By Stephen Gowans
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Washington replied by launching the Gulf War to reverse the invasion and punish Baghdad for its serial aggressions. Or so Washington said. Iraq was indeed a serial aggressor, having attacked and waged a long war with Iran in the 1980s, followed by an invasion of Kuwait. What Washington and the compliant US media minimized was that the US had prodded Iraq to attack Iran, soon after the country sloughed off US domination by toppling the Pahlavi regime through which US influence in the country was exercised. With prodding came military aid to Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction that Washington would later use as the basis for a murderous sanctions regime that killed over one million Iraqis, many of them children. In 1989, when Iraq sounded out the US ambassador, April Glaspie, about a possible invasion of Kuwait, she raised no objection. How odd it must have seemed to Iraq, then, that after fighting one war with US prodding, and launching another with what seemed like implicit US support, that Washington should point to Iraq’s serial aggressions as a pretext for launching its own string of anti-Iraq aggressions beginning in 1990 and lasting to the current day.
The US itself is no stranger to serial aggressions, having intervened militarily in countless countries, often without provocation and with the sole objective of enforcing US domination. Whereas the Nazi’s serial aggressions were limited to Europe (and direct military assistance to their Italian allies in northern Africa), those of the US have been carried out on a global scale. The tenth anniversary of one such US-inspired aggression, the 78-day Nato terror bombing of Yugoslavia, has recently passed, without the fanfare usually associated with the exercise of US military power. Where were the media retrospectives, the self-adulation commending the West for its humanitarian intervention? If any mainstream news organization ran a story on how much better off Serbia is 10 years after Nato’s humanitarian bombing, I haven’t seen it. Perhaps the absence is due to the reality that anyone setting foot in Belgrade today would be forced to confront what Serbia has become – a state dismembered from a multicultural federation whose once publically- and socially-owned assets have been sold off to investors and corporations from the same countries that sent their air forces to drop ordnance on schools, factories, bridges, a radio-TV building, the Chinese embassy, and civilians.
Perhaps it is because the US has woven a long string of aggressions into its history that its media are inclined to ignore the aggressions of Uncle Sam’s extension in the Middle East, Israel. When they’re not ignoring them, they’re excusing them. It is a matter of some astonishment that Israel can launch attack after attack outside its ceaselessly expanding and amorphous borders and it hardly registers on the consciousness of North Americans, whose media hide these aggressions in plain view.
Israeli warplanes violated Sudanese airspace in January, on a mission to destroy a convoy of trucks said to be carrying arms to be smuggled to resistance fighters in Gaza. While Iranian warplanes bombing a convoy of trucks in Iraq would be met by howls of outrage by the White House and State Department, Israel’s bombing raid in Sudan was sanitized, even celebrated, in The New York Times, as a “daring military operation,” and then quickly forgotten. Official enemies launch illegal attacks; allies carry out daring military operations.
The bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 was another of Israel’s vaunted military operations. This illegal act remains accepted in Western media discourse as a legitimate operation, justified as a preventive measure against Iraq acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to official doctrine, it was only a matter of time before Saddam Hussein acquired the means to send a nuclear warhead hurtling toward Tel Aviv. What makes this scenario implausible is that such a temerarious act would trigger an obliterating counter-strike by the United States. Unless you believe the Iraqi president was insane or had a death wish, neither of which propositions rest on the slightest evidence, this is pure political fantasy.
Iraq may indeed have intended to develop nuclear weapons, but its reasons for doing so probably (if indeed it was heading in this direction) had much to do with the reality that Israel, a country with no shortage of aggressive military operations under it belt, has an estimated 200 nuclear weapons, receives $3 billion annually in military aid from Uncle Sam, and has a penchant for sending its troops and warplanes into battle.
Let’s consider Israel’s serial aggressions, all of which have been motivated by the desire to acquire territory to expand the borders of the Jewish colonial state, or to defend itself against the backlash its expansionist aggressions provoke. We can begin with the 80 percent of Palestinian territory Zionist forces seized by force in 1948, after the UN allocated 56 percent to a Jewish state, a more than generous allotment, considering that Jews made up only one-third of the population, owned less than 10 percent of the land, and were favored by the UN with the fertile coastal areas. There was nothing fair or legitimate about the UN offer. It was carried out over the objections of the majority, but even this corruption of justice was not enough to satisfy the Zionist craving for other people’s land.
In 1956, Israel struck a deal with France and Britain to invade Egypt. France was irritated by Egyptian President Gamal Nasser’s support for the national liberation movement in Algeria, and Britain wanted the return of the recently nationalized Suez Canal to the hands of British capital. In exchange for marching on the Suez Canal, France would transfer nuclear technology to Israel, providing the Zionist state with the basis for its nuclear arsenal. The operation proved to be a contretemps, with the US ordering the conspirators to withdraw. But it did demonstrate to Washington that Israel could be a useful tool in enforcing US foreign policy in the region.
