Normal By William Bowles

5 May 2003

Normal Part 1
This morning, Garner’s #2 man in Iraq, Major General Tim Cross, told BBC listeners (Today programme) that the people of Iraq are ‘better off now’ than they’d ever been and that ‘80%’ of them were happy that the USUK had invaded. They are, amongst other things, ‘free to demonstrate’. He didn’t mention of course, that they are also ‘free’ to be shot for demonstrating, one of those silly little details hidden in the small print of the USUK version of democracy.

Cross also informed us that in about three months, things would be back to ‘normal’ in Iraq, though he neglected to tell us exactly what normal is. The sanctimonious attitude of those who claim to speak for us through ‘our’ mass media, on the benefits of ‘our’ brand of freedom is staggering. More staggering is the absolute acceptance by the media pundits of the official view on what constitutes normalcy. The interviewer on the ‘Today’ programme only once and then very timidly, dared question the very ‘reasonable’ Major General Cross and his assertions that thing were, ‘to his surprise…very rapidly returning to normal.’

Normal Part 2
Also on the BBC this am in the following programme ‘Start the Week’, I heard a woman talking about ‘African’ attitudes toward art, ‘If you can’t eat it, wear it, or live in it, they’re not interested’. I heard this as I lay semi-dozing in bed on this, our ‘official’ Mayday holiday and my metaphorical jaw dropped.

Now I don’t want to sound sanctimonious either but I’ve spent the last ten years living in Africa and attitudes toward art there, are as different as they are here or anywhere else in the world. I don’t know who this woman is and by the sound of her, I don’t want to know her either. But her attitude is so typical of the ‘chattering classes’, whose infuriating smugness, smothers our sensibilities with its assumptions about the way ‘other’ people live and what is, or should be, normal.

If I were religious (which I’m not) I would be tempted to quote from the bible, ‘Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do’ but the problem is, they do know what they’re doing! Indeed, it’s at the very core of everything they’ve ever been taught.

Normal Part 3
But life for most of us, is getting back to ‘normal’ or what passes for normal. Indeed, a new ‘norm’ of international behaviour has been established. ‘Preventive’ war is now the new norm and indeed, so is ‘preventive’ detention. I was trying to figure out how they’ll legislate on ‘preventive’ thinking but then I realised that wasn’t necessary, as by and large, they already do our thinking for us anyway. But just in case, the best legal brains in the business are working on redefining normal including one Prof. Philip Bobbitt, professor of constitutional law at the U of Texas. Bobbitt who was at one time, one of Clinton’s ‘experts’ on nuclear strategy, has written a bestseller called ‘The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History’. A noble sounding title indeed. But within its pages we find a rationale for the US redefinition of normal, especially as it applies to the ‘rule of international law’. But more on this a little later. Let’s first look at how Bobbitt views the ‘rule of law’ at home, in the US.

In one piece I read by the noble Bobbitt, he got rather worked up about the mass roundups of people following 911 and how it ‘potentially’ contravened the 1st Amendment. So I’m reading this piece on how worried he is about this alarming trend of preventive detention, when I realise that the only thing he’s really worried about is how to preventively detain people without actually appearing to. In other words, how to alter the abnormal to appear normal (let alone legalise the illegal)? Bobbitt’s ‘solution’ is to write a new law which enables preventive detention but in a way that enables us to make sure that it’s ‘justified’ and presto! A new ‘norm’ emerges. The rationale for this topsy-turvey approach to ‘cherished rights and freedoms, guaranteed to citizens under the Constitution’ becomes all too clear when we see that the ‘nation state’ and all its ‘worrisome’ concerns regarding our rights have to be swept away. And of course, the logic is inexorable when we realize that it’s no good proposing a new international order if niggling little things like civil rights at home, get in the way.

Normal Part 4
Bobbitt’s book, ‘The Shield of Achiles’ consists of a (lengthy) theoretical advocacy of the right of the US to intervene ‘preventively’ wherever it feels its hegemony is threatened. And although cloaked in high moral terms eg, ‘[against those states that] spurn parliamentary institutions and human rights protections’, it is in effect, a complete rewrite of the international order, but now with a de jure rather than de facto basis.

“…international law which outlawed war except for self-defence, and implicitly gave to every sovereign state the right to develop whatever weapons it wished. Pre-emption to prevent the mere acquisition of weapons would not only have been unwise, it would have been illegal.”
Times of London January 23, 2003

But not any more thanks to the likes of people like Bobbitt. This is because:

“Two developments render this strategic and legal paradigm redundant today… [because a] shadowy global terrorist network has emerged against which threats of retaliation are pointless.”

Furthermore if, ‘Iraq, armed with WMD which, if that happens, will deter the US from interfering in the Gulf and enable Saddam to press his luck again.’

So getting as good as you give worries the US power elite ? But according to Bobbitt, we now live in an age where almost any fool can build a nuclear bomb and hence the old rules of deterrence or ‘containment’ as Bobbitt calls it, no longer apply.

Bobbitt goes on to tell us that, ‘We must recognise that the demand for conclusive evidence of weapons acquisition is an inadequate requirement in the world we are entering.’

The world we are entering? I thought it was a world made by Bobbitt and co? This is an ingenious argument which only a lawyer could dream up. How can one deter what Bobbitt calls “the virtual state”? Using this argument, the US can do virtually whatever it likes. However, Bobbitt is not very happy with this rather laissez faire attitude to ‘law’ so he proposes that a,

“Profound change in international law responds to equally profound changes in the strategic environment. But it would be wrong to conclude, as some in Washington seem to, that our efforts to cope with a new international situation must rely on “might makes right” rather than a new legal order.”

Why Indeed. Why rule by might when a sleight of legal hand will do the job much better and furthermore, legitimize the might is right approach by dressing it up in legalese ? And course, a legal sleight of hand works much better if first, you bomb the hell of a country just to make sure they get the message. Nothing like a 2000 pounder to set a precedent for a legal nicety.

And just in case the argument advanced by Bobbitt above, leaves you feeling somewhat dazed and confused by his ‘imperial logic’, then he has at least one fallback argument, namely that:

“…what happens to Iraq’s WMD when the Iraqi regime finally changes [?] Then, if not before, whatever WMD Iraq accumulates will find the lucrative black market, selling to well-financed non-state actors that have money but lack the facilities to develop nuclear weapons.”

Take ‘em out anyway just in case. You just can’t win can you, when confronted by Bobbitt’s appalling logic. What we have then, is the formalisation of the new international order, US-style in the post-Cold War period, where the US without any viable opposition, can now rewrite the rules so that they reflect the new reality, one which is indeed now (legally) right. The ‘beauty’ of Bobbitt’s thinking is that it’s entirely open-ended, a ‘one law fits all’ solution.

And in case you think these are just the personal views of Mr Bobbitt, I found the articles I’ve taken these quotes from on and at and you can’t get more official than that can you.

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