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War Crimes Investigation of North Korea Ludicrous Beyond Words

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By Stephen Gowans

“The International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary investigation into allegations that North Korean forces committed war crimes when they shelled civilian areas in South Korea and allegedly sank a South Korean warship,” according to The Washington Post of 7 December.

The North Koreans, it should be pointed out, didn’t shell civilian areas in South Korea; they shelled a South Korean military installation on Yeonpyeong Island, only eight miles from North Korea, after artillery was fired from the island into North Korea’s territorial waters. [1]

The North Koreans warned the South—which at the time was conducting massive military exercises with the United States—that it would retaliate if the South went ahead with its planned test firing from the island into its waters.

Pyongyang regarded the joint South Korean-US exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion, based on their substantial size (70,000 South Korean troops had been mobilized), the fact that they were taking place for the first time ever in the North’s international customary law–defined territorial waters, and involved US Marines based in Japan who were trained in amphibious assault and urban warfare. [2]

Despite the North’s entreaties that the South not proceed with its planned shelling, the South went ahead anyway. The North retaliated, as it warned it would and as Seoul surely knew it must. [3] It fired artillery at the South’s garrison on the island. While many news reports, such as the one cited above, suggest the North deliberately targeted civilians, the civilian casualties were accidental; the target was military.

The allegations that North Korea sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan—allegations which seem to owe their existence more to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s political agenda than anything else—are in tatters, the victim of an official Russian investigation and a series of independent inquiries that have punched holes in the misnamed “international”—more aptly named South Korea-plus-allies-report. [4] Is it any surprise that an inquiry carried out by countries that are hostile to North Korea would arrive at a conclusion that justifies their hostility? The report’s findings—that a North Korean torpedo sank the warship–resonated with Lee’s intuition, expressed well before the investigation was launched, that North Korea was to blame. [5] It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the report was written to justify a conclusion Lee had already arrived at, despite his own military’s initial assessment that no evidence existed to link North Korea to the mishap. [6]

The Cheonan–which had been operating in the shallow waters off Baengnyeong Island, only 10 miles from North Korea but 120 miles from the South Korean mainland—appears to have either run aground or struck an old mine. [7] But the official South Korean investigation rejected all alternative explanations, settling on the North Korea-is-guilty conclusion that members of Lee’s right-wing Grand National Party had seized upon immediately after the sinking, despite the South Korean military initially trying to dampen speculation that the North was involved. There was no evidence linking North Korea to the corvette’s sinking, Won See-hoon, director of South Korea’s National Intelligence, told a South Korean parliamentary committee in early April. South Korea’s then defense minister Kim Tae-young backed him up, pointing out that the Cheonan’s crew had not detected a torpedo [8], while Lee Ki-sik, head of the marine operations office at the South Korean joint chiefs of staff agreed that “No North Korean warships have been detected…(in) the waters where the accident took place.” [9] Notice he said “accident.” Blaming the sinking on a North Korean torpedo, however, fit with what Selig Harrison, the US establishment’s foremost liberal expert on Korea describes as Lee’s goal: to “once again [seek] the collapse of the North and its absorption by the South.” [10] So too does blaming the recent artillery exchange between the two Koreas on the North, when, in point of fact, it was the South that pulled the trigger. And so too does the ICC investigation.

While the ICC serves US interests, the United States itself refuses to submit to the court’s jurisdiction. The court could be subverted by political mischief-makers, US officials say. China, Russia and Israel also refuse to submit to the court’s purview. But Washington’s real problem with the court isn’t that frivolous charges might be brought against the country’s armed forces, but that legitimate charges most surely would be. The US record of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan alone, to say nothing of the other theaters in which it pursues its war on resistance to US domination of Southwest Asia, could keep the ICC permanently occupied for the next decade. And Israel’s crimes—most especially those committed in Gaza–could keep the court going for years to come. Indeed, there’s a string of US and allied leaders who should be dragged before the court to stand trial—from George W. Bush to Tony Blair to Benjamin Netanyahu to Barack Obama. But they won’t be. The US, Britain, NATO and Israel have never been investigated by the ICC, and never will be, no matter how monstrous their crimes. The court exists to prosecute the weak and legitimize the crimes of the strong by ignoring them.

We have, then, a situation that is ludicrous beyond words: An ICC that is mute on US, British, NATO and Israeli war crimes—war crimes that have led to countless fatalities, the deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure, the collective punishment of displaced Palestinians for voting for a party that refuses to accept Israeli ethnic cleansing as legitimate, the displacement of millions of Iraqis—but is prepared to investigate the events surrounding the death of two South Korean civilians! A court that ignores the major crimes of the strong while investigating crimes that—even if they had been truly committed—would be microscopic in comparison, is an abomination against reason, justice and humanity. [11]

While its surface mandate may be the pursuit of justice, the ICC is every bit as much a part of the apparatus of imperialist domination as the US military and NATO are; its justice that of the powerful against the weak; its mandate to demonize the resisters and trundle them off to jail, while the imperialist architects of war crimes on a grand scale furnish the court with its prosecutors, direction, and agenda.

1. For sources see Stephen Gowans, “Wrong country blamed for artillery exchange on Korean peninsula”, what’s left, November 24, 2010 and “North Korea attacks South Korea…or is it the other way around?” What’s left, November 23, 2010.

2. Tim Beal, “Fire fight at Yeonpyeong: the manufacturing of crisis”, The Pyongyang Report, Vol 12 No 1 December 2010.

3. In order to enforce its claim to territorial waters, Pyongyang must contest the South’s exercise of military force in its waters, or its claim will be weakened. Moreover, failure to respond resolutely to the challenge would invite the South to take further liberties. See “US Ultimately to Blame for Korean Skirmishes in Yellow Sea”, what’s left, December 5, 2010.

4. See the following by Gregory Elich: “The Sinking of the Cheonan, Reviewing the Evidence,” globalresearch.ca, July 30, 2010 and “The Cheonan Incident. America’s Pretext for Threatening North Korea”, globalresearch.ca, December 6, 2010.

5. “Kim So-hyun, “A touchstone of Lee’s leadership”, Korea Herald, May 13, 2010.

6. See Stephen Gowans, “The sinking of the Cheonan: Another Gulf of Tonkin incident”, what’s left, May 20, 2010.

7. See Elich.

8. Nicole Finnemann, “The sinking of the Cheonan”, Korea Economic Institute, April 1, 2010.

9. “Military leadership adding to Cheonan chaos with contradictory statements”, The Hankyoreh, March 31, 2010.

10. Selig S. Harrison, “What Seoul should do despite the Cheonan”, The Hankyoreh, May 14, 2010.

11. I recognize that the ICC can only prosecute citizens of signatory countries or those of countries the UN Security Council—many of whose permanent members are not signatories themselves—direct the court to investigate. But this doesn’t make the actions of the court in investigating events surrounding the deaths of two civilians while ignoring large scale war crimes which have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands if not millions, any less ludicrous or any less an abomination against reason, justice and humanity.

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December 7, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Obama’s Africa Speech: Lies, Hypocrisy, and a Prescription for Continued African Dependence

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Q. Is Obama better than Bush?

A. It depends how you like your imperialism – with a white face or a black one.

By Stephen Gowans

US president Barack Obama’s speech at Accra, Ghana on July 11, 2009 was equal parts jaw dropping hypocrisy, outright fiction, sound advice for Africans if taken literally, and advocacy for institutions ideally suited to capital accumulation in Africa by Western investors. Africans should heed the US president’s call to embrace the idea that Africa’s future is up to Africans (and Africans alone) and to build their own nations, but the path Obama proposes, if followed, would condemn Africa to continued underdevelopment and perpetual dependence on the West.

It should come as a surprise to no one but the weakly naïve and politically untutored that the role of the US president in Africa is to promote and defend the interests of the United States, not Africans. This is so, even if the US president shares the skin color of Africa’s majority. What may not be so apparent, but which is true nevertheless, is that Obama represents the interests of his country’s hereditary capitalist families, banks, corporations and wealthy investors whose resources and backing have brought him to power, and in whose interests the logic of imperialism compels him to act. It is Obama’s goal as representative of US capital to open, and keep open, Africa’s vast resources to exploitation by Western, and particularly US, capital without impediments of corruption, war and pan-African, nationalist or socialist projects of independent development getting in the way. His color and African heritage give Obama a leg up on a white president, allowing him to immediately connect with an African audience. But his message is no less racist, imperialist and informed by the interests of Wall Street than that of his white predecessors.
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Outright fiction

Obama used his speech to sell two fictions: (1) that Africa’s underdevelopment has nothing to do with colonialism and neo-colonialism, but is rooted in corruption, tribalism and Africans’ blaming others for their poverty; and (2) that Africa’s development depends on adopting institutions that allow foreign capital unfettered access to African markets and resources.

