One year after 'victory' in Iraq, a speech given by US President George Bush to a group of newspaper editors in Washington—notable for having been off the cuff and therefore free of his evangelical rhetoric—has shown that, like the Bourbons of Parma, he has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Why are the Americans in Iraq? "I believe people yearn to be free. I believe freedom in the heart of the Middle East is a historic opportunity to change the world."
Why should the Americans stay on in Iraq? "The people of Iraq are looking at America and saying, 'Are we going to cut and run again?' That's what they (the Americans) are thinking as well...we are not going to cut and run if I am in the Oval office." Note, no reference here to June 30 (the earlier date for US troop withdrawal), or to consulting any Iraqi leaders other than the puppets he has appointed to its so-called governing council: no question of consulting—let alone striking a compromise—with those who oppose the US presence in their country. And no mention of a transfer of authority to the UN. That is for public consumption. This is the true Imperial voice of the new America, complete with its updated model of the White Man's burden.
On his successes in the war on terror, "If Al Qaeda were a board of directors, the chairman and vice-chairman might still be out there, but the middle management is gone." He said this at about the same time that Al Qaeda was putting its finishing touches to a set of serial bombings in Basra, which have killed three score Iraqi policemen and, tragically, 18 schoolchildren. Does Bush still not realise that Al Qaeda has no board of directors, that it has only middlemen connected to each other mostly by face-to-face contact, and that it is replacing them at a speed far greater than they can be taken out? All he has to do is look at the increasing frequency and devastating effectiveness of the terror attacks that the US and its allies are facing to judge his 'success'.
In fact, if anyone is winning the war against terror, it is the terrorists. Spain is pulling out its troops from Iraq in six weeks; Honduras is following suit. Seventy per cent of the new South Korean parliament is against the sending of troops to Iraq. That could be deferred. Poland is having second thoughts about keeping its troops in. Only Italy, Australia and (in a non-combat role) Japan remain among his main original supporters. How long will their resolve last, if the uprising in Iraq continues to spread?
Bush also seems unaware of just how completely isolated his country has become. King Abdullah of Jordan—who was in California when Bush trashed his own road plan for Palestine, and gave Israel America's unconditional support for the assassination of the new Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi—abruptly cancelled a scheduled meeting with Bush and flew home instead. The insult was intended, and came from a ruler who had been handpicked by the US administrators to prevent the crown of Jordan from passing into the hands of the late King Hussein's brother, the PLO-friendly Nouri.
Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, another of America's closest allies in the Arab world, and the principal recipient of American aid for two decades, minced no words during a recent visit to Paris. "Today there is hatred of the Americans like never before in the region," he said in an interview. "People have a feeling of injustice. What's more, they see Sharon acting as he pleases, without the Americans saying anything. He assassinates people who don't have the planes and helicopters that he has. The despair and feeling of injustice are not going to be limited to our region alone. American and Israeli interests will not be safe, not only in our region but anywhere in the world." From him it was a gentle warning. From anyone else it would have been a threat.
Tony Blair has finally parted company with his 'great friend and ally' George Bush over the killings of Sheikh Ahmed Yasin and Rantissi. Even former president Bill Clinton has dissociated himself from these acts, and asked, sardonically, "If they kill any leader Hamas appoints, who will they talk to?" Clinton's observation shows that he has understood how four years of unending repression have transferred real power and popular support within the Palestinian movement from the moderate PLO to the extremist Hamas. Israel's insistence that the PLO rein in the Hamas as a precondition to talks is like asking an unarmed villager to subdue a tiger. Israel has its own reasons, born out of bankruptcy of ideas and desperation, for making this demand and pretending that all would be well if only Yasser Arafat could be eliminated. But Bush learns nothing and does not understand what the State department undoubtedly tells him. His utterly uncritical endorsement of everything Sharon says or does only underlines how unfit this man is to be the leader of a church choir, let alone of a hyper power.
There is one thing, however, that Bush has not forgotten. This is how to frighten the US voter into voting him back to power next November. Noam Chomsky has pointed out in more than one of his books that this is the technique every American regime has used to force peace-loving Americans into supporting Rambo-type presidents and their actions, both in the US and abroad. On Tuesday, Bush told Republican congressional leaders during a meeting at the White House that it was all but certain that terrorists would attempt a major attack on the United States before the elections, according to a congressional aide. The leaders were struck by Bush's definitiveness and gravity, an aide to Bush dutifully added. There goes the leg-break.
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