Bush needs his own "Great White Fleet"

In two weeks we’ll be quietly celebrating, without any fanfare or even a likely honorable mention in the mainstream press, our Centennial as a world aspiring empire. Well, that’s really my own take, for the anniversary is really of the departure from Hampton Roads of the Great White Fleet.

On December 16, 1907 America was quietly telling the world that it had come of military age as Theodore Roosevelt, at the twilight of his second term, sent out from the waters of Southern Virginia sixteen battleships – with their escorts – to circumnavigate the globe. It was Teddy’s way of letting everyone know that the United States could feel “right at home” anywhere in the world, in anyone’s backyard. Although the US had already made some noise nine years earlier sinking the remains of a moribund Spain, it is this special voyage that should be considered as the empire’s baptismal waters.

Fourteen months later, after 43,000 miles, 20 ports of call and six continents behind, Roosevelt welcomed back 14,000 blue-water sailing ambassadors who had shown the world that America was militarily for real. One could say that this voyage was the start of America’s role in international militarism and empire building; well, at least at the me-too stage, rubbing elbows with then Great Britain, Russia, Japan and nascent Germany. It was a naval parade that lasted 14 months ending in very timely step with Roosevelt’s presidency. A well orchestrated send off for a president at the fleet’s return, something which provided country-PR before PR was considered cool.

In like manner, there are 14 months left in the presidency of George W. Bush, and if there is a president who needs to exit the White House with a thunderous, ceremonious acclaim, it’s none other than our 43rd. America’s most arrogant and incompetent head of state – to date – needs to end his presidency with some type of sonorous bang, and by that I don’t mean the major bombing of Iran or some other poor “evil nation,” but rather some latter-day event that can be remembered with favor for some generations to come. It is extremely important for this “make-believe” leader of the free world, to emulate that other Republican president of a century ago: the 26th; the big-stick carrier, Teddy. It is critical that Bush’s political entourage discover some type of redeeming, politically heroic act; some major accomplishment that might subtract from his ignominy at home, if not his criminality abroad.

Sorry, but prospects for peace in the Middle East won’t do. The just completed reunion at Annapolis was a supine exercise in unreality and intransigence by not allowing key, if extreme, participants to sit at the table. Peace in the Holy Land is a commodity that will not be harvested by the time Bush exits in the winter of 2009; not until such time as American Jewry decides to join the choir of peace. Until then, all proclamations by Bush, or any of his underlings, must be first cleared in Tel Aviv, as was embarrassingly evidenced on Friday by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad at the United Nations.

Time is running short for Bush to come up with a feat, real or symbolic, that can come close to Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet. But then, it’s only befitting for both of these men that although born in the commonality of wealth and power, and both branded with the Republican label, in just about every respect are poles apart, with probably not a single match in their entire map of political genes.

Poles apart, indeed! In intelligence, in education, in knowledge and most importantly in character! Unlike Bush, Roosevelt was able to balance the then existing predatory capitalism with enough progressivism to bring a modicum of social justice… relative to the times. A man at the embryonic stage of American empire, Roosevelt added a very crucial corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, one which would allow the United States to intervene in Latin American affairs when “corruption” in the governments made such action necessary. Bush only had to change the corruption label with the magic 9-11 word: terror. And extend the geography from Latin America to the world!

Ok! So we knew all along that empire was not just a neocon invention for 21st century America, but at least (I think!) our democracy seemed more humane and real, and did not serve as a mask for what today appears to many of us as demonocracy.

Perhaps Bush’s intimacy with God will bring about a miracle for him, something that Americans would swallow without tasting it first, something transcendental and symbolic like that Great White Fleet. But I seriously doubt it.