By Stephen Gowans
Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has withdrawn as artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing because China has failed to pressure Sudan to end the war in Darfur.
China is developing oil fields in the embattled region of Sudan and Spielberg wants Beijing to use its clout to end the insurgency in the west of the country.
Arguing that “Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility” for the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, Spielberg blames China for failing to do “more to end the continuing human suffering there.” (1)
“China’s economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change,” Spielberg says. (2)
But while Spielberg wants China to use its influence in Khartoum, he has released no statements, of which I’m aware, to press Washington to use its influence to end the larger humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia and Iraq, both of which are directly attributable to the actions of his own country, and therefore should be well within the grasp of the US government to end.
China’s ability to end the Darfur conflict, however, is a far more uncertain matter.
Three of the five rebel groups fighting Sudanese forces in Darfur are unwilling to negotiate a peace, according to the UN’s special envoy to Darfur, Jan Eliasson. (3) This makes it difficult for Khartoum, let alone China, to bring an end to the conflict, unless ending the conflict means Khartoum capitulating and handing Darfur and its oil assets to the rebels and their Western backers. This, of course, would suit strategists in the US State Department, to say nothing of the US oil industry.
By comparison, ending the much larger humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia (with 850,000 displaced, Somalia has been called Africa’s largest and most ignored catastrophe) and Iraq (four million refugees and hundreds of thousands dead as a result of the US invasion) is directly within the capability of Washington. (4)
The US simply has to order Ethiopia, which it directed to illegally invade Somalia in December 2006, to withdraw. (5) If the Ethiopians balk, cutting off the rich flow of military aid Washington rewards the Meles regime with, will exert needed pressure. (6)
As regards the tragedy of Iraq, there can be no greater ameliorative act than immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. Withdrawal should occasion no fear of touching off a full-scale civil war. The Pentagon’s own research shows that Iraqis attribute sectarian tensions to the US military presence and ardently wish to see the Americans leave. (7) If a civil war were to ensue, it could hardly be worse than the suffering the US continues to visit upon Iraq in lost lives, mangled bodies, rampant disease, hunger and homelessness – far in excess of the tragedy in Darfur.
If China’s ties to the government of Sudan provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change, doesn’t Spielberg’s visibility, and his status as a US citizen, provide him with the opportunity and obligation to press for change where his own government has created far greater human suffering?
In the fall of 2002, Spielberg said he “could not not support” the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq (8). Today, he seeks to embarrass China over Sudan, another oil-rich country Washington seeks regime change in. And as far a Spielberg is concerned, the US-authored humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia and Iraq are best ignored. Are these the actions of a humanitarian, or of a chauvinist whose concern for the suffering of others stops at the door of, and indeed caters to, US ruling class interests?
(1) New York Times, February 13, 2008.
(3) New York Times, February 8, 2008.
(4) Displacement of Somalis, Washington Post, November 14, 2007; Iraqi refugees, The Independent (UK), July 30, 2007. There are a number of estimates of deaths in Iraq due to the US invasion: The Iraqi Body Count, 47,668; World Health Organization, 151,000; Johns Hopkins, 600,000; British polling firm ORB, 1.2 million (mid-range estimates.)
(5) US General John Abizaid visited the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in November, 2006. Ethiopia invaded Somalia the next month. “The US provided key intelligence from spy satellites…CIA agents traveled with the Ethiopian troops, helping direct operations…US forces have carried out at least four attacks inside the country in the past 12 months.” The Independent (UK), February 9, 2008.
(6) Stephen Gowans, “Looking for Evil in all the Wrong Places,” http://www.gowans.wordpress.com, November 20, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/looking-for-evil-in-all-the-wrong-places/
(7) Washington Post, December 19, 2007.
(8) In September 2002, Spielberg pledged support for the gathering US war on Iraq. “Film director Spielberg lines up with Bush war drive,” WSWS, October 3, 2002, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/oct2002/spie-o03.shtml
If the neutral left is really neutral, why does it keep coming down hard on the West’s official enemies while ignoring the West’s henchmen?
By Stephen Gowans
Many left activists and progressives claim to be equally opposed to oppression, whether practiced by the friends of imperialist powers or their enemies, but are virtually silent on the well documented oppressions of such US client states as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Ethiopia, while exhibiting an uncritical zeal in denouncing the enemies of Anglo-American imperialism, often for crimes that have been exaggerated or invented to be used as pretexts for Western intervention and fulfillment of imperialist goals.
There is no better illustration of this tendency to profess principled neutrality while regularly exhibiting a pro-imperialist bias, than the current obsession with the alleged genocide in Darfur and the claims of unjustified political oppression in Zimbabwe, while a virtually unremarked series of crimes and oppressions is carried out by the US and British client government of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia.
