The moral decline of the world’s only superpower

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Here, according to Jane Perlez of the New York Times (At Least 3 Journalists Die in Blast at Baghdad Hotel), is what Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, that genial crusher of language, had to say on the Centcom stage set in Qatar today about American attacks on the Baghdad office of Al-Jazeera TV and the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad that resulted in the deaths of journalists today. “This coalition does not target journalists. We don’t know every place journalists are operating on the battlefield. It’s a dangerous place indeed.”

Of course, unless Brig. Gen. Brooks doesn’t watch TV or spends most of the day insensate he — like everyone else in the world — knows that the Palestine Hotel holds most of the foreign journalists in that embattled city and fairly exactly where it’s located. Other than Saddam’s wrecked Stalinist-palatial architecture, it’s the one place in Baghdad that most Americans could undoubtedly identify today. And a Mr. Ballout, a spokesman for Al Jazeera, responded to Brooks, according to Perlez, by saying “that officials of the Arab satellite channel had informed the Pentagon of the location of its Baghdad office. In a letter on February 24 to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Pentagon, Al Jazeera gave the co-ordinates of its building as latitude 33.19, longitude 44.24 and altitude 63 meters, Mr. Ballout said.”

This is evidently part of the military task of cleaning the “hostiles” out of Iraq’s capital. Enough of those shots of dead, wounded, and mangled Iraqis, those shots of mistaken air raids and the vistas of bombed-out rubble and wailing survivors (that Americans barely see in their version of the war anyway). And then, of course, you just get up on that stage and deny. This has been the essence of the American way of info-war this time around. A Baghdad market bombed. Not us. Must have been an Iraqi missile falling back to earth. We had no planes in the Middle East at the time. A neighborhood bombed. Actually likely to be damage from their anti-aircraft fire. A Russian diplomatic caravan heading for Syria shot up. Our troops weren’t even in the neighborhood. All untrue, of course. But it doesn’t matter. We assure you, we’re going back to check it out, to study it, to see if we can find the answers to your questions. Soon. In a few days. Maybe next week. By the time the answers come back (and not usually from Centcom either), well we’re on to the next incident and the next denial.

It’s an effective way to go — but only for, as it turns out, Americans. Our TV channels generally accept these accounts, or they noodle and fiddle and question and query mildly and anyway, is Saddam alive or dead or a body double or a dead body double or shown in dramatic scenes taken last century? And in the meanwhile, the casualty levels — thanks in part to overwhelming air power, and in part to those depleted-uranium sheathed tanks, and in part to well, I’m no military strategist — remain low, on our side at least. “Acceptable” — meaning at the levels of a classic colonial war of slaughter — and in this country the poll figures only rise and rise, which is perhaps the definition of “victory.”

But for the rest of the world it’s different. They see — and not just in the Arab world either — graphic versions of the slaughter at hand, the sort of things news junkies can read deep inside our papers. Today, according to Vernon Loeb and Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post in a piece, U.S. Losses Light as Iraqi Toll Surges in Baghdad Fighting, U.N. Group Warns of Long-Term Effects on Civilian Populace, on p. 21 of the paper,

“The World Health Organization in Geneva reported that Baghdad hospitals were seeing 100 combat casualties per hour after a column of U.S. tanks made an initial thrust into the city, and that amputations were apparently being performed without sufficient anesthesia or morphine. WHO spokesman Ian Simpson said doctors and nurses who managed to report for duty at Baghdad hospitals were increasingly finding conditions untenable, with stocks of medicine and supplies — badly depleted by 12 years of international sanctions — vanishing in the crush of civilian and military casualties.

“As the death toll climbs and human misery increases, so does concern that the U.S. military may be alienating the populace it says it is liberating, and fueling anger in Arab countries and elsewhere.”

“As the death toll climbs and human misery increases, so does concern that the U.S. military may be alienating the populace it says it is liberating, and fueling anger in Arab countries and elsewhere.”

