuwait. A new category of weapons, made out of depleted uranium, was born. Their radioactivity and chemical toxicity cancers and birth defects. Victims would include U.S. soldiers, who suffered, mysteriously for years, what became known as Gulf War Syndrome.
Enough of the Republican Guard escaped the slaughter to ensure that Saddam Hussein would retain his hold on power. Bush and his advisors decided not to push to Bagdad to overthrow the regime, as such a move would bolster Iraq's enemy Iran, and might antagonize America's allies. But American officials urged the Iraqis to rise up and topple Hussein themselves. When Iraqi Kurds and Shiites responded in large numbers, the U.S. stood idly by while the government crushed the uprisings using poison gas and helicopter gunships. Despite the slaughter, Bush said:
"The spectre of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian peninsula."
He called it a New World Order. But among those who saw through what he called a "burst of triumphalism" was the notoriously peevish conservative Washington Post columnist, George Will, who wrote "If that war, which the United States and a largely rented and Potemkin coalition of allies smashed a nation with the GNP of Kentucky, could make America feel good about itself, then America should not feel good about itself."
More than 200,000 Iraqis died in the war and its immediate aftermath, approximately half of them civilians. The U.S. death toll stood at less than 200. Privately in his diary, Bush wrote that he was experiencing "...no feeling of euphoria...no battleship Missouri surrender...to make this akin to World War Two, to separate Kuwait from Korea and Vietnam." Something was clearly missing.
The laurels of victory and a true peace would be squandered, not in the sands of Kuwait, but in Bush's lack of foresight and vision in acquiring a true ally in the Soviet Union. Just a few weeks after signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, as he prepared to move toward greater autonomy for the Soviet Republics, Gorbachev was placed under house arrest by communist hardliners in August '91. Boris Yeltsin, the President of the Russian Republic, led a popular uprising that returned Gorbachev to power, but time was running out. For the people there had been too many changes, too fast, and not enough order. Condemned and rejected, on Christmas Day 1991, Gorbachev, one of the most visionary and transformative leaders of the 20th century, resigned in a form of disgrace. The Russian people had no idea what was in store for them.
But neither did George Bush. His 91% approval rating at the end of Persian Gulf War blinded leading Democrats to his electoral vulnerability, leaving the door open for little known Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton to run as a new kind of Democrat:
"The crowd that's running Washington today has had 12 years to test their economic theory, and it failed."
A charming, compassionate man, who wanted to be all things to all people, Clinton, with the help of third party independent conservative businessman Ross Perot, siphoning off 19% of the popular vote, surprisingly upset George Bush. It seemed like a golden moment.
After all, the United States had been blaming social and political upheaval on the Soviet Union for the previous 46 years. Now with a Democrat in the White House, how could we justify the bloated military budget that for decades had diverted resources - as in the Soviet Union - from needed development. Would there at least be the celebrated peace dividend?
The euphoria over Clinton proved short-lived. Republicans wounded Clinton out of the gate by blocking his plan for the open admission of gays into the military, also questioning his avoidance of service during Vietnam. Even more damagingly, the Republicans went to political war with their business allies to frighten the public and defeat Clinton's ambitious healthcare plan to cover 10s of millions of uninsured citizens. The Republicans called it the 'battle of the bulge', of big government liberalism. Among advanced industrial countries, only the United States and apartheid South Africa lacked a national healthcare system. Its defeat in the conservative media and in the public perception was exaggerated, and gave momentum to an even stronger Republican renaissance, when the 1994 mid-term elections achieved Republican control of both branches of Congress for the first time in 40 years.
Amazingly, at a time when there were no international crises, both parties lurched further to the right. Clinton, without much of a mandate, and vulnerable, ended aid to families with dependent children, which had helped families since the Great Depression. He supported the War on Drugs, and tough-on-crime legislation. The U.S. prison population exploded from 500,000 in 1980, to two million by 2000, many of these victimless drug crimes.
Post-Soviet Russia moved drastically to the right. Yeltsin turned to Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs, and other experts such as Under-Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers, for help in privatizing the economy. With them came the G7, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, and a form of economic shock therapy yet unknown to the Russian people. The flirtation with capitalism proved surreal. Yeltsin quickly deregulated the economy, privatized state enterprises and resources, eliminated desperately needed subsidies and price controls, and established privately owned monopolies. The people called it "the great grab" as the nation's factories were sold for a pittance to opportunistic private investors, including former communist officials who became multi-millionaires overnight.
