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A new call against standing idly by?

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By Stephen Gowans

Will the United States, or its proxies, directly intervene militarily on the side of Syrian rebels? If they do they will invent a pretext, and it may be this: Syrian leader Bashar Assad, desperate to cling to power, is poised to use chemical weapons against civilians. An intervention is necessary to prevent a massacre.

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said: “We are concerned that an increasingly beleaguered regime, having found its escalation of violence through conventional means inadequate, might be considering the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.” (my emphasis) (1)

The Syrian Foreign Ministry denies the allegation, ruling out the use of chemical weapons against Syrians “under any circumstances.” (2)

All the same, Washington points to “transfers” of chemical weapons stocks that suggest “the Syrian leader could be planning to use the gas against civilians.” (my emphasis) (3)

It might be that the Syrian military is moving its supplies beyond the rebels’ reach. It could be that the Syrians are transferring the weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of Jordanian special-forces. Under the direction of a US military task force, the Jordanians have been putting together a plan to make a dash across the border to seize Syria’s chemical weapons. (4) Or it’s possible that the transfers haven’t happened, and like Iraq’s mythical WMDs, this is another example of a falsehood intended to conjure up an imperative for war.

Washington says that the Pentagon is opposed to a direct US military intervention. But it has proxies in place which it can press into war on its behalf and “lead from behind.” These include the already mentioned Jordanians, along with Israel–recipient of billions of dollars annually in US military transfers—which says “it might be forced to take military action to prevent the use or spread of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.” (5)

At the same time, NATO has approved the deployment of Patriot missiles to Turkey. While the military organization says the missiles will defend against Syria launching a ballistic missile attack, possibly tipped with chemical weapons, NATO could use the missiles to establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria. This would give Syrian rebels a larger territory from which to attack the Assad government. (6)

It’s unclear whether Washington will go any further in its attempt to engineer concern over a possible looming massacre of civilians, and whether Patriot missiles will enforce a no-fly zone.

Still, it’s a simple matter for Washington to invent impending massacres as excuses to use military force to topple governments it doesn’t like. It did so in Libya, invented a genocide in Kosovo that never happened, and fabricated a story about Saddam Hussein hiding WMDs.

The possibility that the United States has begun to create another fiction, this time centered on the Assad government’s possible use of chemical weapons against civilians, cannot be discounted, and we should be alert to the possibility that the Obama regime is heading down this road.

1. Jay Solomon and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S. warns Syria on chemical arms”, The Wall Street Journal, December 3, 2012
2. Anne Barnard and Ellen Barry, “Assad suffering reversals in fighting and diplomacy”, The New York Times, December 3, 2012
3. Solomon and Barnes, December 3, 2012
4. Solomon and Barnes, December 3, 2012s; Jay Solomon and Julian E. Barnes, “U.S., Jordan discuss securing Syria cache”, The Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2012
5. Solomon and Barnes, December 3, 2012
6. Anne Gearan in The Washington Post of December 4, 2012 (Nato says anti-missile defense for Turkey does not open door to Syrian intervention) writes that while NATO denies the Patriot missiles will be used to establish a no-fly zone, they “could be repurposed as part of a wider campaign or provide air cover for action in Syria should NATO change its mind.”

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December 4, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Richard Seymour: Hallucinating revolutions, pacifying resistance

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While it may stir hopes that a popular rebellion is sweeping away oppression, the Syrian revolt, whatever its origins and proclamations, is hardly that. Its likely destination is a new US client regime in Damascus; its probable outcome the dismantling of what’s left of Syrian socialism, anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism. Would that it were all that romantic leftists fervently wish it to be, but a sober look at the rebellion, and recent history, strongly points in another direction.

Following blogger and author Richard Seymour, the views of many leftist who side with the rebels can be summarized as follows:

• All genuine popular liberation movements should be supported.
• The Syrian revolt is a genuine popular liberation movement.
• Western countries are intervening to tilt the balance in favour of an outcome they want.
• There is no sign they can achieve this.

Since few would disagree with the first point, we can move quickly to the second. Is the Syrian revolt “genuine” and is it “popular”?

If by genuine we mean the revolt is intended to advance popular interests, and that it doesn’t represent the pursuit of narrow interests under the guise of achieving popular goals, then the answer must surely be that the rebel movement’s genuineness depends on what section of it we’re talking about.

It’s clear that the aim of exiles in key leadership positions within the Syrian National Council is to turn Syria into a US client regime. The Muslim Brotherhood’s interests are undoubtedly sectarian, as are those of al Qaeda, a recent addition to the rebellion. Unless we pretend these groups are not part of the rebel movement, it cannot be said to be genuine in all its parts. To be sure, some parts of it are, but other parts—and very important ones—aren’t.

Is the rebel movement “popular”?

We don’t know exactly how much support the rebels have, or how much the government has. But we do know that each side appears to be able to count on the backing of significant parts of the Syrian population—the rebels on Sunnis (though less so the Sunni merchant class); the government on religious minorities. If the rebels represent a popular movement, then, inasmuch as the definition of “popular” depends on having the support of a significant part of the population, the forces arrayed against the rebellion are popular as well.

But should a rebel movement be supported simply because it’s popular? By definition, fascist regimes are based on mass support (without it, they’re merely authoritarian.) Most Democratic Party voters—as well as Republican Party ones—are part of the 99 percent. Both parties are popularly supported. Does that mean leftists ought to support them too? The Nazis too had a vaguely progressive section—that part on which the “socialist” in National Socialist German Workers’ Party turned. But its presence didn’t make the Nazis a popular movement for socialism or any less of a tool of capitalist-imperialist interests.

The counter argument here is that none of these popularly supported parties of the right are “genuinely” popular. (While popularly supported, they don’t advance popular goals.) But that gets us back to the question of whether the Syrian rebel movement is homogenous, united in aiming to oust the Assad government for a common purpose. Clearly, it is not.

On the other hand, we might say that the Syrian state isn’t popular, in the sense of its being said to represent narrow class interests, while the rebel movement seeks to overthrow those interests, and therefore is popular by definition. But there’s no evidence that any significant part of the Syrian rebellion is inspired by class interests, except perhaps key parts of the SNC, whose class interests align with those of the banks, corporations and wealthy investors who dominate the US state, media and economy. At best, parts of the rebel movement seek a liberal democracy, which would rapidly dismantle the remaining socialist elements of the Syrian economy. To be sure, Syria has never been socialist in the manner Trotsky’s followers favour—and a number of leftists on the side of the rebels, including Seymour, who Wikipedia notes is a member of the Socialist Workers Party— are devotees of the Russian revolutionary. But a liberal democracy would be even further from their ideal.

Seymour’s third point is that Western countries are intervening to tilt the balance in favour of an outcome they want. Since there’s no secret about this, we can move to point 4.

