Any noble intention can be twisted, perverted, and weaponised to produce the most troublesome results. Do you need examples? Consider the opposition to the invasion of Iraq. This opposition produced a mass movement across the western world and led to highly publicised million marches. Sadly, this movement could not stop the invasion which would unhinge an America already traumatised by 9/11 and almost Pavlovian conditioning by a highly ambitious political elite trying to capitalise on the paranoia generated by the said attacks to reshape the world. This invasion also broke the Arab world and through refugee crises made Europe highly volatile. It was a Republican president who made this invasion possible. And yet another Republican president honed the invasion-related grievance to demonise his political rivals including many Democrats who never supported the project.
Donald Trump, who originally supported the invasion on the Howard Stern show in 2002, would go on to claim that he opposed it and that it was proof that there was a swamp of dirty politics in Washington that needed to be drained. And who should drain it? Why, he, the Republican candidate, who else?
The conservative forces that supported his candidature from day one were essentially a product of the Tea Party movement, a nominally libertarian resistance to Obama policies which soon acquired highly reactionary and often racist overtones. Libertarianism on its own is a beautiful idea. But in these hands, it was to turn ugly.
When in 2008 Obama won, many of us, tired of the Bush Cheney administration’s endless wars and hunger for opening as many fronts as possible (remember, the axis of evil?) heaved a sigh of relief. The idea was that the newly elected president would close down Gitmo, end the war in Iraq and eventually in Afghanistan and we would return to normalcy. To many like this scribe, his election was incontrovertible evidence that America’s voting public was as wary of these wars and a post-racial society had arrived. But the system made all that nearly impossible. America’s conservative circles often accuse the Democrats of being soft on security. Then the new President was not just black (half black but who would care?) but had Hussein as the middle name.
So he was repeatedly asked to prove his patriotism, toughness in national security-related issues, and above everything else zero tolerance for terrorism which by now thanks to the Bush-era narratives was synonymous with Islam. He bent over backward but even that was not enough for his detractors. As the result of the presidential election was announced word got out that a mournful silence had enveloped the Bagram Airbase.
Bob Woodward in his book Obama’s Wars tells us the impact of the first intelligence briefing on the then President-elect Obama: “When Obama returned, his demeanour was different. He was more reserved, even aggravated. The transition from campaigning to governing — with all its frustrations — was delivering another surprise. His people, the inner circle from the campaign, and the brain trust of Democrats he had carefully assembled to guide his transition, were being excluded. The first customer-elect was going to have to go it alone.”
He had to retain Bush’s defence secretary and most of the security apparatus. Shortly before leaving power, former vice president Cheney said that a hasty withdrawal would destabilise the Arab world and Pakistan. When Obama tried to withdraw forces he had to contend with stiff resistance and snail-paced compliance. In his book Reign of Terror, Spencer Ackerman documents how Trump brought everyone who actively sabotaged Obama’s attempts to control Bush’s unruly War on Terror into his administration. And when the withdrawal from Iraq was complete the entire region exploded as a result of the so-called Arab spring. And today the Iraq invasion carried out by a Republican administration is a Republican talking point and grievance. Remarkable.
Any lessons here? Those responsible for failures often usurp the talking points of their critics and weaponise against them. Governance is a closed model. It takes a while for the criticism to reach the top and by the time it reaches there, those who had hitherto resisted it appropriate it, reshape it to suit their agenda, and put it to use while simultaneously disempowering the real critics. To know why this happens you have to simply look at the cast of characters. From major businesses that profited from the invasion to the public office holders who ended up on the boards of those companies. And allied countries too. Want names? Remember the country Saddam would attack with his missiles? Also, the country that was actively supporting armed resistance against the Taliban before 9/11? Israel and India. While Israel’s main activism stems genuinely from concerns about survival, India’s is driven by ambition to become a superpower. Territorially it wants to absorb all small neighbours and globally it doesn’t mind rising at the cost of its main benefactors.
Speaking of India, here is another interesting example of innocent ideas being hijacked by the wily bunch. Have you seen a movie called Munna Bhai MBBS? The story of an affable goon whose bark is worse than his bite and who in the end wants good things for everyone. Remind you of someone? Why, Narendra Modi’s portrayal in the media and to a lesser extent now of Yogi Adityanath. Any idea can be perverted, you see.
Yet another example. Today, Hindutva politics might be used to terrorise India’s minorities and disenfranchise the lower castes but its proponents try to couch the whole project in the name of decolonisation. Likewise, cow protection values come from Jainism, the world’s most pacifist faith and yet it has been used to kill innocent minorities.
If you want to study the origin of the rhetoric that is unhinging the west today you will need to see the kind of brainpower, money, and effort that is going into it. It seems Democrats in America and liberals everywhere else can’t seem to catch a break. Within minutes their victories turn into dust. Then take note of how dissent has been crushed in the above two countries that were coalition partners in the war on terror. And finally who has access to the western resources. If you are told Russia and China are doing it, it is a bald-faced lie. China doesn’t have access; Russia doesn’t have resources.
The Bush administration’s eight years hardened the security apparatus of allied states. Their intelligence agencies internalised and normalised the visceral hatred of the cultural other, the enemy. Now the tail is wagging the dog. And your antiviruses are programmed not to catch these viruses.
Add to it the rise of billionaires and business executives that have risen in the intervening period. Causes that are close to Elon Musk’s heart from Trucker rally in Canada to reports of ghettoisation of his black workforce. Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook and its role in the 2016 Cambridge Analytica scandal. If in the face of so much evidence you cannot put two and two together, you are programmed not to notice it and it means the future of mankind is doomed. And even if you do, where is the reset button?
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2022.