Bush on Trial? / By Michael Hopping

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bush-cheneytrial_deesTHE 2008 THRASHING of the Republican Party encouraged many to hope that the Obama administration would move to prosecute the war crimes of its predecessors. There has been progress. Previously classified evidence is being released. Talk of study commissions continues. But we’re unlikely to see high Bush officials in American handcuffs any time soon.

Show trials would almost certainly derail Obama’s ambitious agenda at a critical moment in the nation’s history. What isn’t commonly discussed is the potential degree of disruption. There’s more going on here than congressional Republicans chanting no.

Rightwing Extremism

Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano endured a firestorm over an intelligence report on domestic rightwing terrorism. The assessment concluded that, “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

The radical right has a robust history of violence against people, from isolated assassinations of medical personnel to the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. That attack remains the deadliest homegrown act of terrorism in US history. The bomber was a combat veteran, having served in Operation Desert Storm.

Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano endured a firestorm over an intelligence report on domestic rightwing terrorism. The assessment concluded that, “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

Domestic hate groups, mostly rightwing, are proliferating according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. There were 926 hate groups in 2008, up from 602 in the year 2000.

Gun rights advocates fear the reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons and federal firearm registration. Sales of guns and ammunition have gone through the roof since it became apparent that Obama might win the White House.  Assault rifles and handguns have been especially popular.

Republican lawmakers and conservative media personalities had a telling response to the Homeland Security intelligence assessment. Rather than distancing conservatism from racist, religious, and anti-government violence they attacked Napolitano and grossly misrepresented the report. House minority leader Rep. John Boehner was quoted as saying the assessment applies to, “about two-thirds of Americans who might go to church, who may have served in the military, who may be involved in community activities.I just don’t understand how our government can look at the American people and say, ‘You’re all potential terrorist threats.'”

Boehner’s comment wasn’t surprising. The Republican Party is dwindling and at war with itself. Regardless of whether party purists succeed in purging moderates or old school bosses find a way to temper principles with pragmatism, anti-government sentiment is conservative gospel. Only 21% of respondents in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll self-identified as Republicans. Thirty-five percent considered themselves conservative.

The Base

Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Lou Dobbs, Michael Savage and their colleagues in the purist faction seem to be doing a fine job of alienating or discounting Republicans who value rational thought. Quibbles about factual truth and word definitions from nonbelievers are simply ruled irrelevant. The winnowing by denouncement process tends toward a party composed of fundamentalist Christians, defenders of the white race, poorly educated non-urban people and states’ rights ideologues still litigating the Civil War.

As yet it isn’t clear how to label this faction. They’d like to claim “conservative,” but business oriented conservatives might object. “Republican” will only become available if ideological purges are widely successful. Some purists identify themselves as Libertarian rather than Republican anyway.  For now, it may be as well to tag sympathizers of whatever political affiliation as the Base. During the 2008 election cycle John McCain was regularly drubbed for not appealing to it. The Base did love Sarah Palin. Her star continues to shine for them while McCain, a charter member of what may be the Republican big tent alternative, remains excommunicated.

Barring widespread perception of government malfeasance, the Base has no hope of achieving national electoral dominance. For now they’re grabbing at straws. US dominion over the world is an article of faith with them. Courteous presidential body language and behavior with foreign leaders is read as weakness. In the words of Pat Buchanan, NASCAR Americans-predominantly white, blue-collar fans of stock car racing-don’t, “comprehend how the president could sit in Trinidad and listen to the scrub stock of the hemisphere trash our country — and say nothing.”

But the Base is also attempting to gin up confrontations between states and the federal government. Teabaggers are the least of it. According to the Tenth Amendment Center, legislatures in 34 states have or are considering “State Sovereignty” resolutions. These would limit federal authority in areas not specifically enumerated by the US Constitution. Crazy as it may sound outside the fold of believers, several resolutions have won a degree of legislative approval. The governor of Oklahoma recently vetoed the resolution in his state. Alaska may be on the verge of sending a sovereignty bill to Governor Palin, whose husband was previously a member of the Alaska Independence Party

Texas governor Rick Perry has already gone further, dropping hints about Texas independence at a teabag demonstration.  Former Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives Tom Delay later explained to an incredulous interviewer how Texas might get the United States to kick it out of the country. Perry’s rhetoric was apparently more about improving his reelection prospects than actual secession. A recent DailyKos poll found Texas Republicans evenly split on whether Texas would be better off as an independent nation. Fifty-one percent of them approved Governor Perry’s suggestion that Texas might have to leave the United States.

Rightwing military and law enforcement personnel are also organizing, half-underground, to support guns and state sovereignty. The expressed intent of the Oath Keepers is refusal to carry out orders believed to conflict with the Constitution. Some of the group’s ten points make sense across the political spectrum. However the fifth reads, “We will NOT obey orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.” Another refuses to comply with any order to “disarm the American people.” Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes told G. Gordon Liddy–the felon of Watergate fame–in March of this year that the Oath Keeper membership roles included “hundreds” of active and “thousands” of retired personnel.

The Base clearly envisions changing the political landscape by nontraditional means, including confrontations over states’ rights. Americans are suckers for underdogs. We haven’t seen this level of domestic brinksmanship since presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy used the military to enforce school desegregation.

Prosecution of Bush officials

Heightened potential for “lone wolf” terrorism and the desperate machinations of a splintered conservative movement aren’t usually factored into discussions about Bush-era war crimes. Perhaps that broader context should be. Near-term prosecutions would further inflame militant wingnuts and play into the recruitment hand of both Base and big tent Republicans. Buchanan’s NASCAR America will see Condi Rice in cuffs as evidence of national weakness and subservience to world opinion. The power of that argument will only diminish with economic recovery and the passage of time.

There are reasons why General Pinochet escaped indictment in Chile until 2000. Trials of other former governmental torturers and murderers in Latin America have been similarly delayed. So have Cambodian proceedings against Khmer Rouge officials. In polarized countries—especially when the group out of power is armed to the teeth—early attempts at legal redress risk blood in the streets.

Contrary to the hopes of American exceptionalism, perhaps the United States isn’t so different than the rest of the world. Delay, however, does not equal a free pass. The long postponed trials in Latin America and elsewhere contain another lesson for perpetrator governments. Memory abides.

Michael Hopping is a freelance reporter and author. His first novel, Meet Me In Paradise, was released in 2007. He may be reached at info@wastelandrunes.com

3 comments on “Bush on Trial? / By Michael Hopping
  1. A very provocative piece! The faster the GOP implodes, the better for the nation, but I’m afraid the hard core of true believers, no less than 20% of the adult US population will still constitute something to worry about.

  2. No one can say we haven’t been given fair warning. But isn’t some of these rightwing oaths also an obstacle to a federal clampdown on any form of serious dissent?

  3. As I’ve come to expect from Mike Hopping, this essay is right on the money. The present danger is very real. But tre’s no statute of limitations for murder, so, like Pinochet, America’s war criminals may face the judicial music long after the commission of their crimes.

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