Clear to the Bone

Beauty is only skin deep, but stupid runs clear to the bone. And we have a stupid president. I've been trying to avoid thinking that and particularly saying that because it's not a very flattering picture of our chief executive, nor of us as a country. But it's true and, worse than that, it's particularly dangerous in these post 9/11 times.

The United States is under enormous threat and the times call for resolve, strength and delicate diplomacies across a wide variety of issues affecting countries friendly to us, not so friendly and downright hostile. In response, George W. Bush strides into the international china shop in spurs, ten-gallon hat and double-drawn pistols, rattling decades of delicately placed and fragile diplomatic crystal. I don't say he is a corrupt man, but I insist he is becoming a corrupted man. Power corrupts -- absolute power corrupts absolutely. The United States has become an absolute power in the world, unequalled in modern times.

Cases in point:

There is growing exasperation in Europe that the United States, in the course of defending itself against al Qaeda, will completely overrun the international system and impose upon the planet an American empire. Their concerns are well founded and the immediate result is that there are fewer and fewer places in the world where an American passport is safe to show. Concurrently with that, trust in America and admiration for its standards is falling like leaves in November. Stupid and needless.

The director of the CIA recently described Russia, in testimony before the Senate, as "the first choice of proliferant states seeking the most advanced terrorist technology and training." That, on the heels of a Pentagon report naming Russia as one of seven countries that are potential nuclear targets. Tenet went on to say that Russia must immediately stop all such exports or "face the consequences." In one stroke, Bush has handed Vladimir Putin a demand to which he cannot answer, because to accede to American pressure on this issue would cost him his presidency and to hold steady invites nuclear intervention. It was presented in just those terms. Stupid and dangerous.

In the last couple weeks, Bush slapped protectionist tariffs on imported steel, thus undoing a previous administration's progress in promoting worldwide free trade, putting the lie to his own free trade proclamations and engendering immediate tariffs in Europe on specific American products. Stupid and backward.

Earlier in the month, it was disclosed that the Pentagon has been charged with developing various scenarios in which the United States will use tactical nuclear weapons. That seems to have slid right past America like a low and outside pitch. Bush thereby furthers our ability to wage loss-free push-button warfare by dropping the 60-year cloak of morality that has thus far kept the world from nuclear exchange. In the same stroke he makes American soil fair game for nuclear terrorists by the threat of use. Two nuclear saber-rattlings in one month. Stupid, stupid and unconscionable, unconscionable.

The developing Bush Doctrine declares: "Any nation that does not act against terror groups within its borders will be in a virtual state of war with Washington." I don't know what he means by 'virtual' states of war, but it certainly isn't a computer game and isn't likely to burnish the American image as protector of the weak. It's a big world out there with lots of dissidents and such a declaration makes it open season for the US military on just about anyone and everyone. It's also idiotically broad-brushed, meaningless as stated and provocative in the extreme. Stupid and counter-productive.

There are more examples. They make me angry as well and this is not a laundry list.

I am angry at a Supreme Court that seated this unelected president in benign times that suddenly turned dangerous. Angry at Colin Powell for not resigning instead of being bullied by Cheney and Rumsfeld. Angry at the fact that my beloved and peace-loving country is becoming a pariah to the world's civilized nations. Angry at a Congress that refuses its constitutional duty of advice and consent. Angry that an apparently distracted electorate doesn't seem to give a damn. Angry that, no matter this incredible series of circumstances, this stupid and dangerous president continues to enjoy an unprecedented approval rating.

What the hell kind of nation have we become? We decry the Rodney King beating and stand mute as the nuclear sword is unsheathed.

A friend of mine in the states, a writer of great talent, told me that no one in America cares and that I am the last angry man. Perhaps I am.

James Freeman is a writer from Chicago who now lives in the Czech Republic. Email freeman@vol.cz.

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