Exercises in mendacity
The bombing of Hiroshima announced the arrival of the American empire. And on its fringes the moral confusions ripple away, writes Azmi Bishara
MUSHARRAF AND BHUTTO: Since coming to power through a military coup against Nawaz Sharif the Musharraf government has received $10 billion in American aid, of which $7 billion was for military purposes. One is reminded of the support received by the Zia-ul-Haq regime which deposed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Under General Zia's dictatorship Pakistan became the third largest recipient of US aid after Israel and Egypt.
In spite of Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency last Thursday, Bush's evening telephone call to him on the subject, calls in Congress for a suspension of aid to Pakistan and the White House's subsequent embarrassment, plans are still in full swing for a joint US-Pakistani offensive in the tribal region along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. Nag as America might it needs Musharraf to control the army, to keep down the Islamic opposition and to suppress rebellion. Musharraf, of course, knows this.
Musharraf had been in no position to wage a full scale military campaign against the Taliban and Islamists who use the tribal area as a refuge and base. The showdown at the Red Mosque, though, proved a turning point, and he resolved to act in the way the US wants him to. But if he was going to mount an offensive of that nature in alliance with the US he had to do something about the broad-based Islamist opposition. He had two choices: either he could declare a state of emergency and impose martial law, thereby clamping the mouth of that noisy opposition shut, or he could expand the popular base of the regime by opening the field to an opposition that was less dangerous, with which America felt comfortable and that could not rule the country without the army. He tried option two first, attempting a reconciliation with Benazir Bhutto, whom he hoped to gain as an ally against the Islamists. But the reaction of the Islamists, and Bhutto's unlimited and unrestrained political ambitions -- not the bombings that killed many of her supporters or the position of his American-sponsored potential partner in power -- made him jettison option two and turn to option one, the state of emergency and martial law.
The bloody conflict that is raging between the Bhutto-led opposition People's Party and the ruling regime is taking place within the American orbit. The US manages crises. It is also in a state of denial about the choices it has been presented with by Musharraf, which are either to get on with the fight against terrorism and go on the offensive against the tribal area, or plump for unregulated political plurality in Pakistan.
Here is another instance, like Turkey and the Iraqi province of Kurdistan, of an open conflict, not against the empire but at its fringes. To some extent each of the antagonists is fighting to win the imperial favour. America has such a hard time controlling its allies. Nor are its strategic priorities set by Congress, no matter how loudly congressional members clamour that respect for human rights as a condition for sending aid.
A PEACEFUL DEATH: On 1 November General Paul Tibbets passed away at his home in Columbus, Ohio. He was 92. General Tibbets was the pilot of Enola Gay (named after his mother), the aeroplane that dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima on the morning of 6 August 1945. The bomb killed 140,000 people when it hit. Thousands more were injured and untold numbers died from radioactive poisoning or were born disfigured as a result of radioactive contamination.
The Wall Street Journal (9 November) praised the American hero. The act of dropping the bomb may be open to criticism, but Tibbets behaved as a soldier should in obeying the orders of his country, it wrote. But the newspaper not only admired Tibbets the soldier, a man who showed no regret for having accomplished his mission and who defended his action on the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. It also did something worthy of the newspapers of the Third Reich. With a stroke of the pen it reduced the number of people who died in that bombing to 80,000, and made no mention of the bomb's subsequent effects.
Now the art here is in making that numerical sleight-of-hand appear an admission of evil, out of duty to journalistic objectivity. The number is cited in the context of "legitimate criticism" of the dropping of the atom bomb. That criticism, in effect, is reduced to people do horrible things to their fellow human beings. There's no mention of superpower politics, American ambitions, Japanese ambitions, or anything of that sort. It's all brought down to the cosy generality of the evil that's in us all. That way, the reader can see the man who dropped the bomb and the president who issued the orders in the same light, offering as consolation human frailty and the fact they were victims of the kind of ills to which all flesh is heir.
This business of homing in on the commander, and the team that dropped the bomb, cannot be taken seriously, of course, even if they are guilty of executing an order that not only violates natural law, morals and religious stricture, and then of boasting about it later, even after they had learned the consequences of their act.
No, the real issue is the decision of the American government to drop a bomb on a densely populated civilian target at the end of a war it had already won and at a time when the US was the only power in possession of nuclear arms. The government that has appointed itself the judge of which countries may or may not present a danger if they possessed nuclear weapons is the only government that has demonstrated how dangerous nuclear weapons are. The way it demonstrated this danger was simple: it made a nuclear bomb and it used it. This same government claims to be a rational, secular, liberal democracy. Surely there must be some relationship between its appalling use of the nuclear bomb and this image it has of itself. I would suggest that this relationship can be summed up as follows. Since America believes that it is the epitome of all that is good and rational, whatever it does is right. (The same applies to its ally Israel, of course).
