Keeble McFarlane | [url=http://www.JamaicaObserver.com]http://www.JamaicaObserver.com[/url]
Now that George Bush the Younger has established thriving and vibrant democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq, he is training his sights on yet another candidate for a makeover.
Never mind that we have been seeing disgusting pictures of American reserve soldiers engaging in behaviour designed to humiliate and denigrate their Iraqi prisoners, most of whom are not guilty of any crime except that of being members of a lesser class of human beings (untermenschen, or sub-humans, in Hitler-speak). And never mind that because of widespread incompetence in the US occupation of Iraq, Washington has succeeded in doing something that no one else has been able to: unite the devout Sunni and Shia sects of Islam against them. And don’t pay too much attention to the wholesale privatisation of the military enterprise in Iraq.
After all, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and all the other merry men running things in Washington are totally wedded to a neo-conservative view of the world which believes that whatever is good for Bechtel and Halliburton is good for everybody else.
Afghanistan and Iraq have never really figured significantly in American consciousness, except as very exotic places with evocative romantic resonances. US business types were aware of Iraq as a place with lots of oil, which America’s insatiable, energy-hog industries and lifestyle cry out for - much as a junkie craves a regular fix. But September the 11th took care of that. Osama bin Laden may have thought he had struck a blow against the corrupt and decadent western way of life, but little did he know he had given the Bush League a perfect cover for its campaign against Iraq.
Don’t forget that George W had always had it in for Saddam Hussein, who, as he once blurted out before a television audience, “tried to kill my dad”. Bush had the world on his side when he went after Osama’s shadowy cohorts in Afghanistan right after the World Trade Centre disaster. But, as we have heard through several recent revelations, Bush never really had his heart in the Afghan exercise: Saddam was whom he wanted right from the beginning. Saddam was his fixation ever since George Bush the Elder yanked back the reins during Gulf War One and left the Baghdad regime intact.
And speaking of fixations, the United States has had, for a century and a half, a fixation about another country - this one right next door. Cuba was the first colony Spain established, and was among the very last to shake off Madrid’s onerous yoke. In the middle of the 19th century, when Cubans began agitating against Spanish rule, an American diplomat wrote that Cuba was like a ripe fruit that they needn’t even bother to pick, but rather just to hold out their hands and wait for it to fall on its own. That didn’t happen, but the Americans co-opted the revolution which did come about a few decades later. They took on the Spanish empire, which had by that time rotted from the inside, and defeated it handily.
Because of its own revolutionary history, the United States has created a myth about itself - that it is anti-colonialist and has no designs on having an empire. While that may be technically true, the US has colonised most of the world through its vast and powerful economic strength, as well as its all-encompassing cultural influence. It’s also done so by encouraging, or actually, arranging for, the installation of “friendly” regimes in countries all over the globe. Haiti is only the latest example.
In the case of Cuba, the US let it become nominally independent, but in fact ran the joint for the first three decades of its existence, and after that it was run by tame locals. Finally, along came a fellow called Fidel Castro who upset the whole dolly house and broke the trend. Four and a half decades later, Washington has still not forgiven Castro and has tirelessly campaigned to overthrow him and the revolution he built. Now, Castro’s Cuba is not by any means an example of Westminster democracy, but there is quite a high degree of public involvement in running things, especially at the local level.
Washington’s lack of subtlety in foreign affairs drove Cuba into the arms of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, and it is, indeed, one of the last holdouts of a now largely discredited ideology. In the early years, Castro did sponsor revolutionary types in other countries to make trouble for the whole US economic and military infrastructure throughout Latin America, but he gave that up when the Soviet empire collapsed a decade and a half ago. At the height of the Soviet muscle-flexing period, Moscow stationed nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, and backed off only after the US displayed an unusually nuanced use of military power. The Soviet leader also extracted from the Americans a pledge never to try to invade Cuba, as they had done the previous year at the Bay of Pigs.
But Bush the Younger is not one to observe international treaties or agreements. Witness his disdain of the Kyoto protocol on how to fight climate change, his abandonment of various treaties to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, his rejection of the international criminal court and his use of pressure upon small countries such as members of Caricom to toe the line or be punished. The last couple of weeks have provided the proof why he wouldn’t want to sign on to the court which would then be free to charge Americans with atrocities like the ones at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Recently we learned of a document sent by the Office of Foreign Assets Control to the US Congress reporting on its monitoring of financial dealings between Americans and foreign countries or individuals. The report shows that the agency assigned five times as many agents to look into violations of the embargo against Cuba as it did to track Osama bin Laden’s and Saddam Hussein’s money. OFAC said that between 1990 and 2003 it began 93 investigations related to terrorism, and since 1994 collected less than US$10,000 in fines for violations of terrorism financing. In contrast, the agency in that period initiated well over 10,000 investigations into possible violations of the economic embargo against Cuba, and since 1994 collected more than US$8 million dollars. Most of these were from people who sent money to Cuba, conducted business with, or travelled to Cuba without permission. This prompted a member of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus of Montana, to comment that “rather than spending precious resources to prevent Americans from exercising their right to travel, OFAC must re-align its priorities and instead work harder to keep very real terrorist threats out of our country”.
Then a couple of weeks ago we heard the recommendations of a commission Bush had named to decide what to do about Cuba. Unsurprisingly, the commission says the US should ramp up the pressure on Cuba and subvert the planned succession of Castro by his brother Raul. As Bush put it in remarks to reporters: “We’re not waiting for the day of Cuban freedom, we are working for the day of freedom in Cuba.”
Cubans, we have learned, are engaging in a practice which has become a feature of their time with Castro - they are mobilising yet again against the possibility of an attack from the United States.
It’s a movie we’ve seen before, unfortunately, far too many times.