A new call against standing idly by?

December 4, 2012 § 14 Comments

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.”

Richard Seymour: Hallucinating revolutions, pacifying resistance

July 27, 2012 § 18 Comments

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.

Al-Qaeda’s Air Force

February 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

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

Military Interventions: Progressive vs. Imperialist

July 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

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

Achcar Turns Lenin on His Head

March 29, 2011 § 13 Comments

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.

Peaceniks for imperialism

August 11, 2009 § 3 Comments

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

March 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

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

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