Feature article of the day:

‘Liberation’ is not freedom

Iraqis mistrust the intentions of the West, and a history of failures supports their attitude

Avi Shlaim
Sunday March 30, 2003
The Observer

The fierce resistance that British and American troops have encountered must have come as a very unpleasant surprise to Tony Blair and George Bush. They assumed Saddam Hussein was so unpopular and isolated that the Iraqi people would welcome the troops as liberators and help them to overthrow his regime.

But the popular uprising has not materialised. However much they detest Saddam’s regime, a great many Iraqis view he coalition forces asinvaders rather than liberators. Our leaders gravely underestimated the force of Iraqi nationalism.

Blair and Bush seem unaware, or only dimly aware, of the crucial role Iraqi history plays in shaping popular attitudes to the conflict. Iraqis are not an inert mass whose sentiments can be switched on and off to serve the agenda of outside powers.

They are a proud and patriotic people with a long collective memory. Britain and America feature as anything but benign in this collective memory. Blair has repeatedly emphasised the moral argument behind the resort to force to depose an evil dictator. Over the past century, however, Britain rarely occupied the high moral ground in relation to Iraq.

The US has even less of a claim on the trust and goodwill of the Iraqi people after its calamitous failure to support the popular insurrection against Saddam and his henchmen in March 1991.

Iraq was only one element in the victors’ peace which was imposed on the Middle East in the aftermath of World War I without any reference to the wishes of the people. Iraq’s borders were delineated to serve British commercial and strategic interests.

Originally, Iraq was made up of two Ottoman provinces: Basra and Baghdad. Later, the oil-bearing province of Mosul was added, dashing hopes of Kurdish independence. The logic behind the enterprise was summed up by one observer as follows: ‘Iraq was created by Churchill, who had the mad idea of joining two widely separated oilwells, Kirkuk and Mosul, by uniting three widely separated peoples: the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shias.’

The man hand-picked by Britain to rule over this unwieldy conglomerate was Faisal, a Hashemite prince from Arabia and one of the leaders of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks.

After the French evicted Faisal from Syria and put an end to his short-lived kingdom, Britain procured the throne of Iraq for him as a consolation prize. It cleared his path by neutralising opposition, deporting the leading contender and organising a plebiscite in which 96 per cent of the people were implausibly said to have voted for Faisal as king.

The 1921 settlement not only sanctioned violent and arbitrary methods: it built them into the structure of Iraqi politics. Its key feature was lack of legitimacy: the borders lacked legitimacy, the rulers lacked legitimacy and the political system lacked legitimacy.

The settlement also introduced anti-British sentiment as a powerful force in Iraqi politics. In 1941, Rashid Ali al-Gailani led a nationalist revolt against Britain which was put down by force. In 1958, as a direct result of its folly over Suez, Britain witnessed the defenestration of its royal friends in Baghdad in a bloody military coup.

In 1980, Saddam attacked Iran. During the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War, Britain and its Western allies increasingly tilted towards Iraq. The Scott inquiry of 1996 documented the Thatcher Government’s duplicitous record in selling arms to Iraq and in providing military credits.

A billion pounds of taxpayers’ money was thrown away in propping up Saddam’s regime and doing favours to arms firms. It was abundantly clear Saddam was a monster in human form. Britain did not manufacture this monster, but it turned a blind eye to the savage brutality of his regime. Britain also knew Saddam had chemical and biological weapons because Western companies sold him all the ingredients necessary.

Saddam was known to be gassing Iranian troops in their thousands in the Iran-Iraq War. Failure to subject Iraq to international sanctions allowed him to press ahead with the development of weapons of mass destruction.

In March 1988, Saddam turned on his own people, killing up to 5,000 Kurds with poison gas in Halabja. Attacking unarmed civilians with chemical weapons was unprecedented. If ever there was a time for humanitarian intervention in Iraq, it was 1988. Yet no Western government even suggested intervention. Neither was an arms embargo imposed on Iraq.

In 1990, Britain belatedly turned against Saddam only because he trod on our toes by invading Kuwait. He had a point when he said Kuwait was an artificial creation of British imperialism. But Iraq’s other borders were no less arbitrary than the border with Kuwait, so if that border could be changed by force, the entire post-World War I territorial settlement might unravel.

The main purpose of the Anglo-American intervention against Iraq was not to lay the foundation for the ‘New World Order’ but to restore the old order. The fact that the UN explicitly authorised the use of force in Resolution 678 – ‘the mother of all resolutions’ – made this an exercise in collective security and gave it legitimacy in the eyes of the world, including most Arab states.

On 28 February 1991, Papa Bush gave the order to cease fire. Britain was informed of this decision but not consulted. The declared aims of Operation Desert Storm had been achieved: the Iraqi army had been ejected from Kuwait and the Kuwaiti government was restored. But Saddam kept his deadly grip on power.

After the ceasefire, Bush encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up, only to betray them when they did so. When the moment of truth arrived, Bush recoiled from pursuing his policy to its logical conclusion. His advisers told him Kurdish and Shia victories in their bids for freedom may lead to the dismemberment of Iraq.

Behind this theory lay the pessimistic view that Iraq was not suited for democracy and that Sunni minority rule was the only formula capable of keeping it in one piece. Once again, the Iraqis were the victims of cruel geopolitics.