“It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for (Africa’s) problems on others,” said Obama, explaining that,

“Countries like Kenya, which had a per capita economy larger than South Korea’s when I was born, have been badly outpaced. Disease and conflict have ravaged parts of the African continent. In many places, the hope of my (Kenyan) father’s generation gave way to cynicism, even despair.”

During the years of its rapid economic growth, south Korea did not follow the development path Obama prescribes for Africa today. Instead, it built five-year industrial plans that singled out industries the government would nurture through tariff protection, subsidies and government support. Foreign currencies necessary for importing machinery and industrial inputs were accumulated through foreign exchange controls, whose violation was punishable by death. [1]

The government completely regulated foreign investment, welcoming it in some areas but banning it in others. Attitudes toward intellectual property were lax, with south Korean businesses encouraged to reverse engineer Western technology and pirate the West’s patented products.

This approach to development was the rule, not the exception. Virtually every developed country has followed the same path, using tariffs, subsidies and discrimination against foreign investors, to industrialize.

The first countries to adopt free trade, apart from Britain, where weak countries on whom free trade was imposed by colonial masters. The free trade was typically one-way. Countries in Asia and Africa barely grew economically during the period of colonial rule, while Western Europe – the beneficiary of one-way free trade — grew rapidly. Latin America also grew strongly, but at the time, followed an import-substitution model, not the open markets model industrial powerhouses favored because it favored them.

Under the rule of Britain, the United States was treated much as African countries are today. It was denied the use of tariffs to protect its fledgling industry. It was barred from exporting products that competed with British products. And it was encouraged, through subsides, to concentrate on agriculture. Manufacturing industry was to be left to the British.

Alexander Hamilton rejected this model, creating an infant industry program that allowed the United States to industrialize rapidly. Hamilton’s program — which remained the basis of US economic policy up to World War II — created the highest tariff barriers in the world. US federal mining laws restricted ownership of mines to US citizens and businesses incorporated in the United States. (When Zimbabwe’s government developed legislation to require majority Zimbabwean ownership of the country’s resources, along the lines of earlier US policy, it was denounced for grossly mismanaging the economy.)

Other developed countries also used foreign ownership restrictions to help them industrialize. Prior to 1962, Japan restricted foreign ownership to 49 percent and banned it altogether in certain industries.

In his speech, Obama created the impression that south Korea developed rapidly because it followed policies the World Bank endorses, while at the same time Africa stagnated, because it didn’t. This is doubly false. Not only did south Korea not follow World Bank policies – in fact, it did the very opposite – Africa has been practically run by the IMF and World Bank since the 1980s. Under their guidance, African living standards have worsened, not improved. Over the same period, the Western world’s financial elite – which exercises enormous influence over the World Bank and IMF – saw its wealth expand greatly.

Corruption, Obama argues, and not the legacy of colonialism, has also held Africa back. There must, he insists, be “concrete solutions to corruption like forensic accounting, automating services, strengthening hot lines and protecting whistle-blowers to advance transparency and accountability.”

These measures are desirable. But spectacular corruption in Indonesia, Italy, Japan, south Korea, Taiwan and China didn’t hold these countries back. The critical issue in development isn’t whether corruption happens, but whether the dirty money stays in the country. Mobutu took stolen money out of Zaire, wrecking the Zairian economy. But massive corruption and economic growth can co-exist, if the dirty money is invested in the expansion of the country’s productive assets.

Moreover, corruption is more a consequence, and less a cause, of underdevelopment. Poor countries, because they’re poor, pay meager salaries to government officials. This increases the likelihood officials will stoop to corruption to pad their paltry incomes. And limited government budgets mean there are few resources to prevent graft.

But Obama’s concern about corruption has little to do with its role in hindering development, and everything to do with safeguarding the investments of US banks, corporations and wealthy US citizens. US investors don’t want to invest their capital in countries where the returns can be stolen by corrupt government officials, any more than they want to invest in countries in which there is a high risk of expropriation by nationalist or socialist governments following paths of independent development. A major foreign policy function of the US president is to create safe and stable overseas environments in which US businesses and investment can thrive. Corruption is inimical to that goal.

On top of corruption, conflict based on religious, ethnic and tribal differences is also keeping Africa poor, according to Obama.

“We all have many identities, of tribe and ethnicity, of religion and nationality. But defining oneself in opposition to someone who belongs to a different tribe, or who worships a different prophet, has no place in the 21st century.”

It has long been a practice of imperialist countries to foment ethnic and religious tension as a means of keeping oppressed people fighting each other rather than their oppressor. The ancient Romans called it divide and conquer. The British elevated it to an art form, and used it to undergird their empire. It has always served to: (1) disrupt and disorganize a united front of the oppressed against the oppressor; and (2) to provide a humanitarian justification for imperialist countries to continue their domination of subordinate countries.

The imperialist country must maintain a guiding hand, it’s said, otherwise the ethnic and religious tensions that roil beneath the surface will spill over into open warfare. The massacres in Rwanda have served the useful purpose for the West of reinforcing the imperialist idea that Africans are ready on the flimsiest pretext to go on bloody rampages out of atavistic tribal bloodlust. Exploitation, oppression, unequal access to critical resources, and foreign meddling: none of these causes of conflicts in Africa figure in Western accounts. Instead, the causes of war are to be understood to originate in irrational hatred. And irrational hatred, the narrative goes, is best held in check by Western powers.

While Obama attributed Africa’s poverty to corruption and tribalism, he also, indirectly, and unintentionally, pointed to one of the true reasons for Africa’s underdevelopment: one-way free trade. “Wealthy nations,” he said “must open our doors to goods and services from Africa in a meaningful way,” which says the doors of wealthy nations are not open in a meaningful way today. And they’re not, and never have been. Despite African doors being pried open, usually by force, threat or economic coercion by wealthy nations, the doors of Western countries have only ever been open to Africa on terms that benefit the West. And that’s because there has never really been anything Africa could do about the unfair bargain the West has forced upon it, except to unite and pursue a path of self-reliant development, drawing upon its own immense resources and seeking out critical machine and industrial inputs from sympathetic countries. It didn’t have the military power to force the doors of Western Europe and North America open, as the West forced its doors open. Nor could it use the tools of economic coercion to exact concessions from wealthy countries, for African economies, having been adapted to the requirements of their colonial masters in the period of colonial rule, and never having escaped this legacy, have typically been based on agricultural monoculture. What could African countries do — stop all exports of groundnuts, tobacco or bananas to force the West to open its doors? Doing so would hardly hurt the West, but would deprive Africa of the foreign exchange it uses to import a multitude of goods it depends on the West to provide. To put it succinctly: the West has always had Africa over a barrel.

There are two other egregious misconceptions that Obama articulated in his Accra speech: (1) That “the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade…” and (2) that “African-Americans…have thrived in every sector of (US) society.”

The decline in Zimbabwe’s economy since 2000 is attributed by US officials to Robert Mugabe’s mismanagement, an explanation amplified by the Western media and treated by both the media and Western publics as indisputable. The year 2000 marked the beginning of Zimbabwe’s fast track land redistribution program. The goal of the program was to reclaim prized agricultural land stolen by force by European settlers. The land was to be redistributed to indigenous farmers. And it has been. Zimbabwe has democratized land ownership patterns, distributing land previously owned by 4,000 farmers, mostly of British origin, to 300,000 previously landless families, of African origin.

In more sophisticated analyses, the root cause of Zimbabwe’s economic difficulties is understood to lie in the disruption of agriculture caused by land reform. According to this analysis, had the Mugabe government not pressed ahead with its aggressive land reform program and settled for the sedate, glacial affair that characterized land redistribution prior to 2000 — and which has marked agrarian reform elsewhere on the continent — Zimbabwe would not be in the straitened circumstances it finds itself today.

Until 2000, land reform moved at a snail’s pace. As part of a negotiated settlement with Britain, the independence movement agreed to a willing buyer-willing seller arrangement, whereby land could only be acquired for redistribution if the owner wanted to sell. This restriction was to remain in effect for the first 10 years of independence. Since most farmers of European origin were unwilling to sell, little land was available to redistribute.