While a new monied generation was celebrating its new freedoms, most Russians' life savings were wiped out by hyper-inflation, and tens of millions of jobs were lost. Life expectancy plummeting from 67 to 57 years for men, 76 to 70 for women. Russia's economy shrank to the size of the Netherlands, as it was rapidly becoming a Second World power. The Western aid and debt relief that Sachs had promised never materialized - Sachs later blamed Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz for pursuing long-term U.S. military dominance over Russia. Gorbachev, in his recent memoir, Alone with Myself, reflected that Yeltsin was preferred by Bush's inner circle and eventually by Bush himself, as "...his goals - to dismember and liquidate the USSR - matched the goals of the American leadership...", and that a "...weakened Russia under Yeltsin was more in line with U.S. interests than the prospect of a renewed USSR that Gorbachev was struggling for".
Anti-Americanism came back into vogue. Russians bristled as Clinton pushed U.S. involvement in the energy rich Caspian Basin, and expanded NATO to include Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Ninety-two year old Cold War architect, George Kennan, called this an enormous and historic strategic error. Many Russians were coming to believe the U.S. was imposing a reverse Iron Curtain on Russia's borders. Though Clinton professed himself a friend of Yeltsin, polls showed 77% of the population preferring order over the 9% choosing this form of democracy, many pining for the good old days of Stalin. Perceiving the increasingly unpopular Yeltsin as a drunkard, they deplored his illegal shutdown of, and armed assault on, the elected parliament, suspending the constitution and effectively ruling by decree for the rest of the decade. Polling single digit approval ratings, Yeltsin resigned on the eve of the new century, to be replaced by former KGB officer Vladimir Putin, who brought Russia back from the brink by reinstating a strong tyrannical centralizing power, in the old Russian style.
Throughout the 90s, Clinton's administration, eager to take economic advantage wherever possible, pushed for building pipelines to ship the rich oil and gas reserves, valued in the $3 to $6 trillion range, from former Soviet Republics of Central Asia along routes that bypassed Iran and Russia.
Meanwhile, the fundamentalist Taliban took over Afghanistan and welcomed back the wealthy Saudi jihadist, Osama bin Laden, to establish Al Queda, The Base, in their country. Although he'd been a part of the CIA netherworld in the '80s, bin Laden was now totally focused on driving the U.S. and its allies out of the muslim world, decrying especially the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, Islam's holiest land. Pointing as well for U.S. support for Israel, in 1992 his issued his first religious fatwa. Two mysterious bombings followed in Saudi Arabia, killing more than 20 U.S. military personnel. bin Laden denied Al Queda involvement, and the Saudi government, with its close ties to the influential bin Laden family, steered the FBI investigation towards Iran, a perceived US enemy. In '98, U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed, killing more than two hundred. In 2000 bin Laden claimed responsibility for striking the U.S. Navy ship Cole, killing seventeen.
"If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and see further into the future than other nations."
Since the Gulf War, UN weapons inspectors had been overseeing destruction of Iraq's WMD, as U.S. and British enforced no-fly zones and harsh U.S. sanctions had caused immense suffering. The Clinton administration falsely blamed the estimated deaths of some half million from disease and malnutrition on dictator Saddam Hussein. Madeline Albright, Clinton's Secretary of State:
"...we think the price was worth it."
The tough-talking Albright insisted Hussein's use of WMD was a greater threat to U.S. security. And on another occasion, she said quite openly: "If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and see further into the future than other countries."
Although the United States faced no clear threat from hostile nations, the Clinton administration proved even more tough-minded on defence than their Republican adversaries, and squandered the supposed peace dividend on a new wave of spending. In January 2000 his administration added $115 billion to the Pentagon's projected 5-year defence plan. It continued spending profusely on missile defence. Clinton also refused to sign the Ottawa Land Mines Treaty, and oversaw a significant increase in US arms sales, to almost 60% of the world's market by 1997. Historian Chalmers Johnson summed these years in 2004: "In the first post-Cold War decade we mounted many actions to perpetuate and extend our global power, including wars and humanitarian interventions in Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Columbia and Serbia, while maintaining unchanged our Cold War deployments in East Asia and the Pacific."
This emerging bi-partisan foreign policy seemed set in stone; there would be no debate. Clinton saw U.S. actions abroad, not as those of an aggressive resource-hungry empire, but as a necessary force for stability in a new world order based on America's concepts of democracy and free markets. He did nothing in the end to challenge the basic structures of this empire. Although his last two years were severely damaged by a sex scandal with an intern, and an embarrassing trial for impeachment that once more blurred in a sensationalist media far more significant events, "Slick Willie", as some called him, in his inestimable way, avoided major disasters. Benefiting from a resurgent global economy, favouring U.S. markets and finance, Clinton left behind a temporarily prosperous country with a huge surplus. Expecting to capitalize on parts of this legacy, his party nominated Vice President Al Gore in 2000.
George Bush actually did more in his eight years in office than any other president to bury the World War II myth of American power, moderated by fairness.
