The November Surprises


Less than an hour after George W. Bush’s victory speech Wednesday, U.S. fighter planes launched major air strikes against Falluja, a prelude to a post-election incursion that a marine surgeon told The Miami Herald could involve casualties “at levels not seen since Vietnam.”

Yet the transparently self-serving timing of the biggest Bush military offensive since 2003 is passing unchallenged. Life and death are apparently now mere entries on some Karl Rove political calendar, a campaign calculus only the naive would question. War commanders take their orders from the same BlackBerry as election-district captains. Presumably if the Ohio provisional ballots were still being counted, 21-year-old marines from Columbus, or new army recruits from Baghdad, might have another 10 days to live.

After months of waiting for an October surprise that never happened, America has begun its season of November, December, and 2005 surprises. Once the body bags are collected at Falluja and the rest of the triangle, the January election, should it happen, will begin the Shiite transformation of Iraq, leading eventually to another Ayatollah, closer to Iran than the U.S. The White House political director is hardly done unleashing waves of electoral evangelicals; they will soon be in power in Iraq too. Wait ’til you get a look at their faith-based initiatives.

Just as Bush Senior helped postpone the October release of American hostages in 1980, putting himself and Ronald Reagan in the White House on virtually the day of their release, Bush II has stockpiled crises, equating democracy with delay. As quiet as it is kept, John Ashcroft has been sitting for months now on the final chapter of The 9/11 Commission Report, a 70-page examination of everything from the Federal Aviation Commission’s missteps that morning to the orders issued by Bush and Cheney. Similarly, Ashcroft’s appointee Patrick Fitzgerald is now in the 14th month of a grand jury probe of who in the White House leaked the name of a covert CIA agent married to a Bush critic. Fitzgerald’s pre-election targets have, conveniently enough, only been reporters.

The day after the election, the Times reported that Bush’s new CIA director, the politically programmed Porter Goss, was moving to undercut and alter an 800-page report by the supposedly independent CIA Inspector General. The IG was asked by Congress in 2002 to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for any mistakes that might’ve contributed to the failure to stop the attacks. The report was finished in July but was never turned over to the intelligence committees that mandated it, and now Goss wants it whitewashed of names. Goss even spurned 9-11 family members who met with him in September to seek its release, as well as the Republican chair of the House committee. Of course, two other Iraq CIA studies—one in Congress and one by a new Bush commission—have also been mothballed.

Leading the list of domestic December surprises, of course, is the sudden emergence of a Bush plan to dump the remnants of the progressive income tax. Not far behind are the new FCC rules that will inevitably enrich the media conglomerates that just covered the campaign, from Sinclair to Fox and beyond. When the courts struck down Bush’s latest grab bag of goodies for the industry that contributed $1.8 million, and often its airwaves, to him, the decisions were as much a resale opportunity as they were a policy defeat. Everyone from the beef association to logging and mining moguls are happily awaiting postponed decisions on animal feed and national forest development, aware no doubt that the best time for a special interest to prosper is after the public interest has had its quadrennial say.

But nothing’s more disturbing than the pre-election burial of the gravest issue of our time: global warming. Though neither Michigan-mesmerized Democrats nor the SUV-subsidized media noticed, the president’s closest international ally, Tony Blair, has been sounding a warming alarm for months, egged on at the end of October by none other than Queen Elizabeth. The queen, who is busily planning a hydro-powered Windsor Castle and already drives only in liquefied-gas cars, decided to sponsor her own multi-nation conference on warming in Berlin, which started, guess when, the day after the election. The British press reported that in her private sessions with Blair she’s been begging him to get his buddy Bush to wake up. Blair’s top science adviser has been saying—to American yawns—that warming is a far worse threat than terrorism.

The other national leader on Bush’s chummy side, Vladimir Putin, also waited until two days after the election to, guess what, make Bush’s America and Australia the only developed nations who refuse to sign the Kyoto accords. In fact, Russia, Britain, the U.S., and five other nations just completed a four-year study of Arctic warming that documents the sharp retreat of sea ice that signals a threat so profound that Blair warns it will “radically alter human existence” in his lifetime, not his children’s. But the report, conducted by 300 scientists, was withheld for release until November 9, putting planetary life-and-death issues on the same Rove calendar as Falluja. Somehow the Times got “portions” of this report from “European participants” and reported it three days before the election, but the rest of the media ignored it, ostensibly silenced by the fear of any too-close-to-the-election tilting and their own cosmic indifference to the cosmos.

One giant did step forward before election day, but he, too, may have waited too long. Dr. James Hansen, a physicist who’s director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and has twice spoken to the Bush cabinet on climate change, gave a speech in Iowa on October 27 that was both an act of courage and prophetic judgment. The Times wrote about it the day before, but only the Associated Press actually covered it. Though all of us who live on the coasts may need very swift boats to escape a near future of catastrophically rising sea levels, Hansen’s warnings got no attention from the cable networks consumed by the boats of three decades ago. At the possible cost of a federal job he’s held for three decades, Hansen castigated the “interference with and misuse of the scientific process” that he said was “occurring now to a degree unprecedented in my scientific lifetime.

“I speak from a position of having tried hard to work with and advise the current administration on matters relating to climate change. I find a willingness to listen only to those portions of scientific results that fit predetermined inflexible positions. This, I believe, is a recipe for environmental disasters.” Told by his NASA boss not to talk about “dangerous” human interference with climate, Hansen nonetheless concluded, “consistent with thousands” of U.N. scientists,” that “we in the U.S. are on a dangerous course in our climate and energy policies” and that the disintegration of the Arctic ice sheet could be “explosively rapid.”

You can almost hear the pre-Iraq whispers of nonpartisan intelligence and military experts in Hansen’s description of the Bush administration’s hidebound inflexibility, especially since Hansen had face-to-face meetings with Cheney himself. How is it that men capable of masterminding so stunning a campaign triumph are so willfully resistant to fact when facing life-threatening policy choices? While there is much to mourn about Tuesday’s loss, America can survive most of the inevitably callous choices of the next Bush term, even internationally. What the world can’t survive is an America that is irreversibly poisoning the planet at a record pace, and refuses to hear the pro-life voice of undisputed science.