Last Tango in Baghdad

Then trample and dance, thou Oppressor!
For thy victim is no redressor;
Thou art her sole possesor
Of her corpses and clods and abortions–
they pave the path to the grave.

Hearest thou the festival din
Of death and destruction and sin,
And Wealth crying Havoc! within?
Tis the bacchanal triumph that makes Truth dumb,
Thine Epithalamium.

Lines Written During the Castlereagh Administration
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819

There’s a ritual scene in many westerns of the 50s. A drunken gunslinger picks out a frail bar patron, bullies him into the street and barks, “Dance”. When the befuddled man doesn’t respond immediately, the smirking gunslinger fires his six-shooter at the feet of the unlucky dupe until he is forced to dance a sadistic jig. The nervy townsfolk clap to the beat of the bullets. They’d better.

So it goes in Baghdad. Iraqis dance in the streets. Flowers are piled on top of M-1 tanks. The bronze idols of a power maddened regime are smashed.

Is it jubilation over the fall of Saddam? Or relief because the American bombs have finally stopped falling? Is the outcry one of genuine gratitude for liberation? Or a sensible attempt to ingratiate themselves with their conquerors? Or a mixture of the above? Remember the Shi’ia cheered the entry of the Israelis into Lebanon.

The war was a cakewalk after all: the path paved by the bodies of Iraqi civilians and conscripts, who died defenseless against a storm of remote control bombs.

The three week invasion offered barely a battle to speak of: a few small arms firefights, a couple of wobbly Scuds launched harmlessly into the Kuwaiti desert, an ambush or two. That was about the most the Iraqis choose (or could) mount. Even the gurus of 4th Generation Warfare must feel cheated that the much-ballyhooed asymmetrical street fight never really materialized. The Americans killed nearly as many American and British soldiers as the Iraqis did.

This begs the question: if it was so easy, why was it necessary? How big of a threat was the Beast of Baghdad, after all? Did his rusting army, even the supposedly fearsome Republican Guard, really pose any kind of the threat to the US? Or even the pampered sheiks of Kuwait?

The relentlessly hyped arsenal Weapons of Mass Destruction were never used, if they even existed in any militarily useful condition to begin with. The long-range rockets were never launched. The oil wells and dams were never dynamited, despite Rumsfeld’s pompous claims about “environmental terrorism”-surely one of the crudest hypocrisies yet uttered by this apex hypocrite.

Why was it necessary? Who benefits? What will happen once the military moves on?

These are questions that will never get serious answer over here. Indeed, the questions may even never be asked, in the scripted kabuki shows that are passed off as Bush press conferences.

Too bad. They are the only questions that really matter.

So Bush and Blair wallow in their triumph, the Beavis and Butthead of the new Imperium. Blair at least seems harried, a bit chastened by the bitter upheaval against him in Britain and by acting as a hatchet man for the Dauphin from Crawford.

Bush drifts deeper and deeper in messianic stupor each day. He has assumed a new pose: chin lifted, eyes fixed on the heavens as if waiting on his next communication from God. Where is the Goya of Los Caprichos when you need him most?

Meanwhile, American war profiteers and fundamentalist preachers are poised to descend on Iraq like carrion feeders. US troops have been instructed to pray before they begin their daily routine of destruction and death-making. Army chaplains withhold water to parched civilians in exchange for Christian baptisms. Franklin Graham, minister to the President, hovers in Jordan, like a vainglorious Rasputin, itching to unleash his robotic minions on the people of Iraq to desecrate their religion and rack up conversions to his apocalyptic brand of Christianity like a body count for the Lord.

Halliburton executives are no doubt dejected that Saddam’s men didn’t torch more oil wells in southern Iraq and must be pinning their hopes on errant smart bombs to make up for the shortfall by doing damage to the northern oil fields outside Kirkuk. Billions are at stake. The war must go on.

One of the other corporate sponsors of the Iraq invasion is Fluor-Daniel, the southern California-based company staffed by former Pentagon and CIA officials. Fluor is a front-runner in the quest to get the $600 million contract to rebuild Iraq’s roads and public buildings. It has a financial stake in wide-spread looting.

Fluor bills itself as an environmental services company though its track record is more harrowing than Dow Chemical’s. In the mid-90s, Fluor took over the management of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state, arguably the most polluted site in North America. Aggressive cost-cutting measures and radioactive waste don’t mix, as the people of the Pacific Northwest discovered to their horror when Fluor’s mismanagement of the site nearly caused an explosion that would have spewed radioactive debris from Spokane to Portland. Fluor’s flirtation with a real dirty bomb makes Saddam’s nuclear program look like a high school chemistry lab.

But it gets worse. Fluor’s tactics are as vicious as any American company since the days of Anaconda Copper. In a lawsuit filed last week, a lawyer for South African workers details how Fluor brutalized and exploited its black workers. “This company has a long history of human rights violations in South Africa,” says John Ngcebetsha, a lawyer for the workers. “It cares nothing about the society’s in which it works and its involvement in Iraq would be disastrous.”

The lawsuit claims that Fluor hired former members of the South African secret police to work as security guards and then dressed them up in Ku Klux Klan robes to smash a strike by workers protesting meager wages and horrid working conditions. Good morning, Baghdad: Let freedom ring.

Over at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld and his loathsome henchman Paul Wolfowitz busily plot a new round of threat inflation and target other recalcitrant regimes. Lately, the talk has been of smashing Syria and the old whipping boy, Qaddafy, in Libya. Iran and North Korea are already on the hit list as part of the infamous Axis of Evil. One wonders what lesson they’ve taken from all this? Will preemptive wars send a “use it or loose it” message to Pyongyang and Teheran. Does it make a nuclear strike on South Korea or Japan a near certainty?

Also watch for the war-plotters to shift the crosshairs back closer to home, back to the other obsession of the Reagan era: Central and South America. Of course, they’ve never really stopped.

The Pentagon’s proxy war continues unabated in Colombia. In Venezuela, the CIA tried to topple Chavez once and failed. They will try again. Bolivia is becoming unruly. Lula must be taught a lesson. And, in a regime fixated on settling old scores, the biggest prize of all sits only 90 miles away: Castro’s Cuba, another nation emaciated by a cruel embargo. Already there are reports of renewed CIA mischief in Havana. Rest assured, the Bush gang doesn’t want Castro to die in power. His toppling would be their ultimate glory.

Early on I held out some hope that the fatuous Rumsfeld might be forced out as a result of his incessant meddling with the war plan. But now he preens in triumph, like Scipio Africanus overseeing the final humiliation of Carthage. His mania has been only been whetted. Rumsfeld is man of overweening vanity. He publicly relishes each big blast, scoffing as the corpses pile up in rotting mounds in the morgue at Al-Kindi Hospital, like the Vincent Price character in Roger Corman’s darkly prescient masterpiece, The Masque of the Red Death. Rumsfeld’s rationalizations for war are a facile game of three card monte.

Why did Rumsfeld make the assassination- by-bunker- buster-bomb of Saddam and his family such an unyielding obsession? The bungled hits cost tens of millions each, put US pilots at risk and slaughtered dozens of nameless innocents. It seems obvious that the Bush gang desperately wants to avoid a war crimes trial, where the legitimacy of their invasion might be put to a fatal legal test.

Official lawlessness is the new order of the day and corporate looters roam the globe, packing cruise missiles as their dance card.

So heed to the music and step fast. The dance of death has only just begun.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR’s new book, Been Brown So Long, It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, will be published in September by Common Courage Press.


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Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter  @JSCCounterPunch

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