In order to topple Saddam, it was not necessary for the allies to continue their march to Baghdad, my hometown. It would have been sufficient to disarm the Republican Guard units as they retreated from Kuwait through the Basra loop. This was not done. They were allowed to retain their arms, to regroup and to use helicopters to ensure the survival of Saddam and his regime. The Kurds in the North were crushed and fled to the mountains. The Shias in the South were crushed and fled to the marshes.

In calling for Saddam’s overthrow, Bush Snr evidently had in mind a military coup, a reshuffling of Sunni gangsters in Baghdad, rather than establishing a freer and more democratic political order. As a result of his moral cowardice, he snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Saddam stayed in power and continued to torment his people, while Kuwait remained a feudal fiefdom.

A quick, decisive war was followed by a messy peace. Few wars in history had achieved their immediate aims so fully and swiftly, yet left behind so much unfinished business. The war’s aftermath was a reminder that military force, when used to tackle complex political problems, is merely a blunt instrument.

The war also demonstrated that Americans are better at sharp, short bursts of military intervention than at sustained political engagement aimed at fostering democracy in the Middle East.

This inglorious history of Western involvement in Iraq goes a long way to explaining why the Iraqi people are not playing their part in our script for the liberation of their country. This is why Blair, in his press conference last Tuesday, was so anxious to persuade ordinary Iraqis that this time Britain is determined to overthrow Saddam.

He directed his appeal particularly at the Shia Muslims who make up 60 per cent of Iraq’s 24 million people. ‘This time we will not let you down,’ he pledged solemnly. But it is naive to expect mere words to erase the bitter legacy of the past.

Given their own experience of oppression by Saddam and betrayal by the Western powers, it is only natural that ordinary Iraqis prefer to let the two sides fight it out among themselves.
Avi Shlaim is professor of international relations at Oxford University and author of ‘The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World’.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003


Gruesome toll grows as army grinds to a halt

Lucky… Saja Jaafar, 3, lies in a Baghdad hospital after surviving the bombing of the al-Naser market in the Shuwaila district. Photo: AFP

Silver stars and red tracer fire lit the sky as the Al Shualla people washed their dead – as many as 58 of them were slaughtered when a bomb exploded in their little marketplace.

Some carried blanket-draped coffins through darkened alleyways, others strapped them to the roofs of battered cars.

But from all houses the same teary cries drifted into the chilly night: “There is no god but God.”
As each family group left the mosque, the men faced Mecca in prayer and the lights of passing cars etched the outline of their women, standing in tight knots off to the side.

Iraqi officials insist this bomb, the second in 48 hours to hit a civilian market, was dropped by a US or British jet. The Americans are investigating; they say they don’t know.

But the suffering and the grief radiating from a small crater in
this impoverished Shi’ite neighbourhood in Baghdad will make it harder
for ordinary Iraqis to see the US-led invasion force as an army of
liberation, rather than one of conquest.

At the Al-Noor Hospital, 500metres from the marketplace in
north-west Baghdad, tearful men held each other in their arms as
distraught women yelled the names of the dead.

A man, sobbing with grief, called over and over: “That man! That man!” Relatives said he was referring to President George Bush, who, in Washington, appeared to be warning of more setbacks before victory
in saying: “We are now fighting the most desperate units of the dictator’s army. The fierce fighting under way will demand further courage and further sacrifice, yet we know the outcome of this battle.”

In the face of stiff resistance and severe front-line problems – security and logistic – US commanders have now decided on a pause of up to six days in their advance on Baghdad.

The Al Shualla carnage came on a day in which the US seemed to put aside its undertaking not to damage Iraq’s infrastructure: waves of strikes, including the first confirmed use of 4700-pound (2100 kilogram) bunker-buster bombs, destroyed much of Baghdad’s telephone system.

In Al Shualla, at 6.30pm, people were busy in the market. Ghannun Hussein was waiting for his 59-year-old father with the vegetables for their evening meal when he heard the whoosh of a missile.

Standing by his father’s hospital bed later, he said: “I heard the explosion. I ran. All the people were on the ground; people’s arms and legs were cut off, there was too much blood.”

Najin Abdula, who works at the hospital, raced to the scene: “There was the body of a man with no head. I stopped cars in the traffic to get them to bring the injured to the hospital.”

Then he opened the door of a morgue refrigerator for The Sun-Herald.
Inside were five bodies. One young man had half his head blown away; the nose of another was gone and his flesh and clothing were torn.

As family members and hospital staff, many in tears, worked feverishly, survivors who could talk spoke of their split-second encounter with war.

Khalid Jabar Hussein, 49, with shrapnel in his arm, wrist and leg, said: “First I heard an aircraft and then the missile coming at us and I don’t know anything after that. I fell down.”

Sajaja Jaafur, one of five in her family who were injured, lay in her bed, crying with pain as she tried to turn to face her mother. Her lovely olive skin was torn, there was a tube in her nose and
a blood-stained dressing around her abdomen.

Samaan Kadhim,52, sedated with a bad gash on his back, said:”This was a civilian area, there were no soldiers. It was just a market.”

In the midst of all this, Dr Ahmed Sufian lashed out: “Our floors are covered with blood of our people, the walls are splashed with blood. Why, why, why? Why all this blood? I’m a doctor, but I can’t understand such things. They say [they] come to free us? Is this freedom?”

There was no overt support for Saddam Hussein, but all blamed the US for the bombing. There was no hostility towards western reporters invited by families to witness their grief.

“America did this to us,” said 50-year-old Kadhim Ali. “Why does it hate the Iraqi people?”

