On November 22, the Daily Mirror newspaper in Britain published an exclusive article headlined “Bush Plot to Bomb his Ally.” A subsidiary headline said: “President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a ‘Top Secret’ No. 10 memo reveals.”
According to the report that followed, it seems that British Prime Minister Tony Blair was able to convince the president that such an attack would provoke a backlash, leading to increased unrest in the region. Subsequently, an American government spokesperson assured Blair that the president had been “humorous, not serious” in what he said.
But, wrote the Daily Mirror, “another [official U.S.] source declared ‘Bush was deadly serious.’ “
Well, there’s a war on, and no one knows better than the Josher-in-Chief what’s for real and what isn’t. It’s all part of the video game of international politics that makes America such a fun country to deal with.
The Bush-Blair conversation about the proposed attack on al Jazeera took place in April 2004. U.S. gunfire had destroyed the al Jazeera office in Kabul a year earlier, the same month as a U.S. missile in Baghdad killed Tareq Ayyoub, a Palestinian reporter working for the independent Arab TV station. Naturally, Blair was concerned about the fallout from this new proposal.
Actually, I happen to be privy to the secret details of this high-level te^te-a-te^te. I am happy to be able to report on these pages that, while I am not at liberty to divulge his name per se, a certain vice president in D.C. (no initials intended) has sent me a tape of the conversation.
Here is a transcript in part, published for the first, and probably the last, time.
Bush: “Hey, Tone, thought I’d let you know that, well, we’re thinking of bombing al Jazeera headquarters in, uh, Qatar, it is.”
Blair: “Is that a good idea?”
Bush: “How should I know? Why not do it? They’re always reporting the other side of the story, not that there is another side.”
Blair: “But if you bomb them, you might hit the American base. It’s only 10 miles [16 km] away from them.”
Bush: [laughter] “Tony, Tony. Listen, buddy, what do you think we got smart bombs for, eh? Two miles, sure. Five miles, OK. But 10? Worst that could happen would be they’d get a bit of depleted uranium dust up their nostrils. Heck, our soldiers are tougher than that. Do you realize that bin Laden has appeared on al Jazeera, and they’ve shown American atrocities, too — I mean, ‘so-called’ American atrocities.”
Blair: “But bin Laden has been on CNN too.”
Bush: “He has?”
Blair: “And the New Yorker magazine has published articles about abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
Bush: ” ‘Abuses?’ Funny to hear that coming from you.”
Blair: “And our own BBC is often critical of the war in Iraq.”
Bush: “How far are their headquarters from where you live, Tony?”
Blair: “Are you suggesting that you might try to destroy the BBC? If you are, George, forget about it. Margaret Thatcher did that already.”
Bush: “Love her.”
Blair: “Yeah, so do I, but mum’s the word.”
Bush: “Hey, Tone.”
Bush: “Dick and I have made up a list of friendly and unfriendly countries, you know, based on whether they support us in absolutely everything.”
Blair: “Well, I hope there’s no ambiguity about where we stand, George. Britain and the U.S. haven’t been this close since 1775.”
Bush: “Sure, sure. Way to go. But as we get nearer to election time in 2008, we’re gonna need some new enemies. Americans don’t like the same old enemies, you know. Enemies get stale. Our policy has always been ‘destroy and rebuild.’ It’s our way of securing markets in the future. Look what we did to Japan. You couldn’t get a more loyal, lay-down-and-roll-over ally than that. No, we’re gonna have to widen the war, to get the American people on side for the election. The al Jazeera thing is just the beginning. After that it’s Syria, Iran, France . . . “
Blair: “Now, hold on a minute! [Here the PM's tone becomes quite irritable.] You can’t just bomb countries one after another like that. I mean, France, well, maybe. But we should keep a dialogue open with Syria, Iran and . . . “
Bush: “Dialogue? What do you mean by that, buddy?! You can’t ‘have a dialogue’ with the Devil. They have to be silenced, once and for all. We can’t let folks hear what they have to say. It eventually gets back to the American people and they begin to have second thoughts. I don’t have second thoughts, and, God knows, I hope you don’t either, Tony.”
[There is an eerie silence on the tape here.]
Bush: “Tony? Tone? You there? Well, no matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re listening or not. In fact, it doesn’t matter if anybody in the world is listening. What matters is not that the world listens, but that it speaks with one voice. And that voice is loud and unequivocal: All people, wherever they live, are entitled to our opinion. It is this openness and natural magnanimity that makes American democracy valid wherever we choose to install it. We never just ‘decimate and run.’ We always return to help you pick up the pieces afterward . . . “
The tape cuts off there, with those idealistic words from the president — words which the people at al Jazeera will take heart from, knowing they will be able to kit themselves out with all new equipment after their old stuff is blown up. Not to mention that they’ll be able to replace many of their staff as well.
And as for you, dear reader, I advise you not to tell anyone of what you have allegedly read here.
Last week Britain’s attorney general threatened anyone “with the Official Secrets Act [if they] reveal the contents of the document allegedly relating to the dispute” between Blair and Bush.
In our brave new world, “I was only reading it” is no longer an excuse before the law.