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The UN Secretary General and the One Percent

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It’s clear whose side UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is on.

On August 17, Ban denounced Iran’s supreme leader Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei‘s condemnation of Zionism as a political system. Khamenei’s remarks were “offensive and inflammatory,” Ban cautioned, adding that the UN Charter prohibits member states from threatening one another.

Iran’s “threats” against Israel, including president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alleged threat to “wipe Israel off the map” have the appearance, though not the substance, of threats. They’re predictions about the inevitable collapse of a morally indefensible political system. Zionism will eventually fade from the pages of history, the Iranian president augured, not in a hail of nuclear missiles, but because its racial exclusion and ethnic cleansing are the rotten timbers upon which it rests.

Anyone who had prophesied that the days of Apartheid—another morally indefensible political system—were numbered, would hardly have been accused of threatening to bomb South Africa. But Ahmadinejad, as president of an economically nationalist state that exhibits little enthusiasm for hitching its wagon economically and politically to Wall Street and Washington, gets special treatment.

Khamenei’s prediction, and Ahmadinejad’s rendering of it, was soon turned into a canard about Iran threatening to bomb Israel, which demagogues in Tel Aviv and Washington have been using since to sanitize Israel’s threats to wage war on Iran. Use bombs, sanctions, isolation, and a foreign-trained domestic overthrow movement to usher Khamenei and Ahmadinejad off the stage of history, install pliant local rulers, and Iran’s back in the Wall Street camp.

While Iran’s leaders predict Zionism’s downfall under the weight of its own injustices, Israel has been making real threats–and not predictions about the collapse of the Islamic state, but promises to rain death and destruction on Iran from the air. All the same, Ban has been silent. Some UN member states, it seems, are afforded the privilege of threatening other member states, without a dressing down by the Secretary General.

Israel’s “entire existence is premised on the forced removal of Palestinians from their land,” Mazda Majidi points out in a recent Liberation article. Israel’s origins in ethnic cleansing might have led Ban to denounce Zionism as “offensive and inflammatory,” rather than Khamenei’s screed against it. Israel has amassed a robust record of serial aggressions, invading “every single one of its neighbors: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.” And much “of the territory it has occupied it has refused to ever return.”

What’s more, its aggressions have “gone beyond its borders, including its bombing of the Osirak nuclear plant in Iraq in 1981 and its military assistance to reactionary states around the globe, including apartheid South Africa.”

So how could Ban miss the pimple on Israel’s face, considering the country was born with it, and that it has once again become red and angry? More to the point, how could he play to Israel’s modus operandi, which goes back to Israel’s founding in 1948, of justifying its aggressions on the wholly laughable grounds of being under an existential threat? Iran, a non-nuclear-arms country without superpower patronage, no more poses an existential threat to the US-backed, nuclear-arms-wielding Israel, than Canada does to the United States.

Ban’s bias is inevitable. Like all UN secretaries general, he’s simply an extension of the countries that make up the permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council–the most important of which, of course, is the United States.

Washington and its other extensions, which include Tel Aviv and the Western mass media, have been engaged in a long-running campaign of manipulating public opinion to make Iran loom large in the minds of the public as a major threat to Israel—all in the service of building a pretext for war. There’s a broader campaign of which this is only a part: to eliminate every state that refuses to subordinate itself economically and politically to the profit-making interests of the banks, corporations and major investors of the United States and its major allies—the one (or more precisely, the fraction of the one) percent.

Milosevic’s Yugoslavia was sanctioned and bombed because it was a social democracy that resisted a free-market take-over, not because—as the story goes—ethnic Albanians were ill-treated. Libyan leader Muamar Gadaffi’s sin, according to a leaked US State Department cable, was that he practiced “resource nationalism”, insisting his country’s resources be used to benefit Libyans, not because he was allegedly about to unleash a genocide. The US State Department complains that Syria has “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, has failed to turn over its state-owned enterprises to private investors, and that “ideological reasons” continue to prevent the Asad government from liberalizing Syria’s economy, not that the country’s president, Bashar al-Asad, hates democracy and tramples human rights. (Were this the reason Washington opposes Asad’s government, how would we explain US support for the monarchical, misogynist, opposition-jailing, democracy-abominating tyrannies of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain?)