The fourth point is that there is no sign the West can hijack the rebel movement. There is an obvious objection to this: Were there a good chance Western governments couldn’t tip the outcome in their favour, they would be energetically opposing the rebellion, not ardently supporting it. Seymour’s point may be based, apart from wishful thinking, on the reality that there are large parts of the rebel movement that Washington does not trust, and therefore is reluctant to assist. The CIA’s role—at least that which is admitted to—has been to funnel Saudi- and Qatari-provided arms to the groups Washington wants to come out on top, and away from those it wants to keep from power. But therein lies the reason the United States will assuredly hijack the rebel movement. It will channel military, diplomatic, political, and ideological support to those parts of it that can be trusted to cater to US interests, and this overwhelming support will allow pro-imperialist elements, in time, to dominate the rebellion, if they don’t already. To think otherwise, is to ignore what happens time and again.

A brief example. In the summer of 1982 the Marxian economist Paul Sweezy hailed the rise of Poland’s Solidarity trade union movement as “heartening proof of the ability of the working class….to lead humanity into a socialist future.” [1] Maybe when you’ve lived on a starvation diet for years a discarded four-day old hamburger plucked from a McDonald’s dumpster starts to look like a steak dinner. Solidarity too was termed a genuine popular liberation movement, but it, like so many others so characterized, led, not forward, but backward. We know now that Solidarity’s high-profile supporters—The Wall Street Journal, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan—had a better idea of what Solidarity was all about than Sweezy did—to say nothing of much of the anti-Communist left. Those who didn’t have their heads stuck in a utopian cloud saw clearly enough that Solidarity would not lead to “genuine” socialism, but to the breakdown of the Polish state, chaos in the Warsaw Pact, and a step along the road to rolling back Communism; which is what happened, and the decades since have been marked by the deepest reaction. Henry Kissinger recently concluded correctly that the Syrian rebellion “will have to be judged by its destination, not its origin; its outcome, not its proclamations.” Judging Solidarity by its destination and outcomes, we can hardly be optimistic about the Syrian rebellion, nor parts of the left grasping its probable destination.

The reply to this might be, “Well, at least we should support the genuinely popular elements of the rebel movement.” Seymour wants us to do this by seeing to it that arms flow freely to the rebels, as Gilbert Achcar (another follower of Trotsky’s thought), wanted to do with the Libyan rebels. This naively ignores who’s providing the arms, who they’re provided to, and what’s likely to be expected of the recipients in return. The main weapons suppliers, the Saudi and Qatari tyrannies—and who could ask for more convincing supporters of a genuine popular liberation movement?—are not channelling arms to genuine popular liberation groups. Instead, it seems very likely that military support is being heaped upon those sections of the rebellion that are amenable to a post-conflict working arrangement with US-allies Turkey, Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council and to settling in comfortably to a subordinate role to Washington. The idea behind arms flowing freely to “genuinely popular” liberation forces is that Washington backs leftists while the Saudi and Qatari tyrannies arm democrats. The naivety is breathtaking—on par with Sweezy’s embracing Solidarity as heartening proof of an imminent socialist future.

There’s more than a soupcon of absurdity in any discussion among Western leftists of “supporting” the Syrian rebels, since support amounts to nothing more than a rhetorical endorsement without any practical, real-word, consequences. It’s not as if an International Brigade is being assembled (backed by what? Saudi and Qatari money) that fervent anti-Assad leftists of the West can join to show real, meaningful support. Except weren’t the last International Brigades fighting against rebels? And come to think of it, aren’t the Saudis and Qataris backing an international volunteer brigade…of jihadis? If supporting Syria’s rebels meant anything at all, Western leftists would be making their way to Turkish border towns to offer their services to the Free Syrian Army, or the local CIA outfit attached to it. Perhaps a collection can be taken up to raise airfare for Seymour to travel to the nearest FSA recruiting center to put real meat behind his support for Syria’s “genuine popular liberation” movement.

Despite its surface appearance of empty clap-trap, Seymour’s position does have a practical, real-world aim—to neutralize opposition in the West to Western intervention on the side of the rebels by the people who are most likely to mount it—the Western left. Once you accept the argument that the rebels are a genuinely popular liberation movement and that massive outside intervention by imperialist powers won’t tilt the outcome of the rebellion in their favour, then all that’s left to do—as a way of showing solidarity with the rebels—is to raise not a single objection to their receiving aid from your own government. Which means that Seymour, who fancies himself a champion of popular causes against powerful conservative forces, may, on the contrary, be a pacifier of dissent against the most reactionary force around—US-led imperialism.

1. Paul M. Sweezy, “Response to The Line of March Symposium,” Line of March, #12, September/October 1982, 119-122.

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July 27, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Al-Qaeda’s Air Force

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Some Canadian military officers in private...referred to the NATO jets bombing Gadhafi’s troops as “al-Qaeda’s air force”

Canadian fighter pilots “flew 946 sorties and dropped almost 700 bombs” in last year’s NATO intervention in Libya. [1] But rather than enforcing a no-fly zone to protect civilians, the Canadian pilots—and their counterparts from other NATO countries—took sides in the conflict, intervening directly on behalf of anti-Gaddafi rebels.

But who exactly were the rebels that NATO sided with?

Private remarks by Canadian military officers, reported by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, suggest the rebels weren’t everyday people thirsting for democracy, as NATO officials and mainline media made them out to be.

Gaddafi had claimed that “the rebellion had been organized by” Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb “and his old enemies the LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group), who had vowed to overthrow the colonel and return the country to traditional Muslim values, including Sharia law.” [2] But this was dismissed by the West as propaganda.

Still, a “Canadian intelligence report written in late 2009…described the anti-Gadhafi stronghold of eastern Libya” where the rebellion began, “as an ‘epicentre of Islamist extremism’ and said ‘extremist cells’ operated in the region.” [3]

And Canadian military intelligence noted “in 2004 (that) Libyan troops found a training camp in the country’s southern desert that had been used by an Algerian terrorist group that would later change its name to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM.” [4]

Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who had “joined the U.S.-backed resistance to the Soviet (intervention in) Afghanistan, fighting alongside militants who would go on to form al-Qaeda,” was emblematic of the militant Islamic character of the uprising.

“Mr. Belhaj returned to Libya in the 1990s and led the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in fierce confrontations with Col. Gadhafi’s” government. The LIFG was aligned with al-Qaeda. [5]

Belhaj was “the rebellion’s most powerful military leader.” [6]

This should have aroused suspicions about the true nature of the uprising, but there was an earlier clue that the Benghazi revolt was inspired by something other than a thirst for democracy.

“On Feb. 15, 2011, citizens in Benghazi organized what they called a Day of Anger march. The demonstration soon turned into a full-scale battle with police.

“At first, security forces used tear gas and water cannons. But as several hundred protesters armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails attacked government buildings, the violence spiralled out of control. Demonstrators chanted, ‘No God but Allah, Moammar is the enemy of Allah’.” [7]

Today, Libya is a warzone of competing militias. The Transitional National Council, anointed by the West as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, has no authority.

