Fisk, who not only knows a lot about Middle Eastern politics and wars but also has a practical sense of history, especially for that region in its relations to the US and Europe, writes:
Obama has got to close Guantanamo. He's got to find a way of apologising to the world for the crimes of his predecessor, not an easy task for a man who must show pride in his country; but saying sorry is what – internationally – he will have to do if the "change" he has been promoting at home is to have any meaning outside America's borders. He will have to re-think – and deconstruct – the whole "war on terror". He will have to get out of Iraq. He will have to call a halt to America's massive airbases in Iraq, its $600m embassy. He will have to end the blood-caked air strikes we are perpetrating in southern Afghanistan – why, oh, why do we keep slaughtering wedding parties? – and he will have to tell Israel a few home truths: that America can no longer remain uncritical in the face of Israeli army brutality and the colonisation for Jews and Jews only on Arab land. Obama will have to stand up at last to the Israeli lobby (it is, in fact, an Israeli Likud party lobby) and withdraw Bush's 2004 acceptance of Israel's claim to a significant portion of the West Bank. US officials will have to talk to Iranian officials – and Hamas officials, for that matter. Obama will have to end US strikes into Pakistan – and Syria. [my emphasis]
But this is something that I had not heard before, although I knew that there was serious discipline problems in the US forces in Iraq. Coming from Fisk, I take it seriously:
Indeed, there's a growing concern among America's allies in the Middle East that the US military has to be brought back under control – indeed, that the real reason for General David Petraeus' original appointment in Iraq was less to organise the "surge" than it was to bring discipline back to the 150,000 soldiers and marines whose mission – and morals – had become so warped by Bush's policies. There is some evidence, for example, that the four-helicopter strike into Syria last month, which killed eight people, was – if not a rogue operation – certainly not sanctioned by Washington or indeed by US commanders in Baghdad. [my emphasis]
A military act of aggression against a country with which we are not at war may have been a rogue operation?
This is one of the scarier things I've heard in a while.
It's probably time - actually, long past time - for Americans to get used to the German principle that there is no such thing as collective guilt, but there is collective responsibility. Fisk frames the torture policy and the Bush Gulag in a way that reminds us just how serious the damage done to our country by Dick Cheney and George Bush has been:
There is just one little problem, though, and that's the "missing" prisoners. Not the victims who have been (still are being?) tortured in Guantanamo, but the thousands who have simply disappeared into US custody abroad or – with American help – into the prisons of US allies. Some reports speak of 20,000 missing men, most of them Arabs, all of them Muslims. Where are they? Can they be freed now? Or are they dead? If Obama finds that he is inheriting mass graves from George W Bush, there will be a lot of apologising to do.
And if some of the more serious crimes connected with the torture policy, the Bush Gulag and Iraq War are not actually prosecuted and the perpetrators held legally responsible, it's very likely that the rule of law will be seriously impaired on a long-term basis.
The Democrats are wringing their hands over whether to boot Joe Lieberman out of his Chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, an action which should be a no-brainer. While they have a far more serious and difficult task of restoring the rule of law after the Cheney-Bush administration.
The crimes committed during this outgoing administration - and not just those involved with foreign policy - have long-term consequences. If the incoming Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress don't treat them for what they are - crimes, and serious ones - America's reputation among both allies and adversaries as a rogue superpower will endure for a very long time.
This is not just a matter of some vague moral sense of "dealing with the past." There are many aspiring Dick Cheneys out there who would like to resume the Cheney brand of government, and take it to the next level. And I don't even like to think what that next level would look like. If the criminal acts of the current administration aren't dealt with as criminal acts, it's very likely that some the aspiring Cheneys will succeed in their goal.