Iran, too, has committed its share of transgressions against free-market, free-enterprise, free-trade theology. The country’s constitution defines the public sector as primary, and “the private sector as the means of furnishing the government’s needs rather than responding to market requirements.” Democratic socialists will be shocked to discover that this is the very same economic model that such New Left socialists as Ralph Miliband defined as emblematic of what a democratic socialism ought to be (which isn’t to say that Iran is a democratic socialist state, only that economically it is very close to what many socialist thinkers have envisaged for Western socialism.)

Needless to say, countries that limit room for foreign investors, and subordinate the private sector to public policy goals, rather than Wall Street’s goals, are an anathema in Washington, and must be eliminated. The UN General Secretary is on board.

Written by what's left

August 24, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Posted in Iran, Israel

The dictator you didn’t know about

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He’s a virtual dictator who presides over a virtual one-party state controlled by his own ethnic minority. True, he has been elected multiple times, but he relies on violence and intimidation to win “mind-bogglingly one-sided elections.” (1) In the last election, his party won all but two of 546 seats in parliament. (2)

When opposition supporters objected to one of his improbable election victories, he ordered regime forces to open fire, “killing 193 and wounding hundreds. Thousands of opposition leaders and supporters were rounded up and detained.” (3) Opponents who weren’t jailed were denied food aid, jobs and other social benefits. (4)

A rebellion against his regime has been met by “brutal campaigns” involving rape and the killing of his own people. (5) Last year, he sentenced two Western journalists to 11 years in prison for reporting on rebel groups fighting to overthrow his tyrannical regime. (6) And in 2006, he sent his forces into a neighbouring country to occupy it militarily, because it was weak and unable to defend itself.

Syria’s Bashar al-Asad?

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe?

The description fits the picture painted of these two leaders by the US State Department and its echo chamber, the Western mass media. But it is neither of these men. Both are reviled in Washington—and so automatically by the Western press—for reasons allegedly having to do with their bad attitudes to democracy and human rights and so it’s easy to believe the leader depicted above is one of them.

But the real reason the US State Department–and in train the mimetic Western media—treat these men as heinous criminals has to do with their attitudes to Western free enterprise and domination from abroad. Neither man has been willing to open his country to untrammelled exploitation by foreigners (or in Zimbabwe’s case to the descendants of settlers.) Neither votes in the United Nations as Washington directs, and neither is willing to act as a military proxy for the Pentagon.

But Meles Zenawi, the leader I’ve described above—the dictator you haven’t heard about—was willing to do all these things.

Meles, the prime minister of Ethiopia, died last Monday. An anti-Communist, he dropped out of medical school in the 1970s to fight Ethiopia’s then Marxist-Leninist government. As prime minister, he shepherded Ethiopia through a free-market, free-enterprise takeover that opened Ethiopia’s economy to foreign investors. (7) In 2006, when the United States asked him to invade neighbouring Somalia, Meles—the uncompromising local agent of US interests—was only too happy to comply.

For his services the Ethiopian strongman was showered with aid—$1 billion from Washington in 2010, and nearly the same amount last year. (8) And his “military and security services” are celebrated in Washington as “among the Central Intelligence Agency’s favourite partners…in Africa.” (9)

While Meles was the kind of leader Washington professes to revile, there were no campaigns for Meles’s removal engineered by the US State Department, and then taken up by a compliant mass media, and from there by liberals, soft-leftists, non-violent pro-democracy activists, and “no-fly-zone-arms-to-the-rebels” Trotskyists. All of these forces were too busy trying to outdo each other in denouncing the rogue’s gallery of socialists and economic nationalists Washington trotted out for disdain, allegedly because they hate democracy and human rights, but actually because they hate foreign domination. Meles never made Washington’s list of rogues. Nor by consequence the Western mass media’s. Nor by consequence the aforesaid leftists’.

Writing Meles’ obituary, New York Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman felt moved to explain the gulf between Washington’s rhetoric about supporting democracy and human rights, and its practice of supporting their very enemies.

