Stupid Leaders, Useless Spies, Angry World

By Cockburn, Alexander | The Nation, May 17, 2004 | Go to article overview

Stupid Leaders, Useless Spies, Angry World


Cockburn, Alexander, The Nation


The stark fact that significant portions of our planet are under the supervision of exceptionally stupid and ill-informed people is provoking unwonted expressions of anger and alarm. It is hard to think of people more demure in rhetorical comportment than senior envoys of the UN or the British Foreign Office. Yet here we have Lakhdar Brahimi, a UN Under Secretary General and adviser to Kofi Annan, erupting like a soapbox orator.

"There is no doubt," Brahimi told France Inter radio, "that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination and the suffering imposed on the Palestinians, as well as the perception of all of the population in the region, and beyond, of the injustice of this policy and the equally unjust support ... of the United States for this policy.... There are quite a few other people on this planet, and the Americans should also make an effort to learn how to live with them." A few days later Brahimi was at it again, this time on ABC: "What I hear [in Iraq] is that ... these Americans who are occupying us are the Americans who are giving this blanket support to Israel.... So how can we believe that the Americans want anything good for us?"

Of course there was a tactical motive in Brahimi's outbursts. As the Baghdad-based executive of the UN's role as after-sales service provider for the United States, he is trying to establish some street cred with Iraqis as he labors to cobble up a puppet government, with roll-out ceremonies scheduled for the end of June. So he can afford to thumb his nose as protests about his indiscretions pour in from New York and Washington, not to mention Tel Aviv. As he demonstrated in Afghanistan, Brahimi is a sedulous servant of empire, handpicked for his Baghdad assignment by the White House. But his outburst had an unusual edge just the same.

Brahimi's ripe denunciations were echoed by a squadron of fifty-two retired British diplomats who fired off an unprecedented Striped-Pants Manifesto to Bush's poodle at 10 Downing Street. They denounced Bush's recent endorsement of Sharon's plans as "one-sided and illegal" and as an "abandonment of principle," occurring in the midst of what is "rightly or wrongly ... portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as ... an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq." After further withering denunciation of the coalition in Iraq, the diplomats warned Blair that "there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."

Anyone questioning the charge that we are enduring remarkably stupid leaders (with no relief in sight, given John Kerry's recent public statements on the Middle East) need only skip through Bob Woodward's account, in his latest respectful palace handout, Plan of Attack, of the Bush Administration's march toward the attack on Iraq. There are a few interesting disclosures, such as that my heroine, Laura Bush, was opposed to the war, but the prime impression one carries away from Woodward's airless pages is of a White House utterly secluded from reality. If Bush had walked out of the front gate to Pennsylvania Avenue, hailed any taxi and asked its driver to give him a briefing on the world situation, he would have done better than with what was served up to him by his staff and by CIA chief Tenet on a daily basis. …

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