In an anti-guerilla war conducted in the country’s Ogaden region, “Ethiopian troops are burning villages, raping women and killing civilians as part of a systematic campaign to drive them from their homes.” Refugees say dozens of villages have been destroyed and have “accused the Ethiopian government of forcibly starving its own people by preventing food convoys reaching villages and destroying crops and livestock.”*
“A former Ethiopian soldier who defected from the army said how he had been ordered to burn villages and kill all their inhabitants. He said the Ethiopian air force would bomb a village before a unit of ground troops followed, firing indiscriminately at civilians. ‘Men, women, children – we killed them all,’ he said.”
The little-known conflict in Ogaden parallels the more widely known war in Darfur. The conflict began when rebels killed scores of Ethiopian guards and Chinese employees at a Chinese-run oil field. The government replied with a harsh crackdown.
“Human rights investigators are gathering evidence of widespread use of rape, with women reporting gang-rapes by up to a dozen soldiers. In some villages, men have been abducted at night, their bodies dumped in the village the next morning.
“While in Darfur, aid agencies have been able to establish camps and provide humanitarian support, they have been blocked from setting up operations in the Ogaden. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been thrown out and Medicins Sans Frontieres has also been prevented from working. Journalists trying to enter have also been banned – those that have tried have been promptly arrested.”
But while neutral leftists have worked themselves into a state of high moral dudgeon over Sudan’s counter-insurgency in Darfur, which “has been described by the US as ‘genocide’ and by the UN as ‘crimes against humanity’”, they have been virtually silent on Ethiopia, a recipient of US and British military and humanitarian aid.
“America’s top official on African affairs, assistant secretary of state, Jendayi Frazer, visited one town in the Ogaden last month.
“On her return to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, she criticized the rebels and said the reports of military abuses were merely allegations. ‘We urge any and every government to respect human rights and to try to avoid civilian casualties but that’s difficult in dealing with an insurgency,’ she said.”
The West’s official enemies are never allowed the same latitude in dealing with their own (often US and British financed and instigated) insurgencies – a double standard backed by neutral leftists through their voluble condemnations of the anti-insurgency efforts of official enemies and comparative silence on those of Western client states.
“The US provides some $283m (£140m) in military and humanitarian aid to Ethiopia and has trained its military – one of the largest and strongest in Africa.”
Compare Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. For trying to invest Zimbabwean independence with real content (land reform and indigenization of the economy), Mugabe has been calumniated by British and US officials and the Western media as a strongman who will do anything to stay in power, from stealing elections to repressing the opposition. The elections Mugabe was said to have stolen were endorsed by the South African Development Community, an organization of neighboring states, and the opposition operates freely, despite being openly backed and financed by Western powers in pursuit of a regime-change, anti-independence agenda.
For doing the West’s bidding in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s Meles is showered with US and British aid and was handpicked by Tony Blair to sit on Britain’s Commission for Africa, to lead the “African renaissance.” Neutral leftists say little about “the British Government’s – and the West’s – favorite African leader”, channeling their energies instead into calling on the US to intervene militarily in Darfur and in competing to see who can exercise the greatest stridency in denouncing the Mugabe government (contributing to the program of ushering Mugabe and his pro-independence policies out and the MDC and its pro-Western dependence policies in.) Somehow, the end result of all this is to put the West more firmly in control of Africa.
And yet the political repressions of which Mugabe is accused are practiced ardently by Meles. Indeed, even if every charge leveled against Mugabe were true (and most are not), he would still be an angel against Meles.
Following Ethiopia’s May 2005 general election, which the opposition claimed was rigged, “security forces opened fire on protesters, killing 193 people.” Thousands of opposition supporters and leaders were rounded up and thrown in jail.
“More than 100 opposition leaders were put on trial for treason while the police crackdown intensified. Text messages, which had been used to organize the demonstrations in 2005, were banned.”
The state asked that the death penalty be imposed on 38 opposition leaders, including the founder of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, a former UN war crimes prosecutor and the mayor-elect of Addis Ababa. The court rejected the prosecution’s recommendation, but sentenced the opposition leaders to life imprisonment. They were later freed, but only after the US intervened.
“Britain still gives Ethiopia £130m in humanitarian aid each year – more than any other African country,” while carrying out an unremitting campaign of demonization against Robert Mugabe and blocking Zimbabwe’s access to international credit.
How it is it that Meles, who has carried out much graver crimes than any Mugabe has been accused of, is showered with honors and humanitarian aid, while Mugabe is treated as Africa’s version of Hitler and his country is subjected to a campaign of economic warfare?
The answer lies in the reality that Meles acts as Washington’s attack dog in the Horn of Africa, invading Somalia to put down a pro-independence government, while Mugabe pursues an independent foreign policy and implements reforms to give Zimbabwean independence meaningful content.
How is that many left activists and progressives, though professing neutrality, channel much of their energy into campaigns deploring the official enemies of Anglo-American imperialism, while remaining virtually silent on oppressions carried out by US and British client states?
