By Stephen Gowans
In a counterpunch.org article titled “The People Against the 800 Pound Gorilla” Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone argue that “genuine, material or economic U.S. interests in going to war [against Syria] are … hard to find”; that US foreign policy is not based on moral concerns; and that the real basis for war—ruling out the former two explanations—must therefore be pressure from Israel.
They dismiss as unsatisfying the explanations of “many” of their Marxist friends who, they say, “ insist that every war is driven by economic interests,” and that “this latest war [is] to be waged because big bad capitalists want to exploit Syrian gas, or use Syrian territory for a gas pipeline, or open up the Syrian economy to foreign investments…”
In place of this Marxist straw man (which friend of theirs believes that every war is driven by economic interests?) they offer the view that the latest war is to be waged because big bad Zionists “have frightened themselves into believing that the very existence of another power in the region, namely Iran, amounts to an existential threat” to Israel. This view, they say, is mistaken, but history, it seems, is an “ocean of human folly.” The policies of governments often make no sense (to Bricmont and Johnstone anyway) because decision-makers are continually misjudging their true interests, or are forced to act against them.
The Bricmont and Johnstone case for Israeli pressure as the basis for US policy on Syria is astonishingly weak. It leads with anecdotal evidence about, “An American friend who knows Washington well [who] recently told us that ‘everybody’ there knows that, as far as the drive to war with Syria is concerned, it is Israel that directs U.S. policy.” The opinion of an unnamed friend is, of course, evidence of nothing, but what his opinion is, and it is astonishing that analysts of Bricmont’s and Johnstone’s calibre would begin their argument with an “everybody knows” claim.
Adding not a whit to their case, the duo continue by relating that “James Abourezk, former Senator from South Dakota,” holds the same view. So what?
Next, they cite newspaper headlines which point out that Israel and its partisans back war on Syria, and finish with a New York Times report that “Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Mr. Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel.”
Other lobby groups are also working to influence US policy, but we don’t take this as proof that they dictate US policy.
Besides, it would appear that an attack on Syria is no longer imminent despite the urging of Israel, which would seem to fatally undermine the Bricmont and Johnstone thesis. I could at this point stop. The pair’s argument fails to stand up against the facts, and there’s nothing more that needs to be said. However, let’s press on, to show why their argument fails and to reply to their critique of the “Marxist” view.
To sum up their argument:
• Some people in Washington say US policy is based on pressure from Israel.
• Newspaper headlines confirm that Israel wants the US to wage war on Syria.
• AIPAC is pressing for military action.
Rather thin gruel.
In part II of their argument the duo sets out to refute two alternative explanations of why the United States wants to wage war on Syria. The aim is to show that these explanations fail to account for US policy as convincingly as does their Israel-tells-Washington-what-to-do argument.
Since I agree that moral concern is not the basis of US foreign policy, I’ll focus on the critique of the Marxist viewpoint (or what they present as it), and then show that one Marxist viewpoint is a better explanation of the data than is their Israelis-are-running-the-show hypothesis, which, as already shown, failed the moment Washington decided not to send cruise missiles hurdling toward Damascus in favor of a Russian-brokered plan to have Syria destroy its chemical weapons.
To topple their Marxist straw man, Bricmont and Johnstone argue “People who think that capitalists want wars to make profits should spend time observing the board of directors of any big corporation: capitalists need stability, not chaos, and the recent wars only bring more chaos.”
It’s true that businesses need stability. But so too do governments need peace and workers need paycheques, but governments will go to war and workers will go on strike if they can’t have peace or a paycheque on acceptable terms. Likewise, businesses will lock out workers—and deny themselves the tranquil digestion of profits—if they think they can arrive at better terms by doing so. First and foremost, businesses need profits—and they only need stability if it serves their primary profit-making goals.
In developing their case against the view that US policy on Syria is driven by economic interests, Bricmont and Johnstone note that, “Wars have been waged for all kinds of non-economic reasons, such as religion or revenge, or simply to display power.” And indeed wars have been waged for reasons apart from or in addition to economic concerns. But we’re not talking about all wars. We’re talking about the wars the United States wages, and specifically, Washington’s threatened war on Syria. Washington clearly has no religious reason for waging war on Syria, and we would be hard pressed to identify a reason for revenge. As to the fighting of wars to display power, it could be pointed out that economic interests often lurk behind non-economic goals. What purpose would a display of power serve? The psychological satisfaction of doing so, or to gain some material advantage, or both? There’s no reason why economic and non-economic reasons can’t both be implicated in decisions to wage war. A display of power could serve the purpose of intimidating a country into yielding favorable terms to investors in the first country, while at the same time satisfying the leaders of the country that displays its power. And what is the objective of exercising power? I would say that the US state exercises power not for the sake of exercising power, but to protect or advance the interests of the citizens who dominate state policy.
A genuine Marxist account of US policy toward Syria—and not the straw man Bricmont and Johnstone construct—might make the following points:
A. US foreign policy is disproportionately shaped by a class of owners of productive property who use their command of economic resources to structure the decisions governments make and to place their representatives in key positions in the state. AIPAC may be a powerful lobby, but its influence pales in comparison to the think tanks, foundations, and lobby groups that represent the common interests of the ruling class of owners, and is a hill against the Himalaya of capital flight and strike, and mass media pressure, businesses can engage in to influence governments.
B. US foreign policy is ultimately aimed at protecting and advancing the profit-making interests of the class that dominates state policy.
C. The US state has at its disposal an array of instruments for prosecuting the foreign policy interests of the country’s ruling class, including foreign aid, “democracy” promotion, economic warfare, diplomatic isolation, the creation of fifth columns, threats of military intervention, and war.
D. The US state will try to shape the policy environment in foreign countries by using any of these instruments alone or in combination.
E. The target countries subjected to the more extreme of these foreign policy instruments (economic warfare and military intervention) have three characteristics in common: (i) They limit US profit making interests through one or more of: restricting foreign investment; pursuing infant industry protection policies; mandating public ownership; subsiding domestic firms; differential treatment of foreign firms and investors; expropriating productive property. (ii) The country is not, as South Korea was, allowed to pursue such policies to build its economy to compete against a rival communist country; (iii) The country poses little or no retaliatory threat to the United States and its allies.
Where does Syria fit in?  The Syrian government exhibits a predilection for independent, self-directed, economic development. This is expressed in state-ownership of important industries, subsidies to domestic firms, controls on foreign investment, and subsidization of basic commodities. These measures restrict the profit-making opportunities of US corporations, banks and investors.
The US State Department complains that Syria has “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, has failed to turn over its state-owned enterprises to private investors, among them Wall Street financial interests. The State Department is aggrieved that “ideological reasons” continue to prevent the Assad government from liberalizing Syria’s economy. As a result of the Ba’athists’ ideological fixation on socialism, “privatization of government enterprises is still not widespread.” The economy “remains highly controlled by the government.”
The Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation are equally displeased. “Hafez al-Assad’s son Bashar, who succeeded him in 2000, has failed to deliver on promises to reform Syria’s socialist economy.”
The state dominates many areas of economic activity, and a generally repressive environment marginalizes the private sector and prevents the sustainable development of new enterprises or industries. Monetary freedom has been gravely marred by state price controls and interference.
The repressive business environment, burdened by heavy state intervention, continues to retard entrepreneurial activity and prolong economic stagnation. Labor regulations are rigid, and the labor market suffers from state interference and control.
…systemic non-tariff barriers severely constrain freedom to trade. Private investment is deterred by heavy bureaucracy, direct state interference, and political instability. Although the number of private banks has increased steadily since they were first permitted in 2004, government influence in the financial sector remains extensive.
The US Library of Congress country study on Syria refers to “the socialist structure of the government and economy,” points out that “the government continues to control strategic industries,” mentions that “many citizens have access to subsidized public housing and many basic commodities are heavily subsidized,” and that “senior regime members” have “hampered” the liberalization of the economy.
Examine every other country that is currently, or was recently, on Washington’s regime change hit list: Cuba, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Venezuela. All pursue, or pursued, policies that are, or were, inimical to US free enterprise. The less than wholly positive attitude of target countries toward US free enterprise can be quickly gleaned by perusing the CIA’s Factbook or the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom. Indeed, if there’s an 800 pound gorilla in the room, it’s the economic policies of the countries the United States targets for regime change. The problem is, the gorilla is invisible to just about everyone but policy makers and policy shapers. Most leftists haven’t the slightest idea it exists and therefore look in the wrong places for explanations of US foreign policy.
But what of countries that aren’t targeted for regime change? Do they pursue policies that are congenial to US free enterprise? Yes. An excellent counter-example is Myanmar.  Only three years ago, the resource-rich country was practicing economic nationalism, and was under a punitive regime of US economic sanctions and subject to diplomatic isolation. Now, Washington has suspended its sanctions on Myanmar and nominated its first ambassador to the country in 23 years.
The Obama administration says it’s because of the profound political changes Myanmar has brought about over the last year, including the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, who now sits in Myanmar’s parliament. But the real reason has more to do with the country’s military rulers turning away from economic nationalism and throwing their economy’s doors open wide to ownership by outsiders.
Announcing the easing of US sanctions, then US secretary of state Hilary Clinton went directly to the heart of the matter, after making obligatory remarks about Myanmar travelling the road to democracy. “Today we say to American business: Invest in Burma (Myanmar)!”
When Myanmar’s military took power in a 1962 coup, it nationalized most industries and brought the bulk of the economy under government control, which is the way it stayed until three years ago. Major utilities were state-owned and health-care and education were publicly provided. Private hospitals and private schools were unheard of. Ownership of land and local companies was limited to the country’s citizens. Companies were required to hire Myanmar workers. And the central bank was answerable to the government.
