Hamid Karzai, hand-picked by Washington to pose as president of the broken country of Afghanistan, says his government has “very, very good, very, very close relations [and] will continue to have good relations with Iran.” He declares on CNN, “So far, Iran has been a helper” in fighting terrorism.
Nuri al-Maliki, favored by Washington as the most viable prime minister to pretend to lead the bleeding country of Iraq, says Iran is doing “positive and constructive” work in “providing security and fighting terrorism” in his country.
Both of these puppet regimes in nations bordering Iran seek to maintain close relations with the Islamic Republic. But puppets aren’t supposed to compose their own lines, and the puppeteer George Bush seems somewhat irked at these words.
“I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence there in Afghanistan is a positive force,” he tells visiting Karzai at Camp David. Bush’s remarks are often unclear and confused, allowing for various interpretations. But here he’s not expressing any openness to the possibility that what the Afghan said might be true. As the Nation reported, he’s telling “the visitor from abroad that he is wrong” and that Iran is most certainly not a positive force.
Of Maliki’s comments, Bush states with undiplomatic condescension, “I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend, the prime minister, because I don’t believe [the Iranians] are constructive. . . . My message to him is, when we catch you playing a non-constructive role, there will be a price to pay.” Here it’s not clear whether he’s warning Iran it will pay a price (which would not be news because it has been longstanding Bush policy to threaten Iran) or threatening his “friend” the embattled Iraqi prime minister.
Responding to images of Maliki appearing cordial with Iran’s president Ahmadinejad, Bush mockingly assumed a pugilistic stance at his White House press conference, fists raised, and said, “You don’t want the picture to show you duking it out,” implying that while making nice for the cameras, Maliki ought (in his heart) to be in an Iran-attack mode.
I can just imagine the sort of “heart to heart” talks Bush has with his puppets. Consider their positions. On the one hand they live comfortably, eat and dress well, enjoy some symbols of authority thanks to their Quisling status. They may retain some sense of self-respect to the extent that they can depart from the occupier’s script on occasion on the grounds of “national interest” and differ on a subject such as bilateral relations with neighboring friendly countries.
On the other hand, neither Karzai nor Maliki has any popular respect or following, because their countrymen see their collaboration as a pact with the devil. Karzai is merely the mayor of Kabul, in a chic karakul hat and green ribboned cloak, looking like a leader for the cameras while the Taliban recapture much of his country and the rest remains under the boot of warlords whose power increases with each bountiful opium harvest. Maliki is not even mayor of Baghdad, but a prisoner of the Green Zone, abandoned by the Sunni politicians, the Muqtada al-Sadr bloc, and the secularists.
So Bush assumes they’ll be inclined to kiss his cowboy boots as they have so far, perhaps trying to conceal some revulsion to what all adheres. But I wonder if they are starting to feel real doubts about the wisdom of their humiliating collaboration to date. Maliki in particular seems a dour, unhappy man. Perhaps they think the invasions of their countries have personally benefited them, but have been far more disastrous for their peoples than they expected when they agreed to take their jobs. Even morally compromised people can get smitten with moral qualms. How can these men regain some modicum of dignity?
I think it likely that they fear the consequences of a U.S. attack on Iran. I’ll bet the drumbeat of anti-Iran propaganda and plethora of anti-Iran disinformation in the U.S. fills them with anxiety. They have now become intimately aware of the Bush-Cheney mindset, the U.S. administration’s contempt for their peoples, the vast ignorance in Washington about Muslim cultures. They do not want missile attacks on Iran, or regime change there; rather, they want to sit their American sponsors down with their Iranian friends for talks, or at minimum resist recruitment into America’s anti-Iran campaign.
Their recalcitrance must be frustrating for Bush. Nothing is going well in his war on evil. His generals paint a Hello Kitty face on the interesting, temporary new alignments in Iraq’s Anbar province. But everywhere hatred for U.S. imperialism mounts. Democratic elections in the Muslim world, most recently in Lebanon, bring his foes into power. It is impossible—particularly for him, given his obvious handicaps—to logically explain or justify through any “heart to heart” conversation the Cheney-neocon plan for a New American Century of empire in Southwest Asia. Instead he needs to take off the gloves and bully.
So there’s a mean glint in his eye and hint of worry as he tells the boys he’s gonna take them out to the woodshed for that talk about Iran—before they pay the price. I’d hope both Karzai and Maliki would realize they have little to lose at this point by saying, “No sir. You gave me this job and thanks for that. But—and only your friends will tell you this—your dukes are up but the Iranians might engage you in a very different contest than you expect. They are wrestlers, not boxers—have been for many centuries—and may wind up pinning a lot of your people down to the mat if you proceed with your apparent plans. My own people, I’m afraid, will cheer the Iranians on, while world opinion might disqualify you for brutality. So please leave me out of your match. If I have to pay a price for my stance, sir, so be it; the price of working with you has become too heavy.”
I’m not suggesting either has the integrity to say something like that. The likelihood is slim, but if the puppets indeed started to talk back (like the pathological liar marionette Pinocchio in Carlo Collodi’s story who ultimately becomes a real person) they might acquire the status of actual human beings—and even help thwart the designs of monsters.
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I read last week that “Vice President Dick Cheney several weeks ago proposed launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iran run by the Quds force. . . .” The “suspected” camps are of course suspected by Cheney’s neocons who claimed to be SURE about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam’s al-Qaeda ties. Cheney remains intent on inflicting damage to Iran, that “unconstructive” nation “interfering” in the Iraq (following the American mother of interferences in the next-door country)—and then watching from his undisclosed location all the exciting consequences.
Even puppets are becoming animate in response to the machinations of this sick man, determined to inflict another surge of pain expanding the empire before he checks out. That may be slight cause for optimism. But we the people of the U.S. need to push harder for impeachment. My preference is first Cheney, then Bush, but in rapid succession.
Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org