And now, one year after the uprising began, some NATO officials are admitting that NATO aligned itself with militant Islamic rebels to oust Gaddafi, who US officials had complained was engaging in “resource nationalism,” while oil companies denounced him for trying to “Libyanize” the economy. [8]

According to the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, some Canadian military officers in private refer “to the NATO jets bombing Gadhafi’s troops as ‘al-Qaeda’s air force’.” [9]

The parallels with Syria are obvious. As Gaddafi’s government struggled with a number of militant Islamic uprisings over the years, so too has the secular government of Bashar Assad in Syria. [10] Calls have been made for NATO countries to intervene there too, either as the rebels’ air force or arms supplier or both.

But it’s clear that a NATO intervention in Syria will be a repeat of Libya, with NATO forces backing militant Islamists with the sole goal of sweeping a government from power that the West’s economic interests are not wholly comfortable with. Syria too practices economic nationalism.

The Assad government has drafted a new constitution , to be put to a referendum later this month, which promises the multi-party democracy and democratic reforms the West demanded—but now, on the eve of their being delivered, dismisses as “meaningless.” [11]

Apart from allowing multiple parties to contest elections and multiple candidates to run for president, the new constitution mandates that the country’s resources be publicly owned (which is to say that the country will practice the “resource nationalism” that got Gaddafi in trouble), that taxation will be progressive, and that the economy will be directed, rather than laissez-faire. [12]

Democratic reforms are largely irrelevant to the West. Otherwise, it would do more to press Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and other petro-despotisms—from which Western oil companies derive billions of dollars in profits—to change their ways. Instead, Bahrain, site of a renewed uprising that is being violently suppressed–as one there was last year–continues to receive US-backing and arms.

Calls for democratic reforms—in some countries, not others—are simply pretexts for intervention. The West’s real motivation for backing uprisings in Libya and Syria are economic: turning the countries away from resource nationalism and a measure of independent, self-directed economic development into profit-disgorging spheres of exploitation for Western banks, corporations and investors.

In pursuit of these goals, NATO countries are willing to ally with anyone. Even al-Qaeda.

1. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: A victory, but at what price?” The Ottawa Citizen, February 20, 2012. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Libya+Mission+Year+Later+victory+what+price/6178518/story.html
2. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012. http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Libya+mission+year+later+Into+unknown/6172099/story.html
3. David Pugliese, “DND report reveals Canada’s ties with Gadhafi”, The Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2011.
4. David Pugliese, “DND report reveals Canada’s ties with Gadhafi”, The Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2011.
5. Hadeel Al-Shalchi and Maggie Michael, “Libyan rebel hero plays down Islamist past”, The Associated Press, September 2, 2011.
6. Rod Nordland and David D. Kirkpatrick, “Islamists’ growing sway raises questions for Libya”, The New York Times, September 14, 2011.
7. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
8. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011
9. David Pugliese, “The Libya mission one year later: Into the unknown”, The Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 2012.
10. Stephen Gowans, “Syria’s uprising in context,” what’s left, February 10, 2012. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/syrias-uprising-in-context/
11. David M. Herszenhorn, “For Syria, reliant on Russia for weapons and food, old bonds run deep”, The New York Times, February 18, 2012.
12. SANA, February 18, 2012

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February 20, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Military Interventions: Progressive vs. Imperialist

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By Stephen Gowans

Wars have almost always been highly devastating affairs, with dire consequences in ruined and destroyed lives, as well as in the destruction of economies, farms, factories, housing and public infrastructure. While it cannot be said that all people at all times have considered wars to be best avoided, it is safe to say that the humanitarian case against war is overwhelming.

This essay is concerned, not with war in general, but with military interventions. To be sure, military interventions are often inseparable from wars, since they are often the causes of them. But not always. Some occur in the context of wars that are already underway. And some happen without provoking major resistance.

Today, on the left—and even the right—there are many activists who are committed to an anti-war position, but who are more properly said to oppose military intervention. Opposition to war implies, not only opposition to one country initiating a war against another (aggression), but also to using military means to repel an attack (self-defence.) Yet it is highly unlikely that people who say they are against war mean that they are against self-defence. It is more likely that they mean that a military response to a conflict must only occur for valid reasons, and that self-defence is the only valid one.

However, those who have adopted an anti-war position often stress other reasons for opposing military interventions. These include the ideas that:

• Democracy is senior to other considerations and that people should be allowed to resolve internal conflicts free from the meddling of outside forces.
• Institutions and ideologies cannot be successfully imposed on other people and interventions that seek to do so (e.g., bring democracy to another country) are bound to fail.
• International law is a legitimate basis for determining the validity of military interventions and countries ought to abide by it.

In this essay, the arguments will be made that: none of these principles are grounds to oppose military intervention; one of them is empirically insupportable as an absolute statement; the idea that military force ought to be used only in self-defence is indefensible; and that had these principles been adopted as inviolable, a number of interventions that are now widely regarded as progressive and desirable would never have occurred. A case will be made, instead, that some military interventions are valid and that validity depends on whose interests the intervention serves and whether the long-run effects are progressive. By these criteria, NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are not valid, while France’s intervention on the side of the United States in the American Revolution and the Union government’s intervention in the states of the Confederacy in the American Civil War were valid. Also valid were the interventions of the Comintern on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1938), the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) interventions in Korea (1950) and Tibet (1959), Cuba’s intervention in Angola (1975), and the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan (1979).

Full essay in PDF format: Military Interventions Progressive vs Imperialist

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July 1, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Achcar Turns Lenin on His Head

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By Stephen Gowans

Gilbert Achcar has invoked the authority of Lenin to claim that support for Western military intervention in Libya is the only defensible anti-imperialist position. Lenin made compromises, Achcar says, and like him, so must we.

Achcar doesn’t deny that the intervention is imperialist, but believes that imperialist or not, it was necessary to prevent a slaughter. His logic, however, is elusive. If the intervention is imperialist, even if it did prevent a slaughter (and it’s likely instead to have created the conditions for a protracted civil war) how can support of it be anti-imperialist? This is like saying that support for coal-fired generators is the only defensible pro-clean-air position, because nuclear could produce a catastrophe. You can argue about the relative merits of coal versus nuclear, and decide that coal is better than nuclear on balance, but that doesn’t make your position pro-clean air.

Lenin once said that he would ally with the devil himself if the devil was opposed to British imperialism. Where Achcar differs with Lenin is that he, Achcar, has allied with imperialism because imperialism says it opposes the devil.

