Bush administration

An Iraqi soldier stands guard as security forces inspect the scene of a car bomb attack in Basra, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad Sunday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Daily Texan recently published a piece by fellow UT student Dolph Briscoe IV which argued that the U.S. must “avoid becoming trapped in another dangerous war in the Middle East.” This mentality is pervasive in the liberal corporate media, with the New York Times editorial board praising Obama for his cautious “balancing act on Iraq.” There are three major problems with this conception.

The first is that the liberals completely misunderstand the roots of Iraq’s current crisis, which is the past 10 years of U.S. imperialism in Iraq (under both former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama). It is now widely acknowledged that every single argument the Bush administration made for invading Iraq was false: Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, al-Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq and Iraqis did not greet the U.S. military as a liberator but instead resisted it as an occupying force. However, Briscoe is wrong in stating that the Bush administration’s goal was “establishing a democracy in Iraq.” The leaked 2002 Downing Street Memo, a UK intelligence document, stated that “military action [in Iraq] was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." So the Bush administration intentionally lied to Americans and the world, an undemocratic action whose end goal certainly was not democracy. In fact, it was control over oil.

Following the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. set up the Coalition Provisional Authority to govern the country, and within a few months privatized the Iraqi economy with Order 39. This allowed foreign investors and international financial institutions to buy out Iraqi enterprises, including its massive oil reserves and keep 100 percent of the profit. Strategic control over Iraqi oil had been a goal of the U.S. foreign policy establishment for over a decade even before Bush - the Clinton administration kept Hussein’s regime in check with deadly sanctions against Iraq. The neoconservatives had been pushing for regime change since the late ‘90s and got their chance during the Bush administration after 9/11. So U.S. imperialism in Iraq has been and continues to be a bipartisan project.

However, the neoconservatives underestimated the will of Iraqis to fight back against this wrecking of their economy and the U.S. military’s brutal violence during the occupation. The U.S. invasion precipitated a massive Iraqi resistance across Sunni and Shia lines. As Iraqi journalist Sami Ramadani explains, there is a “powerful secular tradition in Iraq that transcends all religions and sects,” and this led to “millions of Iraqis - of all sects and none - [marching] in the streets, denouncing the occupation.” In response to this, the U.S. (and its later client-state under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki) implemented sectarian policies that led to today’s divided Iraq.

This leads to the second problem, which is that rather than acknowledge the sectarian legacy of imperialism, the liberals (and neoconservatives) instead substitute Islamophobic logic. According to Briscoe, yet another “crisis plagues the Middle East” with no offered cause or context – according to the New York Times, the crisis is due to “Islam’s ancient sectarian rift.” In reality, the sectarian rift’s origins can be concretely located in the 2005 Iraqi Constitution, in which occupation authorities forced provisions that split Iraq’s governing structure along ethnic and religious lines, as part of the U.S.’s divide-and-rule strategy to control the flow of oil. As journalist Phyllis Bennis explained at that time, the lack of oil in Sunni areas “[insured] a future of impoverishment for the Sunni, secular and inter-mixed populations of Baghdad and Iraq’s center, and [set] the stage for a future of ethnic and religious strife.”

Briscoe correctly notes that these sectarian policies continued under Maliki, but its crimes are far greater than simply “[refusing] to bring Sunni Muslims into [the] government.” Before the rise to prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there were mass Sunni petitions and protests against this sectarianism - Maliki’s response was to escalate to violence, ultimately attacking protest camps and killing protesters. More importantly, Briscoe fails to mention that Maliki was supported by the U.S. from the beginning as a client-state. Even with the supposedly liberal President Obama, this relationship continued for reasons that Maliki himself explained: Iraq has the “world’s fifth-largest proven crude oil reserves,” and in 2012, it “surpassed Iran to become OPEC’s second largest producer of crude oil.” Thus, as with the “Arab Spring” in Bahrain and Egypt, the Obama administration was allied with the oppressive state and against the calls for democracy. To understand Iraq’s current crisis, this history must be acknowledged: ISIS and its violent methods only became relevant after the U.S. implemented sectarian policies and its client-state militarized the conflict.

