When you’re prosecuting a war, and you want to get people behind your cause, personifying your enemy is a pretty good way to motivate people. It gives them something to focus their hatred on. There are thousands of examples of this throughout history, even in America’s relatively brief history we’ve had a pretty decent share of them. After 9/11, that personification came in the person of Osama bin Laden. George W. Bush made it a point to single him out, using a lot of Old West terms like “Dead Or Alive” or “He Can Run But He Can’t Hide.” And rightly so: bin Laden has been using terrorism against the United States for many years. President Clinton did a lot to try to capture him during his term (despite the numerous lies being spread by the corporate media), but there were limits to what he was able or willing to do in order to accomplish that. George W. Bush didn’t recognize those limits, and was quite willing to launch a war against Afghanistan in order to to get bin Laden. And while we’ve succeeded (to a point) in removing the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the actual person is missing, and no one seems to be talking much about that right now.
When Iraq was made the focus of our war machine, Saddam Hussein was made into the next personification of war. It’s all well and good to say that the reason this came about was because we needed to make people forget that we had failed to find bin Laden, and there is some truth to that, but Hussein has been a poster boy for regime change for the Bush administration since long before 9/11. Bush’s father, for his own reasons, stopped short of getting him twelve years ago. President Clinton did an excellent job keeping Iraq contained (despite the numerous lies being spread by the corporate media), but was unable or unwilling to launch a war for the purpose of removing him from power. George W. Bush was willing to launch a war against Iraq in order to get Hussein, and while we’ve succeeded (to a point) in removing the regime, the actual person is missing, and no one seems to be talking much about that right now.
My question, then, is a simple one: where is Osama bin Laden? And where is Saddam Hussein? The answer, unfortunately, is a lot more complex.
Rumor has it that bin Laden escaped when a group of US Special Forces were delayed during the assault on the stronghold of Tora Bora, and that bin Laden, who supposedly is hooked to a kidney machine, escaped into Pakistan. The Bush regime has claimed that it’s likely bin Laden was buried somewhere in the rubble, but without a body it’s hard to know for sure. They have played down his disappearance, saying he’s been “marginalized,” but they put a lot of emphasis on getting bin Laden personally, so it’s important that we get some sort of evidence proving something one way or another. Fighting between US forces and those of the Taliban are still going on near the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, and the Bush regime is steering clear of tough talk when it comes to nuclear-capable Pakistan. So what happened to bin Laden?
It’s possible that he’s dead, killed in the bombing of Tora Bora or elsewhere, and that can be quite dangerous. Because if he is dead and we just haven’t found his body, his “voice,” manufactured by who knows who, can continue to manipulate his followers from beyond the grave. And even if proved dead, he would be a martyr for the terrorist’s cause for years to come.
It’s also possible that he escaped. Many countries would take bin Laden in, and Al Qaeda has branches worldwide, including, I’m sure, some in the United States (though I doubt very much he would be hiding here somewhere!). But if he escaped, the question remains: did he do so because, like Jean Valjean, he was able to stay one step ahead of the authorities, or did he have a little help from the ones supposedly chasing him?
The fall of Baghdad has raised some interesting questions: first of all, the fact that no chemical weapons, or other “weapons of mass destruction” were used by Hussein adds credence to the arguments by anti-war spokespeople (such as myself) that they never existed, which shatters a major argument for the war. Also, the amount of resistance within the city dropped tremendously as soon as US forces reached the city, after a short delay. Consider that Baghdad is a city of five million people, making it among the larger cities in the world. A concerted effort by citizens aided by a smaller, more organized military force to resist an assault of a city that size would mean massive losses on both sides: look at Stalingrad, or more recently, Grozny. American military superiority is based upon air power, and in such a setting all these advantages are useless. With such resistance, taking the city could conceivably take months, even years.
But the resistance never materialized, and US forces took control in less than a week. What happened? That the civilian population never rose up is no surprise: most of them simply left before the bombing began. Many others, with good reason, saw no purpose in fighting to support Hussein. But that doesn’t explain why an estimated ten divisions of Hussein’s Republican Guard, thousands of his most loyal troops, suddenly disappeared, along with the civilian leadership of Baghdad. What happened to them?
Considering how many bombs we dropped on Baghdad, it’s quite possible that we’ve killed all or most of them. Even if Guard units decided, for their safety, to hide in civilian population centers to avoid being attacked, that may not have saved them. Much as I hate to say it, the US military has used weapons against civilians before, I see no reason for them to have stopped now. But honestly, I don’t consider this to be likely. The best soldiers understand that to survive to fight another day is the most important thing.
