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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
7989.


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.

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