The Null Device

Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?

A brief roundup of news items this God Bless America Day: Salman Rushdie commenting on how Bush's selective "anti-terrorist" campaign may end up achieving what Osama bin Laden sought to do, i.e., radicalising large sections of the Islamic world. Meanwhile, a US journalist comments on the blind spot of the US newsmedia:
In Washington, the media function like a palace court press. In the name of political neutrality, the definition of quotable sources is limited to the narrow spectrum from Republican to Democrat. If a given point of view - say, that missile defence is a dangerous fantasy - is not articulated by leading lawmakers, it is ignored. Instead of substance, journalists focus on palace intrigues: what is the White House proposing today, how will Congress react, who will win the fight? Rarely does the coverage stand back from insider debates, or offer alternative analysis. Thus our media fail to act as the check and balance our nation's founders envisioned.

And then there's the Stepford Citizen Syndrome, or the 10 official "truths" of the War On Terrorism (ranging from Bush's moral virtue and wise leadership to the immediate threat of Saddam Hussein, to the integrity of America's famed constitutional checks and balances), each debunked:

Overlooking our thrice-arrested president's blatant disregard for civil rights, human rights and the environment, they continue to downplay scandals and downgrade their role as protectors of the public trust. But with oft-repeated quips like, "lucky me, I hit the trifecta" and "if this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier," G.W. offers a glimpse at his indecent inner frat boy. Especially revealing was a Talk Magazine interview, in which he mimicked death row inmate Karla Faye Tucker. "Please," Bush whimpered, mocking Tucker's plea for clemency, "don't kill me." Gallows humor is only funny when those telling jokes don't have the power to save people from the gallows.
Europeans don't agree with us because we're wrong. They understand the geopolitical motivations behind this war, as their press isn't as censored. In America, however, stories about Enron's involvement in the proposed oil and gas pipeline though Afghanistan were squashed, and if you wanted to know about the Taliban's trip to Texas, you had to learn about it in the National Enquirer rather than on Meet the Press.
Stability in Afghanistan is but a myth, warlords carry out atrocities without intervention, and the State Department is forced to guard President Karzai. Meanwhile, many warn that Bush's plans for Iraq could lead to Armageddon. Yet "Bush is doing an excellent job in the war on terror?" How?

In other words, where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

There are 21 comments on "Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?":

Posted by: Billy http:// Wed Sep 11 19:41:01 2002

I love america.

Posted by: MJ http:// Wed Sep 11 22:43:38 2002

What I do - read the Progressive Review daily (as well as dev.null of course!)

Posted by: acb Thu Sep 12 05:21:04 2002

Billy: if you love America so much, how do you feel about Ashcroft and co. wiping their asses with the Constitution?

Posted by: Ben Thu Sep 12 06:49:31 2002

What I love is how The Age put its special S11 section all in one convenient section, suitable for pulling out of the paper and not reading.

Posted by: mitch http:// Thu Sep 12 08:45:22 2002

"... our media fail to act as the check and balance our nation's founders envisioned." As far as I know, the philosophy of checks & balances referred specifically to *branches of government*. 'The media' were not part of the plan.

"[Europeans] understand the geopolitical motivations behind this war". The quest for the 'secret motives of the war on terror' is beginning to really annoy me. It's as if a lot of people just can't conceive that nukes, smallpox, etc might actually find their way to Al Qaeda and get used against the USA. All that warmongering must be motivated by something else, right?

Posted by: acb Thu Sep 12 09:21:15 2002

For one, if Saddam Hussein had a nuclear bomb, would he give it to a group of unpredictable fanatics? Given that he's the sort of control-obsessed sonofabitch who claws his way to the top of a dictatorship and murders anybody who poses a threat to him, I suspect that he may not be too keen on that idea.

And given that there's no evidence that Iraq has any connection with terrorist groups or weapons of mass destruction (and not for want of trying), and Bush/Blair are pushing to invade Iraq just because with foreign help he could develop nuclear weapons (a pretty slender excuse), there must be other reasons.

I suspect it's a combination of oil-based geopolitics and Bush Jr.'s deeply personal quest to capture Saddam as a trophy, and appear as a heroic wartime leader (rather than a clueless shmuck).

Posted by: mitch http:// Thu Sep 12 11:51:45 2002

There are scenarios under which a nuke (or other WMD) might reasonably be handed over to a group like Al Qaeda by Saddam. If he faced certain defeat in conventional warfare, but had a chance to nuke his enemy's capital by performing the handover, it would make sense. Or, if he had the weapon in the care of loyalists, under instructions to hand it over only if he was killed; revenge from beyond the grave, akin to the oil fires lt in Kuwait.

Iraq very publicly sends money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, it played host for several years to the well-known terrorist Abu Nidal until he died mysteriously last month, and everyone agrees that the Bin-Ladenist group Ansar al-Islam is based in Iraqi Kurdistan, they just disagree on whether it's independent of the central government. As for WMD programs, during the years in which the UN inspectors attempted to hunt down Iraq's NBC programs, they found and destroyed tonnes of biological and chemical weapons, they were constantly given the run-around,

Posted by: mitch http:// Thu Sep 12 11:52:50 2002

they haven't been able to enter the country for four years, and those programs appear to have been central to Iraqi national security doctrine. When I see a headline saying that Iraq has no ties to terrorism or no WMDs, and then read the article, I generally find that the journalist has given the strongest antiwar spin they can to rather more ambiguous pronouncements. (The guy who keeps saying most forthrightly that Iraq is no danger to anyone, Scott Ritter, is a lone voice amongst the former inspectors, and just a few years ago he was saying quite the opposite. I don't know what his story is.)