But three years ago, Myanmar’s government began to sell off government buildings, its port facilities, its national airline, mines, farmland, the country’s fuel distribution network, and soft drink, cigarette and bicycle factories. The doors to the country’s publicly-owned health care and education systems were thrown open, and private investors were invited in. A new law was drawn up to give more independence to the central bank, making it answerable to its own inflation control targets, rather than directly to the government. To top it all off, a foreign-investment law was drafted to allow foreigners to control local companies and land, permit the entry of foreign telecom companies and foreign banks, allow 100 percent repatriation of profits, and exempt foreign investors from paying taxes for up to five years. What’s more, foreign enterprises would be allowed to import skilled workers, and wouldn’t be required to hire locally.
With Myanmar signaling its willingness to turn over its economy to outside investors, President Obama dispatched Hillary Clinton to meet with Myanmar’s leaders, the first US secretary of state to visit in more than 50 years. William Hague soon followed, the first British foreign minister to visit since 1955. Other foreign ministers beat their own paths to the door of the country’s military junta, seeking to establish ties with the now foreign investment-friendly government on behalf of their own corporations, investors, and banks.
Another counter-example is Bahrain. Bahrain’s government is based on the hereditary leadership of the al-Khalifa family, yet Washington has undertaken no serious effort to promote democracy in the country, and does nothing to discredit the country’s de jure hereditary leadership while at the same time denouncing North Korea’s de facto equivalent. It refuses to support “pro-democracy” protestors in Bahrain as it has in Syria, and has turned a blind eye to the Bahraini government’s violent crackdown on protestors. Part of the explanation for why US foreign policy treats Bahrain indulgently and Syria harshly, is that Bahrain is a neo-liberal’s wet dream, pursuing policies straight out of Milton Friedman, while Syria is far closer to the opposite pole. Bahrain also hosts the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Additionally, we should note that US hostility to Syria, and the goal of bringing about a change of regime in Damascus, antedates AIPAC’s pressing Washington to bomb Syria. If AIPAC didn’t exist, would US policy toward Syria be different? It’s difficult to see how it would be. Bricmont and Johnstone think that Washington’s Syria policy makes no sense, and that genuine, material or economic U.S. interests in going to war against Syria are hard to find. That might be because they’re not looking hard enough. And pace the pair, US policy makes perfect sense within the framework of a Marxist analysis. Given Israel’s reprehensible behaviour, blaming the Zionists for the odious aspects of US foreign policy may be emotionally satisfying, but it’s hardly good analysis.
1. The discussion of Syria’s economic policy is excerpted from Stephen Gowans, “Syria’s Uprising in Context”, what’s left, February 10, 2012, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/syrias-uprising-in-context/
2. The discussion of Myanmar’s economic policy is excerpted from Stephen Gowans, “Myanmar Learns the Lesson of Libya”, what’s left, May 20, 2012, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/myanmar-learns-the-lesson-of-libya/
By Stephen Gowans
Question: Why has Hamas, an Islamist party, so much sway among Palestinians?
Answer: Because on matters central to the Palestinian struggle it’s better than the alternative.
Here’s the alternative: Fatah leader, and Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, on the Palestinians’ right to return to the homes Zionist settlers drove them from and have blocked them from returning to—a fundamental right that is at the heart of the Palestinian struggle.
Israeli TV news correspondent, Udi Segal asks Abbas whether he wants to return to Safed, the town from which Abbas’s family was driven but is prohibited from returning to because it is now part of Israel.
Abbas: “I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there.”
Segal: “Is it Palestine for you?”
Abbas: “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever. This is Palestine for me. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that the West Bank and Gaza Strip is Palestine, and the other part is Israel.” (1)
Hamas’s supporters took to the streets in Gaza, carrying banners reading “Abbas does not represent me” and “Pioneer of concessions, it’s time to quit.” (2) Or to put it another way, Palestinians who are enraged by Abbas’s willingness to capitulate on fundamental points are supporting Hamas.
In 2005, Abbas said “it is illogical to ask Israel to take five million (the number of refugees descendent from the 750,000 who were driven from their homes by Zionist settlers), or indeed one million.” (3)
Conceding more ground to Hamas, last year, Abbas said “that the Arab world had erred in rejecting the United Nations’ 1947 plan to partition” British mandate Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states. (4)
It was, however, the UN that erred in approving the partition plan, not the Arabs in rejecting it.
• At the time, Arabs—who favored a unitary state—made up two-thirds of the population, and Jews, who owned only 6 percent of the land, made up one-third, yet the plan allocated 56 percent of the territory to a Jewish state.
• The plan was imposed over the objections of Arab Palestinians—the majority.
• Arab voices were ignored. Not a single Arab was consulted on the plan.
On moral, democratic, and legal grounds, the plan was an abomination. Failing to reject it would have been intolerable, stupid, and criminal.
Still, had the Palestinians meekly accepted the injustice the UN had in store for them, would they be living today in a state comprising the 42 percent of British mandate Palestine the UN was willing to give them, rather than scattered across the globe or living in two non-contiguous territories (Gaza and the West Bank) making up less than 20 percent of their original territory?
If we assume that Zionist leaders would have settled for the 56 percent of mandate Palestine the UN partition plan assigned them, the answer is yes, but the assumption is untenable.
Historian Ilan Pappe points out that for Zionist leaders in 1947, a valid Jewish state comprised most of Palestine, and allowed only a small Arab population. Zionist ideology demanded that Jewish settlers seek as much territory as they could capture militarily, and drive as much of the Arab population off the territory as they could. (5)
It’s doubtful that Arab acceptance of the UN plan would have given Palestinian Arabs more than they have today.
Revolutionaries, it is said, would rather die on their feet than live on their knees. Not Abbas. He’d rather cede title to the family home in return for being allowed to live on his knees in a cramped corner of its attic.
1. Joel Greenberg, “Israel’s Netenyahu cool to Abbas’s hint at waiving Palestinian ‘right of return’”, The Washington Post, November 4, 2012.
2. Jodi Rudoren, “Palestinian’s remark, seen as concession, stirs uproar”, The New York Times, November 4, 2012.
4. “Arab rejection of ’47 partition plan was error, Palestinian leader says”, The Associated Press, October 28, 2011.
5. Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, One World, 2006.
Canada has severed diplomatic relations with Iran, a country it decries as “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today,” and it has done so as part of the Harper government’s re-orienting Canada’s foreign policy to more vigorously back Israel. But it is Israel—which daily clamours for an attack on Iran and threatens to undertake one itself—that is the greatest current threat to world peace and international security.
Canada has withdrawn its diplomats from Tehran and ordered Iran’s out of Canada. Ottawa says it has suspended diplomatic relations because Iran is:
Providing military assistance to the Syrian government;
Refuses to comply with UN resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program;
Routinely threatens the existence of Israel;
Engages in racist anti-Semitic rhetoric and incitement to genocide;
Is among the world’s worst violators of human rights;
Shelters and materially supports terrorist groups.
Given rampant speculation in Canada about the real reasons Ottawa has suddenly broken off relations with Iran, it’s clear that Ottawa’s purported reasons have been dismissed as empty rhetoric.
And so they should be.
If Ottawa were genuinely concerned about the world’s worst violators of human rights giving military assistance to tyrannical regimes to put down peaceful uprisings, it would have shut its embassy in Saudi Arabia long ago. Human Rights Watch describes rights violations in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that refuses to tolerate meaningful democratic reforms, as “pervasive.” And when Bahrainis rose up in peaceful protest against their country’s despotic rulers last year, Saudi troops and tanks spilled into the country to help Bahrain’s absolute monarchy violently suppress the uprising. Canadian diplomats remain on station in both countries.
The United States refuses to comply with innumerable UN resolutions to lift its illegal blockade on Cuba, and yet Ottawa continues to maintain diplomatic relations with Washington. UN resolutions in connection with the Palestinians are regularly ignored by Israel, but all the same Canadian diplomats are not withdrawn from Tel Aviv.
Indeed, Israel offers multiple reasons for Ottawa to close its embassy in that country and boot Israeli diplomats out of Canada. Human Rights Watch describes conditions in territories occupied by Israel as a “human rights crisis.” Within Israel proper, Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, subordinate to the favoured children, the Jews.
Israel’s record of furnishing military aid to repressive, retrograde regimes is long and shameful. After the Carter administration suspended military aid to the Chilean regime of Augusto Pinochet in 1977, Israel stepped in to become the dictator’s major arms supplier. Israel ran guns to Iran soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, to fan the flames of war between Iran and Iraq, and before that was a major supporter of the Shah’s dictatorial, human rights charnel house.  In the 1970s, it entered into a secret military alliance with South Africa’s racist apartheid regime, offering to sell it nuclear weapons.
As for the Canadian government’s professed opposition to nuclear weapons proliferation, Tel Aviv’s nuclear program should be ringing alarm bells in Ottawa. Israel is estimated to have some 200 nuclear weapons. It refuses to hear any discussion about giving them up, won’t join the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and bars international inspectors from entering the country.
By contrast, the Iranians have no nuclear weapons—and as US military and intelligence officials continue to affirm—there is no evidence they’re working to acquire them (see here, here, here, here, here, and here.) More than that, there is evidence of absence. “Certain things are not being done,” a former US intelligence official told the Washington Post, that would have to be done were the Iranians working to weaponize their civilian nuclear energy program.
And unlike Israel, Iran is a member of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Its nuclear facilities are regularly scrutinized by international inspectors. And while it is true that Tehran refuses to comply with some UN resolutions related to its civilian nuclear program, it does so because the resolutions would uniquely deny its right to process uranium—a right the non-proliferation treaty guarantees.
And as for supporting terrorists, in the early 1980s Tel Aviv groomed Christian Phalangist right-wing militias to act as Israel’s proconsul in Lebanon. When a bomb killed the Phalanges’ leader Bashir Jumayal, who had been recently elected president, the militias went on a rampage, terrorizing Palestinians and Shiite Lebanese in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As the Phalanges rampaged through the camps, killing men, women and children, the Israeli army threw up a cordon around the camps, firing flares into the night sky to provide illumination to help the terrorists do their grisly work. 
