The US commission investigating the terrorist attacks in the United States of America in 2001 has said, in clear terms, that there was never any evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaida. This is a crucially important statement, because it exposes the mendacity of the US authorities who kept insisting that the two were linked; not only that, they used that mendacious link to justify their attack on Iraq. It was projected as an attack on terrorism — Iraq, they implied, was terrorism personified.
Even as late as June 14, the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, said that Saddam Hussein had “long-established ties with al Qaida”. He has been saying this over and over again since the Americans invaded Iraq, and now the commission has finally exposed all these to be a set of cold-blooded lies.
In an editorial on June 17, the normally reserved New York Times demanded that President George W. Bush apologize to the American people for making them believe what was untrue. That he may or may not do. In fact, going by what he has been saying lately, he will not. A news report published on June 18 has him saying, in the kind of language that usually causes much amusement and sometimes contempt, that “the reason I keep insisting there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaida is because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaida”. This may make sense to Bush, but will certainly leave everyone else befuddled.
But what all this really leaves most people outside the US wondering about is the strangely passive attitude displayed by the American public. They accepted what Bush told them before he ordered US forces to attack Iraq, even though there were protests and angry demonstrations by hundreds and thousands of people across the planet. And even though a number of European countries, which were usually with the US on most matters, were openly against the attack.
These were countries and people who acted in unison when action was taken in Bosnia; in fact many of them were bitterly critical of the delay and dithering that preceded the action. And yet the American public accepted what the president and his officials told them was the scenario in Iraq — something that has been called a lie by the commission on terrorism, though not in so many words.
Dissent has been seen to be no different from being unpatriotic; even the Democrats have not been as vociferous in their opposition to the attack on Iraq — in fact they did not oppose the action when it was taken — as many in the ruling Labour party were in Britain. There was a sort of passive acceptance that this had to be done; a suspension of any kind of opinion that was different. And this is not the first time this has happened; Americans have been oddly passive and compliant in whatever was done by aggressive opinion-formers, even if what they did bordered on fascism and all that it stood for.
Consider what happened when Senator Joseph McCarthy headed that notorious Committee on Un-American Activities, a committee that, in its functioning, soon became no different from the Inquisition. Thousands of Americans were summoned to appear before it, and hectored and bullied into admitting some contact with socialist or communist groups in their youth. A number took their lives later, unable to bear the humiliation; others lost their jobs, some went into deep depression. And American public opinion went along with it, except for a very few, whose views appeared to make no difference.
Arthur Miller wrote the great play, The Crucible, which, though it was ostensibly about the Salem witch hunts in 18th century Massachusetts, was really a comment on what McCarthy and his committee were doing. Arthur Miller writes of the opening night in New York, “What I had not quite bargained for, however, was the hostility of the New York audience, as the theme of the play was revealed; an invisible sheet of ice formed over their heads, thick enough to skate on. In the lobby at the end, people with whom I had some fairly close professional acquaintanceships passed me by as though I were invisible.”
It persuades one that the assumption that has been assiduously cultivated and purveyed throughout the world of a “free America” where everyone is free to say what they think, the true “free nation”, is as false as the story made up by Bush about Iraq and al Qaida. It would appear to be more a conformist society, where it is seen as right to conform to what those in power say everyone should conform to. To quote Miller’s comments on The Crucible again: “The House Un-American Activities Committee had been in existence since 1938, but the tinder of guilt was not so available when the New Deal and Roosevelt were openly espousing a policy of vast social engineering often reminiscent of socialist methods. But…a point arrived when the rules of social intercourse quite suddenly changed and attitudes that had merely been anti-capitalist-anti-establishment were now made unholy, morally repulsive, and if not treasonous then implicitly so. America had always been a religious country.”
But if political beliefs are given moral overtones, then it must also be said to the credit of writers like Miller and journalists like Ed Murrow that they could expose this. What Miller exposed in The Crucible (but sadly failed to carry middle America with him) Ed Murrow did in his now legendary exposé of McCarthy in the television programme, “See It Now”. NBC, Murrow’s employer, was afraid to air it, so Murrow and his friends borrowed money and hired time to have it shown on television. The programme showed, “in murderous close-up” as one critic said, McCarthy as a vicious, unfeeling bully, and almost overnight opinion about him turned from a resigned acceptance to active revulsion. Even the president, Dwight Eisenhower, disowned him. McCarthy sank into obscurity and died unwept and unsung.
Perhaps the strong indictment of Bush by the New York Times will start something similar; the exposure of what has been a series of cold-blooded cover-ups, by Cheney, Donald Rums- feld, Condoleezza Rice and the other hawks who surrounded the wretched Bush and forced him into action that stands out every day as more and more terrible. It is not enough now for him to apologize; it is now time for him, and the likes of him, to be removed from where they can do more harm to the world. More than the brutalities and slaughter in Iraq that is at stake; terrorism has not been contained, whatever he may say — if anything, it has taken on new shapes and devised new ways of destroying the security that most societies have so far taken for granted.
Tragically, the decision to remove him during the impending election has to be taken, not by those who are affected by the actions of people like Rumsfeld and Cheney, not by Iraqis, or Afghans, or indeed the people of any other country on whom the hot, rabid gaze of these people might fall. It will be taken by the American people, a large number of whom see compliance as a security blanket against the religious fears these leaders utilize to keep themselves in power.
The language now being used in political speeches is unmistakably religious — “the forces of evil”, “the morally right and just” — and similar phrases are being used more and more. They are not only comprehensible phrases, but also phrases to which many respond very emotionally. And this is what will determine how the world will be affected by the presidential elections in November this year.