In 1967, Israel seized Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Later, it launched a series of operations in Lebanon beginning with Operation Litani in 1978, aimed at driving the PLO north of the Litani River. This culminated in an occupation of southern Lebanon that lasted 18 years, from 1982 to 2000, followed by yet another attack in the summer of 2006. Lebanon today has the highest per capita debt in the world, largely thanks to the costs of rebuilding infrastructure Israel destroyed. (1)
Added to Israel’s aggressions are its amply documented violations of the laws of war. Israeli war crimes are a delicate matter in North America, where politicians and the media either steer clear of mentioning them, or step nimbly around them, seeking to avoid the inevitable backlash against anyone who suggests that Israel may not be the shining beacon of democracy in what’s calumniated as the otherwise benighted Middle East. The British press, The Guardian in particular, show fewer reservations. Condemnatory reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Israel’s January 2009 assault on Gaza barely received any attention in the North American media, in stark contrast to the high profile that similarly condemnatory reports receive when they’re aimed at official enemies. By comparison, The Guardian covered a February 23, 2009 Amnesty International report that called on the US to cut off military aid to Israel, because “as a major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and human rights.” (2) Last week, The Guardian reported on a Human Rights Watch investigation that found that Israel had repeatedly and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over crowded areas of Gaza, killing and injuring civilians, a war crime. White phosphorus burns through tissue and can’t be extinguished. It must burn itself out, a process that may take days. In a 71-page report, the rights group concluded that Israel’s “repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells in populated areas of Gaza was not incidental or accidental.” (3) Significantly, Israel initially denied it had used white phosphorus. When the evidence became overwhelming, it admitted it had, but countered that its use was fully in accord with international law. When that was disproved, Israel announced it would launch its own investigation.
In a move that would be considered foolishly gutsy in the United States, The Guardian undertook its own investigation of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, concluding that Israel violated the laws of war. (4) The conclusions drawn by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and The Guardian were corroborated by Israeli soldiers themselves. An Israeli squad commander said,
“What’s great about Gaza — you see a person on a path, he doesn’t have to be armed, you can simply shoot him. In our case it was an old woman on whom I did not see any weapon when I looked. The order was to take down the person, this woman, the minute you see her. There are always warnings, there is always the saying, ‘Maybe he’s a terrorist.’ What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.” (5)
Worse than being brutally indifferent to Palestinians, Israeli soldiers are completely morally calloused, wearing t-shirts bearing messages that evince absolute contempt for Arabs. “A shirt designed for the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion” depicted “a pregnant Palestinian women with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, ‘1 shot, 2 kills.’” (6)
While the utter brutality of Israeli troops was being laid bare in the pages of The Guardian, across the Atlantic, Israeli war crimes were being minimized in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s newspaper of record. Foreign correspondent Patrick Martin wrote that the failure to distinguish between combatants and civilians “is found in almost every military force (think Serbs in Bosnia, Americans at Abu Ghraib and Canadians in Somali) and has existed as long as there has been war.” (7) What Martin didn’t point out was that Serbs were prosecuted by Nato’s Hague Tribunal for failures to distinguish civilians from combatants, but that US and Canadian atrocities – including those in connection with the terror bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 — have gone unpunished. Martin also failed to mention the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Omar, too, is accused of war crimes, but unlike those committed by Americans, Canadians and Israelis, his have become the subject of prosecution by an international court, one that has yet to issue indictments against anyone but Africans. The court will never prosecute Americans, Russians, and Chinese, who have chosen not to be bound by the court and are able, by virtue of being permanent members of the UN Security Council, to veto any Security Council resolution ordering the court to undertake an inquiry. Likewise, these countries can veto court inquiries into crimes committed by nationals of allied countries, like Israel, which have also rejected the court’s authority. War crimes, it seems, are intolerable when committed by countries the West seeks a pretext to dominate, but when the same crimes are committed by Americans, Canadians and Israelis, the “everyone is doing it” defense applies.
Meanwhile, as nuclear-armed Israel adds to its string of outrages on the sovereignty of neighboring countries with its bombing raid into Sudan, the Western media spotlight shines on north Korea, the northern half of a peninsula whose division was imposed by outsiders, and has never attacked another country. While official doctrine holds that north Korea invaded south Korea in 1950, it’s hardly possible for Koreans to have invaded Korea. What’s more, the question of who started the war – both sides clashed on and off for up to a year before major hostilities broke out – remains murky. Deciding on what event precipitated the war is like deciding when a hill becomes a mountain. Any attempt to abstract a discrete event from a complex of richly interconnected events as the cause of the war is to play with arbitrariness. Even deciding when the war began and ended (has it ended?) involves an arbitrary demarcation. Hugh Deane argued that the war began in 1945, the moment the US army arrived and suppressed the national liberation People’s Committees. Conceived as a struggle to free the peninsula from foreign domination, the war has never ended, and has lasted 99 years.
Korea, it should be recalled, was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945. No sooner had Koreans declared their independence, did US military forces arrive to establish a military government, shot through with former Japanese collaborators. While the Soviets, who agreed to the division of the peninsula, occupied the north, they withdrew their forces in 1948 and allowed the maximal guerrilla leader, Kim Il Sung, to rise to power, rather than imposing their own man, as the United States was to do in the south, when it brought the anti-communist Sygman Rhee, a long-time US resident, to Korea. US troops remain on Korean soil to this day.
The reason the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, (DPRK is the north’s official name), is receiving considerable Western media attention is because it plans to launch a satellite. The launching, it is said by US officials, and repeated uncritically by the US media, is a cover for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear payload as far away as the shores of Alaska. In case north Korea’s launching a satellite strikes anyone as being far from belligerent – certainly not in the same league as flying bombers into another country to destroy its nuclear facilities (as Israel did in Iraq and threatens to do in Iran) the new US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, assures us that, appearances aside, the launching is “a provocative act.” This is duly reported, but nobody asks why. Why should the launching of a satellite, even if the rocket technology is dual-purpose (it can be used to launch satellites and warheads) be provocative? Doesn’t the United States have rockets, satellites and warheads in abundance? The cause for alarm certainly can’t be because the DPRK has launched aggressions against other countries. It hasn’t. On the other hand, the United States and Japan, both with notorious records of employing military force to violate other conutries’ sovereignty, are sounding the alarm. The real reason the DPRK’s satellite launching is depicted as provocative is the same reason its nuclear test was depicted as provocative. Having nuclear warheads and the technology to deliver them expresses the threat of potential self-defense.
