Bush's Divine Comedy: Part I -- The good, the bad...
As the White House lame duck's Inferno in Iraq and Afghanistan drags on, the wars on the home front continue to fester, though with some red light at the end of the tunnel, observes Eric Walberg
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"Dante Running from the Three Beasts", "The Harlot and the Giant", and below, "Lucifer" 1824-27 engravings of Dante's Inferno by William Blake. Replace Dante with Rumsfeld, the Harlot with Rice, and the giant with Gates.
New enemies in United States President George W Bush's wars are popping up in unexpected places. The latest one is peaceful Europe, where determined demonstrators and human rights lawyers recently ambushed former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld at a breakfast meeting in Paris organised by Foreign Policy magazine. He fled, fearing arrest over charges of ordering and authorising torture of detainees at both Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It seems that even the election of an American- friendly French president is no guarantee of immunity in gay Paris for American officials anymore. Under international law, authorities in France are obliged to open an investigation when a complaint is made while the alleged torturer is on French soil. According to activists in France, who greeted Rumsfeld with shouts of "murderer" and "war criminal", US Embassy officials remained tight- lipped about the former defense secretary's whereabouts citing security reasons. He was whisked off to Germany, where a similar writ against him was quashed recently, but under the Schengen agreement that ended border checkpoints across a large part of the European Union, French law enforcement agents are allowed to cross the border into Germany in pursuit of a fleeing fugitive. "Rumsfeld must be feeling how Saddam Hussein felt when US forces were hunting him down," activist Tanguy Richard said. "He may never end up being hanged like his old friend, but he must learn that in the civilised world, war crime doesn't pay."
General Augusto Pinochet's arrest in Britain in 1999 is the most famous case of successfully arresting such a high level pro-Western war criminal, though he managed to die in bed at home before any authorities could bring him to book. Various Israelis have had to cut short their trips abroad to avoid arrest, and now Rumsfeld has had a taste of this medicine.
The International Federation for Human Rights, the Centre for Constitutional Rights, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights, and the French League for Human Rights filed the complaint after learning that Rumsfeld was scheduled to visit Paris. This trend of pursuing war criminals who like to travel does not portend well for many other participants of Bush's regime. Just think of Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz or the seemingly harmless war criminal Condoleezza Rice. No concert tours of Europe in your retirement, Dr Rice. Dubya had never travelled outside the US until shortly before his "election" seven years ago, so he won't lose much sleep if he can't see the Eiffel Tower in his twilight years.
The guilt for the many crimes that Bush and company have perpetrated goes deep, and many figures will, like their Israeli counterparts, have to have international lawyers on retainers, not to mention private detectives and bodyguards, keeping track of legal proceedings against them and/or possible acts of revenge. There are possibly millions of Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Brits, Americans -- hey, victims and relatives of victims of Bush's wars can be found in just about every country around the world. The next few decades will not be easy for these unfortunate folk.
The creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 was supposed to herald a new age where political leaders would think twice before invading other countries illegally and torturing and murdering foreign populations or even their own local people, as in the case of Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Leaders from the latter have endured the most famous prosecutions, though the trial of Slobodan Milosevich left a bitter taste in many mouths, with the telltale odour of hypocrisy and Western scheming, and Milosevich's suspicious death in the Hague still raising questions.
The US under president Bill Clinton signed on to the ICC but only to influence its agenda. There was never any intention of submitting it to the Senate for ratification, and since then the US has blackmailed and bullied anyone it could to sign so-called "Article 98 agreements". In 2003, the United States stopped military aid to 35 countries (among them nine European countries). In 2005, Angola became the 100th country to cave in to US pressure to avoid the suspension of military assistance and Economic Support Fund aid. In March 2006, Rice, bless her heart, admitted that the US position on Article 98 agreements was "sort of the same as shooting ourselves in the foot".
Amnesty International and the European Commission Legal Service argue that these agreements are not valid, that Article 98 refers to Status of Forces Agreements, mission agreements and extradition treaties, not to a general exclusion for other states' nationals from being handed over to the ICC. In October 2002, the Council of the EU adopted a common position permitting member states to enter into Article 98 agreements with the US, but not as general protection of US nationals. So US citizens are still subject to prosecution by many of the 140 ICC member- countries, if the unlucky parties can be nabbed while on foreign soil, even if those countries have signed the suspect Article 98 agreements.
Too bad Rumsfeld didn't pay heed at the time to the warnings of the senior diplomats who resigned in the months building up to Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003 in protest against his warmongering. John Brown, who joined the State Department in 1981, said he resigned because he could not support Washington's Iraq policy, which he said was fomenting a massive rise in anti-US sentiment around the world. In a resignation letter to secretary of state Colin Powell, Brown said he agreed with John Brady Kiesling, a diplomat at the US Embassy in Athens who had quit in February over Bush's apparent intent on invading Iraq. "I am joining my colleague in submitting my resignation from the Foreign Service effective immediately because I cannot in good conscience support President Bush's war plans against Iraq. Throughout the globe, the United States is becoming associated with the unjustified use of force," Brown said in the letter, a copy of which he sent to Agence France Presse. "The president's disregard for views in other nations, borne out by his neglect of public diplomacy, is giving birth to an anti- American century. I joined the Foreign Service because I love our country. Respectfully, Mr Secretary, I am now bringing this calling to a close, with a heavy heart but for the same reason that I embraced it."
