Column: Dispatches From the Edge: Annual Awards For The Year That Was, By: Conn Hallinan

Friday January 06, 2006

At the end of each year, Dispatches gives out its annual IDBIAART (I Don’t Believe I Am Actually Reading This) Awards for special contributions to international relations during the past year.  


The Historical Amnesia Award goes to former Nixon Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird who in a recent Foreign Affairs article argued in favor of “Iraqification,” by using the Vietnam War as an example:  

“The truth about Vietnam that the revisionist historians conveniently forget,” writes Laird, “is that the United States had not lost when we withdrew in 1973. I believed then and still believe today that given enough outside resources, South Vietnam was capable of defending itself, just as I believe Iraq can do the same now.” 

It is not clear whether the American Embassy in Baghdad has a helicopter-landing pad on its roof 


The Speaking Power to Truth Award goes to David H. Wilkins, U.S. ambassador to Canada who warned Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin that if he did not stop “attacking the U.S.” Americans might decide to retaliate by cutting trade with its northern neighbor.  

Wilkins was responding to critical remarks that Martin made concerning U.S. tariff policy on Canadian lumber, smuggled American guns being used in Toronto gang wars, and the Bush administration’s opposition to the Kyoto climate accords. 

Canada took the tariff issue to court and won $5 billion, but Washington successfully appealed to the U.S.-dominated World Trade Organization and refuses to pay up. The guns that have contributed to making Toronto gangs a good deal deadlier are purchased in the U.S. because Canada has restrictive laws on handgun and assault rifle ownership. And the Administration is on record opposing Kyoto. 

Following Wilkins’ comments, Martin’s poll numbers went up. 


The Stop Wallowing In The Past Award goes to French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who wrote in Le Journal du Dimanche that France should refrain from “an excess of repentance” over its colonial past. 

The comments were in reference to a recent uproar over a law passed last February instructing teachers to acknowledge the “positive role” of the French colonial empire, particularly in North Africa. 

The law ignited widespread outrage in the Caribbean, where protests forced Sarkozy to cancel plans to visit the French West Indies islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.  

The Algerian government is particularly incensed. France carried out a long and bloody colonial war in Algeria that included the well-documented use of torture and the extra-judicial murders of insurgents and civilians by French police, paratroopers and the Foreign Legion. 

French colonial behavior in West Africa and Indochina was little better, and a major reason for the present impoverishment of Haiti was that France forced the tiny island to pay enormous reparations to former slave owning sugar growers who lost their plantations when native Haitians liberated their country. 

Sarkozy—presently the front runner in the 2007 French presidential elections—was recently criticized for calling young rioters in France “scum” and promising to “eradicate the gangrene” from more than 300 cities that erupted in violence two months ago. Widespread youth joblessness and racism by the police are generally accepted as the sparks that set off the conflagration. 

“France,” writes Sarkozy, “is a great country because it has a great history.” 


The Three-Card Monte in Economics Award goes to European Union (EU) Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who recently proposed a “concession” to developing countries on trade: the EU would drop agricultural subsidies if developing countries would open their manufacturing and service sectors to the developed world.  

But Mendelson knows that EU agricultural subsidies are not sustainable in the long run anyhow, hence he is “conceding” nothing that wouldn’t happen in the next few years in any event. And because developing countries’ service and industrial products cannot compete with the EU, the poor nations would essentially agree to deindustrialize their economies and return to their previous status as raw material baskets for their former colonial overseers. 

If the developing nations accept the idea, Mandelson will be a hero to EU exporters. If the developing nations refuse, they will be tagged as anti-global obstructionists. 

This round of world trade talks was supposed to be about “development.” Instead the big nations have turned it into a “now you see it, now you don’t” game.  


The Sowing the Wind Award goes to conservative Australian Prime John Howard, who in the aftermath of mob attacks on “Muslims” at a beach resort south of Sidney, told the media, “I don’t believe Australia is a racist country.”  

Gangs of up to 5,000 young white men, assaulted what they perceived as Lebanese men, women and children, chanting, “We grew up here, you flew here,” and wearing t-shirts proclaiming “Ethnic Cleansing Unit.” 

Up until 1970, Australia officially had a “whites only” immigration policy, and Howard has used the “threat” of Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants to pass a draconian mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers. Asylum applicants have been locked up on an island prison, where conditions are crowed and grim. A number of asylum candidates sewed their lips together to protest their inability to speak with immigration authorities. 

As part of his campaign to whip up anti-immigrant hysteria, Howard claimed that immigrant “boat people” were throwing their children into the sea. The charge was later proven false. 

Howard has also refused to apologize to Australia’s Aborigines for the way they have been treated since the British first established a penal colony on the subcontinent. More than 90 percent of the native population was wiped out, many by disease, some by design. Entire bands of Aborigines were executed for stealing sheep. Aborigines were also exposed to nuclear tests during the 1950s. They are still seeking redress from both the Australian and the British government for radiation poisoning and elevated cancer rates. 

At the time of the riots, Howard was attending a conference of Asian countries in Malaysia. He told the press, “People will not make judgments on Australia based on incidents that happen over a few days.” 

The opposition Labor Party, however, said, “The key challenge for Mr. Howard is not to pretend that this doesn’t affect the way in which the world sees Australia. It does. Images of the riots are being beamed across the world.” 


The Geographically Inappropriate Metaphor Award goes to an unnamed Special Operations officer for the U.S. military’s European Command who described the Bush administration’s $500 million program to fight “terrorism” in the Sahara Desert as “draining the swamp.” 


The Poor Babies Award goes to 62 percent of 500 U.S. families with an average of $26 million in liquid net assets who feel they are “under assault” in the media. A study by the Worth-Taylor Harrison Survey also found that 69 percent of the families felt they were portrayed badly.  

(What is this domestic item doing in Dispatches? Since most capital is international, this passes muster. But in any case, who could resist?)  

Jim Taylor, a co-director of the survey, said “They [the families] perceive the media to be dominated by images of indulgent and criminal wealth—from Donald Trump to Paris Hilton to Bernie Ebbers,” adding, “They have really strong feelings about the extent to which they are under assault.” 

Life is a vale of tears.