So it is that the North American media, playing its accustomed role as private propagandist for US foreign policy, has striven to elevate north Korea’s satellite launching to the provocative act Clinton says it is. The launching of a satellite has become, in The New York Times’ headlines, a missile launching (8), inducing the Japanese to ready their missile interceptors. (9) The Washington Post does The New York Times one better by calling the launching a nuclear test. (10) Even if the DPRK is testing rocket technology that could be used to deploy a nuclear warhead, is this any more reason to be alarmed than the reality that Israel can annihilate its neighbors with nuclear weaponry in numbers and sophistication far greater than north Korea can ever hope to match? The idea that Israel is a responsible country committed to the stability of the Middle East is a fiction; Israel is the main source of instability in the Middle East and has been since 1948. Had Zionists not arrived in Palestine to displace an Arab majority that had lived peacefully with Jews and Christians for centuries, there never would have been an armed struggle waged by the PLO, or an Islamic Jihad and Hamas to carry it on once the PLO’s dominant party, Fatah, faltered with a series of capitulations. Nor would there have been an Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon aimed at destroying the PLO, and therefore no basis for the rise of Hezbollah. As for the idea that Israeli leaders are level headed, look at the carnage Israel visited upon Gaza, ostensibly to deter rocket attacks that have killed 20 people in the last eight years. (11) Or consider this:
“The winter assault on the Gaza Strip was officially portrayed in Israel as an attempt to quell rocket fire by militants of Hamas. But some soldiers say they also were lectured about a more ambitious aim: to banish non-Jews from the biblical land of Israel. ‘This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness,’ a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. ‘His message was clear: ‘This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.’ The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic.’” (12)
Lebensraum comes to mind.
While US officials may contrive to regard north Korea’s satellite launching as provocative, it pales in comparison to the provocation of the United States and south Korea holding annual war games exercises along north Korea’s borders, this year larger than ever, and after the new government in Seoul of Lee Myung Bak has departed from the conciliatory line of the previous government, adopting a decidedly hostile posture.
Lest anyone think that north Korea’s impending satellite launching amounts to even a slight threat, consider the testimony of US Navy Admiral Timothy J. Keating before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 19, 2009. Keating said he does not regard the planned north Korean launching as a threat. “’It is a normal notification process, which they didn’t do in 2006, when they attempted a launch from the same facility,’ Keating said. Keating added that U.S. intelligence cannot yet say whether the launch will be of a communications satellite, as North Korea has asserted, or of a missile with intercontinental range. But he and two other commanders said they think it will be a satellite launch because of the public announcements from Pyongyang, including coordinates of the ocean area where the booster rocket is likely to fall.” (13)
Nuclear armed Israel carries out a massacre in Gaza, backed by a rabbinate echoing the Nazi’s rationale for territorial expansion, while Israeli soldiers wear t-shirts depicting Palestinians as vermin to be exterminated, and Israeli warplanes violate the sovereign airspace of Sudan. Soon after, the hostile Lee Myung Bak government of south Korea, more interested in picking fights with the north than seeking peaceful reunification, escalates the country’s annual war games with the United States, aimed at intimidating the north. These aggressive and provocative acts are minimized by the North American media – either barely acknowledged, sanitized or celebrated. In the meantime, north Korea’s planned satellite launching is depicted as a provocation meriting stepped up sanctions and escalated efforts to bring down the government in Pyongyang. It can be hardly doubted that the North American media are an apparatus of public persuasion in the service of US foreign policy. In its hands black becomes white, the oppressed become oppressor, serial aggressors become keepers of the peace, and self-defense becomes provocation.
1. Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History, Princeton University Press, 2007.
2. Rory McCarthy, “Amnesty calls on US to suspend arms sales to Israel,” The Guardian (UK), February 23, 2009.
3. Rory McCarthy, “Israel accused of indiscriminate phosphorus use in Gaza,” The Guardian (UK), March 25, 2009.
4. Clancy Chassay and Julian Borger, “Guardian investigation uncovers evidence of alleged Israel war crimes in Gaza,” The Guardian (UK), March 24, 2009.
5. Ethan Bronner, “Soldiers’ accounts of Gaza killings raise furor in Israel,” The New York Times, March 20, 2009.
6. Peter Beaumont, “Gaza war crime claims gather pace as more troops speak out,” The Observer (UK), March 22, 2009.
7. Patrick Martin, “Israel’s principle of purity of arms sacrificed in Gaza, soldiers say,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 20, 2009.
8. “N. Korean missile reportedly in place,” New York Times, March 26, 2009.
9. “Japan readies missile interceptor” New York Times, March 29, 2009.
10. “North Korean nuclear test a growing possibility,” The Washington Post, March 27, 2009.
11. Rory McCarthy, “Amid the ruins, a fragile truce and a fragile future for Gaza,” The Guardian (UK), January 18, 2009.
12. Richard Boudreaux, “Israeli army rabbis criticized for stance on Gaza assault,” The Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2009.
13. “US could hit N. Korean missile, says commander,” The Washington Post, March 20, 2009.
By Stephen Gowans
A member of the executive committee of the scholars’ organization that has accused Mahmoud Mamdani of falling for what it calls the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, has volunteered and worked for pro-imperialist organizations and has given briefings to the US State Department and Intelligence Council. (1)
Jacob Mundy, who co-edited a recent collection of articles posted on the Concerned Africa Scholars’ website, criticizing Mamdani for failing to take a hard negative line against Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party, was a Peace Corp volunteer and has held jobs with The International Crisis Group and Amnesty International. (2)
The Peace Corps “was spawned by the US cold war desire to compete with the Soviet bloc for influence in the third world.” While it no longer has a cold war mission, it remains, at its core, committed to a “battle for hearts and minds” (3) – instilling pro-West and pro-capitalist values in third world populations.
On top of its missionary function, the Peace Corps has been used as a CIA front.