Far worse is the reality that the Israeli state was founded on terrorism. For one thing, Zionists used terrorism to try to drive the British out of mandate Palestine, bombing the King David hotel, headquarters of the British mandate authority, in 1946. But that was small potatoes compared to what was to come. Exhausted, and no longer willing to administer Palestine, the British transferred responsibility to the UN in 1947. Over the objections of the majority Arab inhabitants, the UN developed a partition plan which would allocate 56 percent of mandate Palestine to a Jewish state. Jews made up only one-third of the population. The Arabs, two-thirds of the population, would receive only 42 percent (Jerusalem, the remaining two percent, would become an international city.) The Jewish state would have a rough demographic balance of 500,000 Jews and 400,000 Arabs (the Arab state 800,000 Arabs and 100,000 Jews.) Recognizing that a democratic Jewish state could not long exist without a preponderance of Jews, Zionists terrorized Arab villages to depopulate them, sending hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians fleeing for safety. They were later barred from returning. Zionists claim the Arabs fled only to get out of the way of advancing armies from neighbouring Arab states. But the terror, formalized as Plan Dalet, was well underway before the Arab armies intervened. In end, the Zionists seized 80 percent of Palestinian territory, and were only prevented from seizing all of it by the intervention of Egypt and Jordan. 
What’s more, Canada might consider its own support for terrorists. Some Canadian military officers who had participated in last year’s NATO air war against the government of Libya referred to NATO jets bombing Gadhafi’s troops as “al-Qaeda’s air force,” a recognition that Islamist terrorists made up part of the opposition that NATO, with Canada’s participation, intervened on behalf of.
As for the Canadian government’s claim that Iran “routinely threatens the existence of Israel,” this is pure wind. Tehran is certainly hostile to Zionism—the idea that European Jewish settlers, through a program of ethnic cleansing, have a legitimate right to found a state on someone else’s land. And there can be little doubt that Iran is ready to do all it can to facilitate the demise of the Zionist regime. But the notion that Iran has the intention—even the capability—to bring about the physical destruction of Israel is absurd in the extreme. Iran is severely outclassed militarily by Israel, and its possession of a handful of nuclear weapons—if it were ever to acquire them—would be no match for Israel’s hundreds, or the formidable military might of Israel’s sponsor, the United States. The idea that Iran threatens Israel is a silly fiction cooked up by Israeli warmongers to justify an attack on Iran to prevent the latter from ever acquiring even the potential to develop nuclear weapons in order to preserve Tel Aviv’s monopoly of nuclear terror in the Middle East. Canadian politicians simply ape the line that Israel is threatened, a canard Zionists have used since 1948 to justify their aggressions. On the contrary, it is Israel—a super-power-sponsored nuclear weapons state—which threatens Iran, to say nothing of Syria and Lebanon.
So why has Ottawa really suspended diplomatic relations with Tehran? Iran’s foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Canada’s government is “neo-conservative”, “extremist”, and “boundlessly defending international Zionism.” These are apt descriptions. Canada has practically outsourced its Middle East foreign policy to Israel, letting it be known that it will unquestioningly prop up Israeli interests. Extremist? Since Ottawa’s outsourcing of Middle East foreign policy to Israel yokes Canada to a bellicose regime with an atrocious human rights record, how could it be otherwise?
But Salehi’s description, no matter how apt, does not explain why Ottawa has severed ties with Iran now.
Former Canadian ambassador to Iran John Mundy raises the possibility that Ottawa is pulling its diplomats out of the country in anticipation of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Since Canada has offered unqualified support to Israel, Canadian diplomats would be in danger if Israel followed through on its threats. Britain recalled its diplomats when, last November, protesters stormed the British Embassy in Tehran. Canada may be seeking to avoid a similar occurrence. Ottawa may have no specific knowledge of an impending Israeli strike, but may be playing it safe all the same. Or it might be participating in an Israeli-sponsored ruse to ratchet up psychological pressure on Tehran, withdrawing its diplomats to falsely signal an imminent Israeli strike.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Canada has adopted the extremist position of supporting a rogue regime in Tel Aviv that, to quote Ottawa’s misplaced description of Iran, is “the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today.”
1. Patrick Seale. Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press. 1988.
3. Ilan Pappe. The Ethnic Cleasning of Palestine. One World. 2006.
It’s clear whose side UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is on.
On August 17, Ban denounced Iran’s supreme leader Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei‘s condemnation of Zionism as a political system. Khamenei’s remarks were “offensive and inflammatory,” Ban cautioned, adding that the UN Charter prohibits member states from threatening one another.
Iran’s “threats” against Israel, including president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alleged threat to “wipe Israel off the map” have the appearance, though not the substance, of threats. They’re predictions about the inevitable collapse of a morally indefensible political system. Zionism will eventually fade from the pages of history, the Iranian president augured, not in a hail of nuclear missiles, but because its racial exclusion and ethnic cleansing are the rotten timbers upon which it rests.
Anyone who had prophesied that the days of Apartheid—another morally indefensible political system—were numbered, would hardly have been accused of threatening to bomb South Africa. But Ahmadinejad, as president of an economically nationalist state that exhibits little enthusiasm for hitching its wagon economically and politically to Wall Street and Washington, gets special treatment.
Khamenei’s prediction, and Ahmadinejad’s rendering of it, was soon turned into a canard about Iran threatening to bomb Israel, which demagogues in Tel Aviv and Washington have been using since to sanitize Israel’s threats to wage war on Iran. Use bombs, sanctions, isolation, and a foreign-trained domestic overthrow movement to usher Khamenei and Ahmadinejad off the stage of history, install pliant local rulers, and Iran’s back in the Wall Street camp.
While Iran’s leaders predict Zionism’s downfall under the weight of its own injustices, Israel has been making real threats–and not predictions about the collapse of the Islamic state, but promises to rain death and destruction on Iran from the air. All the same, Ban has been silent. Some UN member states, it seems, are afforded the privilege of threatening other member states, without a dressing down by the Secretary General.
Israel’s “entire existence is premised on the forced removal of Palestinians from their land,” Mazda Majidi points out in a recent Liberation article. Israel’s origins in ethnic cleansing might have led Ban to denounce Zionism as “offensive and inflammatory,” rather than Khamenei’s screed against it. Israel has amassed a robust record of serial aggressions, invading “every single one of its neighbors: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.” And much “of the territory it has occupied it has refused to ever return.”
What’s more, its aggressions have “gone beyond its borders, including its bombing of the Osirak nuclear plant in Iraq in 1981 and its military assistance to reactionary states around the globe, including apartheid South Africa.”
So how could Ban miss the pimple on Israel’s face, considering the country was born with it, and that it has once again become red and angry? More to the point, how could he play to Israel’s modus operandi, which goes back to Israel’s founding in 1948, of justifying its aggressions on the wholly laughable grounds of being under an existential threat? Iran, a non-nuclear-arms country without superpower patronage, no more poses an existential threat to the US-backed, nuclear-arms-wielding Israel, than Canada does to the United States.
Ban’s bias is inevitable. Like all UN secretaries general, he’s simply an extension of the countries that make up the permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council–the most important of which, of course, is the United States.
Washington and its other extensions, which include Tel Aviv and the Western mass media, have been engaged in a long-running campaign of manipulating public opinion to make Iran loom large in the minds of the public as a major threat to Israel—all in the service of building a pretext for war. There’s a broader campaign of which this is only a part: to eliminate every state that refuses to subordinate itself economically and politically to the profit-making interests of the banks, corporations and major investors of the United States and its major allies—the one (or more precisely, the fraction of the one) percent.
Milosevic’s Yugoslavia was sanctioned and bombed because it was a social democracy that resisted a free-market take-over, not because—as the story goes—ethnic Albanians were ill-treated. Libyan leader Muamar Gadaffi’s sin, according to a leaked US State Department cable, was that he practiced “resource nationalism”, insisting his country’s resources be used to benefit Libyans, not because he was allegedly about to unleash a genocide. The US State Department complains that Syria has “failed to join an increasingly interconnected global economy,” which is to say, has failed to turn over its state-owned enterprises to private investors, and that “ideological reasons” continue to prevent the Asad government from liberalizing Syria’s economy, not that the country’s president, Bashar al-Asad, hates democracy and tramples human rights. (Were this the reason Washington opposes Asad’s government, how would we explain US support for the monarchical, misogynist, opposition-jailing, democracy-abominating tyrannies of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain?)
Iran, too, has committed its share of transgressions against free-market, free-enterprise, free-trade theology. The country’s constitution defines the public sector as primary, and “the private sector as the means of furnishing the government’s needs rather than responding to market requirements.” Democratic socialists will be shocked to discover that this is the very same economic model that such New Left socialists as Ralph Miliband defined as emblematic of what a democratic socialism ought to be (which isn’t to say that Iran is a democratic socialist state, only that economically it is very close to what many socialist thinkers have envisaged for Western socialism.)
Needless to say, countries that limit room for foreign investors, and subordinate the private sector to public policy goals, rather than Wall Street’s goals, are an anathema in Washington, and must be eliminated. The UN General Secretary is on board.
Wars for Profits: A No-Nonsense Guide to Why the United States Seeks to Make Iran an International Pariah
By Stephen Gowans
Flipping idly through my morning newspaper, my eyes fell upon a headline, which, given its significance, should have appeared on the front page, but instead was tucked away at the back, on page A9.
