March 29, 2004
"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience."
From one administration to the other, whether Democrat or Republican, the same patterns repeat themselves ad nauseam. Similar tall tales, similar triumphal statements in spite of failed and destructive policies, and similar disastrous consequences keep recurring. If this looks like a misguided statement, look again.
"There is not much left in this village [Svinjare, Kosovo], writes Nicholas Wood in The New York Times ("Kosovo Smolders After Mob Violence," March 24, 2004, A8) "Every Serbian house has been burned -- all 136 of them. [...] The village was among dozens of Serbian communities across Kosovo attacked by ethnic Albanians over two days of violence last week, during which United Nations officials now say 28 people died. More than 400 Serbian homes were ruined, 30 churches were destroyed and 11 damaged..." [That's just an addition to the Serb exodus of 250,000 just after the end of hostilities in 1999 and the destruction of over 100 churches and monasteries.]
These pogroms -- "Kristallnacht is under way in Kosovo," said a UNMIK official -- received little coverage in the US main media. See the reports written by Nebojsa Malic, "Kosovo Burning" (March 20, 2004) and "Rummaging Through the Ashes" (March 25, 2004). They tell the story and review the press coverage. No need to duplicate his work.
Sure enough, Officialdom promptly reminds us of the past -- the official past, that is. Nicholas Wood again: "There were mirror-image scenes in Kosovo just under five years ago. Then, hundreds of villages were burned as Serbian security forces sought to expel the majority ethnic Albanians -- some 1.8 million people -- from the territory. The United States government estimates that up to 10,000 Albanians were killed in massacres by the Serbian police and paramilitaries."
All these assertions have long been debunked time and again for what they really are and were: disinformation, propaganda to launch yet another illegal war without UN authorization....You know, Iraq, yellow cake, nuclear program, WMD, link to al Qaeda....Nothing new under the sky. Anything will do to keep our "warfare economy" humming for the benefits of the few, paid by the many.
It Was Then
Remember the field of the black bird? It was five years ago, in 1999. A Democrat, Bill Clinton, was occupying the White house. A year earlier he had ordered a military strike against Iraq. There was also a strike against the Sudan and Afghanistan. Before that, it was Bosnia; and it was Somalia. It's real hard to keep track of these things, even their chronology. Memory's short; life goes on.
Still, remember Clinton's speech at the end of the conflict, after 78 days of relentless bombing? It was June 10, 1999. Mr. Clinton was sitting in the Oval Office, facing the camera. He said: "I can report to the American people that we have achieved a victory for a safer world, for our democratic values and for a stronger America."
A victory...for a safer world...for our democratic values...for a stronger America...
I wrote at the time:
A victory? One million refugees, unfathomable destruction of civilian infrastructure, exorbitant cost for waging an undeclared war on a sovereign country that pales with the future cost of reconstruction, thousands killed and maimed, exacerbated hatreds, and a compromise that could have been reached through diplomacy and in place of the now infamous Rambouillet ultimatum. Victory when none of the initial objectives, except for the destruction of an entire region, has been achieved? Now if destruction in and of itself is a measure of victory, then we certainly can be proud of our actions. It took almost 80 days for the mightiest armada in history, backed by the taxes of 600 million Westerners, to bomb a country of 11 million people, impoverished by close to a decade of harsh economic sanctions, into negotiating a compromise relatively close to what its government had initially offered. What a victory, indeed!
It is Now
Five years later, March 2004, Serbia is in shambles, Kosovo mired in violence, Bosnia more divided than ever, the Balkans a boiling cauldron, their peoples ravaged by increasing poverty, international troops stuck there for the foreseeable future...and Mr. Clinton and his acolytes enjoy their millionaire lives thanks to book contracts, speaking fees, corporate board memberships, and the like -- all impressive results, undoubtedly.
Meanwhile, another white man occupies the White House. He, too, launched unnecessary wars against two small countries that had never attacked the U.S. He, too, used disinformation and propaganda to rally the country, whose thirst for vengeance after 9/11 rivaled the lynching mobs of yesteryears, behind his aggressive and ruinous policies. He, too, talks about victory, a safer world, democratic values, and a stronger America.
