Uncovering the ‘Deserter’

You might expect the UN correspondent for The Nation to pen yet another indictment of George Bush's disastrous foreign policy and its manifold consequences for the world at large. But in his latest book, Ian Williams decided to take on George Bush himself, connecting the dots between the president's National Guard record during Vietnam to his present-day posturing as a man in uniform. Deserter: George W. Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans, and His Past draws on extensive research on the President's still mysterious military career to reveal the real man inside the flight suit.

Why look at George Bush's military record now? We all know that the President has been less than forthcoming about his Vietnam-era service in the Texas Guard, but then much the same can be said of pretty much every aspect of his administration.

Since George W. Bush was a chickenhawk from the get-go, I thought his experiences in the National Guard -- or lack thereof -- would be instructive. This is a president who, after all, invokes sacrifice but never actually made one himself. What's more, there's probably only Fidel and Saddam who have worn military uniforms as often and with as much relish as George W.

And while individual reporters have done wonderful work on different parts of Bush's "Missing in Inaction" saga, on the whole, the media have dropped the ball. Besides, I wanted to put the whole issue in its context. There are national guardsmen who have been sent to brutal war and occupation, and have been charged with desertion for refusing to return. He went AWOL and was sent to Harvard Business School!

You mention psychological motivations for Bush Junior's obsession with all things military in the book -- his desire to emulate his father in form, if not in substance. Could you elaborate on that theory?

Bush the Elder was a genuine war hero, who actually used his family influence to leave high school and become the Navy's youngest pilot. That was when the old East Coast establishment had a sense of noblesse oblige. With the transplantation of the Bush clan to Texas, any sense of obligation has clearly been replaced by a double sense of entitlement.

Dubya combines the toxic effects of both, the dynastic East Coast sense of entitlement and the Texas notion that you're rich and prosperous because God Loves You -- a Cowboy Capitalist cocktail that seems to dull noblesse oblige. The result is that Bush the Younger wanted to be a pilot like his father, but not to risk his life in the process -- which is why he wangled a place in the Texas Air National Guard and ticked the box saying "no" to overseas service.

As you note in the book, thanks to Bush's posturing, many Americans actually believe that he served in the military. What are his -- or more accurately, Karl Rove's -- political motivations in trying so hard to create that impression?

The Republican appropriation of the military has a strange and tangled -- but quite recent -- history. The real point is the GOP's appropriation of the prestige of the military in order to target all those in the electorate who think that the military is somewhere there between apple pie and motherhood, and just as sacrosanct.

The reality, of course, is that those in the military are not necessarily Republican themselves. The few studies that exist out there show that while the officer corps tends to the GOP, junior ranks tend to be at least as Democratic as you'd expect from a body that is over 40 percent minority.

You obviously think it is accurate to describe George Bush as deserter, but is what he did any different than say Dan Quayle or those who fled to Canada during Vietnam?

Those who went to Canada disagreed with the war. Quayle entered the Guard to dodge Vietnam, but served his term. His deal was six years in the Guard at home, against two in the field if drafted. That makes Quayle an evader, as Bush was, and equally hypocritical since they both supported the Vietnam war -- as long as it was not their plutocratic butts on the line.

Even by Quayle standards, Bush went a step further. He went missing in Alabama and defied orders to report for duty. Moreover, he missed his medical which as a pilot ensured that he was grounded. He was no different than those who let a shotgun off next to their ear so they would be deaf and medically unfit to serve.

Others at that time were sent off on active service for failing to attend to their National Guard duties. But they were not in the Texas Air National Guard and their fathers were not Congressmen.

How do you think his faux war hero persona will play out now that he is going up against a real veteran? Do you think John Kerry will be able to expose him for what he is when the campaign gets truly underway?

The real problem here is the media. Journalists who often think of themselves as liberal feel it would be unbalanced to actually howl the rafters down every time the Bush Administration lets loose one of its shocking lies. It is why the GOP was able to attack paraplegic war veteran Senator Max Cleland for his lack of patriotism, and even Kerry about the degree of his wounds. This president has been given an easy ride -- by most of the media and most of the Democrats.

So yes, Kerry can expose Bush, if he goes at him with the same assiduity that they have gone after him, not least because he is on firmer ground. A lot of people are wondering where the ex-officer's killer instinct has disappeared, and hope it comes out soon!

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