- Everyone in the Middle East rewrites
history, but never before have we had a US administration so wilfully,
dishonestly and ruthlessly reinterpreting tragedy as success, defeat as
victory, death as life - helped, I have to add, by the compliant American
press. I'm reminded not so much of Vietnam as of the British and French
commanders of the First World War who repeatedly lied about military victory
over the Kaiser as they pushed hundreds of thousands of their men through
the butchers' shops of the Somme, Verdun and Gallipoli. The only difference
now is that we are pushing hundreds of thousands of Arabs though the butchers'
shops - and don't even care.
- Last week's visit to Beirut by one of
the blindest of George Bush's bats - his Secretary of State, Condoleezza
Rice - was indicative of the cruelty that now pervades Washington. She
brazenly talked about the burgeoning "democracies" of the Middle
East while utterly ignoring the bloodbaths in Iraq and the growing sectarian
tensions of Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the key to her indifference
can be found in her evidence to the Senate Committee on International Affairs
where she denounced Iran as "the greatest strategic challenge"
facing the US in the region, because Iran uses policies that "contradict
the nature of the kind of Middle East sought by the United States".
- As Bouthaina Shaaban, one of the brightest
of Syria's not always very bright team of government ministers, noted:
"What is the nature of the kind of Middle East sought by the United
States? Should Middle East states adapt themselves to that nature, designed
oceans away?" As Maureen Dowd, the best and only really worthwhile
columnist on the boring New York Times, observed this month, Bush "believes
in self-determination only if he's doing the determining ... The Bushies
are more obsessed with snooping on Americans than fathoming how other cultures
think and react." And conniving with rogue regimes, too, Dowd might
- Take Donald Rumsfeld, the reprehensible
man who helped to kick off the "shock and awe" mess that has
now trapped more than 100,000 Americans in the wastes of Iraq. He's been
taking a leisurely trip around North Africa to consult some of America's
nastiest dictators, among them President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia,
the man with the largest secret service in the Arab world and whose policemen
have perfected the best method of gleaning information from suspected "terrorists":
to hold them down and stuff bleach-soaked rags into their mouths until
they have almost drowned.
- The Tunisians learned this from the somewhat
cruder methods of the Algerians next door whose government death squads
slaughtered quite a few of the 150,000 victims of the recent war against
the Islamists. The Algerian lads - and I've interviewed a few of them after
their nightmares persuaded them to seek asylum in London - would strap
their naked victims to a ladder and, if the "chiffon" torture
didn't work, they'd push a tube down the victim's throat and turn on a
water tap until the prisoner swelled up like a balloon. There was a special
department (at the Chateauneuf police station, in case Donald Rumsfeld
wants to know) for torturing women, who were inevitably raped before being
dispatched by an execution squad.
- All this I mention because Rumsfeld's
also been cosying up to the Algerians. On a visit to Algiers this month,
he announced that "the United States and Algeria have a multifaceted
relationship. It involves political and economic as well as military-to-military
co-operation. And we very much value the co-operation we are receiving
in counter-terrorism..." Yes, I imagine the "chiffon" technique
is easy to learn, the abuse of prisoners, too - just like Abu Ghraib, for
example, which now seems to have been the fault of journalists rather than
- Rumsfeld's latest pronouncements have
included a defence of the Pentagon's system of buying favourable news stories
in Iraq with bribes - "non-traditional means to provide accurate information"
was his fantasy description of this latest attempt to obscure the collapse
of the American regime in Baghdad - and an attack on our reporting of the
Abu Ghraib tortures. "Consider for a moment the vast quantity of column
inches and hours of television devoted to the detainee abuse [sic] at Abu
Ghraib. Compare that to the volume of coverage and condemnation associated
with, say, the discovery of Saddam Hussein's mass graves, which were filled
with hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis."
- Let's expose this whopping lie. We were
exposing Saddam's vile regime, especially his use of gas, as long ago as
1983. I was refused a visa to Iraq by Saddam's satraps for exposing their
vile tortures at - Abu Ghraib. And what was Donald Rumsfeld doing? Visiting
Baghdad, grovelling before Saddam, to whom he did not mention the murders
and mass graves, which he knew about, and pleading with the Beast of Baghdad
to reopen the US embassy in Iraq.
- With the usual press courtiers in tow,
Rumsfeld has no problems, witness George Melloan's recent interview with
the Beast of Washington in his Boeing 737: "He generously spares me
time for a chat about defence strategy. Bright sunlight streams in and
lights his face ... Sitting across from him at a desk high above the clouds,
one wonders if the ability of this modern Jove to call down lightning on
transgressors will be equal to the tasks ahead."
- And so myth-making and tragedy go hand
in hand. Iraq's monumental catastrophe has become routine, shapeless, an
incipient "civil war". Note how the American framework of disaster
is now being portrayed as an Iraqi vs Iraqi war, as if the huge and brutal
US occupation has nothing to do with the appalling violence in Iraq. They
blow up each other's mosques? They just don't want to get on. We told them
to have a non-sectarian government and they refused. That, I suspect, will
be the get-out line when the next deluge overwhelms the Americans in Iraq.
- Winston Churchill, when the Iraqis staged
their insurgency against British rule in 1920, called Iraq "an ungrateful
volcano". But let's just sit back and enjoy the view. Democracy is
coming to the Middle East. People are enjoying more liberties. History
doesn't matter, only the future. And the future for the people of the Middle
East is becoming darker and bloodier by the day. I guess it just depends
whether "Jove" is up to his job when all that bright sunlight
streams in and lights his face.
- © 2006 Independent News and Media