Beyond Doublespeak: Iraq and Israel

Edward S. Herman
Z Magazine
June 2004


Bush, Sharon and the media are steadily breaking new ground in the use of language to put aggression, pacification, ethnic cleansing, and the disregard for law and elementary decency in a good light. There is of course continuity with word management in the past, but overwhelming superpower military superiority, greater official and elite arrogance, the influence of religious fundamentalism in both the United States and Israel, the use of war and threat hysteria to stir up patriotic and killing fervor and quiet the liberals, and the growing power of the hardline right in the media, have helped push language beyond doublespeak.

There was continuity, however, in U.S. Iraq proconsul L. Paul Bremer’s recent threat of a military showdown with rebels in Fallujah and Najaf, based on the rebels failure to submit to U.S. demands, which Bremer indicated would require decisive action against those who “want to shoot their way to power” (NYT, April 19). This is very similar to James Reston’s remark back in 1965, that the United States was in Vietnam to establish the principle “that no state shall use military force or the threat of military force to achieve its political objectives.” The premise in both is that when the United States uses or threatens force to achieve its political ends this is not “shooting its way to power,” because the United States is above the battle and seeks not power but—apart from “self defense”—higher values, including service to the people it is shooting. But whatever the fluid and hypocritical rationales, there is this long-standing amazing ability to swallow a double standard that is comical in its disconnect from reality.

The United States invaded and occupied Iraq to control its oil and to reshape Middle Eastern politics through a dominant presence in that country. But with the rest of the world highly critical of this outburst of imperialist aggression, built on lies comparable to Hitler’s in justifying his attacks on Czechoslavakia and Poland, there has been an exceptional need to establish an “Arab façade” (an old British imperialist expression) that can be sold as a “transfer of power” to the Iraqis. The nominal Bush objective in Iraq, following the setting aside the prevention of a mushroom cloud over New York from Saddam’s non-existent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, is to bring “freedom” and “democracy” to Iraq (as Bush steadily removes them from his own country). The preferred word now is “freedom” rather than “democracy” as the former encompasses free enterprise; that is, the selling off of Iraqi state assets and opening the door there to foreign sales and investment. By contrast, “democracy” has a nasty connotation of populism and of ordinary people, not just the elite, shaping government decision-making and even controlling the state.

But in the establishment view, even more than in the case of the home populace, ordinary people in U.S.-targeted countries are not to be trusted to run their own affairs, because they are ignorant, don’t understand and appreciate neoliberal economics, may not believe in U.S. good intentions, and as Henry Kissinger said of the Chileans in justification of the overthrow of democracy there, they may be “irresponsible.” When they don’t see the light they must be straightened out, by truth-tellers like U.S. officials, CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the rest—and definitely not Al-Jazeera and other biased institutions; and in addition to truth they may have to be made to realize who is boss by adequate firepower that will make it clear to them that they cannot shoot their way into power.

The attempt to maintain control while establishing the plausible Arab façade has produced its own Orwellian lexicography. First there was the “Iraqi Governing Council” (IGC), appointed by U.S. officials, that did not govern and was not intended to govern but rather to rubber stamp decisions of the overlord running things through the “Coalition Provisional Authority” (CPA). The IGC has not worked out well; some of its members have complained of their powerlessness, the Iraqi people see it as a façade and reject it, and even the overlord is not satisfied with its performance. Second, we have the overlord’s plan to transfer “sovereignty,” and even “full sovereignty,” to Iraqis on June 30, 2004, although this is threatened by the outbreak of “terrorism” and “insurgency” by locals trying to shoot their way into power. But the sovereignty grant was to be of a special Orwellian sort as the new Iraqi rulers in place after June 30 would not have been elected by the Iraqi people, but would be selected in “a process of deliberations and consultations” carried out by the CPA and IGC, the latter’s members having been chosen by the CPA. This new body would work under an “Interim Constitution,” which has a noble statement of “fundamental rights” (as does every constitution) but legitimates the continued presence of foreign troops which, along with Iraqi forces, will be under the overlord’s “unified command” and in possession of 14 or more bases in Iraq. The Interim Constitution also declares that all CPA laws and regulations will be recognized as valid, which makes the CPA the true legislative authority and allows it to reshape the economy and polity without even nominal input from Iraqis. Stalling on genuine democracy will allow continued full overlord control of the “sovereign” Iraq into the indefinite future.

