America has entered one of its periods of historical
madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism,
worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam
The reaction to 9/11
is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest
dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically
eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more
ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is
confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.
The imminent war was
planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible.
Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain
such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron;
its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for
the world’s poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated
international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they
support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions.
But bin Laden
conveniently swept all that under the carpet. The Bushies are riding high.
Now 88 per cent of Americans want the war, we are told. The US defence budget has been raised by another $60 billion
to around $360 billion. A splendid new generation of nuclear weapons is in
the pipeline, so we can all breathe easy. Quite what war 88 per cent
of Americans think they are supporting is a lot less clear. A war for how
long, please? At what cost in American lives? At what cost to the American
taxpayer’s pocket? At what cost — because most of those 88 per cent are
thoroughly decent and humane people — in Iraqi lives?
How Bush and his
junta succeeded in deflecting America’s anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one
of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history. But they swung
it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was
responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. But the American
public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a
state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should
carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election.
Those who are not
with Mr Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I’m dead against Bush, but I would love
to see Saddam’s downfall — just not on Bush’s terms and not by his methods.
And not under the banner of such outrageous hypocrisy.
The religious cant
that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening
aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has
very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America’s Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to
mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the
enemy, and d) a terrorist.
God also has pretty
scary connections. In America, where all men are equal in His sight, if not
in one another’s, the Bush family numbers one President, one ex-President,
one ex-head of the CIA, the Governor of Florida and the ex-Governor of
Care for a few
pointers? George W. Bush, 1978-84: senior executive, Arbusto Energy/Bush
Exploration, an oil company; 1986-90: senior executive of the Harken oil
company. Dick Cheney, 1995-2000: chief executive of the Halliburton oil
company. Condoleezza Rice, 1991-2000: senior executive with the Chevron oil
company, which named an oil tanker after her. And so on. But none of these
trifling associations affects the integrity of God’s work.
In 1993, while
ex-President George Bush was visiting the ever-democratic Kingdom of Kuwait to receive thanks for liberating them, somebody
tried to kill him. The CIA believes that “somebody” was Saddam. Hence Bush
Jr’s cry: “That man tried to kill my Daddy.” But it’s still not personal,
this war. It’s still necessary. It’s still God’s work. It’s still about
bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed Iraqi people.
To be a member of
the team you must also believe in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil, and
Bush, with a lot of help from his friends, family and God, is there to tell
us which is which. What Bush won’t tell us is the truth about why we’re
going to war. What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil — but oil, money and
people’s lives. Saddam’s misfortune is to sit on the second biggest
oilfield in the world. Bush wants it, and who helps him get it will receive
a piece of the cake. And who doesn’t, won’t.
If Saddam didn’t
have the oil, he could torture his citizens to his heart’s content. Other
leaders do it every day — think Saudi Arabia, think Pakistan, think Turkey, think Syria, think Egypt.
Baghdad represents no clear and present danger to its neighbours, and none
to the US or Britain. Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, if he’s still got them, will
be peanuts by comparison with the stuff Israel or America could hurl at him at five minutes’ notice. What
is at stake is not an imminent military or terrorist threat, but the
economic imperative of US growth. What is at stake is America’s need to
demonstrate its military power to all of us — to Europe and Russia and
China, and poor mad little North Korea, as well as the Middle East; to show
who rules America at home, and who is to be ruled by America abroad.
The most charitable
interpretation of Tony Blair’s part in all this is that he believed that,
by riding the tiger, he could steer it. He can’t. Instead, he gave it a
phoney legitimacy, and a smooth voice. Now I fear, the same tiger has him
penned into a corner, and he can’t get out.
It is utterly
laughable that, at a time when Blair has talked himself against the ropes,
neither of Britain’s opposition leaders can lay a glove on him. But that’s Britain’s tragedy, as it is America’s: as our Governments spin, lie and lose their
credibility, the electorate simply shrugs and looks the other way. Blair’s
best chance of personal survival must be that, at the eleventh hour, world
protest and an improbably emboldened UN will force Bush to put his gun back
in his holster unfired. But what happens when the world’s greatest cowboy
rides back into town without a tyrant’s head to wave at the boys?
Blair’s worst chance
is that, with or without the UN, he will drag us into a war that, if the
will to negotiate energetically had ever been there, could have been
avoided; a war that has been no more democratically debated in Britain than
it has in America or at the UN. By doing so, Blair will have set back our
relations with Europe and the Middle East for decades
to come. He will have helped to provoke unforeseeable retaliation, great
domestic unrest, and regional chaos in the Middle East. Welcome to the party of the ethical foreign policy.
There is a middle
way, but it’s a tough one: Bush dives in without UN approval and Blair
stays on the bank. Goodbye to the special relationship.
I cringe when I hear
my Prime Minister lend his head prefect’s sophistries to this colonialist
adventure. His very real anxieties about terror are shared by all sane men.
What he can’t explain is how he reconciles a global assault on al-Qaeda
with a territorial assault on Iraq. We are in this war, if it takes place, to secure
the fig leaf of our special relationship, to grab our share of the oil pot,
and because, after all the public hand-holding in Washington and Camp
David, Blair has to show up at the altar.
“But will we win,
“Of course, child.
It will all be over while you’re still in bed.”
Mr Bush’s voters will get terribly impatient and may decide not to vote for
“But will people be
“Nobody you know,
darling. Just foreign people.”
“Can I watch it on
“Only if Mr Bush
says you can.”
will everything be normal again? Nobody will do anything horrid any more?”
“Hush child, and go to sleep.”
Last Friday a friend
of mine in California drove to his local supermarket with a sticker on
his car saying: “Peace is also Patriotic”. It was gone by the time he’d
The author has also
contributed to an openDemocracy debate on Iraq at www.openDemocracy.net