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Posts by John Pilger

Torture Is News But It's Not New


When I first went to report the American war against Vietnam, in the 1960s, I visited the Saigon offices of the great American newspapers and TV companies, and the international news agencies.

I was struck by the similarity of displays on many of their office pinboards. "That's where we hang our conscience," said an agency photographer.

There were photographs of dismembered bodies, of soldiers holding up severed ears and testicles and of the actual moments of torture. There were men and women being beaten to death, and drowned, and humiliated in stomach-turning ways. On one photograph was a stick-on balloon above the torturer's head, which said: "That'll teach you to talk to the press."

The question came up whenever visitors caught sight of these pictures: why had they not been published? A standard response was that newspapers would not publish them, because their readers would not accept them. And to publish them, without an explanation of the wider circumstances of the war, was to "sensationalize."

At first, I accepted the apparent logic of this; atrocities and torture by "us" were surely aberrations by definition. My education thereafter was rapid; for this rationale did not explain the growing evidence of civilians killed, maimed, made homeless and sent mad by "anti-personnel" bombs dropped on villages, schools and hospitals.

Nor did it explain the children burned to a bubbling pulp by something called napalm, or farmers hunted in helicopter "turkey shoots," or a "suspect" tortured to death with a rope around his neck, dragged behind a jeep filled with doped and laughing American soldiers.

Nor did it explain why so many soldiers kept human parts in their wallets and special forces officers who kept human skulls in their huts, inscribed with the words: "One down, a million to go."

Philip Jones Griffiths, the great Welsh freelance photographer with whom I worked in Vietnam, tried to stop an American officer blowing to bits a huddled group of women and children.

"They're civilians," he yelled.

"What civilians?" came the reply.

Jones Griffiths and others tried to interest the news agencies in pictures that told the truth about that atrocious war. The response often was: "So what's new?"

The difference today is that the truth of the equally atrocious Anglo-American invasion of Iraq is news. Moreover, leaked Pentagon documents make clear that torture is widespread in Iraq. Amnesty International says it is "systematic."

And yet, we have only begun to identify the unspeakable element that unites the invasion of Vietnam with the invasion of Iraq. This element draws together most colonial occupations, no matter where or when. It is the essence of imperialism, a word only now being restored to our dictionaries. It is racism.

In Kenya in the 1950s, the British slaughtered an estimated 10,000 Kenyans and ran concentration camps where the conditions were so harsh that 402 inmates died in just one month. Torture, flogging and abuse of women and children were commonplace. "The special prisons," wrote the imperial historian V.G. Kiernan, "were probably as bad as any similar Nazi or Japanese establishments."

None of this was news at the time. The "Mau Mau terror" was reported and perceived one way: as "demonic" black against white. The racist message was clear, but "our" racism was never mentioned.

In Kenya, as in the failed American attempt to colonize Vietnam, as in Iraq, racism fueled the indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and the torture. When they arrived in Vietnam, the Americans regarded the Vietnamese as human lice. They called them "gooks" and "dinks" and "slopes" and they killed them in industrial quantities, just as they had slaughtered the Native Americans; indeed, Vietnam was known as "Indian country."

In Iraq, nothing has changed.

In boasting openly about killing "rats in their nest," US marine snipers, who in Fallujah shot dead women, children and the elderly, just as German snipers shot dead Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, were reflecting the racism of their leaders.

Paul W Wolfowitz, the Deputy Defense Secretary who is said to be the architect of the invasion of Iraq, has spoken of "snakes" and "draining the swamps" in the "uncivilized parts of the world."

Much of this modern imperial racism was invented in Britain. Listen to its subtle expressions, as British spokesmen find their weasel words in refusing to acknowledge the numbers of Iraqis killed or maimed by their cluster bombs, whose actual effects are no different from the effects of suicide bombers; they are weapons of terrorism. Listen to Adam Ingram, the armed forces minister, drone on in parliament, refusing to say how many innocent people are the victims of his government.

In Vietnam, the shooting of women and their babies in the village of My Lai was called an "American Tragedy" by Newsweek magazine. Be prepared for more of the "our tragedy" line that invites sympathy for the invaders.

The Americans left three million dead in Vietnam and a once bountiful land devastated and poisoned with the effects of the chemical weapons they used. While American politicians and Hollywood wrung their hands over GIs missing-in-action, who gave a damn for the Vietnamese?

In Iraq, nothing has changed.

By the most conservative estimates, the Americans and the British have left 11,000 civilians dead. Include Iraqi conscripts, and the figure quadruples.

"We count every screw driver, but we don't count dead Iraqis," said an American officer during the 1991 slaughter. Adam Ingram may not be as literate, but the dishonoring of human life is the same.

