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Thursday, September 11, 2003

King Con

by CLINTON FEIN

Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions [...]

Click to Send PostcardThe chronic failure of the security council to enforce its own resolutions is unmistakable: it is simply not up to the task. We are left with coalitions of the willing. Far from disparaging them as a threat to a new world order, we should recognise that they are, by default, the best hope for that order, and the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the UN.

-- Richard Perle, Coalitions of the Willing Are Our Best Hope, Member of the Defense Policy Board, March 21, 2003

It’s been a month of grandiose speeches. Monday evening, President Bush addressed the nation. The content, the week of the second anniversary of September 11, the tragic event that set in motion one of the most dangerous eras in modern history, was predictable. While admitting to an unplanned $87 billion per annum commitment, none of his speech addressed the core issues concerning most Americans, or allayed any allies.

Just last week we heard how his administration, by way of Karl Rove sound bytes, is focused on the economy, and how somehow, under his watch children, teachers and parents returning to school will feel the difference owing to his administration’s focus on education. Perhaps owing to slashed funding on wasteful things like education, they will feel a difference, now that their minds are no longer being mired with extracurricular waste, like studying art or music.

As museums lock their doors, and libraries struggle to stay open even four days a week to make payroll for their underpaid staff, we are supposed to stand proud for our willingness to sacrifice books and literature for libraries so we can show Iraq what quality education looks like. (At least what remains in libraries before intellectual property lawyers arrest parents whose children take out books without permission and a small subscription fee).

According to a New York Times report, the $87 billion Mr. Bush seeks is equal to “a fifth of next year's civilian discretionary spending at home -- more than the combined total for education, job training, and employment and social services.” Leaving children behind is a euphemism for what this administration is doing in the name of education and after promising to “leave no child behind.” The ones that haven’t been pushed over the cliff, that is.

We should thank our lucky stars, though, that our depleted economy and record unemployment at least provided tax cuts that enabled the average family to splurge on a payment to cover their over-extended credit cards before the car was repossessed or the mortgage check bounced.

It’s now so much easier to make sense of all the mixed messages served by the administration, and transmitted by the ever-consolidating media empires. (Thankfully there’s General Electric’s NBC/Vivendi Universal merger, which we’ve been promised will be great for consumers now that they aren’t forced to choose their content anymore, preferring of course, to have it fed instead.)

I recognize that not all of our friends agreed with our decision to enforce the Security Council resolutions and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Yet we cannot let past differences interfere with present duties. Terrorists in Iraq have attacked representatives of the civilized world, and opposing them must be the cause of the civilized world. Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.

-- President George W. Bush, Monday September 8, 2003

We are supposed to desecrate the memory of those killed on September 11th by buying into an administration that has done nothing other than destroy civil liberties and offer meaningless platitudes under the guise of honor. The War on Terrorism, as promised originally, is never-ending, like our War on Drugs. We are supposed to guiltily swallow this faux-patriotic chastising for daring to suggest that criticism of America’s unplanned spiral into chaos in Iraq does more of a disservice to the troops that are being bumped off the planet on a daily basis than having misjudged entirely what we were up against before we started dropping bombs.

We now presumably understand the Administration’s new overtures to the United Nations. That the very organization we ignored and branded as irrelevant and impotent is suddenly back in vogue. As if a little diplomatic Viagra from the credibility-strained Colin Powell is all that’s needed to prompt the allies we scoffed and insulted to lay down some currency and comrades -- now that the oil revenues we were assured would cover the reconstruction can’t even cover the current production costs, let alone contain the sabotage of pipelines, water mains and electric grids.

Our allies are supposed to happily take on the responsibility of helping to fight the War on Terrorism, and play their part, although all they can do is help pay for the secretive contracts awarded in secretive bids to the likes of Halliburton, and take orders from a military that has planned this war as brilliantly as a Presidential election in Florida. The "good works" part, as Richard Perle so contemptuously phrased it.

