By Noam Chomsky
All people who have any concern for human rights, justice and integrity
should be overjoyed by the capture of Saddam Hussein, and should
be awaiting a fair trial for him by an international tribunal.
An indictment of Saddam's atrocities would include not only his
slaughter and gassing of Kurds in 1988 but also, rather crucially,
his massacre of the Shiite rebels who might have overthrown him
At the time, Washington and its allies held the "strikingly
unanimous view (that) whatever the sins of the Iraqi leader, he
offered the West and the region a better hope for his country's
stability than did those who have suffered his repression,"
reported Alan Cowell in the New York Times.
Last December, Jack Straw, Britain's foreign secretary, released
a Dossier of Saddam's crimes drawn almost entirely from the period
of firm U.S.-British support of Saddam.
With the usual display of moral integrity, Straw's report and
Washington's reaction overlooked that support. Such practices
reflect a trap deeply rooted in the intellectual culture generally
- a trap sometimes called the doctrine of change of course, invoked
in the United States every two or three years. The content of
the doctrine is: "Yes, in the past we did some wrong things
because of innocence or inadvertence. But now that's all over,
so let's not waste any more time on this boring, stale stuff."
The doctrine is dishonest and cowardly, but it does have advantages:
it protects us from the danger of understanding what is happening
before our eyes.
For example, the Bush administration's original reason for going
to war In Iraq was to save the world from a tyrant developing
weapons of mass destruction and cultivating links to terror. Nobody
believes that now, not even Bush's speech writers.
The new reason is that we invaded Iraq to establish a democracy
there and, in fact, to democratize the whole Middle East.
Sometimes, the repetition of this democracy-building posture
reaches the level of rapturous acclaim. Last month, for example,
David Ignatius, the Washington Post commentator, described the
invasion of Iraq as "the most idealistic war in modern times"
-fought solely to bring democracy to Iraq and the region.
Ignatius was particularly impressed with Paul Wolfowitz, "the
Bush administration's idealist in chief," whom he described
as a genuine intellectual who "bleeds for (the Arab world's)
oppression and dreams of liberating it."
Maybe that helps explain Wolfowitz's career - like his strong
support for Suharto in Indonesia, one of the last century's worst
mass murderers and aggressors, when Wolfowitz was ambassador to
that country under Ronald Reagan.
As the State Department official responsible for Asian affairs
under Reagan, Wolfowitz oversaw support for the murderous dictators
Chun of South Korea and Marcos of the Philippines.
All this is irrelevant because of the convenient doctrine of
change of course. So, yes, Wolfowitz's heart bleeds for the victims
of oppression - and if the record shows the opposite, it's just
that boring old stuff that we want to forget about.
One might recall another recent illustration of Wolfowitz's love
of democracy. The Turkish parliament, heeding its population's
near-unanimous opposition to war in Iraq, refused to let U.S.
forces deploy fully from Turkey. This caused absolute fury in
Wolfowitz denounced the Turkish military for failing to intervene
to overturn the decision. Turkey was listening to its people,
not taking orders from Crawford, Texas, or Washington, D.C.
The most recent chapter is Wolfowitz's "Determination and
Findings" on bidding for lavish reconstruction contracts
in Iraq. Excluded are countries where the government dared to
take the same position as the vast majority of the population.
Wolfowitz's alleged grounds are "security interests,"
which are non-existent, though the visceral hatred of democracy
is hard to miss - along with the fact that Halliburton and Bechtel
corporations will be free to "compete" with the vibrant
democracy of Uzbekistan and the Solomon Islands, but not with
leading industrial societies.
What's revealing and important to the future is that Washington's
display of contempt for democracy went side by side with a chorus
of adulation about its yearning for democracy. To be able to carry
that off is an impressive achievement, hard to mimic even in a
totalitarian state. Iraqis have some insight into this process
of conquerors and conquered.
The British created Iraq for their own interests. When they ran
that part of the world, they discussed how to set up what they
called Arab facades -weak, pliable governments, parliamentary
if possible, so long as the British effectively ruled.
Who would expect that the United States would ever permit an
independent Iraqi government to exist? Especially now that Washington
has reserved the right to set up permanent military bases there,
in the heart of the world's greatest oil-producing region, and
has imposed an economic regime that no sovereign country would
accept, putting the country's fate in the hands of Western corporations.
Throughout history, even the harshest and most shameful measures
are regularly accompanied by professions of noble intent - and
rhetoric about bestowing freedom and independence.
An honest look would only generalize Thomas Jefferson's observation
on the world situation of his day: "We believe no more in
Bonaparte's fighting merely for the liberties of the seas than
in Great Britain's fighting for the liberties of mankind. The
object is the same, to draw to themselves the power, the wealth
and the resources of other nations."