Consider this scenario: Suppose the United States government made a deal to let Saddam Hussein get away. No, I haven’t been eating funny brownies or reading L. Ron Hubbard. Nor have I developed a taste for weird conspiracy theories.
And I don’t have a shred of evidence that this actually happened. But I do know that if it were true, it would make perfect sense on a number of levels. Think about it: What if, once the war began, we sent a secret message to Saddam: Prevent a bloodbath in Baghdad, and we’ll let you escape, with enough money to allow you to live comfortably, as long as you keep a low profile and your mouth shut.
Both sides would have everything to gain. Saddam, who is (or was) neither suicidal nor stupid, would get to keep on living, presumably well enough to afford a few mistresses and another room with really bad shag carpet. We would get to avoid horrific fighting that would destroy the city, perhaps some oil facilities, and kill hundreds, at least, of our troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis, some of them soldiers.
There are signs something fishy did happen. Certainly the Iraqi military behaved in a very suspicious manner. Western reporters have interviewed bitter-ender Republican guards, who complained they weren’t allowed to fight, that they were told they were being pulled back for a last-ditch battle to the death for Baghdad.
But then they were sent to bases north of the city, and after a few days they were quietly told they could just go home. In fact, during the whole so-called “war,” what resistance there was came mostly from ragtag paramilitary forces.
The United States has also acted more than a little peculiarly on the whole question of “where’s Saddam,” a man President Bush I labeled “worse than Hitler.” Early on, we were told we were trying to kill him.
Then, toward the end, we dropped a vast load of bombs on a place (variously said to be a private house and a restaurant) where he was supposed to have been meeting with his nearest and dearest. Later, we were shown scenes of devastation.
However, as yet, we haven’t found any scraps of, ah, Saddam’s genetic material. They did dig up the head of a young woman and the body of a child. But no great dictator.
Curiously, right about that time, our official spokesmen suddenly seemed to lose all interest in Saddam’s whereabouts. Well, one way or another his regime is over, they said. Don’t worry; be happy, and Bechtel will soon arrive to get the power back on.
What has been clear right from the start is that the worst-case scenario for Washington would be to capture Saddam alive. That would have meant a trial, one in which he was bound to play Islamic martyr, and also a trial in which messy details about America’s role in helping to create Saddam way back when might surface.
However, the Bushies are right about one thing. Saddam, who was more a thug than either a religious or an ideological figure, is effectively gone, and the focus needs to be on the future. The big question is, what future?
What Don Rumsfeld and the President in his pocket want it to look like is pretty clear. Iraq will be a client state, the first triumph of the New World Order of Pax Americana. Its oil economy will be tightly bound to ours; its leaders will be people we can count on, if not to always support us, at least never to oppose us on anything that really matters. What’s more, all this is meant as a signal to other Third World and, especially, Muslim/Arab regimes. Don’t push us too far or we’ll take you out, shake you up and reassemble your state into something more to our liking.
Whether or not this is the world we want is the major issue of the day. Al Fishman, dean of the Detroit-area peace movement, recognizes this. “The first goal of the peace movement now is to ensure against the recolonialization of Iraq,” he noted.
That will not be easy. Fortunately, the Bush team doesn’t worry about being subtle; last week, they awarded Bechtel Corp., a traditional holding pen for Republican functionaries like George Shultz and Caspar Weinberger, a cushy no-bid $680 million contract to start rebuilding Iraq. Most think that will eventually turn into billions of dollars.
We do need to help put the country we attacked and conquered back on its feet. But what is vitally important — for out own long-term safety as well as theirs — is that we not allow the Bush administration to make Iraq a colonial outpost of empire.
Making sure the bully boys don’t lurch ahead into Syria is at least as important. But above all, Fishman knows we need to turn next year’s election into a referendum on what kind of country this should be. The choice is imperfect democracy or the imperial corporate state, and this time, the opposition can’t afford to play self-indulgent games.
“The top priority has to be defeating Bush. We have to get the best Democratic candidate we can, but also the most electable,” Fishman says. We have had barely two years of Bush, Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft. Would you like to endure six more?
Worth attending: The Alliance for Democracy, the closest thing today to an authentic populist movement, and a number of other progressive groups are having a forum 1-4 p.m. Saturday, April 26, “Building Unity to Defeat Bush,” in Room 115 of the Life Science Building (base of the clock tower) at U-D Mercy’s Livernois-at-McNichols campus. Panelists will include Fishman and some other top area activists, as well as writer, famed Texas Observer editor and Alliance co-founder Ronnie Dugger, who will also speak at the Green House at 9 Mile and Woodward at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 27. Call 248-336-9241.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org