And finally, there's the anthrax. The anthrax is probably what has *prevented* a major strike against Iraq up to this point; or more precisely, the fear that Iraq was behind the anthrax, and will spread it around much more publicly if it comes under direct attack. As some guy from summed up the US situation with respect to WMD-armed 'rogue states', "Wait and the threat will grow; strike and the threat ma

Posted by: mitch http:// Thu Sep 12 11:53:18 2002

may be used".

Posted by: acb Thu Sep 12 14:38:50 2002

And the anthrax turned out to be of US military origins, sent out by an unknown government employee (who, for some reason, has escaped arrest).

Your last-resort nuclear strike scenario already depends on the US invading Iraq in the first place. Which makes it somewhat different than a potential Iraqi nuclear terrorist first strike.

Anyway, I don't think that just because someone doesn't like you and may in future obtain weapons of mass destruction and may in an extreme case hand them over to some maniacs who also don't like you is sufficient justification for invading them.

Posted by: szr http:// Thu Sep 12 17:02:04 2002

All perfectly valid points, but what bothers me is that Iraq isn't actually doing anything wrong. They have no proven connection to Al-Queda, so it puzzles me how they're suddenly the enemy in the so-called 'war on terror'. Just because GW says they are? Oh yeah, well, right, I suppose I'd better think that too then...

The other point that should be made is this: Just because the USA is a super-power, the biggest kid in the playground, so to speak, doesn't mean that it can win a war on terror. There isn't a single case in history that I can think of, where a conventional military force has overcome a hidden guerilla threat. Seems to me that GW is inviting more trouble, rather than preventing it.

Posted by: acb Fri Sep 13 03:29:50 2002

I suspect that GW's purpose is to keep the war going to justify massive power-grabs by his apparatus and to prevent anyone from seeing what a lousy peacetime president he'd be.

In Orwell's 1984, the Party has rocket bombs launched against their own civilian population, blamed on Eurasia or Eastasia, to keep them in a state of siege and justify a perpetual state of war. As some have commented, the Bush administration seems to be using 1984 as a textbook on governance.

Posted by: mitch http:// Fri Sep 13 04:32:40 2002

Anthrax: the 'government insider' theory remains just that, a theory. Its leading advocate, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, did indeed say back in February that the FBI knows who did it but won't arrest, etc; but that's just her opinion. The 'insider theory' also has nothing to say about the link between the 9/11 hijackers and the first anthrax mailing (to American Media, the publishers of National Enquirer): Mohammed Atta rented his Florida apartment from the wife of an American Media editor. In my opinion this is a rather steep coincidence. As for the anthrax being Ames stain, that proves nothing, it's available around the world.

Posted by: acb Fri Sep 13 05:37:18 2002

The problem with justifying invading Iraq because they're not nice and hate the US is that it implicitly depends on a might-makes-right argument; i.e., we'll replace the Iraqi government because we don't like it and we have the means to do so. Which sets a bad precedent that could backfire on the US in future. What if in 50 years time, China is satellite-bombing US nanotech plants because they just might be used for making weapons, and because of inner intrigues in the Chinese Communist Party?

Posted by: mitch http:// Fri Sep 13 06:22:55 2002

The way things are going, it looks like the USA will try to get Security Council endorsement for whatever its plans are. But I'm not sure that a conflict with international law has ever deterred a major power from defending its vital interests. If China 2050 fears US nanotechnology that much, performing a successful strike is going to take precedence over conformity to legal niceties.

Posted by: acb Fri Sep 13 09:13:53 2002

And when the shit flies, China will be able to claim the long-established doctrine that the US has relied on; live by the sword and all that. Which will lower the threshold of fear China needs to bomb US facilities.

I'm not sure that the Security Council will endorse an invasion of Iraq; there are no UN resolutions calling for or justifying "regime change" from outside. The most likely outcome is a UN deadline for weapons inspectors (and other demands unlikely to be met), to be later used as justification for unilateral retaliatory action.

Posted by: mitch http:// Sat Sep 14 04:38:05 2002

A few more thoughts on what's behind the focus on Iraq... I can possibly see how the US government would arrive at the idea that regime change in Iraq or US defeat in the Middle East are the only options. Unchained, Saddam's Iraq will seek hegemony over the oil states, and eventually the eradication of Israel. Bottled up by sanctions, weapons inspections, and no-fly zones, it has become a martyr state and another central Arab/Muslim grievance, producing recruits for Al Qaeda. Inside Iraq, the system has managed to squelch all coups, uprisings and assassination attempts, even when they had external assistance from the USA or Iran. But as you say, a unilateral invasion will likely have big unintended consequences for how the world works.

Posted by: mitch http:// Sat Sep 14 04:54:39 2002

And I should mention two conspiracy theories. One is that Iraq has been covertly attacking the USA ever since Desert Storm (WTC93, OKC95, WTC01)... see Laurie Mylroie's book THE WAR AGAINST AMERICA for some of this. The other (which can be combined with the first) is that Iraq is a target because they know it made the anthrax, but they don't want to publicize this because: (i) they don't have adequate biodefenses next, something that will be needed if Iraq is invaded and its sleeper agents in the USA are activated; and (ii) they don't want the world to know that you can deter a superpower from military action with a few grams of powder. For more along those lines, see posts by "The Great Satan" at

Posted by: acb Sat Sep 14 10:17:47 2002

That reminds me of that Jeffrey Archer (?) novel which has Saddam Hussein sending his agents to steal the US Declaration of Independence so that he can use it as toilet paper.

Of course, then there's Iraq buying up all the PlayStation 2s a few years ago, spoiling many children's Christmas. That should be enough reason to go in there and nail him to the wall.

Posted by: Billy http:// Mon Sep 16 03:24:42 2002

I'd wipe my ass with the constitution if I could get it.

Posted by: acb Mon Sep 16 03:40:37 2002

I can see you're a true patriot...