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The NED, Tibet, north Korea and Zimbabwe

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By Stephen Gowans

Vin Weber, a former chairman and current board member of the US National Endowment for Democracy, has written an article in The Washington Times defending the NED against calls to eliminate its funding. [1]

The NED was established by the Reagan administration after the CIA’s role in covertly funding efforts to overthrow foreign governments was brought to light, leading to the discrediting of the parties, movements, journals, books, newspapers and individuals that received CIA funding. This undermined the efficacy of these agents as tools of US foreign policy.

As a bipartisan endowment, with participation from the two major parties, as well as the AFL-CIO and US Chamber of Commerce, the NED took over the financing of foreign overthrow movements, but overtly and under the rubric of “democracy promotion.”

As the NED’s president Carl Gershman explained,

“It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the C.I.A. We saw that in the 60’s, and that’s why it has been discontinued. We have not had the capability of doing this, and that’s why the endowment was created.” [2]

Thus, the NED was founded, as New York Times reporter John Broder explained in 1997, “to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades.” [3]

As part of the NED-program of regime change, governments the US foreign policy establishment targets for overthrow are demonized as anti-democratic while the recipients of NED largesse are angelized as pro-democratic. What links targeted governments is not their electoral democratic practices – which can range from absent to present — but their economic policies, which tend to be restrictive of foreign investment, imports, and property rights. What links the recipients of NED grants is not their attitude to electoral democracy, but their embrace of US policy.

Tibet

The NED’s angelization of the Dalai Lama is a case in point. The Dalai Lama is hardly a democrat, yet he has received Washington’s lucre for decades, including from the CIA and later the NED. Tibet’s “spiritual leader”, as he has been anointed in the West, presided over a backward theocratic feudal society, before fleeing to India after a botched uprising against the Chinese government, which had supported the dismantling of Tibetan feudalism. As Michael Parenti explains,

“Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas…The Dalai Lama himself ‘lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.’

“There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land–or the monastery’s land–without pay, to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand. Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location.

“As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.” [4]

The NED calls the former feudal overlord, the Dalai Lama, seen here with George W. Bush, “a devoted democrat.” The slaves and serfs of the old Tibet might disagree.

The old Tibet, then, was hardly a society of peace and tranquility ruled over by a benign ruler. It was a class society torn by conflict and predicated on brutal, naked, exploitation. Despite this, a February 16, 2010 NED press release describes the former Tibetan feudal overlord “not only as a moral and religious leader respected throughout the world but as a fellow democrat who shares America’s deepest values.” [5]

In the same press release, the NED urged the Obama administration “to express America’s strong support for him” (a “devoted democrat”) “and what he represents – genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people.” [6] But why should the NED urge the US administration to express support for autonomy in Tibet, when Washington has never supported autonomy for the Basques, Corsicans, the Kurds in Turkey, the Scots and Irish nationalists, or the South Ossetians?

“The answer is obvious: the United States does not support separatist movements in countries they consider their allies. The targets are either countries they consider rivals, like Russia or China, or countries that are too weak to resist, and where they can obtain totally dependent client states from the breakup – which is what happened with Yugoslavia.” [7]

Weber’s defense of the NED comes in response to a call from Shika Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation, urging the Obama administration to cut funding to the NED on grounds the organization has outlived its original mandate, overthrowing communism.

In a Washington Times article, Dalmia wrote that the NED,

“…was founded by President Reagan in the heyday of the Cold War to contain communism. Communism has since evaporated, and democracy has spread like wildfire in the former Soviet Union, Still, President Obama proposes to hand the NED $109 million this year. This despite the fact that NED has been dogged by controversy, the least of which being that it once spent $1.5 million to defend democracy in the Soviet bastion called France. Worse, although NED gets all its funding from the government, it is structured like a private entity over whose board – an improbable hybrid of representatives of business, unions, and other concerns—Congress has little control. The upshot is that sitting presidents have used it to do things abroad that Congress wouldn’t approve. In the mid-1980s, for instance, it directed funding to the political opponents of the then-president of Costa Rica—long a beacon of democracy—simply because he opposed Reagan’s Nicaragua policy.” [8]

Predictably, Weber rejects Dalmia’s arguments. “Take the example of her contention that communism has ‘evaporated’,” he counters, “and tell that to the defectors who have risked everything to escape the hell on earth that is nuclear-armed North Korea.” [9]

Hell on earth? Is this like the hell on earth that is a ghetto in the hyper-nuclear-armed United States, or the hell on earth that is the Gaza blockaded by a nuclear-armed Israel backed by the hyper-nuclear-armed Pentagon?

North Korea

As a member of the US foreign policy establishment, Weber ought to be careful about talking of hell on earth, for Washington is among the principal authors of unnecessary torment in this world. Iraq, site of the greatest contemporary humanitarian catastrophe, is a hell on earth, and it was created by the United States, for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with what Washington said motivated the country’s Iraq sanctions policy and invasion. What did US B52 bombers create in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia if not hell on earth? And what condition prevailed after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and the fire-bombing of Dresden?

