What's Left

June 26, 2003

Bad dudes and boneheads

By Stephen Gowans

You would think that people would be clamoring for their heads.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, was forced to admit that Whitehall's dossier on Iraq's banned weapons -- the same dossier US Secretary of State Colin Powell praised before the shrouded antiwar painting, Guernica, at the UN -- was "an embarrassment." {1}

And in Washington, the best that US officials have come up with to explain why Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction haven't turned up, is puzzled head scratching, along with promises that the mystery will soon be solved. By who, Miss Marple?

A new team of inspectors is being dispatched to Iraq (other teams of UN and US inspectors having failed to solve the mystery.) One wonders if this team will be headed up by Mark Fuhrman, the disgraced former LAPD detective, last seen leaving Fort Bragg carrying an attaché case filled with vials marked biohazard.

While waiting for the case of the missing WMDs to be cracked, Rumsfeld has taken to conducting clinics on logic, the same kind that gave us: The only way you know for sure whether anyone is a threat, is to wait to see if they give you one right between the eyes, by which point it's too late. So, the only way to defend yourself, is to take everyone out before they have a chance. The latest eruption of Rumsfeldian logic: Saddam Hussein hasn't been found yet. Does that mean he didn't exist?

But even though Rumsfeld and his merry band of velociraptors would, by any reasonable standard, seem to be in trouble, they're not. A Washington Post/ABC poll says that 60 percent of Americans say the war was justified, even though weapons of mass destruction -- the ostensible reason for the war -- haven't been found. {2}

More alarmingly, 56 percent are in favor of going to war against Iran (a growing possibility as the next target in Washington's global blitzkrieg) versus 38 percent opposed.

So, what's going on? Do Americans get a kick out of seeing the Pentagon kick the shit out of other countries?

The answer, it seems, is yes -- if they can feel sanctimonious about it. And there a whole lot of people telling them they should. After all, the Pentagon just dusted (well, at least ousted) a man called a terrible tyrant, and a murderous dictator, apparently as sulfurous as Old Nick himself. You can feel good about getting rid of a guy like that.

The ardent anti-warrior, Noam Chomsky, told an interviewer last August that Saddam Hussein "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} So it's pretty clear that even the grand old man of American dissent thinks the latest target of US imperial muscle flexing was a worthy objective, though he does vehemently disagree with the methods of making the evil monster disappear.

Chomsky, and a number of other luminaries of the US left, including Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsberg, Janeane Garofalo and Howard Zinn, signed onto the Campaign for Peace and Democracy's "Statement on Iraq," in which they declared their opposition to "both Saddam Hussein and the US war on Iraq," describing the Iraqi leader as "a tyrant who should be removed from power, both for the good of the Iraqi people and for the security of neighboring countries." {4}

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining about a spade being called a spade, but what the hell did Saddam's brutality and ruthlessness have to do with US war plans? As far as I can tell, nothing, so why imply a connection by talking about them together?

Michael Albert, another fixture in the US antiwar movement, complained vociferously about International A.N.S.W.E.R, an antiwar coalition that organized massive demonstrations against the war, because it had failed to utter "a single negative word about Saddam Hussein," and because it had not branded the Iraqi leader "a ruthless dictator." {5} Tsk-tsk.

I wrote to Albert, complaining that his flaying of Saddam Hussein was beside the point. Surely, the issue wasn't whether Saddam was an evil monster, as Albert's guru Chomsky dubbed him, but whether an attack on Iraq was just. If a husband threatened to beat his wife, would you complain about his wife's character, as if that had something to do with whether wife-beating is moral, legal, or justifiable?

Albert replied as if he were trying out for the role of Christopher Hitchens, the insufferably pompous prat who thinks he's become the greasy vessel for Orwell's ghost. "Your analogy is inapt, sorry," he snapped.

Good reply, Mike.

Actually, I should be fair. Albert did reply promptly, and he went on to explain that he thought people could keep the two issues (US war plans vs. Saddam's iniquity) separate.

I guess he never met one of my relatives, Fred, or any of the hundreds of millions of people like him.

"A bad dude,"  Fred remarked, in reference to Saddam. And while he recognized the entire case for war was dodgy, he was prepared to write it off, if it went ahead, as something he would have preferred hadn't happen, but, knowing that it did, at least he could say something good had come from it.

Tony Blair has a better sense of the way people like Fred think than Albert does. That's why he gets elected, and manages to keep the lid from blowing while he slowly screws the British public. His connection with what makes people tick makes him an effective politician. Contrast Albert's estrangement from basic human psychology, something that has left him scribbling columns on movement strategy while the big boys start wars his movement can't stop. Maybe the strategy stinks.

Frankly, for my money, Canada's PM Jean Chretien had a better strategy at the time he was making noises about opposing the latest eruption of US imperialism run amok. There are plenty of ruthless and brutal leaders around, he pointed out. If that's your rationale for going to war, you're going to be going to war a lot. And you just might -- and this is my tag on -- have a good reason to take out Bush, too. Not liking a regime is not sufficient grounds for war.

That's all that needed to be said. But Albert and friends choice to lead the sneers at the Two Minutes Hate sessions, thinking they could escape the perennial charge that the Left supports dictators. Funny, I turned on the radio the other night and there was Hitchens himself, complaining the Left, led by "Professor Chomksy," continues to apologize for dictators. So much for that strategy.

It's not by accident that Blair, His Majesty's Chief Manipulator, insists the war is justified by its outcomes. People are comfortable with the argument. And it's not as if they haven't been primed to accept it. Blair told parliament that the war was "right for Iraq, right for the region and right for the wider world," which is the right argument to swing public opinion back to his side.

And it's no accident that right-wing supporters of Bush, Blair and the war, are crowing.  They know they have a majority on their side, even though the entire case for war has collapsed. You don't have to look very hard to find newspaper columns that say something like: "No weapons of mass destruction found. So what?" And judging by the polls, people are nodding their heads.

An International Policy Attitudes poll says that three-quarters of Americans believe Bush is showing strong leadership on Iraq. And over two-thirds approve of the decision to go to war. {6}

Is Chomksy surprised?

In one of his interviews he said: "The world would be better off if [Saddam] weren't there, no doubt about that."
Today, the New York Times reported that "one of Mr. Bush's top political strategists insisted...[that Bush isn't suffering for having duped the American public]...because people understand that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein." {7}

If Chomsky is surprised, he shouldn't be.

By the way Noam, how is the world better off now that Saddam Hussein has been replaced by L Paul Bremer III?

1. "Bush escapes fury that batters Blair," The New York Times, June 26, 2003.

2. "Americans 'will back an attack on Iran'," Daily Telegraph, June 25, 2003

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

4. Http://home.igc.org/~jlandy/cpd/antiwar/iraq_stmt.html

5. "Ten Q&A on antiwar organizing," Znet, Oct 24, 2003, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=1&ItemID=2527 .

6. "War was not about WMDs: Wolfowitz," The National Post, May 30, 2003.

7. "Bush escapes fury that batters Blair," The New York Times, June 26, 2003.


You may re-post this article, providing the text remains unchanged.

Join our e-mail list. Send an e-mail to sr.gowans@sympatico.ca and write "subscribe" in the subject line.

What's Left