It must take a particular kind of gall for someone to stand at a podium in front of a global audience and firmly, confidently make statements and assertions that he knows the vast majority of his audience know are untrue.
It must take a particular kind of gall for someone to stand at a podium in front of a global audience and firmly, confidently make statements and assertions that he knows the vast majority of his audience know are untrue. This is what US president George W. Bush and Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s interim prime minister, did with remarkable assurance at a number of set-piece events last month, all designed to boost Bush’s standing and credibility in the US in the crucial weeks running up to the presidential polls on November 2.
Listening to Bush’s address to the UN General Assembly on September 21, in which he thanked the international community for its support in Iraq and called for it to play a greater role in the future development of a free, democratic Iraq under American tutelage, one might easily have forgotten that this is the president who himself came to power by an electoral travesty; who invaded a foreign country despite the opposition of the UN, as UN secretary general Kofi Annan confirmed earlier when he called the war “illegal”. One might also have forgotten how Bush had insulted the UN, accusing it of being irrelevant, out of touch and incapable of solving any of the problems of the world. It would also help if one could set out of mind the true situation in Iraq, a country gradually descending into chaos as the US refuses to accept the Iraqi people’s utter rejection of its presence, the puppet regime, and the political agenda they are pursuing; that military resistance is growing daily; and that US military operations against the Iraqi people are becoming more and more brutal and indiscriminate. Unless the listener could achieve this detachment from reality, he could only assume he had slipped into a parallel reality.
Allawi’s performance was hardly less remarkable. According to the official version of reality, he is supposed to be the representative of the Iraqi people, guiding them on the difficult path to democracy after having been liberated from a tyrannical regime by the altruism of the US. His suffering countrymen could have recognised little of what he said during his time in the US. On September 23 he was granted the honour of addressing a joint session of the US Congress, where he thanked the US for invading his country, proclaiming that “we are succeeding in Iraq” and that “we are better off, you are better off, and the world is better off without Saddam Hussain.” Few could have been surprised when it later emerged that parts of his speech had been written by Bush’s speech writers in the White House; it was clearly designed with Bush’s re-election in mind. Later the same day Allawi stood next to Bush on the White House lawn to take questions from the world’s media, and continued to insist that Iraq is broadly stable, despite the evidence that the world sees daily on its television screens, and that preparations were on course for elections in January, as scheduled. “Let me be absolutely clear,” he said. “Elections will occur in Iraq, on time in January, because Iraqis want elections on time.”
Addressing the UN General Assembly on September 24, he returned to two themes that have characterised the US’s attempts to legitimise their war in the country, describing resistance forces as terrorists and remnants of the Saddam regime. “I appeal to all representatives from the countries gathered here to help Iraq defeat the forces of terrorism and help Iraq build a better future for the people of Iraq,” he said. “Iraq is now facing a struggle between the Iraqi people and its vision for the future of peace and democracy, and the terrorists and extremists and remnants of the Saddam regime who are targeting this noble dream.” Iraq’s people, had they bothered to listen, would not have been surprised to hear nothing about the damage being wrought on their country by the ruthless army of occupation.
Although much of the political rhetoric concerned the election due to take place in Iraq on January 31, 2005, according to the timescale agreed when the interim government was created, most observers understand that the election due to take place in the US on November 2 was a far greater consideration in both Bush’s and Allawi’s minds. There is virtually no prospect of proper elections taking place in Iraq; no census has yet been taken, and government officials cannot even enter most major towns and cities for fear of locals” and resistance fighters” wrath. Behind the scenes, there is already debate among US officials about whether the elections should go ahead in these conditions. However, as long as Bush is campaigning for votes in the US, and needs to be able to claim success in bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq, the pretence of normality and progress in Iraq will be maintained. The world knows that Bush and his allies, including Allawi, are talking nonsense, but that does not matter. All that matters is that enough of the US electorate, brainwashed by a media dominated by the same right-wing capitalist elites that dominate the American political establishment, are ignorant and misinformed enough to believe it. Bush may not be able to fool all the people all the time, but he can certainly hope to fool enough of them enough of the time.
The result is that, despite everything that has happened in Iraq, all of Bush’s lies and broken promises, all the American casualties, and scandals like Abu Ghraib, the vast majority of the American people – the foundation of “the greatest democracy in the world”, whose example is supposed to be a model for others to follow – are the least informed people in the world about the biggest issue affecting their own country and international affairs. Still most Americans link Iraq and 9/11; most believe that Saddam threatened the US; most consider Iraq’s occupation to be part of the “war on terror”. If George W. Bush wins the November elections, as seems increasingly likely, it will be a victory for the power of myth and propaganda in Western politics, and a damning indictment of the democracy that the West holds up as a model for us all.