“Those agents in the Peace Corps who were conscious of their role had several tasks. As they mingled with the people, they were identifying future leftist leaders as well as those right-wingers who in the future would work for U.S. interests. They were assessing consciousness, evaluating reactions to reforms. And they were selecting and training future agents.” (4)
That’s not to say Mundy is a CIA operative, only that his CV is replete with connections to organizations that are interlocked with the CIA or have served pro-imperialist roles, beginning with the Peace Corps.
Mundy’s term with the Peace Corps coincided with the directorship of Mark L. Schneider, who would later join the notoriously pro-imperialist International Crisis Group as Senior Vice President and Special Adviser on Latin America. Mundy would later show up at the ICG to serve a three month stint in 2005. (5)
The International Crisis Group is funded by such pro-imperialist and CIA pass-through organizations as the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Foundation, The Soros Open Society Institute and the Ronald Reagan established US Institute for Peace, of which the US Secretaries of State and Defense are ex officio board members.
The ICG’s board members, past and present, include US and British foreign policy luminaries, among them Wesley Clark (who commanded the Nato assault on Yugoslavia in 1999), cold warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski (who ordered the backing of the Mujahadin in Afghanistan), Lord Robertson (the former Secretary General of Nato), and billionaire financier George Soros, who has been active in bankrolling color revolutions. (6)
Also on the board is Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, wife of Peter Ackerman. Ackerman, another color revolution activist, is a member of the US ruling class Council on Foreign Relations, heads up the CIA interlocked Freedom House, and runs the International Center for Non-Violent Conflict (the ICNC).
The ICNC is significant for having Stephen Zunes, who once was a research fellow at the United States Institute for Peace, as a member of its academic council. What’s the connection to Mundy? Zunes is co-author, along with Mundy, of the forthcoming Western Sahara: War, Nationalism and Conflict Irresolution in Northwest Africa.
The rights group Amnesty International, whose US branch Mundy worked for as assistant country specialist, North Africa, from 2004 to 2007, tends to reserve its harshest criticisms for countries outside the West, preferring a more reserved and nuanced approach to its criticisms of Western governments and their allies. This reflects an underlying commitment to the view that the West possesses a moral credibility which legitimizes its taking a leadership role in the world. For example, Amnesty International USA’s executive director, William Schulz, once called on George W. Bush to order a full investigation into the “atrocious human rights violations at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers,” because,
“when the US government calls upon foreign leaders to bring to justice those who commit or authorize human rights violations in their own countries, why should those foreign leaders listen? And if the US government does not abide by the same standards of justice, what shred of moral authority will we retain to pressure other governments to diminish abuses?” (7)
In this can be glimpsed the basis of AI’s human rights imperialism – the idea that the US government has an obligation, borne of an assumed moral authority, to lead the world in the defense and promotion of human rights. It’s astonishing that anyone with even a passing acquaintance of US foreign policy would believe that the US hadn’t long ago surrendered the last ounce of moral credibility it ever had and is, without exception, the world’s worst human rights violator.
Former Amnesty International USA board member Dennis Bernstein underscored AI’s eagerness to expose human rights violations outside the West and kid gloves approach to Western countries in a 2002 interview.
“To be sure, if you are dealing with a human rights situation in a country that is at odds with the United States or Britain, it gets an awful lot of attention, resources, man and womanpower, publicity, you name it, they can throw whatever they want at that. But if it’s dealing with violations of human rights by the United States, Britain, Israel, then it’s like pulling teeth to get them to really do something on the situation. They might, very reluctantly and after an enormous amount of internal fightings and battles and pressures, you name it. But you know, it’s not like the official enemies list.” (8)
In 2006, Mundy wrote a paper on Western Sahara, Islam, Terrorism and Economic Marginality in the Sahara-Sahel for the U.S. National Intelligence Council, gave a presentation on Morocco and Western Sahara to the U.S. State Department and National Intelligence Council, and in August of that year, briefed Ambassador-designate for Algeria, Robert Ford on Western Sahara.(9)
Mundy starts out working for the Peace Corps, an organization established expressly to serve imperialist goals, and which has a history of being used as a cover for, and means of, recruiting CIA agents.
He serves a short stint at the International Crisis Group, which is linked up with the US government foreign policy establishment, corporate foundations, and color revolution financier George Soros.
He spends four years working for Amnesty International, an organization whose eagerness to attack US foreign policy targets and reluctance to take on the US, Britain and its allies is notorious.
Meanwhile, he gives briefings to the US State Department and National Intelligence Council while co-authoring a book on Western Sahara with Stephen Zunes, who is active in the US-government-corporate-foundation-supported community of pro-democracy, non-violence activists who travel the world training youth to overthrow the governments of US foreign policy targets, among them the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe.
Next he shows up as member of the executive committee of the Concerned Africa Scholars, an organization offering a scholarly legitimation of the US, British and EU demonization of the Mugabe government, which these powers have openly targeted for regime change.
The orientation of the Concerned Africa Scholars and the background of one of its executive directors provide an answer to the obvious question: About what are the Concerned Africa Scholars concerned? The answer would seem to be legitimizing the narrative that justifies Western intervention in Zimbabwe (even if only limited to the new missionaries, NGOs (9)) and more broadly, in Africa as a whole.
1. Mundy’s CV was pointed out to me by Michael Barker, who has written indefatigably on the networks of organizations and individuals engaged in democracy manipulation.
2. Jacob A. Mundy, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Jacob_A._Mundy
3. Kevin Lowther, “‘Service to your country’ muddied by Peace Corps-military agreement”, Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 2005.
4. Annon, “Under the Cloak and Behind the Dagger”, North American Congress on Latin America, Latin America & Empire Report, July – August 1974, pp. 6-8.
