The U.S. has gone Mad
John le Carré
The United States 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 the United States 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
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 percent of the electorate
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 percent of the people think they are
supporting is a lot less clear. A war for how long, please?
At what cost in US lives? At what cost to
the US taxpayer’s pocket? At what cost — because most of those
88 percent are thoroughly decent and humane people — in Iraqi
How Bush and his junta succeeded in deflecting
US 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 persons in the United States now
believe Saddam was responsible for the attack on the World
Trade Center. But the US 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 Bush are against
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 US 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 the United States to save
the world in any way that suits the US. God appointed Israel
to be the nexus of US Middle Eastern policy, and anyone who wants to mess
with that idea is (a) anti-Semitic, (b) anti-US, (c) with the enemy, and
(d) a terrorist.
God also has pretty scary connections. In the United
States, 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
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
Dick Cheney, 1995-2000: chief executive of the Halliburton
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
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 the US 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 the US 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 the United States at home, and who is to
be ruled by the US 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 has him penned into a corner, and he can’t get out.
It is utterly laughable that, at a time when Blair has
talked himself against the ropes, neither of Britain’s opposition
leaders can lay a glove on him. But that’s Britain’s tragedy,
as it is the US'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 the United States 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
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 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 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.