Eventually Harare was free to expropriate land from farmers who didn’t want to sell. Britain had agreed to help compensate expropriated farmers but renounced the agreement, denying it was ever under any obligation to fund land reform. Since Harare didn’t have the funds to pay for the land it needed for redistribution, it had two choices: Carry on as is, with land redistribution proceeding at a glacial pace, or expropriate the land and demand that expropriated farmers seek compensation from London, which after all, was ultimately responsible for the theft of the land and had promised to underwrite the land reform program. The Mugabe government chose the latter course, setting off alarm bells in Western capitals. Mugabe couldn’t be allowed to get away with uncompensated expropriation of productive property.

Analyses that attributed Zimbabwe’s economic disaster to mismanagement overlooked the reaction of Washington to the Mugabe government’s lese majesty against private property. For not only did the turn of the century mark the beginning of fast-track land reform, it also marked the passage of the US Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (ZDERA.)

ZDERA is not a regime of targeted sanctions against individuals, as many believe. Sanctions against individuals do exist, but ZDERA is something altogether different. ZDERA has two aspects. First, it authorizes the US president to “support an independent and free press and electronic media in Zimbabwe” and “provide for democracy and governance programs in Zimbabwe.” This is code for doing openly what the CIA used to do covertly: destabilize foreign governments. Second, it instructs the United States executive director to each international financial institution (the World Bank and IMF, for example) to oppose and vote against:

(1) any extension by the respective institution of any loan, credit, or guarantee to the government of Zimbabwe; or

(2) any cancellation or reduction of indebtedness owed by the government of Zimbabwe to the United States or any international financial institution.

Since ZDERA was passed in 2001, Washington has blocked all lines of credit, development assistance and balance of payment support from international lending institutions to Zimbabwe.

When the act was passed, then US president George W. Bush declared his hope that “the provisions of this important legislation will support the people of Zimbabwe in their struggle to effect peaceful democratic change, achieve economic growth, and restore the rule of law.” [2]

Since effecting peaceful democratic change meant ousting the Zanu-PF government and restoring the rule of law meant forbidding the uncompensated expropriation of white farm land, what Bush was really saying was that he hoped the legislation would help overthrow the government and put an end to fast-track land reform.

ZDERA was co-drafted by one of the opposition MDC’s white parliamentarians, and introduced as a bill in the US Congress in March of 2001 by the Republican senator, William Frist. The legislation was co-sponsored by the Republican rightwing senator, Jesse Helms, and the Democratic senators Hilary Clinton (now Secretary of State), Joseph Biden (now Vice-President) and Russell Feingold.

Helms died in early July, 2008. He denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act, was a spokesman for the tobacco industry and was a slum landlord. He opposed school bussing, fought against compensation for Japanese Americans, and hated Communists. He complained that public schools were being used “to teach our children that cannibalism, wife-swapping, and the murder of infants and the elderly are acceptable behavior.” [3] Helms was also fond of sanctions. He co-authored the Helms-Burton Act of 1996, which tightened the blockade on Cuba.

The MDC had always been reluctant to admit that sanctions had crippled Zimbabwe’s economy, and more reluctant still to call for their removal. This is to be expected. In opposition, the MDC’s goal was to blame the government for the country’s economic difficulties. If it could do so convincingly, and at the same time persuade voters it could do a better job, it chances of prevailing at the polls would increase accordingly. Likewise, if it refused to add to the pressure on Western governments to lift sanctions, and even encouraged Western governments to maintain or escalate them, the government would remain burdened with the political liability of an ailing economy. But times have changed. The MDC has formed a coalition government with Zanu-PF, and the MDC controls the finance ministry. Sanctions are no longer in the party’s interest, and the MDC has, as a consequence, changed its tune. Not only does it now acknowledge ZDERA, the finance minister, Tendai Biti, complains about it bitterly.

“The World Bank has right now billions and billions of dollars that we have access to but we can’t access those dollars unless we have dealt with and normalized our relations with the IMF. We cannot normalize our relations with the IMF because of the voting power, it’s a blocking voting power of America and people who represent America on that board cannot vote differently because of ZDERA.” [4]

As bad as ZDERA is, it’s not the only sanctions regime the United States has used to sabotage Zimbabwe’s economy. Addressing the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, Jendaya Frazer, who was George W. Bush’s top diplomat in Africa, noted that the United States had imposed financial and travel restrictions on 135 individuals and 30 businesses. US citizens and corporations who violate the sanctions face penalties ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. “We are looking to expand the category of Zimbabweans who are covered. We are also looking at sanctions on government entities as well, not just individuals.” She added that the US Treasury Department was looking into ways to target sectors of Zimbabwe’s critical mining industry. [5]

On July 25, 2008 Bush announced that sanctions on Zimbabwe would be stepped up. He outlawed US financial transactions with a number of key Zimbabwe companies and froze their US assets. The enterprises included: the Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (which controls all mineral exports); the Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company; Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe; Osleg, or Operation Sovereign Legitimacy, the commercial arm of Zimbabwe’s army; Industrial Development Corporation; the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe; ZB Financial Holdings; and the Agriculture Development Bank of Zimbabwe. [6]

In early March 2009, Obama extended sanctions for another year, announcing that,

“The crisis constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the government of Zimbabwe and other persons to undermine Zimbabwe’s democratic processes or institutions has not been resolved. These actions and policies pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States.” [7]

It would be more accurate to say that US sanctions pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat to the economy of Zimbabwe.

Topping off the falsehoods in Obama’s speech was his assurance to Africans that “African-Americans…have thrived in every sector of (US) society.” This is nonsense. Income, employment, education and opportunity are profoundly unequal in the United States, and inequality is bound up with race. The per capita income of blacks in the United States is 40 percent lower than that of whites. One in four blacks live in poverty, compared to eight percent of whites. The proportion of blacks without health insurance is twice that of whites. [8] And the official seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for blacks in June 2009 was almost twice as high as the jobless rate for whites. [9]

The degree to which blacks haven’t thrived is evident in who languishes in the country’s jails. While the United States has only five percent of the world’s population, it has one-quarter of the world’s prisoner population, and US prisoners are disproportionately black. One-third of black males born in 2001 are expected to be imprisoned at some point in their lifetime, compared to six percent of white males. [10] Poor, unemployed, without health insurance and in prison. That’s hardly thriving.

Jaw dropping hypocrisy

As leader of a country currently engaged in three wars of aggression (Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) and which threatens to escalate its aggressions against Iran and north Korea, one might think Obama would be ashamed to lecture anyone on the importance of resolving conflicts peacefully. But US presidents know no shame. Boldly, Obama told Africans that “for far too many Africans, conflict is a part of life, as constant as the sun. There are wars over land and wars over resources.” Africans, he continued, must learn the “peaceful resolution of conflict.”

Indeed, there are wars over land and wars over resources, and this, the United States knows well, for over the course of its history it has initiated many of them, and most of the wars over land and resources over the past 60 years have been planned at the Pentagon. The United States’ vast military, which Washington methodically nurtures through the misappropriated tax dollars of ordinary US citizens, allows the country to dominate and plunder much of the world, while at the same time piling up profits for US corporations engaged in “defense” industry work.

Particularly galling is the reality that the United States had a hand in the bloodiest and deadliest war on the continent.

“In early May 1997, when it became apparent to western observers that the broad coalition of rebel forces in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) headed by veteran freedom fighter, Laurent Kabila, would eventually topple the Mobutu kleptocracy and establish ‘a popular government, linking all sectors of our society,’ the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others in the corporate media slowly began to criticize the ‘excesses’ of the CIA-installed Mobutu regime, in power since 1965. But at the same time they began a relentless campaign against Kabila and the rebel coalition.

“The Wall Street Journal spoke of Kabila as an ‘ideological throwback’ to the politics of the 1960s. It decried his relationship with Che Guevara, who had gone to the Congo in the early l960s to work with a progressive coalition (including Kabila) to support the Patrice Lumumba forces and to oust another CIA-installed regime, which had been installed in the diamond-rich region of Katanga. The Journal warned that ‘western interests’ would now be in jeopardy under Kabila.

“For thirteen months, Kabila sought to consolidate a broad coalition to democratize and develop the Congo. But by August 1998, two neighboring states, Rwanda and Uganda, aligned with ethnic forces inside the Congo, (and backed by Washington) invaded several towns and cities. Both invading countries charged Kabila with ‘corruption’ and human rights violations, and with being ‘undemocratic.’

