Sunday, September 28, 2003

“With a Bible in His Hand”

My friend Ed Jonas was sitting in the Koffee Kup, looking at the paper, and just shaking his head when I walked over to his booth. “You’ve gotta hand it to the guy,” he said admiringly. “He pulls off one unbelievable stunt after the other.”

“What are you talking about, Ed?” I asked cautiously. Ed’s kind of unpredictable.

“El Presidente,” he said. “The Baghdad Bomber. The Friend of Enron and Enemy of Evil. The Gulf Crusader. The Long Range Warrior.”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “What is it that our leader has done to evoke your admiration?”

“It’s not some single thing,” he said. “It’s one thing after another. Who would have believed he could pull off the things he’s done.”

“Such as?”

“Start with the election. Here’s a guy who hid out during the Viet Nam war, running against a guy who volunteered to go overseas, and it’s Bush the military goes nuts over. How can you figure that? Then he loses the election by half a million votes or so, but still winds up in the White House. Then half his administration is implicated in a sleazy corporate scandal, some crazies fly planes into the World Trade Center, and the scandal just disappears. He turns 9-1-1 and Iraq into giant erasers that wipe the American memory clean. He gives the rich a gigantic tax cut, the economy goes into the tank, he turns a budget surplus into huge deficits for as far as the mind can see, and he offers another giant tax cut for the rich as a solution. And it’s going to happen! It’s unbelievable!”

“That’s all yesterday’s news,” I said. “You’re taking the long way home again, old timer.”

“You asked me for examples,” he said somewhat testily. “I don’t recall that you laid out timelines for a response.”

He had me there. I held up my hands. “Take your time, Ed,” I said. “I don’t have to meet Patty for another hour.”

He took a swipe at me with his John Deere cap, temporarily exposing his bald spot. “Are you calling me longwinded, Ace?”

“No, no,” I said hastily. “Just eager to hear what you have to say.”

He gave me a shrewd glance. “You’re not as slick as you think you are, Ace. You’re trying to slide out of this by buttering me up.”

“Guilty,” I grinned. “But get on with it.”

“Okay,” he said. “Look, after 9-1-1, he swore we’d get bin Laden. Bin Laden is still running around loose, and somehow we’re hot after Saddam Hussein. Nobody even noticed. It’s the old bait-and-switch: get the customers into the store advertising some item, and then talk them into a higher-priced product once they’re there. He’s got half the American public believing that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attack on September 11, when there’s never been a shred of evidence that that’s the case. Then the polls showed Americans wanted UN support for going into a war. No way the Security Council would give the green light to this war, but he went in anyway. And the public bought it. He has the U.S. media routinely talking about “coalition forces,” when the clearest thing about this invasion is that there isn’t any coalition. The rest of the world didn’t want any part of it. The only two countries on the planet where this war gets at least 50% popular support are Israel and the U.S. Even Mexico and Canada held their noses to block the stench and said ‘No thanks.’ It’s Bush and Blair, with maybe 2,000 Australians. When it comes to putting bodies in the field, that’s the ‘coalition.’

“He and Rumsfeld claimed we were going to ‘liberate’ Iraq, and implied that most Iraqis would welcome us with open arms. Instead, they welcomed us with small arms and mortars. Now thousands of Iraqis living outside Iraq are streaming back into the country to defend it against an invasion of their homeland. Saddam Hussein was the most hated man in the Middle East, and Bush is managing to make him into a hero. He’s undermined the UN, alienated most of the rest of the planet, insulted our traditional allies, violated the UN Charter, and broken international law, and his approval ratings are off the chart!”

“It is pretty amazing when you think about it,” I admitted.

“It’s beyond amazing,” said Ed. “It’s like having an idiot savant Houdini for President, with a Bible in his hand.”

© Tony Russell, 2003

Thursday, September 25, 2003

“Byrd as Cassandra”

Senator Robert Byrd must have the same sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as the prophetess Cassandra. Her curse? She would foresee the future, cry out a warning, and then be scorned or ignored. Byrd’s speech to the Senate on February 12, when he castigated the Bush administration for its headlong rush to invade Iraq, is in retrospect an uncanny prophecy of the administration’s failures.

Byrd said, “We know who was behind the September 11 attacks on the United States. We know it was Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network. We have dealt with al Qaeda and with the Taliban government that sheltered it. We have
routed them from Afghanistan and we are continuing to pursue them in hiding… So where does Iraq enter the equation? No one in the Administration has been able to produce any solid evidence linking Iraq to the September 11 attack.”

