America has descended into madness

The actions of the United States government make it essential to put a greater distance between Britain and America

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

16 June 2003

There cannot be many good citizens of this country who aren't today asking themselves searching questions about our relationship with the government of the United States post-11 September, and the two wars we have instigated since then. Who are we now in relation to that hyper-power? Do we have any influence or are we de facto on our way to joining Hawaii, an outpost of the mighty power? Does President Bush listen to Prime Minister Blair or is he only a good foil, because Americans adore our PM and this comes in handy during tricky times, ie when both sides pass off collective fabrications as incontrovertible evidence of WMD? Is Tony Blair blindingly dazzled by people with greater power and wealth than he has and is this what drives him - in spite of what his people feel - to follow the US whatever?

I wrote recently that Blair has sold our country to America without our consent. I now think it is worse; he didn't charge for this delivery of our future into the hands of George Bush. He gave us away. Every week one of the favoured coterie of ministers tells us it is all done far better in the US before announcing policies to further the Americanisation of Britain. We must have their damned highways - a bijou little country like ours already much devastated by trucks and traffic. We must have their supreme court - but do we really want government-appointed men such as Clarence Thomas, regarded with contempt by most African Americans and women, to preside in our highest courts? We should, apparently, aim to be like the NYPD, and have district attorneys.

What next? US-style justice which leaves the poor and disenfranchised without half-decent lawyers, merciless boot camps and barbaric death chambers? Or a health service which can give you wondrous help if you are middle class but which fails millions of others who cannot afford to have the right kind of insurance? And schools and neighbourhoods grossly divided along race and class lines? No, would be my firm answer to all those, and no, that does not make me "anti-American", a hater of that sometimes great country. I do not heed such junk tags which only close down criticism of anything that the US now does.

I think it is great that talented Americans are becoming major players here. (In 1990, there were more Americans in the UK than Jamaicans.) Bill Bryson has come back, we have Bob Kylie, Bonnie Greer, Lloyd Grossman, Madonna, Larry Adler, and welcome I say. Starbucks (even though this sometimes irritates many) has as much right to be on our streets as the Taj or Carluccio's. And American visitors and business people too are an asset, though the overwhelming culture is something we should beware. There are many momentous American laws, writers, artists, politicians, scientists and philosophies one can only admire and envy. But the Republicans are destroying much that is good in their own country and are trashing the world.

Worse is likely as we watch the bedlam in Iraq and Afghanistan with fewer natives now obligingly standing up for the two allies. A total of 97 Iraqis have been killed in the past two days and 40 US soldiers have lost their lives in an illegal war. We are told they have found training camps of al-Qa'ida "sympathisers" in Haditha in north-west Iraq. What does "sympathiser" mean? Does it include the millions around the world who were shocked by the 11 September attacks but also felt they understood why this had happened? It may even be true that they have found a training camp, but by now, only the most gullible would believe anything the US government says, and ours too. Especially as they are still so brazenly mendacious. Last week the US National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, claimed that Bush was an innocent when he told his nation in his state-of-the-union speech that Saddam had bought uranium from Niger. He didn't know the truth, says his handmaiden, until after the speech - which was lapped up by his already largely ill-informed public.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says there is no evidence of a live nuclear programme in Iraq. Professor Karol Sikora of the WHO told the journalist John Pilger that drugs for dying children and adults (many as a result of the chemicals we used in the 1991 Gulf War) were forcibly withheld for years by the US which claimed they would be converted to war use. The American press and the media (with some exceptions - and they pay a price for this) have surrendered to the call of blind patriotism and hatred of all things Muslim. Peter Beinart, editor of the liberal New Republic: "The nation is now at war and in such an environment domestic political dissent is immoral."

Now right wingers in the Senate have issued support for rebellions in Iran - as a precursor to a war there. Most revolting of all is the news that the Guantanamo bay concentration camp, which is holding (we think but we do not know because the US doesn't need to live by any international rules) about 800 inmates including children, is going to have summary, private hearings followed by executions. Texas-style no doubt.

Now if Blair is really a major influence on the Bush administration, why has he not used this blessed position to temper this descent of The Big Country into madness? What does he say or do to teach its hubristic leader that the last thing Iran's reform movements need is the poison of approval of the loathed American Republicans? To be anointed in this way means their small and fragile movement will only collapse. After Iraq, nobody wants these liberators on their side. What is this faithful Christian leader telling his Christian brother George about the gulag in Cuba? Did Christ want his followers to imprison, torture, deny access to justice and murder young men who have never had their stories heard in public? And is he giving them any lessons on freedom of speech, right to dissent, playing by the rules? If courtiers in Downing Street would give us some help in seeing just what Blair's influence has achieved we would be most humbly grateful.

The road-map may just be one example; if so it only goes to show what Blair can do and chooses not to. Or maybe what he is allowed to do.

The actions of the US government today make it essential to put a greater distance between us. It is in our national interest not to be seen as uncritical groupies of the hyper-power. A recent survey among 21 nations concluded that the war in Iraq has widened the rift between the US and Western Europe, "inflamed" the Muslim world, and damaged global public opinion and support for the Atlantic alliance. For US, now read UK too.

Prime Minister Blair has never had a mandate from us, the people, to take us into the armpit of the US. It is time we declared our right to be an independent nation just as Americans did centuries ago.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk