An Occasional Newsletter (09/03

The words and actions of the Bush administration have so often been labeled "Orwellian" that it’s become virtually a cliché. But one can’t resist adding to the list.

At a July 1 White House press briefing, a reporter asked spokesman Ari Fleischer: "The United States just declared about 50 countries, including Colombia and six prospective NATO members, ineligible for military aid because they won’t exempt Americans from the International Criminal Court. My question is, why is this priority more important than fighting the drug wars, integrating Eastern Europe?"

Fleischer replied: "Well, number one, because the President is following the law. This is a law that Congress passed that the President signed, dealing with what’s called Article 98 actions that would make certain that American military personnel and other personnel who are stationed abroad would not be subject to a court which has international sovereignty that’s in dispute."

So what do we have here?  The Bush administration drafts a law to serve its imperial and propaganda needs, pushes it through Congress, and then, when the press expresses some skepticism about the law’s effect, the same administration justifies it by saying: "Well, the President is only following the law."

As to the court’s sovereignty being in dispute, this is, of course, entirely centered in a city called Washington, DC.

The Sanctions Game

For a dozen years, international groups supporting the Iraqi people campaigned to have the UN (read US) sanctions removed, sanctions which Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, called "the most pervasive sanctions every imposed on a nation in the history of mankind".Meanwhile, the US insisted that the suffering of the population was not due to the sanctions, but rather Saddam’s lavish lifestyle. "People of Iraq," said a Pentagon radio program broadcast into Iraq, "the amount of money Saddam spends on himself in one day would be more than enough to feed a family for a year."

Then Saddam and his regime were overthrown. But the suffering continued in much the same ways. And then, with their usual lack of embarrassment, Washington officials declared that the sanctions are actually harmful and would have to be removed in order to provide aid and rebuild the country.

Resistance is Predictable

US military commanders in Iraq have branded the guerrillas as "subversives" and "terrorists." Donald Rumsfeld says there are five groups opposing US forces – looters, criminals, remnants of Saddam Hussein’s government, foreign terrorists, and Iranian-backed Shiites. 

A US official there maintains that many of the people shooting at US troops are "poor young Iraqis" who have been paid between $20 and $100 to stage hit-and-run attacks on US soldiers. "They’re not dedicated fighters," he said. "They’re people who wanted to take a few potshots." Other members of the Bush administration use terms like "well-trained militants" and "professional operations."

What no US official dares to have cross his lips is the idea that any part of the resistance is composed of Iraqi citizens who don’t like being bombed, invaded and occupied, and are demonstrating their resentment. Does that thought at least cross the minds of these officials?  Or do they assume that US moral authority is as absolute and unchallengeable as its military power?

Excuses for Bad Behavior

In July, the Bush administration also agreed that Charles Taylor, president of Liberia, could and should step down and leave the country, even though he was recently indicted by a UN-sponsored court in Sierra Leone for "bearing the greatest responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law" during Sierra Leone’s civil war. This is in marked contrast to consistent US government demands of recent years that all Serbian officials indicted for similar crimes by the UN court in The Hague be turned over to the court, or turn themselves in. No exceptions, no going into exile, no mercy.

To show how serious Washington was about this, it pressured the Yugoslav government to kidnap President Slobodan Milosevic and hustle him off to The Hague. But that’s because the US had globalization designs on Yugoslavia’s considerable assets and required that Milosevic and his team be replaced with others who would be more amenable to such an objective.

In 1998, President Clinton sent Jesse Jackson as his special envoy to Liberia and Sierra Leone, which is next door and was in the midst of one of the great horrors of the 20th century. You may remember the army of mostly young boys, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), who went around raping and chopping off people’s arms and legs. African and world opinion was enraged against the RUF, which was committed to protecting the diamond mines they controlled.

Taylor was an indispensable ally and supporter of the RUF and Jesse Jackson was a friend of his. Jackson wasn’t sent there to hound Taylor about his widespread human rights violations. Instead, in June 1999, he and other US officials drafted entire sections of an accord that made RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, vice president of Sierra Leone and, according to the July 24, 2000 New Republic, gave him control over the diamond mines, the country’s major source of wealth.

What was the Clinton administration’s interest in all this?  It’s been suggested that the US had to deal with the RUF since they more or less militarily controlled the Koidu Diamond Mine area. Exploitation contracts for the area were held by two Clinton cronies, Jean Raymond Boulle and Robert Friedland. There was also Maurice Tempelsman, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s paramour at the time.  His Antwerp, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv diamond marts arranged for Sierra Leone diamond sales to Tiffany and Cartier.     

Adult Language

Take the children out of the room. What follows is a kind word about Saddam Hussein:

During his reign, when the war with Iran and US bombings and sanctions made it feasible, the Iraqi people had free education all the way through university and medical school, free medical care, regular food packages for those in need, women’s rights superior to anything in the Arab world, and religious toleration for Christians and other non-Muslims.

The Ignorance Factor

There are all kinds of intelligence in this world: musical, scientific, mathematical, artistic, literary, and so on. Then there’s political intelligence, which might be defined as the ability to see through the bullshit which every society, past, present and future, feeds its citizens from birth.

Polls conducted in June showed that 42 percent of respondents believed Iraq had a direct involvement in what happened on September 11. Most of them were certain that Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers; 55 percent believed that Saddam Hussein had close ties to al-Qaeda; 34 percent were convinced that weapons of mass destruction had recently been found in Iraq (7 percent weren’t sure); and 24 percent believed Iraq had actually used chemical or biological weapons against US forces in the war (14 percent were uncertain).

"If Iraq had no significant WMD and no strong link to Al Qaeda, do you think we were misled by the government?" Only half said yes.

One can only wonder what, besides a crowbar, it would take to pry such people away from their total support of what the Empire does to the world. Perhaps if government agents came to their homes, seized

their first born, and took them away screaming?  Well, probably not, if the government claimed that the adored first born had played soccer with someone from Pakistan who had a friend who had gone to the same mosque as someone from Afghanistan who had a picture of Taliban leader Mohammed Omar on his wall.

Many US citizens, whether consciously or unconsciously, actually pride themselves on their ignorance. It reflects their break with the overly complicated intellectual tradition of "old Europe." It’s also a source of satisfaction that they have a president who’s no smarter than they are.

All this is bad news for the anti-war movement, which needs to enlarge its ranks. "Mit der Dummheit kŠmpfen Gštter selbst vergebens," wrote Schiller. "With stupidity even the gods struggle in vain."

A Question of Scale

On several occasions, I’ve been confronted with the argument that powerful countries have always acted like the US, so why condemn it so much?  I respond that since one can find anti-Semitism in every country, why do we condemn Nazi Germany so much?  It’s a question of magnitude, is it not?  The magnitude of US aggression puts it in a league all by itself, just as the magnitude of the Nazis’ anti-Semitism does.

Precautionary Measures

Cuba received heavy criticism recently, from various shadings of leftists as well as those to the right, for its sentencing a number of "dissidents" to prison because of their very close political and financial connections to US officials. Critics say that Cuba shouldn’t have over-reacted, that these people weren’t really guilty of anything criminal. 

Personally, I think that the Cuban trials were too quick and some of the sentences were too long. But we have to keep in mind that, before the US invaded Iraq, there was extensive CIA and US military liaison on the ground with Iraqi dissidents and lots of propaganda to soften up the population – propaganda beamed into Iraq with the indispensable help of other Iraqi dissidents.

The US has been on a ferocious rampage of bombing, invasion, taking over countries, and threatening the same to others. The US ambassador to the Dominican Republic declared: "I think what is happening in Iraq is going to send a very positive signal, and it is a very good example for Cuba."

Speaking of Fidel Castro, an advisor to Florida Governor Jeb Bush said: "The administration has taken care of one tyrant already.  I don’t think they would vacillate about taking care of another one." In this same period, there was a wave of violent hijackings involving Cuban planes and boats.

Can Cuba be expected to ignore all this? Is Washington’s work with Cuban dissidents to be seen as a purely harmless undertaking? Not done for a purpose? How can Cuba not feel extremely threatened, even more than the usual threat of the past 44 years? How can they not take precautionary measures?

"The causes of the malady are not entirely clear but its recurrence is one of the uniformities of history: power tends to confuse itself with virtue and a great nation is peculiarly susceptible to the idea that its power is a sign of God’s favor, conferring upon it a special responsibility for other nations – to make them richer and happier and wiser, to remake them, that is, in its own shining image."

-Former US Senator William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power (1966)