Hell on earth in north Korea didn’t begin with the US demolishing every building over one-story, but it did nothing to relieve it. The torment didn’t end either when Washington practiced nuclear terrorism by deploying battlefield nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula or when in 1993 it announced it was targeting strategic nuclear missiles on north Korea, a country which, at the time, had no nuclear weapons.

The NED’s role in overthrowing communism played its own part in creating hell on earth in north Korea by bringing about the collapse of the country’s markets. Decades-long sanctions have also made life tougher, precisely as intended by US policy makers. And unremitting military pressure from the United States, a military behemoth, has forced north Korea, a military pipsqueak, to channel a punishingly high percentage of its meagre resources into self-defense, depriving the country of the capital it needs for productive investment. If there is a hell on earth in north Korea, it exists because the United States has created one, deliberately, systematically, and with the intention of crushing a top-to-bottom alternative to Third World dependency on the United States.

Jestina Mukoko

Meanwhile, the NED has celebrated Jestina Mukoko, a Zimbabwean who was arrested in December 2008 by Zimbabwe state security agents, who Mukuko claims tortured her.

Mukoko is variously connected in leadership roles with organizations funded by the NED and United State Agency for International Development (USAID.) She is, for example, “the executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a grantee of the” NED [10], as well as a member of the board of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an organization interlocked with a number of other Western-funded anti-Mugabe groups, and which receives its funding from the NED and USAID.

Jestina Mukoko, center, feted in Washington for her role as a US government-funded regime change agent. Honored by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama for services to the empire.

To understand why Mukoko was arrested, it helps to place her activities in the context of the Mugabe government’s efforts to carry through land reform, the West’s opposition to the expropriation of white settler farmland, and the efforts of the United States to enforce respect for private property rights through a campaign of regime change in which Mukoko plays a role.

The following points, therefore, are salient:

1. The United States is openly working to exclude Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF party (which champions land reform and economic indigenization) from government, and to replace it with the Movement for Democratic Change (which advocates policies that would inevitably strengthen foreign domination of Zimbabwe’s land, labor and natural resources.)
2. The US-sponsored regime change campaign operates through the NED and USAID-financing of domestic activists, like Mukoko.
3. While the ostensible objective of NED and USAID-sponsored activities in Zimbabwe is the promotion of democracy and human rights, the real aim is the installation of a government committed to facilitating the pursuit of US and Western interests, including allowing the sale of agricultural land to foreign investors. That the United States and its foundations have the slightest concern for promoting democracy and human rights is belied by the US practices of detaining people without charge in secret prisons, the scandals of Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo, the furnishing of aid and support to such notorious autocracies as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and the backing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza to punish Gazans for exercising their democratic rights in electing Hamas. The NED does, however, care deeply about the interests of US corporations, banks and investors which, after all, play the dominant role in shaping US policy and whose representatives staff the key positions of the US state.

In other words, Mukoko is deeply connected to a US state which is openly hostile to Zimbabwe and its land reform and economic indigenization programs, and seeks to oust the Zanu-PF element of the current government. Is it any wonder she has drawn the attention of the Zimbabwe’s security services?

This mercenary on behalf of US interests recently travelled to Washington where she was feted by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US First Lady Michelle Obama, an act not too much different from Petain traveling to Berlin to be showered with honors by Ribbentrop and Eva Braun. What would the US security state do to a US-based jihadist who took money from a foundation financed by the Iranian government to promote the rise of an Islamic Republic in the United States and who would later travel to Tehran to be personally presented with official honors by Mabouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister?

At the ceremony honouring Mukoko’s services to the empire, Michelle Obama expressed shock that Mukoko “was interrogated (by Zimbabwe security agents) for hours while forced to kneel on gravel…” [11] This was precious, coming from the wife of a president whose country has spent the last decade kidnapping militants who oppose their southwest Asian countries being dominated by the United States and its corrupt puppet regimes and then subjecting them to stress positions, water-boarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques, when they’re not being shipped off to allied countries to face more unrestrained forms of torture, or are simply being assassinated. Belaboring the Eva Braun analogy, Obama’s shock was like Hitler’s partner complaining about the Soviets exchanging territory with Finland by force, long after the Nazis had gone on their rampage through Europe.

In his book Age of Empire, historian Eric Hobsbawm observed that,

“The age of democracy turned into an era of public political hypocrisy, or rather duplicity, where those who held power only said what they really meant in the obscurity of the corridors of power. Thus was born an enormous gap between public discourse and political reality”…

…a disparity all too evident in the NED’s public pronouncements.

[1] Vin Weber, “Vin Weber: Defending the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 11, 2010.

[2] David K. Shipler, “Missionaries for Democracy: U.S. Aid for Global Pluralism,” The New York Times, June 1, 1986.

[3] John M. Broder, “Political Meddling by Outsiders: Not New for U.S.,” The New York Times, April 1, 1997.

[4] Michael Parenti, “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,” Michael Parenti Political Archive, http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html

[5] National Endowment for Democracy, “How to welcome the Dalai Lama to Washington,” February 16, 2010.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Diana Johnstone, “Breaking Yugoslavia,” New Left Project, March 3, 2010, http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/breaking_yugoslavia/

[8] Shikha Dalmia, “Busting the well-endowed,” The Washington Times, March 4, 2010.

