Fireworks in Washington, despair around the world

Robin Cook – The Guardian

The Bush administration is in denial about its disastrous failure in
Iraq
By the former British Foreign Secretary
Inauguration does not do justice to the exuberant celebrations of this
week. Coronation would come closer. Washington ended yesterday with
nine official balls. The night before George Bush gave a new spin to the
phrase moveable feast by fitting in three separate banquets. He then expended
as much ordnance in peppering the sky over the Capitol with fireworks as
would get his occupation forces in Iraq through a whole 24 hours.
The contrasts between this uninhibited triumphalism and the real world
are as wide as the American continent. One visible contrast was provided by
the demonstrators camping out on the streets to protest at such extravagant
waste by an administration waging its own jihad on programmes against
poverty on the grounds that the federal budget cannot afford welfare.
Yesterday, Bush gave a new spin on welfare cuts by presenting them as
progress to an ownership society. The thousands of wealthy donors to
the campaign to re-elect the president who turned up at those dinners adore
this concept of an ownership society in which they get hefty tax cuts
paid for by the poor who get their budgets cuts.
Then there is the sharp contrast between the self-indulgent hubris of
the festivity and the fragile political victory which it celebrated. Bush
was re-elected by the smallest margin in 100 years of those presidents who
won a second term. His approval ratings this week are the lowest ever
plumbed by any president at the date of his inauguration. But among the balls,
banquets and bangs there was not a hint of the humility that would be
the essential starting point for a process of healing the deep political
division of his nation. The message of the jubilations could not be
clearer. He won another four years and was going to enjoy them, while
the other side lost and was going to have to put up with it.
Lastly there is the biggest contrast of all between the smug complacency of
the administration over its electoral victory and the disastrous military
failure of its adventure in Iraq. Since George Bush was re-elected over
200 more US soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Each new day brings another
70 attacks on the occupation forces as the territory dominated by the
insurgents expands and the area which the occupiers can safely patrol
shrinks. This week a senior Kurdish leader, although a supporter of the
occupation, admitted that for a lot of its citizens, “the Iraqi government
exists only on television”.
The lawless background to the forthcoming elections has imposed whole new dimensions to the concept of a secret ballot. Most of the candidates will remain a secret lest they are assassinated. Polling stations are kept secret by the authorities lest they are blown up before election day in
a week’s time.
Iraq was the flagship project of the Bush administration and has turned into its greatest disaster. Yesterday’s jollities cannot conceal the brutal truth that they neither know how to make the occupation succeed nor how to end it without leaving an even worse position behind. And, God help us, thanks to the unshakeable loyalty of our prime minister, we are left trapped in Basra shamed by the latest pictures of prisoner abuse and dependent for any shift of strategy on decisions taken in Washington by an administration that has repeatedly ignored British advice since its
first monumental blunder of disbanding the Iraqi army.
A successful search for a new strategy can only start with a recognition that the present strategy has comprehensively failed. But the Bush administration II that took office yesterday is stuffed with people who are in denial about the dire situation of their forces occupying Iraq. In the couple of months since election day, George Bush has promoted the very people who thought conquering Iraq was a good idea and eased out anyone with a record of worrying about the consequences. Thus Condoleezza
Rice, who was author of the alarmist claim that Saddam could produce a mushroom cloud, replaces Colin Powell, who warned the president that if he broke Iraq he would own the process of putting it back together again.
Perhaps wisely, those who crafted yesterday’s inauguration speech hit the erase button any time the word Iraq crept into the text. Sinai and the Temple Mount got walk-on parts to provide biblical flavouring, but no location of contemporary controversy in the region got a mention. The only
hint in the speech that there might be a war going on was a reverential reference to the sacrifice and service of US troops. Piquantly, at this point the television cameras cut away to a shot of Dick Cheney looking suitably solemn, neatly reminding the informed viewer of the humbug of a president and vice-president thanking US troops for facing dangers in Iraq which they took care to avoid for themselves in Vietnam.
Not that Iraq was unusual in being left out of the script. There were no specifics about anything else, either. Instead, we were invited to drift along with a stream of generalities, untroubled by hard problems or real-world solutions. Freedom and liberty are universal values. The founding fathers of the US constitution, admirable though they may have been, do not hold patent rights over those concepts. They are embedded in the roots of the separate tradition of European social democracy and we must not let George Bush appropriate them to provide an ideological
cover for his new imperialism.
Nor should we accept the implicit assumption of Bush’s muscular foreignpolicy that freedom can be delivered from 38,000ft through the bomb doors. One of the rare passages of the speech when Bush appeared animated by his own text, rather than engaged in formal recitation, was when he saluted
the declaration of independence and the sounding of the liberty bell. But those were celebrations of freedom from foreign dominance – not to put too fine a point on it, independence from the British. He needs to grasp that other nations are just as attached to freedom from foreign intervention,
including domination by America.
The president and his speechwriters have yet to confront the tension between their rhetoric about freedom, which is universally popular, and their practice of projecting US firepower, which is resented in equal measure. That explains why, on the very day when the president set forward his mission to bring liberty to the world, a poll revealed that a large majority of its inhabitants believe that he will actually make it more dangerous. The first indication of whether they are right to worry will be
whether the Bush administration mediate their differences with Iran through the state department or through the US air force.

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