This story was found at:



War Thoughts

Following are some good articles I have read over the last few days. Enjoy.

How to save Brand America

As Iraqis quake in justified terror, Americans fret about the threat to their ‘values’ and wonder why they are so widely disliked. Here one friend of America lists the reasons… and the remedy

Henry Porter
Sunday March 23, 2003
The Observer

See the online article here

On Friday evening a spokesman from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles explained that it was important to continue with a scaled-down Oscar ceremony ‘when American values were under attack’. As his statement was relayed by the BBC we learned that American B52s had dropped their payload over Iraq and that hundreds of cruise missiles were striking at Baghdad. The TV screen began to pulse with livid blooms from the explosions.

I can’t have been the only one to wonder how the man from the Academy had produced the classic response of victimhood when at that very moment American values were being unambiguously asserted at the heart of Saddam’s regime. That night’s bombing will be remembered in the Arab world for a generation or more.

No one in the Middle East can possibly fail to take the lesson about the reach and precision of US military might, let alone the determination to use it. But once the hostilities are over in Iraq, the greatest challenge to the American Imperium is to replace some of the fear that the bombing has inspired with a reputation for fairness and doing what it has promised in Iraq and Palestine.

Last year, before Bush had decided to act on Iraq, the White House commissioned a report from advertising and media executives on the way America was seen in the world. The report shook Bush. Even America’s allies characterised the US as arrogant, self-aborbed and hypocritical. Bush reacted by setting up an office of global communications in the White House, removing the responsibility for selling ‘Brand America’ from the State department. It duly began work last autumn.

If selling the US presented problems last year, the task is vastly more difficult today. A country which stands for individual freedom and whose people are so eager to do the right thing – even though, as Churchill observed, they may explore all other options beforehand – is now considered by millions to be halfway between behemoth and pariah.

Americans are amazed by the slide in their standing, particularly after the attacks of 9/11. Last year Congressman named Henry Hyde asked: ‘How is it that a country that invented Hollywood and Madison Avenue has allowed such a destructive and parodied image of itself to become the intellectual coin of the realm?’

The short answer to this is that Hollywood and Madison Avenue are used to sell the American dream to Americans and a once-receptive audience outside the US. They are not remotely equipped to address the deep rifts in policy and purpose which have opened up between the United States and the rest of the world. Like it or not, America is seen as greedy and domineering, and this is a dangerous development for all those who believe that liberal democracy depends on America’s success and acceptance in the world.

In the two-and-half years since Bush came to power after a disputed Florida count involving just 170,000 unreadable ballot papers, attitudes have greatly sharpened, partly because Bush’s mandate remained unconvincing but also because of the unapologetic nature of his regime. The exercise of power came to the new administration as second nature.

Many of its members – Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz – were veterans of up to four previous Republican administrations. In exile they had seized the idea – in a way Clinton never chose to – that the power of the US, financially, technologically and militarily, could and should be deployed to consolidate American dominance in the twenty-first century.

At the same time, Bush seemed a second-rate figure and his unshakeable self-satisfaction was hard to attribute to any achievement or intellectual distinction. Instead, he appeared to be the passive beneficiary of his father’s career. And George Junior seemed to be a man so untroubled by his actions that he was in bed and asleep 45 minutes after addressing the nation on TV this week. To many this was the action of a man too breezily unimaginative to envisage the bombardment that would take place over Baghdad. Unfair maybe, but that is how it looked.

Another characteristic of the administration which is responsible for the new levels of anti-Americanism is that it not only disdains meaningful consultation with lesser powers, it does not even bother to go through the motions. When Roosevelt returned from Yalta he stopped off in Egypt to consult and explain. When America was building the alliance for the 1991 Gulf war, Secretary of State James Baker toured the Middle East to reassure Turkey and its Arab neighbours. Bush, on the other hand, has no knowledge of the Middle East and his Secretary of State Colin Powell has mostly remained in Washington and New York these past months to make sure that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfowitz didn’t make a grab for US foreign policy.

But it would be wrong to blame Bush and co for America’s reputation today. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the victory of the 1991 Gulf war there has been a gradual increase in what historian and author Margaret Macmillan, in her book, Peacemakers , calls ‘American exceptionalism’.

‘Faith in their own exceptionalism,’ she writes, ‘has sometimes led to a certain obtuseness on the part of Americans, a tendency to preach at other nations rather than listen to them, a tendency to assume that American motives are pure where those of others are not.’

The habit of exceptionalism came to the fore during the Clinton era when despite a seemingly amenable diplomatic stance there were many occasions when America opted out. It was of course Clinton’s government that failed to sign a treaty banning landmines because US personnel might be compromised in the Korean demilitarised zone. Clinton also refused to ratify the treaty to set up the International Criminal Court in Rome. Why? Because America believes its international responsibilities as chief peacekeeper and enforcer placed its citizens at unusual risk of prosecution.

In his first months of the Bush presidency the US opted out the Kyoto agreement to limit carbon emissions and the Anti-Ballistic Missiles treaty on the grounds that it wanted to develop a missile defence system. Last summer plans to provide the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention with inspection powers were blocked by the Bush administration – which, given the pretext for going to war on Iraq, certainly seems a bit rich.

Across a broad range of activities America either asserted its right to special privileges or simply declared itself to be above the law. The most starkly hypocritical example was when in March last year the free trade enthusiasts of the Republican administration capitulated to demands by US steel makers to impose tough new tariffs on steel imports. At the same time America, as a country which strongly advocated a plan to reduce subsidies and tariffs in farming around the world, insisted on its right to give $100 billion in subsidies to its own farmers.