“Ethiopia,” wrote Gettleman, “is hardly alone in raising difficult questions on how the United States should balance interests and principles.” Contra Gettleman, the trouble here is that there is no balance between interests and principles. US interests—which is to say the interests of the one percent—vastly outweigh principles, which is why Washington continues to support leaders like Meles and tyrants in the Gulf. Principles are simply rhetoric to cover up the rape of other countries in the pursuit of profit.

“Saudi Arabia,” continued Gettleman, “is an obvious example (of interests trumping principles), a country where women are deprived of many rights and there is almost no religious freedom. Still, it remains one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East for a simple reason: oil.”

Right, but not oil, as a resource US consumers and industry depend on that can’t be obtained elsewhere. Indeed, the United States is one of the world’s top oil producers and more than half of US oil is sourced domestically. Neighbouring Canada supplies as much oil to the United States as do all of the oil producing countries in North Africa and the Middle East combined. (10) The loss of Saudi Arabia as an ally wouldn’t leave the United States short of oil. On the contrary, Saudi Arabia is a source of only a small part of the oil the United States consumes. But it is a source of gargantuan oil profits for US businesses, not only directly, but through the recycling of petro-dollars through US banks. Saudi Arabia remains one of the United States’ closest allies in the Middle East for a simple reason: not oil itself, but for what it delivers–immense profits.

Gettleman went on to point out that, “In Africa, the United States cooperates with several governments that are essentially one-party states, dominated by a single-man, despite a commitment to promoting democracy.” (11) But he didn’t say why. If it’s oil profits in Saudi Arabia, what is it in Africa? The Wall Street Journal is more forthcoming. Meles transformed a Communist-controlled economy by “loosening up of lucrative industries” and attracting “investment in agriculture and manufacturing.” (12) In other words, he helped make US investors—the one percent— richer.

Meanwhile, leaders who have resisted their country’s exploitation by the West’s one percent have been destabilized, sanctioned, bombed, and—with the help of plenty of leftists—tarred by the blackest campaigns of vilification.

1. Jeffrey Gettleman (a), “Ethiopian leader’s death highlights gap between U.S. interests and ideals”, The New York Times, August 21, 2012.
2. Peter Wonacott, “Ethiopia in flux after leader dies”, The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2012.
3. Wonacott
4. Gettleman (a)
5. Jeffrey Gettleman (b), “Ethiopian leader’s death highlights gap between U.S. interests and ideals”, The New York Times, August 21, 2012.
6. Gettleman (a)
7. Wonacott
8. Wonacott
9. Gettleman (a)
10. Danile Yergin, “America’s new energy security”, The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2011; Juliet Eilperin, “Canadian government overhauling environmental rules to aid oil extraction”, The Washington Post, June 3, 2012; Sheila McNulty and Ed Crooks, “US groups unlock secret recipe for oil”, The Financial Times, March 3, 2011.
11. Gettleman (b)
12. Wonacott

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August 23, 2012 at 1:15 am

If this is Stalinism, count me in

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Richard Seymour, the left author and force behind the well-known blog Lenin’s Tomb, has dismissed my critique of his support for Syrian rebels as a pitiable Stalinist diatribe.

Have I any reply? a what’s left reader asked.

My surmise is that Seymour called my critique “Stalinist” because, in his view, his sympathy for Trotskyist politics could only be significant to a Stalinist, and also because it’s Trotskyist second-nature to denounce critiques from the left as “Stalinist’. (Yes, it’s true, too, the same can be said for many self-identified Stalinists, who are just as quick to denounce critiques from the left of their own positions as “Trotskyist.” )

My drawing attention to Seymour’s identification with Trotsky was superfluous (the argument stood on its own.) But it gave Seymour an easy out in name calling and therefore was ill-advised. Still, I’m sure he would have found another label for me— “authoritarian,” or “bankrupt” or “mechanically” anti-imperialist. These are the insults du jour.

So why did I drop the T bomb? Because I think it’s fair to say that Seymour’s analysis owes much to Trotskyist thinking—as it could be said just as fairly that my own owes much to thinking that would not have been out of place in Soviet politics. If that, then, is what “Stalinism” is, then I am guilty as charged and Seymour’s description of my argument as Stalinist is fair and accurate.

