Hard News by Russell Brown

Tearing up the world

So, what did Hans Blix's report to the UN Security Council actually mean? Depends on who you ask. Like Resolution 1441 itself, the report was a fiddle on which everyone could play their own tune.

While most news reports focused on some unexpectedly harsh language, the United Nations' own press release, Iraq cooperating but needs to do more on 'substance,' Blix tells Security Council said Blix had found Iraq to be co-operating "rather well" with inspection demands. This interpretation is the one largely being propagated in media outside the West, as this story in the Arabic News indicates.

Check out Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf on his misgivings about charging into Iraq and why Donald Rumsfeld makes him "nervous". Should America sort out the war between Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon before starting a war in Iraq?

And read this interview with Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg on reporters who take their "leaks" straight from White House press handlers: "One question the press is not asking: Is there a single high military man who believes this war should happen now, that it is appropriate and [the] risks worthwhile?"

Rumsfeld was also, of course, responsible for the deranged dismissal of France and Germany as the irrelevant "old Europe". America's new orth0doxy - all the while bitching about "anti-American" and even "anti-semitic" Europeans - seems determined to tear up relationships not only in the East but across the Atlantic. These people only seem to want friends they can dominate.

The relationship between Europe and the US has gone from occasionally grumpy but perfectly functional through the Clinton era to the point of crisis in a mere two years. What the hell is going on? I found pointers to these two matching essays on Arts and Letters Daily: one on anti-Americanism in Europe, and one on anti-Europeanism in America, which rather badly undersells Europe's achievements (even though the author is British) by adopting the American obsession with geopolitical might as a yardstick.

Yes, Europe dithers: but Europe is not only bringing the former Eastern Bloc countries into a modern, secular rules-based trading community, but actually achieving modernisation at the fringe of the Islamic world - Turkey - as a price of entry to the club. Do you prefer that, or the 19th Century ideas about reproductive health that Bush's administration thinks the rest of the world should adopt?

The American NeoCons, meanwhile, get by on the palpably insane fantasy that that the citizens of Iran, seeing such a cool occupying power right next door, will rise up and roll the ayatollahs and join the club. Nothing of what we know about public opinion in the Islamic states suggests that is likely, but it is nonetheless the basis of the strategy. Yes, there, will be flag-waving and relief as the tanks roll in - but what happens when 100,000 US troops are still in Iraq six months - or five years - later? This is a country with a brutal and sophisticated secret police. Which is more likely: that they just melt away on cue, or that they start picking off American boys from the freshly-liberated rooftops? Does the word "Lebanon" mean anything?

Many of the American NeoCon rants against Europe spinelessness tend to be based on extravagant re-writings of the history around World War II and the folly of European "appeasement". Always, it is omitted that the US was quite happy with a policy of appeasement - and active trade with the Nazis - until the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and forced it into the war. Never is it contemplated that the French Republic inspired that of America. It extends to lunatic opinion pieces like this one in the Chicago Sun-Times, urging the US to head off the Franco-German "power grab" for Europe. Yes, the US must head off a power grab for Europe by the, er, Europeans …

Meanwhile, the adolescent NeoCon squawker Jonah Goldberg taunts the French as cheese-eating surrender monkeys (a line he didn't even make up himself but stole from The Simpsons - one of the really sad things about NeoCons is that they have no worthwhile art of their own). Mother Jones sizes it up in Hating America.

A graph showing Bush's polling since his inauguration. Many polls now have him rating around the same as Clinton was at the trough of Monicagate - and small wonder, given that he has committed his country to a decade of fiscal deficits and his economy is tanking. Fear and threat seem to be Bush's only friends.

Speaking of which, the US government has cleared the way for the use of nuclear weapons in Iraq.

I got some email from Neil Morrison at Auckland university, who made some good points about war in Iraq. But I baulked at this: Your tone of moral outrage is typical of the Left in NZ at present who believe that there is no case at all for military intervention and that those who advocate such a course are warmongers and Bush lackies.

As a consistent supporter of trade liberalisation (and, I like to think, the holder of a measured view on the World Bank and the IMF) I hardly qualify as a member of "the Left" in the sense it's meant here. I believed that there was a case for Gulf War I, and for military action in Afghanistan (although I found the virtual erasure from the record of Afghani civilian casualties extremely disturbing - did they not also die for freedom?). I actually even acknowledge that military action against Iraq may be necessary if proof is provided of active and threatening development of banned weapons. But it hasn't been.

And it's hardly just "the left" that is suspicious of US motives. Polls suggest about 80 per cent of people in Britain, the chief US ally, remain unconvinced by arguments for precipitate war. The people of the major European countries (not to mention their centre-right governments) are of the same sentiment. The leaders of the major religious faiths have all argued against war. And the world's political and business elite has made clear its suspicion in Davos this week. This from the Toronto Star's report from the World Economic Forum in Davos:

"It is the threat of war in Iraq that has exposed the deepest divide between the United States and people from many other nations. Criticism of the Bush administration has been intense.

"Some Americans here have been shocked by the depth of feeling, since there has been much less debate in the United States where, as Republican Congressman Robert Portman put it, the people support the president. Indeed, a University of Chicago professor said criticism is considered 'unpatriotic.'"

Check out how many times the P-word was tossed at Janine Garofalo as she did the rounds of TV news interviewers arguing against her government's policy. This rather sneering comment by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post seems to miss the point that, according to the publicity, being American is about being able to criticise your government without fear of being called a traitor.

Unfortunately, that's not the case amongst America's new ruling orthodoxy. These people who base their right to bear arms on the need to be ready to, if necessary, forcibly take back their country from the Feds - and who spent eight years excoriating the Clintons - are quite happy to stand by and giggle as the Feds intercept emails and raid the houses of people who have done no more than criticise their President.