Saturday, June 25, 2005

In Loco Parentis: Child Abuse in Bush's Babylon

Here's an extended version of the column published on June 24 in The Moscow Times.

"Listen: if all must suffer, to buy eternal harmony through suffering, please tell me what have children got to do with it? It's simply incomprehensible why they have to suffer, why they have to buy harmony with their suffering. Why do they get thrown into the muck, to fertilize someone's future harmony with their bodies?" - Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.

When the public liars sat down together - in Crawford, Texas, in the Pentagon, in the Oval Office, in 10 Downing Street - and very deliberately, very guilefully and very knowingly devised their act of mass murder in Iraq, it is unlikely they gave any thought to the most vulnerable targets of their war crime: the children. So in considering this aspect of the bloodbath, we should give the liars the benefit of the doubt. Let's not make them more monstrous than they are. Let's stick to the facts.

Let us say - as the incontrovertible facts compel us to say - that, yes, they were willing to kill tens of thousands of innocent people in an action they knew to be illegal, reckless, ill-planned and unsupported by evidence. Let us say - as the incontrovertible facts compel us to say - that, yes, they knew their public statements about the plans for war were lies. Let us say - as the incontrovertible facts compel us to say - that, yes, they started the war with a vicious bombing campaign months before obtaining even a fig leaf of approval from their respective legislatures, a clear and treasonous violation of their own national laws. Let us say - as the incontrovertible facts compel us to say - that, yes, long before their blitzkrieg rolled across the border, they were already divvying up the loot of conquest: the oil rights, the "privatizations," the crony contracts.

In short, let us say that, yes, they are killers, liars, thieves and incompetent fools. But let's not imagine that as they settled their safe and cosseted backsides into the fine upholstery of their elegantly appointed war rooms, they gleefully regaled each other with visions of the exquisite tortures they would soon inflict upon the children of Iraq.

Let's not imagine George W. Bush nudging Tony Blair in the ribs as they masticated their pork together, saying, "Cholera, eh? Typhoid fever. Malnutrition! By god, we can grind these Iraqi children lower than the slum rats of Haiti!" Let's not picture Dick Cheney chiding Donald Rumsfeld over the steak tartare: "Damn it, Don, if there's a single pregnant Iraqi woman left without hepatitis before we're through, heads are going to roll! I want the wombs of those Arab cows swimming in lethal viruses. Lethal, do you hear me?"

Of course it was not like that. Such suppositions do these honored national leaders a grave injustice. No doubt their discourse was elevated, focused on matters of high state and strategy, on the practicalities of logistics and presentation. If anyone there spoke of the "human factor" - the actual reality of bleeding flesh, of death, wounds, disease and rot - it would only have been as part of the political calculations: what level of casualties would the American people accept, how do we keep the dead and maimed out of the public eye? It was all about numbers, process, abstraction - nothing to disturb the moral imagination, nothing to put them off the hearty meals and tasty snacks laid before them discreetly by the servants.

So when leading international agencies - including the World Bank, now headed by one of the chief liars, Paul Wolfowitz - find that Iraq's children are dwindling and dying twice as fast under the Coalition's benevolent care than under the despotism of Saddam Hussein, we should not conclude that this was the liars' conscious intention. Yes, it's true that Iraq's child malnutrition rate is now worse than the broken nations of Uganda or Haiti, the Japan Times reports. Yes, cholera and typhoid are cutting swathes through the population, and are especially virulent in the "stable" areas of the Shiite south. Yes, epidemics of hepatitis are killing pregnant women. Yes, antibiotics are scarce, leaving children, the old and the weak to die of common infections - when they can get treated at all in a health system ravaged by the liars' war and its atrocious aftermath. (Such as the destruction of Fallujah, for example, when Coalition forces deliberately destroyed the city's health clinics and imprisoned doctors to prevent news of civilian casualties from leaking to the press, as the Pentagon's own "information specialists" told the New York Times.)

And yes, it's true that Iraq - once a modern and prosperous nation - has suffered "one of the most dramatic declines in human welfare in recent history" during the occupation, as the UN says. But again, this was not part of the liars' deliberate design. The torment of children was outside the parameters of their "metrics of success." It was not a factor one way or the other.

In fact, let's go even further and declare forthrightly that if the liars could have established a client regime and a permanent military presence in Iraq without harming the hair of a single child, they would have done so. If they could have transferred more than $300 billion from the public treasury to the pockets of their family members and business partners without having to concoct a brutal and baseless war of aggression, they would have done so. If they could have legitimized their radical, rapacious domestic agenda without engineering the slaughter of innocent people in order to assume the politically expedient role of "wartime leaders," they would have done so.

But they couldn't. So like all murderers, they did whatever they had to do to get what they wanted, regardless of the consequences for others. Like all terrorists, they rationalize their atrocities with noble rhetoric, citing the unassailable righteousness of their cause as justification for the unspeakable evil they unleash. And like all abusers of innocent children, they cover their baser motives with self-serving lies.

Chris Floyd