The answer has much to the do with the media and how left activists and progressives react to it. The news media are structured to report on what state officials say and do. To garner support for their policies, state officials make public statements on issues they want to draw public attention to, while steering clear of events they prefer remain unnoticed. Because Western state officials make frequent references to Zimbabwe, and few, if any, to Ethiopia, dozens of media news stories appear on Zimbabwe for every one that appears on Ethiopia. In this way, state officials, working through the media, are able to establish a public agenda, not only for the media but for the neutral left to follow – one which places Mugabe scores of rungs ahead of Meles, and Darfur much higher than Ogaden. Left activists and progressives talk about Mugabe and Darfur because the media do and the media do because Western state officials do. But neutral leftists hardly ever talk about Meles and Ogaden because the media hardly do, and the media hardly do because Western state officials almost never do (and don’t want to.) The result is that while professing neutrality, many left activists and progressives have been unwittingly recruited into agendas set in Washington and London.
These are the conditions that, in part, lead the neutral left to channel considerable energy into denouncing the official enemies of Western governments, while spending little time talking about or campaigning against oppressive regimes that receive Western aid and support. Neutral leftists are quick to denounce the military government of Myanmar (an official enemy) for its crackdown on a religious group, while saying virtually nothing about the military government of Pakistan (a client state) for an equally bloody crackdown on a religious group. Neutral leftists are acutely sensitive to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur (officially condemned), while saying virtually nothing about the much larger humanitarian crisis in Iraq (officially ignored) or the humanitarian crisis in Ogaden (also officially ignored.) Neutral leftists say virtually nothing about Meles Zenawi, a strongman accused of rigging elections who threatens political opponents with the death penalty, has invaded another country, and carries out crimes against humanity within his own borders (and is supported by the West) while spitting out contempt for Robert Mugabe, who has done none of these things (but isn’t supported by the West).
In all it does, despite professions of neutrality, the neutral left is pro-imperialist, not neutral. The moment its members devote half as much energy to railing against the governments of Egypt, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey as they do against Zimbabwe, the Taliban, north Korea, Belarus and Iran, will be the moment their claims to support neither imperialism nor its official enemies unconditionally become something more substantial than deceptive rhetoric.
* All quotes from Steve Bloomfield, “Ethiopia’s ‘own Darfur’ as villagers flee government-backed violence,” The Independent, October 17, 2007, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/africa/article3067244.ece
By Stephen Gowans
Many Western activists have rallied around calls for sanctions on Sudan and UN intervention in Darfur. But a review of recent Western interventions in the world’s trouble spots suggests their faith is misplaced. While the US and its allies, and the UN Security Council, point to lofty goals as the basis for their interventions, the true goals are invariably shaped by the economic interests of the corporations and investment banks that dominate policy making in Western countries. Worse, intervention has typically led to the deterioration of humanitarian crises, not their amelioration.
Conflict as Pretext
The United States and other imperialist powers look for conflicts, or provoke conflicts, in countries they do not dominate politically. They use these conflicts as pretexts to intervene in other countries in multiple ways: militarily, through proxies (which may include the UN), by funding an internal opposition, or by some combination of these means. The goal is to exploit these countries economically. Political control, through a strongman or puppet government, allows great nations to protect and enlarge the investments of their corporations and banks and to open doors to their exports. That is, the United States and other imperialist powers are engaged in a relentless pursuit of political domination of countries they do not currently dominate, in order to exploit their resources, assets and markets, by creating or looking for conflicts that provide pretexts for intervention.
In Yugoslavia, the US, Germany and the UK encouraged secessionists to unilaterally declare independence from the Yugoslav federation and helped ethnic Albanian Kosovars wage a guerrilla war to establish Kosovo as an independent country. The ensuing conflicts with the federal government were used as a pretext by NATO to intervene militarily to bring the conflicts to an end. The secessionist governments and KLA guerrillas were portrayed by the Western media as the victims while the federal government, which was reacting to the provocations, was portrayed as the instigator. The result was that Yugoslavia was re-balkanized and brought under the control of the US and Germany, who have since imposed a neo-liberal tyranny and whose corporations, banks and wealthy investors have bought up the former federation’s state- and socially-owned assets. (1)
In Iraq, the US uses the conflict between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, as a pretext to remain in the country as an occupying force. Were troops withdrawn too early, we’re told that an all-out civil war would ensue (as if a state of all-out war, sustained by the presence of US and British troops, does not already exist.) Likewise, we’re assured that if troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, al Qaeda will resume its use of the country as a base for its operations, leading to a string of 9/11s. More than a decade ago, the US provoked a conflict in the Gulf – or at least allowed one to go ahead – when Iraq wasn’t turned down by the US ambassador, April Glaspie, after it sought permission to invade Kuwait. Iraq was thereby entrapped into undertaking an invasion Washington used as a pretext to launch the Gulf War. The effect was to begin the process of bringing Iraq, and its considerable petroleum resources, under the control of the US. (2)
Sudan is not today under US political control, and like Iraq, is a source of immense oil reserves and the potential for gargantuan petroleum profits to be reaped by foreign oil companies. The Bush administration complains that the Sudanese government interferes in Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries. Khartoum is not, then, a partisan of the three freedoms that matter most in Washington: free trade, free enterprise and free markets. This, from Washington’s point of view, is a threat to US foreign policy (i.e., corporate) interests. If Sudanese policy prevents US oil companies from exploiting the country’s oil resources, Sudan is a threat to the foreign policy interests of the United States. Accordingly, it must be treated as an enemy. And indeed it is an enemy – but only an enemy of the class of corporate board members, hereditary capitalist families and investment bankers in whose interest free trade, free enterprise and free markets are promoted and enforced. Sudan, its people, and the economically nationalist policies of its government are not, however, enemies of the bulk of Americans. (3)
There are existing conflicts in Darfur which the US and its allies have used to argue for Western intervention. There is a conflict over water and land between sedentary and nomadic peoples, made worse by desertification. There is a conflict between rebel groups, which have attacked government installations, and the government itself. And there is a conflict among rebel groups. These conflicts are used by the US and its allies as pretexts to impose sanctions and to argue for intervention. But the US is no more interested in resolving these conflicts than it was in resolving conflicts in Yugoslavia. It’s interested in dominating Sudan politically, so that US and British oil companies can amass huge profits from Sudan’s vast petroleum reserves.
