With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.
That’s what Col Nate Sassaman of the 4th Infantry told the New York Times in 2003.
Now, although I recoiled initially when I read this quote, I have to confess there’s a certain grim logic in there somewhere — a sort of logic the Americans are good at. The comment reminded me of the immortal statement by a US officer in Vietnam: it became necessary to destroy the town to save it.
Operation Iraqi Freedom? No. It isn’t a joke: that is what they actually called the invasion. Americans don’t do irony, which is both their strength and their weakness.
The strength lies in the fact that they’re able to breed hundreds of thousands of people who can say Sir, step away from the car without laughing.
The weakness is that they never know when they’re making complete fools of themselves, as they have been doing in Iraq for nearly five years, but the problem doesn’t stop there. Americans’ lack of irony also makes them blind to another fact: their entire nation has been hijacked by Bush and Cheney with a view to making money for themselves, and it doesn’t matter how many American troops or Iraqi civilians are killed in the process. Just as long as Bush, Cheney and, of course, Halliburton, make a lot of cash.
It doesn’t matter that they had a valid war of necessity in Afghanistan where the Taliban were harbouring the people who had directed the attacks on New York. It doesn’t matter that Bush chose to pursue a war of choice against a country that had nothing whatever to do with the 9-11 attacks: Iraq. It doesn’t matter that in doing so he stressed his forces to breaking point and diluted their power to tackle al-Qaeda. It doesn’t matter that he turned the formerly-secular Iraq into a breeding ground for Islamic zealots. It doesn’t matter that the world was teeming with brutal ruthless dictators, each one of them just as bloodthirsty and repulsive as Saddam, and that Bush cared not a jot about them.
None of that matters in America once you start pushing the buttons. Patriotism. Our troops. Global war on terror. Peace. Freedom. Democracy.
I see Bush has been at it again in recent days. Now he’s worried about Pakistani democracy.
Listen, George, I know you have a room-full of highly-paid advisers, and I know that every last man-jack of them will have more Harvard degrees than you could shake a cruise missile at, but I need to point out one thing to you. There’s no democracy in Pakistan. There never was and there never will be.
And I’ll tell you something else: the Pakistanis don’t care.
Pakistan is a tribal nation, just like Iraq, just like Syria, just like Afghanistan, just like the United States in many ways, and when George sees elections, he thinks he’s looking at democracy, but he’s not. He’s looking at assemblies of serfs pooling their votes to get their feudal lords into high office. Nobody in Pakistan is weighing up the options. Will I vote for Candidate A or Candidate B? The PPP’s supporters are so upset because their feudal champion has been killed and they don’t know who’s going to look after them now. Benazir Bhutto was a huge feudal landowner in Sindh and it was through the votes of tenants that she formed her power-base.
You don’t believe me that Pakistan is a feudal society? You think the PPP is an ordinary democratic party just like any other? Right then. Tell me of another party where the leadership can be passed on to a nineteen-year-old boy through somebody’s last will and testament.
And you know something else? It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have a feudal, tribal society. It works in many of the Gulf States. It worked for the First Nations until the Americans came and slaughtered them. You could even argue that the Republicans and Democrats have many characteristics of tribes and that their four-yearly presidential elections are no more than a show to cover up the fact that feudal lords rule the US. You think not? You think perhaps, that a poor man could be President of the USA? Well, all right. Bush is a poor human being but he isn’t a poor man.
The United States has been fairly selective about the feudal, tribal societies it wants to bring peace and democracy to. For example, it was in no hurry at all to bring peace and democracy to its friends in Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that the majority of the 9-11 attackers were Saudis, funded by Saudi money. Likewise, though the US made great play of the famous Iraqi weapons of mass destruction — which turned out to be non-existent — there was another brutal dictator, who was known to have nuclear missiles, and who, that same year, was threatening to fire them at an ally of the US. Of course I’m talking about North Korea. Did you notice anything in the news about Operation North Korean Freedom? No. Funnily enough, neither did I. Just like we never heard of Operation Chinese Freedom.
On the other hand, the US hasn’t been too keen on some democratically-elected leaders. Salvador Allende was elected President of Chile in 1970, but because the US didn’t like the stripe of his politics, he was deposed and killed in a CIA-backed coup three years later.
Let’s not forget the United States’ active support for other vile, ruthless dictators. For example, we had the appalling Noriega, the military dictator of Panama, a cocaine-dealer and money-launderer who was on the CIA payroll for many years. Eventually, the Americans deposed and arrested him, but it wasn’t because he was a criminal, murdering drug-dealer. It was because they thought he might be spying for Cuba.
Then there’s the support for the ridiculous and corrupt Somoza of Nicaragua, and their continuing support for the Contras after the Sandinistas took over. You might recall this was the time Ollie North was selling arms to Iran and passing the money on to the Contras to get around a Congress ban on funding them.
They supported the vile Reza Pahlavi, self-declared Shah of Iran, who wrought terror throughout his domain through the medium of the dreaded Savak secret police.
In South Vietnam, they supported an absolute crook Ngo Din Diem, who came to power through a ludicrously-rigged election. They supported him militarily and after his assassination they went to war in his country, visiting misery and destruction on the people there for no good reason and with no gain for anyone. Muhammad Ali refused to join the Army:- Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?
The administration even supported the Khmer Rouge, for God’s sake, after the Vietnamese overran them and ended the slaughters of the killing fields.
But would you like the ultimate proof that they don’t mind who they support? Well then, I offer you one Mr Saddam Hussein, whom the Americans cheerfully backed for decades, until it became expedient to drop him. (Expedient for Halliburton, I mean).
Now. Let’s just get back to this freedom business for a minute. What exactly, I wonder, does George have in mind when he talks about freedom?
Let’s take the United States itself as a yardstick. I know the US is the freest nation in the world, because I’ve seen all the Bruce Willis movies.
So, in the US, are you free to take a picture of a factory that you think might be polluting a river? No. You’ll get arrested under the Patriot Act.
Well then, surely you have more religious freedom? Nope. At least not if you want to open an Islamic school.
Ah, but they surely have a constitutional safeguard for the sanctity of human life? Eh, that’d be a no. They have one of the highest judicial execution rates in the world.
But your skin colour doesn’t matter? Oh gimme a break.
They must have guaranteed health care like in any civilised democracy, mustn’t they? Yes, if you can afford it.
And education? The same.
Oh right. And these are the people invading countries that didn’t attack them? In the name of freedom? And lecturing people like you and me when we voice misgivings or dare to disagree with them?
These are the people who, in the name of peace, reduced Iraq to a smouldering, bloodied wreck, multiplied the misery of its people a hundredfold, spat on their dignity and customs, installed a bunch of crooks in government and proudly declared Iraq a free, democratic land.
As Judge Judy says, Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.