Sat, 06 Dec 2003

Former U.S. President drives home hard truths

Mushahid Hussain Inter Press Service Islamabad

Addressing the Geneva Initiative on Palestine last week, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said something that the world, particularly Muslims, has long believed but which no prominent U.S. public figure dared to say publicly since Sep. 11.

The linkage of U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly Palestine, with anti-U.S. sentiment and violence has been understood in European capitals and made by Muslim statesmen. But U.S. political and opinion leaders were immune to such commonsensical linkages.

Carter was blunt in saying that courtesy of the Bush Administration's policies, "the well-being of the Palestinian people has been ignored or relegated to secondary importance".

Then came his punch line at a Dec. 1 meeting of the Israelis and Palestinians who have prepared an alternative peace plan for Palestine since the road map of the Bush administration simply unraveled in the face of Israeli intransigence and U.S. acquiescence to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's hawkish line.

Carter said: "There is no doubt that the lack of real effort to resolve the Palestinian issue is a primary source of anti-U.S. sentiment throughout the Middle East and a major incentive for terrorist activity."

If Carter had the courage to speak the truth, others close to the U.S. administration are only coming out with half-truths.

It is popularly said that "truth is the first casualty of war". Or as Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister, famously remarked, truth being so "precious" had to be "protected by a bodyguard of lies".

For instance, one of the leading neo-conservative hawks who pushed war with Iraq, former Defense Policy Review Chairman Richard Perle was quoted by The Guardian this month as admitting the illegality of the Iraq war.

He said: "I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing (and) international law would have required us to leave Saddam Hussein alone."

He could have added that the entire Iraq war was based on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction, since none have since been found because they do not exist.

The current U.S.-led "war on terror", particularly the Iraq campaign, is no exception to the universal rule regarding truth being the first casualty of war.

On Nov. 29, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, announced that attacks on U.S. troops "have declined by 30 percent in the past 14 days".

Within 48 hours of the general's comments, U.S. troops had their biggest military clash of the escalating insurgency, killing 57 Iraqis.

Statistics provided by the Pentagon show that November is by far the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq, with 79 deaths in 30 days.

The secretive and surreptitious manner of U.S. President George W Bush's arrival in Baghdad for his 150-minute journey during Thanksgiving recently is testimony to the concern over lack of security given escalating attacks by a still unidentified, covert resistance within Iraq.

But the cover-up of the truth is not confined to policymakers. Take newspapers like The Washington Times, a conservative publication, which retracted and apologized in its Nov. 24, 2003 edition for a story it had originally published on Sep. 15 this year.

In that story, the Times had falsely accused an Oregon-based Muslim non-profit charity, the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, of "links to al-Qaeda".

Earlier in June, The Washington Post retracted and altered, but without any apology, its story on Private Jessica Lynch, whose "heroic deeds and rescue" during the invasion of Iraq were conjured up to an uncritical media that lapped up the myths without seeking the truth.

In a recent interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Jessica Lynch herself said: "They (Pentagon & Press) used me and it hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about."

She questions the purposes of the Iraq war in the new book about her by Rick Bragg, I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story: "I wish we hadn't been there -- I wish it had never happened."

If truth is a casualty of war, truth also has its rewards as Australia's former intelligence analyst, Andrew Wilkie, discovered on Nov. 29.

In protest over his country's involvement in Iraq, Wilkie resigned from Australia's intelligence outfit in March. The United Nations Association of Australia gave him the Whistleblower of the Year Award, and he said it would encourage him to "keep speaking out".

Influential voices in the United States are now calling for a return to Iraqi sovereignty by placing political primacy on the role of the United Nations.

The New York Times, in its Dec. 1 editorial, underlined that "international legitimacy can only come from the United Nations". It added: "It is in everybody's interest to get the United Nations back into Iraq as quickly as possible."

The fact of U.S. isolation from the moderate Muslim mainstream is evident also from the comments of a prominent U.S. Muslim whom Bush had nominated to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Khaled Abou el Fadl, a visiting professor at Yale Law School, told the Egyptian weekly October that Bush is "a Christian religious fundamentalist and that the group around him, of the likes of (deputy Defense Secretary) Paul Wolfowitz and others, hold the same beliefs that accompanied colonialism's entrance to the Muslim countries in the 19th century".

Such views are all the more reason that Carter's remarks have great relevance. If the Bush administration sits up and listens to this Nobel Laureate, there will be hope that the yawning chasm between Washington's policies and the Muslim world's perceptions can be bridged.