A record of deception
There was no genocide in Kosovo. When forensic pathologists went looking for the scores of thousands of bodies NATO said were hidden throughout Kosovo, they found two thousand – a number that was consistent with a small scale guerrilla war, not a campaign of genocide. But after NATO intervened militarily with a 78-day bombing campaign, thousands fled, bridges, factories, schools and hospitals were destroyed and hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians were killed. What was a low intensity guerrilla war was turned into a humanitarian crisis by NATO. (4)
There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But after the US and Britain invaded, some 600,000 Iraqis died as a result of violence provoked by the invasion, four million fled their homes, poverty became rampant and infrastructure destroyed by US and British bombs remained in a state of disrepair. A once modern country that had used its oil revenues to develop itself economically and to build a robust system of social welfare was turned by the US and Britain into an almost peerless humanitarian disaster. (5)
According to the UN commission appointed to investigate Washington’s charges that the Sudanese government is pursing a policy of genocide, the accusations have no foundation. It’s true, the commission found, that Khartoum has responded disproportionately to attacks on government forces by rebel groups, and it’s true that Khartoum is implicated in war crimes, but the commission found no evidence the Sudanese government is engaged in the project of seeking to eliminate an identifiable group, the defining characteristic of a policy of genocide. As far as humanitarian disasters go, the disaster in Iraq is far worse. So who would trust the perpetrators of that disaster – who, after all lied about there being a genocide in Kosovo and banned weapons in Iraq — to intervene in Darfur to resolve the humanitarian crisis there? That would be like giving your car keys to a known thief and pathological liar. (6)
The other side of the coin is that there are countries the United States already dominates in which terrible humanitarian disasters and human rights violations occur about which very little is said. When conflicts occur in these countries, the conflicts are ignored by the Western media, because they’re not needed as a pretext for intervention by Western governments. In fact, it’s in the interests of Washington that these conflicts not be brought to the attention of the public.
In Ethiopia, for example, thousands of members of the opposition were imprisoned after elections were disputed. Recently, the government threatened to execute dozens of opposition leaders on treason charges. Foreign reporters and human rights groups have been expelled from the country. Because Ethiopia is politically dominated by the US, there’s no reason to bring its deplorable record to the public’s attention. There is no need to build a case for intervention. Ethiopia is already under the US thumb. Accordingly, few people know anything about what’s going in the country because Ethiopia is off the Western media’s demonization radar screen. But they are likely to know about Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, who many believe has committed all the crimes Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, has committed. Except Mugabe hasn’t arrested thousands of members of the opposition or threatened to execute the opposition’s leaders. The difference between Zenawi and Mugabe is that Zenawi is a US puppet and Mugabe isn’t. For opposing imperialist meddling in southern Africa and seeking to indigenize Zimbabwe’s economy, Mugabe is in the dead center of the West’s demonization radar screen. (7)
There are about half a million people displaced in Somalia as a result of an invasion by Ethiopia, undertaken at the behest of the US government. This is a humanitarian disaster created by a US proxy. There is no Save Somalia Campaign. (8)
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is a conflict provoked by the former intervention of US proxies Rwanda and Uganda that has led to the deaths of four million people since 1997. The 200,000 deaths in Darfur (80 percent from starvation and disease; 20 percent from violence) are dwarfed by the millions of deaths in DR Congo. But while there’s a Save Darfur campaign, there is no Save Congo campaign. (9)
The solution to Darfur
If UN intervention in Darfur isn’t a solution – and it isn’t — what is? While it sometimes seems that the UN is a neutral body that democratically decides how to resolve conflicts, that’s not what the UN really is. The UN, in all important respects, is the UN Security Council, a small group of mainly imperialist powers who do what imperialist countries do: try to divide the world up among themselves. The United States, the dominant member of the Security Council, has no interest in resolving the conflict in Darfur. It’s interested in establishing a permanent military presence to wrest control of Sudan’s oil from the Sudanese government. If the US can induce other countries to commit troops to carry out its objectives, so much the better. Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, a UN military mission to secure the US goal of bringing Sudan under US domination is a welcome development in Washington.
