Counterpoint 2004
The Bush of Babylon
By Louis Benedict and Ameen Izzadeen
As our world moves at terrifying speed into the final week of a tumultuous 2004, it is appropriate, if not ironic, that the somewhat timeless TIME magazine has chosen the recently re-elected US President George W. Bush as the Person of the Year. The cryptic citation by TIME says President Bush had changed the rules of world politics, meaning that he and his Republican Guard have the absolute and unquestionable right to decide how the world should be run or where it should go and any who agree could become allies in their coalition of the willing while those who disagree are branded as terrorists to be marginalized, smoked out and exterminated.

The coronation of President Bush as the Person of the Year is symbolic of his unwritten but overriding status as the uncrowned emperor or Texas Caesar of the biggest and most devastating empire in the history of the world. On issue after issue and area after area - especially in regions still rich in oil and natural gas resources - the world sees Texas Caesar and the American establishment, including giant global corporations, gradually taking control. The domination through exploitation and sometimes plunder is seen to be imposed in the political and socio-economic spheres with religion being added in recent years as a sign of what is referred to as the abomination of the desolation.

The uncrowned king or modern emperor without moral clothes is widely seen to be projecting himself as a new messiah and playing god like the Burning Bush of Exodus though the symbolism is marred or muddled with the role of an oppressive Pharaoh also coming into the same personality.

Significantly, or sadly, the most powerful force behind the huge popular vote for President Bush was a religious power consisting mainly of members of the white evangelical churches of the United States. It is known that field marshals and five-star generals of the Bush campaign went from church to church, and state to state, projecting him as a new messiah, largely because of the strong stand he was taking on moral issues like abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research. On that basis, several million white evangelical church members came out in full strength for President Bush, prompting or provoking Britain's outspoken Daily Mirror to ask in a front-page banner headline as to how 59 million Americans could be so dumb.

Abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research are indeed moral issues. But the British Daily Mirror and Third World analysts asked whether those millions of Americans were unaware, unconcerned or insensitive to the killing of some 100,000 civilians, including women and children, in Iraq since the pre-emptive, unilateral US attack in March last year. In this Christmas season, Christians mark Holy Innocents Day to commemorate less than a hundred infants known to have been slaughtered by King Herod's soldiers after the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. But when the Bush empire slaughters 100,000 innocent civilians in Iraq and the massacres continue day after day, it is not seen as a moral issue. Truly, truly, did Jesus Christ identify the hypocrites who would strain at an ant but swallow an elephant? It appears to be part of a decadence, or horrifying degeneration, where the Gospel preached by the poor Jesus of poor Nazareth has been hijacked by the new empire and we see today the widespread propagation of American Christianity, corporate or capitalist Christianity, with its prosperity Gospels and the market on the altar. The corruption and cancer are so malignant in every sphere that award-winning Third World analyst Arundhati Roy warned recently that hallowed concepts like democracy, free elections, free media and an independent judiciary were becoming meaningless to billions of ordinary people because those concepts were more like commodities available to the highest bidder in the globalised capitalist market.

The bloody anarchy or the virtually apocalyptic scene in occupied Iraq - mainly Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, Ramadi, Kerbala and Najaf - continued to be the main headlines for 2004 with the most devastating attack on US troops being launched at a Mosul military base on Tuesday.

The Bush administration and the US-created interim Iraqi government are insisting on going ahead with the January 30 general elections though on a staggered basis while even the besieged United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, at a news conference on December 21 where he analysed the world situation said he did not wish to comment on whether the situation in Iraq was conducive to free and fair elections. One of the host of obstacles and negatives is that the Iraqi authorities largely regarded as US puppets have been able to recruit only about 35,000 to the police force in contrast to a target of some 145,000.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with his flair for inventing or concocting weapons of mass destruction or mass deception, made a secret visit to Baghdad on December 21 for talks with the interim government and said he believed Iraq was on course to become a free and democratic country as a model for the world, though many questions would be raised whether it is a model or a muddle.

Mr. Blair apparently hoping to do a Bush at the British general elections next year tried to repair his image with a dramatic peace bid in Northern Ireland but it fell at the fence over the Protestant hardliners' demand for photographic evidence of the decommissioning of IRA weapons. Globally, Mr. Blair is personally leading a campaign to fight AIDS and poverty in Africa and his latest project is an international conference on the West Asia issue.

A moment of destiny for the world in 2004 was the death of the legendary Yasser Arafat who had given powerful leadership to the Palestinian people for half a century. Known and widely-acknowledged as Mr. Palestine, Mr. Arafat, like all leaders, had his weaknesses, limitations and a desire for personal glory or gain such as exemplified by the vast financial assets under his control – some of which were allegedly misused by his wife Suha. But overall, he was respected for his courage, vision and goals in a life that had clear direction, determination and dynamism.

