Monday, May 24, 2004 printed those comments of mine in reaction to Bush's speech (you can get a free one-day pass to the site):
"George W. Bush is certainly concerned about his reelection. His plummeting popularity in the polls explains his need for "a major" speech on Iraq. He may have sounded convincing to those in the U.S. who know little about Iraq and who do not follow foreign affairs closely. But for Iraqis (and Arabs in general) Monday's speech will go down as yet another desperate effort to be added to the series of U.S. propaganda campaigns that followed Sept. 11 and the two subsequent U.S.-led wars.
The major problem with how Bush's rhetoric plays in the Middle East is that it assumes that Arabs and Muslims can easily be manipulated by empty words about "freedom." Will Iraqis really care that Bush has now decided to demolish the Abu Ghraib prison? Will that erase the horrific crimes of Saddam -- and those of the U.S. occupation that followed -- behind the prison's walls? The pictures of U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib will stay in the Iraqi and Arab collective memory for a long time to come.
Bush insulted the intelligence of the Iraqi people with his latest speech in more ways than one: He talks about free elections, freedom and democracy, when all Iraqis, including children, know full well that an Ayatollah who has not left his house in six years (ali-Sistani) insisted on free elections, while the leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority fiercely opposed them. He tells Iraqis that they will have full sovereignty, and yet assures the military audience before him that he will send additional troops if they are needed, and that all troops in Iraq will serve under U.S. command. What kind of sovereignty is that? Bush says that American "technical advisors" will stay in key ministries; Arabs will surely take note of the thousands of American "advisors" that were in Vietnam.
Bush and neoconservatives still foolishly refer to a "free Iraq" as a model for the region. They may be right -- if other Arab populations are eager to incorporate into their lives daily car bombs, shootings by soldiers at checkpoints, torture of prisoners by liberating armies, the rise of fundamentalist groups and violent militias, clerical control of political affairs, and many empty promises of democracy. Colonization does not work in the 21st century, and the Iraqis who suffered under Saddam will settle for nothing less than full independence."
(PS: I learned a lesson. I should have asked to approve the edited version. I feel that I was toned down; the original was much more strident and "angry.")