“Both Rwanda and Uganda are governed by de facto military regimes. Both governments are hosts to U.S. military training facilities and U.S. military personnel. The Congo has been regarded by leading scientists and economists as one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world. It contains roughly 70 percent of the world’s cobalt. More than half of the U.S. military’s cobalt comes from the Congo. It is the second largest producer of diamonds in the world and is known for large deposits of gold, manganese, and copper. The Congo’s peculiar type of high-grade uranium was used by the U.S. to make the atom bombs that were dropped on Japan in WWII. And the U.S. dominates mining in that area even today.” [11]

An estimated five million died in the war from 1998 to 2003. The conflict continues, with 45,000 people dying each month from war-related causes, primarily hunger and disease. [12] And yet war in the DRCongo is barely mentioned in the Western media. Instead, attention is focused on Darfur, home to vast oil reserves the United States does not control, but would like to lay its hands on. Raising public alarm over Darfur is a way of manufacturing consent for Western intervention in Sudan. The outcome – and unstated goal – of such an intervention would be to bring another oil-rich country under Washington’s domination.

“The United Nations has estimated some 300,000 may have died in total as a result of the years of conflict in Darfur; the same number die from the Congo conflict every six and a half months. And yet, in the New York Times, which covers the Congo more than most U.S. outlets, Darfur has consistently received more coverage since it emerged as a media story in 2004. The Times gave Darfur nearly four times the coverage it gave the Congo in 2006, while Congolese were dying of war-related causes at nearly 10 times the rate of those in Darfur. “[13]

Washington also orchestrated a recent war in Somalia. In 2006, the US-backed, UN-recognized government of Somalia was limited to the inland town of Baidoa. Mogadishu, the capital, had fallen to Islamic militias, who had formed a de facto government in June of that year. The militias’ power wasn’t based on their military strength, which consisted only of a few hundred armed pickup trucks and a few thousand fighters, but in their popular support. In the capital Mogadishu, the Islamists organized neighborhood cleanups, delivered food to the needy and brought dormant national institutions like the Supreme Court back to life.

According to Ted Dagne, the African analyst at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, the de facto government provided “a sense of stability in Somalia, education and other services, while the warlords maimed and killed innocent civilians.” What’s more, “instead of acting like the Taliban and ruthlessly imposing a harsh religious orthodoxy” the Islamists delivered social services and pushed for democratic elections.

That’s when General John P. Abizaid of the United States Central Command, or Centcom, flew to neighboring Ethiopia to meet Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who told the US proconsul that he could cripple the Islamist forces in one to two weeks. Abizaid gave the Ethiopian prime minister the go ahead, and soon Ethiopian soldiers — trained by US military advisors — were flooding over the border into Somalia. [14] The United States supplied battlefield intelligence, the US Fifth Fleet enforced a naval blockade, US Marines deployed along Somalia’s border with Kenya, and US AC-130 gunships, operating out of Djibouti, struck targets within Somalia. [15]

The invasion was a brazen affront to the United Nations Charter. Somalia hadn’t threatened Ethiopia, and indeed, couldn’t. With a few hundred armed pickup trucks, Somali forces posed no danger to surrounding countries. And yet there wasn’t a peep a protest from the “international community”.

The war created what has been called Africa’s largest and most ignored catastrophe. One million Somalis were displaced. Some 10,000 were killed. [16] And the United States, whose president counsels Africans to learn to resolve conflicts peacefully, started it.

To discourage what Obama views as Africa’s addiction to war, the US president pledged to “stand behind efforts to hold war criminals accountable.” What he didn’t say was that he meant African war criminals, and only the ones who aren’t puppets of the West. Obama has no intention of holding accountable either Meles Zenawi or Western war criminals (including his predecessor; former British prime minister Tony Blair; or himself) or CIA operatives who used torture and those who authorized their crimes. Instead, he says, he would rather look forward, not backward. White war criminals are to be forgiven; black war criminals, who fail to toe the imperialist line, are to be held accountable.

The body through which most African war criminals are to be held accountable is the International Criminal Court (ICC), a court the United States itself refuses to join, on grounds its soldiers and officials would face frivolous prosecutions. If the United States would face frivolous prosecutions, why not other countries? The ICC has received

“2,889 communications about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations into just four cases: Uganda, DRCongo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan/Darfur. All of them in Africa. Thirteen public warrants of arrest have been issued, all against Africans.” [17]

Conspicuously absent from the list of opened investigations are the perpetrators of the world’s most blatant recent war crimes: the US, Britain and Israel.

Yes, but “there cannot be an African exception to (the Nuremberg) principles,” argues David Crane, who was chief prosecutor for the special court on Sierra Leone (which is trying former Liberian president, Charles Taylor, for doing what practically every US president since World War II has done: support rebel troops in another country.) Crane’s “no African exceptions” cry is taken up by the Western media. Referring to Taylor’s trial, Guardian columnist Phil Clark, wrote that “for many, the trial represents another victory for international justice and another signal for the end of impunity for the likes of Taylor, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Alberto Fujimori.” [18] He might have added, but not for George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, P.W. Botha, and Ian Smith. The Western media and state officials don’t seem to be concerned about the impunity of these war criminals. The reality that there have been many African exceptions to humanitarian law – where whites are concerned – seems to have escaped the notice of Crane, a white US citizen, who indicted Taylor, a black African.

Martin Kargbo wonders why the West insists that black Africans be held accountable, while celebrating the truth and reconciliation commissions which have granted impunity to white war criminals.

“Impunity has not been an issue in DRCongo where the wars waged by Rwanda and Uganda between 1996 and 2003 on behalf of America and Western interests have led to an estimated five million deaths in Congo…

“Impunity, again, was not an issue when South Africa decided in 1994, in the interest of national peace and stability to forgive the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – people who had terrorized and killed black Africans for 50 long years during the apartheid era. And no human rights group said it was wrong to forgive P.W. Botha & Co.

“Impunity was also not an issue when Zimbabwe decided in 1980 in the interest of national peace and stability to forgive the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – people who had terrorized and killed black Africans for decades before independence. And no human rights group said it was wrong to forgive Ian Smith and Co.

“Impunity was again not an issue when Namibia did the same thing in 1990 — to forgive the atrocities committed against black people during the pre-independence era. And no human rights group spoke against Namibia’s act of forgiveness.” [19]

Obama also promised to “support strong and sustainable democratic governments” while supporting the strong, but hardly democratic, Egyptian government, with $1 billion per year in military aid. Washington has also been instrumental in undermining the popularly elected Hamas government. These two examples – and only two of many – show that Washington has no commitment to democracy abroad. It’s all rhetoric. Washington supports governments which enlarge the interests of the US ruling class, whether democratic or not, and opposes foreign governments which don’t, whether democratic or not. US democracy promotion, a multi-million dollar per year industry that does what the CIA used to do covertly, is simply a cover for regime change carried out by non-military means in countries that are open enough to allow US agents and fifth columns sufficient room to maneuver. Obama’s administration will continue to run “democracy promotion” programs, working to ensure that foreign governments that pursue independent paths of development, including those in Africa, are overthrown.

Promoting the profit interests of US capital

Washington wants Africa to be a profitable place in which US corporations, banks and investors can do business. Africans want foreign investment to help Africa develop. It seems like a win-win situation. If Africa does what’s necessary to help foreign investors reap handsome profits, corporate America gets profits and Africans get investment.

But the history of Africa’s engagement with the world economy hasn’t been the win-win situation US politicians and the West’s mass media promise. Instead, foreign capital has profited and Africans have remained deeply mired in poverty.

That’s because foreign capital can win bigger if it doesn’t have to share the economic surplus it expropriates with the people who produce it. So, it goes for the big prize.

And why wouldn’t it? Foreign capital, like all capital, wants to maximize profits. So it demands a low wage environment, unburdened by corporate taxes or stringent environmental regulations, in which profits can be taken out of the country, and in which governments abjure efforts to meet social goals by making demands on corporations and investors. Those with capital to invest don’t want to pay high taxes (or any taxes at all if they can get away with it), comply with expensive environmental regulations, pay high wages, or be forced to take on local partners. They don’t want to have to invest any of their profits in the host country if a higher return on investment can be obtained elsewhere. Neither do foreign corporations and investors want local governments to give local businesses a hand up by offering subsidies and tariff protections. And they don’t want profitable areas of investment – like energy, telecommunication and banking – placed off limits. In short, all of the measures a local government might implement to satisfy local development needs – mandated re-investment of profits, state-controlled enterprises, foreign investment restrictions, price controls and meaningful minimum wage laws, a heavily graduated tax, and so on — are anathema to foreign capital.

In addition, foreign corporations, banks and investors want a business environment that is free from the threat of disruption by war, strikes and insurrections, and in which private productive property is protected from corruption and expropriation. Delivering what businesses want is called good governance.