A forward-looking experience man, who repeatedly warned of a world ecological disaster looming in a changing climate that needed controlling, he would back away from this issue considerably during the final campaign, the here and now being of more importance to the average voter. The Republicans countered with a self-proclaimed compassionate conservative, Texas Governor George W. Bush, son of George H.W. and grandson of Prescott. From a debate with Gore, Bush said this:
"...I think what we need to do is convince people who live in the lands they live in to build the nations...we're gonna have a nation building corps from here in America? Absolutely not. Our military is meant to fight and win war...and when it gets overextended morale drops, but I'm gonna be judicious as to how to use the military; it needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear and the exit strategy obvious."
As he embarked on one of the country's most ambitious periods of nation building, George Bush actually did more in his eight years in office than any other president to bury the World War II myth of American power, moderated by fairness. In hindsight, it was his capacity to conceal his reactionary intentions that years later still confounds and shocks many Americans from the pre-2001 era.
It started with the 2000 election itself, the most scandalous in U.S. history, wounding, perhaps fatally, the legitimacy of the political process in this country. Coming as it did at the beginning of a new century, if felt to many like an ominous oracle. Al Gore won the popular mandate by more than 540,000 votes, but lost Florida when more than 10% of African Americans were disqualified by an antiquated State voting system overseen by Florida Governor Jeb Bush, George's younger brother, and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, Bush's state Campaign Chairman.
"Although we may never know with complete certainty the winner, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear - it is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
Behooving the shenanigans of a banana republic, the U.S. Supreme Court - without precedent - surprisingly intervened in the Florida election process and voted 5-4 to stop a recount, thus handing Bush the election. The majority of these judges had been appointed in administrations in which Bush's father had either been President or Vice President. If it had happened in another country, it would have been denounced as a coup by the United States. The dissenting judges wrote: "Although we may never know with complete certainty the winner, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear - it is the nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law."
On a drizzly day in January 2001, George W. Bush, the 43rd President, was given the oath of office. Thousands of protestors were isolated in zones far from the cameras. Befitting a roman emperor surrounded by an entourage of true believers, Bush held fewer press conferences than any other president in history. Compassion would be in limited supply, as most of his top appointees hailed from a little known group called the Project for the New American Century, spearheaded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, which had been organized in 1987 to rekindle the neoconservative vision of an unchallenged American hegemony. It included Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Vice President Dick Cheney. They deplored the fact that the U.S. had lost its way under Clinton, and called for a return to moral clarity and Reagan's military strength. They called for increased military spending, complete domination of space, deployment of a sweeping missile defence system, and the ability to win multiple, simultaneous, major-theatre wars - and police critical regions, especially the oil rich Middle East.
Their first order of business was circumventing the UN Security Council, and toppling Saddam Hussein. Gloomy and pathologically secretive, Dick Cheney would dominate the administration to an extent no vice president had ever done before, and made it clear, with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, the U.S. was playing by a much tougher set of rules. Bush 41 and Bill Clinton had made efforts at diplomacy and coalition building, but Bush the younger, in his sense of defiance towards his father, came to resemble a degenerate heir to an admired Roman Emperor. In Bush's mind, both his father and the sexually indisciplined Bill Clinton were weak; Ronald Reagan was his idea of strength, and a higher father. After all, Bush and the neocons believed Reagan beat the Russians. Ironically, in 2001, Gladiator was named Best Film of 2000, a worldwide success celebrating Rome's harsh militarism, depicting a perverted leadership that spelled the fall of the Roman Empire.
Neoconservative contempt for the United Nations had always been a given, but now it seemed they were isolating themselves almost entirely from the world community. The U.S. withdrew from the International Criminal Court Treaty that Clinton and virtually every other Western democracy had negotiated. They rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which 150 nations had signed. Bush repudiated the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and, to the shock of the Russians, abrogated the crucial 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to revise the unproven Missile Defence Program. In general, the media asked few questions about these abrupt reversals in policy. Bush disavowed the Middle East peace process and suspended talks with North Korea on its long-range missile program. His administration was marinated in oil, Cheney putting together a highly-secretive Energy Task Force that laid out plans to control with world's supply. He'd made his intentions clear in '99 to oil industry executives when he said: "The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies."
Signs of an impending attack abounded in the summer of 2001. Intercepted Al Queda messages said that something spectacular was about to happen. Counter-Terrorism Chief Richard Clarke testified that CIA Director George Tenant was running around Washington with his "hair on fire", trying to get the attention of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and President Bush. But Defence Secretary Rumsfeld, and Rice, a former Chevron board member with a double hulled oil tanker named after her, were preoccupied with ballistic missile defence, and reforming the Pentagon. Threat reports with headlines like "bin Laden Threats Real" or "bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the U.S." were issued, but Bush could not focus his attention, as he spent more time away from Washington than any recent president, at his sequestered Crawford Texas ranch, chopping wood. He did not enjoy riding horses, unlike his hero Reagan. At his Presidential Daily Briefing on August 6 where the threat of Al Queda operative hijacking planes was discussed, Bush disdainfully told his CIA briefer...
