What's Left

December 3, 2003

Different head, same dick
What the ousting of a president in Georgia says about the next US presidential election

By Stephen Gowans

Bushflash.com has an irreverent online music video, titled "The idiot son of an asshole," the identity of the idiot and his asshole father being rather obvious. You can watch it at http://www.bushflash.com/idiot.html . Slanging Bush pere and fils has its attractions, and the video's disrespect is a refreshing antidote to the cloying "Hail to the Chief " fawning of the media. But when you think about it, the video has all the substance of a newspaper astrology column. For fun and amusement only.

You can call the idiot a few names and impugn his smarts, but so what? Does it matter that he's an idiot? And if he wasn't, would things be different?  Bush's policies have been smart for corporate America. Corporate taxes are lower, US arms manufacturers, like Lockheed-Martin and Raytheon are raking in the cash, and the coffers of US contractors in Iraq are brimming with reconstruction contracts. And ordinary Americans, as always, are footing the bill. From corporate America's perspective, Bush looks pretty smart, and the idiots look like the tens of millions of saps who voted for him, despite having a whole lot to lose, and absolutely nothing to gain, except maybe the psychological satisfaction of knowing that a president who's "strong on defense" is probably going to provide plenty of vicarious thrills as peasants and Third World armies get their assess kicked by Uncle Sam. The Canadian comedian Mary Walsh wonders whether the Republican party should ditch the elephant and replace it with a condom. A condom, she points out, gives you a sense of security as you screw people. And it covers dickheads.

All of this doesn't, however, mean that Democrats are Einsteins for having cast their ballot for the other fellow. Much as the "anyone but Bush" crowd takes comfort in the fantasy that anyone but Bush has to be better,  it's very unlikely that a Democrat in the White House would be pursuing policies today that would have differed in any fundamental way from either those of the idiot son, or the asshole father. Maybe a Democrat as Commander in Chief would have had the "support of our allies" and a UN imprimatur in his back pocket before ordering the Pentagon to march on Baghdad, but that would hardly have made the conquest of Iraq all right, or any less a corporate grab.

Or maybe a Democrat in charge would have carried on in the Clintonian fashion, waging war against Iraq in all but name, maintaining genocidal sanctions, hurling a few cruise missiles at Baghdad every now and then (without a UN imprimatur), and shooting up a few Iraqis every few days while flying sorties over the illegal no-fly zones. This is war as Bush wages it, with one exception: no US casualties. Democrats have no problem blowing away or blockading to death a few million brownskins, so long as "none of our brave men and women in uniform" have to make "the ultimate sacrifice." This is an antiwar position, watered down with generous dollops of pro-American Chauvinism, a fitting position for American liberals.

So, what line of reasoning leads inevitably to the conclusion that anyone but Bush would be better? This smacks of the kind of superstitious thinking that has burned holes in more than a few gamblers' pockets. "My luck's been so bad lately, it's bound to turn around with the next roll of the dice," rolling the dice being a fitting metaphor for electing a president. You never know what's going to turn up. Or do you?

Think about it. There have been more than one idiot, and more than one asshole, who've served time as US President. Nixon ranked pretty high on the asshole scale, Reagan was an arrant moron, and while hardly an idiot, Clinton -- whose penchant for bombing countries in violation of international law was matched only by his penchant for smoking cigars that may have had one or two pubic hairs still clinging to them -- was also an asshole, though a charming, Oxford-educated one. How can a system that allows idiots and assholes to make life and death decisions over the lives of numberless human beings not be flawed? Indeed, how can a system that allows people of impeccable character and outstanding intelligence make life and death decisions over the lives of numberless human beings not be flawed? That being the case, how does rolling the dice one more time make things better?

I'd say the problem isn't Bush, because the policies he's pursued -- at least the ends to which the policies are directed -- are not Bush's alone. Sure enough, he, and his cabinet and advisors, craft the way the ends will be pursued, and in that sense the policies bear his, and his advisors', signatures, but the goal of organizing policy in the interests of corporate America is one every president has been attached to, and, I dare say, must be attached to, if his life in the White House is to be free from the kinds of violent tremors that recently shook Eduard Shevardnadze -- an  object lesson in the dangers of refusing to dance with the one who brought you to the ball -- from his pedestal.

