Beyond Good and Evil

The following is an article from an Australian paper, The Age. It is an article by journalist Richard Neville looks at some of the U.S. policies and media reporting in the context of the War on Terror. You can see the original article at

Beyond good and evil
Richard Neville
The Age
April 15 2002

On the morning of September 12 last year, my head still reeling from the previous night's footage of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, an e-mail burst forth from a US marine. "I bet people like you are happy now," it said, "probably smiling inside a little, thinking 'glad it put you in your place' or 'maybe now they won't be so damned arrogant'. I promise you that won't happen, we will be stronger."

This message, like several hundred others of varying sentiment, was inspired by the May 19 cover story in Good Weekend, "American Psycho". The marine had been "meaning to write" since picking up the magazine on one of his frequent visits to Sydney and wanted to republish the essay in his homeland. "I think Americans should know what people like you think of us, and our values. Tell me, what makes you so right, and us so wrong?"

The soldier's anger that morning was understandable. At that moment I regretted my failure to make clear that my quarry was his country's imperial state of mind, as seen in its foreign policy and cultural overkill, and not his warm-hearted compatriots, most of whom are oblivious to the deeds done in their name.

George Bush the First had flaunted this imperiousness with a gritty phrase on the eve of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro: "The American way of life is not negotiable." If that's so, I argued in these pages, then it will eventually cost the rest of us an arm and a leg and a lung; maybe more. While I would rather live in the shadow of the White House than at the mercy of sharia law, the policies of Washington, I came to realise, reflect the ruthlessness of corporate America, which treats other lands according to their rating: market, mine, sweatshop or basket case. Uncle Sam's rapaciousness is both driven and disguised by a mix of pop culture, mass media, brand fetishism and propaganda so clever and tantalising that most of us feel the sooner we're indoctrinated into the American Dream, the better. Hey, don't stop the music.

The events since 9/11 have heightened my concerns. The wounded Goliath is on a rampage - armed to the teeth, adored by the polls, unfettered by law, answering to no-one and licensed to kill. Western nations fall in behind the furious avenger, beguiled by the notion of civilisation protecting itself, striding forth with the flame of freedom. Our commentators applaud. The "axis of evil" speech is hailed by The Australian's foreign editor as a "key defining document of the new era" in which George W. Bush guides us beyond the "magnificent" Cold War strategy of deterrence to the brave new magnificence of "pre-emption", where the US upholds democracy, topples tyrannies and makes the world a better place.

A better place for whom? Some see Uncle Sam as he sees himself - a Santa Claus for all seasons, dispensing lollies, global justice, gadgets, Oscars, blue-chip stocks and fizzy beverages. Others see him as the school bully in charge of the tuckshop. Perhaps it's a case of split personality: a good Uncle Sam and a bad Uncle Sam. America provides more freedoms, thrills and opportunities for its own citizens than can be matched by any other nation. The good Uncle Sam regards this as a hot franchise to market for the betterment of all. The bad Uncle Sam wants to preserve the cash flow at head office by any means necessary, even if it destroys the planet and all the wretches who get in the way.

Bush's "new kind" of war in the name of freedom is actually an old kind of imperial excursion to extend America's grip on the wealth of the world. A wealth which belongs to everyone.

But instead of a misnamed bombing spree, which incubates terror, what the world needs most is an ongoing, unconditional fairness revolution to eradicate the roots of rage. Such a sweeping global ethic is absent from the priorities of the millionaire mogul hawks who run Washington, but it was briefly glimpsed at street level in the rubble-strewn surrounds of the twin towers.

New Yorkers responded to the attack with courage and compassion, refuting their caricature (by me) of being a bunch of hard-nosed money-grubbers bent on ripping off their best friends. A store-owner handed out sports shoes to the women fleeing the mayhem, so they could fling off their high heels. "That is a New Yorker," noted a senator, "and there are millions of us." This surge of mateship was matched by a spell of self-examination which offered hope for how the White House might deal with the attacks, once the President could be located. "Let us take time to deliberate," suggested a foreign relations expert, who argued that military force would be less effective in undermining terrorists than a demonstration of restraint. Others, too, urged the US to hold its fire, and avoid further suffering. The UN or World Court could put Osama bin Laden on trial, "even in absentia", condemning him and his network as criminals. Some called for a period of deep reflection. These voices were submerged in a sea of flags as the loudspeakers blared God Bless America. Network anchors dressed like brigadiers and frowned over maps. Newsweek beat the drum for military strikes, covert attacks, confiscation of assets, rapid arrests, closure of safe houses, the boosting of state power, regardless of the "prattling of civil libertarians". For the rest of the world it was, mysteriously, "the end of the free ride" (sic). Foreigners could no longer "denounce America by day and consume its bounties by night". Our own commentators, adopting the mantle of honorary Americans, echoed these sentiments like drunken parrots, dismissing the few doubters as traitors.

When the twin towers collapsed, so did America's sense of invincibility. Perhaps this is why the grisly deaths in Manhattan seemed so much more shocking and outrageous than the deaths of hundreds of thousands of terror victims elsewhere in the world. The mob wanted vengeance. "The response to this unimaginable 21st-century Pearl Harbour," roared Australian expatriate Steve Dunleavy, a columnist for Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, "should be as simple as it is swift - kill the bastards. A gunshot between the eyes, blow them to smithereens, poison them if you have to. As for cities or countries that host these worms, bomb them into basketball courts." And so it came to pass.