5. Mark L. Schnieder, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Mark_L._Schneider
6. International Crisis Group, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=International_Crisis_Group
7. Alan Cowell, New York Times, May 26, 2005.
9. Jacob A. Mundy, Source Watch, http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Jacob_A._Mundy
10. One of the articles critical of Mamdani compiled by Mundy is written by a civil society scholar who is referred to in some anti-imperialist circles as Bond, Patrick Bond, of her majesty’s NGOs. Bond has labeled Sokwanele, a US-financed poplar insurrection group trained by “pro-democracy” non-violence activists, as an independent left, despite its connections to imperialist governments and corporate foundations. I’m not sure what Sokwanele is independent of, but it’s not independent of the US government’s regime change plans for Zimbabwe. Neither, it would seem, is Mundy.
By Stephen Gowans
A common complaint made against critics of color revolutions, the Western-engineered insurrections that have brought neo-liberal governments to power in Serbia (the 5th October Overthrow), Georgia (the Rose Revolution), and Ukraine (the Orange Revolution), and have been attempted in Zimbabwe and Belarus, is that they err in minimizing the degree to which these revolutions are spontaneous, grass-roots-organized eruptions of popular anger against oppressive “regimes.”
One such defender of color revolutions, Philippe Duhamel, a “non-violent actionist (sic) and an educator for social change” takes issue with criticism of non-violence, pro-democracy activists who cheer on, and contribute to the organizing of, color revolutions (1). He argues that:
1. Criticism of such color revolution supporters as Stephen Zunes for his connections to ruling class foundations is unfair, and amounts to guilt by association; (2)
2. Color revolutions provide a model for non-violent social change in the West;
3. Anti-government mobilizations in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine were not imported from the West, but were grass-roots in origin.
Duhamel argues it is “possible for somebody to study the dynamics of popular revolutions and want to further nonviolent methods…without necessarily becoming a fan of the types of regime or rulers that emerge” – an implicit acknowledgement that the governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions, aided by “non-violent actionists and educators for social change,” are not the kinds of governments “pro-democracy” activists care to be associated with. No wonder. Western-directed uprisings have produced governments in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia committed to the Washington Consensus of harshness to the weak and indulgence to Western business interests. Considering that these uprisings have cleared the way for the ascension to power of governments that cater to the interests of the same Western governments and corporations that funded them (and hired the West’s docents of non-violent social change as color revolution advisors), they can hardly be said to be popular, progressive or democratic.
As regards studying color revolutions to apply their lessons to bringing about social change in the West, one must ask why it is that the model has enjoyed vaunted success in spring-boarding to power neo-liberal governments outside the West, but has failed to bring about a popular revolution in the West. (3) Color revolutions have relied heavily on funding from imperialist governments, ruling class foundations, and wealthy investors. (4) Western funding provides enormous advantages that genuine popular revolutions not aimed at serving imperialist goals struggle (usually unsuccessfully) to obtain. Obviously, Western governments and corporate foundations don’t fund revolutions in their own countries. (5) For this reason, color revolutions have been strictly non-Western phenomena.
In Serbia, where the 5th October Overthrow succeeded, and in Zimbabwe and Belarus, where Western governments and corporate foundations have worked to replicate the color revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine, economic warfare and threats of military intervention were, and are, important regime change inputs. They conduce to the success of anti-government uprisings by establishing regime change as a necessary condition for ending the crisis conditions economic warfare and threatened (or actual) military intervention create. Whether techniques of non-violent direct action are more effective than other means of bringing about revolutionary change under siege conditions is an open question. What is clear is that in Ukraine and Georgia, anti-government mobilizations were bankrolled, organized and assisted by Western governments, corporate foundations and billionaire investor George Soros. Could anti-government mobilizations succeed in toppling governments in the West without the strategic advice, polling, legal support, media infrastructure, public relations backing, legal expertise, civil disobedience training, leadership education, hiring of full-time organizers, creation of unified political opposition parties, unqualified media support, and mountains of spending money that Western governments and corporate foundations have showered on color revolutionaries outside the West?
Duhamel and other pro-democracy non-violence activists argue that major social mobilizations cannot be created on demand from a socio-economic vacuum or imported from the US, but critics of color revolutions haven’t tried to make this case. The argument they make is that engineered uprisings depend on three critical inputs: a crisis (induced by economic warfare, actual or threatened military intervention, or related to the impugned legitimacy of an election); an understanding that relief from the crisis is contingent on removal of the government; and a united political opposition working with an interlocked civil society apparatus pursuing clear and specific goals related to removal of the government. (6) The idea that popular uprisings of sufficient mass and coherence to topple governments arise spontaneously is a pleasant thought, but fatally minimizes the necessity of crises, the establishment of a contingent relation between ending the crisis and overthrowing the government, and the advantages of generous funding in building an opposition capable of carrying out the assigned task of sweeping the government away.
The goals of color revolutionaries are narrow and circumscribed and quite different from those of truly popular revolutions. Color revolutionaries care about toppling the current government, not about the government that follows. Not surprisingly, color revolution enthusiasts in the West are usually completely unaware of the nature and character of governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions. They celebrate the process, not the outcome. Unlike color revolutions, truly popular revolutions have been concerned first with establishing new systems of government and second with removing the existing government because it stood in the way of achieving this goal. Color revolutions, however, are inspired by no positive vision, only a negative one.