As for replying to the points Seymour raises in his new article I can only say this: He appears to have set for himself a test of his forensic skills. Can he persuade others to accept an absurdly indefensible—almost fantastical—position? Judging by what his readers have written on his blog, his forensic skills have proven to be not quite up to the task of lugging the dead weight of an indefensible position up the hill of reason and good sense.

As some of his own readers have pointed out, a revolution must be judged, not by its imperfectly understood origins or aims, but by its destination and outcomes. It is clear to anyone whose mind is not addled by disdain for revolutionary governments that fail to live up to the Trotskyist ideal, or hope that the latest uprising is a signal for the outbreak of socialist revolution on a world scale, that the overthrow of the Asad government, should it come, will not usher in a popular, democratic regime, pregnant with the possibilities of socialist revolution, but a subaltern US client state and the elimination of what elements of socialism remain in the Syrian economy.

The predictable apology of a Ba’thist? Hardly. I am not a Ba’thist, and nor would I belong to the Ba’th party were I Syrian. My politics incline more to the left than the Ba’th could comfortably accommodate. But I am sympathetic to the aims of the Syrian state, and have found much in its record to be admired, namely, its non-sectarian aspirations, anti-Zionism, support for Palestinian liberation, anti-imperialism and amelioration of the material circumstances of a once oppressed agrarian population. On balance, the Syrian state has been far more progressive than regressive, and has done far more that is worthy of praise than condemnation.

The same, however, cannot be said for the significant part of the forces that oppose Damascus and seek to bring the Asad government down. There is no question that the rebels (or “terrorists” as they would be called were Asad on Washington’s side) will, if they prevail, clear the way for the Syrian National Council to supply the key personnel to a successor government. And nor is there any question that the successor government, should it be formed, will immediately sever connections with Iran and Hezbollah—disrupting the so-called “axis of resistance”—and steer the ship of state on a course set in Washington. There is no ambiguity about this, because the SNC has already said that this is what it will do. [1]

It shouldn’t take a mind of especial perspicacity, then, to see that rebels and terrorists who are backed politically, diplomatically, materially and militarily by the United States, its western allies, and its subalterns in the Gulf, will not usher in a genuine popular, democratic government in Syria anymore than Solidarity ushered socialism into Poland, the latter being a misplaced hope of politically naive leftists of an earlier decade. The destination and outcome of that uprising was accurately foreseen by people with a firmer grasp on reality—the ones denounced at the time as pitiable Stalinists.

1. Jay Solomon and Nour Malas, “Syria would cut Iran military tie, opposition head says”, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2011

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August 17, 2012 at 10:57 pm

Dissembling Concern Over Violence, UN General Assembly Takes a Side in Syria’s Civil War

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Professing grave concern over Syria’s escalating violence, the United Nations General Assembly on Friday demanded that “all in Syria immediately and visibly commit to ending violence.”

This would be all to the good except that the General Assembly’s idea of what constitutes “all in Syria” and what it means by “ending violence” amounts to one side in the civil war (the Republic) laying down its arms unilaterally, while President Assad steps down and cedes his authority to an interim government approved by the “international community,” which is to say, the very same countries that are furnishing the rebels with arms, logistical support, diplomatic assistance, territory from which to launch attacks, salaries for fighters, lucre to induce government officials to defect, and propaganda.

The resolution is hardly a plea for peace. It’s a demand that the Republic capitulate. Significantly, the resolution’s sponsor, Saudi Arabia, is the rebels’ main arms supplier. No wonder the Bolivian representative to the UN was moved to declare that the aim of the text is not to assist the Syrian population, but to ‘defeat Damascus’.” “Anybody who doesn’t believe that needs only read it,” he said.

Indeed, the text is perfectly clear: peace means regime change and regime change means peace.

“Rapid progress on a political transition,” the General Assembly said is “the best opportunity” to resolve the conflict peacefully. That is: peace equals Assad stepping down. Or, peace, yes, but on the rebels’, which is to say, the United States’, terms. And UN General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon, echoing US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, has underscored the equating of peace with Assad’s departure, defining “political transition” as a necessary condition of peace.

