January 5, 2004
Being under heavy sedation due to a bad case of flu combined with a dental or periodontal infection, this observer deeply empathizes with US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's health condition. Mr. Powell is recuperating from prostate cancer surgery and must have ingested lots of painkillers to alleviate his post-surgical discomfort. The question is whether he was under the influence of morphine or medical marijuana when he wrote his January 1, 2004 New York Times Op-Ed, "What We Will Do in 2004," for the towering views he presented looked far and apart from the situation we lowlanders see on the horizon -- undoubtedly a difference of altitude, if not attitude.
Since the piece was directed to the readers of the newspaper of record, so esteemed for its enlightened liberalism and far-reaching humanitarianism, one was not particularly surprised to read about "America's formidable power [that] must continue to be deployed on behalf of principles that are simultaneously American, but are also beyond and greater than ourselves." The cultish "power greater than ourselves" is a favorite of the lib-labs all over this blessed land. So is the rehashed, remarkably Clintonian cliché, "The challenges are many, for the world is full of trouble. But it is also full of opportunities, and we are resolved to seize every one of them." There's always a moment, in a country, to be seized!
More brow raising was Mr. Powell's assertion that "We have saved lives and redeemed the enslaved, and we will do more in 2004." Assuredly, the families of the over 10,000 Iraqi civilians that have been killed by the angel forces of liberation will be glad to hear the good news. Perhaps Mr. Powell, like (ret.) General Tommy Franks, does not do body counts, but his speechwriter could benefit from a visit to the Iraq Body Count Website. Redeeming the enslaved did not seem to make much sense. Did he have the Palestinians at heart? Thinking further about the inappropriateness of the expression we chose to take a pass; it brought to mind the 2002 comments made by Harry Belafonte, which out of courtesy for the good secretary, and simple decency toward the descendents' memories of US slaveocracy, we will not print here.
We were glad to learn that "The Afghan people now have a constitution, a rapidly advancing market economy, and new hope as they look toward national elections." One may wonder where Mr. Powell gets his daily news -- it can't be from The New York Times, for three days after the publication of those historic words, the Afghan constitutional grand council remains deadlocked, as the paper of note has been reporting before and after Mr. Powell's premature declaration. Does he, like his boss, rely on the unbiased and "objective" information from his aides? Then again, had this administration not accustomed us to the malleability of factual data, the Op-Ed page editor would presumably have rectified this obviously false statement...and we can only infer that Mr. Powell had opium in mind when referring to a market economy...
We were encouraged by the optimism, the determination and the resolve of the secretary of state -- once a military man, always a military man. He actually used the verb resolve no less than seven times in his 1,100 word compendium of all the wonderful things we can expect in this brave new year. "We resolve to expand freedom, . . . . We resolve to promote prosperity, . . . . We are resolved for peace . . . . We are resolved [to transform] the goal of a free and democratic Middle East into a reality..." Peace, Freedom and Prosperity resonate with us all; so he repeated these three words respectively six, six and four times (understandably prosperity can only be achieved once we have peace and freedom). Now that we have brought peace to Iraq, "saved lives and redeemed the enslaved," now that we are restoring security and stability, we are ready to help the Iraqis "establish a new citadel of free minds and free markets." Then, also in 2004, we will be "working for the advent of a free Cuba" -- the Cubans we are sure will be thrilled by the prospect. One resolve the secretary did not express, however, was finding Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, those very weapons he so intensely and with "great accuracy" described at the UN last fall when he made his formidable case, believed by the entire world, for a preemptive war against Iraq. Neither did he mention Osama bin Laden even though "al Qaeda remains a great danger." But these are details, whose relative significance was all but forgotten after we caught the mother of all evil-doers -- and Mr. Powell's post-surgery syndrome should account for this lapse.
We were also thankful to learn that "Americans are safer as 2004 begins than they were a year ago." Safety like faith must lie in the eyes of the beholder... and we know that Mr. Powell is a full-fledged member of a congenial team of believers and prophesiers. French, British and Mexican flights are canceled, airlines are shadowed by F16 military fighter planes, turned back in mid-air, required to make an emergency landing in Newfoundland to search passengers and baggage, and forced to post armed marshals on flights bound to the United States, all this because Mr. Bush asked his secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, on December 22, 2003, "Would you let your son or daughter fly on that plane?" (an Air France flight from Paris to Los Angeles that was deemed a high security risk) and as the secretary responded "Absolutely not," Mr. Bush said, "Well, neither would I." (Parenthetically, and out of pure curiosity, we would like to know whether Mr. Bush asked the same question to Mr. Powell, as well as Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Cheney, et al., before ordering the invasion of Iraq.) The national threat level was raised from an Elevated to High risk of terrorist attack (from Code Yellow to Code Orange), but, see, we are safer? Has Mr. Powell been using some of the Afghan number one free-market export product?
Let's talk about safety for a moment: When you go to pick up a friend at the airport, park your car in the parking lot, walk past military people with M16s in hand and cameras recording all your movements, fetch your friend, walk back to your car, pay the fare and see the parking lot attendant dutifully record your car's license number (through another camera); or when you stop on the side of the highway, some 100 miles north of any major city, and within minutes have a highway patrolwoman stop and ask what you are doing (not "Can I be of some help?") - uh, officer, checking the oil - and then methodically record your car's license number, some (certainly) deranged minds would think less about safety and more in terms of generalized paranoia. Travel to the relatively remote county of Mendocino in Northern California. You'll find out that all social services (education, health, etc.) are being curtailed for lack of funding but monies were found to upgrade security ($75,000 for equipment and $153,000 for personnel on a yearly basis). Surely, al Qaeda is planning a catastrophic terrorist attack on the Courthouse of Ukiah (try to locate the city on the map)! So what is it: safety, paranoia, or the slow emergence of a police state (or all of the above)? You be the judge. If ever another major attack occurs and that, in the words of the same retired General, Tommy Franks, "it causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution," you do not have to worry; you can feel truly safe, the system is already in place.
Different sedatives, different altitudes and attitudes, perhaps, but we sure would like to know on which planet the secretary lives and the kind of spell he is under. Still, we wish him a full and speedy recovery and all the best for 2004.
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Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.
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