As Obama explained,

“No country is going to create wealth (Obama means: for investors) if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt.”

In Washington’s view, good governance is created when societies are sufficiently open to domination by those who own the most wealth – that is, by those who own and control the world economy. For example, multi-party electoral democracy is lauded because it allows those who assume a leadership role in representing the interests of capital, to have the best chance of being elected. They’re able to attract the funding that allows them to run effective campaigns. And what, as a consequence, ends up being a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, has enormous apparent legitimacy because it is based on an electoral exercise.

Likewise, a “free” society in which “anyone” can open a newspaper can seem to legitimately have independent journalists, even though the only people in a position to open their own newspaper and command a mass audience are members of the class that owns the society’s productive property. An open society with a vibrant civil society which participates in the society’s governance is also one in which the wealthy can pursue their interests by furnishing the funding on which civil society depends. This allows capital to influence the agenda of civil society through its funding decisions. In short, any government trying to achieve authentically democratic goals can be more readily opposed if it provides sufficient space for foreign capital to operate through strong parliaments, independent journalists and a vibrant civil society.

Accordingly, Obama speaks glowingly of institutions that open up space for foreign money to operate.

“In the 21st century, capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success – strong parliaments and honest police forces; independent judges and journalists; a vibrant private sector and civil society. Those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in peoples’ lives.”

In point of fact, what matters in peoples’ lives — that is, in the lives of ordinary people, and not the bankers, corporate lawyers and CEOs that Obama cares about — is having enough to eat, a job, shelter, clothing, health care, recreation, time with friends and family, dignity and social justice. Strong parliaments, journalists employed by the capitalist press, and a strong private sector, create environments adapted to capital accumulation; they have little to do with restoring stolen land to its rightful owners; investing the economic surplus created at home in local development; and using state-owned enterprises and fiscal and monetary policy to satisfy social welfare goals.

Sound advice, if taken literally

“Just as it is important to emerge from the control of another nation,” observed Obama, “it is even more important to build one’s own.” And yet most African countries remain economic colonies of the West, their independence limited to political forms (their own flag, parliaments and political leaders) but whose economies are dominated by Western banks, foreign corporations, and the descendants of European settlers; whose militaries are trained and funded by the United States, Britain and France; and who rely on aid from Western governments, and receive it, in return for political and economic concessions. African countries that have followed Obama’s advice to build their own countries have been harassed, undermined, destabilized, sanctioned and in many cases have seen their governments overthrown by the US and former colonial masters who pay lip service to independent development, but are deeply hostile to it. US presidents don’t want Africans to build their own countries. They want them to turn their countries over to the US business elite, and to continue to do so indefinitely.

Under the leadership of Zanu-PF, Zimbabweans have tried to build their own country according to their own needs, expropriating land confiscated by European settlers when the former colonial master, Britain, reneged on its promise to fund land reform. Zanu-PF has also led efforts to bring Zimbabwe’s resources and economy under the control of indigenous Zimbabweans, following methods reminiscent of the ones south Korea used to industrialize. But while south Korea’s subsidies, tariff protections and foreign ownership restrictions were tolerated by Washington as a necessary evil of the Cold War –- south Korea needed to be given space to develop into a capitalist showpiece on the Cold War’s frontlines – Washington has been unwilling to tolerate Zimbabwe’s efforts to follow the same path.

Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana, the first African country to achieve independence, argued that the less developed world would not become developed through the goodwill and generosity of the developed world. Instead, it would only become developed by struggle against the external forces – foreign corporations, banks and investors — that had a vested interest in keeping it underdeveloped. [20] Nkrumah would have agreed with Obama that “Africa’s future is up to Africans.” He would surely have disagreed with Obama’s prescription for how Africa ought to arrive at its future.

1. Discussion of south Korea’s development strategy, free trade, and corruption based on Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2008.
2. “President Signs Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, December 21, 2001. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/12/200111221-15.html
3. The Guardian (UK), July 4, 2008.
4. The Herald (Zimbabwe) May 5, 2009.
5. TalkZimbabwe.com, July 16, 2008.
6. The New York Times, July 26, 2008; The Washington Post, July 26, 2008; The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), July 27, 2008.
7. “Obama extends Zimbabwe sanctions,” TalkZimbabwe.com, March 8, 2009.
8. US Census Bureau Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007, August 2008.
9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.
10. US Bureau of Justice Statistics, cited in Hannah Holleman, Robert W. McChesney, John Bellamy Foster and R. Jamil Jonna, “The Penal State in an Age of Crisis,” Monthly Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, June, 2009.
11. Elombe Brath and Samori Marksman, “Conflict in the Congo: An Interview with President Laurent Kabila,” Covert Action Quarterly, Winter, 1999, Issue 66.
12. Julie Hollar, “Congo Ignored, Not Forgotten,”
Extra, Magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, May 2009.
13. Ibid.
14. Stephen Gowans, “US fomenting war in Somalia,” What’s Left, December 15, 2006, http://gowans.blogspot.com/2006/12/us-fomenting-war-in-somalia.html
15. Stephen Gowans, “Another US military intervention,” What’s Left, January 11, 2007, http://gowans.blogspot.com/2007/01/another-us-military-intervention.html
16. Stephanie McCrummen, “With Ethiopian pullout, Islamists rise again in Somalia,” The Washington Post, January 22, 2009; Stephen Gowans, “Spielberg: Chauvinist in humanitarian drag,” What’s Left, February 13, 2008. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/13/spielberg-chauvinist-in-humanitarian-drag/
17. “Selective Justice,” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
18. Phil Clark, “Can Africa trust international justice?” The Guardian (UK) July 16, 2009.
19. Martin Kargbo, “The case against the ICC,” New African, July, 2009.
20. Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, Thomas Nelson & Sons, Ltd., London, 1965. http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/nkrumah/neo-colonialism/index.htm

Written by what's left

July 17, 2009 at 9:55 pm

Affinity for Autocrats or National Independence?

with one comment

By Stephen Gowans

Turning the threatened into the aggressor: Media distortions in coverage of north Korea’s nuclear test,” posted here on May 31, 2009, was published by the Zimbabwe newspaper The Herald in two installments a few days later. In a reference to the article, a June 12, 2009 New York Times report by Celia W. Dugger notes that “The Herald published a two-part defense of North Korea’s nuclear tests.” Dugger cites this as an example of Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe flaunting “his affinity for autocrats.” Mugabe, Dugger writes, “still controls” the Herald, which is state-owned. Dugger also points to Mugabe’s welcoming “Sudan’s president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court, to a summit meeting attended by African heads of state” as a further example of Mugabe’s “affinity for autocrats.”

“Turning the threatened into the aggressor” points out that the behavior of the north Korean government can be understood as a response to the United States, Japan and south Korea taking a more confrontational approach to their dealings with Pyongyang, and not to an inherent belligerence on the part of north Korea or a desire to extort rewards. Confrontation has been Washington’s standard operating procedure from the moment the Workers’ Party – the governing party in north Korea — was formed in 1948, but the degree of confrontation has varied with the circumstances. In the early 1990s, with the Soviet Union’s collapse depriving the Pentagon of its principal bogeyman, then top general Colin Powell complained he was down to just two targets: Fidel Castro and north Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, who, at the time, was still alive. With the Soviet Union being succeeded by a prostrate Russia returned to capitalism, the United States retargeted some of its strategic nuclear weapons on a then non-nuclear north Korea. When north Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in protest, signaling its intention to build its own nuclear weapons if it was going to face the threat of nuclear annihilation by the United States, Washington was forced to try to arrive at an accommodation. This it did when the Clinton administration negotiated the Agreed Framework, which saw north Korea shut down its plutonium reactor, which could be readily used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons, in exchange for fuel oil to tide it over until two light water reactors could be built to supply its energy needs. Pyongyang stuck to its end of the deal – despite the US delaying promised fuel oil shipments and tarrying on building the light-water reactors – until the Bush administration ripped up the agreement, accusing north Korea of operating a secret uranium enrichment program. A subsequent deal worked out during the so-called six party talks collapsed, largely because the Bush administration was divided over whether to work toward an accommodation or to pressure north Korea through threats and sanctions into collapse. North Korea eventually gave up on the deal when Washington signaled its refusal to normalize relations and demanded an intrusive verification protocol.

Bullying north Korea, the strategy that eventually gained the upper hand under Bush, and continues to be the favored strategy under Obama, was bound to produce only two outcomes: either the government in Pyongyang would capitulate or north Korea would restart its nuclear program. The north Korean government didn’t collapse, and missile launches and a nuclear test were carried out instead.