Yes, the atrocities and torture are news now. But how are they news? asks the writer Ahdaf Soueif. A BBC news presenter describes the torture pictures as "merely mementos." Yes, of course: just like the human parts kept in wallets in Vietnam.

BBC commentators – always the best measure of the British establishment thinking on its feet – remind us that the torturing, humiliating of soldiers "does not compare with Saddam Hussein's systematic tortures and executions." Saddam, noted Ahdaf Soueif, "is now the moral compass of the West."

We cannot give back Iraqi lives extinguished or ruined by those acting in our name. At the very least, we must demand that those responsible for this epic crime get out of Iraq now and that we have an opportunity to prosecute and judge them, and to make amends to the Iraqi people. Anything less disqualifies "us" as civilized.

First published in the Mirror

Get Out Now, Before We Are Thrown Out


Four years ago, I traveled the length of Iraq, from the hills where St. Matthew is buried in the Kurdish north to the heartland of Mesopotamia, and Baghdad, and the Shia south. I have seldom felt as safe in any country. Once, in the Edwardian colonnade of Baghdad’s book market, a young man shouted something at me about the hardship his family had been forced to endure under the embargo imposed by America and Britain. What happened next was typical of Iraqis; a passerby calmed the man, putting his arm around his shoulder, while another was quickly at my side. "Forgive him," he said reassuringly. "We do not connect the people of the west with the actions of their governments. You are welcome."

At one of the melancholy evening auctions where Iraqis come to sell their most intimate possessions out of urgent need, a woman with two infants watched as their pushchairs went for pennies, and a man who had collected doves since he was 15 came with his last bird and its cage; and yet people said to me: "You are welcome." Such grace and dignity were often expressed by those Iraqi exiles who loathed Saddam Hussein and opposed both the economic siege and the Anglo-American assault on their homeland; thousands of these anti-Saddamites marched against the war in London last year, to the chagrin of the warmongers, who never understood the dichotomy of their principled stand.

Were I to undertake the same journey in Iraq today, I might not return alive. Foreign terrorists have ensured that. With the most lethal weapons that billions of dollars can buy, and the threats of their cowboy generals and the panic-stricken brutality of their foot soldiers, more than 120,000 of these invaders have ripped up the fabric of a nation that survived the years of Saddam Hussein, just as they oversaw the destruction of its artifacts. They have brought to Iraq a daily, murderous violence which surpasses that of a tyrant who never promised a fake democracy.

Amnesty International reports that US-led forces have "shot Iraqis dead during demonstrations, tortured and ill-treated prisoners, arrested people arbitrarily and held them indefinitely, demolished houses in acts of revenge and collective punishment."

In Fallujah, US marines, described as "tremendously precise" by their psychopathic spokesman, slaughtered up to 600 people, according to hospital directors. They did it with aircraft and heavy weapons deployed in urban areas, as revenge for the killing of four American mercenaries. Many of the dead of Fallujah were women and children and the elderly. Only the Arab television networks, notably al-Jazeera, have shown the true scale of this crime, while the Anglo-American media continue to channel and amplify the lies of the White House and Downing Street.

"Writing exclusively for the Observer before a make-or-break summit with President George Bush this week," sang Britain’s former premier liberal newspaper on 11 April, "[Tony Blair] gave full backing to American tactics in Iraq... saying that the government would not flinch from its ‘historic struggle’ despite the efforts of ‘insurgents and terrorists’."

That this "exclusive" was not presented as parody shows that the propaganda engine that drove the lies of Blair and Bush on weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda links for almost two years is still in service. On BBC news bulletins and Newsnight, Blair’s "terrorists" are still currency, a term that is never applied to the principal source and cause of the terrorism, the foreign invaders, who have now killed at least 11,000 civilians, according to Amnesty and others. The overall figure, including conscripts, may be as high as 55,000.

That a nationalist uprising has been under way in Iraq for more than a year, uniting at least 15 major groups, most of them opposed to the old regime, has been suppressed in a mendacious lexicon invented in Washington and London and reported incessantly, CNN-style. "Remnants" and "tribalists" and "fundamentalists" dominate, while Iraq is denied the legacy of a history in which much of the modern world is rooted. The "first-anniversary story" about a laughable poll claiming that half of all Iraqis felt better off now under the occupation is a case in point. The BBC and the rest swallowed it whole. For the truth, I recommend the courageous daily reporting of Jo Wilding, a British human rights observer in Baghdad.

