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He never fails, does he? Never fails, that is, to reduce world catastrophes and international dramas to the lowest common denominators of petty petulance, malevolence and spite. I write of the latest efforts by Bush to smear a public figure; in this case Mr Jan Egeland, of the United Nations. Being a senior UN official naturally makes him an attractive and even mandatory target for the spleen of Bush, but this instance of senseless insult highlights the ethos of the Bush regime : in any circumstances in which it is imagined there might be the slightest criticism implied of the mighty Emperor, ignore the moral imperatives and go for the weakest jugular you can find. Then get the media to state what you said over and over again until the original comment is lost in the fetid muck of Bush propaganda.
What Mr Egeland said about international aid for disasters was that rich nations had become stingy in helping poor nations in times of calamity, which, for most of them, is all the time. As the records show, he was absolutely right. Sudan’s Darfur is but one example, and one finds it difficult to list all the southern African countries that are hell holes of disease, poverty, corruption, hideous violence and atrocious squalor. Bush talks a good Aid-to-Africa line, even if little is happening to alleviate the horrors of the region, as not a dollar of the $5 billion pledged in the so-called Millennium Challenge Account for development assistance has actually been committed. But it doesn’t matter that Mr Egeland was right, because the most important thing for the Bush Empire is that nobody other than Bush is permitted to be right about anything. If it even appears as if a person is criticizing George W Bush in the slightest degree, he or she must be attacked and destroyed.
The Bush administration’s initial reaction to the tsunami disaster was to pledge $15 million for relief aid. At about the same time Mr Egeland stated that rich nations were ‘stingy’. But the Bush conscience (such as that might be) was obviously, if belatedly, pricking him down at the ranch, because after a couple of days of relaxation he got round to announcing that the amount would be increased to $35 million and pronounced that “the person who made that statement [about rich nations being stingy] was very misguided and ill-informed”. (You’ve got to laugh, sometimes, even in the blackest moments, at the man’s silly petulance.)
The sequence of decision and comment is interesting. There is no doubt that the US package was announced as $15 million by poor, limping, discredited Powell. Here is Barry Schweid of Associated Press : “The United States dispatched disaster teams today and prepared a $15 million aid package to the Asian countries hit by a massive earthquake and tsunamis”. Certainly, Powell said that long-term projects would be put in place for rebuilding projects , but make no mistake: the money on the table was $15 million. At the same time, Reuters reported the assistant administrator of the US Agency for International Development, Ed Fox, as saying “At this point, we don’t know exactly how much of that will be in terms of cash to be disbursed, or whether it’ll be commodities. But we anticipate that our initial reaction to this is going to be in the neighborhood of $15 million. That may increase, it may change”. No decision had been made, obviously, although there might be a decision to get rid of Mr Fox for not being supportive enough of the Emperor.
Following this, the ranch-dwelling, brush-cutting Bush used his favorite word, yet again : “We will prevail over this destruction”, he intoned, and announced that the aid package would be $35 million. And he became emotional and petulant about Mr Egeland’s comment, over which he also decided to prevail.
This would be a storm in a teacup but for the fact that the Bush reaction was not just petty and malignant, but pathetically self-righteous and amazingly tiny-minded. Whatever happens in the world, according to the Bush Empiricists (Empiricons?), must in some way be used to demonstrate the all-seeing wisdom and untiring (if ranch-dwelling) benevolence of Emperor George, who has at his disposal the mightiest misinformation and disinformation machine the world has ever known.
Herr Dr Goebbels, the master propagandist of the German Reich, would be in ecstasies about the effectiveness and ruthless efficiency of the Bush mind-benders. The cult of personality, as indulged in by Stalin, Chairman Mao, and, nowadays, Kim Jong Il, the “peerless leader” of North Korea, pales in comparison with Washington’s portrayal of Emperor George as the omnipotent, far-sighted, “war-president” whose compassion for the people of the world is, well . . . peerless. It’s hocus-pocus, of course, but it plays well with the Bible-thumpers and contributes to the massive and massively dangerous superiority complex of the dimwitted Bush.
