31 January 2003

What state is the Union in?

I was reading Bush’s State of the Union address yesterday, and am troubled by all sorts of things in it. I appreciate that his backing attempts to deal with AIDS in Africa is a very good thing, and I can’t comment on his economic policies because they’re none of my business. But as the world’s only superpower, America’s foreign policy concerns everybody.
It is strange that GWB should be claiming that one of his goals is 'to promote energy independence [...] while dramatically improving the environment'. His quest for energy independence has driven him to plan history’s biggest war crime, as discussed yesterday. As for improving the environment, I notice that no attempt is even hinted at regarding curtailing the SUV Hydra; this is hardly surprising for an Oil lobby president who has repealed environmental legislation, plans to plunder Alaskan reserves irrespective of the consequences, and has rejected the Kyoto Agreement.
‘The American flag stands for more than our power and our interests.’ Presumably then it stands primarily for power and interests. Fair enough, as long as we're clear on that. It may be a disappointment to those who salute it thinking it represents American ideals, but they can console themselves with the thought that the flag represents ideals too, sort of as an afterthought, or a by-product. What are these ideals, so?
'Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person, and the possibilities of every life. This conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men.’ The quasi-biblical terminology troubles me, but my main concern here is the reference to defending ‘the peace’. Is preparing to slaughter countless thousands defending peace? After all, prevention is better than cure. And is slaughtering countless thousands, in the knowledge that this will inspire anger, hatred, and fanaticism, creating countless new enemies, really conducive to peace?
I like the reference to continuing to seek for peace between ‘a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine.’ Interesting. Israel doesn’t need to be democratic, while whatever jigsaw state the Palestinians are allowed have will be far from secure.
‘And this nation is leading the world in confronting and defeating the man-made evil of international terrorism’ Maybe so, but if that’s the case then George ought to consider Nietzsche’s injunction to ‘Battle not with monsters, lest you become a monster.’ As my last posting hopefully made clear, terror tactics appear to be all the rage in Washington nowadays.
‘All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.’ Ignore the issue of what happened to these suspected terrorists for a moment. Just concentrate on one word. Suspected. We don’t know if these people who were arrested or who ‘met a different fate’ were terrorists or not. Whatever happened to that principle of being innocent until proven guilty? And what was the ‘different fate’? Quite a chilling euphemism, that one. Is the President making a little joke here, about people who might or might not have been guilty of conducting terrorist operations being killed in combat or even executions or assassinations?
‘One by one, the terrorists are learning the meaning of American justice.’ That last phrase is interesting. Justice is a universal quality, not a local or national one. By talking about ‘the meaning of American justice’, Bush implied that American justice is distinct from true justice. Sometimes these rhetorical flourishes reveal what is really going on . . .
‘Whatever the duration of this struggle, and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men -- free people will set the course of history.’ Does this even need a comment? He’s about to begin a war. He’s not merely permitting the triumph of violence, he is perpetuating it.
(I thought for the moment that he was lifting Shakespeare here - There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune’ and all that. I don’t think it’s anything of the sort, though. In the Two Towers there are several references to threats to the world of men, and if you look at George W. Bush’s lines prior to this what do we see but ‘In the ruins of two towers, at the western wall of the Pentagon, on a field in Pennsylvania, this nation made a pledge, and we renew that pledge tonight.’ So he’s riffing on Tolkien.)
‘This threat is new; America's duty is familiar. Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world.’ Ignoring the questionable historical claims in the subsequent sentences, settle for how this sentence itself could well be used to summarise how Bush and his buddies took power in what was effectively a bloodless coup, and then began to behave on the global stage.
'All free nations have a stake in preventing sudden and catastrophic attacks. And we're asking them to join us, and many are doing so. Yet the course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others. Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people.' Aside from the Messianic tone here, is he officially saying that the UN is irrelevant? That global approval is no longer necessary?
'Iranians, like all people, have a right to choose their own government and determine their own destiny -- and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom.' I'm glad that the US now supports Iranian aspirations to live in freedom. It didn't when the Shah was in power. I wonder how it feels about General Musharraf, or the House of Saud, or on the other hand Castro or Chavez?
I was amused by the claim that Hussein has shown ‘utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world.’ This from the man who has scorned the Kyoto Agreement, and attempted to strangle the International Criminal Court. References to pots calling kettles black would not be out of place . . .
'U.S. intelligence indicates that Saddam Hussein had upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents. Inspectors recently turned up 16 of them -- despite Iraq's recent declaration denying their existence. Saddam Hussein has not accounted for the remaining 29,984 of these prohibited munitions.' Perhaps so, but such missiles are hardly a threat to anybody. They are used on unguided rocket artillery systems, and only have a range of about 12.5 miles. They might be useful in defending against an invading army, but not much else.
'Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.' Several nuclear scientists have said that such tubes probably weren't suitable for this purpose, while the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, thinks they were probably for use in non nuclear rockets which would have a range less than 150 kilometres. I don't know why he thinks that, but Mr Bush should probably follow his lead on this matter, if he is indeed 'strongly supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency in its mission to track and control nuclear materials around the world', as he claims.
'The 108 U.N. inspectors were sent to conduct -- were not sent to conduct a scavenger hunt for hidden materials across a country the size of California.' Really? I imagine that's news to the inspectors. Bush was right before he corrected himself. I think Iraq may be even bigger than California, for what it's worth.
Referring to Hussein’s as yet unseen arsenal, Bush claimed ‘The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.’ That’s a reasonable supposition, I suppose. After all, that’s what Bush uses them for.
'Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda.' This seems rather unlikely, since round the time of the attack on the World Trade Centre it was thought that Hussein had very few links with terrorists, since he regarded them as unreliable and potential loose cannons. A spurious story which circulated in the aftermath of September Eleventh concerning meetings between Mohamed Atta and a prominent Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague looks unfounded, and no other convincing evidence for such a link has been drawn up. It is certainly possibly that imprisoned members of Al Qa'ida may have claimed that there was a link between Iraq and their network, but they may well have been attempting to provoke a war, knowing how it is likely to whip the Islamic world into a frenzy. We need to remember that Osama bin Laden has described Saddam Hussein as 'an apostate, an infidel, and a traitor to Islam.'
‘Before September the 11th, many in the world believed that Saddam Hussein could be contained. But chemical agents, lethal viruses and shadowy terrorist networks are not easily contained. Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein.’ There is a logical collapse somewhere in the middle here. Hussein hasn’t done anything except fire off the odd anti-aircraft gun in over a decade. If he had anthrax or such weapons, he would have been in a perfect position to supply terrorists before September the eleventh. So why didn’t he use them? This whole argument is utter rubbish.
‘Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.’ George was referring to those ‘brave and oppressed’ Iraqis,* not the people of America. Strange.
*You know, the ones that have been dying for the past twelve years since their water supply was ruined by the last Western attack on Iraq – a war crime, incidentally, if you take a look at article 54 of the Geneva convention.
Finally, from my standpoint as a military historian, the following claim is completely false. ‘Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a President can make. The technologies of war have changed; the risks and suffering of war have not.’ This is a lie. The risks have changed immensely. Over 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War. Guess how many died in the Kosovo conflict?
Answers on a postcard please.

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