In George Orwell's novel 1984 everything was stood on its head. The Ministry of Plenty presided over universal poverty. The secret police was renamed The Ministry of Love. Last, but by no means least, there was the Ministry of Truth, which specialised in lying propaganda.
In the first hours of the present war it became immediately evident that the systematic manipulation of public opinion was a weapon in the hands of London and Washington which is being deployed in the same way as the Cruise and Tomahawk missiles. The Ministry of Truth is now working at full steam, 24 hours a day.
This is a very necessary activity. US imperialism shows its teeth, but for the sake of public consumption, it must appear in a most civilized and acceptable light. The task of presenting a monster as a gentle giant with only the interests of suffering humanity at heart is entrusted to a certain breed of half-human creatures who appear in what are amusingly termed "White House briefings".
Nobody knows where these creatures come from, but they appear with monotonous regularity in any great national crisis, where the public needs to be reassured that their destinies are safe in the hands of the Great and the Good. The latest reincarnation of this strange breed is one Ari Fleischer, whom nobody knew before and nobody will care to know afterwards.
They are all well dressed men of middling age, slightly balding and of respectable appearance. The last point is vital, since one is only inclined to listen to blatant lies when they are pronounced with a person of gravitas and great respectability.
Second, they must resemble as closely as possible the robots and android creatures one has got used to seeing in films like Star Wars. Their facial muscles must be so designed as to betray no hint of human feeling. They must have no heart, no soul and no conscience, and only as much brain as is strictly necessary to read the prepared texts handed to them fifteen minutes before the start of the session by the Pentagon.
The delivery of this information that contains no information must be delivered in an absolutely flat and monotone voice, most closely resembling a machine. So much so, that one expects from one moment to the next that the speaker will suddenly dry up and will have to be wound up like a watch or have a small coin inserted into his left ear in order to recommence.
Above all they must have no sense of humour that might betray them whilst reading the most monstrous assertions contained in these prepared sheets of paper, such as the one Mr. Fleischer has just read.
This contains the assertion that Mr. Bush is not at all isolated on the world stage, as we all mistakenly believed, but that in fact he enjoys great popularity and unquestioning backing among innumerable nations.
The 'Coalition of the Willing'
The Coalition of the Willing, according to Mr. Fleischer, is a huge and growing body of nations, that are flocking to the banner of the United States. There are, we are informed, at least 35 such nations, on every continent, numbering 1.8 billion people with a GNP mounting to trillions of dollars.
Who are these most willing nations? Here Mr. Fleischer returns to his best robotic mode. Some of them, he says, are publicly willing, whereas others are only privately willing. That is to say, some of these great allies are rather timid and unwilling to give their names. Others, however, are very willing - willing, in fact, to do almost anything that George W Bush requests of them.
It is therefore strange that so few of them are willing to send troops to Iraq. That pleasure is reserved for a select group of old friends: the Americans, the British and the Australians. Never mind, though. The other 32 or so are "with us in spirit".
Among those that are "willing in spirit" though absent in the flesh are - Latvia, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The last-named is a nation in name only, with a government whose writ does not go further than the boundaries of Kabul and whose President is only able to stay alive thanks to his American bodyguards. The extent to which Afghanistan is able to hold an opinion of its own in world affairs is therefore open to reasonable doubt.
According to President Bush these are nations who feel deeply about "peace and freedom". Among these, Israel is one of the most willing of all. Yet the White House for some reason never speaks about it. The fervent commitment of this nation to peace is, of course, known to the entire world.
Then there is Uzbekistan. The fact that this country is ruled by a vicious and brutal dictator who tortures and murders opponents should in no way detract from his commitment to the cause of freedom.
There is also Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic. These are the nations of Donald Rumsfeld's "New Europe", aspiring bourgeois regimes that are willing to stoop to any depths to get praise (and investments) from the USA. But this does not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of Poles and Hungarians.
The latest issue of Newsweek admits: "Between 70 and 80 percent of Hungarians, Czechs and Poles are against an American war in Iraq, with or without UN sanction." Even Vaclav Klaus, the "pro-American, Thatcherite free marketer- said last week that on Iraq his position was aligned to that of his people." That is to say against the USA.