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March 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Peaceniks for imperialism

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Canada’s Peace Magazine and the promotion of non-military warfare in the service of US foreign policy goals

By Stephen Gowans

While apparently possessing impeccable leftwing credentials, the Canadian publication, Peace Magazine, is a bulwark of conservatism which virtually operates as a house organ of the Ackerman-Helvey-Sharp destabilization school of US foreign policy. Although it opposes military intervention in the pursuit of US foreign policy goals, it is supportive of liberal-democratic-free-trade capitalist arrangements and the overthrow of governments that operate outside the US axis of domination. It promotes the use of US-sponsored and funded nonviolent resistance (NVR), sometimes called political defiance, or what the CIA calls destabilization, to “take out” governments whose overthrow Washington justifies by demonizing as dictatorial. And it uncritically echoes the pronouncements on official enemies of the White House and US State Department, endorsing from the left US government-provided pretexts for the expansion of US imperialism. The peace that Peace Magazine promotes, is one in which the United States is firmly in control, and the system of government and economy its ruling class favours has been imposed, willy-nilly, in every corner of the earth.

The Ackerman-Helvey-Sharp destabilization school

Peter Ackerman, an immensely wealthy investor and member of the premier US establishment think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Robert Helvey, a thirty year veteran of the US Army, are the major proponents of a method developed by Gene Sharp for destabilizing foreign governments. While the name NVR gives the technique a fresh look, it is nothing more than CIA-style destabilization, with a twist: it rejects overt CIA sponsorship to escape the taint of being associated with the CIA. Instead, it relies on funding channelled openly through Western government and ruling class foundations. Ackerman defines the technique as: “the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience” [1] in addition to mass protests [2] and even nonviolent sabotage, to disrupt the functioning of government [3] and make “a country ungovernable.” [4] NVR, then, is equivalent to the CIA-engineered destabilization used to help overthrow Chile’s leftist president, Salvador Allende.

Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp are involved in some capacity in deploying Sharp’s destabilization techniques to countries the US government pressures diplomatically, militarily and economically: Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Belarus, Myanmar, Iran, and formerly Georgia, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Peace Magazine likes the governments of none of these countries, calling Venezuela’s economic policies mistaken [5] and welcoming a nonviolent resistance to (i.e., destabilization of) Hugo Chavez’s government. [6] The magazine’s fondest wishes have been fulfilled. “A couple of people who worked with us, including Bob Helvey, have been there and done a workshop for Venezuelans,” explains Gene Sharp. [7]

The trio illegitimately abstracts destabilization from the multi-tiered approach the United States employs to take out targeted foreign governments, in order to argue deceptively that NVR alone, and not NVR plus the threat or use of military violence plus economic warfare are responsible for regime change successes. For example, the role of a 78-day bombing campaign and economic warfare in the eventual ouster of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic has been minimized by the destabilizers, whose version of history holds that it was Helvey’s training of US-funded nonviolent mercenaries in Sharp’s techniques that was responsible for Milosevic’s overthrow and his replacement by a US-backed neo-liberal regime.

Peace Magazine amplifies this deception, acting as an indefatigable cheerleading squad for Sharp, Helvey and Ackerman and their views. All three have been frequently featured in the magazine, through major interviews, or through the wholesale adoption of their positions in editorials, or both.

Promoting capitalist democracy

Editor Metta Spencer frequently adulates democracy, whose imposition on other countries has formed one of the enduring pretexts for US interventions. The democracy she celebrates is the multi-party parliamentary democracy dominant in the West, and not the original idea of rule by or for a previously subordinate class or people – the original sense having always been regarded as dangerous and undesirable by property-owning classes (and social democrats, too, to say nothing, I suspect, of Peace Magazine.) To be sure, it is not democracy in its dangerous and original sense that Spencer adulates. It is democracy tamed by the wealthy that she celebrates.

In an interview with Seymour Martin Lipset, Spencer invites the academic to refute Western democracy’s Marxist critics.

Spencer: But people sometimes say, “Don’t tell me Canada and the United States are democratic. Look at the way money controls the outcome of the elections…”

Lipset: …It is obviously true that money has enormous influence on elections. However, that does not determine everything. [8]

The Marxist critique of Western democracy isn’t that money determines everything, but that those who own productive property and therefore have immense wealth have the means to dominate the electoral process and shape its outcomes to favour their interests and to encroach upon the interests of everyone else. They don’t always get their way, true – but they often do. That the wealthy don’t always win, however, is hardly a ringing endorsement of capitalist democracy, and hardly a reason to be satisfied with it or work for its promotion. Nevertheless, Lipset and Spencer believe that so long as the majority can influence the government some of the time on some issues in some way, all is well.

Cuba’s democracy, based on the election of individuals unaffiliated with political parties (as opposed to ambitious, exhibitionist lawyers who have been vetted by political parties financed overwhelmingly by wealthy individuals and corporations) doesn’t count as democracy in the Peace Magazine view. Cuba, instead, is denounced by the magazine as a tyranny, and Cuba’s former president, and presumably its current one, too, is regarded as being on the same plane as Hitler, Pinochet, Saddam Hussein, and Ida Amin. So too are Lenin and Stalin. [9] That Peace Magazine’s democratic sympathies lie with those of the dominant property-owning class in the West, and not with revolutionaries guided by a definition of democracy closer to the original meaning, is evident in Spencer drawing on the arch-establishment figure, imperialist and war criminal Winston Churchill, for support. “As Winston Churchill pointed out,” she reminds us sententiously, “democracy is the worst system of government — except all others.” [10]

In Spencer’s view, “Democratic states virtually never are involved in wars against other democratic states” (only against “repressive” or “failed” states). [11] The absurdity of this view hardly needs to be pointed out. Israel, a multi-party democracy along Western lines, attacked Gaza, precisely because the Palestinian territories are a democracy which elected a party, Hamas, which Israel refuses to accept. The only way this nonsense can be made true is by defining the democratic states that other democratic states attack as being repressive or failed. But the logic is circular. In 1999, Yugoslavia, a federation that had adopted Western multi-party democracy, was attacked militarily by Western democracies. But in the circular logic of Peace Magazine, Yugoslavia was attacked because it was repressive, and therefore not truly democratic. But how do we decide when a country is truly democratic, and when it is repressive or failed? Moreover, who decides? The answer, in the Peace Magazine view, is that Washington does.

Legitimizing imperialist intervention

The Peace Magazine modus operandi is to accept all US government pronouncements on the threats posed by foreign governments as true, and then to propose the use of Sharp’s destabilization techniques as an alternative to military intervention to deal with the threats.

For example, Peace Magazine contributor John Bacher wrote in a 2004 review of a Robert Helvey book that, “Rather than attempting to build costly and leaky shields for missiles from Iran and north Korea, why not seek non-violently to change these regimes into democracies?” [12] Apparently, it never occurred to Bacher to ask why Iran and North Korea would attack the West, since it would mean their immediate annihilation, nor inquire into what possible motivation either country could have to lob missiles at the West. Instead, he accepted as true a rather transparent pretext for justifying the construction of missile shields that would provide the United States with a nuclear first strike capability against Russia, while fattening the bottom lines of US military contractors.

