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One Toke Over The Line: University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies To Grant George W. Bush an `International Service’ Award (Part Two of an open ended series)

July 16, 2013
Guantanamo

Guantanamo Prison: George Bush’s legacy to `Improving The Human Condition’

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Links:

University Faculty Joins Students In Opposing Bush Award. Colorado Independent. July 17, 2013

Part One of the Series

Part Three of the Series

Part Four of the Series

Part Five of the Series

Part Six of the Series

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Honoring Bush: What’s It All About?

In the end, what is all this racket about, the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies giving an award to George Bush? True, as a result of widespread protests, the name of the award Bush will be granted has changed from an `Improving The Human Condition’ to an award for service – now called the `Global Service Award‘ as if tinkering a bit with the title changes the goal. A minor tactical shift; the strategic goal remains.

Global service?

In the end, changing the name of the award means little: the university seems bent on giving Bush an award for something, anything. So they downplay Bush’s record on unleashing two major wars (Afghanistan, Iraq) and other `achievements’, and magnify any straw they can grab on to – in this case, Bush’s dubious contribution to fighting African AIDs.

In the end, changing the name of the award means little: the university seems bent on giving Bush an award for something, anything. So they downplay Bush’s record on unleashing two major wars (Afghanistan, Iraq), and magnify any straw they can grab on to – in this case, Bush’s dubious contribution to fighting African AIDs.

So what is the deal?  Why the award? Why would the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies lend its prestige to such an effort? 

Three themes are involved here, one national, the other two more Colorado based in scope:

  1. It is part of a bipartisan effort to reshape the Bush image, to take it out of the gutter to some modicum of respectability, a formidable task indeed. Be certain – high profile Democrats are as involved in the effort – in fact it seems to me even more involved – than many Republicans.
  2. As with all such awards, even the best of them (and this is the worst of them) these days have something to do with fund raising and/or political influence (which later leads to fundraising)
  3. It is an effort to reshape the image of the Korbel School of International Studies away from its current undeserved reputation as some kind of bastion of Marxism and other forms of left political activism

Let’s look at the first of these points in this piece, the other two in the near future.

Reshaping The Bush Image

George W. Bush was easily, the most unpopular president since WW2, perhaps one of worst presidents ever. Let’s us briefly, all too briefly recall this record. Here I quote liberally from a piece by journalist Robert Parry which appeared at Alternet (April 22, 2013) who begins his critique of Bush with the following:

“First if my [Bush’s] primary qualification to be president was that my dad held the job, if I had failed at nearly every job I ever had because I was throwing-up drunk through my 40th birthday, if I were thoroughly unprepared in my understanding of American constitutional principles and in my knowledge of world events, I would never have run for such a powerful office”

Parry goes on to list among the Bush accomplishments “getting a lot of people killed, driving the United States into debt, and wrecking the world’s economy.” Basically the rest of the piece goes on to talk about the two Bush wars (Afghanistan, Iraq), the sanctioning of torture, the tax breaks for the rich and the further deregulation of an already de-regulated economy, etc. etc. fine piece. This portrait, of course, leaves out Bush’s incomparable contribution to the environment – deregulation of the oil and gas industry, denial of global warming, refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol…

Thus the problem: it’s quite the challenge to put make up on that particular corpse, to take the raw material –  the political detritus – to use a polite term – for what was the Bush presidency – and turn it into a sweet smelling rose. But then public relations can do wonders these days.

The more pertinent question here is why do it at all?

Thus the problem: it’s quite the challenge to put make up on that particular corpse, to take the raw material –  the political detritus – to use a polite term – for what was the Bush presidency – and turn it into a sweet smelling rose. But then public relations can do wonders these days.

The tarnished office of the U.S. Presidency…

Why not let the man’s legacy stand on its own merits or demerits? Based upon the assumption that the collective memory – pickled in NFL football, soap operas, alcohol and drugs is so short that it all will pass sooner rather than later – why not just wait out the process and know that in a year or two high school kids won’t even know the name of George Bush, that he’ll slip into obscurity only to be resurrected on rare occasions by some leftist college teacher?

That would have been the clever thing to do and I imagine, it probably would have worked. Something else is a play though which made Bush’s political face job more urgent. What pray tell?

It is the respect for the office of the presidency itself which is at stake.

First tarnished by Clinton’s out-of-control peccadillos with Cuban cigars and buxom White House interns – the presidency suffered a blow. How could such a smart man politically be so stupid and out of control privately, and it wasn’t just with Monika Lewinsky. Hillary might have forgiven him (at least publicly), but the image of the presidency suffered.

Enter George W. Bush.

