Tag Archives: Bush

Why Shoe-Throwing Hordes Should Back Off Blair

I was against the Iraq war from the very start.  Back in college a friend and I won a debate arguing against the war (see page 6 of the link).   As a European transplant in the United States, I protested the war as it began.  I remember waving a provocative anti-war sign in heavily Republican St Joseph, Mich. I counted a personal victory the time a driver gave me and my friends the finger as well as when one incensed local decided to make a countering “Saddam’s Convenient Idiots” sign and drive slowly past my band of protesters.  The decision to invade Iraq cemented my dislike for and lack of confidence in George Bush.  But the same could not be said about my feelings towards Tony Blair. To me, Blair had made a horrible mistake but was not the war criminal and failed leader that he was accused of being.

With the exception of the Iraq debacle, however monumental, Blair was an absolutely brilliant politician. I was in the UK and had just finished high school when he came into power in ’97.  I remember the jubilation and his undisputed popularity.  He was hot stuff. He oversaw a very prosperous near-decade in the UK; the sun-setting of the worst of IRA violence in Northern Ireland and had the powers of leadership and communication that saw Presidents Clinton (Monica Lewinsky) and Bush (any time he needed to sound coherent) scrambling to have him at their side, adding credibility to their voices as only he could.

Electorates, no matter where they are, are very fickle and Blair’s merits were lost sight of as the Iraq war dominated conversation for much of the last decade.  The latest evidence that the public cannot bring itself to focus on anything Blair-related but the war is the drama surrounding the release of his memoirs “A Journey:  My Political Life”.  His released his book in Ireland to a reception that included shoe and egg throwing.  The latest fad?  If you want to declare Blair a war criminal and are simply missing the political fire power to pull it off, you can join the Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in book shops group on Facebook.  The group has over 12000 members and if you are bored and narrow-minded enough, you too can join its blinkered, army of Facebook crusaders.

Here’s why it is ridiculous to be so hard on Blair though:  In stark contrast with Bush’s record that resulted in few achievements of any importance other than the war, Blair not only brought peace to Northern Ireland but is also focused on – and actively involved in shaping – the future in the Middle East.  Look at the way he talked about the 2008 election:  “Barack [Obama] was the supreme master of realism, cautioning an approach based on reaching out, arriving at compromises and striking deals to reduce tension.” (Christiane Amanpour – ABC)  Blair has been very supportive of Obama’s Middle East policies, especially praising him for, right from the very start or his presidency, seeking resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blair’s work in the Middle East since stepping down as British Prime Minister is evidence of his ability to put the past behind him and make progress in the most tumultuous region on the planet.   Bush so far has stuck to Texas-ranch-bound work on his memoir.  Blair’s work as Middle East quartet representative (for USA, the UN, Russia and the EU) shows that he cares about progress even when the spotlight has shifted from him.  What worked in Northern Ireland was a consistent, purposeful approach to tackling the terror, the violence and the underlying politics.  Blair’s focus on the Middle East and the partner he has in the Obama administration present some of the best chances yet for successful mediation in the region.  The recently renewed talks between Israel and Palestine are a good sign, as is the fact that Israel is hinting that it is entertaining the idea of ceding control of parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority.  Blair’s interest in and involvement in this process may well ease the overly harsh view the public currently has of him.

Blair is remarkably honest in how he looks at his years in power (despite the fact that there was that time when a Google search on the word “liar” would turn up his name as the first result).  As he talked about his new autobiography he said: “The whole point about the book is that it’s a journey. The journey is that I started as a politician that wanted to please all of the people all of the time… By the end I was wondering if I was pleasing any of the people any of the time.”  And that is politics.  It trashes even the brightest of stars.  But Blair is back, he’s staying relevant and he knows the journey isn’t over.



Bjorn Karlman

Islamophobia and Republican Restless Lip Syndrome

Here’s a tip:  If even Pat Buchanan (yes, the same crazy geezer who called Hitler “an individual of great courage” and said America was built by white folks) thinks you “went too far” with your comments on any given subject, chances are you did.  The comments that sparked the disapproving words? Last week, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich called the backers of the Cordoba House “Ground Zero Mosque”, “radical Islamists” and helpfully offered: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the holocaust museum in Washington.”