The magazine Foreign Policy, which reflects the position of the US foreign policy establishment, echoes the point. Asking whether the next north Korean leadership will give up the country’s nuclear weapons, Jennifer Lind, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, provides the answer by inviting readers to perform a thought experiment. Put yourself in the north Korean leadership’s shoes.

“Bristling enemies surround you. To the south is a country with double your population and 20 times your GDP. The southern neighbor has spent the past six decades preparing its large army to annihilate yours. In stark contrast to your army, its healthy young men and women train regularly. (Your hungry soldiers can’t train for want of fuel; they spend all of their time fixing roads or bribing officials for smuggling opportunities.) The enemy boasts state-of-the-art weapons technology. (You can’t find spare parts for your 1950s relics.)

“Oh, and that country has a friend. It’s the global superpower, a country of such vast economic might that your GDP is just a rounding error in comparison. Your people never go a day without thinking about how that country, 60 years ago, burned yours to the ground in an incendiary bombing campaign. Its people have absently labeled that episode “the forgotten war.” Today, that country has more military power than the rest of the world combined, and a large nuclear arsenal trained on your palace.

“The superpower recently overran not one but two countries (that lacked nuclear weapons) and is batting around the idea of attacking another (that lacks nuclear weapons). You watched when the superpower conquered Iraq without breaking a sweat and briskly put bullet holes through the leaders’ sons. Your eyes widened when the superpower dragged a grizzled Saddam Hussein blinking out of a rat-hole, put him in an orange jumpsuit, and then hung him brokenly from a gallows.” (1)

My article may not have painted US foreign policy as the expression of benign intent The New York Times painstakingly constructs every day in the pages of its newspaper, but exploring the surrounding events that have conditioned north Korea’s nuclear tests hardly amounts to expressing an affinity for autocrats. It does, however, signal an affinity for national independence and those willing to fight to protect it.

At the same time, Mugabe’s welcoming Sudan’s president to a summit meeting of African heads of state is not an expression of affinity for autocrats, either. It is, more likely, an expression of solidarity with a leader who has been targeted by an illegitimate court. While Dugger may regard the court as valid, even though her own country does not (it refuses to sign on to it), it has little legitimacy elsewhere, and even less in Africa, where it is seen correctly as a tool for bullying weaker countries by superpowers who will never be targeted by the court’s prosecutors, not because they haven’t committed grave crimes that fall under the court’s jurisdiction, but because they exercise enormous influence over the court and can block its investigations. For the ICC, justice is a spiderweb: the weak get caught in it and the great powers, which created and preside over it, lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on prized delicacies that stumble into it.

“By October 2007, the ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, had received 2,889 communications about alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in at least 139 countries, and yet by March 2009, the prosecutor had opened investigations into just four cases: Uganda, DRCongo, the Central African Republic, and Sudan/Darfur. All of them in Africa. Thirteen public warrants of arrest have been issued, all against Africans.” (2)

The court, which is supposed to deal with four groups of crimes — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression (and not just in Africa) – has been conspicuously silent on Israel’s January assault on the Gaza Strip, and on the humanitarian crisis touched off by Washington’s and London’s war of aggression on Iraq. No surprise. As Robin Cook, then British foreign secretary, explained, “If I may say so, this is not a court set up to bring to book prime ministers of the United Kingdom or presidents of the United States.” (3) It is, on the contrary, a court to target Africans who refuse to be controlled and dominated by the West. As author John Laughland summed it up, the ICC is “just another excuse for superpower bullying.” (4)

The Herald’s publishing of my article tracing Pyongyang’s nuclear tests to north Korea’s fierce commitment to independence, and Mugabe’s welcoming of Bashir, are not expressions of an affinity for autocrats, but for the fight for national independence. It is fitting that Zimbabwe, whose heroes took up arms to achieve independence from white colonial rule, and which has struggled to invest its political independence with substantive economic content, would express an affinity with fraternal countries whose peoples continue to fight for meaningful national independence in the face of Western military threats, sanctions and politically-inspired international courts.

1. Jennifer Lind, “Next of Kim,” Foreign Policy (Web exclusive), June 2009.
2. “Selective Justice,” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
3. Millius Palayiwa, “What’s the ICC up to?” The New African, No. 484, May 2009.
4. The Times (London), August 29, 2000.

Written by what's left

June 12, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Criminalizing self-defense, whitewashing aggression

with 6 comments

By Stephen Gowans

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Washington replied by launching the Gulf War to reverse the invasion and punish Baghdad for its serial aggressions. Or so Washington said. Iraq was indeed a serial aggressor, having attacked and waged a long war with Iran in the 1980s, followed by an invasion of Kuwait. What Washington and the compliant US media minimized was that the US had prodded Iraq to attack Iran, soon after the country sloughed off US domination by toppling the Pahlavi regime through which US influence in the country was exercised. With prodding came military aid to Iraq and the weapons of mass destruction that Washington would later use as the basis for a murderous sanctions regime that killed over one million Iraqis, many of them children. In 1989, when Iraq sounded out the US ambassador, April Glaspie, about a possible invasion of Kuwait, she raised no objection. How odd it must have seemed to Iraq, then, that after fighting one war with US prodding, and launching another with what seemed like implicit US support, that Washington should point to Iraq’s serial aggressions as a pretext for launching its own string of anti-Iraq aggressions beginning in 1990 and lasting to the current day.

The US itself is no stranger to serial aggressions, having intervened militarily in countless countries, often without provocation and with the sole objective of enforcing US domination. Whereas the Nazi’s serial aggressions were limited to Europe (and direct military assistance to their Italian allies in northern Africa), those of the US have been carried out on a global scale. The tenth anniversary of one such US-inspired aggression, the 78-day Nato terror bombing of Yugoslavia, has recently passed, without the fanfare usually associated with the exercise of US military power. Where were the media retrospectives, the self-adulation commending the West for its humanitarian intervention? If any mainstream news organization ran a story on how much better off Serbia is 10 years after Nato’s humanitarian bombing, I haven’t seen it. Perhaps the absence is due to the reality that anyone setting foot in Belgrade today would be forced to confront what Serbia has become – a state dismembered from a multicultural federation whose once publically- and socially-owned assets have been sold off to investors and corporations from the same countries that sent their air forces to drop ordnance on schools, factories, bridges, a radio-TV building, the Chinese embassy, and civilians.

Perhaps it is because the US has woven a long string of aggressions into its history that its media are inclined to ignore the aggressions of Uncle Sam’s extension in the Middle East, Israel. When they’re not ignoring them, they’re excusing them. It is a matter of some astonishment that Israel can launch attack after attack outside its ceaselessly expanding and amorphous borders and it hardly registers on the consciousness of North Americans, whose media hide these aggressions in plain view.

Israeli warplanes violated Sudanese airspace in January, on a mission to destroy a convoy of trucks said to be carrying arms to be smuggled to resistance fighters in Gaza. While Iranian warplanes bombing a convoy of trucks in Iraq would be met by howls of outrage by the White House and State Department, Israel’s bombing raid in Sudan was sanitized, even celebrated, in The New York Times, as a “daring military operation,” and then quickly forgotten. Official enemies launch illegal attacks; allies carry out daring military operations.

The bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 was another of Israel’s vaunted military operations. This illegal act remains accepted in Western media discourse as a legitimate operation, justified as a preventive measure against Iraq acquiring a nuclear weapon. According to official doctrine, it was only a matter of time before Saddam Hussein acquired the means to send a nuclear warhead hurtling toward Tel Aviv. What makes this scenario implausible is that such a temerarious act would trigger an obliterating counter-strike by the United States. Unless you believe the Iraqi president was insane or had a death wish, neither of which propositions rest on the slightest evidence, this is pure political fantasy.

Iraq may indeed have intended to develop nuclear weapons, but its reasons for doing so probably (if indeed it was heading in this direction) had much to do with the reality that Israel, a country with no shortage of aggressive military operations under it belt, has an estimated 200 nuclear weapons, receives $3 billion annually in military aid from Uncle Sam, and has a penchant for sending its troops and warplanes into battle.

Let’s consider Israel’s serial aggressions, all of which have been motivated by the desire to acquire territory to expand the borders of the Jewish colonial state, or to defend itself against the backlash its expansionist aggressions provoke. We can begin with the 80 percent of Palestinian territory Zionist forces seized by force in 1948, after the UN allocated 56 percent to a Jewish state, a more than generous allotment, considering that Jews made up only one-third of the population, owned less than 10 percent of the land, and were favored by the UN with the fertile coastal areas. There was nothing fair or legitimate about the UN offer. It was carried out over the objections of the majority, but even this corruption of justice was not enough to satisfy the Zionist craving for other people’s land.