[9] Weber.

[10] Michael Allen, “Activist demands accountability and end to impunity in Zimbabwe,” Democracy Digest, March 12, 2010.

11. Ibid.

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March 22, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Peaceniks for imperialism

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

By Stephen Gowans

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

The Ackerman-Helvey-Sharp destabilization school

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

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

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

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

Promoting capitalist democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legitimizing imperialist intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Sovereignty

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

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

Sharp: Why not?

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

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

Intervention

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Overthrow Inc.: Peter Ackerman’s quest to do what the CIA used to do, and make it seem progressive

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“When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.”  [1a]

“Gene Sharp [is] the author of a series of books on nonviolent conflict who is generally credited with being the first person to study rigorously the techniques of mass civil disobedience and place them in the context of traditional military strategy.” [1b]

Interviewer: (Some people say) a government cannot fund or sponsor the overthrow of another government!

Gene Sharp: Why not?…What do they prefer that the U.S. spend money on? [1c]

By Stephen Gowans

Peter Ackerman, an immensely wealthy investor and board member of the premier U.S. foreign policy think-tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, [2] and Robert Helvey, a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Army [3] who served two tours of duty in Vietnam [4], are the principal proponents of a nonviolent alternative to military intervention in the pursuit of U.S. foreign policy goals. Students of Gene Sharp, who developed a theory of how to destabilize governments through nonviolent means, Ackerman and Helvey have been at the head of a kind of Imperialist International, training “a modern type of mercenary,” who travel “the world, often in the pay of the U.S. government or NGOs, in order to train local groups” [5] in regime change. Ackerman and Helvey’s new type of mercenary are practioners of what the CIA used to call destabilization. To escape the taint of its CIA past, destabilization has been rebranded as nonviolent resistance (NVR), shrewdly drawing upon the reputation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent struggles for black civil rights in the 1960s. But where King sought to bring about change within the system, and in the United States, NVR is strictly a foreign affair, seeking to overturn governments abroad that operate outside the system of U.S. imperial domination. NVR is not about pursuing social, economic and political justice at home. It’s about taking power overseas, in order to bring resistant countries into the U.S. imperial fold. To make itself appear to be squeaky clean, NVR explicitly rejects overt CIA and U.S. military sponsorship. As Helvey explains, “The easiest way to destroy a movement is for the CIA to taint it.” [6] That, however, doesn’t make NVR any different in its aims and content from the destabilization campaigns the CIA used to plan, sponsor and implement. Indeed, Ackerman and Helvey have simply taken over a CIA function, made it semi-overt, and created the illusion that it’s progressive.

What is it?

Ackerman defines NVR as “the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience” [7] in addition to mass protests [8] and even nonviolent sabotage, to disrupt the functioning of government [9] and make “a country ungovernable.”[10] Since strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience are traditional leftist techniques, NVR campaigns often garner the support of a large number of left-leaning people. But NVR isn’t holding a demonstration, listening to speakers, and then heading home for supper. Neither is it pressuring elites — what most Western leftists set as the limit of their political activism. It isn’t pacifism based on moral or religious principle, either. Former Harvard researcher Sharp, explains that NVR and principled nonviolence are not the same. Principled nonviolence is “abstention from violence based on ethical or religious beliefs.” NVR is a political technique for overthrowing foreign governments. [11] “It’s not about making a point, it’s about taking power.” [12]

Since the aim of NVR is to take political power abroad, NVR can be characterized as a form of Western warfare, employing nonviolent armies behind enemy lines. In fact, it was Sharp’s analysis of how regime change could be accomplished effectively that drew Helvey, the U.S. Army veteran, to the Clausewitz of nonviolence, as Sharp is known, after the Prussian military strategist, Carl von Clausewitz. [13]

Helvey had been the military attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, where he witnessed armed opposition groups repeatedly fail in their attempts to overthrow the Myanmar government. [14] The trouble was that rebel groups were going up against a regular army that could exercise overwhelming force. Sharp’s analysis suggested an alternative. Drawing on social science literature on power, Sharp pointed out that governments have two sources of power: their ability to exact obedience coercively through their control of armies, police, courts and prisons; and their moral authority. Since a government can use overwhelming force to defeat most internal armed challenges, the key to taking power is to undermine the reason most people obey: because they believe their government is legitimate and has a right to rule. In Sharp’s view, most people obey, not because they’re compelled to, but because they want to. If a government’s legitimacy is undermined, people will no longer want to obey. That’s when they can be mobilized to participate in strikes, boycotts, acts of civil disobedience, even sabotage – anything that makes the country ungovernable. “Removing the authority of the ruler,” according to NVR advocates, “is the most important element in nonviolent struggle.” [15]

NVR holds that destabilization works best when the target government is not “supported by an entrenched party system that can claim a higher ideological purpose.” [16] This may explain why destabilizers have attacked the ideological basis of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF leadership, suggesting that the party’s leader and Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, maintains a “hold on power (that) is…reliant on personal loyalties and their reinforcement by material rewards and mortal penalties,” not commitment to national independence. [17] In regime change discourse, Mugabe is said to have cronies, who he rewards with confiscated farms, to hold on to power. That Mugabe and his principals could be genuinely committed to investing Zimbabwe’s nominal post-colonial independence with real content, is dismissed by NVR promoters as out of the question. The same cynical arguments are used to challenge the moral authority of Cuba’s government. The Castros are accused of being motivated by an unquenchable thirst for power, not an ideological commitment to socialism and national independence. For destabilizers, breeding a cynical view of the leaders of countries in their cross-hairs is a necessary part of undermining their targets’ legitimacy.

