Thursday, May 11, 2006
The Theater of the Absurd
— Term coined by Martin Esslin
It’s all in the eyes of the beholder and the beholder could not help but be struck by what was seen when two videos and two people were juxtaposed. One of the people was described in a BBC profile as “”simple, quick-tempered, and barely literate.” The other was not described that way although the description would fit. The videos were those of George W. Bush and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and they were the two people who inspired wonder.
One of Mr. Bush’s most memorable video clips shown over and over on television when he ran for president in 2004, was Mr. Bush, draft dodger and dissembler, emerging from an airplane on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in an S-3B Viking airplane to announce that the war against Iraq had been won. He was dressed up just like real military pilots are dressed when they fly airplanes. Removing his helmet and other paraphernalia he strode over to the lectern and standing beneath a banner proclaiming “Mission Accomplished”, announced that the invasion of Iraq had been a success. That pronouncement was followed by the deaths of more than 2,400 U.S. service personnel and thousands more wounded.
Many viewers of the clips thought it odd that he, who had avoided combat when the opportunity to engage in it presented itself, would show such bravado when personal engagement was no longer possible. In hindsight, it is even more bizarre since, in the eyes of the world, Mr. Bush’s adventure in Iraq has been less successful than he Messrs. Cheney and Rumsfeld who share his make believe world, believe. By contrast we are presented with the video of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Mr. Zarqawi is a terrorist believed to be responsible for much of the havoc in Iraq. According to the BBC Mr. Zarqawi did not attend prep schools or Ivy League colleges. He was a “petty criminal in Jordan”.
Mr. Zarqawi fought in Afghanistan against Soviet forces and at the conclusion of that conflict, returned to Jordan where he eventually was convicted of conspiring to overthrow the monarchy and establish an Islamic caliphate. He spent 7 years in prison and following his release left the country. He is blamed for the assassination of a U.S. aid officer in Amman, Jordan, has been implicated in several lethal bombings, and is now active in Iraq in an effort to force the U.S. to leave the country by igniting sectarian conflict.
His capture and imprisonment would remove a big obstacle to bringing stability to Iraq. That is why the U.S. has offered a $25 million reward for his capture.
In late April a video was released by Mr. Zarqawi in which he, like George Bush, shows what a he-man he is. He did not emerge from an airplane on an aircraft carrier. He demonstrated his bravado by firing long bursts from an M-249 squad automatic weapon he was holding. Like the video of George Bush, the video did not tell the whole story although in Mr. Bush’s case it took many months before that became apparent. In the case of Mr. Zarqawi it took only a week.
In a raid the week following the video’s release by Al Qaeda U.S. forces captured the entire video. In the portion not initially shown, the weapon jams and Mr. Zarqawi is at a loss as to how to restore its function. A voice is heard instructing someone to “Go help the sheik.” Thereafter Mr. Zarqawi fires a few more shots and then it jams again and someone comes over and, helping out, grabs the hot barrel and drops the weapon to the ground.
The U.S. military has no sense of irony. It released the video at a news briefing. At the briefing Major General Rick Lynch commented on the video. He said: “What you saw on the Internet was what he wanted the world to see. . . . What he didn’t show you were the clips that I showed, wearing New Balance sneakers with his uniform, surrounded by supposedly competent subordinates who grab the hot barrel of a just-fired machine gun. We have a warrior leader, Zarqawi, who doesn’t understand how to operate his weapon system and has to rely on his subordinates to clear a weapon stopped. It makes you wonder.”
General Lynch is amused that Mr. Zarqawi wears sneakers and can’t properly handle a weapon. Someone should tell General Lynch that Mr. Zarqawi is having more success in Iraq than he and Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush can fly an airplane and land it on an aircraft. He can’t stabilize Iraq and is personally responsible for the deaths and wounding of thousands of U.S. service personnel and Iraqi civilians. To use General Lynch’s words, “It makes you wonder.”