Failure to acknowledge the backdrop of U.S. imperialism leads to the third problem, which is that the liberals’ misconceptions are deadly – this can be seen in the current Israeli siege of Gaza. First, the imperial context: In 1967, Israel proved its worth to U.S. geopolitical strategy by, in Noam Chomsky’s words, “[destroying] the source of secular Arab nationalism – Nasser’s Egypt,” considered a major threat because “it might seek to take control of the immense resources of the region and use them for regional interest, rather than allow them to be centrally controlled and exploited by the United States.” Since then, Israel has been a key stronghold for U.S. geopolitics.

So despite the lopsided destruction that Israel has unleashed on Palestinians, the Obama administration continues to support Israel’s military operations and falsely equates the Israeli and Palestinian death tolls. When the UN Human Rights Council voted on July 23 to open inquiry into war crimes in Gaza, the U.S. was the only country to vote “no.” In lockstep, the New York Times squarely blames Hamas’s comparatively minimal violence for Israel’s brutality and also falsely equates the violence against civilians “on both sides of the border.” Similarly, Briscoe states that Israel is simply responding “in kind” to Hamas rockets.

However, Israel’s relentless destruction of Gaza and the lopsided death toll are becoming increasingly hard for reporters to deny, even in the liberal corporate media. NBC News pulled veteran correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin from Gaza after he reported on the murder of four young boys playing soccer on a Gaza beach by Israeli gunboats. Mohyeldin was returned to Gaza only after public uproar. MSNBC fired contributor Rula Jebreal after her on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage, such as having “90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians.” The facts in Gaza clearly support Mohyeldin’s and Jebreal’s outrage: Israel’s bombing and invasion have overwhelmingly killed children and other civilians, with likely war crimes including the bombing of hospitals, other medical facilities, mosques, schools, and Gaza’s sole power plant. Despite rhetorical flourishes by the New York Times about “bombardments … of Israeli population centers,” Hamas, a democratically elected governing organization of Gaza, has committed violence with comparatively minimal civilian casualties and damage. This says less about the atrocities that Hamas has committed and more about the scale of Israeli brutality. In either case, Obama’s defense of Israel is rhetorically on the grounds that “no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders” – if the liberals actually agree with this on principle, they should fully support the Palestinians’ right to resistance.

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.

During the years George W. Bush was president, socially conservative state and national policies related to same-sex marriage and public school integration drove most on-campus discussions of civil rights. In the case of Parents Involved v. Seattle School District, the district claimed it was bussing students to schools outside their residential zones in order to further integration. The case made its way to the Supreme Court in 2007, with the Roberts-led court ruling with the parents of the schoolchildren that assignments based on race are still discriminatory even in the interest of desegregating schools. 

“[The Parents decision] certainly is a reflection of Bush’s appointees,” assistant law professor Joseph Fishkin said. “I’d say the most impactful legacy of the Bush administration was replacing [Sandra Day] O’Connor with [Samuel] Alito.”

According to Fishkin, one of the most important civil rights issues in the first decade of the 21st century was the rise of judiciary enforcement regarding integration. The courts, as opposed to Congress, were at the forefront of racial integration in schools, causing individual people to be held responsible for inclusion.

Nicole Barragan, Spanish and public relations alum, said she didn’t notice much controversy regarding racial integration while she was a student at the University during Bush’s presidency.

In 2003, the Bush administration passed legislation barring federal agents from using race or ethnicity in routine investigations, though the policy conspicuously omitted investigations involving terrorism and national security matters. “Austin was, and is, such a liberal city, so I don’t feel like there was anyone discriminated against,” Barragan said.

In 2004, Bush called on states to ratify an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as a strictly heterosexual union. Bush said his push to amend was because of his belief that “marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.”

Some political commentators saw Bush’s appeal to the states as a deliberate move to bypass, or perhaps undermine, Congress, but Fishkin said he doesn’t think that is necessarily the case.