It should be clear that the record of UN and NATO interventions is one in which small conflicts are turned into humanitarian disasters. Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain, says Darfur is the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster. There are 200,000 dead in Darfur but there are probably 600,000 dead in Iraq. There are four million refugees in Iraq and far fewer in Darfur. (10)
Liberal public intellectuals like Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard professor and now aspirant to the job of Canadian prime minister, said a war needed to be waged on Iraq because of what Saddam did to the Kurds. US military intervention under the authorization of the UN was supposed to deliver peace, prosperity, human rights and democracy between the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. What it delivered was something far worse than when Saddam was around. (11)
The solution to Darfur is to stop pressuring the US government to intervene in Sudan and start pressuring the one rebel group that won’t sign a peace accord to do so. Khartoum has sat down with the rebel groups to work out a peace deal and one group has refused to even participate in the talks. Conflicts cannot be resolved if one side is uninterested in peace. Nor can they be resolved if powerful forces are using the conflicts as pretexts to invade and impose sanctions.
If pressure is imposed on the hold-out rebels to arrive at a peace with Khartoum, and peace ensues, what then? Will the activists who agitated for Western intervention in Darfur turn their attention to rescuing the Congo from its humanitarian crisis? Will grassroots pressure be brought to bear on Ethiopia to withdraw from Somalia? And what of Iraq? Will the same people who worked themselves up into high moral dudgeon over Darfur demand immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq? Shouldn’t they demand this first? After all, the dimensions of the Iraq disaster are worse than those of the Darfur disaster, and it is the activists’ own governments that have authored the larger disaster. One would think Americans and Britons would give priority to working for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, rather than channelling their energies into pressing the governments that lied about and created tragedies in Yugoslavia and Iraq to intervene in yet another oil-rich country. Activists have an obligation to understand the institutional patterns of behaviour of their own governments, to inquire into the forces that shape those patterns, and to prevent emotion from undermining reason and analysis. It does no good to allow our own governments and media to mobilize our energies to work on behalf of imperialist goals, while diverting us from projects that are legitimately in the interests of the bulk of humanity.
(1) Michael Parenti, To Kill a Nation, Verso, 2002; Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4.
(2) David Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, 2005.
(3) Nativdad Carrera, “U.S. imperialists increase efforts to recolonize Sudan,” Party for Socialism and Liberation, November 3, 2006, http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5949
(4) Parenti; Stephen Gowans, “Genocide or Veracicide: Will NATO’s Lying Ever Stop?” Swans, July 23, 2001, http://www.swans.com/library/art7/gowans02.html
(5) Stephen Gowans, “The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster,” What’s Left, August 1, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/the-unacknowledged-humanitarian-disaster/
(6) Stephen Gowans, “Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and the Politics of Naming,” What’s Left, July 9, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/ethiopia-zimbabwe-and-the-politics-of-naming/
(10) The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster
(11) Stephen Gowans, “Ignatieff’s Mea Culpa,” What’s Left, August 5, 2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/08/05/ignatieff%e2%80%99s-mea-culpa/
By Stephen Gowans
In a speech before the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the conflict in Darfur “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today.” (1)
Britain, along with the United States and other Western countries, have been pushing Sudan to accept a beefed up contingent of peacekeepers in Darfur. The new mission, which will operate under UN command, will replace the current African Union mission.
The AU mission represented a compromise between African nations and the West.
“The Americans and Europeans promised…that as long as the Africans deployed in these kinds of situations, (they) would pay for the soldiers and equip them.” (2)
That suited the Sudanese government, which feared the West would use a UN peacekeeping mission to re-colonize Sudan.
But Washington wasn’t pleased. The Bush administration complained of “the pervasive role played by the government of Sudan in Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries,” describing Khartoum’s stewardship of the country’s oil resources as a threat to “U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.” (3)
Western financial support for the AU mission began to dry up. Soon after, Washington started to call for a UN force, arguing that the (underfinanced) AU mission was too small and too underequiped to be effective.
After months of pressure, cajoling and threats from Washington, the UN Security Council finally gave Washington want it wanted. It authorized the deployment of 26,000 soldiers and police to Darfur under UN, not AU, command.
Brown’s describing the conflict in Darfur as “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today” was intended to raise support for the new UN mission.
But is Darfur really the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster?
Not by a long shot. There are many humanitarian disasters, but few are as great as one Brown’s own government shares a large part in creating: Iraq.
“Iraq’s civilians are suffering from a denial of fundamental human rights in the form of chronic poverty, malnutrition, illness, lack of access to basic services, and destruction of homes, vital facilities, and infrastructure, as well as injury and death,” (4) reported Oxfam International just days before Brown declared Darfur the world’s principal humanitarian disaster.
