Why Do They Laugh at Us?

When, after 9/11, we asked ourselves “Why do they hate us?”, the American public displayed its seldom-seen, reflective side. The president, however, despite reprising the question in his post-attack speech, avoided answering it and instead simply enumerated what it was about us he thought attracted hate: our freedoms ­ such as religion, speech, and the right to assemble. Repudiation of freedom as a concept may come with the territory if you’re a tyrant. But it’s insufficient to fuel the fire of those ready to die for a cause sacred to them. More likely, young Jihadists are jealous of American men’s “rights” to disposable income and, however al-haram (that which is prohibited), unmarried sex.

Otherwise, the consensus is that the Middle-East is galvanized by the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the avaricious eye we cast toward their oil, and our military presence in Saudi Arabia. Europeans, meanwhile, their own countries swelling with Muslim immigrants, fear the potential for repercussion our actions create.

Almost overnight, the president’s impersonation of exported American screen stars like Clint Eastwood and Charles Bronson soured on those he sought to impress overseas. It soon gave way to a new persona, that of the anti-Jerry Lewis ­ clownish but, unlike the original, far from beloved by foreign audiences. Since then the question “Why do they hate us?” has been forced to compete for shelf space with another: Why do they laugh at us?

Consigned to the past are dumb Poles, greasy Pakis, and jibbering Chinamen. Today the blundering American is the object of ridicule. Let’s review the punchlines that the comedy review this administration has become walked right into.

1. Ahmed Chalabi. The mere mention of his name has the power to get a crowd going all the way from late-night talk shows to the inner circle of Sadr-Baathochists trying to blow up as many Iraqis on the ground as we do with air power. Despite devaluing the Jordanian dinar when he embezzled his own Petra Bank into extinction, there was no devaluing his intelligence in the eyes of the CIA.

Intelligence is one thing, advice another. When, to grease his reentry into Iraqi governance, Chalabi counseled the Coalitional Provisional Authority to dissolve the Iraqi army, law and order broke down. If that didn’t make us look foolish enough, we became the butt of the joke to the worldwide intelligence community when it was discovered Chalabi had gone double agent and was passing information to Iran.

2. Kyoto. To justify our refusal to sign on, the US claimed that because it bound developing countries to less strict greenhouse-gas-reducing standards, the Kyoto Protocol was unfair. In the process, we disqualified ourselves from incentives permitting signatory countries to profit by selling its surplus of carbon credits. We thus not only treated the world to a craven display of pettiness, we shot ourselves in the foot.

Worse was to come when Russia signed on. It may have just been in the service of its bid to join the World Trade Organization and to counter international indignation over Premier Putin’s stripping away any pretense of democracy. Nevertheless, according to an editorial in the Guardian, Russia breathed “new life into the protocol,” which had been in “a coma since 2001.” Talk about death’s door: Whoever thought that a country from the former Soviet bloc, the last bastion of the hacking cough (think Polish smokestacks), would become more environment-friendly than the US? The rest of the world had to be wondering what wackiness our skit writers would come up next.

3. Zarqawi. In July 2002, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Ghost Rider in Arabic) set up a weapons lab in northern Iraq, producing ricin and cyanide. The administration apparently decided that, whether man or composite, he was better off at large as a symbol of all things terror. Now, however, the figure of 700 deaths for which the Zarqawi entity is responsible is batted around. This includes, of course, Americans, who he ­ or it — has called “mouthwatering targets.” One can imagine the merriment among knowing Middle-Easterners over how we’ve made Zarqawi the Sub-commandant Marcos of Iraq.

4. Stolen munitions. In its haste to prove international inspections superfluous, the Bush administration had rejected International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offers to secure high-tech HMX, RDX, and PETN explosives at Al Qaqaa. However, while an undermanned American force watched, 377 tons were carted away to await their likely transformation into improvised explosives (IEDs). Meanwhile, not only had the scene been repeated at another military installation near Camp Anaconda, our logistical supply base fifty miles north of Baghdad, but another 250,000 tons of weaponry remains unaccounted for, including hundreds of surface-to-surface warheads in Baqouba.

The irony is as obvious as those who stole the stuff out from under our noses while also, according to InformedComment.com’s Juan Cole, being filmed by our surveillance satellites. That reminds me. Did you hear the one about that cooky Mohammed El-Baradei, director-general of the IAWA, reminding US officials that they were responsible for safeguarding nuclear material the IAEA had sealed in 1991?