Even now, as the uprising spreads, there is only cryptic gesturing at the obvious: that this is a war of national liberation and that the enemy is "us." The pro-invasion Sydney Morning Herald is typical. Having expressed "surprise" at the uniting of Shias and Sunnis, the paper’s Baghdad correspondent recently described "how GI bullies are making enemies of their Iraqi friends" and how he and his driver had been threatened by Americans. "I’ll take you out quick as a flash, motherf****er!" a soldier told the reporter. That this was merely a glimpse of the terror and humiliation that Iraqis have to suffer every day in their own country was not made clear; yet this newspaper has published image after unctuous image of mournful American soldiers, inviting sympathy for an invader who has "taken out" thousands of innocent men, women and children.

What we do routinely in the imperial west, wrote Richard Falk, professor of international relations at Princeton, is propagate "through a self-righteous, one-way moral/legal screen positive images of western values and innocence that are threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence." Thus, western state terrorism is erased, and a tenet of western journalism is to excuse or minimize "our" culpability, however atrocious. Our dead are counted; theirs are not. Our victims are worthy; theirs are not.

This is an old story; there have been many Iraqs, or what Blair calls "historic struggles" waged against "insurgents and terrorists." Take Kenya in the 1950s. The approved version is still cherished in the west – first popularized in the press, then in fiction and movies; and like Iraq, it is a lie. "The task to which we have set our minds," declared the governor of Kenya in 1955, "is to civilize a great mass of human beings who are in a very primitive moral and social state." The slaughter of thousands of nationalists, who were never called nationalists, was British government policy. The myth of the Kenyan uprising was that the Mau Mau brought "demonic terror" to the heroic white settlers. In fact, the Mau Mau killed just 32 Europeans, compared with the estimated 10,000 Kenyans killed by the British, who ran concentration camps where the conditions were so harsh that 402 inmates died in just one month. Torture, flogging and abuse of women and children were commonplace. "The special prisons," wrote the imperial historian V.G. Kiernan, "were probably as bad as any similar Nazi or Japanese establishments." None of this was reported. The "demonic terror" was all one way: black against white. The racist message was unmistakable.

It was the same in Vietnam. In 1969, the discovery of the American massacre in the village of My Lai was described on the cover of Newsweek as "An American tragedy," not a Vietnamese one. In fact, there were many massacres like My Lai, and almost none of them was reported at the time.

The real tragedy of soldiers policing a colonial occupation is also suppressed. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed in Vietnam. The same number, according to a veterans’ study, killed themselves on their return home. Dr. Doug Rokke, director of the US army depleted uranium project following the 1991 Gulf invasion, estimates that more than 10,000 American troops have since died as a result, many from contamination illness. When I asked him how many Iraqis had died, he raised his eyes and shook his head. "Solid uranium was used on shells," he said. "Tens of thousands of Iraqis – men, women and children – were contaminated. Right through the 1990s, at international symposiums, I watched Iraqi officials approach their counterparts from the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense and ask, plead, for help with decontamination. The Iraqis didn’t use uranium; it was not their weapon. I watched them put their case, describing the deaths and horrific deformities, and I watched them rebuffed. It was pathetic." During last year’s invasion, both American and British forces again used uranium-tipped shells, leaving whole areas so "hot" with radiation that only military survey teams in full protective clothing can approach them. No warning or medical help is given to Iraqi civilians; thousands of children play in these zones. The "coalition" has refused to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to send experts to assess what Rokke describes as "a catastrophe."

When will this catastrophe be properly reported by those meant to keep the record straight? When will the BBC and others investigate the conditions of some 10,000 Iraqis held without charge, many of them tortured, in US concentration camps inside Iraq, and the corralling, with razor wire, of entire Iraqi villages? When will the BBC and others stop referring to "the handover of Iraqi sovereignty" on 30 June, although there will be no such handover? The new regime will be stooges, with each ministry controlled by American officials and with its stooge army and stooge police force run by Americans. A Saddamite law prohibiting trade unions for public sector workers will stay in force. Leading members of Saddam’s infamous secret police, the Mukhabarat, will run "state security," directed by the CIA. The US military will have the same "status of forces" agreement that they impose on the host nations of their 750 bases around the world, which in effect leaves them in charge. Iraq will be a US colony, like Haiti. And when will journalists have the professional courage to report the pivotal role that Israel has played in this grand colonial design for the Middle East?

A few weeks ago, Rick Mercier, a young columnist for the Free-Lance Star, a small paper in Virginia, did what no other journalist has done this past year. He apologized to his readers for the travesty of the reporting of events leading to the attack on Iraq. "Sorry we let unsubstantiated claims drive our coverage," he wrote. "Sorry we let a band of self-serving Iraqi defectors make fools of us. Sorry we fell for Colin Powell’s performance at the United Nations... Maybe we’ll do a better job next war."

