What's Left

July 9, 2003

When Mr. Bremer comes to call

By Stephen Gowans

Tony Blair, assuring Britons that the failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't mean that blasting away a few thousand Iraqis wasn't the right thing to do:

"I am quite sure we did the right thing because, because not merely was he a threat to his region, to the wider world, but it was an appalling regime that the world is well rid of." [1]

US foreign policy critic, Noam Chomsky, talking about Saddam Hussein before the invasion:

"The world would be better off if he weren't there, no doubt about that." [2]

"He is as evil as they come, ranking with Suharto and other monsters of the modern era. No one would want to be within his reach." [3]

"That he's a major criminal is not in doubt." [4]

"If there is a serious proposal as to how to overthrow Saddam, we should surely want to consider it." [5]

"WMD programs make the world a more dangerous place, Saddam's in particular." [My emphasis.] [6]

Shocking as it seems for two people on opposite ends of the political spectrum to find so much to see eye to eye on, Chomsky and Blair are pretty well agreed that:

1. Saddam Hussein's regime was appalling;
2. It's well rid of;
3. Serious proposals as how to overthrow Saddam were worth considering;
4. Saddam had WMDs, and his WMDs in particular, made the world a more dangerous place.

In other words, there was a problem deserving of a solution (overthrow.) The two just didn't agree on how the overthrow should have been done, and who should have done it.

Could it be there never was a problem, at least not one Westerners (history's nosiest people) had a right to stick their noses into?

As to Saddam's WMDs, in particular, making the world a more dangerous place, exactly which WMDs were they? And isn't it Washington's WMDs, in particular, that make the world a more dangerous place? The US has more of them than anyone else; it has a track record of using them; it has revised its policy on the use of nuclear weapons to cover a much wider array of contingencies (including using them against countries that don't attack first and don't have nuclear weapons themselves); and it has just proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is a serial aggressor that will let few things, including international law and the absence of a legitimate casus belli, stand in its way.

And yet, while it seems Washington is the far greater danger, kind words about Bush or Blair or their governments are still allowed. Saying anything kind about Hussein's Ba'athist regime, on the other hand, is delicate, and not to be tried by the faint of heart. Such words as "monstrous," "criminal" and "appalling" are de rigeur, shibboleths that must be spoken if one is to remain welcome in polite society.

But with Washington and London having a long history of monstrous acts, criminal activity, and appalling behavior--and their current movers and shakers intent on following the hoary tradition with unrestrained enthusiasm--you'd wonder why "monstrous," "criminal," and "appalling" are not equally demanded when talking about Bush or Blair.

What's more, even the fiercest Western critic of the Anglo-American axis wouldn't say "the world would be better off if Bush weren't there, no doubt about that," or "Blair is as evil as they come," much less "If there is a serious proposal as to how to overthrow Bush we should surely want to consider it." Words like that could get you kicked out of polite society.

Writer William Blum, seemingly flirting with excommunication, has written, gasp!, a kind word about Saddam Hussein. "During [Saddam's] reign," he says, "when the war with Iran and US bombings and sanctions made it feasible, the Iraqi people had free education all the way through university and medical school, free medical care, regular food packages for those in need, women's rights superior to anything in the Arab world, and religious toleration for Christians and other non-Muslims." [7]

The chances are slim to none the Iraqi people will ever again have free education all the way through university and medical school, free medical care, and regular food packages for those in need, after US proconsul L. Paul Bremer III gets through with their country. He's making it over into "a Middle East model of free trade and deregulation," says the New York Times. [8]

Bremer plans to sell off Iraq's economy to US interests before Iraqis are allowed to play act at running the place themselves. [9] Once nominally in charge of their "liberated" land, they'll be in a position to take directions from the real masters Bremer will leave in place -- Wall Street. And you can be sure that Wall Street won't smile kindly on, much less allow, free education, free medical care, and regular food packages for those in need. Does it ever?

Still, Blair and Chomsky, neither of whom have to worry about medical care, educating their kids, or three squares a day, said Iraqis would be better off without Saddam, "no doubt about that," so it must be true.

It must also be true that Afghans are better off for the US having arranged for the Mujahideen to oust the communists, who actually began the work of building a society the Americans have since promised--after having bombed the place into submission--but have failed to deliver and have no intention of delivering.

The country, writes political scientist Saeed Rahnema, "is in complete chaos."

"All the promises of liberating Afghan women have proved empty; men have already replaced the few women chosen for several high offices, and the Sharia-based legal system leaves little room for optimism for the 'liberation' of women in Afghanistan.

"The situation has become so worrisome for the Americans, that according to the Asia Times, they have contacted the Taliban...to devise a political solution." [10]

Yes, the Taliban. Wasn't the ouster of the backward, repressive and misogynist Taliban the final, desperate pretext to excuse the ushering of thousands of Afghans into early graves, and many more into refugee camps?

That Blair doesn't particularly care about Saddam Hussein's regime being appalling, except insofar as it provided a handy propaganda tool for an ex post facto rationalization of the war, is evidenced by the fact that he, like his master, George W. Bush, prefers to stay mum on equally, if not more, appalling regimes, that just happen to serve the imperial interests of the Anglo-American axis. Oil rich Saudi Arabia -- backward, repressive and misogynist -- is a model of benightedness. Strategically-situated Turkey has a long history of repressing its Kurd population. And Washington's indispensable Middle East ally, Israel -- a racist state openly engaged in ethnic cleansing -- is as appalling as they come.

What's more, none of them offer free education, free medical care, and material security, things you just don't do if you're firmly ensconced in the Anglo-American orbit. These things are best left to foreign policy targets, like Cuba, which, come to think of it, may be one reason the embattled Caribbean country is slated for a visit, someday, by an L. Paul Bremer.

One wonders if, in the minds of Washington's critics and backers alike, it's thought that Cubans would be better off without Castro. Perhaps, in a world where business interests aren't driven to settle everywhere, nestle everywhere and put down roots everywhere, outraging the sovereignty of the unwilling as they do all that nestling, settling, and putting down roots, they would be. But Castro's ouster would surely mean an L. Paul Bremer in his place, in which case, Cubans would be about as better off as Afghans and Iraqis are for the US and Britain having chasing out less than sterling regimes.

Or Russians--who are now poorer, sicker and die younger--are, for the collapse of communism.

Am I saying the Soviet Union, or worst, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, are some kind of model? Far from it. But we'd be stupid and dishonest not to acknowledge that they were better than what came before, surpassed comparison countries in the Anglo-American orbit before they were crushed, and, in many respects, offered something better than their successor regimes have  offered, or will ever offer.

L.Paul Bremer, in case you haven't noticed, isn't the kind of guy you look forward to having over. When he comes to call, you better hide the silverware. Still, some foreign policy critics, who never miss the warts and hideous lesions of target regimes, seem not to have noticed. Maybe they were too busy writing copy for Tony Blair.

[1] "Blair denies misleading M.P.'s, saying 'we did the right thing'", The New York Times, July 9, 2003.

[2] "Interview With Noam Chomsky about US Warplans," August 29, 2002, ZNet, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=2422

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] "Stephen R. Shalom Interviews Noam Chomsky," January 2002, ZNet, http://zmag.org/shalom0122.htm

[6] Interview With Noam Chomsky about US Warplans

[7] William Blum, "Anti-Empire Report," ZNet, July 7, 2003, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=11&ItemID=3873

[8] "Overseer in Iraq Vows to Sell Off Government-Owned Companies," New York Times, June 23, 2003.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Saeed Rahnema, "Mullahs rule -- for now," The Globe and Mail, July 9, 2003.


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What's Left