“Israel won’t rule out attack on Iran”. (1)
Now, it’s true that Israel’s threatening to attack Iran is hardly news. Here was Ehud Barak, Israeli defense minister, over two years ago, talking about measures to dissuade Iran from continuing to process uranium: “We clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table. This is our policy. We mean it.” (2) And here was Barak just the other day: “We strongly believe that…no option should be removed from the table.” (3) Same defense minister. Same words. Same threat.
Yet while the threat may be old, its significance remains undiminished. One country is threatening to commit the supreme international crime: to attack another even though it, itself, has not been attacked by the country it rattles its saber at. Were Iran to threaten Israel, the headline “Iran won’t rule out attack on the Jewish state” wouldn’t be tucked away inconspicuously in the back pages of my newspaper. Instead, it would be shouted in bold letters across the front page. “My God!”, NATO state officials and editorialists would cry. “Iran is threatening to attack the Jewish state. Something must be done!”
But in this case it is Israel that is issuing the threat against a country which has, since its escape from US domination in 1979, been limned as dark and menacing, and so while no one wants war, surely it’s all perfectly understandable that the plucky Israelis should be declaring their determination to stand against the Judeophobic menace of the Islamic Republic. After all, isn’t Iran building nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map? Well, if you listen to the Israelis and their US protector, the answer is yes.
The Strangelovian Israeli historian Benny Morris declares that Israel is “threatened almost daily with destruction by Iran’s leaders.” To eclipse this threat, Iran must be wiped off the map before Iran does any wiping of its own. “Israel has no option,” Morris chillingly says, “but to use its nuclear arsenal to destroy Iran, unless the US uses its formidable military to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities first.” (4)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns: “Iran is even arming itself with nuclear weapons to realize that goal (the obliteration of the Jewish state), and until now the world has not stopped it. The threat to our existence, is not theoretical. It cannot be swept under the carpet; it cannot be reduced. It faces us and all humanity, and it must be thwarted.” (5)
Ominous. But the idea that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons to obliterate Israel is pure flummery; a work of fiction, intended to create a frisson of fear.
So, why do I say this? First, we don’t know whether Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons, or only the capability of producing them, or even that. An International Atomic Energy Agency report, released yesterday, tables evidence that Iran is secretly working on a nuclear bomb. So let’s assume for the moment that Iran’s leaders do indeed intend to build nuclear weapons.
It’s widely agreed that it’s highly unlikely that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons while its nuclear energy program is still under the scrutiny of UN inspectors. A more likely scenario is that Tehran would develop the capability to produce a bomb from within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and once it had reached the point of being able to do so, would turn its capability into reality by withdrawing from the treaty, ejecting inspectors, and making a mad dash to develop a rudimentary arsenal. That’s what North Korea did, when, following the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States decided to re-target some its nuclear missiles from the USSR to the DPRK.
But would Iran ever get as far as being able to make a mad dash to status as the world’s newest nuclear-weapons state? The United States and Israel have made plenty of noise about bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities before Iran’s nuclear scientists ever reach the point of having the capability of producing nuclear weapons. Indeed, the threat to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities has been trotted out anew because the steps the United States and Israel have taken to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program–from the Stuxnet computer virus to the assassination of Iran’s nuclear scientists to punitive sanctions–haven’t stopped the program’s development, although they have certainly slowed it.
But let’s make another assumption. Let’s assume that despite US and Israeli efforts to cripple Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons, that Iran, despite these impediments, brings this capability to fruition, and furthermore, manages against the concerted opposition of the United States and Israel to develop a few nuclear warheads. Does the possession of warheads mean that Iran will use them–either to wipe Israel off the map or attack the United States?
No, it does not.
The idea that Iran is an “existential” threat to Israel comes from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s alleged promise to wipe Israel off the map. US and Israeli political leaders have been invoking this chestnut for years to justify the assassinations, economic warfare, covert destabilization, and threats of military intervention used to undermine Iran’s nuclear energy program. The problem is, the allegation is groundless.
The firestorm started when Nazila Fathi, then the Tehran correspondent of The New York Times, reported a story almost six years ago that was headlined: “Wipe Israel ‘off the map’ Iranian says.” The article attributed newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks to a report by the ISNA press agency.
Specialists such as Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and Arash Norouzi of the Mossadegh Project pointed out that the original statement in Persian did not say that Israel should be wiped from the map, but instead that it would collapse.
Khamenei stated, “Iran’s position, which was first expressed by the Imam [Khomeini] and stated several times by those responsible, is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region.” He went on to say in the same speech that “Palestinian refugees should return and Muslims, Christians and Jews could choose a government for themselves, excluding immigrant Jews.”
Khamenei has been consistent, stating repeatedly that the goal is not the military destruction of the Jewish state but “the defeat of Zionist ideology and the dissolution of Israel through a ‘popular referendum.’” (6)
To be sure, anyone who regards Israel as a “cancerous tumor” that “must be uprooted from the region” and replaced by a government freely chosen by the people who lived in Palestine prior to its conquest by Zionist settlers, is an existential threat to the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. But while the designation of Iran as an existential threat to the idea of Israel is literally true (in the sense that Iran doesn’t accept Zionism and therefore works against it by supporting such anti-Zionist groups as Hamas), the phrase “existential threat” is twisted to mean something more than intended: military destruction rather than collapse through a referendum.
Political leaders are in the habit of present non-threats into dire ones. A not particularly egregious example is provided by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who, needing to defend the Pentagon’s Brobdignagian budget against possible cuts, recently “cited North Korea and Iran as persistent threats, and said that the military had to maintain ‘the ability to deter and defeat them.’” (7) Yet North Korea and Iran are not threats to the physical safety and welfare of a single US civilian.
First, Iran’s military is built for self-defense. It doesn’t have aircraft carriers, a large fleet of warships, strategic bombers, foreign military bases or a naval presence near US waters. The United States, by contrast, bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, within shouting distance of Iran, directly across the Persian Gulf. Iranian warships won’t be found lingering menacingly in the Gulf of Mexico or patrolling the edges of US territorial waters.
Second, a graph nearby shows that Iran’s military spending, at $20B per annum, pales in comparison to the budgets of the United States ($700B) and even that of the United States’ regional allies ($102B). The US military budget is 35 times larger than Iran’s, and the sum of that of the United States, its invariable co-belligerent the United Kingdom, and Washington’s regional allies, is 43 times larger. The gulf in fighting ability supported by these expenditures is as yawning as the one between the New York City Police Department and a troop of Boy Scouts armed with BB guns.
As regards North Korea, the idea that it is a threat to the security of a single US civilian is even more absurd. Like Iran, North Korea’s military is built for defense, and it too has no foreign military bases, no aircraft carriers, no nuclear armed submarines and no strategic bombers, and it has never—unlike its compatriot neighbor to the south—sent troops abroad to fight in other country’s wars (as South Korean troops have fought in US wars.)
North Korean military expenditures are even more modest than Iran’s. Pyongyang spends an estimated $10B on its military (and that’s probably stretching it), many of whose members are engaged in agriculture and other civilian activities. (8) By comparison, South Korea (on whose soil are resident close to 30,000 US troops), spends $39B, while nearby Japan (home to 40,000 US troops) spends $34B. Together, these two US allies outspend Pyongyang on their militaries by a factor of 7 to 1. Add to this US defense expenditures and those of Britain—a country that can be counted on to docilely follow the United States into any war–and North Korea, surrounded by US troops and warships and whose air borders are incessantly menaced by the US Air Force, is outspent over 80 to 1. A threat? The claim is laughable.
And that understates the imbalance. What military budgets don’t reveal is the vastly superior destructive power of US military hardware (and that of many of its allies) compared to Iran’s and North Korea’s. The kill capacity of US strike aircraft, cruise missiles, and battleships is far in excess of the heavy artillery that figures so prominently in the North Korean armamentarium, for example.
And then there’s nuclear weapons. North Korea may (or may not) have an arsenal of a few warheads, and Iran may (or may not) be seeking one, but these rudimentary collections pale in comparison with the US, British, and Israeli arsenals arrayed against them. Would Iran attack Israel, or North Korea attack South Korea, with one or two nuclear missiles, knowing that to do so would invite a retaliatory tsunami of missiles from the target (in the case of an attack on Israel) or its hyper-armed patron, the United States, or both? The outcome of so foolhardy an attack would be game-over for either country.
“During the Democratic primaries, then candidate Hilary Clinton (now US Secretary of State) warned that if Iran attacked Israel, the United States would ‘totally obliterate’ Iran.” (9) Three years ago, Israeli “Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer went on record saying, ‘We must tell them: ‘If you so much as dream of attacking Israel, before you even finish dreaming there won’t be an Iran anymore.’” (10) It’s doubtful that the Iranians failed to get the message.
And then there’s the matter of Washington’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). If read superficially, the NPR would lead one to believe that US policy makers have finally figured out that the cardinal rule of nonproliferation is to abjure military aggression against non-nuclear states. Countries that aren’t threatened by nuclear powers have no need to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense. However, a closer reading of the review shows that nothing has changed. US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessors’ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.
The NPR declares “that the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states”, even if they attack the United States, its vital interests or allies and partners with chemical or biological weapons. This differs, but only on the surface, from the policy of preceding administrations which refused to renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. There are a number of reasons why the difference is apparent only.
While nuclear weapons are widely regarded as unparalleled in their destructive power, the United States is able to deliver overwhelming destructive force through its conventional military capabilities. A promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is not the same as an assurance not to use or threaten to use devastating military force. Six decades ago it was possible to obliterate a city through conventional means, as the Western Allies demonstrated in the firebombing of Dresden. If a city could be destroyed by conventional means more than half a century ago, imagine what the Pentagon could do today through conventional forces alone. Indeed, the NPR makes clear that the United States is prepared to shrink its nuclear arsenal partly because “the growth of unrivalled U.S. conventional military capabilities” allows Washington to fulfill its geostrategic goals “with significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.”
