American Bravado Not a Pleasant Sight

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I wasn’t quite sure why, but when a former military friend of mine laughed about the way Saddam Hussein was captured, with American troops sending greetings from George W. Bush, I got really annoyed. I know Saddam was a murderous despot, and there’s probably nothing bad that could happen to him that he doesn’t deserve.

He ran a government that was good at what all governments are good at: killing, raping, dehumanizing, plundering. Unlike other governments, he didn’t hide the thuggery too well.

So I’m not opposed to handing him over to Iraqi officials, or whatever passes for an Iraqi official these days, and letting them treat Saddam in whatever way they choose.

But I was disgusted by the bravado of our troops, most of whom seem utterly oblivious to why many Iraqi people want to kill them. I’m sick of our military’s faux tough talk, the sort of talk that would never be engaged in if these men and women weren’t the beneficiaries of taxpayer-funded U.S. military might.

Greetings from George W. Bush? Poking and prodding him like a cow, as one Vatican official said? Come on, you can arrest and even execute a man, but there’s nothing to be gained by heaping humiliation on him. Of course, if emboldening embittered Iraqi fighters is the goal, this wasn’t a bad approach.

The Iraqis battling U.S. forces are by no means Jeffersonian Democrats. The government they would put in place if American soldiers left would no doubt be rotten. Nevertheless, the U.S. cannot build a decent regime in this far-off country, no matter how much blood is spilled and how much of our hard-earned cash is squandered. And those fighting our presence have every right to do so. If foreign troops were on our soil, we would celebrate the killing of them. Why should we be surprised at Iraqi reactions when representatives of the American Empire are targeted?

It doesn’t take much reading to find that the joyous welcoming of American soldiers exists only in the head of Paul Wolfowitz and a few other neocon war planners.

I’ve felt lately like I’m watching a rerun of "Running Man," the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie in which the public is so easily led into chest-pounding hatred of the men demonized by the government officials. The movie isn’t anything deep, but it was entertaining watching this critique about how easily manipulated the public can be. First the crowds are cheering for the heroes to kill the Running Man, then they are cheering for the Running Man as he kills their former heroes.

Of course, even I cheered in the movie as Richard Dawson, who does a wonderful job playing the Running Man game-show host, was sent down a long concrete tube to his death, so I don’t mean to be self-righteous here.

No doubt, Saddam is awful. Notice how many times I have to say that, lest anyone think I am soft on dictators. But I get tired of being manipulated into loathing the U.S. government’s Demon Du Jour. I don’t trust much of what our government says, and I certainly can’t trust its version of what constitutes good and evil.

Just the thought of it is hilarious. The U.S. government — an institution built completely on force, which answers to the moral dictates of no one — is telling us what constitutes evil!

There’s plenty evidence of the crimes committed by Saddam, although George W. Bush mixes up actual crimes with unproven charges in his bluster about him. The specific truths don’t really matter, just like the specific truths about Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction never mattered. Friends of mine who supported the war still act as if they were right and we were wrong.

When I ask, where are those WMDs, they insist they really are there somewhere, even though the U.S. government has had months to find them. Shouldn’t the burden of proof have shifted from us to them at this point? Saddam will face victor’s justice, no doubt. Despite all the American pretenses of the rule of law, we really are no different than anyone else. We have bigger guns, so justice fits the rules we establish. American leaders could never be subjected to those same rules, because Americans, apparently, are genetically superior to everyone else.

Of course, I chuckled at hearing that Wesley Clark was called before the international criminal tribunal. It sounded like a dream come true, given Clark’s role in killing Serbian civilians, but then I realized he was there as a witness, not a defendant.

American leaders could never possibly be defendants. Not that I’m in favor of these ludicrous international courts, but why are we and our allies always exempt from the proceedings?

How many innocent lives were taken by Clark, who wants to become the next United States president. What kind of mess did his actions create? What kind of forces of intolerance, hatred and terrorism were unleashed by that U.S. war? Likewise, how many lives did President Bush and every U.S. president before him take in unjust wars?

Aren’t there innocent victims who deserve their day in court? How would Clark feel if he was all of sudden handed over to Serbs, to be poked and prodded and put on a show trial?

What would he think of the humiliation?

Americans had better hope that we always are the strongest country and that someone else will never have the chance to do to us what we routinely do to them. Victor’s justice is great when one is the victor — the biggest, baddest superpower on Earth. But what happens if we let down our guard and no longer are so strong?

I agree with Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican’s Justice and Peace department, who complained about the treatment the United States has afforded the former Iraqi dictator. "I feel pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," said Martino, according to a Reuters report. "Seeing him like this, a man in his tragedy, despite all the heavy blame he bears, I had a sense of compassion for him," he added.

Amen. It was a reminder of how far Americans have come from traditional Christian principles. We’ve become haughty, arrogant, in love with our own goodness and power. Yet we’re blinded to our arrogance, unable to see how much of the world sees us. In the neoconservative view, the world envies us. It’s true to an extent, especially given our nation’s affluence and the remaining constitutional protections developed by our founders — protections rarely followed elsewhere.

But those protections are eroding. The people who run America today would produce a constitution far closer to the one produced in communist Bulgaria than the one produced in America more than two centuries ago. We are running on fumes, an increasingly arrogant empire that can’t understand why "they" hate us.

Well look at the pictures of Saddam, at how our military forces treat him like a cow. Look at the video clips of American soldiers pointing their guns at families, at their placing their boots on the heads of Iraqi men who have been forced to the ground.

For heaven’s sake, think about how our own police forces treat Americans in this "free" land.

It’s not that hard to figure out, is it?

Decemeber 17, 2003

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register.

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