Highlights

 
Quotable
Wars are inevitable... as long as we believe that wars are inevitable. The moment we don't believe it anymore it is not inevitable.
Lydia Sicher
Original Letters Blog US Casualties Contact Donate

 
June 6, 2006

The Urbanity of Evil


by Norman Solomon

I've been thinking about Tariq Aziz a lot since the New York Times printed a front-page story on the former Iraqi deputy prime minister in late May. A color photograph showed him decked out in what the article described as "an open-necked hospital gown, with a patient's plastic identification tag on his wrist." He looked gaunt.

The last time I saw Aziz, at a Baghdad meeting two months before the U.S.-led invasion began, he was still portly in one of his well-tailored business suits. If Aziz was worried, he didn't show it.

Now, he's playing a part that U.S. media seem to relish. The Times headline said "Hussein's Former Envoy Gushes With Adulation on Witness Stand," but to sum up the coverage it might have just as aptly declared: "How the Mighty Have Fallen."

The Times reported that Aziz defended Saddam Hussein in his May 24 testimony – after he was not able to cut a deal with Baghdad's current legal powers-that-be. "At an earlier stage of the trial, American officials said Mr. Aziz had offered to testify against Mr. Hussein on the condition that he be released early, a proposition the Iraqi court and its American advisers say they eventually rejected."

If prisoner Aziz was initially angling for better treatment in exchange for ratting on Saddam, that would be consistent with how he first behaved in the dock.

On July 1, 2004, appearing before an Iraqi judge in a courtroom located on a U.S. military base near Baghdad airport, Aziz said: "What I want to know is, are these charges personal? Is it Tariq Aziz carrying out these killings? If I am a member of a government that makes the mistake of killing someone, then there can't justifiably be an accusation against me personally. Where there is a crime committed by the leadership, the moral responsibility rests there, and there shouldn't be a personal case just because somebody belongs to the leadership."

Trying to extract some positive meaning from the horrors set off by the U.S. war on Iraq, journalists are inclined to return to the well of sorrows recounted in the dragged-out trial of Saddam Hussein and key subordinates in Baghdad. Along the way, the pathetic efforts by Tariq Aziz to disclaim any responsibility for the actions of the regime he served are fodder for big American media guns – journalistic arsenals much more trained on the deadly crimes of top officials in the Hussein regime than the deadly crimes of top officials in the Bush administration.

As Iraq's most visible diplomat, Aziz was a smooth talker who epitomized the urbanity of evil. Up close, in late 2002 and early the following year, when I was among American visitors to his office in Baghdad, he seemed equally comfortable in a military uniform or a business suit. Serving a tyrannical dictator, Aziz used his skills with language the way a cosmetician might apply makeup to a corpse.

Aziz glibly represented Saddam Hussein's regime as it tortured and murdered Iraqi people. Yet after the invasion, news reports told us, a search of his home near the Tigris River turned up tapes of such Western cultural treasures as The Sound of Music and Sleepless in Seattle.

The likelihood that he enjoyed this entertainment may be a bit jarring. We might prefer to think that a bright line separates the truly civilized from the barbaric, the decent from the depraved.

But the man could exhibit a range of human qualities. Reserved yet personable, he could banter with ease. His arguments, while larded with propaganda, did not lack nuance. Whether speaking with a member of the U.S. Congress, an acclaimed American movie actor, or a former top UN official, Aziz seemed acutely aware of his audience. He would have made a deft politician in the United States.

We like to believe that American leaders are cut from entirely different cloth. But I don't think so. In some respects, the terrible compromises made by Tariq Aziz are more explainable than ones that are routine in U.S. politics.

Aziz had good reason to fear for his life – and the lives of loved ones – if he ran afoul of Saddam. In contrast, many politicians and appointed officials in Washington have gone along with lethal policies because of fear that dissent might cost them reelection, prestige, money, or power.


comments on this article?
 