After surviving in a ramshackle Ramallah room for the last three years under Israeli siege, the dying Mr. Arafat finally agreed to leave his beloved homeland and go to Paris for medical treatment. Though clinically dead, Mr. Arafat was reported to have been kept alive for several days while Palestinians and Israeli officials battled over his last wish to be buried in Jerusalem. Ariel Sharon's Israel flatly refused, so Mr. Arafat was buried in Ramallah but the Palestinians brought loads of soil from Jerusalem to be put over his coffin so that it was a symbolic mix of Ramallah and Jerusalem. If the physical Arafat could not break a potentially catastrophic deadlock in West Asia, his spirit seems to be opening some hopeful doors, but the journey towards a lasting peace might be as uncertain and circuitous as the Exodus journey with many a cliff and valley.

The dim light of a distant star in a region, which many fear might be the scene of Armageddon, began to shine after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak surprisingly declared that the hawk of hawks, Ariel Sharon, might be the only Israeli leader through whom a lasting peace could be achieved. Mr. Sharon then moved with typical lightning speed to form a coalition with the pro-peace Labour Party of Shimon Peres who was appointed as deputy prime minister and put in charge of the upcoming Gaza withdrawal of Israeli troops. Israel also released some 190 Palestinian prisoners apparently as a gesture of goodwill and support for Palestinian moderate Mahmoud Abbas who is seeking election next month to succeed Mr. Arafat as Palestinian leader. But some analysts believe Mr. Sharon’s Gaza plan is aimed at formaldehyding the West Asia peace process.

British Premier Blair appears to be taking world leadership in defusing and settling the West Asia crisis at a time when President Bush is largely talking of constructive engagement in the region while focusing mainly on the so-called war on terrorism and the economic expansion of the US global empire.

US Secretary of State Collin Powell - widely seen as a relatively moderate figure in an otherwise hardline administration - is quitting next month, leaving further questions hanging over the United States' West Asia policy. Surprisingly, most of the Cabinet Ministers of the first Bush administration have resigned while the controversial hawk of hawks, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, stays on though even some Republican leaders see him as a lame Donald Duck.

In Asia the most stunning or sensational event of 2004 was the dumping of the high-walking Vajpayee administration which had boasted of an economic boom but found itself blasted to pieces in the general elections in May. The wholesale market economic policy of the BJP government had left 700 million rural Indians marginalized and dispossessed on or below the poverty line. They spoke loud and clear at the general elections to discard the BJP and bring in the Congress Party under Sonia Gandhi. But the Italian-born widow of former premier Rajiv Gandhi sacrificed the most powerful post in the world's biggest democracy because she was aware of what might happen on the altars of religious bigotry. She thus paved the way for the Manmohan Singh administration to take over in a United Progressive Alliance with socialists and other parties.

The potentially cataclysmic issue in Asia - the Kashmir dispute between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan - remains on a no-peace-no-war fence though some hopeful signs including Test matches between the two countries are on the scorecards.

In Afghanistan, another vital front for the strategies of the new global empire, the first presidential election was held in circumstances as explosive as the situation in Iraq. Hamid Karzai, virtually handpicked by the US, claimed victory amidst major controversy while the new empire's most wanted man Osama bin Laden remained as the major player on the world scene, striking when and where he wants and terrorizing the Bush empire with regular video and audio tapes.

The year in perspective would show Osama bin Laden - though projected by the empire as the main devil of terrorism - emerging stronger and being seen by more as a voice of the Third World to prevent the empire from plundering and taking control of the world's remaining resources. At present the rich world comprising only about 15 percent of the world's population controls or manipulates some 80 percent of the world's wealth and resources. The new empire has much but wants more. Third World analysts believe the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were more a matter of gaining control over energy resources than fighting terrorism. Wherever energy resources are available, the empire also sees Osama bin Laden and wants to pursue an alleged war on terrorism. Many analysts see Syria and Iran as being the next targets on the empire's hit list and the weapons of mass deception have already been put in place with Iran being accused of secretly preparing nuclear weapons while Syria is alleged to be a haven for world terrorists and Iraqi insurgents.

Ultimately any potential Armageddon might be between the new empire or the new Babylon comprising less than 15 percent of the world's population and the Third World comprising nearly five billion people. China and India were widely seen as potential leaders of the Third World struggle but with the rich and ruling elites of those countries taking them also into capitalist globalization, the leadership of the Third World might eventually emerge from the wilderness with the stone that the empire builders have rejected becoming the cornerstone of a new world.

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