Iraq: Democracy Or Doublespeak?

Sarah Whalen

In 1913, US President Woodrow Wilson announced he?d invaded Latin America for democracy ? to teach its peoples “how to elect good men.” In 2002, President Bush told the world the US must invade Iraq because it possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush?s confidant, warned that Iraq could launch these weapons within 45 minutes. This “information” reached the US public, which understood its government to describe missiles loaded with lethal warheads, pointed straight at America. Sobered by the 9/11 atrocities, Americans rallied, spending blood and treasure and destroying Iraq?s infrastructure.

Working on peoples fears, winding them up week by week, the warmongers achieved sufficient public panic that a war was inevitable.

Working on peoples fears, winding them up week by week, the warmongers achieved sufficient public panic that a war was inevitable.

America now knows France and Germany were right ? Bush?s WMD claims were bogus. Now, US taxpayers and broken American and Iraqi families turn to Bush and ask, “What happened?” Bush replies that he really needed to teach Iraqis how to elect good men. But is this democracy, or doublespeak?

“Doublespeak” is a grouping of words that creates an impression of reality, but is mere illusion. This is nothing new. Americans used doublespeak to deceive North American Indians into leaving their ancestral lands. Americans made promises and treaties carefully worded to create one impression, but later found to mean something entirely different.

The Indians, dispossessed, complained that “white men” spoke with “forked tongue.” Their language had no word to describe Americans? especially duplicitous form of lying. “Forked tongue” ? a split-ended snake?s tongue going two opposite ways ? was as close as they could come to describe an American mouth in which one set of single-sounding words came out in two opposite-meaning directions.

Donald Rumsfeld says that there are an unknown quantity of WMDs in one of his hands. We have to guess which one.

Donald Rumsfeld says that there are an unknown quantity of WMDs in one of his hands. We have to guess which one.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld mastered doublespeak regarding Iraq?s alleged WMD: “You know,” Rumsfeld said, “there are known knowns; there are things we may know. We also know that there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns ? the ones we don?t know we don?t know.”

Anyone still unhypnotized by Rumsfeld’s repetition might be simply confused. For when Secretary of State Colin Powell addressed the UN pre-invasion, he flourished copious documents purporting to prove Iraq?s WMD as “known knowns.” In victory, WMD became “known unknowns” ? we just “knew” WMD were in Iraq, but cleverly hidden ("unknown"), and we would find them soon.

But now, Bush acknowledges Iraq?s WMD are actually “unknown unknowns.” They might have once existed, we will never know whether or how they disappeared, and it matters not because Saddam was “insane,” “the Middle East is dangerous,” and we shut down “weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.” Thomas Jefferson would not be pleased. Americans, fundamentally a decent people, used doublespeak to adjust their sensibilities, having learned that they went to war on a whim and a lie.

US doublespeak exported abroad is nuanced differently, assuring Iraqis that the whim and a lie have been for a noble cause: Democracy. “Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of democracy?” Bush asked in November 2003. He declared: “I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.”

Iraqis took “democracy” and “right to be free” to signal prompt elections based on one man, one vote, majority wins. But in doublespeak, elections are now a “related program activity” of a group selected by the US to select other groups who will then select still others, ultimately leading to a government that the Bush administration thinks is best for Iraq. And America.

A double-win for doublespeak. Or, in the classical musings of Rumsfeld: “There will be some things that people will see. There will be some things that people won?t see. And life goes on.” But Iraq has an imam listening carefully to every word the Bush administration utters, and his followers took to the streets declaring that “related program activity” was not enough ? they wanted democracy.

Iraqis have plenty of experience of freedom and democracy, USA-style. For the moment, they'd rather have one person - one vote.

Iraqis have plenty of experience of freedom and democracy, USA-style. For the moment, they’d rather have one person - one vote.

Faced with Iraqi throngs unfooled by doublespeak, the Bush administration panicked. The US does not fear Shiite vengeance on Sunnis and other minorities as much as it fears that one man, one vote, majority wins, may become standard practice in the Middle East, and this will further complicate life with Israel as its Jewish population?s birth-rate dwindles down.

In doublespeak, timing is important. One fork in the American tongue tells the world that Iraqis are so clever, so intelligent, and so capable that they made WMD without detection. So brilliant that they devised mobile laboratories disguised as moving vans that secretly manufactured toxic biological weapons. And the other fork in the tongue says Iraqis are too ignorant, too immature, and ingenuous to handle democracy just now.

Pre-invasion, Bush called the Iraqis devious geniuses. Post-invasion, they are suddenly hapless dupes. Well, which is it?

What the Bush administration seeks is a few years? grace period to educate Iraqis for their great future. And why not? The University of Baghdad is only 1250 years old. Maybe by giving Iraqis two or three more semesters of additional study, the US can teach them how to elect good men.


Published Friday, February 20th, 2004 - 12:51pm GMT

Sarah Whalen is an expert in Islamic law and teaches law at Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Article courtesy of Arab News

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Sarah Whalen



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