The NPR also provides a number of escape hatches that allow Washington to continue to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over the heads of Iran and North Korea. One is that nuclear weapons can be used, or their use threatened, against a country that is not “party to the NPT” even if the country doesn’t yet have nuclear weapons, or it is unclear whether it does. This is the North Korea escape clause. It allows Washington to continue to threaten North Korea with nuclear obliteration, just as it has done since the early 1990s when the US Strategic Command announced it was re-targeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles on the DPRK (the reason why North Korea withdrew from the NPT.)
Another escape clause allows Washington to reach for the nuclear trigger whenever it deems a country to have fallen short of “compliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations,” even if the country doesn’t have nuclear weapons and is a party to the NPT. This is the Iran escape hatch, intended to allow Washington to maintain the threat of nuclear annihilation vis-à-vis Iran or any other country Washington unilaterally declares to be noncompliant with the treaty’s obligations.
As for the United States’ commitment to refrain from reaching for its nuclear arsenal in response to a chemical or biological attack on itself, its vital interests (a term that defies geography and democracy, for how is it that the United States’ vital interests extend to other people’s countries?) its allies and its partners, this too is verbal legerdemain. As a careful reading of the NPR makes clear, the truth of the matter is that the United States will attack any country with nuclear weapons if such an attack is deemed necessary by Washington to protect its interests. According to the NPR, “the United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in [its commitment] that may be warranted…” Translation: We won’t attack non-nuclear weapons states with nuclear weapons unless we decide it’s in our interests to do so.
Finally, we need to ask whether either Iran or North Korea have a motive to attack the United States, and whether Iran has a motive to attack Israel. Iran’s leaders may abhor the Zionist conquest of what they see as territory important to Islam, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to take on a suicide mission to deal a one- or two-nuclear missile blow to Israel—one which, by the way, probably wouldn’t destroy Israel, but would in all likelihood elicit a hail of retaliatory blows that would produce devastating damage to Iran. As for tangling with the United States, neither Iran nor North Korea want that. What they want is peaceful coexistence—to be left alone to develop in their own way.
The trouble is, the United States hasn’t the barest interest in peaceful coexistence, and the reason why is the key, not only to understanding US foreign policy, but to understanding why a US-led NATO spent months bombing Libya to drive Muamar Gaddafi from power.
But first, a digression. Critiques of US foreign policy often involve exposes of US hypocrisy. For example, critics might point out that the United States defends Israel, which has nuclear weapons and doesn’t belong to the NPT, while threatening to attack Iran, which belongs to the NPT, and doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Or that NATO bombed Libya to prevent the government there from using its military to put down an uprising but condoned Bahrain and Saudi Arabia using their militaries to put down an uprising in Bahrain. Some critics stop there, reasoning that if they’re going to muster opposition to US foreign policy, it’s enough to show that it’s built on hypocrisy. Or they show US behavior to be immoral, undemocratic or against international law and figure that showing this will rouse the indignation of people of good conscience. Other US foreign policy critics cogently show why US foreign policy couldn’t possibly be guided by the objectives US leaders say it is. But they stop there, leaving their audiences to scratch their heads, wondering, if not for the reasons stated, then why?
Liberals insist that US foreign policy makes no sense and that US leaders are confused, myopic, poorly motivated, or just plain dumb. An example of this point of view is offered by former US president Jimmy Carter, who contends that the conflict with North Korea can be resolved in half a day (11). Apparently US leaders have neither the political will nor smarts to do so.
The truth of the matter is that there is nothing to be gained for the corporations, investors and banks that dominate US foreign policy—the one percent who really matter in the United States–from peaceful coexistence with North Korea. Peaceful coexistence implies that each side poses a threat to the other, but North Korea, despite the rhetorical nonsense of political leaders seeking to justify Pentagon budgets, poses no threat to the United States. A $10B defense budget against a $700B one; aging aircraft whose pilots are grounded most of the time due to shortages of fuel; a puny arsenal of nuclear weapons; an army whose training time is partly displaced by engagement in farming; the most sanctioned country on earth, whose economy has been crippled by six decades of US economic warfare; a country of 24 million hemmed in to the south and east by the troops of a country of 300 million; no, North Korea is not a threat.
So how is it that peaceful coexistence would deliver anything in the way of improved security for Americans, which they already have in abundance anyway? It wouldn’t. The demand for peaceful coexistence is little more than a Quixotic plea from Pyongyang to be left alone to develop in a self-directed manner in exchange for giving up a few nuclear weapons that at best, are, to use an Edward Herman term, a “threat of self-defense.” The benefits of peaceful coexistence are all on the North Korean side.
What does the United States get for promising to leave North Korea to develop in its own way? An open door for exports and investments? North Korea’s integration into a US-dominated system of global capitalism? US troops on North Korean soil? North Korea’s incorporation into a US-led military alliance against China? No. What it gets is North Korea giving up a deterrent to attack in exchange for the United States promising not to attack. This is a one-sided deal. No wonder North Korea wants it, and Washington keeps turning it down. David Straub, director of the US State Department’s Korea desk from 2002 to 2004 sums up nicely why peaceful coexistence isn’t on Washington’s Korea agenda. “North Korea’s closed economic and social system means the country has virtually nothing of value to offer the United States.” (12) What the United States wants from North Korea (an open door to investment, exports, ownership and political influence) is the opposite of what North Korea offers (a closed door and a prickly sense of independence—both political and economic). Washington abandoned the policy of peaceful coexistence with the USSR, which was militarily strong enough to make the US a miserable place if the Pentagon ever decided to start a US-Soviet war. So why would it accept peaceful coexistence with a hated closed system that poses a minor threat at best?
Other critics of US foreign policy explain their subject in terms of power. US leaders want to preserve or expand US power (or primacy or hegemony) against such “peer competitors” as China or Russia or such regional powers as Iran. Of course, it’s never said what US leaders (or Chinese or Russian leaders) want power for. To believe these critics, power is what everyone wants, and the quest for it, as an end in itself, is what makes the world go around. But the trick here is to inquire into why power is sought. Washington doesn’t seek to enlarge its power so that it can strong-arm governments around the world into furnishing their citizens with public healthcare, guaranteed employment and free education. On the contrary, it seeks power to do the very opposite. Power serves some end, and in the case of US state power, it serves the end of protecting and enlarging the big business interests of the big business people who run the state of a big business country; it protects profits and establishes the conditions that allow them to grow—both at home and overseas.
It’s curious that the power-is-the-alpha-and-omega-of-world-politics view should hold such a strong sway among critics of US foreign policy, when in the internal affairs of capitalist countries the organizing principle is private business, and the alpha and omega of private business, is profits. Sure, it’s understood that business leaders want power, but not so they can lord it over others, and take pleasure in its trappings, but so they can enlarge their capital. Power is a means to an end.
So why should foreign policy be any different? The moment Gaddafi was toppled by NATO bombs, a stream of NATO foreign ministers traipsed to Benghazi, their countries’ corporate CEOs in tow, to line up new business deals. It was clear the National Transitional Council (NTC), whose key members—one, an exile who had been teaching economics in the United States for years; another, who earned his PhD in 1985 from the University of Pittsburgh under the late Richard Cottam, a former US intelligence official in Iran; and a third, who had been living within hailing distance of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, before being spirited back to Libya– would be a good deal more accommodating of US business interests than Gaddafi had ever been. For all his turning over a new leaf to befriend the West, Gaddafi had irked the US State Department by practicing “resource nationalism” and trying to “Libyanize” the economy, (13) which is to say, turn foreign investment to the advantage of Libyans. His threat in 2009 to re-nationalize Libya’s oil fields, stirred up old fears. (14) Now, the NTC—with its US-friendly principals–promises juicy plums to the countries whose bombs ousted Gaddafi.
The US ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz, channeling the ghost of uber-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes, acknowledged that Libyan oil was “the jewel in the crown” but that there would be broader profit-making opportunities to lay hold of, now that Gaddafi had been bombed from power. Even “in Qaddafi’s time,” he observed, the Libyans “were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things. If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs.” (15) US Senator John McCain, for his part, noted that “American investors were watching Libya with keen interest and wanted to do business” in Libya as soon as the country was pacified. (16)
The New York Times’ Scott Shane summed up the excitement.
Western security, construction and infrastructure companies that see profit-making opportunities receding in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned their sights on Libya, now free of four decades of dictatorship. Entrepreneurs are abuzz about the business potential of a country with huge needs and the oil to pay for them, plus the competitive advantage of Libyan gratitude toward the United States and its NATO partners.
A week before Colonel Qaddafi’s death on Oct. 20, a delegation from 80 French companies arrived in Tripoli to meet officials of the Transitional National Council, the interim government. Last week, the new British defense minister, Philip Hammond, urged British companies to “pack their suitcases” and head to Tripoli. (17)
Shane’s summing up provides a pretty good account of what the NATO bombing campaign had been all about, with one exception. Western security, construction and infrastructure companies aren’t turning their sights on Libya because it is now free of four decades of dictatorship, but because it is now free of four decades of economic nationalism—an economic nationalism that once privileged Libyans over Western banks, investors and corporations. The country is now open for business…on the West’s terms.
The view that US foreign policy is shaped by considerations related to preserving and enlarging profit-making opportunities for investors, banks and corporations headquartered in the United States is based on two realities.
• The formulation of US foreign policy is dominated by the CEO’s, corporate lawyers and major investors who circulate between Wall Street and Washington.
• The countries that the United States has singled out for regime change, without exception, pursue self-directed economic policies aimed at fostering self-development and therefore deny or limit US investment and export opportunities.