It has become clear that America has been shrewdly manipulating many agendas in its own interests. Some of these initiatives are so obscure or technical that they never reach the public consciousness, but they are important nonetheless.

For instance, in January last year Professor Robert Hunter Wade of the London School of Economics pointed out that the US had manipulated ‘the World Trade Organisation to commit to a General Agreement on Trade in Services that will facilitate a global market in private health care, welfare, pensions, education and water, supplied – naturally – by US companies, and which will undermine political support for universal access to social services in developing countries’.

Later in the same article he says: ‘Globalisation and global supervisory organisations enable the United States to harness the rest of the world to its own rhythms and structures.’

In other words, we are dancing to the American tune, probably much more than any of us in the cushioned West appreciate. In the developing world, however, there is a strong yet ill-defined sense that living standards are kept low in order to allow Americans to consume far more than they actually produce.

It would be unfair to reach these harsh conclusions without pointing out that America does provide much aid and expertise to the developing world and pours billions of dollars into peacekeeping operations. Still there is a gathering conviction that America is, to use the word of the moment, in state of persistent non-compliance on too many protocols, agreements, treaties and conventions to number. And that cannot be a good thing for the reputation of the US, nor an impression easily reversed by a few eager young men selling Brand America.

To a fond outsider like myself, America has become perplexingly inconsistent. Though this administration talks up democratic values it actively supports dictatorships in Pakistan and central Asia, and wobbled when a democratically elected government was threatened with a coup in Venezuela. Too often the Bush government’s principles are forgotten in the cause of political expedience. And this has been true during the fight against terrorism at home where suspects have been arrested and isolated from the normal judicial process without a qualm.

I’ve been amazed how quickly Americans have gone along with the loss of treasured and symbolic rights and saddened that the American media has not done more to oppose the authorities.

It is difficult to overestimate the shock that 9/11 delivered to the American psyche. Security has become a national obsession. It seems odd to the outside world that while US troops were being deployed in the Gulf, Americans were stocking up on bottled water and tape to seal their homes from chemical weapons attacks. There is something rather panicky and self-obsessed about the US today and it is in this atmosphere that any challenge to the government or security agencies is immediately classed as unpatriotic.

Americans will bridle at these observations, but as Philip Roth pointed out in October, since 9/11 they have indulged in ‘an orgy of national narcissism and a gratuitous victim mentality which is repugnant’.

Now the bombs have rained on Baghdad it is time for America to stop worrying about its values being under attack and to re-engage with the world, showing the openness and generosity that was once so admired.

That is the only way to reinvigorate Brand America.

Empire State, a novel by Henry Porter about a US/UK counter-terrorist operation, is published by Orion in September.

The great charade

As the West prepares for an assault on Iraq, John Pilger argues that ‘war on terror’ is a smokescreen created by the ultimate terrorist … America itself

John Pilger
Sunday July 14, 2002
The Observer

See the online article here

It is 10 months since 11 September, and still the great charade plays on. Having appropriated our shocked response to that momentous day, the rulers of the world have since ground our language into a paean of cliches and lies about the ‘war on terrorism’ – when the most enduring menace, and source of terror, is them.

The fanatics who attacked America came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. No bombs fell on these American protectorates. Instead, more than 5,000 civilians have been bombed to death in stricken Afghanistan, the latest a wedding party of 40 people, mostly women and children. Not a single al-Qaeda leader of importance has been caught.

Following this ‘stunning victory’, hundreds of prisoners were shipped to an American concentration camp in Cuba, where they have been held against all the conventions of war and international law. No evidence of their alleged crimes has been produced, and the FBI confirms only one is a genuine suspect. In the United States, more than 1,000 people of Muslim background have ‘disappeared’; none has been charged. Under the draconian Patriot Act, the FBI’s new powers include the authority to go into libraries and ask who is reading what.

Meanwhile, the Blair government has made fools of the British Army by insisting they pursue warring tribesmen: exactly what squaddies in putties and pith helmets did over a century ago when Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, described Afghanistan as one of the ‘pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world’.

There is no war on terrorism; it is the great game speeded up. The difference is the rampant nature of the superpower, ensuring infinite dangers for us all.

Having swept the Palestinians into the arms of the supreme terrorist Ariel Sharon, the Christian Right fundamentalists running the plutocracy in Washington, now replenish their arsenal in preparation for an attack on the 22 million suffering people of Iraq. Should anyone need reminding, Iraq is a nation held hostage to an American-led embargo every bit as barbaric as the dictatorship over which Iraqis have no control. Contrary to propaganda orchestrated from Washington and London, the coming attack has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’, if these exist at all. The reason is that America wants a more compliant thug to run the world’s second
greatest source of oil.

The drum-beaters rarely mention this truth, and the people of Iraq. Everyone is Saddam Hussein, the demon of demons. Four years ago, the Pentagon warned President Clinton that an all-out attack on Iraq might kill ‘at least’ 10,000 civilians: that, too, is unmentionable. In a sustained propaganda campaign to justify this outrage, journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have been used as channels, ‘conduits’, for a stream of rumours and lies. These have ranged from false claims about an Iraqi connection with the anthrax attacks in America to a discredited link between the leader of the 11 September hijacks and
Iraqi intelligence. When the attack comes, these consorting journalists will share responsibility for the crime.

