Evil is as Evil Does

Months later, I still get a stream of interesting hate mail from my February CounterPunch submission “Why the Right Hates America.

Some of it was simply insulting, and some of it was reasonable and respectful, and either way I was always happy to respond in the same spirit. Sometimes I could shift a corespondent from the former category to the latter, as with the software manager to whom the screed below was addressed. First he said I was a “fricken idiot,” and then, with a little prompting, he was willing to participate in an exchange of ideas.

Of course, unsurprisingly, that exchange led to his not-so-original observation that “one of the things that blinds the left is their inability to acknowledge evil.” Since parodying vast generalizations about “the left” was the point of the original piece, I guess I’m not too successful in engaging hearts and minds on the right. But I pass my reply along in case it might prove useful to other members of the Evil Empire:

Dear Mr. C.,

My good man, it appears that you’re simply regurgitating propaganda stereotypes about “the left” which you’ve gleaned from hate radio. The difference between the right and the left is not over recognizing the existence of evil, but over the degree to which the state should regulate the economy. The tens of millions of folks on the left (who were, after all, the majority of voters in the last presidential election) aren’t some monolithic mass of moral relativists who chew on Foucault and Gramsci over radicchio and lattes. They’re mostly people who believe that other capitalist democracies have found a better balance in allocating public resources like health care and education, and who are tired of state subsidy of the wealthy.

Actually, that’s what I believe, so I shouldn’t stereotype the left, either. I have a leak for you from the other side of the cultural divide: we can’t even agree on our secret handshake, let alone the nature of Truth.

Either way, I don’t need any condescending lectures from the right on the existence of evil, or, God help us, moral relativism.

First of all, the main critique from the anti-war movement (which included many on the right as well as the left) was not that Saddam was anything other than evil and that “loving him away” was a viable policy. The thrust of our argument was

1.) The administration was lying about WMD capabilities, because

2.) There were economic motivations for the war, and that

3.) Valuable alliances and treaties were being undermined, while

4.) Havoc would be unleashed on Iraqi civilians, and

5.) Our security would be weakened by an open-ended commitment in a volatile region (this last shared by many in the Pentagon and CIA).

The fact that the Ba’athist regime was deposed in three weeks negates none of these points. In fact, the speed with which the regime collapsed, and its refusal to use any WMDs to prevent that, tends to support the first point regarding the nature of the threat. To be charitable, the jury is still out on the other points, but it’s not looking too good for the pro-war camp.

And for that matter, bringing up the Kurds is a particularly weak point when arguing on behalf of “moral clarity.” They’ve been screwed four times already by Uncle Sam, or five if you want to count Woodrow Wilson. First by Henry Kissinger, who armed them to put pressure on Saddam, then cut them off and left them to Saddam’s mercies after he did what was desired. Then by Bush senior, who encouraged them to rebel against Saddam and then had our troops literally stand by and watch while they were slaughtered (of course Bush – and not the UN – later declared “no-fly zones” over northern Iraq when the resulting plight of the Kurds gave him an excuse to do so).

The Kurds were also betrayed by the CIA in 1996 when the Agency staged a poorly-planned “Bay of Pigs”-style uprising using faulty intelligence from Iraqi exile groups who told them only what they wanted to hear – just like the Cuban exiles in 1961. And finally, the Kurds have been slaughtered – in numbers far in excess of anything Saddam did to them – by our NATO ally Turkey, using donated cash and military aid from Washington, which only increased when the killing intensified.

Note that none of the above examples of moral relativism are the work of “peaceniks.”

As long as we’re on the topic, perhaps we might examine the moral relativism of Donald Rumsfeld, who travelled to Baghdad to kiss Saddam’s ass on behalf of Ronald Reagan (and the Bechtel corporation) in 1983. Or we might take a look at the clarity of Dick Cheney’s morality, specifically regarding his surreptitious use of Halliburton subsidiaries to do millions of dollars worth of business with Saddam during the 1990s – and then lying about it to the American public while running for Vice President.

We could, if you like, examine the morality of George H. W. Bush’s sons getting rich off of insider trading and sweetheart deals with Gulf dictators arising from their daddy’s war against Saddam, as long as we’re on the topic.

It’s certainly useful in propagandizing the American public into supporting your war to compare Saddam’s evil to that of Hitler or Stalin, thus implying that he posed a comparable threat. Of course those guys headed two of the major military powers on the planet, whereas Saddam in 2003 headed a poorly-equipped military with no air force or navy, which had been weakened by 13 years of sanctions.

Certainly if you were one of the victims, it doesn’t matter which of those regimes was the most evil. But in terms of sheer numbers, the per capita genocide champ after Hitler was Suharto of Indonesia – a valued US ally for all 30 of his bloody years in power. Likewise, Saddam was a piker compared to Mobutu in Zaire, or the Rios Monnt regime of Guatemala, both cherished allies of Uncle Sam. Come to think of it, so was Saddam, as long as he was useful to us.

Of course the point of bringing this up is not that I “hate America” or to complain that we didn’t do “everything right” (please). The point is that governments which mount crusades against “evil” only when it turns out to be convenient to their economic or geostrategic policies may have other motivations at work besides those which are publicly professed.

Now, as far as sanctions go, it’s true that they were imposed by the UN Security Council in response to the invasion of Kuwait. They have been maintained ever since by US and British veto power. One of the conditions of the sanctions program is that any permanent Security Council member can put a “hold” on any imports to Iraq, and the US and UK have consistently used that power to deny life-saving medical equipment and infrastructure to the Iraqi people.