Eight million Iraqis – one-third of the population – “are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter.” Seven in 10 do not have adequate access to potable water, up from 50 percent in 2003, when US and British forces invaded on fraudulent grounds. More than one-quarter of children are malnourished, up from 19 percent in 2003. (5)
It’s unclear how many people have been displaced by fighting in Darfur. The UN says 686,000. (6) Other estimates reach as high as 2.5 million. While these figures are alarming, they’re not as alarming as the figures for Iraq. Some four million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US and Britain invaded, the greatest refugee crisis in the Middle East ever, topping the Nakbah of 1948 and as great as the refugee crises of WWII Europe.
An estimated 200,000 have died in Darfur, most from malnutrition. But in Iraq, a 2006 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study estimated there had been between 426,000 and 794,000 excess civilian deaths since the start of the invasion in 2003. (7) Considering there were 150,000 civilian deaths as a result of the Gulf War, 1.5 million deaths as a result of 13 years of sanctions, and somewhere in the order of 650,000 deaths as a result of the latest Anglo-American war on Iraq, the total death toll reaches as high as 2.3 million.
The US and Britain are the authors of this unacknowledged disaster – a disaster on a greater scale than the one that bedevils Darfur. Who, but the truly naïve, would believe a UN Security Council dominated by the US and Britain can solve – or indeed, is even genuinely interested in solving — the crisis in Darfur?
(1) New York Times, August 1, 2007.
(2) John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, Washington Post, May 12, 2007.
(3) Cited in Nativdad Carrera, “U.S. imperialists increase efforts to recolonize Sudan,” Party for Socialism and Liberation, November 3, 2006.
(4) The Washington Post, July 31, 2007.
(5) The Independent, July 30, 2007.
(6) Guardian, June 23, 2007.
(7) New York Times, October 11, 2006.
By Stephen Gowans
When Africa scholar Mahmoud Mandani looks at the slaughter and displacement of civilians in Darfur he notices something odd. The mass death of civilians in Darfur has been called a genocide, but slaughters of civilians of similar magnitude in Iraq and on a larger scale in Congo have not.
According to the World Food Program, about 200,000 civilians have died in Darfur, 80 percent from starvation and disease, and 20 percent from violence. Close to 700,000 have been displaced(1). This, the US government, calls a genocide.
But 600,000 Iraqis have died since 2003 as a result of violence related to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (2) and 3.7 million have either fled to neighboring countries or are internally displaced (3).
“I read about all sorts of violence against civilians,” says Mamdani, “and there are two places that I read about – one is Iraq, and one is Darfur … And I’m struck by the fact that the largest political movement against mass violence on US campuses is on Darfur and not on Iraq.” (4)
If Darfur is modest in comparison to Iraq, both are pipsqueeks compared to Congo. There, some four million civilians have been slaughtered over several years, largely as a result of intervention by US proxies, Uganda and Rwanda.
In Somalia, 460,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting sparked by a US-backed and assisted invasion by Ethiopia (5). That invasion was aimed at ousting the popularly-backed Islamic Courts Union, which had brought a measure of stability to Somalia. “In the six months the Islamic courts (governed Somalia), less than 20 people lost their lives through violence. Now, that many die in 10 minutes,” observes Hussein Adow, a Mogadishu businessman (6).
Why is there is a Save Darfur Campaign, but no Save Congo Campaign and no Save Somalia Campaign?
Mamdani says that people in the West don’t react to the mass slaughter of civilians but to the labels their governments and media attach to them.
“Genocide is being instrumentalized by … the United States,” he explains. “It is being instrumentalized in a way that mass slaughters which implicate its adversaries are being named as genocide and those which implicate its friends or its proxies are not being named as genocide.”
Mandani calls this “the politics of naming.”
The politics of naming isn’t limited to the question of which slaughters are named genocide and which aren’t. It applies too to the question of which regimes are called dictatorial, repressive and brutal (and so must be changed), and which are not (and so should be left in peace.)
Take the case of Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Tons of printer’s ink have been consumed by Western newspapers denouncing Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe. According to the Western narrative, he is as a dictator who steals elections, represses the opposition and cracks heads to stay in power.
But Mugabe’s government, in view of concerted efforts from outside and within to overthrow it, is remarkably restrained. Archbishop Pious Ncube, one of the government’s most vociferous critics, recently called on Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, Britain, to remove Mugabe through military means. “We should do it ourselves,” he added, “but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready.” (7) (Imagine Noam Chomsky calling for a coalition of Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran and north Korea to invade the US to force Washington to end its occupation of Iraq. “I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing,” he might say, “but the people are not ready.” How long would it be before Chomsky was hustled off to jail?)
Ncube isn’t the first government opponent to threaten a campaign of violence to oust Mugabe. And yet Ncube and others remain at liberty to call for sanctions, outside military intervention and insurrection to depose the government.
Ethiopia, on the other hand, is a cipher. It receives little coverage from the Western media, and even less attention from people who routinely denounce the Sudanese and Zimbabwean governments from the left.
That’s odd, for the Ethiopian government has all the flaws the Zimbabwean government is said to have that arouse so much moral indignation.
Ethiopia “jails it citizens without reason or trial, tortures many of them, and habitually violates its own laws.