If the Iraqis rebel against this version of their sovereignty, as they are already doing, this will create “insecurity” and require more brutal and durable pacification by the aggressor-occupier. “Security” in the Iraqi context means acceptance of U.S. rule, direct or by proxy. This puts the occupying power in a win-win situation: if the Iraqis will only accept real democracy as opposed to the U.S.-planned client regime, this will cause “insecurity,” requiring crushing violence by the overlord. On the other hand, if the Iraqis give up and accept aggressor hegemony, there will be security and a limited further need to destroy and kill. And we may be sure that the U.S. media will rationalize either process—justifying mass killing in the need for security in the face of “terrorism” and “insurgency,” or congratulating their leaders for having brought democracy and freedom to one more benighted country.

Things have become a bit complicated by the fact that both the brazenness of the effort to maintain control and congressional concerns that the aggressor would lose control, have led to admissions and assurances that, in Wolfowitz’s words, Iraq would have only “limited sovereignty” (“Pentagon assures military will have free hand after Iraq sovereignty,” AFP, April 20, 2004. This reports on the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings of April 20 on “Iraq/Afghan Operations” ). Wolfowitz even made this seem a regrettable imposition on the United States by the UN in UN Security Council Resolution 1511, which authorizes a multinational force “under unified command” to provide “security” to Iraq until a constitutional government is established: “to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq”

Of course, 1511 also calls for a return of governing authority to the Iraqis “as soon as practicable,” and calls upon the aggressor-occupier to report back to the Security Council at least every six months. But Wolfowitz is right, that with 1511 the UN Security Council legitimized the aggression-occupation, recognized the nominal authority of the U.S.-appointed Arab façade (the IGC), and gave the aggressor rights to bring “security and stability” to Iraq. If the Iraqi people rebel against the invader, and he produces still more insecurity by his usual resort to more violence, Kofi Annan and the UN will once again have sold out basic principles, including international law and the right of a people to self-defense and self-determination. After tacitly approving aggression they are tacitly approving the aggressor’s pacification by extreme violence, which will probably have escalated markedly in Fallujah and Najaf by the time this is published as the Bush administration struggles to crush organized opposition to its plans well before the November 2004 election.

The other gem beyond doublespeak in the last few weeks is the Bush acceptance of Israel’s major settlements on the West Bank based on the “realities on the ground.” The settlements had been made in straightforward violation of the Geneva Conventions that prevent an occupying power from seizing territory for its own use, and it has been done by the most brazen use of force, simply pushing “untermenschen” out, just as the Nazis did to provide lebensraum for the chosen people of Germany. Power comes out of the mouth of guns supplied by the U.S. taxpayer, which has helped establish these facts on the ground. But both the supply of guns and the capacity to accept massive and ruthless ethnic cleansing come out of both the economic and military power of the evil duo, the racism and expansionism of Israel, the power of the Jewish lobby, and the political economy of the United States.

If only poor Saddam had had a Godfather to support him when he invaded and occupied Kuwait back in August 1990! Godfather might then have said: well, what is past is past and we must respect those “realities on the ground”! In fact, that Godfather had betrayed him, with the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq telling Saddam one week before his invasion that his dispute with Kuwait was strictly Arab business, and then deciding that it was Godfather’s business after all! There will be no such betrayal of “man of peace” Ariel Sharon by George Bush, worried about his election chances; only a betrayal of elementary human decency, international law, and moral principle, which is standard for the course.