There's much that's unclear about the events surrounding Shevardnadze's ouster as president of Georgia, but it seems fairly clear that the ex-Communist who'd become the darling of free enterprisers wasn't swept from power by a popular revolt, but by a carefully staged putsch, engineered by his former backers.

Three years ago the former Communist Party bigwig was feted by Clinton as a leader who "had taken to democracy with the zeal of a convert," and "stayed the course when the price was high,'' despite having presided over electoral abuses for years [1]. For his devotion to democracy, Shevardnadze received  the W. Averill Harriman Democracy Award from the US National Democratic Institute, part of the notorious National Endowment for Democracy, a US government funded organization whose professed aim is to teach the world the ABC's of democracy (this from a country whose president had fewer votes than his rival), but which, in more sober language, does what the CIA used to do covertly [2] -- get people elected overseas who are on corporate America's side. In recent days, Shevardnadze, who'd taken to democracy and rigging elections with equal zeal, lamented that there had been too much democracy in Georgia.

In fact, there had been, and remains, very little democracy in the former Soviet republic. Shevardnadze was able to sit pretty so long as he made the right noises about joining NATO, set the stage for the US electricity firm AEL to make huge profits, and provided security guarantees for an American-backed pipeline that would compete against a Russian rival. And this he did, presiding over one flawed election after another, while Georgia rapidly returned to the Third World, as all other former Soviet republics have, ever since it was decided Communism had failed, and a good dose of capitalism would clear the cob webs away. So much for theory. According to the UN, 54 nations are poorer today that they were in 1990, 17 of which are Eastern European and former Soviet republics. [3]

"The economy is in free-fall as factories and enterprises have long shut down. An energy crisis means vast swathes of the country are cut off from heat and light throughout the winter months. By the side of the main Tbilisi-Batumi highway there is evidence of the wholesale destruction of orchards and woods, cut down to provide fuel for local inhabitants. Running water is an intermittent luxury, even in the cities...Meanwhile, people gather in the lobby of parliament begging for help in a scene reminiscent of the middle ages when the King was petitioned to cure the suffering from scrofula." [4]

These days, Georgia's economic collapse is attributed to mismanagement and corruption, but if mismanagement and corruption are to blame, how is it that growing poverty -- it has tripled in the region since 1990 [5] -- is  widespread throughout the newly "democratized" and "economically reformed" countries of the former Eastern Bloc? Is mismanagement and corruption as much a part of economic reform as bullshit is part of every Fox newscast?

And why is it that we heard nothing of mismanagement and corruption when Shevardnadze was the West's golden boy, picking up prizes for his zealous dedication to democracy? The descent into poverty hasn't happened between Shevardnadze's elevation to champion of democracy by Clinton and his ouster last month. No, the pauperization of the Georgian people began earlier than that, back when the West was still smitten.

Indeed, all was fine until the Georgian debutante started to fall under the spell of another suitor -- corporate Russia. Corporate America had brought him to the dance, but he began to wonder whether corporate Russia might have a little more to offer. And so he inched, little by little, toward Russia, and grew more and more estranged from the US. His enthusiasm for joining NATO dampened, and he started to make noises about neutrality. His kindness to AEL faltered, turning, in the end, to outright hostility, as the company, unable to make the kinds of profits it expected to make, pulled out, making way for a Russian rival. And then he signed a deal with the Russian natural gas giant, Gazprom, sparking a controversy over a pipeline Washington is banking on, that sent US Ambassador Steven Mann, Bush's point man on fixing things right for corporate American in the oil-rich Caspian basin,  hurrying to Tbilisi, with a warning: Don't "do anything that undercuts the powerful promise of an East-West energy corridor." [6]

Shevardnadze's dalliances with corporate Russia were an invitation to be overthrown. And sweeping the former golden boy aside wouldn't prove to be too difficult. The infrastructure was already in place. US billionaire George Soros was backing the anti-Shevardnadze opposition, including a television station, Rustavi 2, the anti-Shevardnadze newspaper, 24 Hours, and a student direct action group, Kmara! (Enough!), modelled on Yugoslavia's Otpor (Resistance), also bankrolled by Soros [7]. Plus, a successor had already been anointed: US-trained lawyer, Mikhail Saakashvili, zealously pro-US, whose glitzy biography, paid for by the US government, could be bought in Tbilisi bookstores, bursting with photographs of the rising Georgian star with the US political elite: George Soros, John McCain (who Saakashvili says he's closest to politically), Edward Kennedy, Attorney-General John Ashcroft, and FBI Director Louis Freeh [8]. What's more, the great man himself, Soros, had personally conferred the Open Society award, named after his Open Society Institute, on Saakashvili [9].

