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Ochenski: Duct tape and plastic

Bush's foreign policy takes more egg on the face

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The Bush War Flotilla, which seemed to be steaming inexorably toward all-out conflict with Iraq, ran aground on the reef of world opinion last week. Bush’s blustering, threatening aggression seems stalled, as the tiller of American foreign policy flaps aimlessly in the currents of global opinion. Those currents are running full-on against Bush and his hardliners and are more likely to increase than decrease in the coming weeks. It was a bad week for the Bushies, but a good week for the rest of the world.

The signals that maybe the Bush team didn’t have its act together started back in late January when, during his much-hyped State of the Union speech, President Bush declined to present convincing evidence that Iraq either had or was producing weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he left the task of elucidating the details to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations. But lo and behold, even when Powell made his presentation, with the satellite photos, charts and animations, many remained unconvinced.

Only days later, Hans Blix, the U.N.’s top Iraq weapons inspector, gave his report on Iraq to the U.N., too. Mainstream media here in the U.S. was poised like a panther on a limb to pounce on any semblance of Iraqi non-compliance, but Blix didn’t deliver the report they expected. Instead, he told the world that Iraq was cooperating, that they needed to do more, but that the time for military action by the U.S. had not yet come. Furthermore, he dismissed Powell’s “evidence” as speculation and particularly criticized the satellite photos that supposedly showed movement at a biochemical facility as nothing more than “routine activity.” When journalists went to the site featured in Powell’s presentation, they found nothing to suggest anything like what our secretary of state had told the world would be there.

More egg was lathered on the face of America’s foreign policy only a couple days later, when France’s foreign minister delivered a scathing condemnation of the Bush administration’s war efforts to rousing applause from the normally staid U.N. Security Council. Significantly, his presentation was followed by an exasperated Colin Powell, who abandoned his prepared remarks and urged the U.N. to action against Iraq. Foretelling what was to come, Powell’s remarks were met with total silence from the assembly.

While world opinion turned against Bush’s aggression, here at home the “terror machine” was cranked up to Threat Level Orange, the second highest status for our new Homeland Security warnings. Giving advice that has widely become a laughing stock, Americans were told to buy plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect ourselves from the biochemical attacks that Bush and his “intelligence” told us were imminent.

In Montana, where plastic sheeting and duct tape are commonly referred to as “storm windows,” the populace had been fully prepared since back in October when the weather turned cold. But on the East Coast, the warnings sparked a buying spree that so far has been the single most positive thing the Bush administration has done for the economy. After some reflection on the consequences of millions of Americans employing this high-tech safety barrier, the administration decided to retract its advice to the citizenry. As one Montana public safety official put it, more people would likely die of carbon monoxide poisoning from wrapping their homes in plastic and duct tape than would be saved from biochemical agents in the event of an attack.

The crushing blow came late last week when tens of millions of people around the world took to the streets in direct opposition to Bush’s war. Some of the largest protests ever seen took place in nations whose governments have supported Bush—and the numbers were truly impressive. Spain, for instance, whose government has backed an American attack, saw millions protesting in opposition to any Iraq war. Italy, another country whose political leaders sided with Bush, found an estimated 5 million war protestors marching through Rome. The same thing happened in Britain, where leader Tony Blair continues to call for aggression while 80 percent of the population holds the exact opposite opinion. Australia, too, whose leaders have backed Bush’s plans, saw massive, nationwide demonstrations against an Iraq war. Even here at home, where the mainstream media has been whipping citizens into a frenzy of fear and aggression, cities and towns from one coast to the other were filled with millions of people gathered to say “NO!” to Bush’s war.

This overwhelming outpouring of global resistance to the plans for an Iraq war seems to have left Bush, his cabinet of war hawks, and the cheerleading media in shock. To be sure, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice continue to howl for Saddam’s head. But the rest of the world is resolutely chanting “No Blood for Oil” and “Give Peace a Chance.”

Now, perhaps more than any time in recent history, America must pause and consider the obvious and growing consequences of following this brash president into an ill-considered and highly unpopular war. Bush’s hawks have already split our longtime European allies, weakened NATO significantly, and threatened the United Nations itself with “irrelevance.” Bush can bluster on about “going it alone,” but the consequences of any such action would likely bring long-term global condemnation, distrust, and retribution to this once-great country.

The time has come to hold George Bush accountable for these blunders and to ask hard questions about the wisdom of mobilizing hundreds of thousands of troops, endless aircraft, tanks, ships, and planes while squandering billions of urgently needed dollars in preparation for a war that the rest of humanity opposes. Our economy is flailing, our states are universally running deficits, and our own citizens, young and old, are in dire need of health care, education, housing, and food.

As for Homeland Security, perhaps that idea of duct tape and plastic might work after all—especially if we apply it liberally over the mouths of those who are screaming for war.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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