Every rich country, with the exception of Britain, became rich through active state intervention in their economies to create industries, subsidize them and protect them from competition while they grew. The United States, as much as Germany, Japan, and other now rich industrialized countries, followed this path. (18) At one point, the United States had the world’s highest tariff barriers, which it used to shelter its nascent manufacturing industries against competition from established British firms. As protected industries matured under the guiding hand of a dirigiste state, they naturally sought to expand beyond their borders, as the possibilities offered by national markets were exhausted. Now, the policies that served their development so ably in the past, became fetters. Rather than protected markets at home, they needed open markets abroad. Poor countries couldn’t be allowed to emulate the policies that made the rich countries rich, because state-ownership, subsidies and trade barriers would eclipse the further development of the once protected industries of the rich countries. Poor countries would have to open themselves up as fields for exploitation by the banks, investors and corporations of the rich countries that had grown fat on the dirigiste policies some poor countries were now seeking to emulate.
A glance through the US Library of Congress’s country study on Iran reveals a truth that US officials never mention and that US foreign policy critics seem unaware of. Iran is not the kind of place an enterprising US business can hope to make money in. “The public sector dominates the economic scene, and the subordination of the private sector is observed in all industries and commerce.” (19) Worse, “Public-sector investments in transportation…utilities, telecommunications, and other infrastructure have grown over time.” (20) “The government plays a significant role in Iran’s economy, either directly through participation in the production and distribution of goods and services, or indirectly through policy intervention.” (21) Indeed, Iran’s constitution defines the public sector as primary, and “the private sector as the means of furnishing the government’s needs rather than responding to market requirements.” (22) Democratic socialists will be shocked to discover that this is the very same economic model that such New Left socialists as Ralph Miliband defined as emblematic of what a democratic socialism ought to be (which isn’t to say that Iran is a democratic socialist state, only that economically it is very close to what many socialist thinkers have envisaged for Western socialism.) In any event, it will be conceded that any economy that bears even a passing resemblance to that favored by radical democratic socialists is not likely to get a ringing endorsement from the kinds of people who formulate US foreign policy.
Other reasons why Iran’s economic policies are likely to have provoked the animosity of the US State Department: Despite its leaders making noises about going on a privatizing binge, Iran’s public sector has soberly grown rather than shrunk. (23) What’s more, large sectors of Iran’s economy remain off-limits to private ownership. ”Since the Revolution, the government has retained monopoly rights to the extraction, processing, and sales of minerals from large and strategic mines.” (24) Iran’s “agricultural policy is intended to support farmers and encourage production of strategically important crops” (25), not to open doors to US agribusiness. ”After the Revolution, many transportation companies, banks, and insurance companies were nationalized” (26) while price controls and subsidies have been used to make important consumer goods affordable (though many subsidies have been lifted recently.)
Wall Street and the US State Department dislike state-owned enterprises that serve the self-directed development goals of independent foreign countries, because they displace private investment by US capital. They abhor the practice of foreign governments subsidizing and protecting local business enterprises because it makes the task of US firms competing in overseas markets more difficult, and thereby limits the overseas profits of US firms. They revile regulations that protect local populations from pollution, desperation wages and deplorable working conditions, because they cut into profits. Some or all of these practices form significant parts of the economic policies of every country in the cross-hairs of US foreign policy, including Libya under Gaddafi and Iran today.
Washington doesn’t want to bring about a change of regime in Tehran to install a pliant government that will help expand US power. It wants to bring about a change of regime in Tehran that will cancel economic policies aimed at Iran’s self-development and replace them with policies that will open up the country’s resources, markets, labor and land to US banks, corporations and investors. It wants the holy trinity of free-trade, free-enterprise and free-markets at the center of poor countries’ economic policies, not protected trade, not state-owned and subsidized enterprises, and not trade barriers. (But while preaching the holy trinity abroad, the United States reserves the right to deploy subsidies, impede imports, and rely on state-intervention to support key industries at home. Consistency doesn’t matter. Profits do.)
To reach the goal of turning Iran into a country that can disgorge a bonanza of profits to US corporations and investors, Iran must first be denied the capability of mounting an effective defense against military intervention by the United States and its allies. It is for this reason that the United States and its Middle Eastern Doberman, Israel, have embarked upon a program of sabotage, assassinations and threats of aerial bombing aimed at crippling even the possibility of Iran acquiring a nuclear deterrent. The idea that Tehran is bent on lobbing a few nuclear-tipped missiles toward Israel, to complete what the Fuhrer had left undone, is demagogic nonsense, intended to provide a compelling justification for aggression against Iran. Evoking Hitler’s campaign of genocide against the Jews to invest contrived existential threats with gravitas has been a standard operating procedure of Zionist leaders dating to 1948. (27) Iran has no intention of attacking Israel, and would commit suicide if it did, a reality we can be certain has not escaped its leaders’ ken.
All of this to say that in order to understand US foreign policy it’s necessary to examine who rules in the United States, who formulates its foreign policy, and how the policy the rulers formulate intersects with their economic interests. (28) This is an inquiry into class. For if an economic elite dominates foreign policy, we should expect to find that the outcomes of foreign policy favor elite economic interests, and that foreign countries that pursue economic policies that are not agreeable to those interests will be harassed, sabotaged, sanctioned, destabilized, and possibly bombed or invaded, until the policies are changed.
It may be objected that the cost to the United States of military intervention in Iran would surely exceed any economic gain that would accrue to the country as a whole. For liberals, this would count as evidence that US foreign policy makers had once again made an error. For others, it would stand as a challenge to the idea that a war on Iran would be a war for profits.
But the costs of military intervention are what economists call externalities—costs created by a firm, an industry or a class, but borne by others. Hydraulic fracturing—the high-pressure injection of fluids into rock to release fossil fuels—creates costs in water pollution and wear and tear on roads used by trucks and heavy machinery. If these costs are internalized—borne by the oil companies whose activities have created them—then hydraulic fracturing makes no sense economically–its costs exceed its returns. But if the costs are externalized—left to society as a whole to absorb—hydraulic fracturing becomes an attractive way for oil companies to turn a profit. (29)
Here’s the parallel with military intervention. The giant engineering firm Bechtel would absorb virtually none of the costs of a successful war on Iran, but if one happens, Bechtel is likely to reap enormous profits in contracts to rebuild the infrastructure that the US Air Force would raze to the ground. For Bechtel, then, US military intervention in Iran would be highly profitable, even though it might not make sense economically when viewed from the perspective of the United States as a whole. Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon—the top five defense contractors–don’t foot the Pentagon’s massive $700B per annum bill, but large portions of that budget are transferred to them in the form of contracts for military hardware. While bloated military expenditures make no sense from the point of view of the country as a collectivity, major defense contractors reap enormous profits from them.
The problem, then, of arguing that military intervention in Iran would make no sense because the costs would exceed the economic gains that would accrue to the United States as a whole, is failure to recognize that the country is class-divided, and that the gains of war are internalized within the dominant class while the costs are externalized to the bottom 99 percent. Hence, war doesn’t make sense for the bulk of us, but the problem is that decisions about military expenditures, foreign policy and war are in the hands of the top one percent and their loyal servants, who privatize the benefits and socialize the costs. When liberals say US foreign policy makes no sense, they’re being misguided by a set of erroneous assumptions: that the United States has only one class, the middle-class, that it is not class-divided, that everyone within it has the same middle-class interests, and that the state rules in the interests of all.
Like all US wars, the war on Iran of sanctions, sabotage, assassinations and saber-rattling is a class war. It is a war of class in two respects. First, it is waged on behalf of a class of bankers, major investors, and corporate titans, to knock down walls in Iran that deny this elite access to markets and investment opportunities. Second, it is a war carried out on the back of a class of employees, pensioners, unemployed, and armed forces members—the bottom 99 percent–who bear the cost, through their taxes (and in the future possibly blood.)
The aim is to install local politicians, most of whom have been educated at US universities where they have been instilled with imperialist values, who can, assisted by US advisors, make over Iran into an agricultural, natural resources, low-wage appendage of the US economy in the service of Wall Street and the class of owners and high-level managers who occupy its commanding heights. In short, a war for profits.
1. Adam Blomfield, “Israel won’t rule out attack on Iran,” The Ottawa Citizen, November 7, 2011.
2. Associated Press, July 27, 2009.
4. Benny Morris, “Using Bombs to Stave Off War,” The New York Times, July 18, 2008.
5. Isabel Kershner, “Israeli strike on Iran would be ‘stupid,’ ex-spy chief says”, The New York Times, May 8, 2011.
6. Glenn Kessler, “Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?” The Washington Post, October 6, 2011.
7. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
8. Bruce Cumings. Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History. W.W. Norton & Company. 2005.
9. Mark Landler, “Iran policy now more in sync with Clinton’s views,” The New York Times, February 17, 2010.
10. Mazda Majidi, “What lies behind US policy toward Iran?” Liberation, June 12, 2008.
11. Tim Beal. Crisis in Korea: America, China and the Risk of War. Pluto Press.2011. p. 71.
12. Kim Hyun, “US ‘Has No Intention to Build Close Ties with N Korea’: Ex-official,” Yonhap News, September 2, 2009.
13. Steven Mufson, “Conflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains hold”, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011.
14. Thomas Walkom, “What Harper and co. got from the Libyan war”, The Toronto Star, October 21, 2011.
15. David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. reopens its embassy in Libya”, The New York Times, September 22, 2011.
16. Kareem Fahim and Rick Gladstone, “U.S. Senate delegation offers praise and caution to Libya’s new leaders”, The New York Times, September 29, 2011.
17. Scott Shane, “West sees opportunity in postwar Libya for businesses”, The New York Times, October 28, 2011.
18. Erik S. Reinert. How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor. Public Affairs. New York. 2007; Ha-Joon Chang. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Bloomsbury Press. 2008.