Well done, Rick Mercier. But listen to the silence of your colleagues on both sides of the Atlantic. No one expects Fox or Wapping or the Daily Telegraph to relent. But what about David Astor’s beacon of liberalism, the Observer, which stood against the invasion of Egypt in 1956 and its attendant lies? The Observer not only backed last year’s unprovoked, illegal assault on Iraq; it helped create the mendacious atmosphere in which Blair could get away with his crime. The reputation of the Observer, and the fact that it published occasional mitigating material, meant that lies and myths gained legitimacy. A front-page story gave credence to the bogus claim that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks in the US. And there were those unnamed western "intelligence sources," all those straw men, all those hints, in David Rose’s two-page "investigation" headlined "The Iraqi connection," that left readers with the impression that Saddam Hussein might well have had a lot to do with the attacks of 11 September 2001. "There are occasions in history," wrote Rose, "when the use of force is both right and sensible. This is one of them." Tell that to 11,000 dead civilians, Mr. Rose.

It is said that British officers in Iraq now describe the "tactics" of their American comrades as "appalling." No, the very nature of a colonial occupation is appalling, as the families of 13 Iraqis killed by British soldiers, who are taking the British government to court, will agree. If the British military brass understand an inkling of their own colonial past, not least the bloody British retreat from Iraq 83 years ago, they will whisper in the ear of the little Wellington-cum-Palmerston in 10 Downing Street: "Get out now, before we are thrown out."

First published in the New Statesman.

The Crime Committed in Our Name


The invasion of Iraq, which began one year ago today, was "organised with lies," says the new Spanish Prime Minister. Does anyone doubt this any more?

And yet these proven lies are still dominant in Australia. Day after day, their perpetrators seek to obfuscate and justify an unprovoked, illegal attack that killed up to 55,000 people, including at least 10,000 civilians; that every month causes the death and injury of 1000 children from exploding cluster bombs; that has so saturated Iraqi towns and cities with uranium that American and British soldiers are warned not to go where Iraqi children play, for fear of contamination.

Set that carnage against the Madrid atrocity. Terrible though that act of terrorism was, it was small compared with the terrorism of the American-led "coalition." Yes, terrorism. How strange it reads when it describes the actions of "our" governments. So saturated are we in the West in the devilry of Third World tyrants (most of them the products of Western imperialism) that we have lost all sense of the enormous crime committed in our name.

This is not rhetoric. In 1946, the judges who tried the German leadership at Nuremberg called the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country "the supreme international war crime." That principle guided more than half a century of international law, until Bush and Blair and Howard tore it up, covering their actions with a litany of lies.

On February 4 last year, in a speech lasting less than an hour, John Howard referred more than 30 times to the "threat" posed by Saddam Hussein. He offered authoritative detail: that Iraq's "arsenal of chemical and biological weapons (was) intact" and was a "massive program." All of this was false.

Ray McGovern, one of the CIA's most senior analysts and a personal friend of George Bush snr, told me: "It was 95 per cent charade. And they all knew it: Bush, Blair, Howard."

The true danger is where a rampant superpower will strike next: watch out Korea, Syria, Iran, even China.

Set that truth against the present carnage in Iraq, and set it against the wilful destruction that preceded it, which was barely reported in Australia.

The UN's two senior officials in Iraq in the 1990s, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, both assistant secretaries-general of the UN, have described in detail a "genocidal embargo" imposed by America under a UN flag of convenience, aided and abetted by Australia.

"Almost a million Iraqis died as a direct result," Halliday told me, "including at least half a million children. The UNICEF studies are on the record. It was US policy to destroy the infrastructure of Iraq, such as the water supply, which killed thousands of infants. By the time Bush invaded, a once prosperous country was a stricken nation."

In fact, UN records show that up to July 2002, more than $US5 billion worth of humanitarian aid, approved by the UN Security Council and paid for by Iraq, was blocked by the US.

How many Australians are aware of this and Australia's complicity? Howard sent RAN ships to police what in reality was a medieval-style siege? Who dared listen to Halliday and other distinguished witnesses that it was this terrible siege that reinforced Saddam's rule and prevented the Iraqi people from getting rid of him?

All this has been suppressed in Australia while the latest lies are channelled and amplified by journalists. I am not referring to the usual far-right windbags but those broadcasters who believe sincerely they are being objective; by constantly framing the national debate in the terms and cliches of mendacious power, they collude with it, censoring by omission.

Do they ever consider that the very notion of a "war on terror" is absurd when the power in Washington claiming to combat terror has run an empire of terror: Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua and now Haiti, again? By comparison al-Qaeda is a lethal flea. The true danger is where a rampant superpower will strike next: watch out Korea, Syria, Iran, even China.

As the prisoners begin to struggle home from the American concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, the scale of the crime is emerging. We now know that the British military command virtually refused to send troops to Iraq until Blair gave them a guarantee they would not be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. Blair's guarantee was worthless. And that frightens the British establishment, and the Australian establishment, too.

