Centre for Research on GlobalisationCentre de recherche sur la mondialisation
Bush's Strategy of Distraction
NEW YORK--Bush's "war on terrorism" (one uses quotes for things which exist in name only) has already manifested most of the characteristics of the dystopian society described in George Orwell's "1984." Like Big Brother, Bush is an unelected figurehead for a secretive clan of wealthy hypocrites who live above the law. Like Orwell's fictional Oceania, the United States is engaged in a perpetual war in which victory isn't expected within our lifetime. Oceania bombs its own people, using the fear of faux terrorism to maintain control over the population. The United States trains and finances radical Islamist terrorists who predictably turn against Americans, then uses the specter of terrorism to justify everything from fast-track signing authority on free trade (opposition to NAFTA and the WTO, Bush's U.S. Trade Representative argues, is "an attack on freedom") to tax cuts for the Administration's wealthy chums to smearing Tom Daschle as a communist terrorist enemy-of-the-state.
Bush's Operation TIPS ("Terrorism Information and Prevention System") asks mail deliverers, meter readers, truckers (!) and other citizens to spy on their neighbors and customers (or, in FEMA jargon, "to report suspicious, publicly observable activity that could be related to terrorism"). Thanks to your federal government, 128 channels may not be the only electronic marvel your cable guy is installing in your home. And what could be more characteristic of Stalinist totalitarianism than "disappearing" hundreds of detainees into a covert prison system--no lawyer, no trial, no charges--never to be seen again?
In "1984" the ubiquitous Emmanuel Goldstein is the nation's bęte noire, blamed by the government for everything that goes wrong. He leads the resistance; he's the author of a detailed historical treatise. Every afternoon the citizens of Oceania gather for a "two-minute hate," a cathartic scream-in during which Goldstein's smug face is flashed on screens, inspiring the delirious contempt of frenzied crowds.
Goldstein, however, does not exist. Nor does the resistance. The Party invented him to distract the citizenry from the real evildoers--themselves. And because Goldstein isn't real, Goldstein is immortal. The distraction, like the "war," is eternal.
George Orwell had Goldstein. George Bush has bin Laden.
Osama was blamed for everything that went wrong for the U.S. during the `90s. Whenever something blew up, whether it was American embassies in East Africa or the U.S.S. Cole or even the federal building in Oklahoma City, American officials trotted out bin Laden's name before the body count had even begun. So it was hardly a surprise when, on September 17 Resident Bush barked that bin Laden was "wanted dead or alive" for the 9-11 strikes, though in fact his role was probably limited to funding the 19 Egyptian jihadis who planned and carried them out.
Capturing bin Laden was Bush's top priority, or so he said time after time; the bombing campaign against the Taliban was marketed to the American people as a war against a regime that was "harboring" a wanted criminal. But after driving the Taliban out of Kabul, according to a senior U.S. military officer serving in Afghanistan ( news - web sites), "mission creep" began--U.S. forces lost focus. American intelligence sided with some warlords while trying to assassinate others. They became entangled in local politics. They shuttled Afghan officials between Central Asian capitals to cut oil and gas pipeline deals favorable to the U.S.
The elusive Osama became a low priority. The Defense Department story is that back in December and January they had America's Most Wanted cornered in the Tora Bora mountains on Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan--they know he was up there because they heard him on walkie-talkies--and they bombed his hideout so mercilessly that he must have been killed. But they couldn't be sure either way, because Afghan soldiers of the Northern Alliance and Eastern Shuria were the first to comb the hills. As documented in my book To Afghanistan and Back, 95 percent of those troops were Talibs on September 10; they were far more likely to offer bin Laden a ride home than to shoot or arrest him.
Some experts doubt that the U.S. was ever serious about capturing Osama. If he went on trial for 9-11, after all, his testimony about his years with the CIA ( news - web sites) could prove devastatingly embarrassing. This explains, they say, why Bush refused Taliban offers to turn over bin Laden, why Donald Rumsfeld bombed rather than invaded by ground, why Colin Powell ( news - web sites) never asked Pakistan to seal the border, why General Tommy Franks relied on unreliable local troops. And the Tora Bora escape tale doesn't jibe with Afghan topography or local eyewitnesses, who say that Osama left for Pakistani Kashmir ( news - web sites)--a far more typical exit for fleeing Afghans than the tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province--days after 9-11.
The Bush Administration denies such cynical motives for their actions, claiming stupidity rather than duplicity. Support for the inept-not-liars theory came with a February Hellfire missile attack launched by a drone plane in eastern Afghanistan. The airstrike targeted a group of men, one of whom looked to the drone's operator like the 6'5", white-tail-turbaned bin Laden. Three desperately poor scrap metal scavengers were blown to bits, but hey--one of them was fairly tall.
Like the Party in Oceania--sometimes at war with Eurasia, other times with Eastasia, the enemy always having been the same--the Bushies' line on Osama has alternated between vague, cunning and menacing. "I suspect we will [find bin laden and other Al Qaeda leaders]," Rumsfeld said in March. "I think we have a good crack at it. I suspect we'll get all or most [of them]." In April, he backtracked: "He's alive or dead. He's in Afghanistan or somewhere else." By June, Time magazine was reporting, "White House aides say bin Laden's name rarely comes up in meetings."
Public support for living the rest of their days fighting Bush's war had begun to wane over the summer. What was missing from the cocktail of propaganda?
Just in time for the build-up for the inevitable orgy of patriotic sentimentality to commemorate 9-11-02, Osama bin Goldstein has been brought back from the maybe-presumed-dead. On August 28, The New York Times quoted military sources as saying that the Evil One "is probably still alive and moving between mountain hideouts somewhere on a 250-mile stretch of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan." The on-again-off-again hunt for Osama is on again, according to General Franks: "What I will say is that we have not seen convincing proof that bin Laden [is] dead. I actually don't know whether he's alive or dead."
"Where's Osama?" has become America's favorite parlor game. My theory is that he is no longer with us; it's not like the sad-eyed egoist to skip his regular appearances on Al Jazeera TV. My friends think he's laying low in Kashmir or Yemen. We discuss this topic frequently. Wondering about Osama is a lot more fun than whining about the fact that the economy sucks, that everyone we know is getting laid off, that we're losing our civil rights, that we'll be paying off those $300 tax cuts for the rest of our lives. The search for bin Laden keeps us distracted, and that's just the way our leaders like it.
Bush may have read just one book, but it turned out to be the right one.
Ted Rall's new book, a graphic travelogue about his recent coverage of the Afghan war titled "To Afghanistan and Back," is now in its second edition. Ordering and review-copy information are available at www.nbmpub.com . Copyright Ted Rall 2002, For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .
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