We Do What We Like

The Bush administration announced on December 22 that it had cancelled a joint anti-terrorism exercise with the armed forces of the Philippines and that a US aid team assessing a typhoon-struck region was being withdrawn. Other aid was being suspended. Why the sanctions? Was Manila guilty of flouting international law and indulging in gross human rights abuses involving illegal imprisonment and torture? Or perhaps it had clandestinely constructed hundreds of nuclear weapons, like Israel.

Not quite. The reason for Washington’s fury was that a US marine found guilty of rape by a Manila court was being kept in a Philippines’ jail rather than being handed over to the US. According to Washington this is contrary to the Visiting Forces’ Agreement which provides that American servicemen convicted of a crime should not remain in the custody of the nation in which the crime was committed. But there was no question of negotiation.

Bush Washington adopted its usual policy of instant bullying.

Forget diplomacy and reasoned argument, because that’s not what Bush people do. What they do is behave like a bunch of spoiled rich kids who throw tantrums and kick out at grown-ups when they don’t get exactly what they want.

No matter that Bush has declared the US-Philippines relationship to be “stronger today than at any time in our recent history”. No matter that when he met with Philippines’ President Arroyo, “the two presidents agreed that the partnership of the two countries ‘has taken on new vitality and importance in the context of the global war on terrorism’.”

Bush pledged to give the Philippines every assistance in his flailing, stumblebum “war on terror”–except when its government doesn’t do exactly what Washington demands.  When Manila dared behave contrary to US orders there had to be revenge.  It is difficult to follow the thought processes of those who ordered the reprisals (especially suspension of aid to typhoon victims), but as usual they’ve spotlighted their country in the worst possible way.

Washington must have known that if President Arroyo overruled the court that decided the marine rapist should stay in national custody during appeal proceedings she would instantly be dubbed a US puppet.  Propaganda ammunition would be handed to her political opponents as well as the terrorist bands fighting against her government. But if she told Washington that custody of the marine rapist is entirely a judicial matter, she and her country would continue to be punished. Whatever she did  she would lose credibility and trust among her own people, courtesy of US arrogance.

So nobody can be surprised that on December 29 President Arroyo gave in to Washington’s pressure and permitted the rapist Marine to be moved to the US embassy, thereby proving that intimidation works. (Are there prison cells in the US embassy in Manila?)

It is little wonder that the US is so detested and despised internationally,  because this squalid incident in the Philippines is only one example of the insolent arrogance which Bush has developed into an obscene art form in the past few years. The instinctive reaction of the Bush Bunker has once again contributed to increasing the scorn and hatred with which America is regarded worldwide.


Then there’s the insane attitude to Iran, which is probably going to be bombed by the US (and maybe Israel) sometime soon.

The USS Eisenhower arrived in the Persian Gulf on December 11 to join another thirty or so warships prowling Iranian shores with the intention of intimidating its citizens. These nuclear-capable aircraft carriers, with their accompanying destroyers, submarines and marine assault groups, are supposed to be vital weapons in the Bush “war on terror”.  Another nuclear carrier, the USS John C Stennis, with its strike group, will leave San Diego in late January, bound for the Gulf.  Some people might imagine that it has been tasked to chase Osama bin Laden,  although the message to Iran is blunt and crude : we’re coming to get you.

But while it’s OK for Washington to be belligerent and provocative, it most certainly isn’t OK in Washington’s eyes for Iran to try to prepare itself to meet a US assault by hundreds of cruise missiles, over 150 carrier-borne and 200 ground-based strike aircraft, and some score of B-52s and billion-dollar ‘stealth’ B-1 and B-2 bombers, all of which are poised to pound the Iranians into the ground.

Presented with an open military threat by an aggressive enemy, the Iranians decided they had better continue to prepare their armed forces against attack. So they conducted a defensive military exercise in November 2006. They actually tested missiles, which brought screams of shock, horror and outrage from planet Bush.

Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, commander of US naval forces menacing Iran, was atwitter and hysterical about the Iranian exercise. In the period when US forces were being augmented by 100 strike aircraft and a posse of destroyers he exclaimed on Fox News (where else?) on November 3 that “This [Iranian exercise] is really meant to intimidate and provoke fear in those who live here”.  This is such a bizarre and ludicrous reaction that one wonders about the man’s grasp on reality. (Except promotion reality, of course.)

In addition to the dozens of US warships prowling its shores, Iran is surrounded by US military bases in Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. All are on a war-footing, as is the US Indian Ocean nuclear base of Diego Garcia whose inhabitants have been illegally banished from their home. (The territory is British-owned, and a British court ruled that they should be allowed to return there. Its decision has been contemptuously ignored.)

It has to be said that the Iranian government is in the main composed of weirdoes who want to keep their citizens in a state of religious servility, just like the royal dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, the most prominent Arab ally of Bush Washington. (It is much easier to control people if they truly believe that God will punish them for disobeying a government’s orders when these are executed (literally) in the name of religion.) But even if they are weirdo religious fanatics they have a right and responsibility to prepare their country against attack from the swaggering Bush. It was Bush, after all, who declared in April last year that “nothing is off the table” when asked if he was planning for the possibility of a nuclear strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Bush wasn’t just saber-rattling : he made an unmistakable and deliberate threat to use nuclear weapons against Iran. And it should be noted that Operation Divine Strake [sic], a US nuclear bomb simulation to assess the effects of a nuclear strike on underground targets, is to be conducted in the Nevada desert in the next few weeks. The main meaning of “Divine” is “of God or a deity”, so you can imagine what the Muslim world thinks about this particular example of Christian fundamentalism.

Put yourself in the position of a national leader who has been told publicly that his country could be divinely nuked by an enemy having over 8,000 nuclear weapons that can be delivered by the enormous array of submarines, aircraft and ballistic missiles that surround you.  It has been proclaimed loudly and vehemently by your self-declared enemy that you are part of an “Axis of Evil”.  In Iraq, to your west,  there is utter bloody chaos. In your eastern neighbor, Afghanistan,  the same applies. Both countries were invaded and are now occupied by US forces who have killed, maimed, tortured and humiliated thousands of their citizens.

There is no national leader in the world who could see his or her country to be so openly and thuggishly menaced and not take action to deter the aggressor and prepare for an attack.

Washington is obsessed with Iran, and has been for decades. But in the unstructured and intellectually anarchic Bush era,  when absurd emotional insults take place over reasoned diplomacy (remember the silly Bush outburst that  “I loathe Kim Jong Il”?),  there is no room for unconditional negotiations. Rice says she will talk with Iranian leaders only if they first do what she tells them. Why should they?

Bush Washington is happy to hazard relations with an ally by over-reacting in a trivial case involving a US military criminal, thereby appearing foolish, vindictive and malign. Similarly it is eager to confront other nations by imposing conditions on negotiations that are deliberately intended to humiliate their leaders in the eyes of the world and of their own citizens.  It then menaces and tries to punish those who can’t hit back. (Which is why Bush is going to have to be careful about attacking Iran. Iraq’s air defenses were destroyed during years of strikes by US and British aircraft which flew hundreds of missions over the country, ostensibly on “humanitarian” grounds ;  but Iran is in the process of receiving some Russian air defense missiles that will probably shoot down a few attackers. This would not play well in Congress.)

Bush Washington decided long ago that quiet, mature, cultured diplomacy is for wimps. Bush policy is to take a quick and vulgar swing at anything that displeases him, and the fact that he can’t understand the complexities of international affairs is of no consequence in the White House. George W Bush wants to appear Almighty and thinks the best way to do this is to wield a big stick and to hammer anyone who disagrees with him.

The Bush legacy is clear. When he collapses into well-deserved obscurity in two years’ time he will leave a world that he has caused to be bitterly anti-American. The Bush policy of  “We do what we like” has been a disaster far beyond America’s shores. No matter the nature of the next administration, the United States will reap the rotten, stinking harvest of Bushism for years to come.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY spent five weeks in October-December in Pakistan, with a visit to Afghanistan. He can be reached through his website at www.briancloughley.com.


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.