“The government was … severely criticized for a 2005 crackdown in which tens of thousands of opposition members were jailed and nearly 200 people killed after elections in which the opposition made major gains.
“Ethiopian officials … have expelled many foreign journalists and representatives of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.” (9)
Disputed elections, crackdowns on the opposition, expulsion of journalists: this resembles the charge sheet against Mugabe. So why isn’t Melawi as thoroughly excoriated as Mugabe is?
A July 9th Reuters’ report says, “Ethiopian prosecutors demanded the death penalty for 38 opposition officials convicted of trying to overthrow the government, treason and inciting violence.
“The officials were convicted last month of charges relating to violent protests over disputed elections in 2005 that the opposition says were rigged.
“Nearly 200 people were killed in clashes between protestors and security forces over the vote.
“Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he regretted the post-poll violence, but blamed it on opportunistic rioters and an opposition conspiracy to topple him by force.”
I read the Reuters’ article to a friend, but replaced Ethiopia with Zimbabwe and Zenawi with Mugabe. There seemed nothing out of the ordinary to her. And indeed, it’s likely that most people in the West would not have detected the deception. It meshes with the Western narrative on Zimbabwe. If you’ve been reading Western press accounts, you would expect Mugabe to round up the opposition (whose leaders have long threatened the violent overthrow of the government), charge them with treason, and seek their execution. But he hasn’t.
Had he, a storm of indignation would have swept the Western world. Yet Zenawi does the same, and no politician works himself up into high moral dudgeon, no calls are made for sanctions or Western military intervention, and no emergency meeting of the UN Security Council is convoked. Just a solitary Reuters’ dispatch. Why?
The answer is that Ethiopia is fully within Washington’s orbit, acting as a reliable proxy enforcing US geopolitical interests in the resource-rich Horn of Africa. Zimbabwe, by contrast, pursues the opposite tact, implementing policies that seek to free itself from Western domination and to frustrate US imperial designs on the continent.
Zimbabwe indigenizes its agriculture and economy; Ethiopia intervenes militarily in Somalia at the behest of Washington, to restore a US-puppet government.
Weeks before Ethiopia invaded Somalia, US General John P. Abizaid flew to Addis Ababa to arrange for Zenawi to unleash the US-trained Ethiopian military on Somalia. Washington even went so far as to shelter Ethiopia, whose military relies on equipment made in north Korea, from penalty for violating UN-sanctions against north Korean arms sales. Ethiopia needed to import replacement parts from north Korea if the invasion was to go ahead without a hitch. Washington, which championed the sanctions, said “go ahead.” (9)
Numberless people are being manipulated by Western governments and media, their outrage harnessed to achieve geopolitical goals that have nothing whatever to do with human rights and democracy, and everything to do with the question of who gets to control the oil spigot, mining concessions and vast tracts of fertile land.
Mamdani calls those caught up in the Save Darfur Campaign innocents. The same could be said of those caught up in the dump Mugabe campaign.
1. UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimate, cited in The Guardian, June 20, 2007.
2. Johns Hopkins study, published online by The Lancet, cited in The Guardian October 12, 2006.
3. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, cited in Workers World, February 15, 2007.
4. Interview with Mahmoud Mandani, Democracy Now! June 4, 2007.
5. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (Guardian, June 20, 2007).
6. Quoted in the The London Times, cited in Party for Socialism and Liberation, July 3, 2007.
7. The Sunday Times, July 1, 2007.
8. The Globe and Mail, May 29, 2007.
9. The New York Times, April 8, 2007.
By Stephen Gowans
The United States is maneuvering to introduce a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur, as a first step to securing control of the region’s vast supply of oil. US control of Darfur’s petroleum resources would deliver highly profitable investment opportunities to US firms, and scuttle China’s investment in the region, thereby slowing the rise of a strategic competitor whose continued industrial growth depends on secure access to foreign oil. Washington is using highly exaggerated charges of genocide as a justification for a UN intervention it would dominate, while at the same time opposing a workable peacekeeping plan acceptable to the Sudanese government that would see the current African Union mission in Darfur expand.
While Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is often presented as obstinately opposing the introduction of peacekeepers into Darfur, Sudan has already accepted an AU force, urges the strengthening of the current AU mission, but opposes its replacement by Western troops. Bashir’s fear is that a Western military presence will become permanent, and that Sudan — the first country south of the Sahara to gain independence — will be the first country to be re-colonized.
His fears can’t be dismissed.
There is no shortage of turmoil in Darfur for Western trouble-makers to exploit. Conflicts over water and grazing land have raged for decades between sedentary farmers and nomadic tribes. And now there’s a new flashpoint: who will reap the benefits of the region’s new found oil resources?
In other places, the practice of the United States, Britain, Germany and other Western powers has been to inflame tensions within countries whose resources and cheap labor make them attractive targets for economic take-over, or whose public policies block or impose conditions on foreign investment and trade. The turmoil is often used as a pretext for intervention. While the real reasons for intervention are inextricably bound up with profit-making opportunities, the stated reasons are invariably presented as being related to selfless humanitarianism. This was as true of the Nazis, who said they were intervening militarily in countries across Europe to rescue oppressed German minorities and to save the continent from communism, as it is of the United States today, which, we’re expected to believe, can’t afford to provide healthcare to all its citizens, but can spend countless billions on wars to deliver democracy and freedom to non-citizens half way across the globe.
