I wonder sometimes if we have not entered a new age of what the French call infantilisme. I admit I am writing these words on the lecture circuit in Paris where pretty much every political statement — including those of Messrs Chirac, Sarkozy, de Villepin et al — might fall under this same title. But the folk I am referring to, of course, are George W Bush, Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara and — a newcomer to the Fisk Hall of Childishness — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.
For as someone who has to look at the eviscerated corpses of Palestine and Israel, the murdered bodies in the garbage heaps of Iraq, the young women shot through the head in the Baghdad morgue, I can only shake my head in disbelief at the sheer, unadulterated, lazy bullshit — let’s call a spade a spade — which is currently emerging from our great leaders.
There was a time — yes, I know about o tempora o mores — when the Great and the Good spoke with a voice of authority, albeit mendacious, rather than mediocrity; when too many lies spelled a ministerial resignation or two. But today we seem to live on two levels: reality and myth.
Let’s start with the reality of Iraq. It is, to quote Winston Churchill on Palestine in the late 1940s, a “hell-disaster,” a nation of anarchy from Mosul and Irbil down to Basra, where armed insurgents control streets scarcely half a mile from the Baghdad “green zone” wherein American and British diplomats and their democratically elected Iraqi “government” dream up optimism for a country whose people are burning with ferocious resentment against Western occupation. No wonder I’m more sure each day that I want to be away from conflict.
But for Bush, America is not anxious to withdraw from Iraq. Far from it. The United States is fighting enemies who want to establish a “totalitarian empire,” he says, a “mortal danger to all humanity” which America will confront. Washington is fighting “as brutal an enemy as we have ever faced.” Come again? What about Hitler’s Nazi Germany? Mussolini’s fascist Italy? The cruel, expansionist Japanese empire which bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941?
It’s one thing, surely, for Bush and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara to play Roosevelt and Churchill or to claim that Saddam is Hitler but to exalt our grubby, torture-encrusted, illegal conflicts as being more important than the Second World War — or our turbaned enemies as more malicious than the Auschwitz SS killers — is surely a step on the road to the madhouse.
“By any standard of history,” my favourite American President declared this week, “Iraq has made incredible progress.” Excuse me? By any standard of history, the Iraqi insurgents have made incredible inroads into the US military occupation of Iraq. “We’ve lost some of our nation’s finest men and women in the war on terror,” Bush tells us. .”.. The best way to honour the sacrifice of our fallen troops is to complete the mission.” In other words, we are going to prove the worth of the sacrifice by making more sacrifices. Truly, this is bin Laden-like in its naivety. We’ve suffered martyrs? Then let’s have more martyrs!
Then we have President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Israel, he tells one of those infinitely dull and boring Tehran conferences on “Zionism” this week, must be “wiped off the map.” I’m old enough to remember this claptrap from Yasser Arafat’s weary old cronies in Beirut in the late 1970s. Ahmadinejad’s speech — before the obligatory 4,000 “students” who used to be a regular feature of Iran’s revolution — was replete with all the antique claims. “The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world. The skirmishes (sic) in the occupied land are part of the war of destiny.”
Was this silly man, I ask myself, the scriptwriter for Ridley Scott’s movie Kingdom of Heaven? Surely not, for the Hollywood epic is Homeric in its scope and literacy compared to Ahmadinejad’s sterile prose. This, after all, is the sort of stuff I had to suffer during the original Iranian revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini set up his theocracy — no, let us be frank and call it necrocracy — in Iran. Government for and by the dead is becoming a vision for both Bush and Ahmadinejad.
But hold on. We have not counted on the Churchillian vision of Lord Blair. “I have never come across a situation of (sic) the president of a country stating they want to wipe out another country,” he told us on Thursday.
Oh deary me. What can we do with this man? For Rome was rather keen, was it not, to wipe out Carthage (delenda est Carthago, Tony)? And then there is the little matter of Herr Hitler — a regular bogeyman for Lord Blair when he stares across the desert wastes towards the Tigris — who insisted that Poland should be wiped out, who turned Czechoslovakia into the Nazi protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, who allowed the Croatian Ustashe to try to destroy Serbia, who ended his days by admitting that his own German state should be wiped out because its people didn’t deserve him.
But now let’s listen to Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara again. “If they (the Iranians) carry on like this, the question that people are going to be asking is: when are you going to do something about this? Can you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having a nuclear weapon?” Well yes, of course we can. North Korea. Whoops! But they’ve already got nuclear weapons, haven’t they?
So we’ll ask a different question. Exactly who are those “people,” Lord Blair, who might expect you to “do something”? Could they have anything in common with the million people who told you not to invade Iraq? And if not, could we have some addresses, identities, some idea of their number? A million perhaps? I doubt it.
Is there to be any end of this? Not yet, I fear. In Australia a couple of weeks ago, I found Muslims in Melbourne and Adelaide regaling me with stories of abuse and obscenities in the street. New laws are about to be introduced by Prime Minister John Howard to counter “terror” which will not only allow detention without trial, but also the extension of “sedition” laws which could be used against those (mainly Muslims, of course) who oppose Australia’s preposterous military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Well, count me in, John. I think you live in a great country with great people, but I’m planning to turn up in Adelaide again in the spring to argue against any Western involvement in those two countries, including yours. I look forward to a sedition charge. And to Lord Blair “doing something” against North Korea. I hope Mr Bush never does discover enemies worse than the Wehrmacht and the SS. And I sincerely trust that the little satraps of the religious necrocracy that is Iran will grow up in the years to come. Alas. Like Peter Pan, our leaders wish to be forever young, forever childish, and forever ready to play in their bloodless sandpits — at our expense.
Published in The Independent (UK), Oct. 29, 2005.