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The words and actions of the Bush administration have so often been labeled “Orwellian” that it’s become virtually a cliché. But one can not resist adding to the list.
At a July 1 White House press briefing, a reporter asked spokesman Ari Fleischer: “Ari, 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 Bush 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.
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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”. The United States, meanwhile, insisted that the suffering of the population was not due to the sanctions, but was the result of Saddam’s lavish lifestyle. (“People of Iraq … the amount of money Saddam spends on himself in one day would be more than enough to feed a family for a year,” said a Pentagon radio program broadcast into Iraq). So then Saddam and his regime were overthrown. But the suffering continued anyhow in much the same ways. And then, with their usual lack of embarrassment, Washington officials declared that the sanctions are actually harmful and that they would have be removed in order to provide humanitarian aid and rebuild the country.
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Reading about a horribly bloody suicide attack upon a Shiite Muslim mosque in Pakistan on July 4 that killed dozens, and which is blamed on members of the Sunni Muslims, I imagined what many Americans would think about this: “That’s good, they should all just kill each other with their uncivilized tribal violence if they can’t learn how to get along any better than that.”
Then I thought about the American tribe which recently killed thousands of the Afghan tribe and then thousands more of the Iraqi tribe, for no discernible good reason or purpose, cheered on by the many other members of the American tribe at home waving their tribal flags.
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US military commanders in Iraq have branded the guerillas as “subversives” and “terrorists”.
Donald Rumsfeld said there are five groups opposing US forces — looters, criminals, remnants of Saddam Hussein’s government, foreign terrorists and Iranian-backed Shiites.
An American 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 American official dares to have cross his lips is the idea that any part of the resistance is composed of Iraqi citizens who do not 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 United States moral authority is as absolute and unchallengeable as its military power?
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The Bush administration is agreeing that Charles Taylor, president of Liberia, can and should step down from office and leave the country even though Taylor 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, with no exceptions, no going into exile, no mercy. To show how serious Washington was about this, they 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 which 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 Jackson was a friend of his. Jesse was not sent there to hound Taylor about his widespread human rights violations. Instead, in June 1999, Jackson and other American officials drafted entire sections of an accord that made RUF leader, Foday Sankoh, Sierra Leone’s vice president and gave him control over the diamond mines, the country’s major source of wealth. (See New Republic of July 24, 2000)
And 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 whose exploitation contracts were held by two Clinton cronies, Jean Raymond Boulle and Robert Friedland. Moreover, there was Maurice Tempelsman, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s paramour at the time, whose Antwerp, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv diamond marts arranged for Sierra Leone diamond sales to Tiffany and Cartier.
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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.
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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 on.
Polls conducted in June showed that 42% of Americans believed that Iraq had a direct involvement in what happened on September 11, most of them being certain that Iraqis were among the 19 hijackers; 55% believed that Saddam Hussein had close ties to al Qaeda; 34% were convinced that weapons of mass destruction had recently been found in Iraq (7% were not sure); 24% believed that Iraq had actually used chemical or biological weapons against American forces in the war (14% were unsure).
“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 the government 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 Americans, 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 American anti-war movement which needs to enlarge its ranks. “Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens,” wrote Schiller. “With stupidity even the gods struggle in vain.”
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On several occasions I have been confronted with the argument that powerful countries have always acted like the United States, so why condemn the US 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 into a league all by itself, just as the magnitude of the Nazis’ anti-Semitism does.
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Cuba has recently been heavily criticized, by various shadings of leftists as well as by those to the right, for its sentencing a number of “dissidents” to prison because of their very close political and financial connections to American officials. Critics say that Cuba should not have over-reacted so, that these people were not really guilty of anything criminal.
While I personally think that the Cuban trials were too quick and that some of the sentences were too long, we have to keep in mind that before the United States 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 United States 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.” An advisor to Florida Governor Jeb Bush, speaking of Fidel Castro, said: “The administration has taken care of one tyrant already. I don’t think they would vacillate about taking care of another one.” There was in this same period a wave of violent hijackings of 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?
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“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)
WILLIAM BLUM is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir. He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com