Importantly, the United States—whose efforts to eliminate Syria’s Arab nationalist government antedate the Arab Spring—opposes Assad, not because he is a “dictator” or “kills his own people” as the propaganda has it, but because his government has long charted a course on foreign and economic policy independent of Washington. Assad’s crime, in the view of Washington, is to have tried to privilege the Syrian population over the interests, both immediate and distal, of US banks and corporations.

Significantly, the resolution ignores the political and constitutional concessions the Syrian government has already made in what has turned out to be a fruitless attempt to engineer a peaceful settlement with an opposition that is hostile to peace. With Libya as a model for how a opposition with the backing of only part of the population need not negotiate with the government it opposes if it can enlist the support of the United States and Europe, the Syrian rebels have never had an incentive to sit down with Damascus and work out a modus vivendi. On the contrary, all the incentives are on the side of an intransigent commitment to violent overthrow of the government. The overthrow comes about as a result of the support in arms and political and propaganda backing the United States and its allies provide, and therefore is effectively authored in Washington, but attributed, for political and propaganda purposes, to the rebels’ own efforts. Having the US State Department, CIA and Pentagon on your side can more than adequately make up for the deficiency of failing to win the support of significant parts of the population.

The General Assembly’s text demands that “the first step in ending the violence must be made by the Syrian authorities,” who are called upon to withdraw their troops. It is highly unlikely that a US ally would ever be called upon to withdraw its troops in the face of an armed insurrection. This is a standard reserved exclusively for communist, socialist, and economic nationalist governments—those whose commitment to self-directed, independent development runs counter to the unrestrained profit-making of US banks and corporations. No international body has ever seriously demanded that Saudi Arabia refrain from violence in putting down rebellions in its eastern provinces, or that Bahrain—home to the US Fifth Fleet—cease its use of violence to extinguish its own, local, eruption of the Arab Spring (a military action against civilians ably assisted by Saudi tanks.) Asking Damascus to unilaterally lay down its arms is a demand for capitulation, disguised as a desire for peace.

Parenthetically, the uprisings in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are regularly depicted in the Western media as “Shia” and backed by Shia Iran and therefore sectarian, not as popular democratic movements against tyrannical monarchies. By contrast, the Syrian uprising, though having a strong sectarian content and being principally Sunni and supported by the Sunni monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the Sunni-dominated government of Turkey, is depicted as a democratic uprising against dictatorship, not sectarian.

The United States and Israel, in backing the General Assembly resolution, denounced Syria’s use of “heavy weapons, armour and the air forces against populated areas”—though Washington’s concern for using overwhelming military force against populated areas stops at Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Populated areas of Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon have felt the heavy hand of Israeli heavy weapons, armour and air force. And Turkey’s rulers—who allow their territory to be used by the rebels as a launching pad for attacks on Syria—continue to kill their own people in their longstanding war against Kurd nationalists.

Ban Ki-moon warned the Syrian government that its actions “might constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes, which must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account,” words he never uttered in connection with Nato’s assault on Libya nor Saudi Arabia’s and Bahrain’s use of violence to quell uprisings in their countries. Nor have his predecessors uttered similar words in connection with the United States’ and Israel’s frequent and undoubted crimes against humanity and war crimes. Moreover, Ban hasn’t warned Syria’s rebels that they too will be held to account for their crimes. (The Libyan rebels haven’t been.)

Thirteen countries opposed the resolution, almost all of them committed to independent self-directed development outside the domination of the United States. These include Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

Against this axis of independence are the sponsors and chief backers of the resolution: the US-vassal Sunni petro-tyrannies—champions of a Sunni rebel movement that’s supposed to be (improbably) galvanized by democratic, not sectarian, ambitions—while the United States, its Nato allies, and Israel—authors of the gravest humanitarian tragedies of recent times, hypocritically profess concern over escalating violence in Syria. The resolution can hardly be seen as a genuine expression of humanitarian concern. It’s a demand for the Republic’s, which is to say, the non-sectarian Arab nationalists’, capitulation, disguised as a plea for peace, and a blatant taking of the imperialist side in a civil war.

Written by what's left

August 5, 2012 at 10:27 pm

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