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Pharaoh in the White House

The Editorial Board
March 1, 2003

It would be impossible for a bimonthly magazine, only 40 pages in length, to keep up with the outrages of the Bush Administration. While the shattering of the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 was a wake-up call for everyone in the U.S. -- including those on the left who suddenly recognized that the Pentagon may sometimes actually have a defensive role to play in our lives -- George W. Bush seems to have been provoked by 9/11 to revive a Vietnam-era oxymoron and “destroy America in order to save it.”
The combination of cruelty and upper-class greed embodied in the new federal budget, unveiled on February 3rd, is especially destructive. It projects a record $307 billion deficit for 2004, accumulating to $1 trillion over the next five years and $2.1 trillion over the next 10 -- this following the depletion of a projected $5.6 trillion surplus that existed when Bush took office. This new deficit would be fed by the elimination of income tax on stock dividends (at a cost of $364 billion) and the establishment of new “IRAs for the rich” -- tax-free savings accounts that blow off the lid of standard IRAs. Waiting in the wings are plans to eliminate estate taxes and “privatize” both Social Security and Medicare. Such aggressive social experimentation in a time of national crisis amounts to ruthless, not compassionate, conservatism.
Bush’s budget allots huge increases to the Pentagon, including expanded funding for the useless Star Wars missile defense system, and does not account for the projected expenses ($200 billion or more) of a war against Saddam Hussein. Anticipated income includes $2.4 billion from leased oil drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - clear evidence of Bush’s intent to lay waste to the Refuge in the name of “energy security.” Other revenues are gained by removing poor children from free school lunch programs; by cutting Justice Department programs of assistance to juvenile courts and protection for seniors against consumer fraud; by cutting environmental and wetlands preservation programs; by spending less than negotiated “authorization levels” on education and cutting outright $1.5 billion from 45 existing education programs. The only consoling thought is that the budget’s lack of bipartisan outreach, its lack of concern for future generations, its hard-right ideological content and its sheer chutzpa will enable the American public to see that Republican rule means top-down class warfare.
As long as the prospect of real warfare hogs the headlines, however, a political comeuppance for the president is likely to be postponed. Prior to his State of the Union address, only a third of the American public expressed support for U.S. military invasion of Iraq at this juncture, but a sizable majority agreed that they would “support the president” in the event of such an invasion. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their cronies are riding this wave of patriotism and fear to pursue ambitions of an American empire - ambitions punctuated by disregard for international treaties and by a new “preemptive” military strategy that they are itching to demonstrate in Iraq.
That demonstration may be underway as you read this. It may have the appearance of a multilateral action, thanks to the U.S.‘s immense capacity to cajole, bribe and threaten. It may result in the swift removal of Saddam Hussein and the liberation of the country from his murderous grip - results unlike American interventions of yesteryear (for example, fascism in Chile following Allende’s overthrow and dire poverty in Nicaragua following the contra war). Concrete evidence of horrible weaponry may be uncovered, and every one of the Colin Powell’s charges of Iraqi evasion of the inspection process may be vindicated. Nevertheless, unless a war against Iraq is preceded by an exhaustive inspection and containment effort, and unless it is conducted with U.N. Security Council approval, we will feel undaunted in our opposition because of the heedless arrogance with which Bush and Co. approach warfare - not as a last resort but as a prerogative of empire.
The fact is that empires usually end in misery for their own people. Jews learn about this every Passover, when we read about Pharaoh’s Egypt, where the innocent are afflicted along with the guilty, “from the . . . Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the . . . slave girl who is behind the millstones . . .” (Exodus 11: 5). Bush’s budget is one such all-enveloping plague. The military expenditures of our would-be empire are another; we now exceed the military spending of the next eight countries combined. His unhesitant assaults on civil liberties and the Freedom of Information Act are another plague, and more are sure to follow as long as George W. Bush sits in the White House.