So much for winning the cold war. And so much for a world united behind the War on Terror. A poll this weekend showed that 80% of Russians want Iraq to defeat the United States. Polls across the Arab world show the same, and it is likely that in much of the world outside the Western democracies there would be similar numbers rooting for the victory of a blood-thirsty tyrant and certified aggressor.
Such reactions should give pause to the ideologues around the White House engaged in trying to build a new American World Order, and even to those gullible Americans who bought the presidential rhetoric about the attack being part of the War on Terror.
The global coalition forged to fight the War on Terror after 9-11 is dead, strangled and dismembered by the Bush administration, which has created a worldwide reservoir of passive, and indeed quite possibly active, support for future anti-American deeds. Even more frighteningly, the president may have unleashed a worldwide shock wave of nationalism, in which people no longer notice atrocities as long as they are perpetrated against the “other,” let alone the “enemy.”
This is not a matter for gloating by anti-war protestors. How many of those Russians cheering on the Iraqis also cheered on atrocities by their armed forces against the Chechens? Chinese outraged at the bombing of Baghdad may be insouciant about what happens to the Tibetans or the Uighurs. How many of the Arabs demonstrating would have applauded suicide bombers blowing up busloads of Israelis? Many Americans who are rightly appalled at images of airliners plunging into New York buildings may well cheer at pictures of cruise missiles hitting Baghdad.
Thanks to George Bush and his entourage, we are seeing a reversion to barbarism of the kind that George Orwell saw happening by the end of World War II and that depressed him into writing 1984, in which nationalist crowds cheer atrocities on screen.
For the last decades of the twentieth century, there were increasing signs of a genuine globalization, one of empathy, in which people across the world related to each other’s sufferings as television and print brought them images of human distress. That was the impulse for the intervention in Iraqi Kurdistan when what Saddam Hussein’s forces were doing to the Kurds reached the media of the world. Once the Indonesians were seen massacring the Timorese in Dili on television, it was the beginning of the end for their occupation.
In response, we saw an efflorescence of international law and institutions: Human rights inside countries became an issue for all of us. The creation of international tribunals, the belated interventions in the Balkans and the liberation of Kosovo, for all their messiness and faults, were supported by people across the world who saw them as an expression of our common humanity. Bush has set all of this back.
He devalued “humanitarian intervention” by invoking it last September against Saddam Hussein. What he said about the Ba’athist’s treatment of his own people was entirely true. But how was the world to treat this as anything but expedient when everyone knew what he forgot to mention, that the most egregious atrocities took place with the connivance and complicity of an earlier Republican administration in Washington?
Bush devalued the United Nations by invoking Security Council decisions against Iraq, but expediently not allowing critical resolutions and enforcement action against friends like Morocco and Israel, and then by ignoring the majority of the Council when it tried to implement its own resolutions about inspections. His administration’s top figures have culminated a decades-long campaign against the United Nations and multilateralism with a froth of vituperation against the organization, crowing about its demise and making plain that in their eyes, any reference to the organization was unprincipled and expedient.
President Bush has savaged multilateralism and enhanced nationalism worldwide with his assertion that the U.S. can take action regardless of the UN. In assembling a “coalition of the willing” in support of the invasion, Bush has not only taken liberties with the truth, he has also encouraged the Turkish military to pressure its elected government, pressured other governments to ignore their parliaments and electorates, and enlisted as allies some of the most repressive regimes in the world, such as that in Uzbekistan.
Through his uncritical support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s ongoing pogroms against the Palestinians, and his repeated threat of “unreasonable” vetoes in the Security Council on his behalf, Bush has persuaded most Muslims in the world, and even most Europeans, that there are double standards, that there is indeed a crusade against Islam. In the next few weeks he will surely betray his promises to Tony Blair to expedite the Middle East Peace process and implement the “road map” that is ostensibly to lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
The president has lied in true Orwellian fashion, both to the public and to the U.S. Congress, with his assertion that the action against Iraq is because of Baghdad’s support of and aid for the September 11 attacks. Even Tony Blair was too embarrassed to invoke that claim in support of the attack on Iraq. However, the assertion has gained credibility with the American people through its Big Brother-style repetition even as it strained what little credibility the U.S. case had abroad. In doing so, Bush has not only desecrated the memory of the 3,000 innocents who died that day, he has broken whatever consensus there was for a worldwide struggle against its emulation by other terrorists.
We may add that as collateral damage, he has strafed what passes for journalism in the U.S. where TV coverage is regularly emblazoned, “America Fights Back,” or “The War against Terror.” In stark contrast, Canadian Television has “The Attack on Iraq.”
Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator, whose passing should be mourned by no one. Nothing could be more telling about the record of President George W. Bush than that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, people worldwide are praying for the success of the only leader ever to use chemical weapons against civilians, and who had active plans to unleash anthrax and botulinin on others. Saddam Hussein bears much blame, of course, but President Bush will be the one whom history will blame for unleashing a highly infectious epidemic of nationalism and barbarism on the world.