The same piece quotes Pentagon estimates that 2,000-4,000 Iraqi military men have been killed so far in Baghdad, for the loss of just a few Americans — and that doesn’t include the “collateral damage.” What the children or wives or families of all the dead Iraqi soldiers killed across the country, many undoubtedly unwilling conscripts of a dreadful regime, may think of this version of “liberation” remains to be discovered in the longness of time.

Meanwhile, around the world, the polls, the comments, the nightmares, the fears, all tell a different tale as Susan Sachs reports in the New York Times today, while writing of one of Egypt’s more moderate intellectuals (Egyptian Intellectual Speaks of the Arab World’s Despair):

“When speaking of President Bush and his administration, Mr. Aboulmagd uses words like narrow-minded, pathological, obstinate and simplistic. The war on Iraq, he said bluntly, is the act of a “weak person who wants to show toughness” and, quite frankly, seems ‘deranged.’

“Such language from a man of Mr. Aboulmagd’s stature is a warning sign of the deep distress that has seized the Arab elite, those who preach moderation in the face of rising Islamic radicalism and embrace liberalism over the tired slogans of Arab nationalism.”

Below you’ll find three essays from “elsewhere,” one more eloquent, thoughtful, and horrified than the next. The novelist and Nobelist Gunter Grass writes in the Los Angeles Times of “the moral decline of the world’s only superpower”; the always courageous Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy (in one of the only other countries to support the American war against Iraq) writes of “the collateral damage of this base war”; and then the Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh, in the New Yorker, considers (as do Grass and Levy) the price that America is likely to pay for its one-legged imperial stomp through the Iraq. (“As George Orwell and many other observers of imperialism have pointed out, empires imprison their rulers as well as their subjects.”)Tom

The U.S. Betrays Its Core Values
Having learned from its past, Germany rightly rejects Bush’s war and his disdain of the U.N.
By Gunter Grass
The Los Angeles Times
April 7, 2003

BEHLENDORF, Germany — A war long sought and planned for is now underway. All deliberations and warnings of the United Nations notwithstanding, an overpowering military apparatus has attacked preemptively in violation of international law. No objections were heeded. The Security Council was disdained and scorned as irrelevant. As the bombs fall and the battle for Baghdad continues, the law of might prevails.

And based on this injustice, the mighty have the power to buy and reward those who might be willing and to disdain and even punish the unwilling. The words of the current American president — “Those not with us are against us” — weighs on current events with the resonance of barbaric times. It is hardly surprising that the rhetoric of the aggressor increasingly resembles that of his enemy.

Gunter Grass won the 1999 Nobel Prize in literature. His most recent novel, “Crabwalk,” will be published this month by Harcourt. This piece was translated from German by Daniel Slager.

To read more Grass click here

America is not a role model
By Gideon Levy

Those who trample human rights in Israel are having a field day: Look at the behavior of the Americans in Iraq, they say. Every time troops open fire at a checkpoint, every killing of a civilian, every picture of siege and plight, leads to merriment here. The United States, the cradle of democracy, the leader of the free world, is behaving like us.

According to one report, “IDF officers find it difficult to stop smiling” when they hear the reports of the war in Iraq. From now on, no one will be able to criticize their conduct in the territories. The New York Times reported that Israel even hastened to suggest that the United States learn from its experience in the use of tanks, helicopters and bulldozers in the center of cities and refugee camps.

To read more Levy click here

The Anglophone Empire
Can occupation ever work?
By Amitav Ghosh
The New Yorker
March 31, 2003

During the past few months, much has been said and written on the subject of a “new American empire.” This term, however, is a misnomer. If the Iraq war is to be seen as a kind of imperial venture, then the project is neither new nor purely American. What President Bush likes to call the “coalition of the willing” is dominated, after all, by America, Britain, and Australia-three English-speaking countries whose allegiances are rooted not just in a shared culture and common institutions but also in a shared history of territorial expansion. Seen in this light, the alignment is only the newest phase in the evolution of the most potent political force of the last two centuries: the Anglophone empire.

I am an Indian, and my history has been shaped as much by the institutions of this empire as by a long tradition of struggle against them.

To read more Ghosh click here