Will George W. Bush use terrorism to become America's Pinochet?

Attorney-General John Ashcroft is priming the public for a terrorist attack, which can only mean Bush is sharpening his blades to behead the Constitution.

Augusto Pinochet seized absolute power in Chile on September 11, 1973. The US national security apparatus, including George H.W. Bush, used terrorism as an excuse to help Pinochet destroy what had been a constitutional democracy.

So is Shrub a president? Or is he a Pinochet?

By a 4:1 margin American historians have already rated W. "a failure." More than one in ten surveyed in the recent George Mason University History News Network Poll also rate Bush as "the worst president ever."

But ultimately, this Bush has no peer among US presidents. Let's look at three likely matches.

Richard Nixon trained Dick Cheney and Karl Rove as Dirty Tricksters. Nixon is Bush's role model for corruption, cynicism and personal psychosis. But Nixon was also a skilled, literate global diplomat who opened doors to China and the former Soviet Union and supported environmental protection. Bush has trashed all that.

Herbert Hoover callously presided over the beginnings of America's worst economic depression. Bush is right there. But Hoover was also a skilled, literate bureaucrat, and a Quaker-raised foe of war. Not exactly Bush.

Warren G. Harding was astonishingly corrupt. Bush, Halliburton and Enron have more than matched him. But Harding also hated repression and brought the anti-war socialist Eugene V. Debs straight from a federal prison cell to meet him in the Oval Office. Bush might well have had Debs executed.

Ultimately, Bush's real peers are not US presidents but Third World dictators, like Pinochet, many of whom his father also put in office. Their coda is clear:

Use of "terror" as an excuse for totalitarian control;

Official secrecy for its own sake;

Seizure of power in contempt of free elections;

Totalitarian militarism;

Abuse of human rights and liberties;

Love of the death penalty;

Hatred of a free press;

Imprisonment without legal recourse;

Widespread torture;

Brazen theft of public billions;

"Free market" smokescreens for corporate domination;

Taxing the poor to benefit the rich;

Hatred of labor unions;

Decimation of the natural environment;

Assaulting elected leaders anywhere, anytime;

Contempt for international treaties;

Reactionary alliance with right wing church groups;

Contempt for women's rights;

Manipulating divisions of race and class.

The one American actually offered a dictatorship, George Washington, turned it down, shaping the nature of the Presidency for more than two centuries....until now.

Meanwhile Bush has beheaded the American economy, replacing First World surpluses with Third World debt.

Reminiscent of Joe Stalin, foreign intelligence, economic assessment and even basic science must not contradict Rovian spin or fundamentalist prophecy.

American education, once the envy of the world, is in shambles, with global students now turning away for the first time. America's moral prestige, never higher than after September 11, 2001, has been trashed. No US president has ever been so personally hated.

And never has a would-be Third World dictator stood more ready to shred our Constitution.

Stalin once quipped that power resides not with those who cast the votes, but with those that count them.

Bush may try to follow Stalin's (and brother Jeb's) lead by stealing the 2004 election, as in 2000. Or he may try to seize power like Pinochet did on 9/11/73 in a repressive crusade against convenient terrorism.

But one thing is certain: if Shrub's hyped-up power play succeeds, the beheading of America will be complete.


HARVEY WASSERMAN'S HISTORY OF THE US is available at www.harveywasserman.com. He is co-author (with Bob Fitrakis) of GEORGE W. BUSH VERSUS THE SUPERPOWER OF PEACE (www.freepress.org).