Socialist Worker

Bush gang are reaping the harvest of war

Daily reports and pictures of US soldiers torturing Iraqis have rocked the establishment. Alexander Cockburn is one of the best known radical columnists in the US and coedits the political magazine and popular website Counterpunch. He talked to Sociali

Issue No. 1902

'GEORGE BUSH'S administration is in a terrible mess. They have been extraordinarily arrogant since the attacks on 11 September 2001. But now they are on the defensive over the reports about the torture of Iraqis. They are very shaken by this.

These reports are not new. The first investigation was back in January, which is quite a long time ago. Before that during the 2001 attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan there were reports that the Northern Alliance's General Dostum, with the connivance and help of US soldiers, had murdered hundreds if not thousands of the Taliban soldiers.

Nothing was done. Then there have been many credible reports from human rights organisations coming out of Iraq. Counterpunch ran articles about this. The corporate press did nothing. But it's harder to stop now.

The pictures are all over the web. The defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there is more to come. They have got pictures of people being shot and murdered.

Nothing in this conduct should be of any surprise. There is an atrocious history of torture against civilians and prisoners of war and it has been constant since the wars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mark Twain protested such abuses in the US campaigns in the Philippines back then. The US prison system uses torture as a principle of discipline, encouraged by the warders.

But the wars on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been constructed on a template of moral superiority. Now the pretension of this war on Iraq has gone. The conduct of the war is indefensible. What are they left with? On top of this the conduct of the war is going badly.

The normal technique of obfuscation is getting harder, like involving the United Nations. But they have not been able to wheel them in for the after-sales service. The lights are just too bright for the US to be able to do that with the usual ease.

Some have said there should be a draft to get more troops into Iraq. I favour the draft. Properly run it's not selective in class terms. When middle class people think their kids might have to fight, they take a whole new look at the reasons for war.

But the army is for poor people. Look at the Bush family. George Senior was a pilot in World War Two, George Junior was a draft dodger. The next generation of Bushes has gone nowhere near the army. In the whole of US Congress today, only one Congressman has a son fighting in the army.

The pressure is growing on Rumsfeld to resign. So far Bush has stood by him. The idea of people at the top resigning and taking responsibility has disappeared. The CIA director George Tenet has not gone, any more than Scarlett in the UK. He has not been held to account over his lies about supposed weapons of mass destruction that were used to justify the war. But I think, in the end, Rumsfeld and his deputy Wolfowitz will have to go.

There is a bizarre situation at the moment. For the first time in the opinion polls Bush's approval rating has slipped below 50 percent. Yet the Democrat candidate for president, John Kerry, is not really pulling ahead.

He holds the same position as the president. People don't think he is convincing. They feel there is some truth in the accusations that Bush's election campaign makes that Kerry looks both ways. He's a waffler and a fence-straddler. The early frontrunner to be the Democrat candidate, Howard Dean, had a position against the war back in the spring, although on other issues like the economy he was on the right. Kerry should be a little bit emboldened now. But he says send more troops to Iraq. Kerry is incredibly cautious. He essentially has exactly the same position as Bush on foreign and domestic policy. He has seven houses worth $40 million. He's seen as another rich guy.

It was bad under Bill Clinton, it has been bad under Bush, and it will be bad under Kerry if he wins the election in November. Even the liberal end of the Democrats are beginning to see the danger.

They say if we don't make any real substantial criticism of the war, some Democrat voters might defect to the independent candidate, Ralph Nader.

Nader has got some support. But he is having a lot of problems getting registered in some states, which is very difficult for an independent over here. He is on 4 to 5 percent in the polls. But there is a joke that is going round here. Someone will go into the voting booth saying, "I'll vote Nader." When he gets inside he changes his mind and votes for Kerry and the machine records it as a vote for Bush.

There is a lot of disillusion with the political system. It is a system which two parties have a death grip on. As I have been driving around the US recently I've seen good things happening at the local level over labour issues, the environment and constitutional issues. But it has little effect on national policy.

Popular organisation at ground level is where change can begin to happen. The anti-war movement got everything right. We were right about weapons of mass destruction and that the lobby for the war was made up of people in the Project for a New American Century, that there wouldn't be an ecstatic reception from the Iraqis and the US and UN sanctions had increased the suffering.

The left said that to hold Iraq they would have to do it with an iron heel, and they don't have enough troops there to do that. We were 100 percent correct. The neo-cons and people like Christopher Hitchens who justified the war should be deeply ashamed for the next 50 years. Which of course they won't be. The popular demonstrations, the largest in history, made it very hard for them to totally ignore us.

There are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq-they are called digital cameras. They are sending pictures of what is happening all over the world. These are something the US can't do anything about it. They are in soldiers' knapsacks, and they can't all be confiscated.

And the army grunts say what has happened has been at the instigation of the army leadership and the CIA, who always thought they were beyond reach. They are reaping the fruits of this war in Iraq.'

  • For more go to www.counterpunch.org


    What US papers say

    "It seems gloomily possible that in years to come, when people in the Middle East recall the invasion of Iraq, they will speak not of the toppling of a brutal dictator. The most enduring image of the occupation may be those pictures of grinning US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. Recovering from this latest horror will take much more than business as usual."

    NEW YORK TIMES, Editorial, 5 May, 2004

    "A pattern of arrogant disregard for the protections of the Geneva Conventions or any other legal procedure has been set from the top, by Donald Rumsfeld and senior US commanders. Well documented accounts of human rights violations have been ignored or covered up, including some more serious than those reported at Abu Ghraib prison."

    WASHINGTON POST, Editorial, 5 May, 2004

    "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically. I lost my brother in Vietnam. I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to prevent that sort of strategic loss from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in."

    ARMY COLONEL PAUL HUGHES First director of strategic planning in Baghdad


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    Features
    Sat 22 May 2004, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1902
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