Clearly these honourable diplomats resigned rather than waited for their pensions, realising that this was their only meaningful way of protesting against the escalation of US crimes abroad. Maybe they also wanted to be able to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower in their old age. Imagine how humiliating, if you are a thinking person and have any ethical standards at all, to have to defend with a straight face the current policies of the US government, year in, year out, that is, until you get your head blown off by one of the millions of people wishing to avenge their personal loss.
... and the ugly
The main theatre of Bush's war on the home front has been the State Department. The front opened with his unprecedented appointment of a general as secretary of state, though Colin Powell was probably one of the most "diplomatic" of Bush's appointments. Powell proved to be a relative wimp around the White House, and resigned in relief after four years of being forced to spout most undiplomatic lies. Condoleezza Rice's ascendancy to the post, which made slightly more sense considering she was a professor of foreign relations, should have been greeted with relief by the staff. But the underlying tensions between State and Defense continue to fester -- perhaps metastasise is a more appropriate term. The US military quietly and repeatedly complains that its forces have been pressed into service in so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that should have been filled by State, Commerce and Agriculture Department personnel. Yes, enlisted soldiers can be ordered to go anywhere, and apparently for indefinitely extended tours of duty, unlike the laid-back civilians.
But this is changing for the better, at least from the armed forces' point of view with two new developments on the home front portending the creeping militarisation of State. First, the State Department has said it will "require" its diplomats to staff its embassy in Iraq due to a lack of volunteers. The assignments are limited to one year, unlike the usual 2-3 year extendible foreign postings, and Iraq has the highest pay of all, including an astounding five free trips home during the 12- month postings. Forty to 50 new posts will be added next year to the 200 jobs at the embassy, the biggest in the world. There are few takers, despite a standing offer of two salaried years learning Arabic prior to going to Iraq. According to Harry Thomas, state department human resource director, only those with compelling reasons, such as medical problems or extreme personal hardships, will be exempt from disciplinary action for refusing to go. "We have all taken an oath to serve our country and so if someone decides they do not want to go, then we would consider appropriate actions. We have many options, including dismissal from the foreign service."
This new directive created a storm, and the usually quiet corridors of State were the scene of a noisy protest last week. A meeting of 300 diplomats, infuriated at the move sprung without any notice or discussion, confronted Thomas. Jack Croddy, a senior foreign service officer and ex-NATO political adviser, told the meeting, "I'm sorry, but basically this is a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?" One veteran of a nightmare posting in Basra, Rachel Schnelling, appealed to Thomas, "we have a moral imperative as an agency to take care of people who come back with war wounds. I asked for treatment and I didn't get any of it," she said in comments greeted with a standing ovation.
American Foreign Service Association President John Naland said a recent survey found only 12 per cent of the union's membership believed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was "fighting for them". Thomas shot back, "don't you or anybody else stand there and tell me I don't care about my colleagues. I am insulted." When he had calmed down, he went on to explain that the State Department had made "directed" assignments before, such as in 1969 when an entire junior foreign officer class was sent to Vietnam. Thomas pooh-poohed suggestions that young Americans would be deterred from joining the foreign service given the increasingly criminal nature of US activities abroad and the need by the diplomatic corps to defend and even promote these actions. "After Google and Disney, we are the most popular place for people to work," Thomas said, referring to a recent survey. Of course, this can be interpreted in a less kindly light -- American youth are living in blissful ignorance of the world, fed cultural pap the likes of Mickey Mouse, and don't know what they're in for.
Besides having to live in war zones and defend the criminal policies which the military is busy carrying out at present, another gripe that the diplos have with the military is their reliance on mercenaries to protect them, since the army is unable to do so. Richard Griffin, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, recently resigned (in protest? disgrace?) after the release of a damning report on the lack of adequate monitoring of the Blackwater security firm. Within hours, the Iraqi government revoked the immunity from prosecution granted to private security firms. The most infamous incident of Blackwater's policy of "shoot first, ask later" was on 16 September in which employees of Blackwater killed 17 innocent Iraqis in Baghdad. The guards were escorting a US state department convoy.
Despite the Iraqi government's attempts to legislate otherwise, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) stipulates that the "multinational force, foreign liaison missions, their personnel, property, funds and assets and all international consultants shall be immune from Iraqi legal process". Good thing for the Aussies and Brits, as murder and pillage are not limited to the US private thugs. On 9 October Australian Unity Resources Group guards fired upon a car in central Baghdad killing two women, and on 18 October guards of a British security company fired on a car wounding three people. And this is only the tip of the massive mercenary iceberg in Iraq, which no one bothers (or allows) keeping tabs on. It's not at all clear that it is legal for diplomats to be hiring mercenaries to "protect" them, and again, who wants to face the possibility of being charged as an accomplice to murder or whatever years down the line in some tinpot European country?
