On Tuesday night, Barack Obama gave a speech from the Oval Office on Iraq that was almost as full of hideous, murderous lies as the speech on Iraq his predecessor gave in the same location more than seven years ago.
After mendaciously declaring an "end to the combat mission in Iraq" -- where almost 50,000 regular troops and a similar number of mercenaries still remain, carrying out the same missions they have been doing for years -- Obama delivered what was perhaps the most egregious, bitterly painful lie of the night:
"Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility."
"We have met our responsibility!" No, Mister President, we have not. Not until many Americans of high degree stand in the dock for war crimes. Not until the United States pays hundreds of billions of dollars in unrestricted reparations to the people of Iraq for the rape of their country and the mass murder of their people. Not until the United States opens its borders to accept all those who have been and will be driven from Iraq by the savage ruin we have inflicted upon them, or in flight from the vicious thugs and sectarians we have loosed -- and empowered -- in the land. Not until you, Mister President, go down on your knees, in sackcloth and ashes, and proclaim a National of Day of Shame to be marked each year by lamentations, reparations and confessions of blood guilt for our crime against humanity in Iraq.
Then and only then, Mister President, can you say that America has begun -- in even the most limited, pathetic way -- to "meet its responsibility" for what it has done to Iraq. And unless you do this, Mister President -- and you never will -- you are just a lying, bloodsoaked apologist, accomplice and perpetrator of monstrous evil, like your predecessor and his minions -- many of whom, of course, are now your minions.
I really don't have anything else to say about this sickening spectacle -- which is being compounded in Britain, where I live, by the sight today of Tony Blair's murder-tainted mug plastered on the front of the main newspapers, as he makes the rounds pushing his new book, doling out "exclusive interviews" full of crocodile tears for the soldiers he had murdered in the war crime he committed and the "great suffering" of the Iraqi people which, goodness gracious, he never foresaw and feels, gosh, really bad about. All this laced with venomous comments about his former colleagues -- those who, like Gordon Brown, sold their souls to advance Blair's vision of aggressive war abroad and corporate rapine at home -- along with, of course, earnest protestations of his God-directed good intentions, and his unwavering belief that killing a million innocent human beings in Iraq was "the right thing to do." Pol Pot could not have been more blindly self-righteous than this wretched moral cretin.
I will say again what I have said here many, many times before: What quadrant of hell is hot enough for such men?
Words might fail me, but wise man William Blum has a few that put the "end of combat operations in Iraq" in their proper perspective. Let's give him the last word here [the ellipses are in the original text]:
No American should be allowed to forget that the nation of Iraq, the society of Iraq, have been destroyed, ruined, a failed state. The Americans, beginning 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, killed wantonly, tortured ... the people of that unhappy land have lost everything — their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives ... More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lie in wait for children to pick them up ... an army of young Islamic men went to Iraq to fight the American invaders; they left the country more militant, hardened by war, to spread across the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia ... a river of blood runs alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again.
II. Same Question, Same Answer
The piece below was written in the first few weeks after the invasion. Its scene is the same Oval Office where Barack Obama spoke last night. And the choice offered to the leader in this piece is the same one that Obama has been offered -- and his decision has been the same one taken here, not only for Iraq, but for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and many other places around the world.
The Karamazov Question
Variation on a theme by Dostoevsky
A man appeared in the doorway of the Oval Office. He wasn't noticed at first, in the bustle around the desk of the president, where George W. Bush was preparing to announce to the world that the "decapitation raid" he had launched on Baghdad a few hours before was in fact the beginning of his long-planned, much-anticipated invasion of Iraq.
A woman fussed with the president's hair, which had been freshly cut for the television appearance. A make-up artist dabbed delicate touches of rouge on the president's cheeks. Another attendant fluttered in briefly to adjust the president's tie, which, like the $6,000 suit the president was wearing, had arrived that morning from a Chicago couturier. As for the president's $900 designer shoes – which, as a recent news story had pointed out playfully, were not only made by the same Italian craftsman who supplied Saddam Hussein with footwear, but were also the same size and make as those ordered by the Iraqi dictator – they had been carefully polished earlier by yet another aide, even though they would of course be out of sight during the broadcast.
In addition to all of this activity, the president's political advisors and speechwriters were also making last-minute adjustments to the brief speech, while giving the president pointers about his delivery: "Keep your gaze and your voice steady. Project firmness of purpose. Confidence, calmness, character. And short phrases, lightly punched. Don't worry, the breaks and stresses will be marked on the teleprompter."
It's little wonder that no one saw the man as he advanced slowly to the center of the room. He stood there silently, until the sense of his presence crept up on the others. One by one, they turned to look at him, this unauthorized figure, this living breach of protocol. He was, in almost every sense, non-descript. He wore a plain suit of indeterminate color; his features and his skin betrayed no particular race. He had no badge, no papers; how had he come to be here, where nothing is allowed that is not licensed by power?
Then, more astonishing, they saw his companion: a two-year-old girl standing by his side. A mass of tousled hair framed her face; a plain red dress covered her thin body. She too was silent, but not as still as the man. Instead, she turned her head this way and that, her eyes wide with curiosity, drawn especially by the bright television lights that shone on the president.
A Marine guard reached for his holster, but the man raised his hand, gently, and the guard's movement was arrested. The aides and attendants stepped back then stood rooted, as if stupefied, their ranks forming a path from the man at the room's center to the president's desk. The president, brilliant in the light, alone retained the freedom to move and speak. "Who are you?" he asked, rising from his chair. "What do you want?"
The man put his hand tenderly on the back of the girl's head and came forward with her. "I have a question for you, and an opportunity," the man replied. "I've heard it said that you are righteous, and wish to do good for the world."
"I am," said the president. "I wish only to do God's will, as He in His wisdom reveals it to me. In His will is the whole good of the world. What is your question, what is your opportunity? Be quick; I have mighty business at hand."
The man nodded. "If tonight you could guarantee the good of the world – peace and freedom, democracy and prosperity, now and forever; if tonight, you could relieve the suffering of all those who labor under tyranny and persecution, all those who groan in poverty and disease; if tonight, you could redeem the anguish of creation, past and future, now and forever; if tonight, you could guarantee such a universal reconciliation, by the simple expedient of taking this" – here the man suddenly produced a black pistol and held it out to the president – "and putting a bullet through the brain of this little one here, just her, no one else: would you do it? That is my question, this is your opportunity."
With firmness of purpose, the president grasped the pistol and walked around the desk. With confidence, calmness, and steady hand, he pressed the barrel to the girl's head and pulled the trigger. Her eyes, which had grown even wider with her smile at the approach of the nicely dressed man and his rosy cheeks, went black with blood in the instant shattering of her skull. Her body spun round from the force of the shot – once, twice, three times in all – then fell, her mutilated head flailing wildly, in a heap on the floor of the Oval Office.
At that moment, the man faded, like a dream, into nothingness. The aides and attendants, unfrozen, stepped back into their tasks. The room was again a whirl of activity, like a hive. The president – the dematerialized gun no longer in his hand – strode confidently back to his chair. He winked at a nearby aide and pumped his fist: "Feel good!" he exulted.
The speech went off without a hitch. The hair was perfect, the voice steady, the phrases short and lightly punched. No one saw the blood and bits of brain that clung to the president's $900 designer shoes; they were, of course, out of sight during the broadcast.
First published in The Moscow Times on April 20, 2003.