And so the world awoke from its holiday slumbers to find that this monster of global proportions, this petty tyrant, had at last received his “just desserts”, not really from his own taunting people but at the hands of a foreign power.
Arise, Sir Bono. Bono's knighthood did prompt a few begrudging letters-page and radio outbursts, but nothing with the potency to counteract the London Independent's thrilled front-page announcement, headlined, yes, ‘Arise, Sir Bono' (it's not for Sir Anthony's English outlet, no more than ourselves, to concern itself with diplomatic niceties of terminology). That newspaper's erstwhile disregard for royalty and honours has long since been parked and it now awaits the day when Bono is duly pronounced Lord of All Creation and so can dispense titles to, say, newspaper editors.There's no O'Reilly “line” on the little big man: the latest Sunday Independent happily puts the boot into Bono via an exclusive and hint-heavy interview with U2's former stylist Lola Cashman. However, you'd have to squint hard to find anyone, anywhere, prepared to point out more than his indisputable-in-Ireland pratness, and to observe that Bono's most visible “humanitarian” activities have involved providing cover to political and corporate institutions whose bloody deeds, direct and indirect, make the monstrous tyrant dangling from a Baghdad rope look like the bit-player that he was. Thus the knighthood. Bono, you see, makes it worse.
Saddam Hussein must have reflected in his latter days that he had once been honoured in the courts of empire, and that fate takes strange twists. By the end there were a few honourable emanations of outrage at his cheap 'n' nasty imperial execution – the word “farcical” would apply if farces ended with a corpse centre-stage – though these were from peripheral quarters: Dermot Ahern, Emer O'Kelly, the Irish Times etc.By coincidence, the same newspaper that so conspicuously misses the point about Bono also features the most sensible analysis of Iraq and Saddam: the London Independent's Patrick Cockburn didn't dally with outrage but underlined the former dictator's long-time weakness and irrelevance. Iraqi soldiers, Cockburn observes, didn't fight for him initially against Iran, nor in 1991 or 2003 against the US.As it happens, the military lesson of Iraq in 2003 and beyond – that a force that fails to stand up and fight at first opportunity is not necessarily a force that is defeated – is one that bears repeating to the media as 2007 dawns. The first place to apply it is in that old killing-field for imperial efforts: Somalia.
Fear and loathing
The front-page story in the Irish Times last Friday declared that “Somali government troops” (really Ethiopian-backed forces, with Ethiopian troops close by, and lurking US financial and logistical support) were rolling into the Somali capital, Mogadishu, scattering the “feared Islamic militia” who were “fleeing for safety”, in the words of the opening paragraph.Who precisely “feared” this Islamic militia? The troops who didn't have to fight them? Or perhaps the people of the city and region who, we could read two paragraphs later in the same article, had benefited from the Union of Islamic Courts' restoration of “law and order” and its “providing services such as schools and clinics”? (There's nothing like schools and clinics to get you on America's bad side.)Even the New York Times, celebrating in its headline that “someone's in charge in Somalia”, and no doubt encouraged that “someone” has Washington's backing, couldn't resist a few cautious “buts” about the Islamists who had “melted back into the population”. A friend who knows a thing or two about Africa, and pointed this story out to me, says such caution, if anything, underestimates the firm likelihood of all-out insurgency in Somalia this year. What is it about foreign occupations that these nasty insurgencies keep cropping up?