“Eighteen months ago, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a coup…” droned President Bush in his weekend radio address. “Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of (Palestinian Authority) President Mahmoud Abbas,” Condoleezza Rice told reporters outside the White House January 2.
The idea is that those who’ve been governing in Gaza (to the extent that anyone can govern a concentration camp to which entry and exit by land air and sea is controlled by hostile forces, and to which almost all commerce is similarly controlled) are illegitimate, having seized power by force.
Bush and Rice, who’ve themselves seized so much by force in the last eight years (two countries’ worth) and sadly, will probably never be held accountable before a court of law for war crimes, have absolutely no shame. But to address this particular allegation of theirs.
The political party Hamas was elected to power in January 2006 with 44% of the vote to Fatah’s 41%, receiving 76 of 132 parliamentary seats, in the first democratic election held in the Palestinian territories. This was not what Washington wanted.
Washington had painted its “war on terror” in its Iraq phase as a war to get rid of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and end his close links with al-Qaeda. When such rationales stopped working, Rice began to depict the war, which we were told would go on for a long time and involve a lot more countries in the “Greater Middle East” as actually one to spread democracy
In August 2003 as the world recoiled in horror at the images of the carnage in Iraq, she gave an upbeat speech to the National Association of Black Journalists in Dallas about “speaking out on the side of people who are seeking freedom.”
“We must never, ever,” she declared, “indulge in the condescending voices who allege that some people in Africa or in the Middle East are just not interested in freedom, they’re culturally just not ready for freedom or they just aren’t ready for freedom’s responsibilities. We’ve heard that argument before, and we, more than any, as a people, should be ready to reject it. The view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham, and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad and in the rest of the Middle East.” (Thus she sought, rather cynically, to depict the current stage of U.S. imperialist aggression as a kind of Civil Rights Movement, Part II.)
But then, when regimes in the Middle East grudgingly responded to U.S. pressure and allowed freer elections in the next few years, the big winners were the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hizbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Palestine. To the extent that the people were able to use their freedom, they used it in ways that U.S. rulers indeed considered irresponsible. (One recalls Henry Kissinger’s comment as Secretary of State, following the election of Salvador Allende in 1970: “Chile shouldn’t be allowed to go Marxist just because its people are irresponsible.” That was before he helped organize the bloody fascist coup of 1973.)
Rule of thumb: “freedom” and “democracy” as used by top Washington officials are always window dressing or code words for something else.
After the poll results came in January 2006, Washington did not warmly congratulate the Palestinian people on their first successful election. Rather, officials plotted how to topple them, as the Nixon administration had once helped topple Allende. Immediately, Deputy National Security Advisor, neocon and extreme Zionist Elliott Abrams advocated a “hard coup” by Fatah (once vilified as “terrorist” when headed by Yassir Araft but now viewed as a U.S. ally under the leadership of the compliant Mahmoud Abbas) against Hamas. http://conflictsforum.org/2007/elliot-abrams-uncivil-war/
And indeed, in June 2007 Fatah, heading the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, attempted such a coup, but was outmaneuvered by its rivals in the Sunni organization. David Wurmser, former advisor to Dick Cheney on the Middle East, himself a neocon who left the administration in July 2007, admits, “[W]hat happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen.” http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804
In other words, Bush and Rice have it precisely backwards. They’re lying, right up to the end of this administration-based-on-lies. Having tried to dismiss the democratically elected Palestinian leadership for two years as “terrorist,” they want to further delegitimatize it by misrepresenting its path to power.
In doing so they of course insult the Palestinian democratic electorate, those who resisted the pre-empted coup to which Wurmser alludes, and those resisting the criminal invasion of the Gaza now underway with the blessing of Bush, Cheney, Rice, Elliott and the whole lame-duck, lying crew.
* * *
Speaking to small business owners in New Jersey June 16, 2003, Bush denounced those denying that “Saddam Hussein was a threat to America and the free world in ’91, in ’98, in 2003” as “revisionist historians.” As a C-average history major at Yale, Bush seems to have picked up that term without understanding what a “revisionist historian” really is. I’m inclined to think his main exposure to it comes from reading about criticism of revisionist accounts of the Holocaust, and so in his mind, historical revisionism is an inherently bad thing, an effort to falsify history. When he attacks his critics as “revisionist historians” he’s basically saying, “I’m right (in this case on the threat Saddam posed throughout the ’90s), you’re wrong, end of discussion.” Such a small, simple mind.
When asked by Bob Woodward, “How is history likely to judge your Iraq war?” Bush replied: “History, we don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” As an historian I don’t know where to begin to dissect that exchange, or Yale’s manifest failure. What is clear is that here’s a man who, while ignorant and disinterested in history, is totally comfortable with manufacturing a past out of whole cloth, without concern for the consequences.
“The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Not true, but hey, no biggie!
“Eighteen months ago, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a coup…” And in Bush’s revision of history, proceeded to provoke a peace-loving Israel to appropriately attack. The result of that attack? At this point, perhaps 500 Palestinians in no position to judge or know anything, but millions more alive with a sharp sense of the actual history—that will have very real consequences in the future.
GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org