Like that was gonna happen. So what if heavy machinery and demolition equipment were used to methodically dismantle dozens of nuclear sites and cart them off to rising young nuclear star Iran? Just that our cavalier attitude to the apparatus for making nuclear weapons has swept any vestiges of the WMD justification for war completely off the table.

5. Tariq Ramadan. Just as he’d been appointed to a prestigious position at Notre Dame, this moderate Muslim scholar had his visa revoked by the US apparently because of his tainted lineage (his grandfather was Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna). It certainly couldn’t have been because of his inspirational message to European Muslims — reject your feelings of victimization and take part in your new countries, but demand your rights ­ or could it? Hey, we can barely take our Muslims docile, much less participating in democracy.

Like leaving nuclear sites under-guarded undercut the WMD rationale, casting out Ramadan gave the lie to our fall-back position that we invaded Iraq to spread democracy. Worse, it provides Europeans, despite their own problems with Muslim fundamentalists, with yet more yucks over how provincial we Yanks are.

6. 9/11 Stock Profits. In the days preceding the attack, stock markets experienced a jump in “put” options (bets that a stock price will fall), especially American Airlines, the carrier of Flights 11 and 77. It was bad enough that profits were made off 9/11. But a German firm hired to retrieve data from the remains of 9/11 computers discovered that more than $100 million in illegal transactions had streaked through actual WTC brokerage computers before and during the attack (as reported by Michael Ruppert in Crossing the Rubicon). Insider trading became not only an inside, but a sick, to the point of sadistic, joke.

7. Palestine. First former Bush 41 advisor Brent Scowcroft held Bush 42 up to ridicule in the Financial Times by describing the president as “mesmerized” by Ariel Sharon. Then the International Solidarity Movement trained several dozen Palestinian community leaders in nonviolent tactics. Thus, not only was Israel shown up, but also the US, which has never been shy about milking Martin Luther King’s Gandhian protests for all the human rights PR it could.

8. National Debt. Once Bush became president, as quick as a middle-manager who’s laid off cashes in his 401(k) and goes into credit card debt, the national debt went from a $236 billion surplus to a $413 billion deficit. Now they plan to borrow $147 billion more in the first quarter of 2005. Wags, at home and abroad, could scarcely be faulted for wondering if the Treasury Department puts its debt on a credit card issued by industry giant MBNA, which, as of March of this year, had contributed $605,041 to Bush.

In his latest missive, none other bin Laden himself used this as grist for his scorn mill: “As for the economic deficit, it has reached record astronomical numbersAnd it all shows that the real loser is youhe [Bush] gave priority to private interests over the public interests of America.” Nothing like being treated to a trenchant analysis by a mass murderer.

9. Foreign Debt. Besides the debt and the trade deficit — rocketing to $590 billion for this year — the United States is running up a foreign debt (more than $2 trillion) of such proportions that it threatens the stability of the global economy. Interpreting foreign lending as a sign that other nations have faith in our economy doesn’t cut it anymore. Picture instead financial advisors in back rooms of the European Union and China. Rubbing their hands together, they plot exactly what day to call in their debts, go Euro, and watch as the house of (credit) cards we’ve constructed comes tumbling down.

10. Iraq. When the administration sent our troops into Iraq under the assumption they’d be welcomed, it became obvious its neocon advisors, no matter how academic, obviously “don’t know much about history,” as Sam Cooke sang. But they did know that if we loved them and they loved us too, “What a wonderful world this would be.” How refreshing to find such utopianism in government circles. Unfortunately, it’s occupied countries that are liberated; those with their own tyrants are merely invaded.

A guy like Paul Wolfowitz, sitting in his ivory tower, dreaming his Israel uber Alles dreams, didn’t even have to crack a history book. He could have watched a movie (Battle of Algiers) or just used common sense. But as shown by entrusting Allawi with Iraq’s future, apparently common sense is too plebian for policy patricians. While absent-minded professors are always good for a few laughs, Iraqis, whose population is being systematically thinned, can be forgiven if, as well, their skin is a little thin and they’re not laughing.

Which brings us to a final question: Isn’t laughter preferable to hate? Consider, however, that even under the best of circumstances, it’s almost always at the expense of others. As for hate, the storm of emotions it evokes within hampers efficiency. A concentration camp guard, for example, was more likely to deride his victims whom he then killed out of contempt. Laughter, sad to say, is often just hatred harnessed.

RUSS WELLEN reviews books for the New York Press and is a contributing writer for onlinejournal.com. Visit him at Running Commentary.