It’s also possible that they escaped, as a group, to a neighboring country, though this is even less likely than the above option: we certainly would have seen such a massive troop movement, and besides, who would take them as a group? Hussein pissed off a lot of people in the Arab world, the only reason other Arab nations are defending him is because they see the US as a greater, common threat, which of course we are proving to be. A more reasonable explanation is that they simply mixed in with the civilian population, and the number of discarded uniforms that have been found makes this scenario pretty likely. Another possibility is that they never existed in the first place, at least not in the numbers our military said. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve lied about enemy strength in order to manipulate people into using overwhelming force.
Since there’s as of yet no definitive knowledge of where Hussein is, rumors are beginning to circulate: one is that the US made a deal with him to move him out and relocate him somewhere, or that Russia agreed to take him in. Similar stories have been told about bin Laden, and frankly, given the secretive history of the Bush family and the CIA, anything is possible, and the sad truth is that we will probably never know the entire truth of the matter. Consider this: while Osama and Hussein are two very different men with very different motivations, they both have one thing in common. They were both CIA operatives receiving the support of right-wing Republican administrations (often without the knowledge or consent of members of Congress), who turned against the US. But if we know anything about the affairs of powerful men, we know that their actions are often not so much a matter of things like justice and law so much as they are matters of advantage and disadvantage. It’s not inconceivable that, in order to secure a swift military victory which makes them look good politically, they would be willing to cut such a deal even with men like Osama and Saddam, hiding them away in obscurity, perhaps even to be killed when the moment is convenient.
But while there is certainly motive for doing just that, this also might simply be a case of screwing up. Having a military as large as we do, and relying as we do on superior technology, can make smaller objectives more difficult than larger ones, and our technology can be used against us. Osama, for example, is said to have gotten away in part because we were tracing his cell phone, and he led us away from him by doing nothing more complicated than giving it to someone else. And there is always the matter of normal human nature: jealousies between the different services, or between different units within the same service, the need to keep some things secret, all of these things can contribute to a big enough breakdown that would allow a single person to escape our net.
One other thing we know for sure: that the Bush regime isn’t that much different in application than that of Saddam Hussein, just infinitely more powerful. Both are ideologues with an over–inflated sense of self-importance who either disregard the rule of law or use the law as one of many tools to suppress opposition. Both will use religion as a means of motivating people whether they believe in the religion or not, and both will say one thing publicly while doing the opposite in private. And finally, both have no qualms about killing anyone who poses a serious threat to their power.
This is where the Bush regime is ultimately wrong. It believes that it’s just a question of having an overwhelming amount of military force. But wise leaders know when and how to use force when trying to reach a goal. Ideologues never change their minds and never change the subject, and you deal with them by striking sideways, cutting off the sources of their power: fear, hatred, resentment, poverty, hopelessness. But in order to do that you have to be setting a precedent, and the precedent they have set is horrible: they lie so often and so badly that it’s blatantly obvious to anyone whose main source of news is something other than FOX. Look at what’s happened in Afghanistan. We’ve forgotten all about them because we’re so focused on Iraq. When (not if) we attack Syria, Iraq will have fallen by the wayside, and when we attack Iran, Syria will also be forgotten.
A skilled regime would have been able to secure the proper international support that would have legitimized the need to remove Hussein before striking, winning not only the war, but the peace as well. You can accomplish goals more easily when you establish a foundation of trust by keeping not only your promises but the promises of previous administrations, recognizing that you are merely keepers of the law, and not the law itself.
But instead of a foundation of trust, we’ve built one from scorn. From day one the Bush regime has made its position clear: we are the rulers of the world, and you do as we say or pay the price. We do not recognize international laws and agreements, except of course when it’s to our benefit. We do not recognize and will ignore agreements made before we came to power, even if sometimes they benefit us, because to do that would legitimize the former administration which we have demonized. Rights only come into play between equals in power. The strong do whatever they want, and everyone else does whatever they can.
They don’t even care about whether Osama or Saddam, their two personifications of evil, have escaped, or even if the impression is given that they had something to do with their disappearance. In their minds it increases their power by throwing the opposition off-guard. How much do they know? What are they hiding? While we’re busy trying to grasp it all, they’ve already moved on to the next stage, whatever that may be. It’s a web of deceit and deception as complex as the Gordian knot. But just as Alexander did, we can break that knot by cutting right through it. And when we do, we’ll learn a great deal. We may even learn what’s happened to Osama and Saddam.
Joseph Vecchio, a veteran of both the US military and of the internet, is a freelance writer. His daily blog, “Pax Liberalis,” can be seen at http://joevecchio.blogspot.com. He contributed above perspective to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Georgia, USA.