Despite Pat Buchanan’s rebuke, Gingrich hasn’t completely won the prize for “Most Ridiculous Republican” in the Ground Zero Mosque debate. Sarah Palin has done her level best in pontificating on the question of whether the moderate Iman, Feisal Abdul Rauf, should be allowed to proceed with plans to build the community center (which includes meeting rooms, a pool, a fitness center, a basketball court, a restaurant and culinary school, a library, a 500-seat auditorium, a mosque and a Sept. 11 memorial.)  Wordsmith that she is, Palin fired off a flock of tweets on July 16th, starting with a call, directed specifically at the “peaceful Muslims” to “refudiate” the Ground Zero Mosque efforts.  Her use of the (admittedly helpful) non-existent word must have touched a raw nerve with someone on Team Palin who still had not gotten over her demand that the Obamas “refudiate” the NAACP for claims that the Tea Party is racist.  The tweet was deleted and this time, the “Peaceful New Yorkers” of the twitosphere were awkwardly exhorted to “refute” the construction project.  As if this wasn’t enough punishment, we were all then treated to this tweet: “Refudiate,” “misunderestimate,” “wee-wee’d up.” English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”  The tipping point had been reached and the flood of tweets that ensued sent #ShakesPalin to Twitter’s trending topics and created a brand new Twitter account, @ShakesPalin.

And the Republican bluster didn’t stop there.  Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who has a significant Muslim population in his state, would not back down from this claim that the building of the Ground Zero Mosque would “degrade and disrespect” Ground Zero. Mitt Romney chimed in via a spokesperson about “the wishes of the families of the deceased and the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda” in opposing it.  Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee threw in his two cents with this question:  “Is it just that we can offend Americans and Christians, but not foreigners and Muslims?”

I never thought I would miss Bush but, to his credit, he always stressed that Islam was a religion of peace.  In fact, following Obama’s defending the rights of the backers of the disputed construction to the right to “build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances,” former Bush aides were some of the only visible Republicans to support him in the midst of huge conservative criticism.  To replace Bush-era Republican courting of Muslims, we now have conservative leaders like Gingrich who also said: “There should be no mosque near ground zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.”

If the current Republican leadership wants to abandon the party’s formerly peaceful stance and continue stoking anti-Islamic sentiment among their ranks, perhaps they could turn against their own sensitivities and take a lesson from a Frenchman. Far right politician Jean-Marie Le Penn has peddled his on-crack Islamophobia in France for years. Gingrich could arrange for an American version of Le Penn’s propaganda on handy posters like this one (created by Le Penn’s National Front party) that features a fully-veiled woman standing next to a map of France with the pattern of the Algerian flag on it and the words: “Non à “l’Islamisme” (No to Islamism).  The posters have drawn furious debate in France and the Algerian government has voiced its displeasure.
But then, the lippy contingent in American conservativism has never needed the French to draw international haters.  “We are handing al Qaeda a propaganda coup, an absolute propaganda coup,” with the Islamic-center controversy, said Evan Kohlmann, an independent terrorism consultant at Flashpoint Partners who monitors jihadist websites. (The Wall Street Journal).  The article claims that Islamic radicals are justifying their violent threats by citing the American anti-Muslim rhetoric over the Cordoba Project and, other anti-Islamic rhetoric that has been building stateside.  A prime example is Pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center (a mega-church in Gainesville, Fla.) who is planning a Sept. 11 “International Burn a Koran Day” where he plans to defy even his local fire department (who refused to issue him a permit for his event) in the act of intolerant stupidity that has elicited comments like this one on radical Islamic sites:

“Now, I wish to bomb myself in this church as revenge for the sake of Allah’s talk. And here I register my name here that I want to be an intended-martyr.”

Stay tuned for more of these friendly messages as American conservative leaders continue the downward spiral of anti-Islamic rhetoric stateside.



Bjorn Karlman

How to Pull off a Total Dubya Makeover

fence-sitting signs

Just because George W. Bush said something doesn’t mean it was dumb.  Or at least that’s what Jeffrey Scott Shapiro seems to claim.  He’s the founder of Honor Freedom, a non-profit created to “Unite Bush Supporters”;  “Correct the Historical Record” and  “Teach America”.  “You don’t need to be a genius to be president,” says Shapiro.  The Honor Freedom website defends the most contentious Bush-era issues like:

1) The Iraq war (and all its disastrous related issues: hyped/non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction; oil greed motivation; the mere suggestion that this was all daddy’s idea, etc.)

2) Why Saddam and his policies were bad and how that justified “the liberation”.

3) The dollars of US aid pumped back into Iraq to clear up Dubya’s mess.

4) “Information on how you can help correct the historical record or start a chapter of Honor Freedom in your area.”

In “The Bush Restoration Project“, Slate’s Jordan Michael Smith says, “Shapiro talks about George W. Bush the way Buddhists talk about the Dalai Lama. ‘He stands for truth, compassion and freedom,’ he says. ‘Bush instinctively sees the global picture that every living person has the right to be free.’ ”  Smith exposes the “nationwide public education program consisting of op-eds, media appearances, and free public seminars, the nonprofit group intends to teach Americans that George W. Bush was actually a great president and an even better man.”

