George W. Bush’s most recent state of the union address didn’t contain the caliber of bald-faced, smoking-gun lies that we have come to expect from him, like the “sixteen words” in the last one (about Iraq supposedly seeking uranium from “Africa”), but it was certainly replete with dishonesty and misrepresentation. Disclaimer: The author in no way undertakes to assure that the examples of dishonesty presented below constitute an exhaustive list.
Bush said: As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror. By bringing hope to the oppressed, and delivering justice to the violent, they are making America more secure.
Response: Interesting phrasing. “Delivering justice to the violent.” It reminds me of Bush’s epitaph on Uday and Qusay Hussein, that “their violent careers ended in justice” a remark that prompted commentators all over the world to add, “Yes, Texas justice.” Assassination, search-and-destroy missions, a new global Gulag Archipelago, and war, whatever else they may be, are not exactly synonymous with “justice.”
Bush said: Americans are proving once again to be the hardest working people in the world.
Response: There are many hard-working people in the world. But it is indisputably true that Americans are working harder than before. And this administration last year spearheaded attempted legislation that, according to the Economic Policy Institute, would deprive eight million workers of their right to overtime pay (http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/briefingpapers_flsa_jun03). That legislation didn’t go through and the administration is now pushing a new plan that has similar problems. They are also advising employers on how to avoid paying overtime to employees who would qualify for it under the new legislation (http://www.sacbee.com/24hour/politics/story/1104741p-7727826c.html).
Bush said: The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of al-Qaida killers. As of this month, that country has a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. Businesses are opening, health care centers are being established, and the boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school. With help from the new Afghan Army, our coalition is leading aggressive raids against surviving members of the Taliban and al-Qaida.
The truth: The 15 children killed in a single U.S. bombing incident in November and the numerous others killed in “search-and-destroy” missions are not in school. And, contrary to the impression he wishes to give, the United States has done virtually nothing to reconstruct Afghanistan (http://www.guardian.co.uk/afghanistan/story/0,1284,1084772,00.html).
Bush said: Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Poland and other countries enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein – and the people of Iraq are free. Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and attack from the shadows.
The truth: There is no U.N. resolution calling for “regime change” in Iraq. There is also no U.N. resolution authorizing the war.
Tariq Ali quotes Iraqi sources as saying there are over 40 factions in the Iraqi resistance, only a few of them Ba’athist or Saddam loyalist (http://www.counterpunch.org/ali11042003.html).
Bush said: Our forces are on the offensive, leading over 1,600 patrols a day, and conducting an average of 180 raids every week. We are dealing with these thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein’s evil regime.
Response: These 180 raids per week make enemies of at least 1000 Iraqi families every week. Instead of knocking on the door and asking for a suspect, as would be standard in police operations, they start by breaking down the door. Then they raid the house, violate people’s (especially women’s) privacy, throw people down on the ground and humiliate them, and, according to Iraqi human rights workers, in virtually every raid they steal money and jewelry. Numerous eyewitness accounts of cases where people were shot when their homes were raided indicate that soldiers don’t even offer them medical attention until after they have searched the house.
Bush said: The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right.
The truth: In Baghdad, at least, there is no “building a new Iraq.” After the much greater destruction of the Gulf War, under sanctions so that no foreign parts were available, the government of Iraq restored power and telecommunications in three to four months. Here, after nine months of occupation, no one has even swept up the rubble from bombed-out buildings in Baghdad. Electricity is at prewar capacity, in a country crippled by twelve years of sanctions and constant cannibalization of parts. Doctors at several hospitals that we visited had no hesitation in characterizing the situation as significantly worse than it was under Saddam and the sanctions. They also said that they are still getting the Saddam-era medical stocks; no new supplies are being disbursed. There are shortages of basic antibiotics, operations have to be cancelled because of a lack of oxygen, and for lack of a few thousand dollars worth of equipment, doctors at Kadhimiyya Teaching Hospital often have sewage backing up on the floors of their operating theatre.
Bush said: Last January, Iraq’s only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law, with a bill of rights.
Response: One of the laws of the “brutal man” involved extremely light sentences for so-called “honor killings.” The incidence of these killings has increased since the war, but the CPA has not changed this law, so there is basically no prosecution of these crimes. It’s not because the CPA is shy about changing laws with a stroke of his pen, Bremer bestowed the flat tax on Iraq. Liberating women just isn’t one of his priorities.
Bush said: We are working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June. As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear.
The truth: The so-called “transfer of sovereignty” has been described by many political analysts in Iraq as a “transfer from the right pocket to the left pocket.” The CPA is giving no power and no resources to the current interim Iraqi government, which shows how serious it is about that transfer. The Iraqi police, beyond being used as “human shields” by coalition forces, have no discernible function. When we met with the Baghdad chief of police, who had just returned from two weeks in Tunisia, there was not a single piece of paper on his desk, nor even empty “in” and “out” boxes for files and memos. After two weeks gone from his post, he had nothing better to do than meet with us for an hour and we terminated the interview. The Iraqi Minister of Electricity has said on national TV that he has no money with which to fix the electrical power problem.
Bush said: Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible – and no one can now doubt the word of America.