To buttress their efforts to undermine the moral authority of target governments, the destabilizers depend critically on the frequent use of the words “dictatorial” (to denote the governments they seek to bring down) and “democratic” (to denote the target government’s opponents.) It doesn’t matter whether the target governments are truly dictatorial or whether their opponents are truly democratic. What matters is that these things are believed to be true. Getting people to believe target governments are dictatorial is done by repeating the charge incessantly, until the idea takes on the status of common knowledge, so widely accepted that proof is unnecessary.

But what if the “dictator” has been elected, as is often the case in destabilization efforts? The destabilizers’ solution is to claim the elected leader came to power illegitimately, by means of electoral fraud. For example, while widely denounced in the West as fraudulent, the recent re-election of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appears not to have been fraudulent at all. No compelling evidence of vote rigging was ever presented, and the only rigorous public opinion poll done in the weeks leading up to the election — sponsored by the Ahmadinejad-hating International Republican Institute — predicted the Iranian president would be re-elected by a handsome margin. Indeed, the poll foresaw Ahmadinejad winning by a greater margin that he actually did win. [18] Still, Western media and their governments’ propaganda apparatuses — Voice of America, Radio Free Liberty and the misnamed “independent” media that serve as fronts for the Western governments that finance them – repeated the opposition charge of electoral fraud over and over. Soon, the mass media and state propaganda apparatuses were singing out as one: the election was rigged.

In Zimbabwe, which for a number of years has been a target of the destabilizers, elections are routinely denounced as fraudulent, even before they’re held. This was true too of Zimbabwe’s last elections, which saw the opposition parties win more seats than the governing party, and the main opposition leader beat the sitting president in the first round of the presidential vote. While this is powerful evidence the elections weren’t rigged, the destabilizers continue to insist the presidential vote was illegitimate. This is so because the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out at the 11th hour. Tsvangirai’s decision appears to have come straight from the destabilizers’ playbook. Had he stayed in the race, he might have lost, and relinquished any possibility of challenging Mugabe’s rule as illegitimate. (He couldn’t credibly say the vote was rigged because he had won the first round.) By dropping out, and blaming his decision on violence perpetrated by Mugabe’s supporters, Tsvangirai could challenge Mugabe’s moral authority to rule. After all, he could say that in the only contested election, he had won.

Likewise, an important part of the destabilizers’ efforts to overthrow Slobodan Milosevic was to declare well before the first vote was cast in the 2000 presidential election that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Milosevic would win, illegitimately. In fact, Milosevic came second to the main opposition leader, who failed to win more than 50 percent of the vote. With no candidate commanding a clear majority, a run-off election was scheduled. The runoff never happened. Instead, Milosevic was overthrown with the help of forces trained by Helvey [19]…in the name of democracy.

To complement the branding of target governments as dictatorial, opposition forces are branded as democratic. It is no accident that the main opposition party in Serbia, formed under the guidance of U.S. advisers [20], was called the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or that the main opposition party in Zimbabwe is called the Movement for Democratic Change, or that the main opposition party in Myanmar, Helvey’s pet project, is called the National League of Democracy. Western media reinforce this branding by frequently referring to opposition parties in countries undergoing destabilization as “the democratic opposition,” implying the governments they oppose are dictatorial. This invests the opposition, and its struggle to replace the government, with apparent legitimacy, while undermining the legitimacy of the government under attack. Likewise, the modern nonviolent mercenaries who travel the globe in the pay of the U.S. government and NGOs, are celebrated as “pro-democracy” activists, as are the armies of (typically) youth activists they train. Even some left scholars, out of ignorance or collaboration, refer to these groups as an “independent” democratic left, presumably because they use techniques traditionally associated with the left, though hardly with the same aims.

After absorbing Sharp’s teachings, Helvey became deeply involved in helping the National Council Union of Burma try to destabilize the Myanmar government, not by challenging it militarily, but by undermining its moral authority to govern. He took a detour along the way, to train Serb youth groups on how to destabilize the government of Slobodan Milosevic [21], an event Ackerman would celebrate in a documentary titled (with predictable NVR language distortion) “Bringing Down a Dictator.” With the socialist-leaning Milosevic safely out of the way, and Serbia opening its door to takeover by U.S. investors, Helvey jumped back into organizing the destabilization of Myanmar.