It was Tony Blair who served notice that imperialism’s return journey to respectability was under way. Hark, the Christian gentleman-bomber’s vision of a better world for ‘the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.’ Hark, his ‘abiding’ concern for the ‘human rights of the suffering women of Afghanistan’ as he colluded with Bush who, as the New York Times reported, ‘demanded the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan’s civilian population’. Hark his compassion for the ‘dispossessed’ in the ‘slums of Gaza’, where Israeli gunships, manufactured with vital British parts, fire their missiles into crowded civilian areas.

As Frank Furedi reminds us in The New Ideology of Imperialism , it is not long ago ‘that the moral claims of imperialism were seldom questioned in the West. Imperialism and the global expansion of the western powers were represented in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilisation.’ The quest went wrong when it was clear that fascism was imperialism, too, and the word vanished from academic discourse. In the best Stalinist tradition, imperialism no longer existed. Today, the preferred euphemism is ‘civilisation’; or if an adjective is required, ‘cultural’.

From Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, an ally of crypto-fascists, to impeccably liberal commentators, the new imperialists share a concept whose true meaning relies on a xenophobic or racist comparison with those who are deemed uncivilised, culturally inferior and might challenge the ‘values’ of the West. Watch the ‘debates’ on Newsnight. The question is how best ‘we’ can deal with the problem of ‘them’.

For much of the western media, especially those commentators in thrall to and neutered by the supercult of America, the most salient truths remain taboos. Professor Richard Falk, of Cornell university, put it succinctly some years ago. Western foreign policy, he wrote, is propagated in the media ‘through a self righteous, one-way moral/legal screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence’.

Perhaps the most important taboo is the longevity of the United States as both a terrorist state and a haven for terrorists. That the US is the only state on record to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism (in Nicaragua) and has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on governments to observe international law, is unmentionable.

‘In the war against terrorism,’ said Bush from his bunker following 11 September, ‘we’re going to hunt down these evil-doers wherever they are, no matter how long it takes.’

Strictly speaking, it should not take long, as more terrorists are given training and sanctuary in the United States than anywhere on earth. They include mass murderers, torturers, forme and future tyrants and assorted international criminals. This is virtually unknown to the American public, thanks to the freest media on earth.

There is no terrorist sanctuary to compare with Florida, currently governed by the President’s brother, Jeb Bush. In his book Rogue State , former senior State Department official Bill Blum describes a typical Florida trial of three anti-Castro terrorists, who hijacked a plane to Miami at knifepoint. ‘Even though the kidnapped pilot was brought back from Cuba to testify against the men,’ he wrote, ‘the defence simply told the jurors the man was lying, and the jury deliberated for less than an hour before acquitting the defendants.’

General Jose Guillermo Garcia has lived comfortably in Florida since the 1990s. He was head of El Salvador’s military during the 1980s when death squads with ties to the army murdered thousands of people. General Prosper Avril, the Haitian dictator, liked to display the bloodied victims of his torture on television. When he was overthrown, he was flown to Florida by the US Government. Thiounn Prasith, Pol Pot’s henchman and apologist at the United Nations, lives in New York. General Mansour Moharari, who ran the Shah of Iran’s notorious prisons, is wanted in Iran, but untroubled in the United States.

Al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan were kindergartens compared with the world’s leading university of terrorism at Fort Benning in Georgia. Known until recently as the School of the Americas, it trained tyrants and some 60,000 Latin American special forces, paramilitaries and intelligence agents in the black arts of terrorism.

In 1993, the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador named the army officers who had committed the worst atrocities of the civil war; two-thirds of them had been trained at Fort Benning. In Chile, the school’s graduates ran Pinochet’s secret police and three principal concentration camps. In 1996, the US government was forced to release copies of the school’s training manuals, which recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the arrest of witnesses’ relatives.

In recent months, the Bush regime has torn up the Kyoto treaty, which would ease global warming, to which the United States is the greatest contributor. It has threatened the use of nuclear weapons in ‘pre-emptive’ strikes (a threat echoed by Defence Minister Geoffrey Hoon). It has tried to abort the birth of an international criminal court. It has further undermined the United Nations by blocking a UN investigation of the Israeli assault on a Palestinian refugee camp; and it has ordered the Palestinians to replace their elected leader with an American stooge. At summit conferences in Canada and Indonesia, Bush’s
people have blocked hundreds of millions of dollars going to the most deprived people on earth, those without clean water and electricity.

These facts will no doubt beckon the inane slur of ‘anti-Americanism’. This is the imperial prerogative: the last refuge of those whose contortion of intellect and morality demands a loyalty oath. As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, the Nazis silenced argument and criticism with ‘anti German’ slurs. Of course, the United States is not Germany; it is the home of some of history’s greatest civil rights movements, such as the epic movement in the 1960s and 1970s.

I was in the US last week and glimpsed that other America, the one rarely seen among the media and Hollywood stereotypes, and what was clear was that it was stirring again. The other day, in an open letter to their compatriots and the world, almost 100 of America’s most distinguished names in art, literature and education wrote this:

‘Let it not be said that people in the United States did nothing when their government declared a war without limit and instituted stark new measures of repression. We believe that questioning, criticism and dissent must be valued and protected. Such rights are always contested and must be fought for. We, too, watched with shock the horrific events of September 11. But the mourning had barely begun when our leaders launched a spirit of revenge. The government now openly prepares to wage war on Iraq – a country that has no connection with September 11.