In fact we now have declassified Pentagon documents from the first Gulf War which prove that the US intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water treatment plants and electrical generating stations (itself a war crime), with the intention of making the sanctions more lethal. This was done in the full knowldege that Iraqi civilians would die in large numbers from easily preventable diseases, in order to put political pressure on the Ba’athist regime. And the use of “holds” was employed strategically in order to prevent the rebuilding of the health care system and the civilian infrastructure. Can this be characterized as anything other than evil?

I can of course document what I say here if the so-called “liberal media” has failed to bring any of this to your attention. In the meantime, you might want to do an internet search on “Hans von Sponek” or “Denis Halliday,” two UN officials who resigned in protest of these sanctions of mass destruction.

It’s true that France, Germany and Russia have done business in Iraq, as, of course have the US and the UK. One can even claim that some governments’ opposition to war stemmed in part from economic motivations – though one can hardly do so with a straight face while simulateously denying economic motives on behalf of the US and UK for mounting a war.

But you are simply mistaken in claiming that France or Russia profit from the oil for food program. That program was set up because, just as the Pentagon hoped, Iraqi civilians were dying in large numbers, though that had become something of a PR headache. It was set up in such a way that the Iraqi regime could not profit from it or in any way control the revenue (though they did profit from smuggling oil outside of it).

A quarter of the revenue was skimmed off the top to pay reparations to the al-Sabah dictatorship of Kuwait, and much of the rest has gone to pay claims by the US and Britain. It’s true that the UN itself has received quite a bit of the total, but the individual member states didn’t make a dime. They made their money off business deals, just like Cheney and the Bushes.

The Iraqi government cooperated in every way to make sure that the food got to their people, since that helped to maintain their dependence on the government. In fact, as the anti-war movement has long argued, the sanctions made Saddam and his thugs more powerful, not less. If we really wanted to get rid of Saddam without a war, and if we really cared about the suffering of the Iraqi people, we would have lifted those sanctions years ago. Plenty of dictators more or less as brutal as Saddam have been deposed by their own people, many in relatively bloodless revolutions, including regimes in the Philippines, Indonesia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Saddam’s departure might also have been hastened by the International Criminal Court, that treaty supported by most of the planet and trashed by the current adminstration. By indicting Saddam and his top lieutenants for crimes against humanity, we could have given other members of the Ba’ath regime an incentive to overthrow him. That may or may not have worked, but without it one certainly can’t argue that all peaceful means had been exhausted before the resort to warfare. The point isn’t that the UN is “noble,” but that international cooperation, and laws which bind the powerful as well as the powerless, are a better means of insuring security than unilateral cowboy adventures.

One might note that UN weapons inspectors destroyed more of Iraq’s weapons than either one of the Gulf Wars. Nor did the current administration make the case for why we had to have a war immediately in March 2003, and that we couldn’t spare another week, or month, or year for the inspectors to do their job. Of course, now that it’s our job to prove that those weapons existed, we say it might take a year or more. Imagine that.

Nobody is arguing that Iraqis don’t deserve to live free of dictatorship. Indeed, the anti-war movement has argued on behalf of a good many countries that deserve to be free of dictators, whether or not those regimes are supported by our tax dollars. It’s a good thing that Saddam is out of power, though it’s unclear what sort of regime will replace him. But Uncle Sam shouldn’t strain his arm patting himself on the back. He still supports some of the nastiest regimes on the planet, including those of Uzbekistan, Columbia and Eritrea. If we’re going to go to war against every government that commits evil, we’re going to be busy from now until doomsday.

And finally, you guess that I “hated” seeing Iraqis pulling down the Saddam statue and cheering us as liberators. Let me set you straight. I’m very happy that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. I’m angry but not surprised that so many in this country are gullible enough to see staged propaganda events as some sort of vindication for the devastation we’ve brought to Iraq. The big statue across from the Palestine Hotel was pulled down by US troops, not by Iraqis. The US media dutifully cropped their pictures of that event to imply that the Iraqi crowd was much larger than it really was, when in fact the square was mostly empty. The photos show that many of the Iraqis cheering us on were members of Ahmad Chalabi’s INC, exiles grown fat off of Pentagon subsidies and flown in for the occasion.

Meanwhile Iraqi children are dying from cholera and cluster bombs, and our depleted uranium rounds have contaminated still more of the country for centuries to come. All of this was avoidable, but not if the United States wanted to dictate the composition of the next Iraqi government. Some Iraqis cheered the fall of Saddam without cheering the US, some regard the US as a liberator, some will curse us to their dying day, some are throwing rocks at us, and some are throwing grenades. And we’ve already started gunning down protestors, and whether or not you believe the honorable Pentagon when it says we were fired on first, that hardly shows a universal welcome from the folks on the street.

Whether we leave behind as much chaos as did our recent liberations in Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia remains to be seen. But of course that needn’t trouble anyone on the right, since you folks have a monopoly on the clear-headed recognition of evil.

PS: If you want more on Reaganomics, Election 2000, North Korea, or the most prosperous decade in recent history (hint: not the one you think), just ask. And don’t flatter yourself that I took all this time just to enlighten you. With a few edits, I can prepare this article for a wider audience, which other muddle-headed leftists can copy and send to their morally pure rightist friends. Let me know if you’d like your email address included.

Just kidding!

MARK ZEPEZAUER is an author and cartoonist based in Tucson, Arizona. His most recent book is Boomerang! How Our Covert Wars Have Created Enemies Across The Middle East And Brought Terror To America, from Common Courage Press. He can be reached at: comicnews@earthlink.net