Call me superstitious, but somehow I always tend to hope for the maxim that speaks: All’s well that ends well. And hence, certainly in the last week of this month, I had not imagined the year 2006 would leave such bitter memories behind.
It all started with one death: Gerald Ford’s. And ended with one execution: Saddam Hussein’s.
What has Ford got to do with Hussein? I would probably have not wondered aloud such an analogy on another occasion. After all, one was the celebrated president of world’s oldest democracy, and the other was the disgraced president of a dictatorial regime. For celebration of Ford’s legacies, there are museums, schools, world leaders and history books. For Hussein, only condemnations follow from all above quarters. We are observing memorial services cherishing the memories of Ford beginning Friday, whereas the global condemnation ceremonies to mark the former Iraqi head have started from Saturday. New York Times while pouring in rich tributes for Ford churned out a news story out of an obituary, headlined its editorial as “Gerald R Ford” to portray the legend on Thursday. And yet on Saturday, the liberal paper had made an editorial out of a hard news piece, and headlined its lead story of the day thus: “Dictator Who Ruled Iraq With Violence Is Hanged for Crimes Against Humanity.” Yes, that’s the headline from world’s most respected newspaper, not a sentence from some kangaroo court.
And yet, amidst the word-games of the colonial language that accentuates the stark differences perpetuated by its mainstream media masters, I am struck by few similarities between the two dead former leaders.
Both climbed the ladders of politics not through legitimate elections, but by assuming power. Ford quietly succeeded a corrupt tax evader Spiro Agnew to become the vice president, and with a lot of pomp and show, inherited a corrupt war criminal Richard Nixon’s throne to become the president. Similar “corrupt bargains” were made in Iraq for Saddam to remain in power. Hussein quickly ascended Ba’ath Party ladders without the credentials, political, military, or otherwise. And earned his fame and glory in his attempt to assassinate the then Iraqi head Abdul Qassim. Ironically, just like Ford who rose to power without any mandate except merely with approval from the US Congress, Saddam’s claim to fame was reached through the American interventions in Iraq to fund the Ba’athists to get rid of left-leaning Qassim. In a sure manner well recorded, but seldom quoted, the US war machine created both Saddam, and Ford.
A New York Times columnist in an editorial piece had done some elaboration, at least about Saddam, a few years back:
“The Iraqi leader seen as a grave threat in 1963 was Abdel Karim Kassem, a general who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy. Washington’s role in the coup went unreported at the time and has been little noted since. America’s anti-Kassem intrigue has been widely substantiated, however, in disclosures by the Senate Committee on Intelligence and in the work of journalists and historians like David Wise, an authority on the C.I.A.
From 1958 to 1960, despite Kassem’s harsh repression, the Eisenhower administration abided him as a counter to Washington’s Arab nemesis of the era, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt — much as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush would aid Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s against the common foe of Iran.
Then, on Feb. 8, 1963, the conspirators staged a coup in Baghdad. For a time the government held out, but eventually Kassem gave up, and after a swift trial was shot; his body was later shown on Baghdad television. Washington immediately befriended the successor regime. ”Almost certainly a gain for our side,” Robert Komer, a National Security Council aide, wrote to Kennedy the day of the takeover.
As its instrument the C.I.A. had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party, in 1963 still a relatively small political faction influential in the Iraqi Army. According to the former Baathist leader Hani Fkaiki, among party members colluding with the C.I.A. in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein, then a 25-year-old who had fled to Cairo after taking part in a failed assassination of Kassem in 1958.
According to Western scholars, as well as Iraqi refugees and a British human rights organization, the 1963 coup was accompanied by a bloodbath. Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the C.I.A., the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq’s educated elite — killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated. No one knows the exact toll, but accounts agree that the victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures.”
The US war mongers funded the Iraqi despot to continue murdering communists and innocent civilians. At the same time, back home, they got Ford to continue the same legacy. Not surprisingly, Ford became not just the only unelected president, but even the most unpopular one at his time. He pardoned without any conditions whatsoever the biggest war criminal of recent times: Richard Nixon, the officially recognized disgraced president. Like Hussein, Nixon was a zealot anti-communist, a massive war and hate proponent. And Gerald Ford whose six day national mourning continues with half-mast flags, was the greatest supporter of Nixon. He provided all the support that Nixon required to save face, and his life. And no, all thanks to Ford, Nixon was not hanged.
Times have changed. But times do not change philosophically on their own tunes. They change just the way the ruling classes decide. And as predicted, after an initial hue and cry by the marketplace of ideas, Ford continued to be cherished for having pardoned Nixon and saved America’s image. Saddam, soon after the demise of communist powers, was brushed off as forgotten legacy that could have otherwise tarnished America’s image.
Today, alas, if we recall history accurately in its sequence and reasoning and ruling class motives and working peoples resentments, there is just one fallen guy between the two. And not surprisingly, Ford has been pardoned.
But there is worse in store. Now that Saddam is not there anymore, perhaps true to the nature of obituaries, true to the nature of support lent to Ford’s legacies after his death, many of us would invariably see light in Saddam as well. In the battle of ideologies, perhaps it would seem as though Saddam fought a different battle than that of American power elites. And after much accentuation of these differences, the corporate media would have succeeded in establishing a hyper reality of virtues and vices. And the reification of historical insanities may again begin when we either pay rich tributes to Saddam to posit him against America or vice versa. Or like the European allies in the war, when we take the moralist positions against capital punishment in order to oppose Saddam’s death.
Saddam’s death should have been quite predictable. After all, those that stop serving the masters, are condemned to harsh course. It’s the masters that we need to beware of. The masters that enslaved Africa, colonized Asia, and impoverished majority of world population through global capitalism. If they kill their disobedient agents, that’s not a bother. We didn’t ask for the agent anyway. The point is we need not take the masters any longer either.
And neither do we want any more of their agents. Some of them may rally behind the masters, like Pinochet who died a natural honorable death recently. And some may yet go pose a challenge, like Bin Laden who may end up in Saddam’s shoes one day soon. But any indulgence in positing the agents against the masters is well playing into the plans. Its like supporting the European leaderships today who are their virtuous best in the criticism of American punishment degrees. Or listening to New York Times declaring how the criminal against humanity is our man no more.
Either way, we would miss the boat. The issue is not in differences between two such elements borne out of greed, competition and oppressions. Not the difference between Ford and Hussein. It’s the similarities among them that should make us shiver.
Brother Malcolm X used to open his address with: “brothers and sisters, friends and enemies.” If we succeeded in identifying the categories, we hopefully would have left the worst of times behind as we start marking a new year tomorrow.
(Originally published in Radical Notes)