We are expected to be shocked and awed at the ingenuity of the administration’s desire for the build up of an awkward, if not impossible to manage, reticulation of troops, security guards, policemen, militia, museum watchmen and peacekeepers that will enable the embarrassed Defense Department officials and White House to steadfastly maintain that we have enough troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s the peacekeepers, infrastructure builders and security detail we’re short of (and a few billion dollars). Morale amongst troops is fever-pitch high, of course, as their duty is continually extended in keeping with the never-ending war. Indeed, the private entities we contract to build and maintain our prisons back home in the United States don’t have any spare wardens available, since they’re already stretched to the limit watching over the sort-of-solitary confined quarters of religious pedophiles and the men that kill them.

As predicted, we were sternly reminded that our sacrifices are bettering the lives of others less fortunate and less free. Despite the fact that the little sewing kits Laura Bush generously sent to the newly liberated women of Afghanistan to sew uniforms for the men who abused them, and despite all the Geneva Convention-violating “enemy combatants” in Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo that remain “detained,” the Taliban is on the rise, beatings, Vice Squads, terrorism training camps and all. Just this week, 400 Taliban militia reportedly captured a district of Zabul province for a few hours, killing 29 government soldiers and raising a Taliban flag.

None of the President’s abject cronies – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, Billy Kristol and the Defense Policy Board – foresaw as they denigrated the United Nations, (assuming incorrectly that the victims of bought-and-paid-for-by-the-United-States United Nations mandates, gave a shit anyway), the woefully inadequate inability of the United States to inform, or even frame, the debate. As terrorists pour into Iraq, portraying the fragile coalition as evil pawns doing the bidding of ruthless, unaccountable men savagely plundering and destroying every country and person in the way in the name of culture and religion, it’s increasingly difficult to tell which side is which.

Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said Sunday that "the time is right" for a larger United Nations role in Iraq, despite clear signs from the Security Council members that the current draft resolution, presented by Colin Powell last week, is an unequivocal no. "Everybody wants to do this in a cooperative spirit," the sage Ms. Rice said.

In response to the rumored costs up to 90 billion dollars that had been circulating in the Capital, Ms. Rice, told CNN’s "Late Edition" that "the cost of freedom and the cost of peace cannot be measured."

Perhaps Ms. Rice can’t measure the cost of freedom and peace (87 billion dollars per annum might be a good start, and calculating the cost of war instead), the administration can surely measure the value of political favors. As the Bush administration rewards MCI, formerly WorldCom, the inexperienced telecommunications company that filed for bankruptcy after bilking shareholders of millions, (depleting and destroying retirement and 401K plans) with a contract to to begin rebuilding Iraq's obliterated telecommunications network, the Eastern seaboard remains vulnerable to another plunge into darkness at the mercy of an antiquated electricity grid.

We’re supposed to patriotically swallow the reasoning that bombing Iraq preemptively, in addition to thwarting the use of yet-to-be-found weapons of mass destruction, bringing to justice the yet-to-be-found Saddam Hussein, would destroy a tenuous-at-best link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s Ba'athist Party loyalists. It appears to have become a reality only after the war began. A group of Saddam Hussein loyalists called al Awda, meaning "the Return," created an alliance with Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda. The democracy that was supposed to have sprouted instantaneously in Iraq was supposed to have served as an important model for the Middle East.

Now, with the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians have no globally recognized leader, and America’s roadmap to peace looks more like an Israeli bus route to mayhem. We will be asked to trust the government to do the right thing. So far, they have yet to get one thing right.

Poptart, Britney Spears, in her infinite wisdom, having resorted to “freedom” kissing forty-something-year-old, gap-toothed Gap models on MTV to resurrect her waning career among the tween set, advised that "Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that.” Like yeah, let’s.

Naturally the media-obsessed twerps at ABDisneyTimeWarnerGeneralElectricViacomUniversalVivendiSonyInfinityC and News Corp looped and gagged and shrieked and replayed and gasped and syndicated the Britney/Madonna moment over and over and over again, before discussing the appropriateness of the coverage, over and over and over again. Brace yourselves, you lucky consumers, you.