In 1956, Israel struck a deal with France and Britain to invade Egypt. France was irritated by Egyptian President Gamal Nasser’s support for the national liberation movement in Algeria, and Britain wanted the return of the recently nationalized Suez Canal to the hands of British capital. In exchange for marching on the Suez Canal, France would transfer nuclear technology to Israel, providing the Zionist state with the basis for its nuclear arsenal. The operation proved to be a contretemps, with the US ordering the conspirators to withdraw. But it did demonstrate to Washington that Israel could be a useful tool in enforcing US foreign policy in the region.

In 1967, Israel seized Gaza from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Later, it launched a series of operations in Lebanon beginning with Operation Litani in 1978, aimed at driving the PLO north of the Litani River. This culminated in an occupation of southern Lebanon that lasted 18 years, from 1982 to 2000, followed by yet another attack in the summer of 2006. Lebanon today has the highest per capita debt in the world, largely thanks to the costs of rebuilding infrastructure Israel destroyed. (1)

Added to Israel’s aggressions are its amply documented violations of the laws of war. Israeli war crimes are a delicate matter in North America, where politicians and the media either steer clear of mentioning them, or step nimbly around them, seeking to avoid the inevitable backlash against anyone who suggests that Israel may not be the shining beacon of democracy in what’s calumniated as the otherwise benighted Middle East. The British press, The Guardian in particular, show fewer reservations. Condemnatory reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Israel’s January 2009 assault on Gaza barely received any attention in the North American media, in stark contrast to the high profile that similarly condemnatory reports receive when they’re aimed at official enemies. By comparison, The Guardian covered a February 23, 2009 Amnesty International report that called on the US to cut off military aid to Israel, because “as a major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and human rights.” (2) Last week, The Guardian reported on a Human Rights Watch investigation that found that Israel had repeatedly and indiscriminately fired white phosphorus over crowded areas of Gaza, killing and injuring civilians, a war crime. White phosphorus burns through tissue and can’t be extinguished. It must burn itself out, a process that may take days. In a 71-page report, the rights group concluded that Israel’s “repeated use of air-burst white phosphorus artillery shells in populated areas of Gaza was not incidental or accidental.” (3) Significantly, Israel initially denied it had used white phosphorus. When the evidence became overwhelming, it admitted it had, but countered that its use was fully in accord with international law. When that was disproved, Israel announced it would launch its own investigation.

In a move that would be considered foolishly gutsy in the United States, The Guardian undertook its own investigation of Israeli war crimes in Gaza, concluding that Israel violated the laws of war. (4) The conclusions drawn by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and The Guardian were corroborated by Israeli soldiers themselves. An Israeli squad commander said,

“What’s great about Gaza — you see a person on a path, he doesn’t have to be armed, you can simply shoot him. In our case it was an old woman on whom I did not see any weapon when I looked. The order was to take down the person, this woman, the minute you see her. There are always warnings, there is always the saying, ‘Maybe he’s a terrorist.’ What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.” (5)

Worse than being brutally indifferent to Palestinians, Israeli soldiers are completely morally calloused, wearing t-shirts bearing messages that evince absolute contempt for Arabs. “A shirt designed for the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion” depicted “a pregnant Palestinian women with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, ‘1 shot, 2 kills.’” (6)

While the utter brutality of Israeli troops was being laid bare in the pages of The Guardian, across the Atlantic, Israeli war crimes were being minimized in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s newspaper of record. Foreign correspondent Patrick Martin wrote that the failure to distinguish between combatants and civilians “is found in almost every military force (think Serbs in Bosnia, Americans at Abu Ghraib and Canadians in Somali) and has existed as long as there has been war.” (7) What Martin didn’t point out was that Serbs were prosecuted by Nato’s Hague Tribunal for failures to distinguish civilians from combatants, but that US and Canadian atrocities – including those in connection with the terror bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 — have gone unpunished. Martin also failed to mention the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Omar, too, is accused of war crimes, but unlike those committed by Americans, Canadians and Israelis, his have become the subject of prosecution by an international court, one that has yet to issue indictments against anyone but Africans. The court will never prosecute Americans, Russians, and Chinese, who have chosen not to be bound by the court and are able, by virtue of being permanent members of the UN Security Council, to veto any Security Council resolution ordering the court to undertake an inquiry. Likewise, these countries can veto court inquiries into crimes committed by nationals of allied countries, like Israel, which have also rejected the court’s authority. War crimes, it seems, are intolerable when committed by countries the West seeks a pretext to dominate, but when the same crimes are committed by Americans, Canadians and Israelis, the “everyone is doing it” defense applies.

Meanwhile, as nuclear-armed Israel adds to its string of outrages on the sovereignty of neighboring countries with its bombing raid into Sudan, the Western media spotlight shines on north Korea, the northern half of a peninsula whose division was imposed by outsiders, and has never attacked another country. While official doctrine holds that north Korea invaded south Korea in 1950, it’s hardly possible for Koreans to have invaded Korea. What’s more, the question of who started the war – both sides clashed on and off for up to a year before major hostilities broke out – remains murky. Deciding on what event precipitated the war is like deciding when a hill becomes a mountain. Any attempt to abstract a discrete event from a complex of richly interconnected events as the cause of the war is to play with arbitrariness. Even deciding when the war began and ended (has it ended?) involves an arbitrary demarcation. Hugh Deane argued that the war began in 1945, the moment the US army arrived and suppressed the national liberation People’s Committees. Conceived as a struggle to free the peninsula from foreign domination, the war has never ended, and has lasted 99 years.

Korea, it should be recalled, was colonized by Japan from 1910 to 1945. No sooner had Koreans declared their independence, did US military forces arrive to establish a military government, shot through with former Japanese collaborators. While the Soviets, who agreed to the division of the peninsula, occupied the north, they withdrew their forces in 1948 and allowed the maximal guerrilla leader, Kim Il Sung, to rise to power, rather than imposing their own man, as the United States was to do in the south, when it brought the anti-communist Sygman Rhee, a long-time US resident, to Korea. US troops remain on Korean soil to this day.

The reason the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, (DPRK is the north’s official name), is receiving considerable Western media attention is because it plans to launch a satellite. The launching, it is said by US officials, and repeated uncritically by the US media, is a cover for testing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear payload as far away as the shores of Alaska. In case north Korea’s launching a satellite strikes anyone as being far from belligerent – certainly not in the same league as flying bombers into another country to destroy its nuclear facilities (as Israel did in Iraq and threatens to do in Iran) the new US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, assures us that, appearances aside, the launching is “a provocative act.” This is duly reported, but nobody asks why. Why should the launching of a satellite, even if the rocket technology is dual-purpose (it can be used to launch satellites and warheads) be provocative? Doesn’t the United States have rockets, satellites and warheads in abundance? The cause for alarm certainly can’t be because the DPRK has launched aggressions against other countries. It hasn’t. On the other hand, the United States and Japan, both with notorious records of employing military force to violate other conutries’ sovereignty, are sounding the alarm. The real reason the DPRK’s satellite launching is depicted as provocative is the same reason its nuclear test was depicted as provocative. Having nuclear warheads and the technology to deliver them expresses the threat of potential self-defense.

So it is that the North American media, playing its accustomed role as private propagandist for US foreign policy, has striven to elevate north Korea’s satellite launching to the provocative act Clinton says it is. The launching of a satellite has become, in The New York Times’ headlines, a missile launching (8), inducing the Japanese to ready their missile interceptors. (9) The Washington Post does The New York Times one better by calling the launching a nuclear test. (10) Even if the DPRK is testing rocket technology that could be used to deploy a nuclear warhead, is this any more reason to be alarmed than the reality that Israel can annihilate its neighbors with nuclear weaponry in numbers and sophistication far greater than north Korea can ever hope to match? The idea that Israel is a responsible country committed to the stability of the Middle East is a fiction; Israel is the main source of instability in the Middle East and has been since 1948. Had Zionists not arrived in Palestine to displace an Arab majority that had lived peacefully with Jews and Christians for centuries, there never would have been an armed struggle waged by the PLO, or an Islamic Jihad and Hamas to carry it on once the PLO’s dominant party, Fatah, faltered with a series of capitulations. Nor would there have been an Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon aimed at destroying the PLO, and therefore no basis for the rise of Hezbollah. As for the idea that Israeli leaders are level headed, look at the carnage Israel visited upon Gaza, ostensibly to deter rocket attacks that have killed 20 people in the last eight years. (11) Or consider this:

“The winter assault on the Gaza Strip was officially portrayed in Israel as an attempt to quell rocket fire by militants of Hamas. But some soldiers say they also were lectured about a more ambitious aim: to banish non-Jews from the biblical land of Israel. ‘This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness,’ a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. ‘His message was clear: ‘This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.’ The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic.’” (12)

Lebensraum comes to mind.