I’m in Paris, so was able to read the print version of The International Herald Tribune first thing on December 30. The IHT published Bush’s announcement that “I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed” in a bold type box on Page 1 at the top right ; in the text of the lead story on Page 1 ; again in a prominent box on Page 4 ; and in the body of a major piece on the same page titled “US to give long-range aid in Asia ; Bush reacts angrily to the label of ‘stingy’.” The features were taken from the New York Times and were interesting in their adulation of the peerless leader whom they reported as stating that “our government” provided $2.4 billion for disaster relief last year to help the desperate plight of millions.
$2.4 billion is a great deal of US taxpayers’ (or “government”) money : it is the cost of about 3 weeks’ military occupation of Iraq and not all that much less than the $2.7 billion that Bush gave Sharon last year to help the desperate plight of Israelis.
Neither can $35 million be disregarded. It is, after all, only a fraction less than a quarter of the cost of the 2004 Republican Convention in New York ($166 million, including $7,000 for coffee and donuts for the media and $50 million for ‘security’), and will no doubt go a long way to help the desperate plight of millions in Asia. But the amount was misreported by the New York Times/IHT as “the initial American contribution of $35 million”.
No ; it wasn’t the initial contribution. The initial contribution was $15 million which was increased to $35 million when Bush’s advisers decided he must get more PR mileage than was coming his way. This is all part of the disinformation process. Now I’m not blaming the reporter altogether, because there are deadlines to be met, and the inaccuracy might seem to be trivial. But it is not trivial, because it assists the Bush administration in its psychological operations against the public, domestically and internationally. The world has been given to believe that Bush’s first and instant reaction was to open the coffers for $35 million, which it wasn’t, and that Mr Egeland had the bad taste and temerity to criticize the Emperor, the ‘war president’ himself, for being personally ‘stingy’, which he didn’t.
Bush and his minions cannot abide the truth. Neither do they wish to permit the Peerless Leader and War President to be displayed to the public in other than a rosy glow of sycophantic adoration. It worked for Stalin and Mao, and it seems to work for the nutcase Korean Kim, so why shouldn’t it work for Emperor George?
In the long run it won’t work for him because some of the media eventually wakes up and tells it like it is. In this case the New York Times swung into action with an editorial that put things on an even keel. It stated that “Mr. Egeland was right on target. We hope Secretary of State Colin Powell was privately embarrassed when, two days into a catastrophic disaster that hit 12 of the world’s poorer countries and will cost billions of dollars to meliorate, he held a press conference to say that America, the world’s richest nation, would contribute $15 million. That’s less than half of what Republicans plan to spend on the Bush inaugural festivities” – and so on. So the initial reportage of the debacle was certainly overcome. But as all those who practice psyops know, it is the initial story that counts : and this is where the White House is brilliant. It disseminates its propaganda without caring about essential truth. The message is given to the world. The impression is made. And all the later sage comment and even direct retractions will not eradicate that critical first impression.
Bush is a petulant ass whose interest in global matters begins and ends with his own image. His instinct is to be confrontational and malevolent, and to insult and if possible destroy those who do not agree with whatever line he is peddling. The only honest people in his administration have either quit or been dismissed, and the operations of his vile adherents have destroyed the careers many other, such as Valerie Plame.
People who dare contradict or criticize the Bush regime are dealt with by being publicly vilified, as has happened in the case of the honorable Mr Egeland. With a bit of luck, he will survive the attentions of the Bush jackals and will be allowed to continue to perform his UN duties in the devoted fashion for which he is well-known around the world (but not in Bush Washington). Bush the petulant president has struck again, but this time the arrow has rebounded and he has been revealed to be the silly little man that he is. Let’s hope that the arrows aimed at Messrs Annan, ElBaradei and so many others have the same effect.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com