Over a number of years, Helvey’s mercenaries,

“trained an estimated 3,000 fellow Burmese from all walks of life – including several hundred Buddhist monks – in philosophies and strategies of non-violent resistance and community organizing. These workshops, held in border areas and drawing people from all over Burma, were seen as ‘training the trainers’ who would go home and share these ideas with others yearning for change.” [22]

“That preparation – along with material support such as mobile phones – helped lay the groundwork for dissident Buddhist monks in September (2007) to call for a religious boycott of the junta, precipitating the biggest anti-government protests in two decades. For 10 dramatic days, monks and lay citizens…poured into the streets in numbers that peaked at around 100,000 before the regime crushed the demonstrations…” [23]

The U.S. Navy would dearly love to lay its hands on Myanmar. The country lies strategically along the Strait of Malacca, a major shipping-lane linking China to the oil of Western Asia and Africa. Control of Myanmar would allow the U.S. Navy to choke off one of China’s major oil supply routes, bringing the behemoth to its knees, if ever Washington felt the need. The Myanmar government, however, has aligned itself with China, and is not ready to allow the Pentagon to use its ports as naval bases. What’s more, the country has a largely state-owned economy, closed to U.S. corporations, banks and investors. Washington would like to bring Myanmar under its control, and Helvey and Ackerman’s destabilization techniques offer the best chance of doing so.

“Burmese opposition activists acknowledge receiving technical and financial help for their cause.” The help came “from the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros’s Open Society Institute and several European countries. […] International donors and activists figure Burmese opposition groups received $8m-$10m in 2006 and again in 2007 from American and European funders… […] In 2006 and 2007, the (U.S.) congressionally funded NED…spent around $3.7M a year on its Burmese program…These funds were used to support opposition media, including the Democratic Voice of Burma, a radio station and satellite television channel to bolster dissidents’ information technology skills and to help exiles’ training of Buddhist monks and other dissident techniques of peaceful political resistance.” [24]

From 1992 to 1998, Helvey taught eight, six-week courses to more than 500 members of the National Council Union of Burma, on how to apply Sharp’s techniques to overthrow the Myanmar government [25]. More recently “some 600 Burmese have gone through both introductory and advanced courses” in destabilization taught by the Albert Einstein Institution [26]. Sharp is the organization’s scholar in residence.

Antiviolence, not antiwar

Antiwar activists will find no ideological soul mates in Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp, who are conditionally against the use of violence, not out of moral principle, but because they believe violence is often an ineffective method of achieving what political violence is normally intended to achieve: the seizure of power. As New Republic writer Franklin Foer points out, “Ackerman’s affection for nonviolence has nothing to do with the tactic’s moral superiority. Movements that make a strategic decision to eschew violence, he argues, have a far better record of” success. [27]

The destabilizers represent a faction within the U.S. ruling class that pushes for a nonmilitary means of achieving a goal all ruling class factions agree on: regime change in countries that resist integration into the U.S. imperial orbit. Ackerman, for example, argues that “It is not true that the only way to ‘take out’ (axis of evil regimes) is through U.S. military action.” [28] He opposes the faction led by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, which favors a robustly militaristic imperialism, based on the overwhelming use of force. In the lead-up to the 2003 U.S. and British invasion of Iraq, Ackerman and DuVall wrote an article in Sojourner’s Magazine arguing that “anyone who opposes U.S. military action to dethrone (Saddam Hussein) has a responsibility to suggest how he might otherwise be ushered out the backdoor of Baghdad.” (Notice Ackerman and DuVall implicitly removed the option of leaving Saddam Hussein’s fate to Iraqis, to decide for themselves, without outside interference.) The answer, they contended, was to “use a panoply of forceful sanctions – strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience, disrupting the functions of government, even nonviolent sabotage…” [29]

Ackerman’s mentor, Sharp, expresses similar views. Asked what he thought of mass demonstrations in the United States against the war on Iraq, Sharp replied,

“I don’t think you can get rid of violence by protesting against it. I think you get rid of violence only if people see that you have a different way of acting, a different way of struggle. […] Part of my analysis is that if you don’t like violence, you have to develop a substitute. Then people have a choice. If they don’t see a choice, then violence is all that they really have. […] The thing that is most shocking is that the Bush Administration acted on the basis of the belief – dogma, ‘religion’ – in the omnipotence of violence. […] The assumption is an invading country can come in, remove its official leader, arrest some of the other people, and well, then, the dictatorship is gone.” [30]

In other words, Sharp’s contribution to the peace movement is showing the U.S. ruling class it can achieve its imperialist goals by nonmilitary means. Sharp and his disciples Ackerman and Helvey aren’t progressives at all. Nor are they advocates of the moral superiority of nonviolence. They’re imperialists who believe violence isn’t always the best policy in achieving imperial goals. The antiwar activists who have been misled by this trio, and by their publicist within the progressive community, Stephen Zunes, should be clear that NVR is a military technique yoked to political goals that serve the ruling class interests of the United States. It is not a moral position. It is a form of warfare with imperial political content. Helvey calls it “nonviolent war.” [31]

