What's Left

January 29, 2003

State of the Union Address: A Case Study in Projection

By Stephen Gowans

Psychoanalysts call it projection: attributing one's own attitudes and motives to others. George W. Bush's State of the Union address last night was a case study in projection.

Billed, in part, as a "statement of purpose" on Iraq, the speech, which had all the trappings of an emperor's address from the throne, painted a picture of Iraq which seemed more fitting as a portrait of the United States under George II's reign.

"Throughout the 20th century," the emperor remarked, "small groups of men seized control of great nations -- built armies and arsenals -- and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world."

And indeed they did. Hitler and Mussolini seized control of great nations, with the backing of financiers and industrialists, who profited enormously from internal repression, from the smashing of unions, from slave labor, and from that wonderful prize: conquest of other countries' markets and labor and resources.

But who other than Americans besotted to the point of blindness by patriotism, or non-Americans, who find comfort in crude pro-Americanism, could not help but hear echoes of the Bush regime, and its predecessors, and the community of oil firms, defense contractors, and hulking corporations, in the words "small groups of men seized control of great nations"?

Could one help but think of the trillions of dollars these small groups of men -- today, Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, yesterday, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon and so on -- pilfered from the public purse to build vast armies and arsenals which have been used to dominate the weak: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Libya, Yugoslavia, Iraq?

Today, the financiers and industrialists who back the emperor, are being unburdened of taxes, are showered with the largesse of munificent orders for more weapons and bigger armies, and are being delivered the wonderful prize that Hitler and Mussolini delivered their backers -- conquest. With conquest comes new overseas military bases, from which to launch new wars of conquest, along with access to foreign markets, and to cheap labor, to natural resources, and to oil. Already, the emperor has extended his backers' dominion over the oil rich Caspian Basin. Iraq, home to the world's second largest reserves of oil, is poised to fall next. Saudi Arabia, which boasts the world's largest reserves of oil, doesn't need to be conquered. It's already ensconced in the empire's orbit. There will be no wars to liberate its people from absolutist rule and human rights atrocities. Moral crusades are for lands not yet conquered.

Americans, most of whom can't find their own city on a map, have no sense of geography, little grasp of history, and therefore no idea of how puny, how weak, and how desperate its government's foreign policy victims are. Americans are, as a consequence, blind to the immense absurdity of the emperor's claim that Iraq is building weapons to "dominate, intimidate and attack" the United States.  It is the US that has built history's vastest arsenal of weapons to dominate, intimidate and attack. "President girds his country for war," say the headlines. They should say, "President declares his intention to slaughter the weak."

Hitler portrayed the weak as threats, invoking self-defense to justify his wars of conquest. Today, Bush does the same.  And in Israel, Ariel Sharon, "Mini-Me" to Bush's Dr. Evil, carries out an ongoing war for the conquest of all of historic Palestine, with Washington's active support. Israel's aggressions are on a smaller scale, but its methods, and brutality, are much the same as its sponsor's.

The emperor's hypocrisy, his bald-face lies, his transparent intentions, pass without comment by the American media, its purpose to reinforce, not impugn, the emperor's deceptions. The press poisons the nation's mind with lies, as smartly as the Pentagon once poisoned Iraq's soil with depleted uranium and its drinking water with pertusis and cholera after it deliberately smashed the country's water treatment facilities. This it promises to do again, part of what the emperor calls "keeping the peace."

The American soldiers who surround your country are not your enemies, the emperor tells the people of Iraq; they are your liberators. He doesn't tell them what that his soldiers will liberate them from: their homes, their security from hunger, their lives.

And so, with the media as much a part of the group that dominates the country, as the oil firms and defense contractors and their faithful servants in Washington's imperial court, it is left to others, who will be called unpatriotic or anti-American or communist dupes or members of the far left, to expose the emperor's egregious lies.

Iraq, says the emperor, is an outlaw regime that ignores the world's opinion. Moments later, he declares the United States to be an outlaw regime too, one that ignores the world's opinion, but this is a good thing, to be applauded and celebrated. The United States, he says with iron in his voice "does not depend on the decisions of others." The assembled courtiers spring to their feet, pleased that the US is an outlaw country that does whatever the emperor and his backers please, subordinate to nothing so contemptible as world opinion or international law or morality. A distant echo from history is heard: Zieg Heil. Zieg Heil.

Later, he says the only reason Iraq wants weapons is "to dominate, intimidate or attack," and to resume "its ambitions of conquest in the Middle East." Left in peace, Iraq may very well rearm itself, starting new wars to conquer its neighbors' territory. Or it may not. But suggesting that Iraq is in any way capable at this moment, or in the near future, of embarking on a project to dominate the Middle East, is as ridiculous as saying that Bush himself, on an off day, with a head cold, and both hands tied behind his back, could deck Mike Tyson in a heavyweight championship bout. After three wars and over a decade of sanctions and weapons inspections, Iraq is so severely depleted that it's in no position to threaten or dominate anyone. With battle groups and bases dotting the world, and more firepower than all other countries combined, the United States, on the other hand, is not only in a position to dominate the Middle East, it does so.

But there's another threat Iraq poses, according to the emperor: "Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including al-Qaeda" and Saddam may furnish those terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.

There are so many problems with this claim, it's difficult to count them all. First, the secular Saddam Hussein and fanatically religious Osama bin Laden hate each other. It's unlikely they're coming to each other's aid. Second, Bush provides no proof of the connection, preferring his usual, and quite convenient practice, of tossing out whatever claim suits his purpose, knowing full well that the media won't do much, if anything, to call it into question. We know that Rumsfeld ordered his aides just hours after the Sept. 11 attacks to find a link to Iraq. If after 18 months of looking, this is the best Washington can come up with, it's pretty certain the claim is entirely empty, another one of the emperor's lies. Third, we have no idea whether Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction to furnish terrorists with. We do know that 90 percent of Iraq's weapons were dismantled by the time UN inspectors were withdrawn in 1998, and we do know that inspectors have failed to find any weapons since re-entering the country. Washington insists Iraq has weapons of mass destruction but, following its usual practice, can't back up its claim with evidence. Finally, if an Iraq in possession of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons is in league with al-Qaeda, as the emperor suggests, and those weapons are intended for use against the United States, why weren't they used on Sept. 11? "It would take just one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known," said George II. So why did al-Qaeda use four hijacked airliners "to produce a day of horror like none we've ever known," rather than one vial, one canister or one crate? Wouldn't one vial, one canister or one crate be infinitely simpler?

Another problem: The emperor's own country stands a much better chance of being accurately portrayed as a supporter of al-Qaeda and terrorists, than Iraq does. It was Washington's promoting Islamic fanaticism as a bulwark against Arab nationalism, and its designs in drawing the Soviet Union into the morass of a war in Afghanistan, that's responsible for al-Qaeda.  The "contras," armed by the US, were terrorists, and the anti-Castro fanatics who bomb Cuban hotels and commercial jets but live unmolested in Florida are terrorists too. Washington, the emperor won't reveal and the media covers up, is international terrorism's number one promoter, its principal arms dealer. Projection again.

At one point in his speech the emperor said "the ambitions of Hitlerism, militarism and communism," have been defeated. Communism, of the Soviet variety, has. But Hitlerism and militarism live on. Wrapped in a flag of stars and stripes. Backed by investors and oil firms and defense contractors. Proclaimed in the Congress, by a man with the air of an emperor, whose speeches are case studies in projection.

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