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Book Review: Bush and Cheney

By (August 23, 2017) No Comment

Bush and Cheney:
How They Ruined America and the World

by David Ray Griffin

Olive Branch Press, 2017

Fifteen years ago, when the 9-11 “Truther” movement was in the full flush of its strength, David Ray Griffin was its most creditable and least likely mouthpiece. Griffin displayed none of the visual clues that came standard with most of his other conspiracy “researchers” – no thousand-yard stare of the perennially ignored, no permanent sheen of cold forehead-sweat, no foghorn-monotone honed over decades or entire lifetimes of speaking nonsense to power, and most noticeable of all, none of that furtive feel of opportunism that differentiates the con man from true believer. Unlike all other “Truthers,” Griffin, in his many speeches and books, genuinely seemed like a normal person who’d been forced into unforeseen areas of inquiry by strange events. He was older, avuncular, soft-spoken, a theologian drawn among the heartless hinds of full-blown conspiracy nutters. Although such things must ultimately be reflections of fact rather than wispy gray hair, nevertheless: he leant the entire “Truther” movement almost all the air of respectability it ever had (he and the late great John Judge, who was always playing too deep a game for most “Truthers” in any case).

The “Truther” movement is as varied as there are pages in the latest DSM, but the gist of it is fairly simple: the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were not what they seemed, and the explanation of them offered by the US government in the form of various agency evaluations and the bestselling 9-11 Report are almost entirely fictitious. There were many variations on this theme, from one end of a spectrum – the attacks never in fact happened at all – to the other – aliens, of course – and everything in between. Griffin took a more or less straightforward conspiracy-playbook approach: the administration of President George W. Bush, most particularly in the form of its sneering Sith Lord Vice President Dick Cheney, had full prior knowledge of the attacks, furthered them, let them happen in order to facilitate a scheme of global domination, and then worked at covering up the truth. Griffin sifted the written record for inconsistencies and outright falsehoods, drew inferences with asperity and some wit, and constructed an alternate scenario in which a vast conspiracy of government agencies and allied powers could effect a public deception that makes the Reichstag Fire look like a pair of plastic Groucho glasses and yet still be unable to stop a handful of basement-dwelling Internet trolls from making viral videos about it all.

The key to any conspiracy theory is the nugget of truth, some nugget of some truth, that lies buried in all the verbiage and cross-talk, buried underneath both the innocent bureaucrat’s tendency to paper over genuine contradictions and the guilty conspiracy theorist’s tendency to lie in order to keep the game going. When it comes to the attacks of 9-11, there are certainly such nuggets – things that defy any sensible forensic analysis, things that, to verge dangerously close to conspiracy-speak, don’t add up. In his public work on the subject, Griffin has always done a better, more scrupulous job than his peers at finding those nuggets and sticking to them.

He does it again in his latest book Bush and Cheney: How They Ruined America and the World, and he adds some intriguing new twists. Here he opens not with covert national betrayal but open national betrayal: a fairly adroit attempt to merge two conspiratorial camps into one larger cataclysm narrative. According to Griffin’s reading in this book, the George W. Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and Afghanistan – war-making contemplated in the corridors of power long before any planes flew into buildings – fundamentally altered the course of world events, worsening and coarsening them into a chaotic feed-bed from which our modern world grew like fungus. By placing the country on an open-ended war footing, Bush and Cheney unleashed incalculable destructive energies into the world, energies they couldn’t control and didn’t want to control. The picture Griffin paints is of Halliburton plutocrats intent on short-term plunder and creating a new national reality that would make long-term plunder easier: a New World Order in which the drumbeat of terrorism is used to drown out civil rights at home and abroad, to turn the American citizenry into a population of deceived and frightened sheep while graver and graver international crimes are committed in their name. Griffin is particularly sharp when assessing President Obama in this regard, rightly holding Obama’s expanded drone-killing program in withering contempt:

There is no doubt that the American government is now an assassin. What better term could be used for its claim to have the right, as the above-quoted Army chaplain said, “to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.” The American government would not, of course, grant that the governments of other countries have the right to assassinate American citizens. This asymmetry is a clear illustration of the fact that our country is now fully operating on the principle that might makes right.

This is fairly compelling stuff, if nothing new; critiques of post-9-11 American brigandry have been ten-a-penny since then-President Bush stood in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner, as have analyses that put American interventionism in Iraq and Afghanistan squarely at the root of the instability that’s plagued the region ever since. Such critiques are useful, and Griffin writes his well.

But he can’t abandon his original dance partner. The second half of Bush and Cheney returns not just to the disastrous Middle Eastern policies of the Bush-Cheney White House but to what Griffin has always seen as the original incitement: the administration’s handling of – and possible participation in – the 9-11 attacks.

Here Griffin is on very familiar ground for his considerable body of loyal readers: the lack of any proof that the men identified as the 9-11 hijackers had the technical experience necessary to fly the planes in the way they were flown on that day, the glaring oddities in the Bush administration’s response as events unfolded (from Bush lingering for some time at the Florida elementary school where he first learned of the attacks to Cheney in the White House bunker seeming to refer to some kind of stand-down order that would allow the incoming plane to strike the Pentagon), the collapse of Building 7 of the World Trade Center complex hours after the North and South Towers fell, and so on down the list of familiar “Truther” talking points. “These wars [Iraq and Afghanistan] have … led to the deaths of millions of Iraqis and Afghans – seven million by one estimate,” Griffin writes. “Is it unreasonable to suggest that Cheney and Bush would not have blanched at engineering a false-flag attack that would take a few thousand American lives?”

The grafting of political analysis and conspiracy theories, though very smoothly attempted in these pages, doesn’t quite happen, with the foreseeable result that the book’s two halves work against each other. Readers who might be interested in Griffin’s appealingly angry rundown of America’s spiral into barbarity in the wake of 9-11 (and his hopeful prescriptions for change) will glance nervously at his implication of a government conspiracy so sprawling that it could be carried on in total secrecy by two terms of Bush, two terms of Obama, and the last seventeen years of a President who blurts classified information to Russians in the Oval Office. And readers who come to this book for more of Griffin the take-no-prisoners deacon of the “Truther” movement will quickly lose patience with all that grown-up talk about realpolitik and the wages of nation-making. It’s unlikely that either camp will sit quietly while Griffin lectures to the other, but those who do will a great deal to warrant their attention.