While US officials may contrive to regard north Korea’s satellite launching as provocative, it pales in comparison to the provocation of the United States and south Korea holding annual war games exercises along north Korea’s borders, this year larger than ever, and after the new government in Seoul of Lee Myung Bak has departed from the conciliatory line of the previous government, adopting a decidedly hostile posture.

Lest anyone think that north Korea’s impending satellite launching amounts to even a slight threat, consider the testimony of US Navy Admiral Timothy J. Keating before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 19, 2009. Keating said he does not regard the planned north Korean launching as a threat. “’It is a normal notification process, which they didn’t do in 2006, when they attempted a launch from the same facility,’ Keating said. Keating added that U.S. intelligence cannot yet say whether the launch will be of a communications satellite, as North Korea has asserted, or of a missile with intercontinental range. But he and two other commanders said they think it will be a satellite launch because of the public announcements from Pyongyang, including coordinates of the ocean area where the booster rocket is likely to fall.” (13)

Nuclear armed Israel carries out a massacre in Gaza, backed by a rabbinate echoing the Nazi’s rationale for territorial expansion, while Israeli soldiers wear t-shirts depicting Palestinians as vermin to be exterminated, and Israeli warplanes violate the sovereign airspace of Sudan. Soon after, the hostile Lee Myung Bak government of south Korea, more interested in picking fights with the north than seeking peaceful reunification, escalates the country’s annual war games with the United States, aimed at intimidating the north. These aggressive and provocative acts are minimized by the North American media – either barely acknowledged, sanitized or celebrated. In the meantime, north Korea’s planned satellite launching is depicted as a provocation meriting stepped up sanctions and escalated efforts to bring down the government in Pyongyang. It can be hardly doubted that the North American media are an apparatus of public persuasion in the service of US foreign policy. In its hands black becomes white, the oppressed become oppressor, serial aggressors become keepers of the peace, and self-defense becomes provocation.

1. Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History, Princeton University Press, 2007.
2. Rory McCarthy, “Amnesty calls on US to suspend arms sales to Israel,” The Guardian (UK), February 23, 2009.
3. Rory McCarthy, “Israel accused of indiscriminate phosphorus use in Gaza,” The Guardian (UK), March 25, 2009.
4. Clancy Chassay and Julian Borger, “Guardian investigation uncovers evidence of alleged Israel war crimes in Gaza,” The Guardian (UK), March 24, 2009.
5. Ethan Bronner, “Soldiers’ accounts of Gaza killings raise furor in Israel,” The New York Times, March 20, 2009.
6. Peter Beaumont, “Gaza war crime claims gather pace as more troops speak out,” The Observer (UK), March 22, 2009.
7. Patrick Martin, “Israel’s principle of purity of arms sacrificed in Gaza, soldiers say,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 20, 2009‏.
8. “N. Korean missile reportedly in place,” New York Times, March 26, 2009.
9. “Japan readies missile interceptor” New York Times, March 29, 2009.
10. “North Korean nuclear test a growing possibility,” The Washington Post, March 27, 2009.
11. Rory McCarthy, “Amid the ruins, a fragile truce and a fragile future for Gaza,” The Guardian (UK), January 18, 2009.
12. Richard Boudreaux, “Israeli army rabbis criticized for stance on Gaza assault,” The Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2009.
13. “US could hit N. Korean missile, says commander,” The Washington Post, March 20, 2009.

Written by what's left

March 29, 2009 at 10:53 pm

The spider’s web

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By Stephen Gowans

A reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, Geoffrey York, says the warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, expected to be issued by the International Criminal Court next week, will be hailed as a sign that nobody is above the law and even a sitting president has no immunity from prosecution. (“ICC readies first arrest warrant against head of state,” February 26, 2009).

Mr. York is indeed correct in predicting this will be said, but what will be said, and what the reality is, are miles apart.

There are two ways the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, and whatever allies they care to protect, can, and do, enjoy immunity from prosecution: By refusing to recognize the jurisdiction of the court, true of the US, China and Russia, and by wielding their veto power over the UN Security Council’s authority to order the court to investigate grave breaches of international law.

In matters of the court, it would be more apt to say that international law is like a spider web. Only the weak get caught in it, while the leaders of powerful countries brush it aside.

Written by what's left

February 26, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Posted in ICC, Sudan

The criminals are running the court

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By Stephen Gowans

The International Criminal Court, the body which has jurisdiction over grave crimes committed under international law, is expected to issue a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and genocide in the coming weeks.

This will happen not too long after over 200 organizations, including the Palestinian Authority, asked the ICC to investigate war crimes committed by Israel in its three week long assault on the Gaza Strip.

While we don’t know for sure that warrants for the arrest of Bashir will be issued, or that the ICC will turn down the request to investigate Israeli war crimes, both are widely expected to happen.

So why is Sudan caught it the ICC’s web, while Israel looks like it will easily brush it aside?

The answer lies in the nature of the ICC’s jurisdiction.

The court has jurisdiction in two areas. The first is over states that voluntarily submit to its authority. Many countries have signed the treaty that established the court, thereby agreeing to allow the ICC to investigate and try grave crimes committed on their territories. But there are notable exceptions: the United States, Russia and China, refuse to ratify the treaty. Israel also rejects the ICC. And so too does Sudan.

Media reports have made much of the fact that Israel does not accept the court’s jurisdiction. Appeals to the ICC for a war crimes investigation are therefore viewed as frivolous and little more than a publicity stunt. How can the ICC investigate Israeli war crimes, if Israel rejects the court?

The groups that have brought the appeals either naïvely believe that the court is neutral and capable of taking on Israel (and therefore the US), or know the score and are hoping that raising the issue with the ICC will reinforce a point that Israel has made, itself, many times over – that its greatest export is war crimes.

But Sudan no more accepts the court’s jurisdiction than Israel does. So how is it that Bashir has been indicted on war crimes charges and could be dragged before the court, while the Middle East branch of War-Crimes-R-Us enjoys its usual impunity?

The reason is that the ICC also “has jurisdiction over situations in any State where the situation is referred by the United Nations (UN) Security Council,” as the court’s web site explains. This means that the US, China and Russia can use their permanent presence on the Security Council to order the ICC (whose jurisdiction they themselves do not accept over their own territories), to investigate war crimes in countries that similarly reject the court’s authority over their territories.

In other words, the ICC can investigate grave crimes under international law in any country so long as the UN Security Council tells it to.

This works out well for the big three — the US, Russia and China. They’ll never have to answer for grave crimes before the ICC because they refuse to recognize the court – that is, they refuse to recognize its jurisdiction over their own territory, but when it comes to other countries’ territories, well, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

It’s like your dad telling you not to drink, even though he’s plastered every afternoon by 4:00, and has arranged for the local psychiatric hospital to force feed you daily doses of Antabuse to keep you on the straight and narrow while he pops off to the pub for another pint.

At the same time, the terrible trio can fail to order the ICC to investigate war crimes committed by allies, or to veto resolutions that do.

It is because the US can veto any effort to refer Israel’s grave crimes in Gaza to the ICC, and because the US, far from being an honest broker, has always acted to facilitate Israel’s crimes, that no one in Israel is breaking out in a sweat over scores of groups beseeching the ICC to look into what no one could have avoided seeing over three weeks in January – that Israel ran a clinic on how to violate every article of war. Anyway, isn’t calling for an investigation into whether Israel committed war crimes kind of like demanding an inquiry into whether McDonald’s sells hamburgers?

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon broke off contact with Bashir on the advice of legal counsel, who told him he should limit contact with an alleged war criminal. The Secretary General has since resumed contact, but Ban never struck George W. Bush from his Rolodex and he continues to dialogue with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, though the evidence both men have committed war crimes is mountainous.

The key here, however, is that neither man is alleged by the ICC to be a war criminal. And because Washington has considerable influence over the ICC, they never will be. The criminals are effectively running the court.

Written by what's left

February 11, 2009 at 1:04 am

Posted in ICC, Israel, Sudan

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