“It’s a form of warfare. And you’ve got to think of it in terms of a war. […] What is it that I want to accomplish? And how do I want to accomplish it? […] One option, of course, is an armed struggle. Another option is…a nonviolent struggle. And in some cases the ballot box is the way to bring about change. […] You’ve got to make a decision which is a strategic decision. And if you decide to accept nonviolent struggle, the same principles of war (apply.)” [32]

War can be waged in many ways: economically, through sanctions, blockade and financial isolation; militarily, through the use or threat of violence; electronically, through cyber attacks to freeze an enemy’s bank accounts and cripple its government and communication systems; and through other methods of destabilization, to make an enemy society ungovernable. It’s wrong to believe that war is limited to violence and that violence is always the most injurious form of warfare. Other forms can be just as devastating. For example, sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s were estimated to have led to the deaths through malnutrition and disease of well over one million people, an outcome Madeleine Albright, who sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations with Ackerman, said was worth it. [33] Political scientists John and Karl Mueller pointed out that more people have died from sanctions (an element of NVR, as we’ll see in a moment) than from weapons of mass destruction. [34] For these reasons, antiwar activists should ask: What am I against: Violence — or warfare (both violent and nonviolent) to achieve imperialist goals?

Outside assistance

In his earlier writings Ackerman was open about Western support for destabilization campaigns. But in more recent articles he has become circumspect, calling destabilization movements home-grown and arguing that “external aid can help, but it’s neither necessary nor sufficient.” [35] He was not so modest about the role played by the West when he boasted in a 2002 National Catholic Reporter article about Serb students bringing Milosevic down without a shot being fired. In that article he wrote about how “massive civilian opposition can be roused with the shrewd use of strikes, boycotts, civil disobedience and other forms of nonviolent resistance – all of which can be quietly assisted, even funded from abroad, as happened in Serbia.” [36] The reference to outside assistance being delivered quietly shows he’s aware that were it widely known that so-called “people power” movements are aided from abroad, their moral authority (and alleged home-grown character) would be called into question. That explains why “An iron rule for (the Milosevic opposition) was never to talk about Western financial or logistical support,” [37] and why, with the massive involvement of Western governments in “people power” movements having since become a matter of public record, Ackerman denies that outside aid is necessary. But only the incorrigibly gullible would believe Western governments and corporate foundations spend countless millions funding destabilization movements unnecessarily.

U.S. involvement in the hardly spontaneously erupting drive to dump Milosevic was massive. As the Washington Post’s Michael Dobbs reported,

“U.S.-funded consultants played a crucial role behind the scenes in virtually every facet of the anti-Milosevic drive, running tracking polls, training thousands of opposition activists and helping to organize a vitally important parallel vote count. U.S. taxpayers paid for 5,000 cans of spray paint used by student activists to scrawl anti-Milosevic graffiti on walls across Serbia, and 2.5 million stickers with the slogan “He’s Finished,” which became the revolution’s catchphrase.” [38]

Helvey was at the center. [39] “Behind the seeming spontaneity of the street uprising that forced Milosevic” from power “was a carefully researched strategy put together by (anti-Milosevic forces on the ground) with the active assistance of Western advisers and pollsters.” [40] The U.S. government “employed every element of Sharp’s nonviolent strategy for destroying” a foreign government. To assist, “sanctions were applied in a … targeted fashion. For example, they were not applied to municipalities that voted to support opposition politicians.” [41]

Washington spent $41 million to oust Milosevic, $10 million in 1999 and $31 million in 2000. “The lead role was taken by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development…which channeled the funds through commercial contractors” [42] and the National Endowment for Democracy, established by the Reagan administration to overtly fund destabilization campaigns the CIA once funded covertly.

Helvey, the military strategist, might disagree with Ackerman about outside assistance being unnecessary. According to Helvey, in order to carry out a successful destabilization campaign,

“You need radios and the ability to produce and distribute information. You need to be able to train. You need to provide the activists with some income to take care of their families. When people get arrested, you need to take food to them in prison or the hospital.” [43]

Real grassroots activists — that is, those who aren’t dependent on lucre from philanthropic foundations — are unlikely to have the cash to pay for the inputs a campaign of nonviolent warfare requires. That’s where Western governments and corporate foundations come in. They’re often happy to furnish the needed material support, because the power-seizing aim of NVR has happy consequences for the bottom lines of their transnational business and investor patrons. If real grassroots activists think they’re going to secure foundation or government funding for genuinely democratic and socialist projects, they’re mistaken. Western governments and corporate foundations limit funding to activists who, whether they know it or not, act to advance corporate and imperialist goals.

Even Ackerman disagrees that outside help is unnecessary. In a Christian Science Monitor article written with Jack DuVall in 2002, Ackerman complained that Iranians didn’t have the “know-how” to take power from the government in Tehran and that the know-how should be delivered by Western “pro-democracy programs.” (He cautioned that aid should “not come from the CIA or Defense Department,” to keep the movement seemingly free from taint.)[44] He echoed this view in a New York Time’s article written with Ramin Ahmadi, pointing to the lack of “a clear strategic vision and steady leadership” among the anti-Ahmadinejad opposition. [45] At the same time, he advised readers to watch the streets of Tehran, seemingly confident the know-how and clear strategic vision and steady leadership would be delivered. And he called on,

“Nongovernmental organizations around the world (to) expand their efforts to assist Iranian civil society, women’s groups, unions and journalists. And the global news media should finally begin to cover the steady stream of strikes, protests and other acts of opposition…” [46]

This was a curious appeal from someone who believes outside aid is unnecessary.