I will venture a hypothesis that is difficult to prove but nonetheless probable. If the US had continued to hold a monopoly on nuclear arms it would have used them on several occasions during the 20th century, against Korea and Vietnam, for example. What deterred it from repeating the crime it committed against Japan was not remorse or self-criticism but the fact that nuclear technology fell into other hands -- "evil" ones, of course.
- The US used a nuclear bomb against civilians.
- It did not use it out of desperation or in self- defence, as it charges that certain other countries will do. It used it to shorten the duration of a war and minimise its own military casualties.
- It was also prompted by irrational motives -- revenge for Pearl Harbour. Compared to its own display of vindictiveness what it charges is notorious oriental vengefulness pales. It was further inspired by ruthless Machiavellian notions, such as sending a message to the Soviet Union, the other major victor in World War II, just to make clear what power America possessed.
- America used the nuclear bomb when it held a monopoly on this weapon.
SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS: Even if France were tempted to play the guardian of Lebanese Christians once again -- with, of course, the approval of the American empire so necessary in this day and age -- it will be unable to do so in a way that favours the opposition, be it Christian or otherwise. And it is, in any case, a curious way to approach the issue of Lebanese conciliation. It makes it seem that conciliation is a mechanical process that involves tipping the balance of domestic forces in favour of the opposition, taking into account the international situation which can itself be tipped in favour of the government of Lebanon, and on and on.
All participants in dialogues on Lebanon at the international level (the Vatican, King Abdullah, Sarkozy, Bush) are supporters of the government in Beirut. The subject of their talks is whether to risk setting off an explosion by projecting the international balance of power onto Lebanon, or engineer a temporary adjustment between the balances of international and domestic forces until the opportunity arises to strike at the Lebanese resistance or lash out at its regional supporters. The discussions are always about how and when to take on the resistance, never about its right to exist. That it shouldn't is taken for granted.
This is why it is difficult, indeed impossible, for the resistance to back down on the question of the presidency until a comprehensive agreement is struck among domestic forces that offers certain guarantees. Any agreement upon who sits in the president's office must entail a complete reconciliation over a range of other matters, as opposed to leaving them unresolved until the enemies of the resistance and their foreign allies find the right time to act.
Since Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon the forces fighting American hegemony there have been retreating step by step, encouraging the forces allied with the US to up the pressure on the opposition in order to gain additional ground. Taking his cue from this process the American ambassador hastened to announce two weeks ago that even if a president is elected, in the absence of a Lebanese concord the opposition will fume and threaten, but it won't do anything.
Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon unilaterally, without an agreement for regulating the withdrawal or its aftermath. One side interpreted this as a resounding victory. Because Lebanese promises regarding the establishment of the best possible special relationship with Syria if Syrian forces withdrew were not officially set down on paper the drive against Syria quickly escalated into flagrant hostility that sought to strike at the heart of Damascus itself. Calls for toppling the Damascus regime could be heard inside Lebanon, as though the nature of the Syrian regime were a domestic Lebanese issue.
Even if the ruling forces failed to achieve a majority on their own in the Lebanese parliament they appropriated that position, just as Michel Aoun appropriated the opposition to the Syrian presence and the name 14 March. Although President Emile Lahoud has kept his distance the cabinet treats him as though he does not exist and has effectively pushed through everything it wants. Closing its ears to the president's observations the cabinet adopted the decisions of the international court. Ministers, who in Lebanese-Taif parlance were regarded as representative of a major faction in the government, withdrew and joined the opposition. The people who remained in the cabinet shrugged their shoulders and the government kept on governing in spite of the charge, based on the Taif Agreement and the constitution, that it was illegitimate.
When the Lebanese resistance heroically thwarted a savage Israeli aggression the time came for a counter- attack. This was led by forces that forged an opposition movement driven by a sense of patriotism and legitimacy and by its enormous sympathy for the resistance and a civilian population that had suffered horribly during the war. If aggression can be regarded as one way to settle a discussion, there were times when the opposition's actions seemed to constitute a domestic extension of the victory over Israel's intervention in Lebanese affairs. Then it stopped. The reason it stopped most likely had something to do with the opposition's sense of responsibility, its desire to preserve Lebanese unity and forestall a situation that its adversaries could escalate into sectarian strife. But other dynamics were still in play and these led to the criminal assassinations of prominent figures in the 14 March group. Even so, that group gradually achieved everything it wanted to achieve.
But the presidency is another matter. It is the goal, and in order to reach it both sides must take a step back so that they can work together to reach a point where they can agree on the identity of the president, the composition of the government (what triggered and sustains the current protests is the question of the composition of the cabinet, not the presidency) and a new electoral law. Unless such an agreement can be reached we will be left wondering whether one side will take the next step, which entails taking control of the presidency, the army and the government in order to fulfill its ultimate aspirations after the other side backs down. Or is this the end-game, from which there will be no backing down because the opposition has its back against the wall?
Concord in the sense described above offers an opportunity for all parties to risk a terminal inspection of such options.