Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The memory hole

About the worst thing that can happen, from a public health point of view, is war. In Iraq today, the public health infrastructure has collapsed, millions of people don't have clean water, hospitals lack basic supplies and equipment and, oh yeah, electricity, tens of thousands of children are malnourished, and then there are those pesky explosions and 50 caliber bullets. As far as the United States is concerned, the close to 2,000 deaths of troops, plus another 300 or so mercenaries and non-combatants, and the 6,000 or so serious injuries, may be a drop in the epidemiological bucket (it's a big country), but the moral responsibility for the disaster is none the less for it. The more than $4 billion a month we're paying for this monstrous folly is money that could go a long way toward meeting some of our serious problems at home. Then there is the PTSD, the suicides, the disrupted families, aborted careers, bereaved families and communities. It's really bad, folks. It's really hurting us.

So it is fully on topic for me to address the collective insanity of our corporate mass media and our political discourse -- for which Democrats are as much, if not more to blame, than Republicans. The central narrative of the collective consciousness is now supposed to be that George W. Bush has put forth a doctrine of spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world, starting with a place called the Greater Middle East, and the war in Iraq is the first major step in this world historical visionary struggle which we must win in order to secure peace and prosperity for the planet.

Damn funny thing about that story, it does not correspond to reality. Remember reality? I know it's obsolete but some of us are old fashioned.

What I am about to write is actually true, although you will not read it in the New York Times or see it on TV.

In 1997, much of the Republican foreign policy establishment, out of power since 1992, established a think tank called the Project for the New American Century. Founders included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and Richard Perle. PNAC’s staffers were veterans of the Contra war against Nicaragua and the Committee on the Present Danger, which promoted war with the Soviet Union. Jeb Bush, Eliot Abrams, Zalmay Khalilzad (now U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan) and William Kristol were also close to the group and signed some of its policy documents, including one called “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.” (Go here for all the info you could want.) This document called for the United States to achieve global military domination, including permanently positioning forces in the Gulf region. It stated, “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” It did not at any point identify Saddam Hussein as a threat to anyone, nor say anything about his developing Weapons of Mass Destruction™ or being linked to al Qaeda. Actually it never mentioned al Qaeda or terrorism. Even so, they knew that the public would not accept their project without a transforming event, a “new Pearl Harbor.” (Funny thing isn't it? They got one.)

They selected a naive, easily manipulated empty suit to be their candidate for president. Bush campaigned in 2000 on a platform of a “humbler” foreign policy, and pointedly rejected the idea that the U.S. should be involved in “nation building.” Shortly after the Supreme Court appointed Bush President, in February, 2001, Colin Powell stated in a news conference, “Frankly, [the sanctions against Iraq] have worked. He [Saddam] has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”

But in fact, according to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, the Bush regime was plotting to invade Iraq from the day it took office. Former chief terrorism advisor Richard Clarke has said the same thing. On September 12, 2001, according to Clarke, Bush took him aside and told him to find a way to pin the 9/11 attack on Iraq. The Bush Administration undertook a successful disinformation campaign to do just that, spearheaded by Dick Cheney, with remarks by Bush himself carefully scripted to conflate Saddam with Osama bin Laden, and they managed to convince a majority of the public. Cheney made frequent trips to the CIA to make it clear to career civil servants there that the administration wanted evidence showing that Iraq had banned weapons and weapon development programs. Rumsfeld set up a special operation in the Pentagon to produce such evidence, and accompanying propaganda. The administration undertook a campaign of bombing Iraqi air defenses in an effort to provoke an incident that would provide justification for war. The administration paid a convicted thief, Ahmad Chalabi, who had not set foot in Iraq since 1979, to feed false information to the CIA and to Judith Miller of the New York Times, about Iraq’s nonexistent weapons programs.

On February 5, 2003, Colin Powell made a speech to the UN Security Council in which he presented various pieces of evidence to the effect that Saddam Hussein possessed banned weapons, including as much as 25,000 liters of anthrax, mobile biological weapons production facilities, thousands of tons of nerve gas, was actively attempting to produce nuclear weapons, and was allied with Osama bin Laden and the global jihad network. Every single factual assertion in Powell’s speech was false – every single one -- and most were widely reported to be false in the European press in the days immediately following. But the U.S. news media swooned in admiration for the Secretary's brilliant, incontrovertible performance.

We now know that in July 2002, the director of British intelligence told the British cabinet that Bush had already decided to invade Iraq. But since Iraq was not in fact a threat to its neighbors or anyone else, the “intelligence was being fixed around the policy.” Everybody who was sentient in those days knows that the Bush administration – led publicly by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush himself – whipped up the public and the corporate media into a frenzy over the supposed threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction and his alliance with al Qaeda, and on the basis of that “imminent” threat to the United States, obtained congressional authorization and corporate media support for war.

That is what happened. This freedom and democracy thing is a new story they started telling only after the Weapons of Mass Destruction™ and al Qaeda conspiracy lies were fully and finally exposed. Having been exposed, they are now forgotten, once Bush got done making fun of them at the annual Washington press dinner. But of course the freedom and democracy story is equally false and nonsensical. Everybody knows that freedom and democracy do not issue from the barrel of a tank or rain down as shrapnel from a 500 pound bomb. The last thing the Bush administration will ever allow in Iraq is democracy, because a legitimate, popular Iraqi government would be inimical to their ambitions to control the region and its natural resources militarily. By freedom and democracy they mean regimes friendly to U.S. ambitions. Any reporter or politician who doesn't know that perfectly well is a fool. Yet they seem grateful for being lied to, and they keep begging for more. It is incomprehensible.

Over the centuries, there have been many crimes committed in the name of the United States, by our government – slavery, the dispossession and genocide of the original inhabitants of the land, imperialist conquest of Mexican territory, the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War. Feel free to propose your own. It seems pointless to rank them.

But this one is unusual in one respect. We now know, while Bush is still in office, that the war was based entirely on a campaign of lies. Slavery and genocide were crimes which, sad to say, were committed openly, with the support of the people. The Tonkin Gulf incident which helped accelerate U.S. involvement in Vietnam was a fabrication, but the Vietnam atrocity evolved over time with diffuse and ambiguous responsibility. This particular world historical crime is unambiguously the work of readily identifiable conspirators, many of whom I have named above, and the damage to the United States is also obvious and need not await the verdict of history.

George W. Bush and his cronies are criminals. They are liars, thieves, murderers. They do not believe in freedom, or democracy, nor do they care one whit for the U.S. national interest if we define that as what is in the best interest of the people. They care only for power and greed. It is long past time for prominent people to stand up and say so.

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