“[The court] could see that over time, the general public was turning away, and the trajectory showed that most young people favored marriage equality,” Fishkin said. 

Although student inclusion was not a particularly divisive topic at the University, awareness was not lacking among the UT population. According to Reid Long, chemistry doctorate alum and former UT Senate member, the Queer Students Alliance released a report on gay and trans issues on campus around the same time.

Long said he recalls a Student Government resolution filed in 2007 in support of domestic partner benefits. The resolution, according to Long, was most likely passed in response to a changing social climate after Texas’ ban on gay marriage in 2005.

 

According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, lawsuits brought by the Civil Rights Division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under the Clinton administration to about six per year under the Bush administration. “It was a hallmark study for that particular group in regards to campus climate,” Long said.

Regardless of national issues, on-campus policies became increasingly aimed at better representing the diverse student population. According to Long, for example, many of the applications for student leadership organizations were amended to be more inclusive to minority students.

“As far as I know, they still do their applications the same way,” Long said. “I always thought the campus was pretty good about handling things like that.”

The Republicans don’t even try to act like they support peace and civil liberties. For many years, the Democrats did. But after the Hook the Vote debate last week between the University Democrats and the Libertarian Longhorns, it became clear even the Democrats, at least those on campus, don’t support our rights. (In the interest of full disclosure, I serve as Public Relations Director of the Libertarian Longhorns, but my opinions are my own).

During the debate, the University Democrats slammed former President George W. Bush — and rightly so — for his expensive and unnecessary wars and his violations of civil liberties. Afghanistan should have been a mission to kill Osama bin Laden and those involved with the 9/11 attacks. Bush made it into a war with the Taliban and an occupation of the entire country. Then he decided to invade and destabilize Iraq, resulting in countless unnecessary deaths of both American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Bush trashed civil liberties with the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention and torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Bush’s policies were inexcusable. And throughout his presidency, the Democrats rarely put up with any excuses from the Bush administration. During the 2008 presidential election, then-candidate Barack Obama had huge respect for civil liberties. He promised to close Guantanamo Bay on his first day in office, end indefinite detention and honor the principle of habeas corpus. He denounced the warrantless wiretapping of American citizens and racial profiling in the name of national security. The War on Drugs would be reformed.

Those were changes we could believe in. Unfortunately, they’re changes we’re still waiting for.

Since taking office, Obama hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay. Rather than ending indefinite detention, he expanded it to include American citizens under the National Defense Authorization Act. Instead of ending the Patriot Act and its warrantless wiretapping, Obama extended it. His administration has the same FBI guidelines for using race and religion in investigations as the Bush administration did.

Despite the “hope” of improvement, Obama has actually proven worse than his predecessor on many civil liberties issues. In the past four years, whistleblowers have been targeted under the 1917 Espionage Act twice as many times as under all previous presidents combined.

Arguably the most disturbing violation of human rights is Obama’s extensive use of drone strikes. Obama has already ordered more than five times as many drone strikes as Bush did, in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and possibly even more countries. Obama assassinates suspected terrorists — including U.S. citizens — without judicial or legislative oversight. He is the judge, the jury and the executioner. Bush would never have gotten away with such blatant disregard of human rights and the rule of law.

As MIT linguist and vocal activist Noam Chomsky put it, “If Bush, the Bush administration, didn’t like somebody, they’d kidnap them and send them to torture chambers. If the Obama administration decides they don’t like somebody, they murder them, so you don’t have to have torture chambers all over.”

At the debate last Wednesday, the UDems defended these unconstitutional, expensive and ineffective wars. They defended the use of sanctions, which force innocent civilians into poverty and at times even starvation. They supported the continued existence of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and praised the president’s use of drones.

Claiming that “we can’t live in a world of rainbows and unicorns,” they argued the measures that Obama has taken were necessary because they are “practical.”

It was sad to see that the one thing both major parties can agree upon now is the abandonment of civil liberties and peace.

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas.