Friday, September 21, 2007

In Which I (Initially) Defend George W. Bush

The president is getting a lot of flak for saying this:
I thought an interesting comment was made when somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, where's Mandela? Well, Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.
C'mon. I'm pretty sure he knows that Nelson Mandela is alive, or at least that Saddam Hussein didn't literally kill him. And even if he doesn't, the context of the comment was clearly about hypothetical Iraqi versions of Nelson Mandela, as symbol of a pan-nationalist struggle for political power, not the actual Nelson Mandela as a living, breathing human being.

Still, people are making a lot of cheap jokes at Bush's expense, citing it as another example of his ignorance. It's not. It's an example of his imprecision with language. But it's also an example of his willful, calculating mendacity. On the eternal question, "Stupid or lying?," this one's closer to the latter.

The thing about Mandela is, he didn't just appear on the scene when the South African regime toppled over. He was one of the reasons it toppled over. He was imprisoned for decades precisely because of the threat he represented to the state. His imprisonment played a large part in mobilizing opposition to apartheid and the S.A. government throughout the world, and in its eventual downfall. He was the very epitome of a political prisoner. When he was released, and the vote was extended to blacks in South Africa, it was natural that he would be elevated to power. Same thing happened with Gandhi, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, etc. (Yeah, Castro, too.)

Now here's the thing. Before the invasion of Iraq, the neocons constantly assured America that we would be greeted as liberators, welcomed with flowers and candy, it would be a cakewalk, etc. Was there, at that point or at any point during Saddam's rule, an Iraqi version of Mandela or Gandhi? Was there someone inside of Iraq, under house arrest or in some gulag somewhere, who served as a symbol of internal political opposition to Saddam? I never heard of anybody like that.

Which is not to say that there wasn't widespread underground resistance to Saddam and the Ba'athists. And maybe Bush is right, that Saddam didn't merely toss his opponents in a dungeon somewhere, but actually killed them (all) -- although the horror stories about Saddam's use of Abu Ghraib would seem to contradict that. If so, Bush should've invoked Steve Biko, not Nelson Mandela.

The most visible political opposition to Saddam, pre-invasion, was a group of exiles called the Iraqi National Congress, centered in London and headed by Ahmed Chalabi. This was the guy put forth by the Bush Administration as Iraq's Nelson Mandela. Their post-invasion plan was thus the underpants gnome-like:
1. Topple Saddam.
2. ?????????????
3. Profit.
...with number 2 being some vague notion of "Chalabi runs things, somehow."

But, as Donald Rumsfeld said at the time, democracy is messy, and their designated Mandela didn't fare too well:
Chalabi failed to win a seat in parliament in the December 2005 elections, and when the new Iraqi cabinet was announced in May 2006, he was not awarded a post. Once dubbed the "George Washington of Iraq" by American neoconservatives, he has fallen out of favor and is currently under investigation by several U.S. government sources. He is also wanted for embezzling nearly $300 million through a bank he created in Jordan.
So the real answer to the question, Where's the Iraqi Mandela?, is he's currently under investigation by our own government, and he's wanted in Jordan. Heckuva job, Ahmed. Mandela never polled like this:
In August 2003, the U.S. State Dept. conducted a poll among Iraqis and Chalabi was the only candidate whose unfavorable ratings exceeded his favorable ones... In a survey of nearly 3000 Iraqis in February 2004 ... only 0.2% of respondents said he was the most trustworthy leader in Iraq...
So Bush was -- gulp! -- wrong: there was an Iraqi Mandela, one that Saddam didn't kill, one that we armed, funded and marketed, one that we groomed to take over while we were declaring Mission Accomplished, and one who was soundly rejected by the very people he was supposed to lead to glorious democratic peace 'n stuff.

So was there really a qualified, legitimate Iraqi version of Mandela somewhere in the world in March of 2003? Who knows. But such a person had not self-identified on the world stage, and counting on the Bush administration and its enablers to identify him or her, if one existed, is like asking a monkey to find a unified field theory. After all, this is the same crew that formed a vice presidential search committee headed by Dick Cheney, which then recommended as vice president ... Dick Cheney. These are the same guys who knew for certain that the WMD were in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.

Bush thinks he is Truman, Churchill and Lincoln if only they'd been personally blessed by the baby Jesus, so why shouldn't Chalabi equal Mandela? It is typical of these clowns to put forth a charlatan like Chalabi where a Mandela is called for, and then to proclaim that no one could have foreseen that anything would go wrong with their brilliant plan. Pathetic.

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