In his speech, President Bush reminded the hapless of America’s role in lifting “the defeated nations of Japan and Germany following World War II.” Hiroshima handouts, and nickels for Nagasaki, are indeed noble gestures after obliterating a city or two. The atom bomb, exploding above a hospital in the center of Hiroshima, is said to have killed 100,000 people instantly, 95% of them civilians. Another 100,000 are estimated to have died slowly from burns and effects of radiation. For the sake of comparison, that would be equivalent to the September 11th attack on Manhattan approximately sixty six times over. A mere 123 skyscrapers. Yes, America committed “years and resources” to help them rebuild “representative governments” and infrastructure. “America today accepts the challenge of helping Iraq in the same spirit - for their sake, and our own,” declared President Nationbuilder. How gracious.

In a speech given at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, on September 10th, the President exploited the gravity of the September 11th anniversary to politicize an aggressive police state agenda and deflect criticism by sugar-coating it in patriotism. “We will not forget the rescuers who ran toward danger and the passengers who rushed the hijackers,” he said, reminding everyone that at the same time, he ran away leaving the nation and world lost and leaderless for almost the entire day. “And we will never forget the servants of evil who plotted the attacks,” he piped, reminding everyone that even after turning Osama Bin Laden into Saddam Hussein, billions of dollars and thousands of lives later, he’s still nowhere to be found.

“Now we're engaged in other essential missions in the war on terror. We're helping the Afghan people to build free institutions after years of oppression. We're working with the Iraqi people to build a new home for freedom and democracy at the heart of the Middle East. The spread of freedom is one of the keys to the victory against terror,” President Bush told the anxious nation.

Yet, in perhaps the most hypocritical and ugly backtracking by Donald Rumsfeld -- and there are many – he contradicted Mr. Bush’s ambitious reconstruction and altruistic colored commitments, explicitly stating that that Iraq cannot “rely on its oil revenues alone to rebuild its decrepit infrastructure but must plan to develop industries like tourism that would benefit from national and historic treasures like the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon.” This, of course, after his meticulously planned attack allowed every precious historical artifact to be stolen and plundered by starving Iraqis and journalists from Fox News. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch will make a donation, although more likely, he'll begin publishing the Islamic counterpart to his tabloid trash The Sun – The Moon, or launch a cable channel so surviving Iraqis can watch Survivor.

The extent to which the administration and the pathetic pundits that propagate their propaganda are able to spout such startling contradictions, despite the documentation of their previous words, with impunity is because people only believe what they want to believe. “America and our allies took an important stand against terror, and evil by freeing an oppressed people in Iraq. The threat to civilized society and order under Saddam has been removed. The weapons of mass destruction Saddam had used on his people in the past are no longer a threat. The WMD he longed to develop will not materialize. I am sure evidence of his WMD programs will be discovered,” White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card wrote on “Ask the White House” – an interactive question/response format, discussing the war on terror. Never mind having not found the weapons themselves, they still don’t have evidence of a weapons program – the pretext the United States, Britain and Australia preemptively bombed.

Two years after September 11th, Osama Bin Laden is still meandering in the caves of Afghanistan, America’s ports, infrastructure and borders remain as vulnerable as they ever were, and despite assurances that they would not be, the draconian anti-terrorism measures encapsulated by The Patriot Act are being abused to entrap, punish and violate the rights of innocent citizens and are suddenly being applied to the War on Drugs as well. Will a War on Dissent become the next law enforcement catch-all?

In his speech at the FBI Academy, President Bush sought to expand the death penalty to include the vaguely defined terrorists, as piecemeal additions to The Patriot Act are trial ballooned in the name of patriotism. Advancing capital punishment is not likely to help win over the allies, despite the “pro-life” hypocrisies of Attorney General John Ashcroft and the President, any more than sending Doctor Kervorkian to Guantanamo would win over the pro-choice crowd.

It might be worth remembering one small detail. Before you kill the terrorists, you need to find them.

Clinton Fein can be reached at clinton@annoy.com

 
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