‘We say this to the world. Too many times in history people have waited until it was too late to resist. We draw on the inspiration of those who fought slavery and all those other great causes of freedom that began with dissent. We call on all like-minded people around the world to join us.’

It is time we joined them.

· This is a revised extract from The New Rulers
of the World , by John Pilger, published by Verso. To order a copy, for
£8 plus p&p (rrp £10), call the Observer Books Service on 0870 066

The last thing the US wants is democracy in Iraq

Nick Cohen
Sunday July 28, 2002
The Observer

See the online article here

Although everyone is lining up for or against a war on Iraq, few are asking what the war would be for. We know it would be against Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. But what will the Americans and their British sidekicks be fighting to replace the tyrant with?

It’s impossible to say with certainty, but most reports from Washington suggest that Bush wants another tyrant and Blair will concur. The alternative is the Iraqi National Congress, a loose and fractious coalition, but one which, for all its faults, is committed to democracy. The CIA and State Department hate it and the bad example a liberated Iraq would give to the repressed people of Saudi Arabia.

The hostility has relented a little – the State Department has agreed to meet the INC on 9 August. We’ll have to see what happens, but Iraqi exiles believe the CIA has a list of 15 approved generals from which a new leader will be picked.

The prime candidate was General Nizar al-Khazraji, the army chief of staff when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the highest-ranking military defector. He lives in exile in Copenhagen and had nothing to fear except Hussein’s assassins until a Kurdish refugee saw him in the street.

In a scene straight out of Marathon Man, the refugee cried that this was the man who had levelled his village. The Danish Justice Ministry is now investigating charges that al-Khazraji was up to his neck in the ‘Anfal’ campaign of 1988 (named after the cheery chapter in the Koran on the spoils of war).

Uncounted numbers of Kurds were driven from their homes and tens of thousands died in prison camps. Al-Khazraji denies the charges, and many Kurdish leaders are working on the ‘my enemy’s enemy principle’ and don’t give a damn what he did.

If the US goes for a military hardman, it is likely to find a general against whom plausible allegations of war crimes can be made. The alternative is a democratic, federal Iraq, which gives rights to the Kurds and Shias currently suffering under the apartheid rule of the Sunni minority, and places the military under civilian control.

The INC says neither Downing Street nor the Foreign Office has raised a voice in support of its democratic dream. If anything, the Brits are more fanatical supporters of infinite injustice in the Gulf than the Yanks.


A Wilful Blindness

Those who support the coming war with Iraq refuse to see that it has anything to do with US global domination.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 11th March 2003

The war in Afghanistan has plainly brought certain benefits to that country: thousands of girls have gone to school for the first time, for example, and in some parts of the country women have been able to go back to work. While over 3000 civilians were killed by the bombing; while much of the country is still controlled by predatory warlords; while most of the promised assistance has not materialised; while torture is widespread and women are still beaten in the streets, it would be wrong to minimise the gains that have flowed from the defeat of the Taliban. But, and I realise that it might sound callous to say it, this does not mean that the Afghan war was a good thing.

What almost all those who supported that war and are now calling for a new one have forgotten is that there are two sides to every conflict, and therefore two sets of outcomes to every victory. The Afghan regime changed, but so, in subtler ways, did the government of the United States. It was empowered not only by its demonstration of military superiority but also by the widespread support it enjoyed. It has used the licence it was granted in Afghanistan as a licence to take its war wherever it wants.

Those of us who oppose the impending conquest of Iraq must recognise that there’s a possibility that, if it goes according to plan, it could improve the lives of many Iraqi people. But to pretend that this battle begins and ends in Iraq requires a wilful denial of the context in which it occurs. That context is a blunt attempt by the superpower to reshape the world to suit itself.

In this week’s Observer, David Aaronovitch suggested that, before September 11, the Bush administration was “relatively indifferent to the nature of the regimes in the Middle East”1. Only after America was attacked was it forced to start taking an interest in the rest of the world.

If Aaronovitch believes this, he would be well-advised to examine the website of the Project for the New American Century2, the pressure group established, among others, by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Jeb Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, Elliott Abrams and Zalmay Khalilzad, all of whom (except the president’s brother) are now senior officials in the US government. Its statement of principles, signed by those men on June 3 1997, asserts that the key challenge for the United States is “to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests”3. This requires “a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.”4

On January 26 1998, these men wrote to President Clinton, urging him “to enunciate a new strategy”, namely “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.”5 If Clinton failed to act, “the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard.” They acknowledged that this doctrine would be opposed, but “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.”6

Last year, the Sunday Herald obtained a copy of a confidential report produced by the Project in September 2000, which suggested that blatting Saddam was the beginning, not the end of its strategy. “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”7 The wider strategic aim, it insisted, was “maintaining global US pre-eminence”. Another document obtained by the Herald, written by Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby, called upon the United States to “discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role”8.

On taking power, the Bush administration was careful not to alarm its allies. The new president spoke only of the need “to project our strength with purpose and with humility”9 and “to find new ways to keep the peace”10. From his first week in office, however, he began to engage not so much in nation-building as in planet-building.

The ostensible purpose of Bush’s missile defence programme is to shoot down incoming nuclear missiles. The real purpose is to provide a justification for the extraordinarily ambitious plans – contained in a Pentagon document entitled Vision for 2020 – to turn space into a new theatre of war, developing orbiting weapons systems which can instantly destroy any target anywhere on earth11. By creating the impression that his programme is merely defensive, Bush could justify a terrifying new means of acquiring what he calls “full spectrum dominance” over planetary security.

