18 January 2003
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA HAS GONE MAD/AMERICA'S POODLES
Understanding Blair's drive to commercialise GM crops in the UK despite massive public opposition has to be seen in a broader context of anglo-U.S. relations, one in which Blair is apparently prepared to drag the UK into a disastrous war despite mounting public concern. The following two articles look at this broader context and the second shows Blair is not the U.S's only poodle!
A lack of public discussion, a greater compliance and willingness to surrender sovereignty, the destruction of personal libertes and rights, are being engendered by the U.S's agenda on the "war on terror". And all these will be exploited by the U.S. administration... and its poodles.
It is noticeable, for instance, that the Philippines, another country that's been standing shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. in its war on terrorism, has recently become the first country in Asia to approve Monsanto's GM corn, and in very suspicious circumstances, despite a long history of indigenous opposition.
"If George Bush and America were not raising this issue, I would be urging them to raise it because it is important" - Tony Blair UK perceived Iraq threat before US: Blair RASHMEE Z AHMED, Times of India, JANUARY 14, 2003
"A 'free trade' treaty with the United States is being negotiated, mostly in secret, giving the Americans a version of the one-sided North American Free Trade Agreement and de facto legal control over everything from Australia's quarantine laws and the pricing of drugs to the spread of genetically modified food and the content of Australian television. There is virtually no public discussion about this surrender of sovereignty. And as the Bush gang destroys America's Bill of Rights, so the Howard gang follows suit with, as Scott Burchill of Deakin University in Melbourne wrote, 'confected wars against imaginary or exaggerated threats as an effective tool of social conformity and a powerful antidote to political dissent'." - John Pilger (item 2)
And among those making this possible:
"biotech has been recruited to homeland defence (as I personally experienced in a recent visit [to the US]), along with the oil lobby, imperial expansion & support for Sharon - they are all lumped together in such a way that the Bush dogma of "either with us or against us" is in danger of invading science & really damaging a community that I care about a great deal." - UK bio-scientist (personal correspondence)
"As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press." - John le Carré (item 1)
And so it's welcome to 'the mushroom club':
"a former deputy prime minister [called it] 'the mushroom club'. 'Like mushrooms,' he explained, 'they are kept in the dark and fed bullshit.' " - John Pilger (item 2)
1.The United States of America has gone mad - John le Carré
2.George Bush's other poodle - John Pilger
1.The United States of America has gone mad
John le Carré
[John le Carré is a famous British novelist. His last book, 'The Constant Gardener' is highly recommended. It deals with many issues of great relevance to the behaviour of the biotech industry].
America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War.
The reaction to 9/11 is beyond anything Osama bin Laden could have hoped for in his nastiest dreams. As in McCarthy times, the freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded. The combination of compliant US media and vested corporate interests is once more ensuring that a debate that should be ringing out in every town square is confined to the loftier columns of the East Coast press.
The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the world's poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions.
But bin Laden conveniently swept all that under the carpet. The Bushies are riding high. Now 88 per cent of Americans want the war, we are told. The US defence budget has been raised by another $60 billion to around $360 billion. A splendid new generation of nuclear weapons is in the pipeline, so we can all breathe easy. Quite what war 88 per cent of Americans think they are supporting is a lot less clear. A war for how long, please? At what cost in American lives?
At what cost to the American taxpayer's pocket? At what cost - because most of those 88 per cent are thoroughly decent and humane people - in Iraqi lives? How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting America's anger from bin Laden to Saddam Hussein is one of the great public relations conjuring tricks of history.
But they swung it. A recent poll tells us that one in two Americans now believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World Trade Centre. But the American public is not merely being misled. It is being browbeaten and kept in a state of ignorance and fear. The carefully orchestrated neurosis should carry Bush and his fellow conspirators nicely into the next election.
Those who are not with Mr Bush are against him. Worse, they are with the enemy. Which is odd, because I'm dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam's downfall - just not on Bush's terms and not by his methods. And not under the banner of such outrageous hypocrisy.
The religious cant that will send American troops into battle is perhaps the most sickening aspect of this surreal war-to-be. Bush has an arm-lock on God. And God has very particular political opinions. God appointed America to save the world in any way that suits America. God appointed Israel to be the nexus of America's Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess with that idea is a) anti-Semitic, b) anti-American, c) with the enemy, and d) a terrorist.
God also has pretty scary connections. In America, where all men are equal in His sight, if not in one another's, the Bush family numbers one President, one ex-President, one ex-head of the CIA, the Governor of Florida and the ex-Governor of Texas.
Care for a few pointers? George W. Bush, 1978-84: senior executive, Arbusto Energy/Bush Exploration, an oil company; 1986-90: senior executive of the Harken oil company. Dick Cheney, 1995-2000: chief executive of the Halliburton oil company. Condoleezza Rice, 1991-2000: senior executive with the Chevron oil company, which named an oil tanker after her. And so on. But none of these trifling associations affects the integrity of God's work.