19. The Library of Congress. Iran: A Country Study. 2008. p. 143. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/irtoc.html
20. Iran: A Country Study, p. 145.
21. Iran: A Country Study, p. 150.
22. Iran: A Country Study, p. 151.
23. Iran: A Country Study, p. 152.
24. Iran: A Country Study, p. 167.
25. Iran: A Country Study, p. 170.
26. Iran: A Country Study, p. 181.
27. Ilan Pappe. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oneworld Publications. 2006.
28. Albert Szymanski. The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class. Winthrop Publishers. 1978.
29. Paul Krugman, “Here comes the sun,” The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
I recognize that in my views and even use of certain phrases that I have been influenced by Michael Parenti, and that needs to be acknowledged here. Of particular influence is Parenti’s latest book, The Face of Imperialism, Paradigm Publishers, 2011 and his earlier Against Empire, City Light Books, 1995.
By Stephen Gowans
When in 1916 Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin expounded what historian V.G. Kiernan would later call virtually the only serious theory of imperialism, despite its shortcomings (1), Lenin cited Cecil Rhodes as among the “leading British bourgeois politicians (who) fully appreciated the connection between what might be called the purely economic and the political-social roots of modern imperialism.” (2)
Rhodes, founder of the diamond company De Beers and of the eponymous Rhodesia, had made the following remarks, which Lenin quoted at length in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.
I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism … My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced by them in factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists. (3)
Skip ahead 95 years. Here’s US ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz:
We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources, but even in Qaddafi’s time they were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things. If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs. (4)
New York Times’ reporter David D. Kirkpatrick noted that “Libya’s provisional government has already said it is eager to welcome Western businesses (and)…would even give its Western backers some ‘priority’ in access to Libyan business.” (5)
A bread and butter question. Also a profit-making one.
What Ahmadinejad really said at the UN
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the 66th UN General Assembly meeting provided the Iranian president with the usual occasion to make the usual points and the Western media the usual occasion to misrepresent them.
Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon wrote that Ahmadinejad “sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the Holocaust,” (6) reminding readers that Ahmadinejad had once called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, a distortion that will live on in history through its mere retelling. (What the Iranian president really said was that Israel would dissolve as the Soviet Union had.)
I read the transcript of Ahmadinejad’s address, but found no questioning of the Nazi-engineered holocaust.
Here are his remarks on Zionism and the Holocaust.
They view Zionism as a sacred notion and ideology. Any question of its very foundation and history is condemned by them as an unforgivable sin.
Who imposed, through deceits and hypocrisy, the Zionism and over sixty years of war, homelessness, terror and mass murder on the Palestinian people and countries of the region?
If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon the slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?
By using their imperialistic media network which is under the influence of colonialism they threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the September 11 events with sanctions and military action. (7)
It would have been more accurate for Solomon to have written that Ahmadinejad sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the legitimacy of Zionism and the manipulative use of the Nazi-perpetrated holocaust to justify it.
But these themes are unmentionable in the Western corporate media.
It is common practice to capitalize the Nazi-engineered effort to exterminate the Jews as the ‘Holocaust’, as if there had never been any other holocaust—or any at rate, any other worth mentioning. Even the transcript of Ahmadinjad’s address refers to ‘the Holocaust’ rather than ‘a holocaust.’
The Justice Process
It seems that the only argument US president Barack Obama could muster for why Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas shouldn’t seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN is that the ‘peace process’ would be derailed.
Let’s lay aside the obvious difficulty of Barak the Bomber caring about peace, and that the ‘peace process’ has been off the rails for some time. His objection missed the point. Recognition of a Palestinian state isn’t a question of the peace process but of the justice process, and hardly a very satisfying one at that. What justice is there in Palestinians settling for one fifth of their country? Which is what, in any practical sense, UN recognition of the Palestinian territories as a state would amount to.
But it’s better than the status quo and a starting point.
For Zionists, the peace process is a little more appealing, but is the opposite of the justice process. It means getting Palestinians to settle for even less than one-fifth of their country, and to acknowledge the theft of it as legitimate.
An aside: Over 30 countries do not recognize Israel, among them Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran and Syria.
Do those who promote what Keynes called the fallacy of thrift (or fallacy of austerity, to give it a contemporary spin) really believe what they preach: that cutting pensions, laying off public servants, raising taxes on the poor, and closing government programs, is the way to avert a deeper economic crisis for the bulk of us?
Do they even care about the bulk of us?
Or is austerity simply a way of bailing out bankers and bondholders by bleeding the rest of us dry?
British prime minister David Cameron, on a trip to Canada to compare notes with fellow deficit-hawk Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM, remarked that “Highly indebted households and governments simply cannot spend their way out of a debt crisis. The more they spend, the more debts will rise and the fundamental problem will grow.” (8)
This was reported with tacit nods of approval in Canada’s corporate press, as if Cameron’s utterings were incontrovertible, rather than the ravings of an economic illiterate (in the view of economists), or the words of a political con artist (in the view of class struggle literates.)
Highly indebted governments simply cannot cut their way out of an economic crisis. The more they cut, the more aggregate demand weakens and the worse it gets. Greece’s continued slide into economic ruin underscores the point. The United States’ inability to drag itself out of the depths of the Great Depression, until arms orders brought the economy back to life, strikes an historical cautionary note.
But recessions are not without benefits for corporate plutocrats. It’s easier to cut wages, salaries and benefits during downturns, and to enjoy bigger profits as a result. Small competitors can be driven out of business. Unions can be weakened. And governments have an excuse to slash social programs that have pushed the balance of power a little too far in labor’s direction. Indeed, all manner of sacrifices can be extracted from most of us if we’re persuaded that debt is the cause of the problem and that belt-tightening is the physic that will cure it.
My bet is that Cameron and his fellow water carriers for moneyed interests are no dummies — but they’re hoping the rest of us are.
Knowing Who Your Friends Are
Here is the widely reviled (by Western governments) Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly.
After over twenty thousand NATO bombing sorties that targeted Libyan towns, including Tripoli, there is now unbelievable and most disgraceful scramble by some NATO countries for Libyan oil, indicating thereby that the real motive for their aggression against Libya was to control and own its abundant fuel resources. What a shame!
Yesterday, it was Iraq and Bush and Blair were the liars and aggressors as they made unfounded allegations of possessions of weapons of mass destruction. This time it is the NATO countries the liars and aggressors as they make similarly unfounded allegations of destruction of civilian lives by Gaddafi.
We in Africa are also duly concerned about the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which seems to exist only for alleged offenders of the developing world, the majority of them Africans. The leaders of the powerful Western States guilty of international crime, like Bush and Blair, are routinely given the blind eye. Such selective justice has eroded the credibility of the ICC on the African continent.
My country fully supports the right of the gallant people of Palestine to statehood and membership of this U.N. Organisation. The U.N. must become credible by welcoming into its bosom all those whose right to attain sovereign independence and freedom from occupation and colonialism is legitimate. (9)
It’s clear why he’s reviled by imperialists, but also by leftists?
If the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai, favorite of the West, ever becomes president, expect a very different kind of address at future General Assembly meetings.
1. V.G. Kiernan, Marxism and Imperialism, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1974.
2. V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, New York. 1939. p 78.
3. Ibid. p 79.
4. David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. reopens its embassy in Libya”, The New York Times, September 22, 2011.
6. Jay Solomon, “Iran adds Palestine statehood wrinkle”, The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2011.
8. Campbell Clark, “Cameron, Harper preach restraint in teeth of global ‘debt crisis’”, The Globe and Mail, September 22, 2011
By Stephen Gowans
There are many ways in which the press is biased. One way is that it tends to be chauvinist. On foreign affairs, the press of the United States consistently reflects the view of the US State Department, while the Chinese press reflects the perspective of the Chinese state, the Russian press the point of view of the Russian state, and so on. Since the major press in each country is invariably owned by the class that holds state power, this is inevitable.
A national press also reflects the viewpoint of its government’s key foreign allies.
In the US press, for example, Israeli positions tend to dominate coverage of affairs in former mandate Palestine, consistent with Israel’s status as an instrument of US Mideast foreign policy. US news stories tend to be written from the perspective of Israelis, with Palestinian viewpoints largely ignored.
A blatant example of this is provided by a November 15 New York Times story reported by Ethan Bronner (whose son, at least as of earlier this year, was a solider in the Israeli armed forces) and Mark Landler (A 90-Day Bet on Mideast Talks).
Bronner and Landler write that: ”The West Bank, although inhabited by millions of Palestinians, is the heartland of much ancient Jewish history, so for many Israelis, giving it up is a painful prospect…”
What the New York Times reporters neglect to mention is that for millions of Palestinians who live in the West Bank, the prospect of being driven from their homes by the steady expansion of illegal Jewish settlements is surely a good deal more painful. And yet it is the Zionists’ metaphorical pain of failing to consolidate their goal of ethnically cleansing all of mandate Palestine that figures in Bronner’s and Landler’s reporting and not the very real Palestinian pain of being ethnically cleansed.
It’s as if denied conquest of all of Europe, reporters had written that for many Nazis, giving up the dream of Lebensraum was a painful prospect, saying not a word about the devastation wrought by the Nazi’s Lebensraum policy.
The US media accord Arab Palestinians as much importance as the Nazis accorded their Untermenschen, the Slavs. Arab Palestinians—who have consistently been denied the right of self-determination by great powers—have long been treated as Untermensch, whose lives and rights matter not a fig, and whose lives and rights these days are subordinate to the interests of US foreign policy, and inasmuch as US foreign policy depends on a Western imperialist presence in the Middle East, are in turn subordinate to the interests of Zionist Jews. Accordingly, in the US newspaper of record, the metaphorical pain of Israeli religious fanatics matters; the real-life pain of Palestinians merits not even a passing mention.