Even more astonishingly, in 2003, the magazine’s editor took peace activists to task for failing to acknowledge that “George W. Bush was right about…the need for regime change in Iraq.” [13] She echoed Peter Ackerman, who, a year earlier, had teamed up with sidekick Jack DuVall to write a Sojourner’s Magazine article urging “anyone who opposes U.S. military action to dethrone (Saddam Hussein)…to suggest how he (Hussein) might otherwise be ushered out the backdoor of Baghdad.” [14] Spencer also scolded “the organizers of protests (against the war on Iraq, for failing to) on the whole propose any alternative nonviolent way of bringing democracy to Iraq.” [15] In this, the magazine accepted US positions on Iraq as legitimate, and demanded that opponents pressure the US government to use non-military means. In the Peace Magazine view, the left should partner with the US government, and try to influence it to adopt less sanguinary methods of achieving its foreign policy goals. This apes Gene Sharp. Asked what he thought of mass demonstrations in the United States against the war on Iraq, Sharp replied,

“I don’t think you can get rid of violence by protesting against it. I think you get rid of violence only if people see that you have a different way of acting, a different way of struggle. […] Part of my analysis is that if you don’t like violence, you have to develop a substitute. Then people have a choice. If they don’t see a choice, then violence is all that they really have. […] The thing that is most shocking is that the Bush Administration acted on the basis of the belief – dogma, ‘religion’ – in the omnipotence of violence. […] The assumption is an invading country can come in, remove its official leader, arrest some of the other people, and well, then, the dictatorship is gone.” [16]

The reason Spencer believes peace activists should endorse Washington’s regime change agenda is evident in her approval of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, an up-to-date intellectual apology for imperialism. She writes,

“States have a responsibility to protect their own citizens. If instead they abuse them, as in Iraq, they cannot take refuge in the usual rules of sovereignty. The international community may legitimately intervene against such a state.” [17]

The critical flaw in this doctrine lies in the question of who decides when a state has abnegated its responsibility. The answer is “the international community,” a high-sounding synonym for the United States and any other country Washington can bully, cajole or entice to join a coalition under its leadership.

Spencer tops off her endorsement of the US right to determine when intervention is justified with jaw-dropping sophistry.

“And having been complicit in imposing sanctions that caused the deaths of a million or so Iraqis, we have a moral duty now to intervene and help them…” [18]

By this logic, creating a grave injustice through an initial intervention provides a perpetual moral obligation to continue to intervene to try to set the original injustice straight. Of course, the United States and Britain’s subsequent military intervention, following the mass murder of over one million Iraqis in the preceding decade through economic warfare, didn’t redress the initial injustice. Instead, it sparked a humanitarian calamity of colossal magnitude, far greater than the one in Darfur. And yet the magazine advocates non-military warfare to overthrow the government of Sudan [19], but is completely silent on the use of the same NVR techniques to disrupt the US government and make US society ungovernable, to put a stop to the much larger, US-engineered, catastrophe in Iraq.

National Sovereignty

In an astonishing exchange with Gene Sharp, Spencer expresses her contempt for national sovereignty (at least that of countries the United States seeks to dominate) and wonders why anyone would object to Washington overthrowing foreign governments.

Spencer: Recently we showed the film about Otpor (an underground destabilization group trained by Robert Helvey and bankrolled by the US government) and the overthrow of Milosevic, Bringing Down a Dictator. Lots of pro-Milosevic people were present. The real issue for them is, here is the evil US…funding this nonviolent resistance. To them that’s a cardinal sin. A government cannot sponsor the overthrow of another government!

Sharp: Why not?

Spencer: Because the US has interests and it’s supposedly immoral to have interests. Nobody is surprised that the US gives guns to people, but the idea that they assisted the Serbs to get rid of Milosevic seems somehow especially evil. To my mind, it is particularly the US, of all countries, that I want to see supporting nonviolence. It would be the greatest thing in the world for the US to adopt nonviolence.

Sharp: … What do they prefer that the US spend money on? [20]

Intervention

While the defense of national sovereignty has become associated with the left, it has not always been true that the left has supported an absolute right of countries to be free from foreign intervention. Indeed, there have been frequent interventions supported by the left and carried out by leftist forces: the Soviet Union and the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War;  China in the US imperialist war on the Korean peninsula; Cuba in Africa. In these interventions the question wasn’t whether countries had an absolute right to sovereignty, but whether the reasons for and outcomes of intervention were progressive. Was the point to free a class from exploitation and a people from oppression, or to provide a foreign ruling class with new opportunities for expropriating the economic surplus of another country?

Peace Magazine and the destabilizers present US interventions as progressive, guided by opposition to tyranny and the goal of spreading democracy. But the question is whether the democracy the destabilizers promote is a cover for another kind of tyranny, that of domination by US corporate and financial interests. One way to tell is to look at the outcome of successful interventions. Who benefited? Who was injured? In Yugoslavia, the intervention the destabilizers point to with particular pride, the overthrow of the socialist Milosevic, was soon followed by a spate of privatizations, in which formerly publically- and socially-owned assets were bought by Western investors. In Eastern Europe, where a similar destabilization paradigm helped bring about the collapse of socialism and its replacement by a liberal-democratic-capitalist model, joblessness, economic insecurity, deep inequality and the recrudescence of previously virtually eliminated diseases, replaced equality of income, education, healthcare and opportunity. That the outcomes of US interventions have not been progressive may explain why the destabilizers never consider them. But to Spencer, outcomes don’t matter.

“Getting rid of Milosevic did not immediately bring good governance to Serbia…and neither Afghanistan nor Iraq will likely become democratic soon…We can’t help much with that. But their democratization must start with liberation, and we can help them achieve that – non-violently.” [21]

Having no qualms about aligning itself with Washington’s imperialist projects, Peace Magazine endorses without scruple the Western government foundations which support the work of the destabilizers. Asking “How can we help?”, the magazine explains that,

“Many countries maintain organizations that help democratic opposition movements inside tyrannical regimes. In Britain, it’s the Westminster Foundation. In the US it’s the National Endowment for Democracy. In Sweden it’s the Olaf Palme Center. In Canada it’s Montreal-based Rights and Democracy. Moreover, there are experts who have studied nonviolent struggle and who can help dissident movements develop effective strategies” [22] such as Robert Helvey.

It would doubtlessly cause little embarrassment to the magazine to point out that the National Endowment for Democracy was established by the Reagan administration to overtly bankroll the overthrow movements the CIA used to fund covertly. So long as imperialist goals are pursued through non-military means, Peace Magazine is content.