Archives

  • These Colors Cannot Run… Afghanistan
    3/25/2009

  • Freeing Up Resources... for More War
    2/26/2009

  • Why Are We Still at War?
    2/4/2009

  • 44 Years Later, LBJ's Ghost Hovers Over the 44th President
    1/27/2009

  • A Hundred Eyes for an Eye
    12/30/2008

  • The Silent Winter of Escalation
    12/9/2008

  • Finally, the Story of the Whistleblower Who Tried to Prevent the Iraq War
    9/26/2008

  • Deadly 'Diplomacy'
    6/13/2008

  • NPR News: National Pentagon Radio?
    3/28/2008

  • The War Election
    3/5/2008

  • In Honor of My Mother and the Power of Love
    1/24/2008

  • The United States of Violence
    10/19/2007

  • The Pro-War Undertow of the Blackwater Scandal
    10/17/2007

  • Sputnik, 50 Years Later: The Launch of Techno-Power
    10/5/2007

  • Here's the Smell of the Blood Still
    9/13/2007

  • Six Years of 9/11 as
    a License to Kill
    9/11/2007

  • Let's Face It: The Warfare State Is Part of Us
    8/23/2007

  • Backspin for War: The Convenience of Denial
    8/17/2007

  • Let Us Now Praise an Infamous Woman – and Our Own Possibilities
    8/8/2007

  • Media Blitz for War: The Big Guns of August
    8/3/2007

  • Media Spin on Iraq: We're Leaving (Sort of)
    7/27/2007

  • From the Grave, a Senator Exposes Bloody Hands on Capitol Hill
    7/20/2007

  • A Bloody Media Mirror
    7/6/2007

  • War at the Remote
    6/19/2007

  • The Silence of the Bombs
    6/12/2007

  • Deadly Illusions, Rest in Peace
    5/25/2007

  • Bowing Down to Our Own Violence
    4/20/2007

  • MoveOn Whitewashes Hillary's Iran Belligerence
    4/13/2007

  • McCain Walks in
    McNamara's Footsteps
    4/3/2007

  • 'Pragmatism' Is Prolonging
    the War
    3/14/2007

  • Making an Example of
    Ehren Watada
    2/7/2007

  • The Pentagon vs.
    Press Freedom
    1/23/2007

  • The Headless Horseman of the Apocalypse
    1/10/2007

  • Powell, Baker, Hamilton – Thanks for Nothing
    12/19/2006

  • Is the USA the Center
    of the World?
    12/13/2006

  • It's Happening Again
    12/6/2006

  • The New Media Offensive Against Withdrawal
    11/17/2006

  • Saddam's Unindicted Co-Conspirator
    11/7/2006

  • The Pundit Path for Death in Iraq
    10/14/2006

  • Welcome to the Nuclear Club
    10/10/2006

  • 'Quagmire' Isn't the Right Word
    10/3/2006

  • Media Tall Tales
    for the Next War
    9/26/2006

  • The World's View of the US 'War on Terror'
    9/9/2006

  • Spinning the Troop Levels in Iraq
    9/6/2006

  • Bush vs. Ahmadinejad: A Debate We'll Never See
    9/1/2006

  • The Mythical End to the Politics of Fear
    8/25/2006

  • News Media's Love-Hate for Nuclear Weapons
    8/7/2006

  • Applauding While
    Lebanon Burns
    7/27/2006

  • Their Barbarism, and Ours
    6/22/2006

  • Hillary Clinton's
    Premature Triangulation
    6/16/2006

  • The Urbanity of Evil
    6/6/2006

  • How Long Will MoveOn.org Fail to Oppose Bombing Iran?
    4/18/2006

  • When War Crimes Are Impossible
    4/5/2006

  • Blaming the Media for
    Bad War News
    3/24/2006

  • War-Loving Pundits
    3/17/2006

  • Mahatma Bush
    3/1/2006

  • The Iran Crisis: 'Diplomacy' as a Launch Pad for Missiles
    2/7/2006

  • Domestic Lying: The Question Journalists Don't Ask Bush
    1/30/2006

  • Axis of Fanatics – Netanyahu and Ahmadinejad
    1/7/2006

  • The NY Times Fails Its Readers
    12/30/2005

  • NSA Spied on Diplomats in Push for Iraq War
    12/28/2005

  • A New Salvo of
    Bright Spinning Lies
    12/23/2005

  • Blurring Terrorism and Insurgency in Iraq
    12/13/2005

  • Rumsfeld's Handshake Deal With Saddam
    12/9/2005

  • Hidden in Plane Sight
    12/6/2005
  • Norman Solomon's book Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State is out now.

    Reproduction of material from any original Antiwar.com pages
    without written permission is strictly prohibited.
    Copyright 2014 Antiwar.com