An Ozymandias Moment
by John Maxwell
On reflection it is amazing how much of the world was right-; two years ago-; and how wrong Mr Bush was about his proposed war on Saddam Hussein. In September 2002, writing after Mr Bush's rhetorical carpet bombing of the United Nations. I said
"Very little of the external world's disapproval filters back to the United States. Guarded by a suffocatingly nationalistic media, most Americans are blissfully unaware of how isolated their government is in the world. Despite this, nearly half of all Americans are against any war"
Of course, when war came, almost all Americans rallied round the flag.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll last week (April 29,2004) support for war is down sharply and Americans are increasingly critical of the way President Bush is handling the conflict. "Asked whether the United States had done the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, 47 percent of respondents said it had, down from 58 percent a month earlier and 63 percent in December, just after American forces captured Saddam Hussein. Forty-six percent said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq, up from 37 percent last month and 31 percent in December".
What was even more startling were the numbers of those who approve of Mr Bush's handling of Iraq, down to 41% from 49% last month and nearly 20 pints lower than six months ago. And the poll found that nearly two third of Americans (58%) said the results of the war were not worth the loss of American lives.
On Thursday, an American woman, a "contractor" for an American company in Iraq, was sent home for emailing pictures she had taken of rows of flag-draped coffins on their way home for burial. The level of hysterical reaction provoked by the pictures may be an index of how unsure the Bush administration is of its re-election chances. The coffins were grotesquely described as ‘the remains' of American soldiers and the pictures of them in row after anonymous row were allegedly ‘invasions of the privacy' of bereaved families. The Bush league habitually stretches the English language but these examples were worthy of the 1940s comic-book hero, Plastic Man.
While American coffins are sacrosanct, there are no such qualms affecting Iraqi bodies. The death toll in the punishment of Fallujah has, in two weeks exceeded the number of Americans killed in the entire war. But nobody keeps count of those, generally, perhaps because so many are non-combatants, including women and children.
And the US press was also remarkably squeamish about publishing a real horror story-; the torture and debasement of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. While newspapers round the world made a huge story of the events at the prison, the US press was remarkably low key about them-; except for CBSNews-; which published the pictures-; and the Baltimore Sun which commented: " Television footage of the mistreatment of Iraqi war prisoners by their American captors was shockingly disturbing and hauntingly reminiscent of the horror stories from the regime of Saddam Hussein …The Pentagon must be held accountable if the military failed to provide the training, staffing, supervision and leadership required to ensure that prisoners of war are treated humanely."
One soldier charged with abuse said his superiors had never told him of the rules of war or the Geneva Convention. Shades of Guantanamo Bay!
A few weeks ago, on CNN, one ‘clean-cut' young American soldier said that he was bored with the truce in Fallujah; he wanted to do what he was paid to do "Kick down doors and shoot people."
A CNN/USA Today poll published last week, takes the political temperature of Iraq and finds the people in a fever of hate and frustration brought on by suffering and humiliation. Two thirds of the people of Baghdad say that attacks against US forces are sometimes or always justifiable. By a three to one majority, the ‘liberated' Baghdadis feel the war has done more harm than good-; and nearly two thirds of all Iraquis want the Anglo-American led ‘coalition' forces to leave their country forthwith. What they miss most of all? -;security.
They should remember what Field Marshal von Rumsfeld said, ‘Freedom is untidy'. So There!
You will remember before the war began, Rumsfeld declared that the Iraquis would meet the US soldiers with flowers and kisses. These days neither he nor his soi-disant boss, the President, are as popular among their own Republican party as they were a few months ago. The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, has openly questioned Bush's judgment in deciding to turn Iraq over to the Iraqis on June 30. The extreme right-wing Fox News commentator, Bill Reilly doesn't ‘buy' Rumsfeld's line that Iraquis are on the US side; the current conflict is a second Iraq War, he says and wants Rumsfeld to explain "a lot of mistakes that are killing American soldiers." Senator Chuck Hagel (Rep; Nebraska) says the Bush administration has few good options left in Iraq.