The truth: Because of the sanctions and inspections, Iraq disarmed. In fact, it’s likely that after 1991 it had no WMD worth mentioning (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A60340-2004Jan6). Libya had been moving toward a rapprochement with the United States for years (see, e.g., The Colonel in His Labyrinth, Milton Viorst, Foreign Affairs, March, 1999 / April, 1999, p. 60) and this deal could easily have been attained by an offer to lift the U.N. and U.S. sanctions on Libya without need of a war on Iraq. Libya’s situation was desperate; among other things, its oil pumping capacity had fallen by a factor of two because of a lack of investment.
Nobody now doubts the threats of America. For a bully, perhaps there is no difference between that and the word of America. The latter is doubted severely. An interesting example when Turkey was haggling with the United States over the price of cooperation in the war on Iraq (this was before the parliament decided not to ratify the agreement). After turning town $26 billion over several years, Turkey agreed to $15 billion mostly up-front as Paul Krugman pointed out (“Threats, Promises, and Lies,” February 25, 2003, New York Times, http://www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi?archive=1&num=46), the reason is that the Turks, seeing the administration’s unkept promises on other things like AIDS spending, didn’t trust in anything but cash on the barrelhead. And Turkey has been a close ally of the United States for nearly 60 years.
And let’s not even talk about the “word of America” when it comes to lies about Iraq’s WMD.
Bush said: America is committed to keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world’s most dangerous regimes.
Response: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea haven’t invaded anyone in a long time. Unfortunately, we are not committed to keeping “the world’s most dangerous weapons” out of the hands of the most genuinely dangerous regime, which has fought two wars in the past three years, in addition to minor things like trying to topple the elected leader of Venezuela.
Bush said: We are seeking all the facts – already the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations.
The truth: Bush’s weasel words, like “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities,” tell the whole story here. Kay’s Iraq Survey Group has found no weapons and Kay has apparently quit in disgust (http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsPackageArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=439957§ion=news). In fact, the United States has concealed more about Iraq’s weapons programs from the U.N. than Iraq did remember the 12,000-page report Iraq submitted on December 7, 2002, which was carefully pruned down to under 4000 pages before the administration allowed everyone to see it?
Perhaps the most naked display of unilateral arrogance, even more so than the war on Iraq itself, was the fact that, after the war, the United States violated UN Security Council Resolution 1441, which had been passed at its own behest, by preventing U.N. weapons inspectors from returning to Iraq to finish the job. No explanation was ever given for substituting a U.S. team, under the control of the U.S. military, for the existing UNMOVIC and IAEA teams.
Bush said: From the beginning, America has sought international support for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support. There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.
The truth: Yes, the United States sought international support, according to the famous doctrine revealed in 1994 by Madeleine Albright “We will act multilaterally when we can, unilaterally as we must” and again in 2001 by Donald Rumsfeld “the mission determines the coalition and we must not let the coalition determine the mission.” In other words, the United States decided what is to be done and tries to browbeat others into acquiescence or agreement. And, of course, the implication that most of the world was with us, with a handful of exceptions (read France), is just the opposite of the truth only four countries sent troops to the war, and of them, Poland and Australia were definitely acting against the will of a majority of their people. Worldwide, opinion was almost uniform in condemning the war as an imperialist adventure.
Bush said: I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, free markets, free press and free labor unions in the Middle East.
Response: This is not exactly what the NED does. In fact, it is involved with the subversion and manipulation of free elections and the replacement of free labor unions with corporate ones. In recent years, the NED manipulated the 2000 elections in Yugoslavia with roughly $20 million, a huge amount by Yugoslav standards and far more than the minuscule contributions from China that caused such a huge furor in 1996 in the United States; and spent $877,000 to bring coup plotters in Venezuela together, leading to the April 11, 2002, attempted coup against the democratically elected Hugo Chavez.
Bush said: And jobs are on the rise.
Response: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in December 2003, 1,000 new jobs were created. The unemployment rate fell because 309,000 people, discouraged by the almost total lack of prospects, gave up on searching for jobs. Over 2 million jobs have been lost under Bush.
Bush said: To protect the doctor-patient relationship, and keep good doctors doing good work, we must eliminate wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits.
Response: Taking advantage of the catastrophic state of health care in the United States to once again push the corporate impunity program known as “tort reform.” The objective is not to reduce the financial load on doctors, but to reduce the load on insurance companies.
Bush said: So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough and to get rid of steroids now.
Response: Finally. The truly important issues. Imagine the courage involved in taking such a controversial stand.
Bush said: This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. We know from long experience that if they can’t find work, or a home, or help, they are much more likely to commit more crimes and return to prison. So tonight, I propose a four-year, $300 million Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups. America is the land of the second chance – and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.
Response: This is truly brilliant. I can’t remember the last time a Democratic presidential candidate (except for Kucinich and Sharpton) actually talked about the crying need to rehabilitate ex-prisoners. At one stroke, Bush paints himself as far more liberal, and compassionate, than the Democratic mainstream. Just three little problems: First, he seems to want to use government money to put ex-prisoners at the mercy of “faith-based groups.” I suppose that’s one way to recruit for the Christian Coalition. Second, with the economy shedding jobs like there’s no tomorrow, how exactly is he going to get work for ex-prisoners? Third, does anyone really believe this will happen? Does anyone remember the Freedom Corps, inaugurated with such stirring words in the 2002 SOU address?
Rahul Mahajan is an author and antiwar activist. His most recent book, “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond,” has been called “essential for those who wish to continue to fight against empire.” He has just started to publish Empire Notes, http://www.empirenotes.org, which will provide up-to-date commentary on the American Empire and related issues. He can be reached at Rahul@tao.ca