"Alright, you covered your ass now."
Yet, with a straight face Bush told a news conference in April 2004:
"Had I had any inkling whatsoever that people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country."
Rice was equally disingenuous:
"I don't think anybody could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile - a hijacked airplane as a missile."
...although the FBI was issuing reports of individuals taking flying lessons who had no interest in learning how to land.
As dissatisfaction was mounting over Bush's incompetent governance, the terrorists struck the USA in a highly ingenious and dramatic fashion - 9/11 it was forever to be called - as the hijackers, 15 of them born in Saudi Arabia, flew planes into the premier symbols of U.S. imperial power, Wall Street and the Pentagon. More than 3,000 people lost their lives; in New York, more than 2,700 were killed, including some 500 who hailed from 91 different countries.
The nation watched in horror as the flames engulfed the twin towers before their stunning collapse. How could this happen to the U.S.? Who would dare to attack us in the heart of our empire? So nakedly, so low-tech. Where was this new world order? Had we as a nation not gotten it right? Were we not good enough? Had we not contained the evil for sixty years, since World War II? Had we not restrained ourselves from dropping the Bomb since Hiroshima and Nagasaki? And now, to some very powerful American leaders, it was as if they, the outliers of empire, these terrorists, had dropped Hiroshima on us - at the very least, Pearl Harbour. All out war was called for.
On that day an anger, and justification for that anger, was unleashed on the world - an enormous Pandora's Box of dark energy and pent-up fear, and chaos reminiscent of the 19th century French Revolution. All came together in a self-righteousness that would spawn a crusade against, not only bin Laden and his followers, but all evil in the world itself. For Bush, it was not only his destiny to be a war president, this was a great awakening on a global scale. Bush declared:
"Our responsibility to history is already clear - to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil."
The world, for the most part, responded with great empathy for America. Vladimir Putin of the USSR was one of the first to offer help. Major Islamic figures denounced the attacks as a crime against humanity, and Osama bin Laden as a fraud, a person who had no right to issue religious edicts and no religious training. Chris Hedges, a veteran Middle East journalist wrote several years later, "The tragedy is that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on empathy we would be far safer and more secure than we are. We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond - they wanted us to speak the language of violence."
In the recent past, American leaders, especially Harry Truman at the end of World War II, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, had reacted radically to the appearance of vulnerability - Johnson most dramatically pointing to his sacrifice of the Great Society to his fear of failure in Vietnam. Perhaps this is the Achilles Heel of the American political process - compassion, or empathy, is in short supply, and easily dismissed by those who are tougher as naiveté of softness. Yet, it is compassion for the other, that in the end, has distinguished our greatest leaders, be it Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt or, on other fronts, people such as Martin Luther King.
Had Al Gore been in office instead of being derided in the media as a now-it-all who annoyed them, might he not have emotionally connected to a world that had hardened in its hatred of U.S. policies. Might he not have acted in humbler fashion, and pursued the terrorists with the traditional structures of diplomacy, intelligence services, and firm police action? Would not the same results have been achieved without making new enemies that could be perceived as martyrs to a young generation of emerging radicals? Would he have kicked off a truly virtual World War III?
George Bush instead put the world on notice:
"Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
In framing his right to do so as a monumental struggle between good and evil, imagine any citizen of any country in the world being told by a man like this, you're either with us, or against us. And imagine how you would feel about America.
Chalmers Johnson wrote, before his death, that Americans like to say that the world changed as a result of September 11th, but that it was more accurate to say that America was becoming a new Rome, the greatest colossus in history no longer bound by international law, the concerns of allies, or any constraints on its use of military force. The American people were still largely in the dark about why they had been attacked, or why their State Department began warning them against terrorism in an ever-growing list of foreign countries. But a growing number finally began to grasp what most non-Americans already knew, and had experienced over the past half century. Namely, that the United States was something other than what it professed to be. That it was, in fact, a military juggernaut intent on world domination.
Instead of explaining the real reasons for the attacks - Al Queda's fierce opposition to U.S troops on Saudi Arabia, and to U.S. support for Israel in its ongoing struggle with the Palestinians - Bush mouthed platitudes, asking:
"Why do they hate us?"
He answered for us:
"They hate our freedoms - our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
How ironic that Bush 41 had squandered world peace by unleashing in Panama and the first Iraq, the furies of war. And that his son, striking out blindly and virtually bankrupting his nation precisely as bin Laden hoped he would, had now found his destiny in his father's ancestral genes as America's war president, in a war that, by Dick Cheney's reckoning, could last forever.