Immediately after the attack on New York, the US government began establishing “forward bases” in Asia. As the assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones noted, “when the Afghan conflict is over we will not leave Central Asia. We have long-term plans and interests in this region”12. The US now has bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan and Georgia. Their presence has, in effect, destroyed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation which Russia and China had established in an attempt to develop a regional alternative to US power.

In January, the US moved into Djibouti, ostensibly to widen its war against terror, while accidentally gaining strategic control over the Bab Al Mandab – one of the world’s two most important oil shipping lanes. It already controls the other one, the Strait of Hormuz. Two weeks ago, under the same pretext, it sent 3000 men to the Philippines. Last year it began negotiations to establish a military base in Sao Tomé and Principe, from which it can, if it chooses, dominate West Africa’s principal oilfields. By pure good fortune, the US government now exercises strategic control over almost all the world’s major oil producing regions and oil transport corridors.

It has also used its national tragedy as an excuse for developing new nuclear and biological weapons13, while ripping up the global treaties designed to contain them. All this is just as the Project prescribed. Among other enlightened policies, it has called for the development of a new generation of biological agents, which will attack people with particular genetic characteristics14.

Why do the supporters of this war find it so hard to see what is happening? Why do the conservatives who go beserk when the European Union tries to change the content of our chocolate bars look the other way when the US seeks to reduce us to a vassal state? Why do the liberal interventionists who fear that Saddam Hussein might one day deploy a weapon of mass destruction refuse to see that George Bush is threatening to do just this against an ever-growing number of states? Is it because they cannot face the scale of the threat, and the scale of the resistance necessary to confront it? Is it because these brave troopers cannot look the real terror in the eye?


I have decided from now on to attach references to my articles. These may not always appear immediately, due to time constraints. The references for this article are as follows:

1. David Aaronovitch 9 March 2003. Thank the Yank. The Observer.

2. http://www.newamericancentury.org/

3. http://www.newamericancentury.org/statementofprinciples.htm

4. ibid

5. http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqclintonletter.htm

6. ibid

7. Since publishing this article, I’ve been given the URL for this document, which turns out to be publicly available. It is called Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century, and it can be downloaded at http://www.newamericancentury.org/publicationsreports.htm

8. Cited by Neil Mackay, 15 September 2002. Bush planned Iraq ‘regime change’ before becoming President. Sunday Herald.

9. Remarks By The President To State Department Employees, February 15, 2001. The White House.

10. Remarks By The President To Students And Faculty At National Defense University, May 1, 2001. The White House.

11. http://www.spacecom.af.mil/usspace

12. Sergey Ptichkin and Aleksey Chichkin, 22 January 2002. Russia ‘Encircled’ by US, NATO When Afghan Operation Over. Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

13. See for example Paul Richter, March 9, 2002. U.S. Works Up Plan for Using Nuclear Arms. The Los Angeles Times; and Edward Hammond, 21 September 2001. Averting Bioterrorism Begins with US Reforms. The Sunshine Project. http://www.sunshine-project.org/publications/pr/pdf/pr190901b.pdf

14. On page 72 of the document Rebuilding America’s Defenses (ibid)is the following sentiment: “And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool. This is merely a glimpse of the possibilities inherent in the process of transformation, not a precise prediction. Whatever the shape and direction of this revolution in military affairs, the implications for continued American military preeminence will be profound. As argued above, there are many reasons to believe that U.S. forces already possess nascent revolutionary capabilities, particularly in the realms of intelligence, command and control, and longrange precision strikes. Indeed, these capabilities are sufficient to allow the armed services to begin an “interim,” short- to medium-term process of transformation right away, creating new force designs and operational concepts – designs and concepts different than those contemplated by the current defense program – to maximize the capabilities that already exist.”



The Moral Calculus of Killing
“Precision Bombing” and the American Definition of Innocence
by Tim Wise; March 24, 2003

Imagine if you will that an enemy nation–for the sake of argument, let’s say North Korea, or China–were to attack the United States.

And let’s say they launched missiles and dropped bombs specifically on Washington D.C., having targeted the White House, Capitol Building, and Pentagon, and destroyed these facilities.

And let’s say that they took special care not to hit Georgetown, or Adams Morgan, or Tenleytown, or any of a number of residential areas surrounding the government installations that comprise an overwhelming share of the District’s real estate.

And let’s say that they also bombed perhaps a dozen other military installations around the nation, seeking to destroy American weapons, our war-making capacity, and the soldiers themselves who make up the backbone of the nation’s defense capabilities.

And let’s say that in the process, only a small number (relatively speaking) of non-combatant and non-governmental employees were killed or injured.

Now ask yourself, if such a horrible tragedy were to transpire, would there be even one American citizen who would accept from the North Korean or Chinese government any of the following:

“We are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid the loss of innocent civilian life.”

“Never before have weapons been used in war that were so precise, allowing us to target military and government installations without harming residential areas.”

“We take very seriously the need to protect the innocent from harm.”

Somehow, I can’t imagine that any reader would answer yes; would say that it was alright to bomb and destroy government buildings, or soldiers, as if somehow such acts would constitute the height of combat morality. After all, on 9/11 the hijackers of al-Qaeda attacked the ultimate military target–the Pentagon–as well as a symbol of American economic power, not residential neighborhoods. Yet our anger was palpable, and no one was seeking to legitimize the horror of that day just because condos and two-car garages went largely if not completely unaffected.