Consider Yugoslavia. There the United States and Germany encouraged secessionism, and then used the ensuing conflicts as justification to establish a permanent NATO military presence, followed by the sell-off of the dismembered federation’s publicly- and socially-owned assets. While the secessionist conflicts were real, the consequences were often grossly exaggerated to justify intervention on humanitarian grounds. The tens of thousands of bodies NATO spokesmen warned would be found scattered throughout Kosovo after the 1999 78-day NATO terror bombing campaign — like the weapons of mass destruction used to justify another war – were never found. Heaps of bodies thrown to the bottom of the Trepca mines, like Iraq’s banned weapons, were inventions.
True to form, Washington declares the conflict in Darfur to be a genocide (another invention), a finding that compels international action, but Washington quietly reveals its true motivations in an executive order to strengthen sanctions on Sudan, which cites “the pervasive role played by the government of Sudan in Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries.” Washington then declares Sudan’s control of Sudanese petroleum resources to be a threat to “U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”
Two realities suggest that it is US foreign policy interests (which is to say, the interests of the banks, corporations and hereditary capitalist families which dominate policy-making in Washington), and not genocide, that shapes US policy on Sudan.
First, while there has unquestionably been a large number of violent deaths in Darfur, there has never been a genocide. This is not to say that Khartoum isn’t guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It may be just as securely ensconced in the club of war criminal countries as the US, Britain and Israel. But on the matter of genocide, the UN Commission on Darfur was quite clear: there has been no genocide in Darfur, notwithstanding Washington’s allegations. What there has been is a disproportionate response by Khartoum to attacks by rebel groups on police stations and government buildings, and while that response has targeted entire groups, it has not been aimed at eliminating them.
The response of the public in the West – one based on uncritical acceptance of the genocide alarm raised by a notoriously untruthful Bush administration – speaks volumes about the power of Western governments, the media and ruling class foundations and think-tanks to selectively galvanize support for interventions in some countries, while effacing all recognition of comparable or greater levels of violent conflict and avoidable tragedy elsewhere. The number of violent deaths in Darfur (in the hundreds of thousands) is modest by the standards of other African conflicts. Fighting has claimed four million lives in the Congo since 1998. Were there ever Save Congo marches, as there were Save Darfur marches worldwide last September? Some 600,000 Iraqis are dead as a result of the US and British invasion of Iraq. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 3.7 million Iraqis are displaced, the largest refugee crisis since 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from ex-Mandate Palestine by Zionist forces in 1948. There will be no US or British-sponsored Save Iraq or al-Awda campaigns.
Second, Washington has systematically undermined the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union in Darfur. The AU force was raised by funds provided by the US and EU. Washington and the Europeans had struck a deal with the African Union a decade ago to underwrite interventions in the continent’s hot spots by African troops, but their promises have never been completely delivered upon. Midway through 2006, Washington announced funding would be withdrawn for the AU force in Darfur and that a stronger UN force needed to take its place. The AU force, it was lamented, had too few troops to be effective. A stronger UN force was needed. But if so, why had the US and EU not spent the money necessary to maintain an effective AU force in the first place? And why not spend the money that would go to building a larger UN force on strengthening the existing AU force? This would be acceptable to the Sudanese government. It’s happy to endorse a bulked-up AU force, but is frightened a UN force, made up of Western troops, will be used to bring about regime change and force Sudan back under a Western colonial heel.
A chess match is now been played out between pro-intervention members of the Security Council (the US and Britain), those opposed (China), and Khartoum, whose approval is required before UN troops can be deployed. From Khartoum’s and China’s point of view, an outright rejection of a UN mission is undesirable because it could hand Washington and London a pretext to assemble a coalition of the willing to invade Sudan. Both countries, then, have an interest in compromising on a UN peacekeeping mission, so long as it is held in check by significant AU participation. The US and Britain, on the other hand, are angling to give UN authorities as much influence as possible. These considerations can be seen in a tentative June 12 deal which would see the creation of a new peacekeeping force made up mostly of African troops, with an AU commander given operational authority, while overall authority resides with the UN. The AU commander would make decisions on the ground but UN authorities could over-ride his decisions if they disagreed. Considering the US’s history of trying to change the Sudanese government, its defining of Sudanese state control of the oil industry as a threat to US foreign policy interests, and its strategic interest in sabotaging China’s access to Darfur’s oil, it would not be long before the UN found a reason to disagree with the AU commander’s decision, and assumed full control of the mission.
There is indeed a very real risk that Sudan could be brought back under Western colonial domination, with a UN peacekeeping force setting the stage. The ideology of humanitarian intervention will, as has always been the case when imperialist powers seek to use force to advance the interests of their economic elites, provide the pretext.