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Jeb Bush

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Trump vs. Sanders – vs. Bloomberg?

The outcome of the US presidential primaries was supposed to be Hillary Clinton, the wife of an ex-president, vs. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of other ex-presidents: both worthy but somewhat boring candidates, and both definitely members of the “establishment”. Less than a week before the first primary, the Iowa caucuses, Bush is dead in the water and even Clinton is looking vulnerable.

In Bush’s place as the Republican front-runner is Donald Trump, billionaire property developer, TV reality star and demagogue, who told a campaign rally last Saturday “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” His arrogance is not misplaced: to the despair of the Republican Party’s hierarchy, he probably has the party’s presidential nomination locked up.

Three months ago, Democrats thought this would virtually guarantee Hillary Clinton’s election, as a majority of Americans would refuse to vote for such a crude clown. That was probably correct, but it’s irrelevant if Clinton doesn’t get the Democratic nomination. Ominously, her “socialist” rival, Bernie Sanders, is neck-and-neck with her in Iowa and clearly ahead in the next primary, in New Hampshire.

Sanders is also raising as much money from small voluntary donations as Clinton has raised from her rich frends and corporate donors. He can stay in the race right down to the finish, and the belief that he will fade when the more populous states vote in the later primaries is based on the shaky assumption that Americans will never vote for universal government-provided health care, free college tuition and soak-the-rich taxes.

Sanders is not really a socialist – fifty years ago he would have been an unremarkable figure on the left wing of the Democratic Party– but in any case “socialist” is no longer a curse-word in the United States. When pollster Frank Luntz asked “Would you be willing to vote for a socialist?” last June, nearly 60 percent of the Democrats surveyed said yes – and an astonishing 29 percent of the Republicans.

Both the major parties are facing a mutiny among their traditional supporters this year. A presidential race between Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders (the Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street) is entirely possible. But both Trump and Saunders are too radical for at least a third of American voters. That would leave the middle ground of American politics unoccupied.

Enter Michael Bloomberg, another billionaire, who started out as a Democrat, became a Republican to run for mayor of New York City in 2001, and now calls himself an independent. He won’t run if Hillary Clinton still seems likely to win the Democratic nomination – but if Sanders is pulling ahead, he probably will.

In a three-way race featuring Trump, Sanders and himself, Bloomberg would be the one “moderate” candidate, and he might even win. The probability that all this will come to pass is still well below 50-50, but the fact that it exists at all shows just how far American politics has departed from the usual track. Why?

The rise of Trump is mainly due to the fact that gerrymandering has turned 90 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives into safe seats for one party or the other: win the nomination, and the seat is guaranteed. So would-be Republican candidates have to appeal to the party’s strongest supporters, white working-class people without a college education, not to voters in general.

A lot of these Republican stalwarts are very, VERY angry. Their incomes are stagnant or falling, and as demography change gradually turns the United States into a country where the minorities are a majority, they feel that they are being marginalised and forgotten. They want their candidate to be angry too, and Donald Trump intuitively understands this and plays to it.

Paradoxically, Sanders appeals to some of the same people, because he also represents a radical break with business as usual. Anecdotal evidence suggests that for many people whose first choice is Trump, their second choice is Sanders. But most of Sanders’s support comes from people who are not so much angry as despairing.

In the new documentary “Dream On”, comedian John Fugelsang sums up what has driven them farther left than they ever imagined they would go. “America has become a reality show,” he said. “Food, Medicine, Rent: Pick two.” Median US household income in constant dollars is still $4,000 a year lower than it was in 2000, and the ‘American Dream’ is dying if not dead.

So it’s a horse-race that anybody could win, unless Hillary Clinton gets the Democratic nomination, in which case she would be the odds-on favourite to win. She even promised last Sunday to “relieve” Michael Bloomberg of the obligation to run by winning the nomination herself.

But if she does win, of course, nothing will really change, including an unreformed financial system that is setting us all up for a rerun of the 2008 crash.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 4. (“Sanders…taxes”)

Another Bush Damaged by Iraq

He just misheard the question. A basically friendly interviewer on Fox News asked Jeb Bush, now seeking the Republican nomination for the US presidency: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorised the invasion (of Iraq)?” And he replied: “I would have.” When the storm of protest, even from Republicans, swept over him, he explained that he thought the interviewer had said: “Knowing what we KNEW THEN.”