But a second development in the ongoing militarisation of State has been courtesy of the military's new allies in the diplomats' own Ivory Tower colleagues. The US Army and Marine Corps recently published its new Counterinsurgency Field Manual (No. 3-24), its new Little Red Book, at the prestigious University of Chicago Press, tastefully printed in a camouflage, faux-field ready edition, designed to slip into flack jackets or Urban Outfitter accessory bags. General (Dr) David Petraeus himself wrote the forward along with posterboy Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, and Harvard JFK School of Government's Sarah Sewell the introduction. It has spawned a minor media orgy, with sexy Nagl decked out in parade dress pitching it in Newsweek and on all the TV networks as Petraeus's intellectually fuelled "smart bomb" -- the secret weapon for victory in Iraq. In what looks like a surprise meeting of minds with the armchair diplomats the Manual is being hyped by all as a move away from the crude logic of "shock and awe" in the common goal of pacifying the natives, or as it's called in newspeak, "winning hearts and minds", through a new appreciation of local culture. The big stick's "speak softly".
A co-author, one of a supposedly new breed of warrior- anthropologists, Montgomery McFate (curiously a woman), PhD (Yale), is currently the US Army's Human Terrain System's senior social science adviser. Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) -- I'm not making this up -- are now embedding anthropologists with troops operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, using ethnographic knowledge to advise and inform troops in the field while travelling with armed escorts (Blackwater, anyone?) and are, in some instances, themselves armed and wearing uniforms, yet McFate incredibly maintains that these anthropologists are in compliance with basic anthropological ethical standards, that terrified locals used in research projects participate under conditions of "voluntary informed consent". When asked how voluntary ethical informed consent was produced in the presence of occupation soldiers and mercenaries, McFate told writer and anthropologist David Price that was not a problem because "indigenous local people out in rural Afghanistan are smart, and they can draw a distinction between a lethal unit of the US military and a non-lethal unit."
Not surprisingly, it turns out the Manual was cribbed from many unacknowledged sources, including T E Lawrence, whose services to British imperialism in the Middle East won him a knighthood (which he curiously refused) almost a century ago, belying the argument that such intellectuals constitute a "new breed". Whether these latter-day Machiavellis plagiarise each other or not is hard to get too worked up about when the Baghdad Museum is ransacked and a country destroyed, helped along by the CPA, HTTs and PRTs, and it is unlikely that this Manual will win any more hearts and minds than the shock-and-awe bombing, but it is winning hearts and minds in America, apparently convincing an avalanche of American youth to opt for the foreign service instead of Disney. A truly sad testament to the state of US youth and scholarship, prostituting themselves as cheerleaders for war criminals. Nagl gets it right in his sound byte on the popular Daily Show : "If I could sum up the book in just a few words, it would be: 'Be polite, be professional, be prepared to kill."
Veiled conscription and now the Manual reveal the militarisation of both the form and content of American diplomacy. Reality is imitating art, in this case, the art of war. The thugs are winning not only on the home front, but in the battlefield, where PRTs blur into HTTs, both staffed with diplomats and their grad student colleagues, bringing the now-conscripted diplomats' war-diplomacy smack-dab into the hearts and minds of the terrified natives who haven't yet become collateral damage to the occupation forces' war.
But this is exactly what happened in Vietnam, so there is really nothing terribly new here. When you have a warmonger in the White House, who happens to be both departments' boss by the way, war trumps diplomacy. It doesn't take a nuclear physicist to figure that one out. And the red glow at the end of the tunnel makes the end result look more like a red-light district for the diplos. Not to worry, the soldiers will be sure to come and visit.
But seriously, there are many generals and soldiers who dislike the wars they are being forced to fight just as much as the vast majority of US intellectuals and diplos. If only these antagonists could focus their wrath on their common real enemy staring at them from the other end of the tunnel. There's lots of antiwar sentiment and awareness of the duplicity of the Bush regime, as the ongoing countrywide demonstrations show. This is a lose-lose situation for everyone apart from Bush's cronies. All the grounds to impeach their boss are in place, just waiting for a catalyst.
And with Democratic congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich's motion last week to impeach Vice- President Richard Cheney, Bush's Divine Comedy Part II -- the Purgatory -- is beginning to unfold, however haltingly. Kucinich didn't dare to attack Bush himself, focussing on Cheney's lies about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al-Qaeda, and his threats of war against Iran. The resolution was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it will no doubt languish. Bush effectively built himself a firewall against impeachment long ago by declaring a state of war. To impeach a president-at-war and admit to the world that his wars were illegal would be unprecedented in history and is virtually impossible. This volume of Bush's biography will take a long time to write.