Yet despite all of this, when U.S. Defense Department and military officials say these exact same things, we are to accept it without question.

To hear American spokespersons tell it, the fact that our own military is focusing on destroying Iraqi government buildings, Presidential palaces and military installations–along with the troops serving in those installations–and being careful not to kill “innocent civilians” is evidence that our ethical superiority extends even to the way we make war.

To listen to Messrs Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush, or Generals like Tommy Franks, or retired Generals like the ones who have become special consultants to the media networks for the course of this war, any civilians who die are terrible tragedies, to be sure, but certainly not intentional. As if this makes their families feel any better. As if it would make the families of Americans feel better to know that the Chinese missile that landed in Rockville was meant for the State Department.

Likewise, the underlying and unquestioned assumption beneath all of the rhetoric about trying to protect innocent life, is that anyone working for the government (of Iraq, at least) is not innocent; and that anyone wearing an Iraqi military uniform is not innocent either; that their lives are expendable. This, even though we would never accept a standard of morality that placed such a low premium on the lives of our own soldiers, or even bureaucrats, despite how much we tend to resent the latter during peacetime.

And the reason we reject such a bifurcation of the innocent and the guilty for our own nation, despite being asked to accept it for others, is that we know that those soldiers and bureaucrats are human beings, with families, and histories, and homes, and hopes, and fears. They are our children, our parents, our cousins, our friends, our spouses and lovers.

So too with their counterparts in Iraq, or any other nation, as much as we like to overlook this inconvenient reality.

Oh sure, some might say, they’re human beings too, but they are serving a brutal and corrupt leader, who was put in office without the support of most of his own citizens, and who ignores the plight of millions of his own people who do without adequate food or shelter, who live in abject poverty. As such, they are implicated in the leader’s actions, and thus become legitimate targets of our air campaign.

But of course other nations could say the same about our military and government officials too. To millions around the globe–whether one agrees with them or not–the President of the United States is a brutal and corrupt leader, most assuredly elevated to office without the support of most American citizens, and who does very little to address such issues as poverty, homelessness or hunger within his own nation. Does that mean that every soldier is an agent of Bush’s agenda? How about everyone in a government job? And what about those who are lifelong civil servants and have perhaps served several leaders through several different policy agendas?

Ironically, if anything, American soldiers and government officials would be more legitimate targets than those in Iraq, if for no other reason than the relative freedom enjoyed by those of us in the U.S., compared to those who live under Saddam’s brutal rule.

Iraqi soldiers are largely conscripts, forced to serve irrespective of their own beliefs. Iraqi government officials are for the most part those who have sought out the only jobs in that nation with any real security or steady paycheck, again, not necessarily because they support the dictator but because their options are quite limited. And if they despised Saddam they certainly wouldn’t be able to say so.

On the other hand, there is no conscription in the United States, and opportunities outside of government are probably far more secure than those inside, given the general anti-government mood of the nation’s political leadership and the budget cuts they seek on a regular basis.

While it is true that there is something of an economic draft in this country, whereby poor and working class folks become soldiers in order to get a decent paycheck or education, or training, it is also the case that there is still more freedom to choose such a path (or not do so) here than in the place we are currently bombing.

Yet still, we act as if their soldiers and bureaucrats are something other than innocent, while ours–even those who really wanted to “serve their country”–are the epitome of that same innocence.

We lost over 50,000 soldiers in Southeast Asia from the early 1960’s until 1975, not one of them an “innocent civilian,” and yet there is a black granite wall not far from the President’s back door that attests to just how precious we consider them to have been; how unacceptable most believe their deaths to have been.

So even if civilian deaths are kept to a minimum in Iraq–and this remains to be seen of course–the destruction of government and military officials and facilities will be viewed in that place no differently than the same kind of destruction would be viewed here. Just as Americans were furious at the airplane-bombing of the Pentagon on 9/11, and just as they would be incensed at the bombing of the White House or Capitol, so too will millions of Iraqis and Muslims throughout the Middle East be enraged by our cavalier destruction of Iraq’s state apparatus.

That we can’t understand that, or can’t recognize the fundamental double-standard at work in proclaiming our own official “officials” off limits to foreign adversaries, but insisting on our right to target the same elsewhere, bespeaks a certain arrogance, a certain supremacist mindset, and even a certain racism in a case such as this, making it impossible to believe that lives are equally innocent and worthy.

At the end of the day, the moral calculus used by the United States in this war is no better or worse than that employed by any other nation. We are not exceptional. We are not particularly more humane. We are not to be applauded for not intentionally targeting civilians, just as such applause would be inappropriate if extended to another nation attacking us.

After all, it should be remembered that we didn’t necessarily target civilians in the first Gulf War either, but roughly 75,000 died anyway according to estimates made by U.S. Census officials, world health experts and the UN, largely due to destruction of water treatment facilities and electrical grids.

Oh, and it should probably be remembered that those facilities were targeted on purpose, according to Defense Department documents, even though it was known that their destruction would result in widespread suffering and epidemics.

So until we apologize for the slaughter of innocents–even using our very limited conception of the term–during the first Gulf War, we are hardly in a position to claim moral superiority during the second.

Tim Wise is a writer, antiracist activist and father.
He can be reached at timjwise@msn.com