The Null Device

Saddam Bin Laden

The Independent (best known as home of serially discredited journalist Robert Fisk, and for making the Guardian look like FOX News by comparison) has a piece which claims that many ordinary Americans think that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are the same man. (via Unknown News)

There are 19 comments on "Saddam Bin Laden":

Posted by: mitch http:// Wed Feb 5 05:33:29 2003

That headline's a nice example of ... something. Planting ideas in the minds of readers, perhaps. We all know how comically ignorant Americans are about the world, right? Some fraction of readers is going to see that headline, take it literally and think "Is there no limit to their stupidity", never actually read the article to discover that it's actually about Saddam replacing Osama as public enemy #1, and will go on to tell their friends that there are some Americans so dumb, they think Osama *is* Saddam. Voila, another untruth that will do the rounds for years. Well done guys.

Posted by: mitch http:// Wed Feb 5 05:50:40 2003

The actual subject of the article (are there ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, or is all the evidence spurious and fabricated) is an important and interesting one. I'm sure I've expressed my opinion before - the evidence is that such ties are real and long-standing, and (more curiously) some part of the US government has been actively trying to deny those ties, even as another part tries to publicize them. There seem to be two reasons why such a cover-up would take place: either it's at Bush's orders and it's for some strategic reason, or it's the work of a faction who don't want war with Iraq. (There are more recondite hypotheses too, e.g. it's Clinton-era guys in denial of reality, or it's all about covering up the cover-up of foreign involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing.) There is more data in a recent new Yorker article, but it's all still very murky.

Posted by: acb Wed Feb 5 05:56:57 2003

Mitch, your argument requires a lot of faith in the present US government (a government made of self-serving special interests and one which has shown contempt for the basic values of representative democracy on a number of occasions). To take their word for it that they're doing the right thing in the public interest (as opposed to lining their pockets or taking advantage of things to advance their own agendas) requires a huge leap of faith. And the sleight-of-hand by which al-Qaeda was all but forgotten about and Iraq was brought into the picture is, to say the least, somewhat suspicious.

Posted by: mitch http:// Wed Feb 5 06:26:59 2003

To some extent the question of Iraq/AQ cooperation, as a purely factual issue, is independent of the true nature and motives of the Bush administration. There is a lot of data out there about how Iraq and AQ operate, there are specific allegations from a variety of sources, and anyone can try to draw their own conclusions. US government spin becomes a factor only insofar as the US government is responsible for promoting those sources.

Posted by: mitch http:// Wed Feb 5 06:27:10 2003

On the nature of the present US government... It's taking me a long time to form a coherent opinion on this, because there's so much to cover. A comparison with Saddam's Iraq might make it clear what I mean: I feel like I have some grip on the totality of what Saddam is about. He's a man-of-destiny type, he fought his way to the top under the banner of pan-Arabism and anti-Zionism, and so on. I don't have a similar 'formula' for Bush that I'm satisfied with, and until I do, I won't feel that I really understand how his government works.

Posted by: acb Wed Feb 5 06:38:09 2003

Surely the audacity with which the Bush government has moved appointing executives of petroleum companies to run the EPA, making scarily anti-democratic fundamentalist zealot Ashcroft Attorney-General, pulling out of Kyoto and the International Criminal Court, putting Poindexter in charge of "Total Information Awareness", amending various laws to redefine embryos as people, vetoing UN aid programmes because they include "reproductive health" and so on, is somewhat alarming.

If Clinton had 1/5 of that audacity, the War On Drugs would have been long since scrapped and replaced with a sensible harm-minimisation programme, to name just one issue.

Posted by: acb Wed Feb 5 07:03:02 2003

(that's of course if Clinton had as much conviction in his principles as Bush does in his.)

Mind you, Clinton and his party would probably have appointed Jack Valenti to run the government's Internet policy or something like that.

Posted by: mitch http:// Wed Feb 5 07:06:36 2003

That's a list of actions (btw, I think you're wrong about the EPA), but what I'm after is a big picture which puts them in context. You had a stab at that over here ("USA stands for democracy only in name", etc):

If I was to put that Chomsky-like view in my own words, it would be something like this: The USA is a sophisticated oligarchy, in which myths about democracy play the same pacifying role as religion did for the subjects of absolute monarchies.