The New Republic’s Franklin Foer wrote that “Ultimately, (Ackerman) envisions events (in Iran) unfolding as they did in Serbia, with a small, well-trained, nonviolent vanguard introducing the idea of resistance to the masses.” [47] Ackerman, of course, could be sure the vanguard would be helped by a substantial injection of money from outside, as happened in Serbia — aid Ackerman claims is unnecessary.

Whether necessary or not, Washington has delivered. Last June, The Washington Post reported that,

“The Bush administration told Congress last year of a secret plan to dramatically expand covert operations inside Iran as part of a long-running effort to destabilize the country’s ruling regime…The plan allowed up to $400 million in covert spending for activities ranging from spying on Iran’s nuclear program to supporting rebel groups opposed to the country’s ruling clerics…” [48]

Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp are part of the $400 million campaign. According to Sharp,

“Our work is available in Iran and has been since 2004. People from different political positions are saying that’s the way we need to go. […] If somebody doesn’t decide to use military means, then it is very likely there will be a peaceful national struggle there.” [49]

For his part, Ackerman has several ideas for ousting Ahmadinejad. His films on destabilizing governments have been translated into Farsi, and are broadcast repeatedly over the Los Angeles-based Iranian satellite networks. He has worked with Helvey to train Iranian Americans, many of them followers of Reza Pahlavi, the son of the deposed shah. And the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), which Ackerman founded, and which progressive Stephen Zunes is a part of, has made contacts with the referendum movement within Iran, which campaigns for a binding vote on the clerical state. [50]

“Events in Iran are reminiscent of Serbia just before a student-sparked movement removed Slobodan Milosevic,” write Ackerman and DuVall. “His regime had alienated not only students but most of the middle class, which the dismal economy had shattered.” [51]

Ah, the economy. What Ackerman and DuVall ignore is that Western sanctions were instrumental in crippling the Yugoslav economy, and therefore in alienating students and the middle class. Disorganizing an economy through sanctions is an important part of nonviolent strategic regime change, a point John Bacher made in a Peace Magazine article on Robert Helvey. Bacher describes the targeted sanctions employed by the U.S. government against municipalities that voted to support Milosevic as being one of the elements of Sharp’s nonviolent strategy. [52] Significantly, Washington applies multiple sanctions against and financially isolates countries that are the targets of NVR destabilization efforts: Zimbabwe, Belarus, Iran, Myanmar and Cuba. Economic warfare, though nonviolent, wreaks terrible devastation, while providing immeasurable help to the destabilizers.

An Imperialist International

In a Dissent Magazine article, Mark R. Beissinger remarks on how overthrowing governments

“has now become an international business. In addition to the millions of dollars of aid involved, numerous consulting operations have arisen, many of them led by former revolutionaries themselves. Since the Serbian revolution, for instance, Otpor (youth) activists (trained by Helvey) have become, as one Serbian analyst put it, ‘a modern type of mercenary,’ traveling the world, often in the pay of the U.S. government or NGOs, in order to train local groups in how to organize a democratic revolution. A number of leaders of the Ukrainian youth movement Pora were trained in Serbia at the Center for Nonviolent Resistance, a consulting organization set up by Otpor activists to instruct youth leaders from around the world in how to organize a movement, motivate voters, and develop mass actions. […] After the Rose and Orange Revolutions, Georgian and Ukrainian youth movements began to challenge Otpor’s consulting monopoly. Pora activists even joked about creating a new Comintern for democratic revolution.” [53]

Foer borrows Leninist terminology to describe destabilization activists as a vanguard. [54] Lenin, however, was never interested in promoting imperialism; this vanguard is. Consider Nini Gogiberidze. Every few months she is deployed abroad to teach activists how to destabilize their governments. She has traveled to Eastern Europe to train Belarusians and Turkey to instruct Iranians. She is employed by the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas, one of the many organizations in the destabilizers’ network. “The group is funded in part by the International Republican Institute,” the international arm of the GOP “and Washington-based Freedom House, which receives most of its funding from the U.S. government.” [55] Freedom House is a CIA-interlocked [56] organization of which Ackerman was not too long ago chairman of the board.