The beneficiaries of color revolutions have been neo-liberal governments committed to privatizing publicly-owned assets, providing a low-wage, low-tax environment for Western investors, eliminating tariffs and subsidies to please Western exporters, and signing up to integration into Nato to please the Pentagon. For all their boasting about being pro-democratic, color revolutions haven’t brought democratic governments to power (democratic in the sense of representing the interests of the mass of citizens.) Since the outcome of ostensibly pro-democracy revolutions cannot, therefore, be said to be truly democratic, why it is that color revolutionaries don’t try again, if, indeed, democracy, or at least, removal of oppressive antidemocratic governments, is their true aim? Surely, equipped with techniques of non-violent activism imparted by corporate foundation-supported educators for social change, a movement, emboldened by success in toppling one oppressive government, would have no trouble toppling another – or at least, giving it a good try. Yet the post-revolutionary governments of Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, which have been no better than the ones they replaced, and in the case of Serbia, far worse, have faced no popular insurrections that have threatened to bring them down.(7)
Consider the case of Georgia’s Rose Revolution. The popular insurrection that brought US-trained corporate lawyer, and George W. Bush-admirer, Mikhail Saakashvili to power, has not ushered in a new, democratic, day. Instead, Georgia has become decidedly less democratic and emphatically friendlier to US corporate and military interests.
Lincoln A. Mitchell, a Georgia expert at Columbia University says that,
“The reality is that the Saakashvili government is the fourth one-party state that Georgia has had during the last 20 years, going back to the Soviet period. And nowhere has this been more apparent than in the restrictions on media freedom.” (8)
According to Sozar Subari, Georgia’s ombudsman for human rights,
“That Georgia is on the road to democracy and has a free press is the main myth created by Georgia that the West has believed in. We have some of the best freedom-of-expression laws in the world, but in practice, the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.” (9)
Indeed, so severe are the new government’s restrictions on the press that Nino Zuriashvili, a Georgian investigative journalist, says, “The paradox is that there was more media freedom before the Rose Revolution.” (10)
So why haven’t the Rose Revolutionaries trotted out their pro-democracy, non-violence techniques to oust the oppressive, anti-democratic and violence-prone Saakashvili (who sent troops to Iraq, started a war in South Ossetia, and sent riot police into the streets to bash the heads of demonstrators protesting the loss of their jobs)? One reason why is because they’re otherwise engaged doing Uncle Sam’s work elsewhere in the world. Instead of staying at home to topple the oppressive Saakashvili government, the non-violent, pro-democracy activists who helped organize the Rose Revolution have been “deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians” (11) but not Georgia.
Who deployed them abroad? Their employers, billionaire financier George Soros and “the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas. The group is funded in part by the International Republican Institute, which many describe as the international arm of the GOP, and Washington-based Freedom House, which receives most of its funding from the U.S. government” (12) and is interlocked with the CIA. (13)
The other reason a second Rose Revolution hasn’t come along to sweep away the anti-democratic, pro-violence, Saakashvili is that while “U.S. support for Saakashvili resulted in a sharp increase in foreign aid to the Georgian government…funding for the advocacy groups that had been at the heart of the Rose Revolution dried up, forcing organizations to shut down programs that could monitor and challenge his decisions.” (14)
In other words, Washington cut off the funding that fuelled the Rose Revolution, and, predictably, without the impetus of generous funding, no grass-roots organized popular mobilization has arisen (or has, but is so starved for funds, and has such a low profile as a consequence, that nobody has noticed.) And yet pro-democracy, non-violence activists, who take money from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to train Belarusians, Iranians, Zimbabweans and Venezuelans to overthrow their governments, insist that color revolutions are not fuelled by Western lucre, but are grass-roots, independent, uprisings against oppression.
Finally, the idea that color revolutions are carried out non-violently, while also a pleasant thought, is without foundation. Engineered uprisings invariably arise in the context of implied or threatened violence, whether it is the persistent threat of non-violent demonstrators suddenly turning into a violent mob, or the threat of Western military intervention, lurking in the background of events related to efforts to oust the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe, and actual military intervention preceding the Serbian 5th October Overthrow.
Western-assisted revolutions have also been aided by the efforts of Western governments to destabilize target countries through economic warfare. The West imposed sanctions on the former Yugoslavia, and maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe and Belarus. As mentioned, these destabilizing efforts are accompanied by signals to the besieged population. Topple your government and the threats and sanctions end. These conditions (blackmail, in straightforward language) give birth to an incipient movement to overthrow the government, coalescing around the existing opposition. The hiring of full-time anti-government organizers, grants to establish “independent” media to shape public opinion, Voice of America and Radio Liberty broadcasts to further tilt public sentiment away from the local government, the hardships imposed by the West’s economic warfare, the training of activists in techniques of popular insurrection, diplomatic maneuvers to isolate the country internationally — these things together establish the conditions for the success of an engineered insurrection. At the same time, they challenge the idea that color revolutions are pure, spontaneous, and grass-roots-organized, not contrived, nurtured and facilitated from without.
Western-engineered insurrections cannot, then, serve as a paradigm for organizing in the West, for the ingredients essential to their success could never be expected in the foreseeable future to be present in the case of attempted popular revolutions in the US, UK, France or elsewhere in the Western world. The necessary crisis conditions, and the contingency between relief from the crisis and removal of the government, will have to arise independently of the will of Western ruling classes. In Serbia, Zimbabwe and Belarus, they have arisen owing to the will of Western ruling classes.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from attempted and successful color revolutions. There are two important lessons to be learned:
o Funding, and the organization that generous funding enormously facilitates, cannot be underestimated in its power to bring about disciplined mass mobilizations guided by clear and specific goals.
o Organizers serve the interests of those who provide the funding.
From this we can conclude that for a revolution to serve popular interests, its funding, unlike that of color revolutions (which have served Western corporate and military interests), must be popularly sourced. Non-popularly sourced leadership training, training in techniques of civil disobedience and insurrection, “independent” media and NGOs, serve the interests of their funders.