Unlike the US, Britain and Australia are signatories to the ICC. The times are changing; Washington-manipulated show trials of Third World dictators are giving way to the promise of universal justice, however tenuous it may seem.

The dock awaits those Westerners who bring terrorism to faraway countries, then watch it blow back in our faces. Like al-Qaeda, they should not be allowed to get away with it.

The Unmentionable Source of Terrorism


The current threat of attacks in countries whose governments have close alliances with Washington is the latest stage in a long struggle against the empires of the west, their rapacious crusades and domination. The motivation of those who plant bombs in railway carriages derives directly from this truth. What is different today is that the weak have learned how to attack the strong, and the western crusaders' most recent colonial terrorism exposes "us" to retaliation.

The source of much of this danger is Israel. A creation, then guardian of the west's empire in the Middle East, the Zionist state remains the cause of more regional grievance and sheer terror than all the Muslim states combined. Read the melancholy Palestinian Monitor on the Internet; it chronicles the equivalent of Madrid's horror week after week, month after month, in occupied Palestine. No front pages in the West acknowledge this enduring bloodbath, let alone mourn its victims. Moreover, the Israeli army, a terrorist organisation by any reasonable measure, is protected and rewarded in the west.

In its current human rights report, the Foreign Office criticises Israel for its "worrying disregard for human rights" and "the impact that the continuing Israeli occupation and the associated military occupations have had on the lives of ordinary Palestinians."

Yet the Blair government has secretly authorised the sale of vast quantities of arms and terror equipment to Israel. These include leg-irons, electric shock belts and chemical and biological agents. No matter that Israel has defied more United Nations resolutions than any other state since the founding of the world body. Last October, the UN General Assembly voted by 144 to four to condemn the wall that Israel has cut through the heart of the West Bank, annexing the best agricultural land, including the aquifer system that provides most of the Palestinians' water. Israel, as usual, ignored the world.

Israel is the guard dog of America's plans for the Middle East. The former CIA analysts Kathleen and Bill Christison have described how "two strains of Jewish and Christian fundamentalism have dovetailed into an agenda for a vast imperial project to restructure the Middle East, all further reinforced by the happy coincidence of great oil resources up for grabs and a president and vice-president heavily invested in oil."

The "neoconservatives" who run the Bush regime all have close ties with the Likud government in Tel Aviv and the Zionist lobby groups in Washington. In 1997, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (Jinsa) declared: "Jinsa has been working closely with Iraqi National Council leader Dr Ahmad Chalabi to promote Saddam Hussein's removal from office..." Chalabi is the CIA-backed stooge and convicted embezzler at present organising the next "democratic" government in Baghdad.

Until recently, a group of Zionists ran their own intelligence service inside the Pentagon. This was known as the Office of Special Plans, and was overseen by Douglas Feith, an under-secretary of defence, extreme Zionist and opponent of any negotiated peace with the Palestinians. It was the Office of Special Plans that supplied Downing Street with much of its scuttlebutt about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; more often than not, the original source was Israel.

Israel can also claim responsibility for the law passed by Congress that imposes sanctions on Syria and in effect threatens it with the same fate as Iraq unless it agrees to the demands of Tel Aviv. Israel is the guiding hand behind Bush's bellicose campaign against the "nuclear threat" posed by Iran. Today, in occupied Iraq, Israeli special forces are teaching the Americans how to "wall in" a hostile population, in the same way that Israel has walled in the Palestinians in pursuit of the Zionist dream of an apartheid state. The author David Hirst describes the "Israelisation of US foreign policy" as being "now operational as well as ideological."

In understanding Israel's enduring colonial role in the Middle East, it is too simple to see the outrages of Ariel Sharon as an aberrant version of a democracy that lost its way. The myths that abound in middle-class Jewish homes in Britain about Israel's heroic, noble birth have long been reinforced by a "liberal" or "left-wing" Zionism as virulent and essentially destructive as the Likud strain.

In recent years, the truth has come from Israel's own "new historians," who have revealed that the Zionist "idealists" of 1948 had no intention of treating justly or even humanely the Palestinians, who instead were systematically and often murderously driven from their homes. The most courageous of these historians is Ilan Pappe, an Israeli-born professor at Haifa University, who, with the publication of each of his ground-breaking books, has been both acclaimed and smeared. The latest is A History of Modern Palestine, in which he documents the expulsion of Palestinians as an orchestrated crime of ethnic cleansing that tore apart Jews and Arabs coexisting peacefully. As for the modern "peace process," he describes the Oslo Accords of 1993 as a plan by liberal Zionists in the Israeli Labour Party to corral Palestinians in South African-style bantustans. That they were aided by a desperate Palestinian leadership made the "peace" and its "failure" (blamed on the Palestinians) no less counterfeit. During the years of negotiation and raised hopes, governments in Tel Aviv secretly doubled the number of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, intensified the military occupation and completed the fragmentation of the 22 per cent of historic Palestine that the Palestine Liberation Organisation had agreed to accept in return for recognising the state of Israel.

