We have been through this many times before, with the lies echoed predictably from Downing Street. In 1986, there was the "evil" Colonel Gaddafi, whose country President Reagan bombed from bases in Britain, killing mostly women and children, including Gaddafi's 16-month-old daughter.
In 1990, there was the "evil" General Noriega, said to be a dangerous drugs trafficker, whose capture by US Marines required a full-scale invasion of his country and the death by bombing of at least 2,000 Panamanians, mainly the poorest of the poor in their barrios. Noriega and drugs had precious little to do with it. The aim was to put Panama, its canal and its US base under direct American sovereignty, managed by other Noriegas.
In the same year, there was "the truly evil" Saddam Hussein, another one of Bush's and Reagan's old pals, whose regime they had armed and backed (along with Margaret Thatcher, who sent most of her cabinet to Baghdad as supplicants or arms salesmen). Saddam's use of American and British weapons in his attack on the "evil" mullahs in Iran in 1980 was perfectly acceptable. A million people died in that "forgotten" war; and the American and British arms industries never looked back.
Alas, Saddam, the nominal victor, then attacked the wrong country, Kuwait, which is effectively an Anglo-American oil protectorate. He was clearly unreliable: "an uppity bastard", as one State Department briefer described him more in sorrow than anger. Punishing the uppity bastard cost as many as 200,000 Iraqi lives, according to a study by the Medical Educational Trust. These were ordinary Iraqis who died during and immediately after a period of military and economic carnage whose true scale has never been appreciated outside the Middle East.
This old fashioned colonial massacre was called the Gulf war. The dead included thousands of Kurdish and Shi'a people who were Saddam's bitter opponents and whom Bush had called upon to rise up against their oppressor. Long after it was over, New York Newsday revealed, from official sources, that three brigades of the US 1st Mechanised Infantry Division - "The Big Red One" - had used snowploughs mounted on tanks to bury alive Iraqi conscripts in more than seventy miles of trenches. A brigade commander said, "For all I know, we could have killed thousands."
This is a war crime.
The following year, Bush attacked Somalia in what was called a "humanitarian intervention". He was in the midst of his re-election campaign. Bush said the Marines were doing "God's work... saving thousands of innocents". Like his moralising over the Gulf war, this was generally accepted by the British media, with honourable exceptions.
American television crews were waiting as the Marines landed in a beautiful African pre-dawn; "prime time" at home. From the Somalian side there was perpetual darkness; "chaos" and "tribalism" and "warlords". When the American warlords had completed their adventure in Somalia and taken the media home with them, the story died, as we say. According to CIA estimates, the Marines had left between 7,000 and 10,000 Somalis dead. This was not news.
Soon after he was elected in 1992, Clinton attacked Baghdad with 23 Cruise missiles. These destroyed a residential area, killing, once again, mostly women and children, including Iraq's most distinguished artist, Leila al-Attar.
Interviewed on his way to church with his wife, Clinton said, "I feel quite good about this, and I think the American people feel quite good about it." The pretext for the attack was an Iraqi "plot" to kill George Bush on a visit to Kuwait. There was no hard evidence and the plot story is now widely regarded as fake.
Two years ago, Clinton attacked Iraq again, this time insisting that he was "defending" Kurds against Saddam Hussein, who "must pay the price". Once again civilians - television's unpeople, I call them - paid the price.
Earlier this year, Clinton very nearly attacked again. Virtually the same footage of missiles looking sleek against the dawn light, courtesy of the Pentagon, appeared on British television. What stopped him?
Like spontaneous combustion, public opinion all over the world raised its voice. The cameras had also shown glimpses of Iraq's silent holocaust, the consequences of the imposition of "economic sanctions" by the United States and Britain (under the usual UN flag of convenience) against the Iraqi civilian population, notably its children.
Tony Blair said he wept for the children who were killed in Omagh by a terrorist act; but he is silent on the children who die in Iraq as a result of one of the most enduring terrorist acts of the late 20th century, conducted largely by his government and its principal ally.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the World Health Organisation, both UN agencies, more than half a million children have died as a direct result of sanctions. Other sources put the figure at over a million. Baby food and enriched powdered milk are blockaded, along with vital hospital equipment: stethoscopes, X-ray machines, medical swabs, scanners and water-purifiers.
As for the news of Clinton's latest attack, the surreal stereotypes are back on parade: the flag burning, embassy-storming, bearded, wild men of Islam - "the enemy of the future", says Washington. Forget that not only have Muslims been responsible for a tiny proportion of deaths caused by terrorism, but in recent years it is they who have been the greatest sufferers from state terrorism. The limbs found lying in the rubble in Khartoum and Afghanistan are theirs; the terrible burns shown fleetingly on TV are theirs.
All, of course, are unpeople: the victims of an unerring pattern of ruthless, lawless terrorism, imperialist by nature and infinitely greater than that of any Islamic or Irish group. It is time to stop sniggering at the distractions of this rampant power and to recognise the truth about it and to speak out.
John Pilger 1998Reuse content