In 1993, while ex-President George Bush was visiting the ever-democratic Kingdom of Kuwait to receive thanks for liberating them, somebody tried to kill him. The CIA believes that "somebody" was Saddam. Hence Bush Jr's cry: "That man tried to kill my Daddy." But it's still not personal, this war. It's still necessary. It's still God's work. It's still about bringing freedom and democracy to oppressed Iraqi people.
To be a member of the team you must also believe in Absolute Good and Absolute Evil, and Bush, with a lot of help from his friends, family and God, is there to tell us which is which. What Bush won't tell us is the truth about why we're going to war. What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil - but oil, money and people's lives. Saddam's misfortune is to sit on the second biggest oilfield in the world. Bush wants it, and who helps him get it will receive a piece of the cake. And who doesn't, won't. If Saddam didn't have the oil, he could torture his citizens to his heart's content. Other leaders do it every day - think Saudi Arabia, think Pakistan, think Turkey, think Syria, think Egypt.
Baghdad represents no clear and present danger to its neighbours, and none to the US or Britain. Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, if he's still got them, will be peanuts by comparison with the stuff Israel or America could hurl at him at five minutes' notice. What is at stake is not an imminent military or terrorist threat, but the economic imperative of US growth. What is at stake is America's need to demonstrate its military power to all of us - to Europe and Russia and China, and poor mad little North Korea, as well as the Middle East; to show who rules America at home, and who is to be ruled by America abroad.
The most charitable interpretation of Tony Blair's part in all this is that he believed that, by riding the tiger, he could steer it. He can't. Instead, he gave it a phoney legitimacy, and a smooth voice. Now I fear, the same tiger hashim penned into a corner, and he can't get out.
It is utterly laughable that, at a time when Blair has talked himself againstthe ropes, neither of Britain's opposition leaders can lay a glove on him. Butthat's Britain's tragedy, as it is America's: as our Governments spin, lie and lose their credibility, the electorate simply shrugs and looks the other way.
Blair's best chance of personal survival must be that, at the eleventh hour, world protest and an improbably emboldened UN will force Bush to put his gun back in his holster unfired. But what happens when the world's greatest cowboy rides back into town without a tyrant's head to wave at the boys?
Blair's worst chance is that, with or without the UN, he will drag us into a war that, if the will to negotiate energetically had ever been there, could have been avoided; a war that has been no more democratically debated in Britain than it has in America or at the UN. By doing so, Blair will have set back our relations with Europe and the Middle East for decades to come. He will have helped to provoke unforeseeable retaliation, great domestic unrest, and regional chaos in the Middle East. Welcome to the party of the ethical foreign policy.
There is a middle way, but it's a tough one: Bush dives in without UN approval and Blair stays on the bank. Goodbye to the special relationship. I cringe when I hear my Prime Minister lend his head prefect's sophistries to this colonialist adventure. His very real anxieties about terror are shared by all sane men. What he can't explain is how he reconciles a global assault on al-Qaeda with a territorial assault on Iraq. We are in this war, if it takes place, to secure the fig leaf of our special relationship, to grab our share of the oil pot, and because, after all the public hand-holding in Washington and Camp David, Blair has to show up at the altar.
"But will we win, Daddy?"
"Of course, child. It will all be over while you're still in bed."
"Because otherwise Mr Bush's voters will get terribly impatient and may decide not to vote for him."
"But will people be killed, Daddy?"
"Nobody you know, darling. Just foreign people."
"Can I watch it on television?"
"Only if Mr Bush says you can."
"And afterwards, will everything be normal again? Nobody will do anything horrid any more?"
"Hush child, and go to sleep."
Last Friday a friend of mine in California drove to his local supermarket with a sticker on his car saying: "Peace is also Patriotic". It was gone by the time he'd finished shopping.
The author has also contributed to an openDemocracy debate on Iraq at
2.George Bush's other poodle
New Statesman January 20, 2003
John Howard, Australia's PM, is the mouse that roars for America, whipping his country into war fever and paranoia about terrorism within. John Pilger reports from Sydney
Strange days in Australia. 'Paranoia in the lucky country', say the headlines in Sydney, 'Terror threat grips a nation'. The government of John Howard has issued full-page advertisements calling on Australians to protect their 'friendly, decent society' from terrorists within by spying on each other. More than a thousand people have used a hotline 'to report things', causing grief to Muslim Australians. Asked if he thought it better that Muslim women made themselves 'less conspicuous at this time' by not wearing their traditional headdress, Howard replied: 'Obviously.'