Conclusion

Despite its apparent left credentials, Peace Magazine serves the conservative function of legitimizing the goals of US foreign policy and burnishing the reputation of a capitalist democracy subordinated to US corporate and financial domination. The magazine apes the views of Peter Ackerman, Robert Helvey and Gene Sharp, the major proponents within the US establishment of the use of destabilization methods to overthrow foreign governments that resist domination by US corporate and financial interests. The magazine’s only disagreement with US foreign policy is its reliance on military intervention. This disagreement is motivated in part by a public relations concern. If the US government “would restrict its interventions to aiding nonviolent opponents of tyrants,” the magazine contends, “the world would admire it.” [23] That a peace magazine wants the world to admire the leading champion of capitalist imperialism leaves little doubt as to its orientation, whose side it’s on, and what role it seeks to play in the struggle for economic, social and political justice.

1. Ackerman, Peter, “Paths to peace: How Serbian students brought dictator down without a shot fired,” National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002.
2. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “The nonviolent script for Iran,” Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003.
3. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.)
4. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
5. Spencer, Metta, “Gene Sharp 101.” Peace Magazine, July-September 2003. “Personally, I think Chavez is steering the wrong course on economic matters,” writes Spenser. “They won’t get out of the hole until they have different policies.”
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Spencer, Metta, “Democracy matters: A conversation with Seymour Martin Lipset,” Peace Magazine, July-September, 2000.
9. Spencer, Metta, “Introduction: Nonviolence versus a dictatorship,” Peace Magazine, October-December, 2001.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Bacher, John, “On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals,” Peace Magazine, October-December 2004.
13. From the Editor, Peace Magazine, April-June, 2003.
14. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.
15. Metta Spencer, “Ushering Democracy into Iraq – Nonviolently,” Peace Magazine, January-March 2003.
16. Pal, Amitabh, “Gene Sharp Interview,” The Progressive, March 2007.
17. From the editor, 2003.
18. Ibid.
19. Lee McKenna, “The nonviolent way in Sudan,” Peace Magazine, January-March, 2009.
20. Spencer, July-September 2003.
21. From the editor, 2003.
22. Spencer, Metta, January-March, 2003.
23. From the editor, 2003.

10th Anniversary of NATO Assualt on Yugoslavia

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Zivadin Jovanovic, the last minister of Foreign Affairs of Yugoslavia, interviewed in Belgrade by Vanessa Stojilkovic & Zoran Jevric for InvestigAction http://www.michelcollon.info

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WH1Xf4zFilE

Written by what's left

March 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Three questions to ask about Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak

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Angola reported 82,000 cases of cholera last year and over 3,000 deaths – five times as many cases as Zimbabwe has experienced this year and four times as many deaths. [1] The West, which has substantial investments in Angolan oil, did not say that Angola was approaching failed state status, call for its government to step down, or seek authorization to forcibly remove it.

The Nigerian Supreme Court recently ruled that the country’s April 2007 elections were marred by widespread voting irregularities. Election observers declared the elections to be fraudulent and criticized the government for using violence and intimidation. Despite being the second wealthiest country in Africa, most Nigerians have no access to clean drinking water and basic healthcare. Western oil firms have substantial investments in Nigeria. They profit, while most Nigerians live in abject poverty. [2] The West has not said that Nigeria is approaching failed state status, called for its government to step down, or sought authorization to forcibly remove it.

By Gowans

Western powers have tried many ways to bring down the Mugabe government of Zimbabwe. They’ve created a political party, the MDC, whose policy platforms they’ve had a hand in shaping, to contest elections. They’ve nurtured human rights and other civil society groups to oppose the Mugabe government. They’ve funded community newspapers to spread anti-government propaganda. They’ve financed short-wave radio programs to broadcast anti-Mugabe programming. [3] They’ve materially backed campaigns of civil disobedience, in failed attempts to foment a color revolution. [4] And they’ve blocked, through the US Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 (the act), Zimbabwe’s access to balance of payment support and development aid. [5] All of these attempts to force the Mugabe government into submission have failed.

I’ve elaborated elsewhere on the reasons why Western powers have sought Mugabe’s ouster. [6] The reasons can be briefly summarized as follows: the Mugabe government has acted to thwart imperialist designs on the Democratic Republic of Congo; it opposed the pro-foreign investment policies of the International Monetary Fund; it expropriated income-producing property (farms owned by Europeans and descendants of white settlers) without compensation — an affront against private property that the United States, the guarantor of the imperialist system, could not let stand.

The way the Western media tell the story, Zimbabweans are eager to see Mugabe go. But despite Western powers acting to poison public opinion against Mugabe, the Zanu-PF government retains considerable popular support. One indication that Mugabe commands the backing of at least a sizeable minority of the population is that the United States has acknowledged that “a popular Zimbabwean uprising against Mugabe is unlikely.” [7] In elections earlier this year, which featured massive Western interference on the side of the opposition, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party won roughly half of the legislative assembly seats and roughly half of the Senate seats. In the first round of presidential voting, Mugabe got over 40 percent of the vote – despite the considerable pressure Western powers put on Zimbabweans to reject the national liberation hero. With the president retaining strong backing, Western powers are now using a cholera outbreak — a not uncommon event in poor countries — to argue that Zimbabwe has become a failed state. By making the case that Zimbabwe’s government is no longer able to provide its citizens with basic hygiene and access to safe drinking water, Western powers hope to either secure a United Nations Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force to oust Mugabe, or to pressure Zimbabwe’s neighbors to close their borders to the landlocked country, starving the government – and the people of Zimbabwe — into submission. “The closure of the borders, literally, in a week, would bring this country to its knees,” said a US official. [8] The readiness to escalate the misery Zimbabweans already endure with a total blockade undermines the Western powers’ own claim that they are galvanized to act by humanitarian concern. One needn’t be reminded that the greatest existing humanitarian catastrophes – to wit, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo – have been authored by the United States and Britain (directly in Iraq and through Rwanda and Uganda in the Congo). These are the very same powers that claim a “responsibility to protect.”

According to the World Health Organization, there were over 16,000 cases of cholera in Zimbabwe as of December 9, and 775 deaths. The WHO attributes the outbreak to an under-resourced and under-staffed health care system, and to inadequate access to safe drinking water. We should ask three questions. [9]

1. How common are cholera outbreaks in the Third World?

2. Have Western powers sought to forcibly remove governments in other countries that have suffered comparable or greater cholera outbreaks?

3. Why is Zimbabwe’s health care system under-resourced and under-staffed and why do Zimbabweans have inadequate access to safe drinking water?

Cholera outbreaks are hardly rare in the Third World. Between 13 February 2006 and 9 May 2007, there were over 82,000 cases of cholera and almost 3,100 deaths in Angola [10]. Since May, there have been 13,781 cases of cholera in Guinea-Bisseau, with 221 deaths as of November. [11] There were 14,297 cases and 254 deaths in Tanzania in 2006 [12]. Last year, there were 30,000 cases of cholera in Iraq [13], almost twice as many as in Zimbabwe this year. In 2005, cholera swept through Western Africa, affecting 45,000 people in eight countries. [14] In none of these cases did Western powers call for the governments of the affected countries to step down, or seek authorization to remove them by force.