Posted by: mitch http:// Wed Feb 5 07:19:03 2003

So, that's a coherent picture. But I'm not sure how well we (outside the USA) understand American political culture. I was struck by a remark I saw online, that "America is not a democracy, it's a constitutional republic." I take that to be a lesson in conservative American political philosophy. It's a way of thinking which fears the evolution of democracy into mob rule, and sees the rule of law as the real guarantee of individual freedom. From this perspective, rather than being corporate stooges, Republican politicians are battlers against the Democrats' drive towards crypto-socialist technocracy.

Posted by: mitch http:// Wed Feb 5 07:26:39 2003

I'm basically agnostic on whether any of this (Chomskyism, Constitutionalism) gets close to the truth. The most interesting assessment of *Bush* that I've read is a line in that CFP speech by Bruce Sterling - "The Bush clan are paternalistic, noblesse oblige, right-wing aristocrats with an intelligence background." Now if I can only find an equally pithy summary of the whole US system that I agree with, I'll be set!

Posted by: acb Wed Feb 5 10:57:17 2003

To an extent, yes. Democracy doesn't scale well with centralisation and so on; as power is centralised, the amount of say any one constituent has approaches 1/inf, apathy takes over and special-interest groups (from organised pressure groups to big-budget lobby groups) hijack the system for their own uses. The machinery of democracy is still there (albeit often compromised; witness the various US voting machine scandals), but much of it is a placebo. So the US is a democracy in theory, an oligarchy in practice.

Posted by: acb Wed Feb 5 11:00:58 2003

But one thing that stands out from the Bush administration's actions and appointments is that they seem to have a belief that ordinary people have no business poking their noses into what the government is doing; government are the grown-ups whom you trust to make things alright at the end of the day, and good citizens have faith that whatever their government's doing is in their interest. This is the antithesis of democracy, which depends on transparency.

Posted by: acb Wed Feb 5 11:04:04 2003

(Note that the democracy<->oligarchy thing is a continuum, not a dichotomy. Even in the US, it is possible for the people to have a say; in fact, the democratising potential of decentralised communications networks (as opposed to centralised mass media) can counteract the tendency to oligarchy.

Whether or not large-scale democracy devolves to a meaningless lowest common denominator is another topic altogether.

Posted by: Graham Wed Feb 5 11:04:10 2003

I dunno. Fisk seemed pretty credible on SBS's Dateline just now. I mean, the guy's *there*.

Posted by: acb Wed Feb 5 11:31:37 2003

I know; I was being sarcastic. "Discrediting" Fisk has become a rite of passage for the blog community. (And in the eyes of the wider public, the A-List are not representative of the blog community, but the patriotic fiskers are.)

Posted by: Ben Wed Feb 5 13:23:04 2003

All this neatly sidesteps the inescapable fact that Al Quaeda and the Mujihadeen movement from which it sprung were US funded and created entities. As was Saddam Hussein's Iraq. So to try and link the 2 is disingenious as the most obvious link is the US itself.

Posted by: mitch http:// Thu Feb 6 06:37:13 2003

The USA in partnership with Saudi Arabia (which also backed Iraq against Iran). But it really does look as if this is two cases of blowback joining into one. Fahd rejected Bin Laden's proposal that the Saudi mujahideen should defend the kingdom against Saddam, Osama got pissed off, and Iraqi intelligence took advantage.

Posted by: mitch http:// Thu Feb 6 08:58:47 2003

Of course, you could argue that supporting Saudi Arabia, period, has also led to blowback, and the question is merely how bad is it going to get. It's the Hajj soon, time to crank up the crystal ball: will *this* be the year that Al Qaeda takes over? Or has it already done so covertly? Or have the Saudis been running it all along?

Posted by: Ben Laden Thu Feb 6 16:27:32 2003

Well according to your friend and mine, Sherman Skolnick, Saudi Arabia is likely to break into 3 seperate kingdoms when King Fahd finally expires, under the 3 most powerful princes who don't get along.

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