Seven months after the war has been declared over, the Administration has never yet produced any such evidence. The reality is that there was no link.

Byrd warned that “Family members are being called to active military duty, with no idea of the duration of their stay or what horrors they may face. Communities are being left with less than adequate police and fire protection. Other essential services are also short-staffed. The mood of the nation is grim. The economy is stumbling.”

Was he right? Seven months later, we hear of a military stretched too thin with the large army of occupation needed in Iraq, as well as in Afghanistan. Morale is dropping as tours of duty are extended and then extended again. As for the economy, after two huge tax cuts for the rich—touted as “job creation measures”—unemployment is at a twenty-year high, with almost three million jobs lost since this administration came into office. Emergency forces trying to cope with Hurricane Isabel are understaffed because so many reservists are overseas.

“The war in Afghanistan has cost us $37 billion so far,” said Byrd, “yet there is evidence that terrorism may already be starting to regain its hold in that region. We have not found bin Laden, and unless we secure the peace in Afghanistan, the dark dens of terrorism may yet again flourish in that remote and devastated land. Pakistan as well is at risk of destabilizing forces. This Administration has not finished the first war against terrorism and yet it is eager to embark on another conflict with perils much greater than those in Afghanistan. Is our attention span that short?”

Was he right? Seven months later, Bin Laden is still unaccounted for. Pakistan is increasingly unstable; in the bombing of a mosque on July 4, almost fifty people were killed. Afghanistan’s economy has collapsed. Very little of the financial aid promised for rebuilding the country has been delivered. The country has a U.S.-installed leader, Hamid Karzai, but in reality most of the country is being ruled by warlords. Basic services are in chaos—water, sewage, food distribution, electricity, schools—and almost nothing works. Human rights abuses abound. On July 29, Human Rights Watch released a 102-page report describing abuses “ordered, committed or condoned by government personnel in Afghanistan—soldiers, police, military and intelligence officials, and government ministers. Worse, these violations have been carried out by people who would not have come to power without the intervention and support of the international community.” Is our attention span that short? Apparently so.

Senator Byrd questioned the harsh tone adopted by the administration. “Has our senselessly bellicose language and our callous disregard of the interests and opinions of other nations increased the global race to join the nuclear club and made proliferation an even more lucrative practice for nations which need the income?” he asked.

Seven months later, we know the answer to that question. North Korea and Iran have both intensified their nuclear programs.

Byrd went on to question the administration’s plans for post-war Iraq. “Have we not learned that after winning the war one must always secure the peace? …We hear little about the aftermath of war in Iraq,” he pointed out. “In the absence of plans, speculation abroad is rife. Will we seize Iraq's oil fields, becoming an occupying power which controls the price and supply of that nation's oil for the foreseeable future? To whom do we propose to hand the reigns of power after Saddam Hussein?”

Seven months later, we know that the administration’s plans for post-war Iraq were sketchy at best, and based on wrongheaded assumptions. The country is in virtual chaos. More of our soldiers have been killed since the war “ended” than during the war itself. As one Pfc. wrote to The Oregonian, “When the war had just ended, we were the liberators, and all the people loved us. Convoys were like one long parade. Somewhere down the line, we became an occupation force in their eyes. We don't feel like heroes anymore…. Soldiers are being attacked, injured and killed every day. The rules of engagement are crippling. We are outnumbered. We are exhausted. We are in over our heads.”

The troop commitment needed to maintain control of Iraq far exceeds pre-war administration estimates, soldiers and civilians are killing each other every day, and the timetable for our occupation, at a cost of at least a billion dollars per week, extends indefinitely into the future.

As for the “transition of power,” administration plans to install the embezzler Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi exiles handpicked by Washington as the transitional figures for an “Iraqi government” have only fed anti-Americanism.

It is frustrating—no, it is far more than frustrating, it is heartrending that the venerable old senator could draw a dead-accurate vision of the future while speaking to a nearly-empty chamber. He deserves our respect and our attention; the administration—and his Senatorial colleagues—deserve our anger and contempt.

© Tony Russell, 2003

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

“A Basic Lexicon”

Ambrose Bierce must be banging his brow against his coffin lid. The brazen cynicism of the Bush administration has driven language to depths only Bierce and Orwell have plumbed. And Bierce lies trapped in the dark, unable to pen new entries for his “Devil’s Dictionary.”