As regards the guilt by association of Stephen Zunes and his peers, it can be said that what they are guilty of is taking money from Western governments, ruling class foundations and wealthy individuals to train activists to topple foreign governments. The purpose of these activities, whether the guilty acknowledge it or not, is to clear the way for the ascension to power of reactionary dependent governments committed to catering to imperialist interests. What Zunes et al are associated with, then, are the outcomes of these insurrections – harsher, more uncertain, and certainly less democratic lives for the local populations, but enhanced profit-making opportunities for Western banks, corporations and investors. That the funding for these activities comes from Western governments, corporate-sponsored foundations and wealthy investors is no accident.
The argument of non-violent actionists and educators for social change that this funding contributes in no way to the success of antigovernment uprisings and in no way shapes their outcome is an obfuscation spurred by obvious self-interest. Those who take lucre from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to help bring to power foreign governments to cater to imperialist interests must be held accountable for the outcomes of their actions. They must not be allowed to hide behind the delusion that they’re only studying the dynamics of “popular revolutions” abroad in order to understand how to be bring about social change non-violently at home. Anyone who works diligently to overthrow foreign governments in order to clear the way for the more vigorous pursuit of imperialist interests can hardly be expected to be genuinely interested in bringing about truly democratic change at home.
2. Zunes has been criticized from the left by Michael Barker, “Peace activists, criticism and non-violent imperialism,” MRZine, January 8, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html and “Sharp reflection warranted: Non-violence in the service of imperialism,” Swans Commentary, June 30, 2008, http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker01.html; John Bellamy Foster, “Reply to Stephen Zunes on imperialism and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” MRZine, January 17, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/foster170108.html; George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Making Excuses for Empire: Reply to Defenders of the AEI,” August 4, 2008, Venezuelanalysis.com, http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3690; Netfa Freeman, “Zimbabwe and the battle of ideas,” The Black Agenda Report, September 25, 2008, http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=node/10802; and Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
3. Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/ and “The war over South Ossetia,” September 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/the-war-over-south-ossetia/
4. Michael Barker, “Regulating revolutions in Eastern Europe,” ZNet, November 1, 2006, http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/2846
5. The funding that ruling class foundations and Western governments provide to left and progressive groups in the West is counter-revolutionary, intended to channel potential militancy into bureaucratic, litigious and electoral arenas where ruling class forces have the upper hand. Foundations are keen to support left groups that promote the idea that “we can change the world without taking power” and limit their goals to “pressuring elites”, i.e., leaving capitalist ruling class structures in place. Foundation grants are also used to upset the development of class consciousness by promoting identity politics and particularism. There is plenty of foundation funding available to support groups organized around women’s issues, ethnic media, gay, lesbian and transgender concerns, the elderly, and so on, but not for those working to create a working class conscious of its collective interests and place in history and the world. See Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, State University of New York Press, 2003.
6. Zimbabwe provides an example of how Western governments, media and foundations work together to destabilize target countries to promote anti-government uprisings. Western efforts to replicate Eastern European color revolutions in Zimbabwe have so far failed, possibly owing to the reality that the formula has become evident and target governments know what to expect and can take defensive actions. See Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/ and “US government report undermines Zimbabwe opposition’s claim of independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
7. For a summary of post-5th October Overthrow Serbia see Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
8. New York Times, October 7, 2008.
11. Borzou Daragahi “Soros’ Army: A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008
13. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 1988, p. 28. 17.
14. Philip P. Pan, “Georgia, a nation stalled on the road to democracy,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2009.
By Stephen Gowans
Professor of Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg David Moore’s Mamdani’s Enthusiasms, which appeared on the Concerned Africa Scholars’ website on March 16, 2009, continues in the group’s tradition of pushing aside argument based on rigor and analysis, in preference for comfortable slogans, prejudice and cheap rhetorical tricks.
Moore’s aim is to discredit Mahmoud Mamdani, who committed the unpardonable sin of challenging the comfortable slogans and prejudices of Moore and his peers in a December 4, 2008 London Review of Books article, Lessons of Zimbabwe.
Moore’s attack is based, not on challenging Mamdani’s scholarship, but on associating him with me, “a blogger” whose blogs “are printed ardently by the Zimbabwean state’s organ, The Herald”, whose “corporal person remains mysterious” but “is known to many academics and activists concerned with Zimbabwe for his venomous attacks on civil society activists.” I’m also, according to Moore, a representative “of a Kissingerian intelligentsia” (along with Mamdani.) Thanks to Moore’s assurances that I am, indeed, a corporal person, my solipsist anxiety that I’ve only imagined my physical existence has finally receded. I see now that I’m really Henry Kissinger in the flesh.
Moore cares not one iota about attacking me. Not being a member of the club, I count for very little. My reputation, he points out, rests not on scholarship, as Mamdani’s does, but on “the popularity of (my) blogs” and also, Moore claims “the patronage of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Information,” whatever that means. If it means I get paid by the Ministry, the payroll department is about 10 years in arrears.
It’s Mamdani, his fellow scholar, that Moore is attacking, and he does so through the rhetorical device of frequently pairing my name with the Ugandan scholar’s. Mamdani and Gowans say this…Mamdani and Gowans believe that…as if Mamdani and I are joined at the hip. Hell, we haven’t even exchanged e-mails, let alone bumped into each other at meetings of the Kissingerian Intelligentsia Society.
I’m not complaining about being paired with Mamdani. Indeed, I’m flattered. But I’m not so self-deluded as to fail to grasp that Moore intends no flattery. Instead, his aim is not to elevate me, but to knock down Mamdani by suggesting that Mamdani’s ideas are no better than those of what, to Moore, is a readily discreditable figure: myself – the mysterious and pedestrian blogger who, Moore claims, relies on “the patronage of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Information” and whose blogs “are printed ardently by the Zimbabwean state’s organ, The Herald”.