Along with the late Edward Said, Ilan Pappe is the most eloquent writer of Palestinian history. He is also one of the most scholarly. This combination has brought him many admirers, but also enemies among Israel's academic liberal mythologists in Britain, one of whom, Stephen Howe, was given the Pappe book to review in the New Statesman of 8 March. Howe often appears in these pages; his style is to damn with faint praise and to set carefully the limits of debate about empire, be it Irish history, the Middle East or the "war on terror." In Pappe's case, what the reader doesn't know is Howe's personal link to the Israeli establishment; and what Howe does not say in his review is that here for the first time is a textbook on Palestine that narrates the real story as it happened: a non-Zionist version of Zionism.

He accuses Pappe of "factual mistakes," but gives no evidence, then denigrates the book by dismissing it as a footnote to another book by the Israeli historian Benny Morris, who has long atoned for his own revisionist work. To its credit, Cambridge University Press has published Pappe's pioneering and highly accessible work as an authoritative history. This means that the "debate" over Israel's origins is ending, regardless of what the empire's apologists say.

2004: Choose Your Favorite Pro-War Candidate


A myth equal to the fable of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is gaining strength on both sides of the Atlantic. It is that John Kerry offers a world-view different from that of George W Bush. Watch this big lie grow as Kerry is crowned the Democratic candidate and the "anyone but Bush" movement becomes a liberal cause celebre.

While the rise to power of the Bush gang, the neoconservatives, belatedly preoccupied the American media, the message of their equivalents in the Democratic Party has been of little interest. Yet the similarities are compelling. Shortly before Bush's "election" in 2000, the Project for the New American Century, the neoconservative pressure group, published an ideological blueprint for "maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests." Every one of its recommendations for aggression and conquest was adopted by the administration.

One year later, the Progressive Policy Institute, an arm of the Democratic Leadership Council, published a 19-page manifesto for the "New Democrats," who include all the principal Democratic Party candidates, and especially John Kerry. This called for "the bold exercise of American power" at the heart of "a new Democratic strategy, grounded in the party's tradition of muscular internationalism." Such a strategy would "keep Americans safer than the Republicans' go-it-alone policy, which has alienated our natural allies and overstretched our resources. We aim to rebuild the moral foundation of US global leadership . . ."

What is the difference from the vainglorious claptrap of Bush? Apart from euphemisms, there is none. All the leading Democratic presidential candidates supported the invasion of Iraq, bar one: Howard Dean. Kerry not only voted for the invasion, but expressed his disappointment that it had not gone according to plan. He told Rolling Stone magazine: "Did I expect George Bush to f*** it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did." Neither Kerry nor any of the other candidates has called for an end to the bloody and illegal occupation; on the contrary, all of them have demanded more troops for Iraq. Kerry has called for another "40,000 active service troops." He has supported Bush's continuing bloody assault on Afghanistan, and the administration's plans to "return Latin America to American leadership" by subverting democracy in Venezuela.

Above all, he has not in any way challenged the notion of American military supremacy throughout the world that has pushed the number of US bases to more than 750. Nor has he alluded to the Pentagon's coup d'etat in Washington and its stated goal of "full spectrum dominance." As for Bush's "preemptive" policy of attacking other countries, that's fine, too. Even the most liberal of the Democratic bunch, Howard Dean, said he was prepared to use "our brave and remarkable armed forces" against any "imminent threat." That's how Bush himself put it.

What the New Democrats object to is the Bush gang's outspokenness – its crude honesty, if you like – in stating its plans openly, and not from behind the usual veil or in the usual specious code of imperial liberalism and its "moral authority." New Democrats of Kerry's sort are all for the American empire; understandably, they would prefer that those words remained unsaid. "Progressive internationalism" is far more acceptable.

Just as the plans of the Bush gang were written by the neoconservatives, so John Kerry in his campaign book, A Call to Service, lifts almost word for word the New Democrats' warmongering manifesto. "The time has come," he writes, "to revive a bold vision of progressive internationalism" along with a "tradition" that honors "the tough-minded strategy of international engagement and leadership forged by Wilson and Roosevelt . . . and championed by Truman and Kennedy in the cold war." Almost identical thoughts appear on page three of the New Democrats' manifesto:

As Democrats, we are proud of our party's tradition of tough-minded internationalism and strong record in defending America. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D Roosevelt and Harry Truman led the United States to victory in two world wars . . . [Truman's policies] eventually triumphed in the cold war. President Kennedy epitomized America's commitment to "the survival and success of liberty."

