Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Pack Men: A Tale of Bush Thuggery Foretold

Originally published in The Moscow Times, April 26, 2002.

This is how thugs operate. If you don't play ball, don't toe the line, if you give them any lip, they cut you off at the knees. Bare fists, brass knuckles, cold steel, hot lead – it doesn't matter, they'll get you sooner or later. It's all about power: brute, blustering, rapacious power. The way apes do it. The way dogs do it. The way hyenas sort out the pack.

Jose Bustani is an accomplished Brazilian diplomat, a man of learning and enlightenment, with extensive experience in international affairs, including postings in Vienna, Montreal, the United Nations and Moscow. For decades, he has served as a high-level negotiator on a number of international treaties, hammering out agreements on disarmament, pollution, scientific research and maritime law. In 1997, he became director general of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which enforces the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

In that post, as The Guardian reports, Bustani engineered the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and the dismantling of two-thirds of the world's production facilities for biological mass murder. He was so well regarded by his colleagues that he was re-elected to a five-year term – unanimously – in May 2000. Just a few months ago, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell publicly lauded him for his "very impressive work."

There was one thing wrong with Jose Bustani, however. He was negotiating to bring Iraq into the Chemical Weapons Convention. That was his job, after all: to get as many nations as possible under the treaty's umbrella. So he was trying to persuade Iraq to accept the Convention and its strictures – including the destruction of chemical weapons stores and facilities, and constant independent monitoring to ensure compliance. If he had succeeded, the Middle East – and the world – would have been an immeasurably safer place.

But there were sinister forces – thugs – who didn't want Bustani to succeed. These thugs have big plans for Iraq, you see. They're going to puff up their chests, beat their hairy bellies and rape Iraq, force it down into the dirt and have their way with it. But they can only do that if Iraq remains a threat – or at least can be credibly framed as a threat to the little ones back home.

And so George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and the rest of the pack started in on Bustani. First they softened him up with some bureaucratic brass knuckles: they illegally withheld U.S. funding for the Convention, leading to a cash crisis at the agency. Next came a boot in the groin: having themselves engineered the Convention's money troubles, they accused Bustani of "financial mismanagement" and demanded that Brazil recall him. The Brazilians refused.

Then the switchblades came out. Last month, the thugs called for a vote of "no confidence" in Bustani from the Convention's 145 member nations. This was foiled – like the gang's recent attempt to muscle in on Venezuela – by an unexpected show of nerve from the "little guys" who normally quake when the thugs start to bellow. The no-confidence vote failed.

Now the pack was in full cry. They called an unprecedented (and illegal) "special session" of the Convention to force Bustani's ouster. In good thug fashion, they put the squeeze on, threatening to bankrupt the agency or pull out of it altogether – a move that would have collapsed the treaty and set off a world-wide explosion in chemical weapons production. (Even as it is, the thugs have arbitrarily excluded themselves from most of the treaty's provisions – including the very same inspection programs that Iraq is condemned for rejecting.)

And this week, they finally unloaded with both barrels. At the "special session" in The Hague on Monday, the thugs strong-armed 47 of the little guys into voting against Bustani. Seven countries, including Russia, stood their ground for the man they had all unanimously elected less than two years before, while 43 other countries abstained. More than 50 countries boycotted the shameful spectacle altogether.

So the thugs had their way, as they always do in the end. The pack bared their teeth, threw back their heads and brayed their triumph through the marble halls of Washington. After all, it was their second bloody carcass in as many weeks – just a few days before, they had manipulated the ouster of Robert Watson, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Watson's crime? Taking a strong stand on global warming. In this case, the Thug-in-Chief acted on orders from on high – the oil companies that bought and paid for him. Exxon Mobil sent a memo to the Bush administration "suggesting" that Watson be removed from his post – and lo and behold, Watson is gone.

Watson was replaced by Indian scientist Rajendra Pachauri. And what was Pachauri's primary qualification? Well, last year he fought against a bid by the Indian government to investigate a gigantic financial boondoggle at the controversial Dabhol Power Plant, Rediff.com of India reports. And who built Dabhol? A little ole Texas company called Enron – the thugs' biggest paymaster.

That's how thugs operate. You play ball, you get perks. You step out of line, they bash your head in. That's power, kid. There's nothing subtle about it. How can you be subtle when you're pounding your belly and baring your teeth?

Chris Floyd