When the world's mightiest air force unleashed itself on the world's poorest nation, the result was never in doubt. Carnage, and lots of it. Among my reasons for opposing the action in Afghanistan was the awkward fact that the Taliban, however insufferable, did not plan or execute the attacks on the US. But why let the truth get in the way of a sitting duck? The Taliban was a vile theocracy which subjugated women, mutilated criminals and disallowed free speech. It deserved to be crushed. Maybe so. In which case, so does our coalition ally Saudi Arabia.

Until recently, the Taliban was seen as a commercial ally. In 1997, its officials were flown to George Bush's home state of Texas, where they barbecued T-bones beside a swimming pool with the vice-president of the oil giant Unocal. With less than five per cent of the world's population, the US consumes over a quarter of the world's oil, for which it relies heavily on imports. On the Unocal agenda was siphoning at least 60 billion barrels of oil (maybe up to 270 billion) from Turkmenistan, part of the last great resource frontier. The plan was to pump black gold across the landlocked wastes of Afghanistan, through Pakistan to a terminal in the Arabian Sea. Until recently, these talks were thought to have collapsed in December 1998, when Unocal pulled out, citing civil unrest.

In fact, soon after its election, the Bush Administration resumed the talks, believing the Taliban could be trusted to support the pipeline, as it supported the War on Drugs. (Washington handed the Taliban $US42 million to suppress the cultivation of opium poppies, now back in bloom.)

Another party to the pipeline negotiations was Enron, the famously bankrupt energy trader which, with Washington's backing, managed to deregulate, privatise and vandalise several developing nations. Enron's disgraced chairman, Ken Lay, a former Pentagon economist, was the biggest single investor in George W. Bush's campaign for president. In return, Lay was able to appoint White House regulators, shape energy policies and block the regulation of offshore tax havens. Enron had "intimate contact with Taliban officials" according to a report in the Web newspaper Albion Monitor, and the energy giant's much-reviled Dabhol project in India was set to benefit from a hook-up with the pipeline.

These negotiations collapsed in August 2001, when the Taliban asked the US to help reconstruct Afghanistan's infrastructure and provide a portion of the oil supply for local needs. The US response was reportedly succinct: "We will either carpet you in gold or carpet you in bombs." The notes of this meeting, which took place only weeks before the strike on America, are now the subject of a lawsuit between Congress and the White House. Was the Taliban really destroyed for harbouring terrorists? Or was it for failing to further the ambitions of Texan millionaires?

At the end of last year, George Bush appointed Zalmay Khalilzad the US special envoy to Kabul. Another appointee, the likable, green-gowned interim president, Hamid Karzai, is credited with setting up a post-Taliban pro-oil regime. Both men are former consultants to Unocal.

Apart from a thirst for revenge and a thirst for oil, the official reason for the bombing of Afghanistan is to eliminate terrorists. In that case, why isn't America bombing itself? The US is both a retirement village for seasoned terrorists and a traditional training ground, as others have argued in detail. Prominent torturers, executioners and death squad commanders from Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti and even Pol Pot's Cambodia have been resettled in suburban serenity, far from their former killing fields. Florida reportedly seethes with a multitude of hot-blooded anti-Castro saboteurs and hijackers.

The future supply of career sadists is guaranteed by the US Army's training centre at Fort Benning, Georgia, formerly renowned as the School of the Americas, which makes the al-Qaeda camps seem like a Teletubbies picnic. Among its alumni are South America's titans of torture, including the former head of General Pinochet's secret police.

When George Bush depicts his fellow citizens as "good" and his quarry as "evil", it mirrors the mindset of his enemy, the holy warriors against Great Satan. And it means anything is permitted. In Washington, the torture of suspected terrorists by the FBI and other agencies - either with "a truth serum or beatings" - was promoted at the highest level. The captives at Guantanamo Bay, hooded, bound, head-shaved and spotlit, are deemed the "worst of the worst", and denied the protection of the Geneva Convention. Those tainted with al-Qaeda connections have been secretly sent to lands where torture is legal, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report which cites the CIA-friendly regimes of Egypt and Jordan. One diplomat crowed: "It allows us to get information from terrorists in a way we can't do on US soil." The procedure of extradition is bypassed.

America was congratulated for the speedy assembling of its "coalition", conjuring up an image of the steely, speedy Orcs mustering Hobbits, with Tony Blair bouncing up and down to prove his inner Orc-hood. America defined the goal, led the chase and dictated the strategy. It seemed puzzling, back in October, that so little time was spent in trying to cut a deal with the Taliban. (Nothing was known then of the oil imbroglio.) Instead, a deadline was peremptorily set to hand over Osama ... or else. Not such an easy task, as it turned out. Was there any other way? Perhaps, with time, dollars, pressure from Pakistan and the mediation of senior Islamic clerics, the Taliban may well have been enticed to join the hunt.

The more the war dance hotted up, the stranger became the mood. So much so, I fel