The inadequacies of Zimbabwe’s health care system are due, in part, to doctors being lured away by the higher wages and better working conditions of the West. There are more than 13,000 doctors trained in sub-Saharan Africa who are now practicing in the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia. [15] This, according to the British medical journal, The Lancet, has led to the “dilapidation of health infrastructure” and has threatened to produce a “public health crisis.” The West’s pilfering of sub-Saharan Africa’s doctors is “an international crime.” [16]

Zimbabwe’s health care system is also affected by the economic devastation wrought by the United States denying the country access to balance of payment support and development aid. If doctors are lured to the West under the best of circumstances, the incentives for abandoning a Zimbabwe in a virtual state of economic collapse are irresistible. Add to that the reality that hyperinflation – a by-product of Harare’s attempts to deal with foreign exchange shortages caused by the act – has eroded the purchasing power of Zimbabwe’s currency, deterring medical staff (and employees generally) from showing up for work. The act has also undermined the government’s ability to secure funds to make needed repairs to water and sewage treatment infrastructure and to import water purification chemicals. While the purveyors of misinformation at the New York Times and other Western media outlets attribute the cholera outbreak to what are called Mugabe’s “disastrously failed policies,” the origins lie closer to home.

1. http://www.who.int/cholera/countries/Angola%20country%20profile%202007.pdf

2. Will Connors, “Legal victory can’t erase Nigerian leader’s troubles,” The New York Times, December 13, 2008.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/world/africa/14nigeria.html?ref=world

3. http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PDACL121.pdf ; http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/

4. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/expressions-of-imperialism-within-zimbabwe/

5. http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=107_cong_bills&docid=f:s494enr.txt.pdf

6. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/12/08/cholera-outbreak-outcome-of-west%e2%80%99s-war-on-zimbabwe/

7. US Government, “Zimbabwe approaching ’failed state’ status, U.S. ambassador says,” December 11, 2008. http://www.america.gov/st/democracy-english/2008/December/20081211164826esnamfuak0.6706354.html?CP.rss=true

8. Ibid.

9. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2008/pr49/en/index.html

10. http://www.who.int/cholera/countries/Angola%20country%20profile%202007.pdf

11. http://www.who.int/cholera/countries/GuineaBissauCountryProfile2008.pdf

12. http://www.who.int/cholera/countries/TanzaniaCountryProfile2008.pdf

13. http://www.who.int/cholera/countries/IraqCountryProfile2007.pdf

14. http://www.who.int/csr/don/2005_09_23/en/index.html

15. The Lancet, cited in Reuters, February 22, 2008.

16. Ibid.

Written by what's left

December 14, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Cholera Outbreak Outcome of West’s War on Zimbabwe

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By Gowans

The crisis in Zimbabwe has intensified. Inflation is incalculably high. The central bank limits – to an inadequate level – the amount of money Zimbabweans can withdraw from their bank accounts daily. Unarmed soldiers riot, their guns kept under lock and key, to prevent an armed uprising. Hospital staff fail to show up for work. The water authority is short of chemicals to purify drinking water. Cholera, easily prevented and cured under normal circumstances, has broken out, leading the government to declare a humanitarian emergency.

In the West, state officials call for the country’s president, Robert Mugabe, to step down and yield power to the leader of the largest faction of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai. In this, the crisis is directly linked to Mugabe, its solution to Tsvangirai, but it’s never said what Mugabe has done to cause the crisis, or how Tsvangirai’s ascension to the presidency will make it go away.

The causal chain leading to the crisis can be diagrammed roughly as follows:

• In the late 90s, Mugabe’s government provokes the hostility of the West by: (1) intervening militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the side of the young government of Laurent Kabila, helping to thwart an invasion by Rwandan and Ugandan forces backed by the US and Britain; (2) it rejects a pro-foreign investment economic restructuring program the IMF establishes as a condition for balance of payment support; (3) it accelerates land redistribution by seizing white-owned farms and thereby committing the ultimate affront against owners of productive property – expropriation without compensation. To governments whose foreign policy is based in large measure on protecting their nationals’ ownership rights to foreign productive assets, expropriation, and especially expropriation without compensation, is intolerable, and must be punished to deter others from doing the same.

• In response, the United States, as prime guarantor of the imperialist system, introduces the December 2001 Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act. The act instructs US representatives to international financial institutions “to oppose and vote against any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the Government of Zimbabwe; or any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the Government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.”

• The act effectively deprives Zimbabwe of foreign currency required to import necessities from abroad, including chemicals to treat drinking water. Development aid from the World Bank is also cut off, denying the country access to funds to upgrade its infrastructure. The central bank takes measures to mitigate the effects of the act, creating hyper-inflation as a by-product.

The cause of the crisis, then, can be traced directly to the West. Rather than banning the export of goods to Zimbabwe, the US denied Zimbabwe the means to import goods — not trade sanctions, but an act that had the same effect. To be sure, had the Mugabe government reversed its land reform program and abided by IMF demands, the crisis would have been averted. But the trigger was pulled in Washington, London and Brussels, and it is the West, therefore, that bears the blame.

Sanctions are effectively acts of war, with often equivalent, and sometimes more devastating, consequences. More than a million Iraqis died as a result of a decade-long sanctions regime championed by the US following the 1991 Gulf War. This prompted two political scientists, John and Karl Mueller, to coin the phrase “sanctions of mass destruction.” They noted that sanctions had “contributed to more deaths in the post Cold War era than all the weapons of mass destruction in history.”

The Western media refer to sanctions on Zimbabwe as targeted – limited only to high state officials and other individuals. This ignores the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act and conceals its devastating impact, thereby shifting responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe from the US to Mugabe.

The cholera outbreak has a parallel in the outbreak of cholera in Iraq following the Gulf War. Thomas Nagy, a business professor at George Washington University, cited declassified documents in the September 2001 issue of The Progressive magazine showing that the United States had deliberately bombed Iraq’s drinking water and sanitation facilities, recognizing that sanctions would prevent Iraq from rebuilding its water infrastructure and that epidemics of otherwise preventable diseases, cholera among them, would ensue. Washington, in other words, deliberately created a humanitarian catastrophe to achieve its goal of regime change. There is a direct parallel with Zimbabwe – the only difference is that the United States uses the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act – that is, sanctions of mass destruction – in place of bombing.

Harare’s land reform program is one of the principal reasons the United States has gone to war with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has redistributed land previously owned by 4,000 white farmers to 300,000 previously landless families, descendants of black Africans whose land was stolen by white settlers. By contrast, South Africa’s ANC government has redistributed only four percent of the 87 percent of land forcibly seized from the indigenous population by Europeans.

In March, South Africa’s cabinet seemed ready to move ahead with a plan to accelerate agrarian reform. It would abandon the “willing seller, willing buyer” model insisted on by the West, following in the Mugabe government’s footsteps. Under the plan, thirty percent of farmland would be redistributed to black farmers by 2014. But the government has since backed away, its reluctance to move forward based on the following considerations.

