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August 28, 2005

Thank God No One In America Reads Books

Last year the journalist Russ Baker wrote an important article about evidence George Bush et al had wanted to invade Iraq before Bush became president—and about why they may have wanted to do so. Baker had interviewed the writer Mickey Hershkowitz, a Bush family friend hired to write Bush's 2000 campaign autobiography A Charge to Keep:

Herskowitz was given unimpeded access to Bush, and the two met approximately 20 times so Bush could share his thoughts. Herskowitz began working on the book in May, 1999, and says that within two months he had completed and submitted some 10 chapters, with a remaining 4-6 chapters still on his computer. Herskowitz was replaced as Bush’s ghostwriter after Bush’s handlers concluded that the candidate’s views and life experiences were not being cast in a sufficiently positive light.

Here's what Herskowitz said about the views of the Bush inner circle on war:

According to Herskowitz, George W. Bush’s beliefs on Iraq were based in part on a notion dating back to the Reagan White House – ascribed in part to now-vice president Dick Cheney, Chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee under Reagan. “Start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.”

Bush’s circle of pre-election advisers had a fixation on the political capital that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher collected from the Falklands War. Said Herskowitz: "They were just absolutely blown away, just enthralled by the scenes of the troops coming back, of the boats, people throwing flowers at [Thatcher] and her getting these standing ovations in Parliament and making these magnificent speeches."

So... is this credible? Here's some evidence from On Bended Knee by Mark Hertsgaard. It was published 16 years before Baker's article, in 1988:

The propaganda windfall [from Reagan's 1983 invasion of Grenada] was such that some Washington reporters later speculated privately that it had been Michael Deaver who dreamed up the Grenada operation after observing how the 1982 Falklands-Malvinas war had bolstered British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's sagging popularity. One Reagan press aide later confirmed in an interview for this book that "there were a lot of discussions by some White House people about what the British had done in the Falklands."

Huh. Well, thank god no one in America reads books.

Posted at August 28, 2005 11:30 AM | TrackBack

"Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools."

-- Dick Cheney, September 2002

Posted by: Cal at August 28, 2005 05:23 PM


It is just this kind of knowledge of the past against which we must be always vigilant. Thank you for bringing this to our attention so that it may be eliminated.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at August 28, 2005 05:55 PM

I think the evidence you give here, along with the Downing Street Memo scandal and countless other pieces of evidence paint a convincing picture of the decision to go to war in Iraq as a fait accompli on the Bush administration agenda well before 9/11.

But all the outrage we muster up does not seem to move anyone in the middle of road, or in the middle of the country much less Republicans because they actually thrill to and endorse the logic of such an act of pure sovereignty. I think they think it's cool...that's how far to the Right if one can even call it that public opinion have swung in this country.

Posted by: Catherine Liu at August 29, 2005 12:13 AM

Of course, there's a difference between public Dick and private Dick. (Shit-- I think I just dragged down the level of public discourse again.)

Can anyone name the 1991 U.S. Defense Secretary who had this to say?:

"How long would we have to stay there to keep this regime in power? How effective would it be if it were perceived as the puppet regime of the United States military? It gets to be a very difficult, a very nebulous, a very long, drawn-out kind of commitment, what I would describe as a quagmire. We have absolutely no interest in getting U.S. military forces involved inside Iraq."

Anyone who guesses right gets a copy of Jon's book: "Thank God They Kept Their Hands Off Social Security."

Posted by: Sully at August 29, 2005 07:02 AM

Wow. Good work, Jon. But I'm confused. This isn't funny. Are you ill? Or is there something even more sinister going on?

Fortunately, the comments section restored my faith in humanity, or at least the significant minority of us who hang out here. But I'm feeling awful, even though I'm not depressed today. Yes, there is clearly movement against Bush the man, but so what? He's just a tool. If he proves more trouble than he's worth, his handlers will put him on a shelf somewhere. It's the handlers -- the (universally) wealthy (mostly) white (mostly) men -- that are the problem here.

