On Feb. 9, 2001, two American civilians (no doubt big George Bush presidential campaign contributors) were permitted to take the USS Greenville (a 7,000-ton nuclear submarine) for a joyride in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
They scooted around a bit underwater and then hastily surfaced. Unfortunately, the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fishing research vessel, was sitting directly above. It sank rapidly. Nine people died. Four were high school students.
President Bush had Colin Powell offer his apologies and condolences to the Japanese prime minister. The American civilians at the helm were never identified.
Eight months later, Islamic extremists flew domestic passenger airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
What Bush (and we) didn’t know then was that 9/11 was the historic windfall of his presidency. Until then, he had earned very little respect and even less clout. But 9/11 dropped in his in lap, and the country did what it always does when it’s attacked or threatened. We rallied around the flag.
It’s ludicrous to say Bush rose to the occasion. A public still divided by his ascendance to the presidency (via the U.S. Supreme Court) became a united constituency in response to a shared enemy. Supporters and detractors fell in line.
For a while, Bush flourished as a “wartime” president. He could do no wrong. But he and the diabolical brain trust that preps him and props him up in front of the teleprompters got greedy.
Forgetting Bush’s clumsiness before 9/11, they were emboldened to start a war with a country that had nothing to do with the attack. With the American public still in synchronized patriot mode, the Bush brain trust insidiously circulated unsubstantiated reports of WMDs in Iraq and then vociferously proclaimed ties between Osama Bin Laden and Iraq and Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Before the public could take a breath, we invaded Iraq.
Billed as little more than a Boy Scout retreat, Operation Iraqi Freedom quickly dropped a bunch of bombs and sent Saddam into hiding. But after the special effects ended and the Iraqis realized Kilroy was going to be there for a long time, they grew weary of patting us on the back. Iraq’s political, economic, and utility systems were demolished, and we had no real formulated plans to rebuild the infrastructure.
Fundamentalist Muslims began calling our presence in Iraq an affront to Islam. Volunteers began lining up all over the Middle East for their shot at 72 virgins. The invasion became a nation-building occupation, which created a contrary Islamic insurgency where there was none before.
Meanwhile, back at home, the war was dragging on and another presidential election was coming up, so the brain trust began issuing terror alerts any time Dubya had a dip in the polls. And while they were on a roll, they decided to start new wars – on homosexuality and abortion. It had worked before. No one remembered the Ehime Maru and the clumsy early months of the Bush presidency. They just remembered George W. parading around on an aircraft carrier. Folks who questioned the war were “flip-floppers,” and anyone who disagreed with the Republican Party’s Christian Fundamentalist leanings was immoral if not un-American.
President Bush was re-elected, and the Republican Party proceeded with business as usual. But the American public had begun to recover from its lapse into unreasoning synchronicity. And the ridiculously villainous antics of George’s first term began to haunt the administration. The outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame left egg on their face and Vice President Cheney without his top aide. Their fingerprints were all over Abu Ghraib. Their interference in the Terry Schiavo case backfired. Their attempt to strip the lower and middle classes of Social Security failed on the launch pad. Michael Brown, another civilian improperly placed at the helm of a federal vehicle, whiffed on Hurricane Katrina. Gasoline shot up to $3 a gallon while Bush’s extended family in the oil business piled up obscene profits. His attempt to put a United Arab Emirates conglomerate in charge of American port security was scoffed at roundly. The party’s rejection of evolution and global warming began to be recognized as backward, ignorant, and irresponsible.
The Bush charade is finally unraveling, but for too many of us, “Ground Zero” is now the country where we live.
The American public’s faith in its political leaders is the lowest it’s been since Watergate (where Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld learned the tools of the trade). Our beleaguered troops are still in Iraq. Progress in religious tolerance, race relations, and lifestyle freedoms has been set back 40 years. The budget surpluses of the 1990s have been replaced by a trade deficit that approaches infinity.
The Bush administration’s handling of the Ehime Maru was the rule, not the exception. If not for 9/11, it would have endured as a forecast of his presidential tenure.
It’s hard to be heartened in the rubble, but we have to look forward. Midterm elections are just around the corner.
E.R. Bills is a Fort Worth-based construction worker and writer.