It is therefore quite clear that the whole thing about the Coalition of the Willing boils down to a gigantic fraud. Even the figure of 35 states is a trick. It has been put forward because George Bush senior had a coalition of 30 states in 1990, and junior wants to go one better. However, papa had an actual coalition of 30 real states, including France, Russia and Germany, whereas junior has only a ramshackle and largely fictitious collection of countries of second and third rate importance.
The Coalition of George with Bush
In the days of the decline of the Roman Republic, when Julius Caesar was in the process of seizing power, people joked that they were under the consulship of Julius and Caesar. Legally there were supposed to be two consuls but the other one was really only a convenient fiction to disguise the fact that Caesar held all the power and took all the decisions on his own.
In the 21st century we now have the Coalition of George with Bush.
The 1.8 billion population that is said to make up this "Coalition" is probably explained by the presence of Latvia. The colossal wealth is probably a result of the GDP of Afghanistan, and the firm commitment to democracy is doubtless explained by the presence of Uzbekistan.
Turkey, while decidedly not willing to allow American troops to pass through its territory to attack northern Iraq, was duly thanked by Mr. Bush, (through the mouth of Mr. Fleischer), for kindly allowing the Americans at least to use Turkish air space for the purpose of pulverising the cities of Iraq.
But just at this point something unforeseen occurred. An American journalist asked Mr. Fleischer an awkward question: Had any concessions been given to the Turkish government in exchange for the favour? For instance, had the Turkish army been given a free hand to intervene against the Kurds in northern Iraq?
Fleischer froze for a split second, then immediately reverted to his robotics: there had been talk of a sizeable amount of money set aside to bribe Turkey into becoming Willing. This money, said the inexpressive Mr. Fleischer, was no longer on offer. "And on the second half of your question I have nothing to say."
In other words, yes we did give such an undertaking. In exchange for permission to overfly Turkish territory to massacre Iraqis, the Turkish army will be given permission to enter northern Iraq and massacre Kurds. A simple act of exchange - and as everyone knows, fair exchange is no robbery.
Blair's 'talking heads'
The Americans, to be fair, do not have a monopoly on these robotic creatures. The British, as on all other questions, have proved to be most adept at imitating styles developed on the other side of the Atlantic.
During the Kosovo conflict, we saw the emergence of one, Jimmy O'Shea (or some such name: they are too insignificant to remember) - never seen before or since. In reality our Jimmy was only selected for the same reason that Lord Robinson (the "brain of Britain") was made General Secretary of NATO - to avoid putting an American in the front line. They needed a "front man".
But as a spokesperson for NATO Jimmy (or was it Jamey?) was not entirely a success. He looked and sounded too much like a second-hand car salesman from Croydon (and very possibly was). He sometimes fumbled his lines, and even lost his temper with the journalists. This would never do! The Americans obviously gave their British friends some serious words of advice.
As a result Jimmy's place in the media has now been occupied by a bureaucrat called (what's his name) O'Brien. This individual closely resembles the kind of flint-faced schoolmaster every schoolboy learns to hate. He is almost as good as the American talking heads, except that an imitation can never be as good as the original from which it was copied.
The improvement is immediately obvious. Here is an unusually perfect ability to tell the most atrocious lies without even the slightest movement of the eyebrows. The man is a Phenomenon. He does not even blink. He never smiles. His eyes stare at the television cameras with a kind of glazed expression, as if he is not really there, as if he is in another galaxy. Maybe he is.
These talking heads come in all different shapes and sizes, but they are identical in both style and content. These "desiccated calculating machines" are a faithful expression of the hollowness, the banality, the cynicism, and at the same time the hard-hearted, cold-blooded cruelty of the political and military machines whose servile creatures they are.
However, they have some hope of bettering themselves and even rising to high office under New Labour. They can take hope from the man who is now the Minister of Defence, Geoff Hoon. Mr. Hoon has experienced a truly remarkable rise to fame. He is a middle class nonentity, who has just realised the most treasured dream of all nonentities - to become somebody.
A couple of years ago nobody had ever heard of him. Whenever his name was mentioned, people would ask, Geoff WHO? But Geoff is now at the very centre of world attention. He is universally respected and admired, especially in the Conservative Party. This is not at all surprising, since Geoff Hoon speaks like a Tory when he addresses the House of Commons. He also looks, acts and thinks like a Tory.
