SPIN DOCTORS AND DERVISHES
by Yves Barbero
It was a British general who pointed out just before the
ground war got under way that SADDAM HUSSEIN was
willing to use "the currency of human life" to advance his
policies and therefore "there would be a ground war".
The statement was remarkable for its candor. Finally, a military officer
who told the absolute truth. Washington, however, wasn't sure how
the American people would take the news and for a couple of days,
its public relations troops (spin doctors) were explaining that a
ground war was not necessarily in the works (a lie). Events proved
the might of modern war technology and the forces of righteousness
took almost no casualties while the Iraqi forces (with a less advanced
technology) may have suffered, according to one estimate, as many
as 150,000 killed.
Under the guise of protecting troops, the press was stage-managed.
Even the establishment press complained loudly and publicly. One commentator
couldn't help wondering what possible security purpose was served
by not allowing the photographing of bodies being brought home. I
can answer that question. The administration wasn't sure the ground
war wouldn't be bloody and was afraid that the sight of so many coffins
would make it suffer at the polls. Censorship, in this country, has
been more often used to manage public opinion than to protect state
secrets. I doubt seriously that journalists would object to not publishing
shipping schedules in time of war. The administration was nervous
for public relation reasons.
Whatever side one takes on the issue of the Gulf War, there was plenty
to be nervous about. The resurgence of jingoistic patriotism is certainly
one issue. Led by PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH, we
have now overcome the "Vietnam Syndrome". If that means
we've lost the reluctance to enter into armed conflict, it is a sad
loss. The Gulf War may have been justified (and I personally believe
it was although I think the timing had more to do with the American
electoral schedule than any other reason) but I'd prefer it if our
leaders spent more time examining issues than possible public reaction.
Would Bush not have started the war if he thought it would
be unpopular? Could, for instance, have sanctions worked if given
Why do we think that an almost flawless technical execution
of the war is synonymous with virtue? We won because we had better
technology, more money, great generalship, better diplomatic skills
and numbers. In addition, Iraq could not re-supply, build its own
weapons and had almost no internal self-sufficiency. Oil needs to
be exported and that was cut off. A one-resource economy is doomed
to eventual extinction. "Goodness had nothing to do with it!"
As May West might have pointed out.
Our greatest ally was Saddam Hussein, himself. He showed great ineptness
in his public relations campaign. Even the most twisted intellectual
apologist in the Western World would have difficulty justifying the
policies of a man who gassed thousands of his own people. However
diplomatically skilled nations in that part of the world are reputed
to be, nothing can make up for the public relations stupidity of the
Scuds and the terrorizing of the Kuwaiti population. And, most important,
he actually invaded Kuwait. That made all the rulers in the
area extremely nervous and malleable to our designs.
Just as we infer virtue from technical skill, we seem to assume a
hundred percent moral certitude when the balance sheet is barely in
the black for us. It is a fact that Kuwait stole oil from Iraq.
As are most of our Arab allies, Kuwait is a reactionary dictatorship.
They all exploit their people. In the case of Kuwait, only a privileged
few citizens do well. Imported workers, who make up the majority of
the population, have absolutely no rights. The prospect, in the region,
of democracy sprouting roots is almost nil. It's also a fact that
the U.S. sees an opportunity to re-establish itself as a world power,
with all its attendant commercial advantages, and was looking for
an opportunity to show its prowess. PHILIP AGEE,
the former CIA agent, (barred from re-entering this country)
thinks the war was engineered by the Bush Administration just for
that purpose. It was not diplomatic stupidity on our part, he claims,
but cynical design when a State Department official told the Iraqis
we had no interest in protecting Kuwait.(1) I'm not sure I'd
go that far but Grenada and Panama were too local and too small to
send out the proper message. The Iraq War is just the right size and,
to boot, in the right location.
There may be justifiable wars and I suspect, reluctantly, that this
was one. But war should be a last resort and not the first. The "Vietnam
Syndrome" served us well and I hope it isn't dead. Patriotism
is fine and dandy as long as it implies good feelings for the land
and its people and not an lockstep following of any administration's
line. Flags should identify public buildings and ships at sea and
not be the subject of idolatry.
My greatest fear is that we'll start selling our military
forces to the highest bidder and our young people's lives will become
our chief export. The best way to avoid war is to promote popular
government. Economic ideologies, totalitarian states and religious
fervor have been responsible for all this century's wars but I can't
think of a single instance when one democracy has declared war on
another. Ever! Not any time in history!
As to the "New World Order," I'm not ready, just yet, to put on an arm band.
1. AGEE, PHILIP "Producing the Proper Crisis," Z Magazine, Oct '90. (An
electronic form of this article may be downloaded from the
SKEPTICS BBS as GULF-WAR 415-648-8944.
(c) Copyright 1991 Yves Barbero. Reprinted from BASIS, April 1991.