By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Illustration by Bob AulOne day while smoking Osama bin Laden out of his hole, I chanced to bite him on the leg. "Hmm, kinda smoky tasting," I thought, but the even stronger impression was "This is the most unsavory leg I have ever bitten. Yerch!"
The word from the Bush White House is that we must deal with unsavory characters from time to time to keep our country safe. But how unsavory must they be? When considering the list of the worst bogeymen who have troubled our sleep over the years—bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, et al.—the common denominator was that all had been in bed with the U.S. intelligence community. Hell, even Lee Harvey Oswald swapped saliva with the CIA.
Just recently on a CNN Town Meeting, Senator John Edwards (D-North Carolina) gave a splendid non-answer to a college kid who asked how the U.S. hoped to stop violence when we're the world's largest arms supplier and continually associate with bin Laden's ilk. Ignoring the bulk of the question, Edwards explained away our past with Mr. Unsavory Leg by saying that he was just the sort of "dark side" character the president was saying we'd needed to infiltrate these terrorist organizations.
This missed the point that our Dana Rohrabacher-inspired operatives didn't recruit bin Laden to infiltrate terrorists but to be one, albeit a "good" terrorist trained and equipped to blow up the Russians occupying Afghanistan. You know how there were good witches and bad witches in The Wizard of Oz? Bin Laden was a good witch, but now he's a bad witch, with winged monkeys all over the place with box knives and crop-dusters, and we gotta drop a house on him but fast.
Later, whilst draining the swamps that terrorists hide in, I began to wonder about Orwell's 1984 and how its leaders' pronouncements of "We are at war with Oceania. We have always been at war with Oceania" would change to "We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia" whenever it was convenient for keeping the populace benumbed.
While we are a long way from 1984—like 17 years—it does ring a certain bell when we are now working with the former head of the Soviet KGB to rout the Afghan terrorists whom we formerly—like, hey, 17 years ago—dubbed freedom fighters and trained to rout the "evil empire" of Russia.
Meanwhile we're forming alliances with Iran, our sworn enemy in the 1980s; not that it kept our government then from secretly sending them arms and using the proceeds to secretly arm "freedom fighter" terrorists in Central America; not that we didn't also send arms to our staunch friend Saddam Hussein, then fighting Iran; not that we didn't later go to war with our dastardly enemy Saddam Hussein so that we might reinstall the Kuwaiti monarchy to their rightful seat of oil-soaked power; and not that we, who overthrew the tyranny of monarchy in our own country 225 years ago, aren't now weighing the option of bringing back Afghanistan's former king, with the help of our friends in the corrupt Saudi monarchy.
Add to the list of our unsavory allies all the shahs and potentates and oligarchs and generalissimos and "presidents for life" whose terrorist acts have only been directed against their own people. Saddam Hussein is, again, a handy example: when he was merely nerve-gassing his own Kurdish population, our government said nary a hiccup against him as he suckled at our tax-sore teat; it was only when his brutality turned against our oil interests that our leaders drummed up indignation for the monster who killed his own.
If I were a CIA operative, I could see where it might keep the job interesting to have a competition to see who could recruit the most brutish son of a bitch into our fold. Someone should get some fun out of it because neither we at home nor the people in other lands have seen any good from it. Maybe in the expedient moment, or for a few oil men or defense contractors, but anything that works against freedom and human dignity works against our own best interest. Could we agree, just maybe, that these are precisely the sort of "entangling alliances" that our founding fathers warned us against?
Look, goddamn it, at these tyrants our representatives embrace two centuries after our bold republic was founded, and tell me George Washington wouldn't vomit his teeth out or Thomas Paine start the revolution anew.
It's popular now to be cynical about our founding fathers' intentions, but screw that. Sometimes in human history, courage and our better natures do win the day. There was not a more precarious, vulnerable nation in the world than the newborn United States, yet they had the mettle to assert the values that have inspired the world ever since. Now that we are the world's lone superpower, with its strongest military and economy, are you going to believe the politicians who say our freedom is such a feeble thing that we can only guard it by shacking up with every dictator and religious zealot who comes along? When those U.S.-enriched despots and zealots keep emerging as our greatest enemies a few years later, are you still going to believe them?