Stripped of its parade of impression-management references to Gogol, Kentridge and the Kissingerian intelligentsia, Moore’s argument boils down to this: Look, the only person who agrees with Mamdani is some mysterious blogger who may as well be an agent of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Information. That’s not an argument of substance; it’s a smear.
The Concerned Africa Scholars’ view is that anything but ardent denunciation of Zanu-PF is pro-Mugabe propaganda – on Zimbabwe, about as sophisticated as the organization gets. Their concern isn’t with rooting out vectors of Zanu-PF propaganda as attacking anyone who departs from the established propaganda model, informed largely by New York Times articles and US State Department press releases, of reflexive anti-Zanu-PF bashing. It’s not that they don’t like propaganda; it’s just that they don’t like anyone challenging their own brand.
In the end, Moore simply proves the point I made in “Cynicism as a substitute for scholarship” – that criticism of Mamdani by the Concerned Africa Scholars reduces to ad hominem assaults and the substitution of cynicism for scholarship. If Moore and his peers want to challenge Mamdani’s scholarship on Zimbabwe, they ought to do so. I haven’t seen it yet, but when I do, I’ll be pleased. Doing so, however, will mean they must first suppress their enthusiasm for cheap rhetorical tricks and propagation of the established Western propaganda model and turn their attention to a new one: scholarship.
By Stephen Gowans
Michael D. Yates wrote an MRZine article accusing Fox and CNN journalists, and Michael Steele, the first black person to be selected to chair the Republican National Committee, of being complete boneheads. That Yates chose MRZine as his vehicle for launching a diatribe against the intellectual failings of the likes of Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer means he must have been looking for an easy sell. He might as well have told Palestinians that Zionists are not their friends.
Everyone on the Left knows there are plenty of right-wing morons, but rarely acknowledged is the plenitude of liberal morons. Progressives, for obvious reasons, don’t talk about them, though liberal morons are no less deserving of invective than Dobbs, Blitzer and Steele are.
Consider, for example, Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org. MoveOn.org, to quote directly from Sourcewatch.org,
“is a web-based liberal advocacy organization that raises tens of millions of dollars for Democratic Party politicians and causes from the millions of people on its e-mail list. MoveOn funds or sponsors with other liberal advocacy organizations various coalitions such as Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), SavetheInternet.com Coalition, and Win Without War. It endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Party primaries, fundraised and organized for him, and has become perhaps the lead lobby organization for his policies in 2009, apart from Obama’s own Organizing for America.”
My evidence for Ruben’s gobsmacking stupidity lies in the following four paragraphs from the New York Times of February 26. Discussing President Obama’s plans for “withdrawal” from Iraq, Times’ reporters Peter Baker and Thom Shanker note that “Even after August 2010 (the target date for withdrawal) as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops now in Iraq would remain.”
Obama says he intends to withdraw the remaining 50,000 “by 2011 in accordance with a strategic agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush before he left office,” (1) but has carefully chosen his words “to avoid a firm commitment.” (2) Intending to withdraw is different from committing to withdraw, and is reminiscent of the Bush administration’s talk of aspirational goals, as in: I aspire to do something, but that doesn’t mean I will.
Obama, the February 26 New York Times article continued,“plans to seek more money for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a separate fund outside the Pentagon’s base budget, which will also grow beyond the 2009 spending plan of $513 billion. The separate ‘war costs’ budget proposal for 2010 could reach $130 billion to $140 billion, officials said.”
These are hardly the actions of a president preparing to wind down the war, but are entirely in keeping with the actions of a president whose country is structurally compelled to pursue an aggressive foreign policy.
“Word of Mr. Obama’s impending decision generated little of the anger that has flavored the Iraq debate for years,” The New York Times’ reporters noted. “Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, a group that has strongly opposed the war, said activists were willing to give Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt.”
“’People have confidence that the president is committed to ending the war’,” Mr. Ruben said. “’This is basically what he promised in the election.’”
What Obama promised and what people think he promised are not often the same. But even in the face of Obama acting against what people thought he promised, morons like Ruben are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In the divide between those selling you a bill of goods, and those being suckered, Obama sits on one side and Ruben on the other. Or is Ruben on Obama’s side? Is he the confederate who shouts from the crowd, “I’ll take ten of those,” after the snake oil salesman finishes his spiel on his amazing elixir that cures cancer, heart disease, flagging libido and the fleas?
It should be noted that plans for a stay-behind-force of around 50,000 troops were in the works under the Bush administration — another brick in the wall of evidence showing there are no foreign policy discontinuities of significance between Republican and Democrat administrations. Regime change in Iraq was official policy under the Clinton administration and the permanent military occupation of Iraq is as much a fixture of Obama’s foreign policy as it was of Bush’s. Indeed, that Obama has chosen to retain the Bush team’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates (who has served under seven previous presidents (3)) and Generals Petraeus and Odierno, shows he has not only “decided not to challenge the fundamental strategic orientation” of the Bush administration, but that he has chosen not to break to with the US policy of permanent military aggression. Obama’s carry-overs from the Bush administration will “oversee and manage the Iraq occupation” and “the widening U.S war in Afghanistan and the aerial assaults on Pakistan.” (4) Nothing has changed.
That Obama is carrying on in the traditions of previous US presidents should come as no surprise. What matters are not the personnel in Washington, and whether the president is black, brown, yellow, red, white, liberal or conservative, but the systemic imperatives that structure US policy and the interests of the corporate class whose wealth and connections are used to place people with the right politics in senior state positions.
1. Peter Baker, “With pledges to troops and Iraqis, Obama details pullout,” The New York Times, February 28, 2009.
3. “Iraq: Will Obama’s ‘change’ be more of the same?” Proletarian, Issue 28 (February 2009)
4. ANSWER coalition response