Smith quotes Shapiro as saying Bush critics ” ‘are selfish people who don’t see the value of national liberation … isolationists who don’t care that the U.S. freed a people enslaved by fear.’ ”

Inherent in Shapiro’s approach is a realization that Bush’s reputation is in tatters and is in need of immediate mouth-to-mouth.  With the enthusiasm of a fanboy at an early nerd special premier, Shapiro wants to manipulate the public faster than time and presidential libraries can: “Those wishing to restore the president’s reputation must take a pro-active, aggressive approach that exports knowledge to the people. Merely relying on a passive institute such as a presidential library and waiting for people to learn the truth on their own will not be sufficient in this unique case.” (Shapiro in a commentary piece for The Washington Times)

“On much of the world stage, President Bush has been widely reviled as one of the worst U.S. leaders of modern times, and it is hard to think of an American president who has received a worse press since Richard Nixon,” states the UK’s conservative Telegraph.  The paper concedes that early moves in the Iraq war flopped; that Bush’s public diplomacy was disastrous; that his management of global anti-American sentiment failed and his response to Russia over Georgia was cowardly.  However, the same article argues that most of the critiques launched at Bush have been couched in “a venomous hatred of Bush’s personality and leadership style, rather than an objective assessment of his achievements.”  Praising Dubya, the paper raves, “Ten or twenty years from now, historians will view Bush’s actions on the world stage in a more favourable light. America’s 43rd president did after all directly liberate more people (over 60 million) from tyranny than any leader since Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Time has absolved past presidents (Jimmy Carter and Harry Truman come to mind) of their sins and perhaps Shapiro and his flock will be successful in their spin.  For now though, what does Bush himself think about all this chatter?  It’s not easy to know.  Unlike Dick Cheney, the former president has laid low since leaving office and it looks like we’ll have to wait for his memoir (slated to be published this year) to gauge his current thoughts on his presidency.  And Bush has no formal ties to Honor Freedom. However, Shapiro did recently stay at the ranch of Bush’s nephew, Pierce, who introduced president and salivating one.  “You’re doing good work,” said the president.  Or at least so says Shapiro.



Bjorn Karlman

Fundamentalism Loses its Mojo

street post with heaven ave and hell st signs

A fun-filled decade of evangelically-driven American foreign and domestic policy is behind us and despite best efforts to inject last minute sex-appeal à la Palin, Christian fundamentalism is fallen. Helpful clarifications and labels like the Axis of Evil are out of vogue.  Whereas previously, issues of national and international importance were seen through the handy prism of Dubya’s good vs. evil rhetoric, it looks as though we are actually going to have to think for ourselves again.

But the fact that Christian fundamentalism is losing its mojo does not mean that Christians are on the retreat.  If anything, moderate proponents of the faith are emerging from the shadows.  “I am a Closet Christian” confesses Ada Calhoun in a Dec 21, 2009 Salon.com article.  A New Yorker, Calhoun talks about her fear of being outed as a Christian: “Why am I so paranoid? I’m not cheating on my husband, committing crimes or doing drugs. But those are battles my cosmopolitan, progressive friends would understand. Many of them had to come out — as gay, as alcoholics, as artists in places where art was not valued. To them, my situation is far more sinister: I am the bane of their youth, the boogeyman of their politics, the very thing they left their small towns to escape. I am a Christian.”

Agonizing about how to verbalize her views on faith, Calhoun says, “it’s hard to talk about any of this without sounding dumb, or like a zealot, or ridiculous. And who wants to be lumped in with all the other Christians, especially the ones you see on TV protesting gay marriage, giving money to charlatans, and letting priests molest children?”

Moderate Muslims face a similar challenge.  After a decade of bad PR, the struggle remains to reshape Islam in the coming decade.  “The good news is that those Muslims who espouse militant ideologies no longer find a physical home in mainstream Muslim America… the New York-based al-Qaeda supporting extremist duo that calls itself “Revolution Muslim” has been reduced to heckling mosque-goers from the sidewalk,” says Shahed Amanullah in altmuslim.com / Global perspectives on Muslim life, politics & culture.

“Muslims Denounce Terrorism / Terror Has No Religion” reads a bumper sticker sold by the The American Muslim.  It’s hard to battle terror with talk of peace but as more and more voices demand an end to extremism, the tide may be turning.  It doesn’t hurt that Obama gave his first interview as President to an Arab broadcaster; that his Cairo speech was well-received or the fact that his envoy to address the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is seen as more balanced than his predecessor.

What the coming decade holds is anyone’s guess.  Hopefully, a new tone is being set. “We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things….” said Obama in his Inaugural Address. Dodging any delusional salvation-through-Obama drool, perhaps there still is hope that childishly extreme religious rhetoric has seen its heyday in the US.


Bjorn Karlman