In fact, Soros did more than put up the cash to fund the infrastructure that would chase Shevardnadze from power. He set the stage. Last year, he told a Moscow news conference that Shevardnadze couldn't be trusted to hold free and fair parliamentary elections in 2003, [10] which was true enough. Georgia had never had elections that weren't flawed, so why start now? The question was, why hadn't Soros said anything before?

Going further, Soros issued a warning. He said he'd "mobilize civil society" to do "what we did...in Yugoslavia at the time of Milosevic." [11] And true to his word, events pretty well followed the path they had in October 2000, when Milosevic was forced to step down. And they'll follow the same path they did after October, 2000, as well.

After Milosevic's ouster, it was generally agreed in the Panglossian fashion that makes everyone feel better about an outrage committed by our side, that in the end, Yugoslavs would probably be better off without Milosevic. You could quibble about outside interference in Yugolsav politics, but on balance, the scales had tipped in the right direction. In this vein, Canada's establishment newspaper, The Globe and Mail, grudgingly admitted that "it would be naive to assume that geopolitics played no part at all" in Shevardnadze's fall from power, but that "whatever the forces that led to his ouster, Georgians are better off without him." [12]

Why should we suppose this? Milosevic's successors in Yugoslavia have hardly been more democratic, and economically, their reform policies have been a disaster, as they've been for ordinary people everywhere. Life is only better for Serbs in a negative sense. Quislings aren't bombed and slapped with sanctions, so now Serbs can get fuel oil to heat their homes in the winter and go about their daily business, free from worry they'll become one of the tens of thousands of cases of "collateral damage" the US military has a habit of producing that US politicians keep deeply regretting.

As for Shevardnadze, it's true enough that he offered nothing to ordinary Georgians, but why should anyone think that Shevardnadze's presumed successor, Saakashvili, will offer Georgians relief from grinding poverty, freedom from being exploited by corporate interests, or will wrest the political system from the hands of US-funded NGO's and George Soros and put it into the hands of Georgians, where it belongs? He's backed by the same forces that originally backed Shevardnadze, he's committed to the same policies of "economic reform" that plunged Georgia into the depths of poverty, and he's only different in pledging his heart exclusively to corporate America, and to his patron George Soros. A velvet revolution? There has been no revolution. All that's happened is that head office has fired the old branch manager and replaced him with a new one who's just as keen to see to it that the employees get screwed.

Which brings me back to Bush. It's true enough he's offered nothing to ordinary Americans, but why should anyone think that a Democrat successor (if, indeed, there is one) will offer Americans freedom from being exploited by corporate interests, or will wrest the political system from the hands of corporate America and put it into the hands of Americans, where it belongs? A Democrat will be backed by the same forces that backed Bush, will be committed to the same pro-corporate policies, and will only be different in pledging his heart to George Soros, who's spending liberally on Democrat candidates because he wants Bush out. All that will happen is that the old manager will have been replaced by a new one who's just as keen to see to it that the employees get screwed. Different head, same dick.

1. British Helsinki Human Rights Group, "Georgia 2001, Twilight of Shevardnadze Era: A New Beginning or Rejuvenation of the Regime," November 25, 2001. http://www.bhhrg.org/CountryReport.asp?ReportID=56&CountryID=10

2. Blum, William, Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower, Common Courage Press, 2000.

3. "UN report says one billion suffer extreme poverty," World Socialist Web Site, July 28, 2003.

4. Georgia 2001

5. UN report says

6. "Politics, pipelines converge in Georgia," The Globe and Mail, November 24, 2003.

7. "Georgia revolt carried mark of Soros," The Globe and Mail, November 26, 2003.

8. Georgia 2001

9. Politics, pipelines

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. "Ousting Shevardnadze," The Globe and Mail, November 25, 2003.

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What's Left