So, what is victory this time? NATO is bogged down in Afghanistan; American forces, their morale run down, are bleeding in Iraq; the country itself is on the verge of disintegration and civil war; its infrastructure is in disrepair due to lack of funds and constant sabotage (aka resistance to the occupiers); over 10,000 Iraqi civilians (and counting) are dead, all to remove a non existent threat... A triumph, really!
A safer world? Perhaps we should ask the Spaniards, the Indonesians, the Moroccans, the Turks, the Saudis, the Iraqis themselves, about their own idea of a safer world... By the same token, perhaps we could also ask the fear-laden, paranoid American people how they feel about their safety, without even accounting for the economic part of the equation. At least, it would seem that we have secured the Caspian oil riches and are in the process of adding the Iraq loot to our treasure. Don't worry, be happy: our SUVs are secure!
Oh yes, democratic values: Florida 2000, anyone? That was a truly remarkable example of these cherished values, wasn't it? Once again, we have flouted practically all international and national laws on the book; we attacked a country that had never attacked us; we are occupying a nation without any international mandate; we are looting its resources in all impunity (through so-called privatizations); we are bribing "our SOBs" on a monthly basis (Chalabi, et al.); the entire world, repeat, the entire world, but the USA, knows that the current administration exaggerated, distorted, possibly fabricated its rationale to attack Iraq... Democratic values, really?
Naturally, America is stronger, right? Here is a short quiz: A) Do we have more or fewer children in poverty? B) Do we have more or fewer health-care uninsured people? C) Do we have more or less ballooning deficits? D) Do we have more or fewer unemployed workers? E) Do we have more or less police interference in our daily lives? F) Do we have more or fewer social services? G) Do we have more or less military expenditures? H) Do we have more or less topsoil remaining in America; and forests; and any natural resources you can think of (think of the aquifers)? I) Is Global warming abating? And beside the center -- that is, us, us, us (after all, we are always on the ready to impose our views to the world) -- J) is the 2/3 of the world living in abject poverty with little or no health, education, food, water, any better? K) Last but not least, are the wealthy poorer and the poor wealthier?
[Answer: a) more; b) more; c) more; d) more; e) more; f) fewer; g) more; h) less; i) no; j) no; k) no (actually senior executive compensation was higher in 2003 than in 2000). After thought: Did you notice how your $300 federal tax rebate went up in smoke at the gas pump in the past month or so? But, hey, ExxonMobil announced a 63% jump in profit for the last quarter. The company's profit in 2003 was a record $21.51 billion, compared to $11.46 billion in 2002 (source, dallas.bizjournals.com, January 26, 2004).]
Can't get better than that, can it?
There is Always a Tomorrow
We can always count on Long John K., the defender of the poor and the orphans, for offering, if elected, his own take on a safer world, democratic values, and a stronger America. After all, he is calling for 40,000 additional US military personnel to be deployed to Iraq (you know, the "solemn obligation," the "we cannot fail" mantra), and is fully prepared, in his own words, "to do what is necessary to defend the United States of America, and that includes the unilateral deployment of troops if necessary."
As I recall, Kerry voted for Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Better ask which military intervention has not received his vote... (He voted against Gulf War I.) And if his not-so-veiled threats against President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela (see his March 19, 2004 Statement on Venezuela on his Web site <http://www.johnkerry.com/pressroom/releases/pr_2004_0319d.html>) are an indication of a future Kerry Administration we sure can expect a victory speech in the offing.
As an old friend wrote in May 1999, "I feel that after this war things will never be the same. We have opened Pandora's Box and no one knows what we will end up finding." Sadly, "things" look very much alike. It was that war, replaced today with this war, till tomorrow's war -- but there is no intention and interest to put the lid back on Pandora's Box. This is Heaven on Earth, after all, and war is good for business and the decision-makers!
Obviously, with such bi-partisan record of repeated "successes," who needs a Ralph Nader?
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Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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