Reverting to Type By William Bowles

16 December 2003

Robert Fisk, who has a reputation for covering the occupation of Iraq with a humanity that escapes most of the mass media commentators seems to have reverted to type in his op-ed piece in the Independent(16/12/03 p. 31). Take the following extracts for example:

“The more I look, the more Saddam turns into a wild animal.”

“…his lips would slide back from his teeth too far; so that his warmth turned into a kind of animal leer.”

“He had even learned how to smoke a Havana – between two fingers rather than four fingers and thumb.”

“We have destroyed the beast. The nightmare years are over. If only we could have got rid of this man 15 years ago – 20 years ago – how warm would be our welcome in Iraq today.”

“And that is why his capture will not save American soldiers. He lives on. Just as Hitler lives on today in the memories and fears of millions.”

What I find most depressing about this exercise of journalistic juggling of words is it belies nearly everything Fisk has written over these past months. The innate racism of his description of Saddam as a beast and wild animal and the superior assumptions of the Western man about the ‘right’ way to smoke a cigar through to the outrageous statement about a “warm welcome”, reveal the liberal mind for what it is, utterly two-faced.

Where is the mention of Saddam’s relationship to his US paymasters who from 1959, employed him to overthrow the Qasim regime? Where is the mention of arming him to fight a divisive and destructive war with Iran? Fisk presents Saddam as a man without a past that is intimately a part of Western strategic interests.

Take for example, the role that Saddam played as an asset of the CIA for over 30 years as part of the war on Communism.

“In the mid-1980s, Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative, told UPI the CIA had enjoyed “close ties” with Qasim’s ruling Baath Party, just as it had close connections with the intelligence service of Egyptian leader Gamel Abd Nassar. In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed this claim, saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-communist Baath Party “as its instrument.”

According to another former senior State Department official, Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim. According to this source, Saddam was installed in an apartment in Baghdad on al-Rashid Street directly opposite Qasim’s office in Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, to observe Qasim’s movements.

Adel Darwish, Middle East expert and author of “Unholy Babylon,” said the move was done “with full knowledge of the CIA,” and that Saddam’s CIA handler was an Iraqi dentist working for CIA and Egyptian intelligence. U.S. officials separately confirmed Darwish’s account.

Darwish said that Saddam’s paymaster was Capt. Abdel Maquid Farid, the assistant military attaché at the Egyptian Embassy who paid for the apartment from his own personal account. Three former senior U.S. officials have confirmed that this is accurate.

The assassination was set for Oct. 7, 1959, but it was completely botched. Accounts differ. One former CIA official said that the 22-year-old Saddam lost his nerve and began firing too soon, killing Qasim’s driver and only wounding Qasim in the shoulder and arm. Darwish told UPI that one of the assassins had bullets that did not fit his gun and that another had a hand grenade that got stuck in the lining of his coat.

“It bordered on farce,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official said. But Qasim, hiding on the floor of his car, escaped death, and Saddam, whose calf had been grazed by a fellow would-be assassin, escaped to Tikrit, thanks to CIA and Egyptian intelligence agents, several U.S. government officials said.”

And later, Saddam played a central role in US manipulations of the Iraq/Iran War:

“During the war, the CIA regularly sent a team to Saddam to deliver battlefield intelligence obtained from Saudi AWACS surveillance aircraft to aid the effectiveness of Iraq’s armed forces, according to a former DIA official, part of a U.S. interagency intelligence group…. According to Darwish, the CIA and DIA provided military assistance to Saddam’s ferocious February 1988 assault on Iranian positions in the al-Fao peninsula by blinding Iranian radars for three days.”

And where does the “we” come from that Fisk uses. That “we” could have gotten rid of him 15 years ago reveals exactly where Fisk stands in relation to Saddam and Iraq as well his arrogant assumption about the ‘warm welcome’ “we” would have received today had “we” done so. On whose behalf does Fisk make these statements? The CIA for no longer having any use for Saddam?

By dehumanising Saddam and removing him from history, from Western involvement in making the Middle East what it is today, Fisk serves Western imperialism’s objectives. One understands the propaganda of the Western governments far better, it has an objective no matter how hypocritical and lying but this kind of journalism does credit to no one, least of all to Fisk’s reputation for supposedly exposing US objectives in Iraq. Indeed, it makes a complete mockery of everything he has written.

No doubt I’ll be accused of defending Saddam but the issue is not about Saddam Hussein, who after all, is one of dozens of dictators to have been bankrolled by the West over the years from Guatemala to Zaire and who have butchered hundreds of thousands of people without a word of condemnation from Western governments or their accomplices in the media, let alone invasions. Comparisons of who was the most ruthless or bloodthirsty in keeping power are less than worthless for it tells us nothing about the reasons, anymore than do Fisk’s parodies of humanitarian concern.

Over the past few days, tens of thousands of words have been expended over the capture of Saddam Hussein with virtually all of it skating over the real issues and much of it wishful thinking, as if Saddam’s capture changes anything. As if somehow it justifies the invasion and occupation and that now he has been caught, it will be plain sailing for the imperium.

Fisk’s headline is “This dictator will continue to haunt Iraq”. But it should have read “In spite of Saddam’s capture, the occupation will continue to haunt Iraq”. By making Saddam the focus of his ‘humanity’ Fisk reveals the hypocrisy of the liberal mindset, that finds it convenient to focus on the individual rather than on the forces that created and maintained Saddam’s dictatorship for thirty years.

Would Fisk describe Ariel Sharon in this way I wonder, the man who described Palestinians as “cockroaches, to be crushed underfoot”? Where is Fisk’s outrage at the on-going Israeli occupation and murder of Palestinian men, women and children? By focusing on Saddam in this way, Fisk justifies the occupation, whether that’s his intention or not. Is it any wonder that the poor of the world hate the West when they see how they are portrayed by people who claim to be their friends?

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