Out of sympathy for his plight, I have taken on the task of recording new meanings for old words, as used by the current administration. Although my notes cover the full range of the administration’s activities, today’s definitions are drawn only from its pronouncements on Iraq. With the following basic lexicon, the average reader should be able to translate almost all of the speeches on Iraq delivered by Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, and Ms. Rice.

· Liberation – an unprovoked attack on a weaker state
· Liberated – occupied by hostile forces
· Freedom – an economic model imposed by force
· Terrorist – anyone opposing the current administration
· Link – the absence of any connection
· Weapons of mass destruction – figments of our imagination
· Cruel dictator – a discarded partner
· Threat – opportunity
· Coalition – the U.S. and Britain
· Sacrifice – a loss incurred by someone other than the speaker
· Iraqi self-government – a puppet regime

Take a standard administration speech such as the following –

“Saddam Hussein is a cruel dictator who committed atrocities against his own
people. His possession of weapons of mass destruction poses an immediate threat to the security of his neighbors and to the United States. He has links with al Qaeda and terrorist organizations around the globe. The coalition of the willing is determined to liberate Iraq, thus enabling the Iraqi people to enjoy freedom and democracy, and to rid the world of the threat of terrorism.”

A free translation, using the above lexicon, goes something like this –

“Saddam Hussein is a former client who is no longer useful to us. While it is true that we sold him chemical and biological weapons to use against Iran and the Kurds, we want to gloss over that fact and concentrate on how frightening such weapons are. Those weapons we sold him have all deteriorated or been destroyed now, but we wish to pretend they still exist, in order to justify an invasion. Hussein’s secular regime is despised by the religious fanatics of Al Qaeda, but we intend to suggest a connection between him and the attacks of September 11 as an additional pretext for our unjustified attack on a sovereign state. The U.S. and Britain are determined to plunder this oil-rich nation and install a puppet government which will okay the privatization of Iraq’s oil industry and the permanent basing of U.S. troops.”

After a little practice with the lexicon, almost anyone can convert administration doublespeak into something close to reality. Rest easy, Mr. Bierce.

© Tony Russell, 2003

Friday, September 12, 2003

“Questions from the Tar Baby”

Uncle Remus warned us of situations like this. But we didn’t catch the moral of the story, and now Iraq is the Tar Baby to end all Tar Babies. It was easy to get our hands on it, but things are getting sticky. Water and sewage systems don’t work. Electricity is on again, off again. Schools and hospitals and destroyed or overwhelmed. Every hotheaded kid in the Middle East wants to take a shot or throw a rock at our troops. The oil that was supposed to finance reconstruction is coming out in a trickle. We’ve spent $79,000,000,0000 so far, and Mr. Bush just asked for $87,000,000,000 more. Many now reckon the long-term cost will be at least $1,000,000,000,000. Plus a number of dead people. Mr. Bush says we’ll spend whatever it takes, make whatever sacrifice is needed. Easy for him to say.

So with a $1,000,000,000,000 bill coming due, with over three hundred of our friends and neighbors coming home in body bags, and with Iraq sliding into chaos, let’s look at what we’ve got for our money and sacrifice:

Biological weapons uncovered: 0
Chemical weapons uncovered: 0
Nuclear weapons uncovered: 0
Ties to Al Qaeda uncovered: 0

There. Do you feel safer now? Has it all been worth it?

It’s a mess of our own making, and true to those old American values of independence and self-reliance, the administration is now asking the U.N. to send troops and money to help control the Iraqi population and foot the bill for rebuilding the place. This is the same administration that has badmouthed and bypassed the U.N. whenever possible, has belittled allies like France and Germany as “old Europe,” and thoroughly enjoyed its spitefulness in things like renaming French fries “freedom fries.” We want a multinational force—but under U.S. control. We want Europe’s money to rebuild Iraq, but we want our colonial governor, Paul Bremer, and our handpicked Iraqi collaborators, to hold all the power. To sum it up: we insult them, ignore them, act on our own, then ask them to send money and troops while we hold on to control. Why aren’t they keen on a deal like that?

Where is all that money going to come from? Let’s see. Mr. Bush has pushed through two huge tax cuts, in which 42% of the cuts go to the top 1% income bracket. So who is left to pay for the lies, arrogance, poor planning, mismanagement, and cynical predatory policy? Can you figure it out?

If you reduce government income by cutting taxes, while at the same time you increase military spending at an incredible rate, something has to give. Could it be Social Security? Medicare? Education? The national parks? All of the above?

Who talked you into grabbing that Tar Baby in the first place?

© Tony Russell, 2003