Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » August 2005 » A Legacy Yet to be Written...

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08/14/2005: A Legacy Yet to be Written...

MEASURING THE PRESIDENT Legacy;What will history say about Bush? by Charles W. Murdock (Professor at Loyola University School of Law):

"A colleague recently reminded me that, after the 2004 election, I had remarked that President Bush will go down in history either as one of our greatest presidents or one of the worst. He asked whether I still held that somewhat paradoxical view. My response was that events could tip the story either way, but they now seem to be working against the president.

The Bush presidency has been marked by bold steps. Just as bold financial leveraging results in great fortunes and great bankruptcies, bold political steps can lead to greatness or disaster. Some of the bold Bush initiatives include huge tax cuts, the war in Iraq, free trade, deregulation and business-friendly administrative bodies, and reforming Social Security. Finally, Bush holds himself out as a man of the people, straight shooting, trustworthy. These are characteristics that historians will value.

How could the Bush initiatives point to greatness? Suppose the war in Iraq leads to a model democratic government, advancing the rights of women and eliminating the friction among the Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites.

This, in turn, could lead to the spread of democracy throughout the Arab world and the decline of extremism. By taking the war on terror to the Middle East, we may have protected our homeland and our citizens from the threat of terror at home and abroad.

Suppose the tax cuts lead to a revitalized economy, creating millions of well-paying jobs. By cutting back on environmental and other regulation, business may stay efficient and competitive in the global economy. Suppose outsourcing keeps prices down so we can continue to buy as much as we want.

Suppose Bush does manage to get private accounts enacted as part of Social Security, and the Dow does go to 20,000. Finally, by bringing honesty and integrity to government, Bush could end the public cynicism about government and possibly heal the divisions between the red and the blue states.

This scenario sounds good. Will it come to pass? What is the darker side? And how could the next few years be a disaster?

Let's look first to the war in Iraq. There is growing agreement that we went to war on a false premise that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that we went with too few troops. What if the former undermines our credibility in getting other governments to support us in pressuring Iran and North Korea, which either have nuclear weapons or are moving toward that objective, to come to the negotiating table?

Failing to send enough troops, coupled with disbanding the Iraqi army and failing to secure the huge stockpile of conventional weapons Hussein had stashed around the country, has led to a well-armed insurgency that has turned part of Iraq into chaos. But what if the disbursement of these weapons leads to a civil war, which tears apart Iraq, or leads to insurrections in other countries?

What if the Iraq invasion has radicalized tens of thousands more Muslims, not just in the Middle East, but in Europe and the United States, leading to terrorists attacks and suicide bombings in this country as well as England? What if there is an attempt to blow up a chlorine rail tanker just blocks from the White House, which could kill 100,000 residents, including the president, Congress and heads of all the governmental agencies?

What if our budget deficit continues its rise, reaching $600 billion with the ratcheting up of the Iraq war and plans to deal militarily with Iran and Iraq, and our trade deficit reaches $800 billion per year? Could this combination lead to a loss of confidence in the dollar and the resistance of foreigners, particularly the Chinese, to continue to buy our treasury securities? Might this, in turn, lead to interest rates not seen since President Jimmy Carter's administration, widespread mortgage foreclosures for those who borrowed on variable rates, an abrupt downturn in the construction industry, a precipitous drop in the stock market, and a deep recession and unemployment unprecedented in 60 years?

What if the combination of misstatements about the Iraq war and the economy, coupled with the conviction of Karl Rove for obstruction of justice, led to a crisis of confidence in government and calls for the impeachment of President Bush?

It is unlikely that either scenario will fully play out. But the darker scenario is no longer pure fantasy. Some "what ifs" are coming to pass. The bombings in England demonstrate that challenging the insurgents in Iraq to "bring it on" did not protect British subway riders. It also demonstrated that terrorists are not just poor, uneducated Muslims originating in the Middle East.

Democrats have been criticized for not proposing a solution for Iraq. But there is no good solution now that we have gone to war and botched it.

Not securing Hussein's stockpiles of weapons was beyond incompetent. Waiting a year or more to begin seriously training an Iraqi security force and rejecting assistance from other countries has kept our soldiers in harm's way. Leaving Iraq now could have disastrous consequences, but so could staying. No country likes to be occupied. During the Civil War, Union soldiers once asked a poor Confederate soldier why he risked his life to defend slavery. He replied: "Because you're here."

Much has been written lately about the porosity of our borders, the focus of Homeland Security on air transportation to the exclusion of rail and mass transit, and the refusal of the Bush administration to deal with security at chemical and nuclear facilities and to reroute trainloads of hazardous chemicals around densely populated areas.

Corporate profits seem more important than security.

On the economic front, the tax cuts have not resulted in millions of well-paying jobs. Outsourcing no longer affects just hourly workers. High-tech jobs are going to India, where technicians make one-fourth the compensation of their American counterparts. Our trade gap may be our most serious problem because of its many ramifications. President Bill Clinton started the free-trade kick, but under him our deficit was around $100 billion. Under Bush, it moved up to $617 billion last year and is projected to be $780 billion this year.

Ours is a $10 trillion economy, but we are the largest debtor nation in the world with a negative net international investment approaching $4 trillion.

It took a Chinese bid of $18.5 billion for an American oil company to finally focus attention on the consequences of other countries, particularly China, owning trillions of our dollars. We don't like the idea of others owning our productive assets. But we are now joined at the hip with China in a dangerous economic and political situation.

What effect will this have on our economy, on our willingness to defend Taiwan, or on other geopolitical issues in the Far East?

So, how will all this ultimately play out? Will it be Bush the hero or Bush the villain? The jury is still out, but there is some disturbing evidence emerging.

Karen on 08.14.05 @ 10:31 AM CST

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