I am personally nauseated by the American reporting of the war, particularly on CNN, which claims to be the most trusted name in news. To people like Wolf Blitzer the arraignment of Michael Jackson on what appear to be trumped up charges of conspiracy and child molestation are matters of transcendental importance while the torture of civilians by American troops are piddling irritations. And while an old boys' cloak of gentlemanly reticence prohibits the slightest questioning of the sapience of President Bush and his advisers, serious inquiry is lavished on the matter of how deep were the wounds which earned John Kerry his Purple Hearts in Vietnam three decades ago. Somehow, to mention Kerry's Silver Star and other awards for gallantry and valour seem to be "unsporting" -; a word for which there is no American equivalent, and probably for good reason.
This weekend there are two unconnected but relevant anniversaries. One; the first anniversary of Mr Bush's declaration on the flight-deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, that his mission in Iraq had been accomplished.. As far as he was concerned, a year ago, what was left in Iraq was simply tidying up. The Iraquis are now busy proving him wrong, out of sheer cussedness, one imagines. They simply don't know what's good for them.
They resent, for instance, an American initiative to design for them a new flag. If anything expressed the American lack of tact and sensitivity, this one takes the cake. A nation's flag is a an expression of its personalty. It can't be outsourced as this job was, to an enemy of Saddam.
The second anniversary this weekend is that of the precipitate American departure from Vietnam, in 1975 after a massive nation-building failure.
In Iraq, the Americans decided not to entirely reduce Fallujah to rubble-; the only way they could win. Instead, they are withdrawing and are now to turn the city over to remnants of Saddam's Army. Two units of this army, incorporated into the coalition forces, have already mutinied, refusing to fight against fellow Iraquis.
As I forecast in this column in September, 2002, Iraq seemed likely to remain the graveyard of champions . And I said then the shattered statue of Ozymandias-; ‘King of Kings'-; lies metaphorically, somewhere between Baghdad and Washington. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
The withdrawal from Fallujah seems to me, reminiscent of the first American withdrawals from the Vietnamese countryside, just before they abandoned Saigon itself.
Disaster in Haiti
While the war in Iraq is taking the shine off Mr. Bush's reputation, the US occupation of Haiti is attracting no attention whatever. The hordes of journalists who so gleefully chronicled the decline and fall of President Aristide seem to be strangely unable to report what's actually happening now in Haiti.
There are all sorts of informal reports coming out of Haiti of widespread terrorism-; physical abuse and assassination of community leaders who support Jean Bertrand Aristide. Atrocities appear to be happening with the blessing and even supervision of the occupation troops.
As far as I know Haitians bleed and feel pain in the same way that Americans and Iraquis do. Many Haitians feel they are so terminally imperilled that they are prepared to set sail in leaky canoes to get away. Hundreds of them have been corralled by the US Coast Guard and returned to their murderers.
Ten years ago I asked, in another newspaper, what exactly it was it that prevented the United States recognizing that Haitians are human beings?
I didn't get an answer then and I will not get an answer now.
But, it is clear to me, that any government which is unable to recognise the essential human dignity of any human being is obviously not civilised .
The United States is now putting pressure on the Caricom states to recognise the bastard regime in Haiti. The US is cozening, suborning and menacing Jamaica and the other states to become complicit in the American denial of human rights to eight million black Haitians.
Three, four and five centuries ago, the slave traders used the same tactics to ensnare Africans into the trading of their brothers into miserable servitude, transportation and death. In Haiti, alone in all the world, the victims of that disreputable conspiracy managed to overthrow their masters and win total freedom, they thought, for themselves and their posterity.
Now, we are being asked to join the US Administration and the Haitian elite to return the descendants of those heroes into a state which may not be called slavery, but which will be indistinguishable from it.
In Haiti, the Neanderthals are making merry, They are in the process of destroying the country's nascent public health system, its education, its culture and its people's will to be free. On Friday, the Miami Herald reported a really sinister development.
Guy Philippe, a notorious terrorist and drug-dealer, plans to run for President of Haiti.
Joe Mozingo of the Herald writes: "Philippe-;whose boyish charisma made him a wildly popular figure in Haiti despite allegations of drug trafficking-;said the group has yet to decide if he would be the new party's candidate for president in elections expected in 2005.
"We have to do a poll and see who has the advantage,' he said. "If the poll says I am the person, I will be the person."
I wonder how many of us have had our fill of ‘Boyish Charisma" and ‘Democracy by Bush'?
Copyright©2004 John Maxwell