By Stephen Gowans
Israel has been called an apartheid state. Now its links to the original apartheid state have been brought to light. In a new book, The Unspoken Alliance, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs, the principal journal of the US foreign policy establishment, cites declassified South African documents that reveal that Israel forged a secret military alliance with South Africa in the 1970s, and offered to sell the apartheid state nuclear weapons. (1)
From its founding in 1948 until the mid 1970s, Israel was critical of South Africa’s apartheid, and sought allies among the newly independent black African states. But for many African countries, Israel was the replication in Palestine of the same European colonial settler model they had struggled to break free from. They weren’t going to become allies of a colonial power.
South Africa, a white racist state, proved to be more amenable to Israel’s offers of alliance, seeing in the Zionist state a kindred country of European settlers “situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark people.”
The cementing of the alliance was helped along by an existing relationship: South Africa was already shipping yellow cake to Israel. Now, safeguards against nuclear proliferation were lifted, allowing the Israelis to divert the yellow cake to their nuclear weapons program.
The strength of the new relationship was signalled by the 1976 visit to Jerusalem of South Africa’s prime minister, John Vorster. Accompanied by Yitzhak Rabin and then defense minister (now president) Shimon Peres, Vorster visited the Holocaust memorial, a grotesque spectacle considering the South African prime minister was a Hitler-admirer who had been jailed during the war for supporting the Nazis and belonging to the fascist Ossewabrandwag.
In 1975, South Africa’s defense minister, P.W. Botha met with Peres to buy Israeli nuclear warheads. While the deal fell through – the South Africans thought the asking price too high – the two men signed an agreement to establish a secret military alliance. Israel also arranged to send Pretoria 30 grams of tritium, which South Africa later used to build a number of atomic bombs.
Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, told the British newspaper The Guardian that South Africa used its mineral wealth (based on the exploitation of oppressed black miners) to fund joint military projects while the Israelis provided the technical know-how. South Africa would soon become Israel’s largest arms customer. According to Liel, “After 1976, there was a love affair between the security establishments of the two countries and their armies. We were involved in Angola as consultants to the [South African] army. You had Israeli officers there cooperating with the army. The link was very intimate.”
Israel regarded the relationship as based on more than just convenience, but on a common position as colonial oppressor, under pressure from national liberation movements. The two countries shared “unshakeable foundations of…common hatred of injustice and…refusal to submit to it,” wrote Peres to South Africa’s information minister, Eschel Rhoodie. The “injustice” each refused to submit to was ending apartheid (South Africa) and reversing the Nakbah (Israel), in both cases the subordination of indigenous people to the interests of settlers from Europe. Rafael Eitan, Israel’s then military chief of staff and Ariel Sharon, a future prime minister, sympathized with the “plight” of the South Africa’s apartheid regime, presumably seeing in it a reflection of the difficulties faced by Israel in enforcing its own racist regime.
By the late 1980s, the apartheid regime in Pretoria was bleeding support, and it was no longer tenable to back South Africa. Israel decided that it would “have to switch from white to black.” The security estblishment balked, pointing out that South Africa, as Israel’s chief arms customer, had “saved Israel,” a conclusion Liel says is “probably true.”
Chris McGreal, a reporter at The Guardian who has written a series of articles on the revelations in Polakow-Suranky’s book, points out that the fact that Israel was willing to act as a nuclear proliferator “undermines Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a ‘responsible’ power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.”
But how responsible was France? It probably played a role in Israel’s development of nuclear weapons, transferring technology to Israel in return for its role in the attempted 1956 British-French take-over of Egypt (the Suez Canal crisis.) (2) How responsible, for that matter, is the United States, which dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII, despite the reality that a Japanese surrender was imminent, and, even if it weren’t, could have been obtained easily without the use of atomic bombs? (3) What’s more, the United States continues to threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states (4) – hardly the acts of a responsible nuclear power, and nothing less than nuclear terrorism.
Polakow-Suransky’s book, and McGreal’s reporting, reveal that Israel entered into a military alliance with an overtly racist regime – and aided South Africa in its attempt to smash Angola’s national liberation movement — the foundations of the alliance all the stronger for being based on shared problems related to the maintenance of oppressive rule over dispossessed indigenous majorities.
1. The bulk of this article is based on Chris McGreal’s articles for The Guardian: “Israel and apartheid: a marriage of convenience and military might” May 23, 2010; “Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons”, May 24, 2010.
2. See Richard Becker, “A turning point in the Middle East balance of forces”, PSLWeb.org, November 1, 2006.
3. See Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War: America in the Second World War, James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Toronto, 2002, p 172-173
4. Stephen Gowans, “Nuclear Posture Review 2010“, what’s left, April 10, 2010.
By Stephen Gowans
Western press accounts of the existence of an unfinished Iranian nuclear fuel plant near Qum have subtly changed, drawing closer to a view more compatible with Washington’s aim of marshalling support for stepped up sanctions against Iran.
While early press reports acknowledged that Iran had on Monday, September 22 notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of the plant’s existence  (that is, days before the Obama administration drew attention to it) stories in major dailies now omit any mention of the Iranian notification. Instead, the reporting on the issue now creates the impression that the existence of the facility was unknown outside of Iran until US officials revealed it on Friday, September 26. For example, New York Times reporters David E. Sanger and William J. Broad write of “the revelation Friday of the secret facility at a military base near the holy city of Qum.”  The facility could hardly be secret, since it existence had been revealed by Iran itself five days earlier.
U.S. media have also omitted any mention of a secret nuclear weapons plant in another West Asian country, Israel.
Israel’s secret nuclear weapons plant, long in existence, is located in the Negev desert near Dimona.  I.A.E.A inspectors have never visited it and never will unless Israel becomes a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a treaty Iran has voluntarily submitted to. (While the United States is a nominal signatory, it acts as if it’s not bound by the treaty’s provisions, and therefore is effectively no more a member than Israel is.)
Neither are Israel and the United States members of the International Criminal Court (sharing non-membership with Russia and China.) I.C.C. non-membership, however, doesn’t mean the court can’t pursue prosecutions in connection with non-member states. It can, if ordered to by the U.N. Security Council (i.e., by the United States, Russia and China, the same countries that won’t join the court themselves.) The Security Council ordered the I.C.C. to investigate crimes committed in connection with fighting in Darfur. That’s why the president of Sudan is wanted by the I.C.C., even though Sudan isn’t a member of the court. Washington’s de jure and de facto power to veto the Security Council (the overwhelming strength of the U.S. military pretty much allows the United States to operate by its own rules) are ultimately the reasons why the former president of the United States, George W. Bush, isn’t wanted by the court and not because Bush is free of the taint of massive war crimes. It only matters that you commit crimes if you aren’t the United States or don’t have its backing. And even then not having Washington’s backing is frequently all that matters. After all, Iraq was attacked, invaded, and occupied even though it wasn’t concealing the banned weapons Washington said it was failing to come clean on.
When the U.N. Human Rights Commission’s fact-finding mission on war crimes committed in Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009 said Israel should carry out serious, independent investigations, and if it didn’t, the Security Council should refer the matter to the I.C.C.,  Israel immediately rejected the demand. Not widely reported was that the United States said there was no chance it would allow the Security Council to refer the matter to the I.C.C., arguing the U.N. report was “unbalanced.” U.S. officials noted that 85 percent of the commission’s report detailed Israeli war crimes, and only 15 percent those committed by Hamas.  But the “imbalance” reflected the imbalance in the struggle, with Israel using its formidable war machine to cause considerable civilian death, injury and destruction, while Hamas fired crude, home-made rockets whose effect was hardly registered. If the report was mostly about Israeli war crimes, it was because Israel committed most the war crimes.
Owing to the protection it receives from Washington, Israel won’t be answering to the I.C.C., and nor will it be sanctioned for failing to sign up to the non-proliferation treaty or for having a secret nuclear weapons program. These penalties are solely reserved for countries that are resisting U.S. domination, not facilitating its extension, the role Israel plays as U.S. attack dog in West Asia and northern Africa.
Israel already has an attack on another country’s nuclear facilities under its belt (the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor.) Over the last year it has issued a series of military threats against Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities. That is, a nuclear weapons state has repeatedly threatened a non-nuclear weapons state. And yet Iran not Israel is presented in the Western media as dangerous and aggressive.
Israel has always relied on the deception that it is under existential threat to justify its numerous aggressions, when always it has had at its command military force in excess of that its opponents can marshal. This is true even going back to its founding in 1948, when it faced off against ragtag Arab volunteers, and then a disorganized agglomeration of Arab armies, while claiming it was defending itself against a second holocaust.
While it’s true that the government of Iran is hostile to the Zionist occupation of Palestine, Iran poses no serious military threat to Israel, and wouldn’t, even if it were capable of quickly producing nuclear weapons. The best it could do is present a threat of self-defense. It would take years for Iran to match Israel’s current nuclear arsenal, and in the intervening period, Israel could vastly expand its own. Plus, Israel, already possessing a formidable military – it receives $3 billion in U.S. military aid every year — is backed by history’s most formidable military power, the United States. Iran, even with the rudimentary arsenal of nuclear weapons it may have the capability (though perhaps never the intention) of producing at some point, is no match for Israel – and this its leaders know well. The country, remarked Uzi Rubin, a private defense consultant who ran Israel’s missile shield program in the 1990s, “is radical, but radical does not mean irrational. They want to change the world, not commit suicide.” 
1. David E. Sanger, “U.S. to accuse Iran of having secret nuclear fuel facility,” The New York Times, September 26, 2009.
2. See for example David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, “U.S. to demand inspection of new Iran plan ‘within weeks’”, The New York Times, September 27, 2009.
4. Neil MacFarquhar, “Inquiry finds Gaza war crimes from both sides,” The New York Times, September 16, 2009.
5. Colum Lynch, “U.S. faces doubts about leadership on human rights,” The Washington Post, September 22, 2009.
6. Howard Schneider, “Israel finds strength in its missile defenses,” The Washington Post, September 19, 2009.