Mark the historical lies in that statement: the "victory" of the US with its brief intervention in the First World War; the airbrushing of the decisive role of the Soviet Union in the Second World War; the American elite's nonexistent "triumph" over internally triggered events that brought down the Soviet Union; and John F Kennedy's famous devotion to "liberty" that oversaw the deaths of some three million people in Indo-China.

"Perhaps the most repulsive section of [his] book," writes Mark Hand, editor of Press Action, the American media monitoring group, "is where Kerry discusses the Vietnam war and the antiwar movement." Self-promoted as a war hero, Kerry briefly joined the protest movement on his return from Vietnam. In this twin capacity, he writes: "I say to both conservative and liberal misinterpretations of that war that it's time to get over it and recognize it as an exception, not as a ruling example of the US military engagements of the 20th century."

"In this one passage," writes Hand, "Kerry seeks to justify the millions of people slaughtered by the US military and its surrogates during the 20th century [and] suggests that concern about US war crimes in Vietnam is no longer necessary . . . Kerry and his colleagues in the 'progressive internationalist' movement are as gung-ho as their counterparts in the White House . . . Come November, who will get your vote? Coke or Pepsi?"

The "anyone but Bush" movement objects to the Coke-Pepsi analogy, and Ralph Nader is the current source of their ire. In Britain, seven years ago, similar derision was heaped upon those who pointed out the similarities between Tony Blair and his heroine Margaret Thatcher – similarities which have since been proven. "It's a nice and convenient myth that liberals are the peacemakers and conservatives the warmongers," wrote the Guardian commentator Hywel Williams. "But the imperialism of the liberal may be more dangerous because of its open-ended nature – its conviction that it represents a superior form of life."

Like the Blairites, John Kerry and his fellow New Democrats come from a tradition of liberalism that has built and defended empires as "moral" enterprises. That the Democratic Party has left a longer trail of blood, theft and subjugation than the Republicans is heresy to the liberal crusaders, whose murderous history always requires, it seems, a noble mantle.

As the New Democrats' manifesto rightly points out, the Democrats' "tough-minded internationalism" began with Woodrow Wilson, a Christian megalomaniac who believed that America had been chosen by God "to show the way to the nations of this world, how they shall walk in the paths of liberty." In his wonderful new book, The Sorrows of Empire (Verso), Chalmers Johnson writes:

With Woodrow Wilson, the intellectual foundations of American imperialism were set in place. Theodore Roosevelt . . . had represented a European-driven, militaristic vision of imperialism backed by nothing more substantial than the notion that the manifest destiny of the United States was to govern racially inferior Latin Americans and east Asians. Wilson laid over that his own hyper-idealistic, sentimental and ahistorical idea [of American world dominance]. It was a political project no less ambitious and no less passionately held than the vision of world communism launched at almost the same time by the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution.

It was the Wilsonian Democratic administration of Harry Truman, following the Second World War, that created the militaristic "national security state" and the architecture of the cold war: the CIA, the Pentagon and the National Security Council. As the only head of state to use atomic weapons, Truman authorized troops to intervene anywhere "to defend free enterprise." In 1945, his administration set up the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as agents of US economic imperialism. Later, using the "moral" language of Woodrow Wilson, John F Kennedy invaded Vietnam and unleashed the US Special Forces as death squads; they now operate on every continent.

Bush has been a beneficiary of this. His neoconservatives derive not from traditional Republican Party roots, but from the hawk's wings of the Democratic Party – such as the trade union establishment, the AFL-CIO (known as the "AFL-CIA"), which received millions of dollars to subvert unions and political parties throughout the world, and the weapons industry, built and nurtured by the Democratic senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. Paul Wolfowitz, Bush's leading fanatic, began his Washington political life working for Jackson. In 1972 an aberration, George McGovern, faced Richard Nixon as the Democrats' antiwar candidate. Virtually abandoned by the party and its powerful backers, McGovern was crushed.

Bill Clinton, hero of the Blairites, learned the lesson of this. The myths spun around Clinton's "golden era of liberalism" are, in retrospect, laughable. Savor this obsequious front-page piece by the Guardian's chief political correspondent, reporting Clinton's speech to the Labour Party conference in 2002:

Bill Clinton yesterday used a mesmerizing oration . . . in a subtle and delicately balanced address [that] captured the imagination of delegates in Blackpool's Winter Gardens . . . Observers also described the speech as one of the most impressive and moving in the history of party conferences. The trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, described it as "absolutely brilliant."