1. Most black South Africans are generations removed from the land, and no longer have the skills and culture necessary to immediately farm at a high level. An accelerated land reform program would almost certainly lower production levels, as new farmers played catch up to acquire critical skills.

2. South Africa is no longer a net exporter of food. An accelerated land reform program would likely force the country, in the short term, to rely more heavily on agricultural imports, at a time food prices are rising globally.

3. There is a danger that fast-track land reform will create a crisis of capital flight.

4. The dangers of radical land reform in provoking a backlash from the West are richly evident in the example of Zimbabwe. South Africa would like to avoid becoming the next Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis is accompanied by a political crisis. Talks on forming a government of national unity are stalled. Failure to strike a deal pivots on a single ministry – home affairs. In the West, failure to consolidate a deal between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and the two MDC factions is attributed to Mugabe’s intransigence in insisting that he control all key cabinet posts. It takes two to tango. Tsvangirai has shown little interest in striking an accord, preferring instead to raise objections to every solution to the impasse put forward by outside mediators, as Western ambassadors hover nearby. It’s as if, with the country teetering on the edge of collapse, he doesn’t want to do a deal, preferring instead to help hasten the collapse by throwing up obstacles to an accord, to clear the way for his ascension to the presidency. When the mediation of former South African president Thambo Mbeki failed, Tsvangirai asked the regional grouping, the SADC, to intervene. SADC ordered Zanu-PF and the MDC to share the home affairs ministry. Tsvangirai refused. Now he wants Mbeki replaced.

At the SADC meeting, Mugabe presented a report which alleges that MDC militias are being trained in Botswana by Britain, to be deployed to Zimbabwe early in 2009 to foment a civil war. The turmoil would be used as a pretext for outside military intervention. This would follow the model used to oust the Haitian government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Already, British officials and clergymen are calling for intervention. British prime minister Gordon Brown says the cholera outbreak makes Zimbabwe’s crisis international, because disease can cross borders. Since an international crisis is within the purview of the “international community,” the path is clear for the West and its satellites to step in to set matters straight

Botswana is decidedly hostile. The country’s foreign minister, Phando Skelemani, says that Zimbabwe’s neighbors should impose an oil blockade to bring the Mugabe government down.

Meanwhile, representatives of the elders, Jimmy Carter, Kofi Anan and Graca Machel sought to enter Zimbabwe to assess the humanitarian situation. Inasmuch as an adequate assessment could not be made on the whistle-stop tour the trio had planned, Harare barred their entry, recognizing that the trip would simply be used as a platform to declaim on the necessity of regime change. The elders’ humanitarian concern, however, didn’t stop the trio from agreeing that stepped up sanctions – more misery for the population — would be useful.

The Mugabe government’s pursuit of land reform, rejection of neo-liberal restructuring, and movement to eclipse US imperialism in southern Africa, has put Zimbabwe on the receiving end of a Western attack based on punitive financial sanctions. The intention, as is true of all Western destabilization efforts, has been to make the target country ungovernable, forcing the government to step down, clearing the way for the ascension of the West’s local errand boys. Owing to the West’s attack, Zimbabwe’s government is struggling to provide the population with basic necessities. It can no longer provide basic sanitation and access to potable water at a sufficient level to prevent the outbreak of otherwise preventable diseases.

The replacement of the Mugabe government with one led by the Movement for Democratic Change, a party created and directed by Western governments, if it happens, will lead to an improvement in the humanitarian situation. This won’t come about because the MDC is more competent at governing, but because sanctions will be lifted and access to balance of payment support and development aid will be restored. Zimbabwe will once again be able to import adequate amounts of water purification chemicals. The improving humanitarian situation will be cited as proof the West was right all along in insisting on a change of government.

The downside is that measures to indigenize the economy – to place the country’s agricultural and mineral wealth in the hands of the black majority – will be reversed. Mugabe and key members of the state will be shipped off to The Hague – or attempts will be made to ship them off – to send a message to others about what befalls those who threaten the dominant mode of property relations and challenge Western domination. Cowed by the example of Zimbabwe, Africans in other countries will back away from their own land reform and economic indigenization demands, and the continent will settle more firmly into a pattern of neo-colonial subjugation.

Written by what's left

December 8, 2008 at 11:47 pm

Myths of “humanitarian” imperialism

with 5 comments

By Stephen Gowans

Timothy Garton Ash, a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian, has called on “people outside Zimbabwe” to “help the majority inside Zimbabwe have its democratic will recognized” by doing seven things, the first of which is to press their governments for stronger sanctions on Zimbabwe. Ash’s column is titled, “We don’t need guns to help the people pitch Mugabe from his perch.”

Ash’s argument, a call for “liberal” or “humanitarian” imperialism, is based on a false premise. It is also morally repugnant.

False premise: The idea that a majority in Zimbabwe is awaiting the help of Westerners is at odds with reality. If you check, you’ll discover that the governing Zanu-PF party won the popular vote in the March 29 elections, but owing to Zimbabwe’s first past the post system, won fewer seats than the MDC did. It would be more accurate to say that somewhat less than 50 percent of Zimbabweans would welcome the MDC coming to power, and fewer than that, I suspect, would welcome further misery from a stepped up Western intervention.

Morally repugnant: Ash’s argument amounts to this: Imperialism is fine, just so long as it isn’t pursued by military means. Lay aside his eagerness to outrage the sovereignty of Zimbabwe, but not, say, Ethiopia, whose brutal Meles’ regime steals elections, locks up the opposition, and has invaded and occupied Somalia, on behalf of London and Washington. People ought to ask themselves why they’ve heard so much about Zimbabwe, but not Ethiopia.

Non-military interventions can be just as harmful, if not more so, than military ones. The international sanctions regime imposed on Iraq led to the excess deaths of more than a million people, deaths caused by Western countries whose governments lied their only concern was freeing Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and then freed numberless Iraqis from life (and, if Washington and London get their way, from the benefits of their oil wealth.) Sanctions were denounced as sanctions of mass destruction, as devastating as campaigns of carpet bombing. No one should delude themselves into thinking that non-military interventions are free from grim humanitarian consequences.

Ash’s appeal for intervention, then, is based on three myths: (1) that a majority of Zimbabweans are opposed to the Mugabe government and would welcome Western intervention; (2) imperialism without guns is better than imperialism with guns; (3) Western intervention in Zimbabwe (which has already happened on a massive scale through funding of the opposition by Western governments and corporate foundations, and though financial isolation of the country) is motivated by humanitarian, not, imperialist goals (otherwise, why no indignant calls for intervention in Ethiopia — or in Egypt, where the president has hung on to power for as long as Mugabe has, but acts to promote British and US foreign policy goals?)

While it’s bad enough that the heirs of British colonialism press for neo-colonial interventions, it’s even worse when they wrap up their arguments in a tissue of myths.

Written by what's left

June 26, 2008 at 2:38 pm

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