I used to have my retirement money invested in mutual funds, until I found out how expensive they were and how many truly nasty corporations I was the humble owner of. Then I moved all my retirement money into a dozen public companies, until I got sick of the antics of most of them, and whittled it down to five that I really like. But those five had vast stores of cash, which they were investing in those nasty companies I wanted no part of! What a mess! Plus, my debt payments had exceeded my income, so I cashed out…

Do you see the problem? I was helping to enrich the very people who are more responsible for our political mess than anyone else! And this is just one example. I am part of the problem. My wife shops at Wal-Mart. We voted for John Kerry (who, though vastly superior to dear Mr. Bush, was one of the ten worst possible choices I could imagine for de facto president of the world). We own two cars which burn gasoline at an embarrassing (relative to what is technically feasible) rate of 23 MPG or so. We live in the land of the rising tide, even though I know this means those living on solid land are getting flooded out of their homes, while those around the other side of the globe are left high and dry.

DO YOU SEE? If I am part of the problem – and I “know” I am – then what about you?

Here’s the worst part: We could just all get together and fix this mess. We could gather up enough like-minded friends and encamp at the personal residence of each U.S. government official until he or she resigned. We have the right to bear arms, but Iraq shows what would probably result from that approach. We have the right to peaceably assemble, and India’s eviction of the British shows what that could accomplish.

Then imagine the world 50 years hence, by looking at India today. There, the “middle class” is getting rapidly wealthier, while the majority of the population slowly starves to death. It’s like they tossed out an evil spirit, but instead of filling the void with a good one, just left the poor sucker empty. By the way, I learned about India from the Ordinary Indian perspective primarily by listening to Bob McChesney interview P. Sainath (

“So, Mark, what are you saying?”

Ah, yes. It’s a good/news bad news situation. The bad news is the elected officials – even Bush -- are more symptom than cause. The root problem seems to be the whole American-style system of consumption at the expense of some faceless people somewhere else. Few of us ever ask, “Who pays the real price for this?”

“For what,” you ask?

Anything and everything! It is fossil fuels, of course, but if it wasn’t, it would be something else. It is pencils and erasers. It is whatever your house is made of. It is clothing and coffee and diamonds. There is a true cost for each and every thing. What is it? And who pays how much?

Posted by: Mark Demory at August 29, 2005 06:04 PM

Now THAT was funny.

Posted by: Sully at August 29, 2005 08:06 PM


I agree with you that the middle of the road does seem to be changing "its" mind about Bush and the war in Iraq and I celebrate with glee every new poll I see.

But I don't know if we can conclude that this is because the great swathe down the middle has actually digested how deeply dishonest this administration was about the reasons for going into Iraq. I think they're changing their minds because the war is going badly. Imagine this if you will -- the war in Iraq goes well. We kick the butts of the Baathists and everyone else welcomes us into their country and starts pumping oil into our laps. I know it's unlikely, but even so, the way in the Bush & co brought us in there would still be undemocratic not to say unethical. But I don't believe popular opinion would be moving to our side.

I agree with the spirit of Mark's post -- my credit card interest payments are making others rich, but I got suckered into a cycle of debt -- and one and a half academic salaries, my husband and I are part of that great swathe of Americans just barely in the middle class. So we are the problem. Consumerism creates an unbelievable degree of short sightedness and political passivity.

I wholeheartedly agree agree with Jonathan's claims that reason should win in the long run -- that well argued ideas, argued for long enough will reach the capacity for judgment that the Enlightenment philosophers thought that everyone possessed. But in the meantime, we've been operating on the reptilian brain for a long time...that guy I saw driving the Hummer yesterday looked pretty crocodilish.

Posted by: Catherine Liu at August 29, 2005 11:01 PM

Jon, I realize this is a bit off-topic, and I apologize-- I'm responding primarily to the previous commenters.

I hate to say this, but don't count the Republicans out, either in 2006 or 2008. Dems, both at the grassroots level and in the national leadership, are behaving as if Bush's lackadaisical poll numbers are all they have to do* to win back the house and senate, etc. It's not, by a long shot. I have yet to hear one democratic senate warhawk with presidential aspirations say,

"yes I voted for the war, but in retrospect, I was wrong,and I'm sorry."

Can you imagine if John I'm-too-refined-to-defend-myself-against-the-Swift-boaters Kerry had said this, instead of his by now infamous "I voted against it before I voted for it"?

Scores of liberal bloggers defended his slippery verbiage. People need to pull their heads out of their, um, echo chamber.

*and of course,his numbers aren't even something they "did."

Posted by: Jonathan Versen (Hugo Zoom) at August 30, 2005 12:24 PM