Now according to the rules of Logic, if someone looks like a Tory, speaks like a Tory, and acts and thinks like a Tory - then he is a Tory. The fact that he sits on the Labour benches is really a slight accident, or a comical misunderstanding. Mr. Hoon's speeches on the Iraq war provide all the proof necessary to demonstrate this assertion.
Mr. Hoon takes his responsibilities for Defence very seriously. He even visits the troops at the front line - or very near it. He arrives fresh from London in a snappy suit and delivers a few words of encouragement to "his boys", most of whom are young working class kids from Sunderland and Liverpool who have joined the British army to escape from unemployment.
These lads have only recently arrived in the Gulf for a conflict of which they understand little and care less. Their main interest is to get the thing over as soon as possible and go home to their families. Their equipment is a mess. Their boots are melting in the desert heat (no problem, says the ministry, just take them off occasionally and let them breathe). Even their uniforms were the wrong colour (green is not an ideal camouflage for the desert). They are sweltering inside their protective suits, gas masks and body armour in soaring temperatures. They are about to risk their lives, to kill and be killed. But never mind, that nice Mr. Hoon has come from London to see us.
As the British squaddies were dutifully lined up by their officers to meet the elegant Mr. Hoon, we have an excellent idea of what they thought about him and the comments they passed once the officers were out of earshot. But these would be unprintable.
In this unjust war of aggression, the young working class kids are being sent by the likes of Hoon and Blair to fight in a cause not of their making. We sympathise with them and their loved ones at home. But our attitude towards the so-called Labour ministers who sent them there is one of the most profound indignation.
How long do we have to tolerate this situation? How long will the name of Labour be disgraced by a bunch of Tory politicians who only entered the Party to further their own careers and have hijacked it and turned it into a tool for big business in Britain and US imperialism abroad?
Is it not high time the rank and file and the unions took a big broom and swept the lot clean?
Lahore, March 21, 2003.
Postscript: Bush's Turkish Delight
Events are moving with breathtaking rapidity. The ink was not dry on my article when the surprise news was announced that Turkey has denied the US air force access to its air space. This is a slap in the face for Bush and a serious set back to his war plans.
The shock was even greater since yesterday this had been announced as a "done deal". What is the reason for the setback? Without having the possibility to read the reports in detail, I venture the following explanation.
Washington had based its plans on the idea of attacking on two fronts, from Kurdistan in the north and from the south.
The problem from the start was that the Turkish regime would never agree to an independent Kurdish state in the north, and would send in the army to prevent it from coming into existence. This would mean war with the Kurds.
As long as the US army had 60,000 troops in the north, it could be reasonably assumed it could keep things under control. But now the whole situation has changed. Mass opposition to the war in Turkey has ruled out the presence of US troops on Turkish soil. In retaliation Washington has cancelled the promised economic aid to Ankara. Thus, Turkey must face the heavy economic consequences of the war with no help. Relations between Turkey and the USA (two NATO "allies") have deteriorated sharply.
But even then the haggling continued. It was generally accepted that Turkey would grant the USA access to its air space. But there were conditions: the main one was that the Turkish army should have a free hand in northern Iraq.
This provoked alarm among the Kurds who were preparing to resist the Turkish forces with arms. The prospect loomed of a separate war in northern Iraq. Instead of fighting the Iraqi army in the south, the Kurdish forces would be fighting the Turks in the north.
The Americans were put in an impossible position, and the negotiations broke down. Now Washington faces the worst of all scenarios. The Turkish army will not renounce its "right" to intervene (in "self defence") in Iraqi Kurdistan. There is nothing the Americans can do to stop them. It is not excluded that the Turkish imperialists will seize Kirkuk, to get possession of the oil fields. In any case, a bloody chaos will ensue.
Bush's adventurist policies has opened up a series of deep fault lines everywhere. After the splits in the UN, NATO, the EU and the G8, comes an open split between the USA and one of its two main allies in the Middle East. Now we see that there are cracks opening up even in the American congress over the budget deficit and Bush's plans for military expenditure and tax cuts for the rich.
Two days after the commencement of hostilities, the American plans are unravelling with astonishing speed. We have no doubt that the Washington Ministry of Truth will find suitable explanations for all this. But the fact is that the situation is now spiralling out of control.