An easy mistake to make. “Know now” sounds an awful lot like “knew then”. Besides, Jeb Bush is on record as claiming that he is Hispanic (on a 2009 voter-registration application), so the poor man was struggling with his second language. If only she had asked the question in Spanish, he would have understood it perfectly.

Enough. When you listen to the entire interview, it’s clear that Bush didn’t want to say a flat “No” to her question, because that would be a condemnation of his brother’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. But as soon as he could, he switched to talking about the “intelligence failures” that misled his brother into invading the wrong country. Anybody can make a mistake. So nobody’s to blame.

Hillary Clinton, currently the favourite for the Democratic presidential nomination, uses exactly the same defence. In fact, every American politician who voted in favour of the invasion of Iraq at the time claims that the problem was faulty intelligence, and maybe some of them outside of the White House genuinely were misled.

But the intelligence wasn’t “faulty”; it was cooked to order. There was no plausible intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, so the US intelligence services were told to “find” some. There were no Islamist terrorists in Iraq either: Saddam Hussein hunted down and killed anybody suspected of being an Islamist activist, because the Islamists wanted to kill him.

The US Central Intelligence Agency agency tried very hard to create a link between al Qaeda, the organisation responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and Iraq. The only thing they came up with, however, was a rumour that a little-known Islamist from Jordan called Abu Musab al Zarqawi who knew Osama bin Laden had been in Baghdad receiving treatment for wounds received in Afghanistan in May-November 2002. (He was actually in Iran at that time.)

If you were on the White House staff in early 2003, you HAD to know that the “intelligence” you were using to justify the invasion of Iraq was false, because you were one of the people demanding that the spooks manufacture “evidence” for it. The decision itself had been taken even before Bush’s election in 2000 and the 9/11 attacks in 2001, for reasons that had nothing to do with terrorism.

The incoming Bush administration was full of people called “neo-conservatives”. They believed that the Clinton administration had failed to exploit the sole superpower status that the United States inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to put the world to
rights.

What was needed, therefore, was a display of US power that would make all the “bad guys” behave. So invade somewhere and take the local bad guy down. Iraq was the obvious choice, because it was very weak after a decade of arms embargo, and Saddam Hussein was a very bad guy.

We don’t yet know just how disastrous the invasion of Iraq was, because the damage is still accumulating. Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the man who now rules “Islamic State”, the terrorist-ruled new country that occupies the easten half of Syria and the western third of Iraq, started fighting Americans as part of the Iraqi resistance in 2003.

By 2006 at the latest, he had joined the group then called Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was largely made up of jihadis from other Arab countries who had flocked to Iraq to fight the infidel invaders. And the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq was none other than Abu Musab al Zarqawi – who parlayed the reputation as a major jihadi leader that the US intelligence services gave him into a real leadership position in the resistance.

Through the years that followed, that organisation gained experience in guerilla war and terrorism, and through several changes of name and leadership (Zarqawi was killed in 2006) it ultimately morphed into Islamic State. Baghdadi was with it all the way, and now styles himself “Caliph Ibrahim”, demanding the loyalty and obedience of all Muslims everywhere.

So we owe a lot to the “neo-cons” in George Bush’s administration who pushed for the invasion of Iraq: people like Dick Cheney (Vice-president), Donald Rumsfeld (Secretary of Defense), and Paul Wolfowitz (Undersecretary of Defense). They just used the 9/11 attacks as a vehicle for their pre-existing Iraq invasion plans.

It was Wolfowitz, above all, who worked tirelessly to link Irak to terrorism. And guess who is the most prominent name on Jeb Bush’s current team of foreign policy advisers (apart from George W Bush himself). Why, it’s the very same Paul Wolfowitz. The problem with Jeb Bush is not the foolish answers he gives. It’s the company he keeps.

To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4, 8 and 9. (“Hillary…misled”; and “The incoming…guy”)