An accompanying editorial gushed: "In an intimate, almost conversational tone, speaking only from notes, Bill Clinton delivered the speech of a true political master . . . If one were reviewing it, five stars would not be enough . . . What a speech. What a pro. And what a loss to the leadership of America and the world."

No idolatry was enough. At the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, the leader of "the third way" and of "progressive internationalism" received a long line of media and Blair people who hailed him as a lost leader, "a champion of the center left."

The truth is that Clinton was little different from Bush, a crypto-fascist. During the Clinton years, the principal welfare safety nets were taken away and poverty in America increased sharply; a multibillion-dollar missile "defense" system known as Star Wars II was instigated; the biggest war and arms budget in history was approved; biological weapons verification was rejected, along with a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, the establishment of an international criminal court and a worldwide ban on landmines. Contrary to a myth that places the blame on Bush, the Clinton administration in effect destroyed the movement to combat global warming.

In addition, Haiti and Afghanistan were invaded, the illegal blockade of Cuba was reinforced and Iraq was subjected to a medieval siege that claimed up to a million lives while the country was being attacked, on average, every third day: the longest Anglo-American bombing campaign in history. In the 1999 Clinton-led attack on Serbia, a "moral crusade," public transport, nonmilitary factories, food processing plants, hospitals, schools, museums, churches, heritage-listed monasteries and farms were bombed. "They ran out of military targets in the first couple of weeks," said James Bissett, the Canadian former ambassador to Yugoslavia. "It was common knowledge that NATO went to stage three: civilian targets." In their cruise missile attack on Sudan, Clinton's generals targeted and destroyed a factory producing most of sub-Saharan Africa's pharmaceutical supplies. The German ambassador to Sudan reported: "It is difficult to assess how many people in this poor country died as a consequence . . . but several tens of thousands seems a reasonable guess."

Covered in euphemisms, such as "democracy-building" and "peacekeeping," "humanitarian intervention" and "liberal intervention," the Clintonites can boast a far more successful imperial record than Bush's neocons, largely because Washington granted the Europeans a ceremonial role, and because NATO was "onside." In a league table of death and destruction, Clinton beats Bush hands down.

A question that New Democrats like to ask is: "What would Al Gore have done if he had not been cheated of the presidency by Bush?" Gore's top adviser was the arch-hawk Leon Fuerth, who said the US should "destroy the Iraqi regime, root and branch." Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate in 2000, helped to get Bush's war resolution on Iraq through Congress. In 2002, Gore himself declared that an invasion of Iraq "was not essential in the short term" but "nevertheless, all Americans should acknowledge that Iraq does, indeed, pose a serious threat." Like Blair, what Gore wanted was an "international coalition" to cover long-laid plans for the takeover of the Middle East. His complaint against Bush was that, by going it alone, Washington could "weaken our ability to lead the world in this new century."

Collusion between the Bush and Gore camps was common. During the 2000 election, Richard Holbrooke, who probably would have become Gore's secretary of state, conspired with Paul Wolfowitz to ensure their respective candidates said nothing about US policy towards Indonesia's blood-soaked role in southeast Asia. "Paul and I have been in frequent touch," said Holbrooke, "to make sure we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests." The same can be said of Israel's ruthless, illegal expansion, of which not a word was and is said: it is a crime with the full support of both Republicans and Democrats.

John Kerry supported the removal of millions of poor Americans from welfare rolls and backed extending the death penalty. The "hero" of a war that is documented as an atrocity launched his presidential campaign in front of a moored aircraft carrier. He has attacked Bush for not providing sufficient funding to the National Endowment for Democracy, which, wrote the historian William Blum, "was set up by the CIA, literally, and for 20 years has been destabilizing governments, progressive movements, labour unions and anyone else on Washington's hit list." Like Bush – and all those who prepared the way for Bush, from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton – Kerry promotes the mystical "values of American power" and what the writer Ariel Dorfman has called "the plague of victimhood . . . Nothing more dangerous: a giant who is afraid."

People who are aware of such danger, yet support its proponents in a form they find agreeable, think they can have it both ways. They can't. Michael Moore, the filmmaker, should know this better than anyone; yet he backed the NATO bomber Wesley Clark as Democratic candidate. The effect of this is to reinforce the danger to all of us, because it says it is OK to bomb and kill, then to speak of peace. Like the Bush regime, the New Democrats fear truly opposing voices and popular movements: that is, genuine democracy, at home and abroad. The colonial theft of Iraq is a case in point. "If you move too fast," says Noah Feldman, a former legal adviser to the US regime in Baghdad, "the wrong people could get elected." Tony Blair has said as much in his inimitable way: "We can't end up having an inquiry into whether the war [in Iraq] was right or wrong. That is something that we have got to decide. We are the politicians."