Howard's is the only government in the world willing and eager to join the Bush/Blair assault on Iraq, a faraway country that buys Australia's primary produce and with whom Australians have no quarrel. For those Australians yet to succumb to the amnesia of the times, this is all very familiar, evoking a melancholy history of obsequious service to great power: from the Boxer Rebellion to the Boer war, to the disaster at Gallipoli, and Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf (see panel opposite). Some years ago, I interviewed an Australian warrant officer who had served on a CIA-run assassination team in Vietnam, and ruefully recalled to me the words of his American commander. 'We really like using you guys,' said the American. 'It's like this: the British have the Gurkhas; we've got the Australians.'
In denying the truth of this humiliating role, and mythologising the war fodder of its youth, imperial Australian elites have kept the public in what a former deputy prime minister once called 'the mushroom club'.
'Like mushrooms,' he explained, 'they are kept in the dark and fed bullshit.' A vivid example of this is Australia's current role in the 'war on terror'. Recently, the head of Australia's version of the SAS announced that his heroic troops had 'helped break the back of al-Qaeda' in Afghanistan. This amazing victory, unknown to the rest of the world, was reported without a hint of irony, let alone the truth of what Australian troops actually did in Afghanistan - kill tribespeople without knowing who they were. Mushroom Club citations have been handed out. An Australian pilot beams from the news pages with his American Bronze Star, awarded for flying Black Hawk helicopter gunships 'in combat'. Untold numbers of innocent Afghan villagers were killed by these gunship attacks; but that is beside the point. The gormless television news begins with 'heart-warming' scenes of Australian sailors being welcomed home from the Gulf, where they are 'playing a leading role in the international community enforcing the sanctions against Saddam'. There is no mention of the human cost to their fellow human beings, not a word about the latest, shocking UN State of the World's Children report that child mortality in Iraq has tripled since sanctions were imposed.
Unheard and unheeded by the rest of the world, Howard is our mouse that roars. Almost anything that falls from the lips of George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld is repeated by him. When Bush announced that America would attack any country as 'pre-emptive' action against 'those harbouring terrorists', Howard chimed in and threatened Australia's Asian neighbours with attack, demolishing what was left of Australia's diplomatic reputation in its region. None of this almost comical warmongering is reflected in the public mood, as far as I can detect. The task of humiliating England's cricketers has been far more important. Moreover, half the population oppose Australian involvement in an attack on Iraq. Following the Bali atrocity in October, in which many young Australians died, what was striking was the public's restraint and mood of reflection; a number of relatives of the dead have since called on Howard not to use the murder of their loved ones to justify joining an unprovoked attack on another country. In contrast, 'paranoia' and 'threat' are daily media fare.
A Mushroom Club 'exclusive' in a Murdoch tabloid, the Herald Sun, claims that 'terrorists train in forests in secret camps' near Melbourne. Australia has the most narrowly based and tightly controlled press in the western world. Seventy per cent of capital-city newspapers are owned or dominated by Rupert Murdoch; in Adelaide he controls everything, including the printing presses. The only national daily, the Australian, is owned by Murdoch.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, directly funded from Canberra, is routinely intimidated. Much of the rest is Murdochism by another name. This is demeaning for Australian democracy, but never more so than now, when the fabrication of a war atmosphere here surpasses any absurdity spun by Jack Straw. The foreign editor of the Australian, Greg Sheridan, is not untypical. Sheridan earned a formidable reputation as an apologist for the genocidal Suharto regime, mocking the Australian parliament's study which revealed that 200,000 East Timorese had died under Suharto's brutality. Now a crusader for George W Bush, Sheridan's work is beyond parody.
'Pilgerist Chomskyism is ideologically fuelling the followers of Osama Bin Lenin, sorry, Laden,' he announced last month. 'Travelling recently in south-east Asia,' he wrote, 'I was struck by how often, in the offices of Islamist activists and fellow-travellers, I saw the works of Noam Chomsky, and somewhat less often our own John Pilger who provide the Islamists with much of their interpretive narrative of the west.'
News of this two-man conspiracy was displayed over most of a page and illustrated by a caricatured Muslim swatting away 'facts' while reading Chomsky's books and my own. On other forms of 'terror', closer to home, the hysteria is different. Imprisoned behind razor wire in some of the most hostile terrain on earth, in what, by any definition, are concentration camps, are refugees who have committed no crime. Many are from Iraq and Afghanistan, the countries to which Howard is prepared to send troops 'in the cause of freedom'. The racism is self- evident. Mandatory detention does not apply to the thousands of Britons and other Europeans who overstay their visas. The conservative former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has described these camps as 'hell-holes'. Australians caught a glimpse of their horrors when an ABC programme told the story of a six-year-old Iranian boy. Having spent a quarter of his life behind the wire of Woomera camp in the South Australian desert, he witnessed desperate adults set themselves on fire and a suicidal man slashing himself. Silent and depressed, he refused food and drink and sat day after day, drawing pictures of razor wire. The Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace has described conditions in the camps as 'institutional child abuse'. When the head of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Louis Joinet, was finally allowed to visit Woomera and other camps, he said he had not seen a more gross abuse of human rights in more than 40 inspections of mandatory facilities around the world. The minister responsible for the camps, Philip Ruddock, once boasted to me that Aboriginal infant mortality was 'only' three times that of white children. The Howard government opposes the protocol designed to strengthen the UN Convention Against Torture.