It is true enough that for whatever reason, this country has had few great and many mediocre presidents, but even Ronald Reagan, no genius among men, could not compare with `W’ when it comes mental and political unpreparedness for the job. Most of the major decisions of his presidency came from the coterie around him – Cheney foremost, but also Rumsfeld, Rice and the like.

When, after 8 years, Bush had taken the presidency to new lows it had both national and global consequences, and a resulting loss of respect. For any country respect is important, for a country as powerful as the United States respect for it leader – or lack thereof – has global impact.

Bush’ record was much more than a personal embarrassment. US prestige abroad was badly damaged and the office of the presidency was, and rightly so, ridiculed. What does it say about the country, the world’s most powerful, even in decline, that it can chose `W’ as its leader, not once but twice. How low can you go?

The nation’s political class understood the dilemma – in part caused by Clinton but in a large way, greatly magnified by the Bush presidency. Reshape the image to give needed respect to the institution of the presidency.  So it went.

The nation’s political class understood the dilemma – in part caused by Clinton but in a large way, greatly magnified by the Bush presidency. Reshape the image to give needed respect to the institution of the presidency.  So it went.

Embellishing Bush’s Record Fighting AIDS

Two events recently have been key to Bush political facelift…

The Bush-Clinton post presidential campaign to wipe out AIDS in Africa. Clinton is the more active partner, but Bush has gone along for the ride. It’s all carefully constructed to make Bush – and the office of the presidency – look better. They’ve spent the past few years taking nice photo ops in different African countries. The campaign itself is a joke, but the p.r. is great.

Actually, trying to highlight the not-so-great Bush campaign to fight AIDs in Africa only draws attention to yet another failure in his presidency – and the efforts to prop up his image. As one academic colleague – an expert in such matters put it

“We (in class) discuss the program as “imperial” in nature (what with its top-down, outsider initiated, [Christian] fundamentalist-moralist character) and discuss the many unintended consequences of its teachings (e.g. higher rates of HIV infection among married women and the LGBT community, misunderstandings of condom usage and effectiveness, ignorance of the structural factors involved in HIV/AIDS transmission like economic liberalization, gender hierarchy and class, etc.”

More detailed analyses of the failure of Bush’s African AIDs program will follow, but let’s make this clear from the outset: only the most uninformed, politically biased commentators – or those trying to find something, anything in the Bush legacy worthy of praise, would consider it a success.

The point here is that this Bush face lift is a carefully constructed campaign that started several years ago. It gives the powers that be something, anything to grab on to: Bush wasn’t all that bad; he’s fighting AIDs in Africa!

Ronald Reagan faced a similar dilemma, even before he left office. Reagan’s willingness to enter into negotiations with Gorbachev on nuclear disarmament was an effort to undo his image (and here the image and the reality merged) as a warmonger. It kind of worked (in terms of public opinion). Still the campaign to remodel Bush has been far less successful, in large measure because the crimes of his Administration – both international and domestic – are much worse. So it’s hard to put effective make up on this particularly corpse.

Opening the Bush Presidential Library

Along with the campaign to play up – and fundamentally distort – Bush’s contribution to fighting AIDs in Africa, the opening of the Bush Presidential Library in Texas on April 25, 2013 offered a second major opportunity to help reshape the Bush image.  Once again it was a major bi-partisan event – check out the comments of the Clintons, Obama and other Democrats, one after another trying to say complementary things about Bush, how he was a nice guy who had to make `tough decisions’.

The mainstream media was not by any means at the sidelines in this p.r. effort. The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the major television networks all chipped in.(1)(2) The particular line they took was the Bush made more trips to Africa than Obama has – as if the number of trips somehow translates into a positive foreign policy.

Needless to say, none of these articles in any way mentioned the creation and growth of AFRICOM, the increasing U.S. military presence in Africa, Bush’s encouragement of Ethiopia to invade Somalia,  the intensified exploitation of African oil, gas and strategic minerals in association with some of the worst offenders of human rights in the world (Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, etc)…nor the growing U.S. strategic alliance the U.S. enjoys with the Algerian junta – one of the world’s nastiest regimes. Silence also reigns concerning U.S. insistence on African countries accepting IMF/World Bank loans with their punishing structural adjustment criteria that continue to drive African countries more into poverty than  help them climb out of it.

The exact reasons why the University of Denver decided to join this national campaign to reshape Bush’s image are not entirely clear. My thinking on this is admittedly rather speculative. How does the university benefit from such a decision? What are the costs?

`The Bush Legacy’…what a sad joke!

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1. There are so many articles in the mainstream press about Bush’s AIDS program in Africa – yet virtually no analyses of the viability of the programs, or for that matter, Bush’s actual participation in these programs.

2. Not surprisingly the Wall Street Journal waxes on un-apologetically about Bush’s Africa work. Worse than the others.

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