Alexander Downer, the foreign minister, unwittingly explained why. He said he did not like the idea of UN officials from the Committee Against Torture arriving unannounced to inspect its refugee detention camps. Racism is never far from the surface in Australian politics. John Howard promoted a 'One Australia' movement in the 1980s, the precursor of Pauline Hanson's campaign, with its veiled white-supremacist message. After years of political failure, he took power in 1996, the beneficiary of an extraordinary public cynicism towards a succession of Labor governments whose spin and betrayal of those known here as 'true believers' are acknowledged by Blairites in Britain as prototypes. Howard is now lauded in the media for his 'political skills'. Having waged a war of attrition against the Aboriginal people, denying them universal land rights and incurring a shaming judgement of racism from the UN committee on discrimination, Australian government policy is clearly directed at exploiting the 'threat' of non-European refugees - when, by any measure, there is no threat.
Some 4,000 asylum-seekers arrive illegally by boat in Australia every year, one of the lowest figures in the world. During the last election campaign, in October 2001, it has since been revealed, Howard and his ministers lied about refugees throwing their children into the sea, an incident that was presented as evidence of their inhumanity. His re-election was credited to this 'tough stand'. While he was telling his favoured radio talkback bigots why it was kind to be tough, a leaking boat on its way to Australia took 353 people to their deaths - including 150 children. Known only as the Siev-X, it was overloaded with Iraqi refugees and in Australian waters, although the government disputes this. An inquiry by the Australian senate last March disclosed that the Australian navy had extensive prior knowledge that the Siev-X was in a perilous state. In other words, the people on board could have been saved. In April, Rear Admiral Geoffrey Smith, commander of the navy's 'border protection' department, testified three times under oath that he knew nothing about the boat until it had sunk. Jane Halton, a special adviser to the prime minister on asylum- seekers, made the same denial. Then on 22 May, the commander of Australia's Coastwatch revealed that the navy had known all along the boat's date of departure, its intended destination, unseaworthiness and gross overcrowding. Smith hurriedly retracted his original denial, and on 15 June, Admiral Chris Ritchie, the incoming chief of the navy, admitted that the boat 'never came within our search area and we did not change our search area specifically to look for it '. It is questionable whether the navy let the ship sink, but what is clear is that Australia's defence forces have become immersed in corrupt, callous and racist policy designed to keep the Howard government in power. Navy personnel have been ordered to act as jailers; and prior to their accredited heroics in Afghanistan, Australian SAS troops were sent into action against a Norwegian ship whose captain had rescued asylum-seekers from drowning in Australian waters.
A handful of tenacious journalists have told these stories for as long they can, but a consensual silence inevitably descends on what George Orwell called "smelly little orthodoxies".
The price Australians are paying for this silence and compliance is not immediately obvious in these midsummer days. But Australian social democracy, which was achieved by the struggle of the ordinary people of my parents' and grandparents' generations, is being subverted if not dismantled. (The minimum wage, an eight-hour working day, pensions, child benefits, the secret ballot were all won first in Australia.)
A 'free trade' treaty with the United States is being negotiated, mostly in secret, giving the Americans a version of the one-sided North American Free Trade Agreement and de facto legal control over everything from Australia's quarantine laws and the pricing of drugs to the spread of genetically modified food and the content of Australian television. There is virtually no public discussion about this surrender of sovereignty. And as the Bush gang destroys America's Bill of Rights, so the Howard gang follows suit with, as Scott Burchill of Deakin University in Melbourne wrote, 'confected wars against imaginary or exaggerated threats as an effective tool of social conformity and a powerful antidote to political dissent'. In a land plentiful with academics, Burchill is one of a handful who have dared speak out. As for the federal Labor opposition, its mostly invisible leader, Simon Crean, has commended the CIA's assassination of 'terrorist suspects'. With no public scrutiny, the Labor government of New South Wales is enacting legislation that gives its police force totalitarian powers in the 'war on terror'. No longer, says a bill being rushed through parliament, can police behaviour 'be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called into question on any grounds whatsoever before any court, tribunal, body or person in any legal proceedings'. The great American sage Mark Twain loved Australia. He described it as 'a place where the ordinary man is king, or thinks he is'. In The Mysterious Stranger (1916), Twain also wrote about 'statesmen who invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of these conscience-soothing falsities . . . and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception'.