But building an imperialist international is not solely the project of Freedom House. The ICNC, the organization Ackerman founded, is also heavily involved. Ackerman regularly holds conferences hosting new recruits into the destabilization vanguard from around the world. One recent summer “he brought activists from more than a dozen countries to a retreat in the Montreal suburbs for a week of solidarity and study.” ‘We can’t say where they are from,” Ackerman said. “’But think of the 20 biggest assholes in the world, and you can guess.’” [57]

I’m thinking of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Benjamin Netanyahu, but Ackerman isn’t training a vanguard to destabilize the United States, Britain and Israel. He benefits too much from their dominant positions. And yet these are the world’s principal purveyors of massive violence. You would think that proponents of nonviolence would surely set their sights on undermining violence’s biggest champions. Instead, Ackerman’s 20 biggest assholes seem to be the leaders of Iran, Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Gaza, and Venezuela, judging by where Ackerman, Helvey and Sharp have been active: countries that are charting their own course, outside the U.S. imperial orbit. The State Department has distributed Ackerman-produced destabilization videos to anti-Castro dissidents in Cuba. “When some of State’s desk officers don’t want to create international incidents by advising activists on how to overthrow governments, they gently suggest visiting Ackerman, who has fewer qualms about lending a helping hand.” [58] Ackerman has sent a trainer to Palestine “to spend twelve days creating a nonviolent vanguard to challenge Hamas.” [59] The list goes on.

Who is Peter Ackerman?

Ackerman is the managing director of Rockport Capital Incorporated, a private investment firm. He was chairman of the board of Freedom House and sits on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and various other war criminals, CEOs, investment bankers, and highly placed media people.

As part of his Council on Foreign Relations role, Ackerman not too long ago participated in a task force headed by former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA Director and current U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The goal: to craft a new approach to Iran. [60] He is also a member of the U.S. Advisory Council of the United States Institute for Peace, a phoney U.S. government peace outfit headed by the U.S. secretaries of defense and state. And when he’s not hobnobbing with the U.S. foreign policy establishment and managing his investment firm, he’s building an Imperialist International through the offices of the ICNC, of which he is the founding chair.

Ackerman made his fortune working alongside junk-bond king Michael Milken. His “Prada parka and winter tan remind you that you’re not in tattered NGO-land anymore. You’re in the presence of wealth.” [61] After graduating from Colgate, he joined the graduate program at Tufts University Fletcher School, where he met Gene Sharp. “Ackerman spent eight on-and-off years at Tuft’s refining Sharp’s thesis.” [62] After obtaining a PhD in 1976, he joined investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, where, according to James B. Stewart’s Den of Thieves, he had his head so far up his boss’s ass, he was known as “the Sniff”. [63] Recruited by Milken to work as one of Drexel’s traders, Ackerman soon became the junk bond king’s highest-paid subordinate. In 1988, he made $165 million, after putting together the $26 billion KKR leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco. One year later, his net worth having soared to about $500 million, he quit finance and turned to whittling down his 1,100 page PhD dissertation into a book, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict. [64]

It should come as no surprise that a man who reeks of wealth, heads a private investment firm, and sits on the board of the premier U.S. establishment think-tank, defines a central element of democracy as protecting “property rights.” [65] Indeed, the promotion of this central tenet of capitalist ideology is the reason Freedom House, the organization he formerly headed, exists. “You can’t,” Ackerman insists, “have government constantly expropriating the fruits of the labor of its citizens.” [66] Which citizens? Since property rights, in the words of Ackerman and other owners of productive property, are the rights of ownership to what other people have produced, Ackerman equates democracy with capitalism. What he really wants to protect is the right of investors (himself included) to expropriate the fruits of other peoples’ labor. That might explain why he thinks the United States, the world’s premier champion of capitalist exploitation, “has an awful lot to teach people around the world.” [67]

Conclusion

The destabilizers are clever marketers. They choose their words carefully. They draw on the reputation of nonviolent resistance, popularized in the United States by the civil rights struggle led by Martin Luther King Jr. And they repeat the words “democracy” and “dictator” endlessly. It’s all part of a clever marketing campaign, one that has deceived more than a few leftists in the Western countries whose financial and corporate elite profit from NVR. But then, you have to be clever to take on the former CIA function of destabilizing foreign governments, make it seem progressive, and get away with it.

Let’s be clear on what NVR is, what its goals are, and who’s behind it. It’s not nonviolence as a moral or ethical position; it’s a form of warfare, aimed at taking political power in other people’s countries. And while it’s based on nonviolence, it has, in its reliance on sanctions and financial isolation as an integral part of alienating people from target governments, devastating consequences, as real as those violence produces. It’s not used by grassroots organizations in the West to force their own governments to change reactionary policies, or to take political power at home. Instead, it is invariably aimed at foreign governments that have resisted integration into the U.S. imperial orbit. The major proponents of NVR are not independent grassroots organizers, socialists or anarchists. They are, instead, members of the U.S. financial and foreign policy establishment, or are linked to them in subordinate roles through organizational and funding ties. NVR is hardly progressive; it is an imperialist project whose only redeeming feature is the possibility that it may stimulate Western leftists to think about how they too might use the destabilizers’ techniques to take power in their own country to win the authentic battle for democracy.

1a. Foer, Franklin, “Regime Change Inc. Peter Ackerman’s quest to topple tyranny,” The New Republic, April 16, 2005.
1b. Lake, Eli, “Iran launches a crackdown on democracy activists,” The New York Sun, March 14, 2006.
1c.  Spencer, Metta, “Gene Sharp 101,” Peace Magazine, July-Spetmeber, 2003.
2. Ibid.
3. Spencer, Metta, “Training pro-democracy movements: A conversation with Colonel Robert Helvey,” Peace Magazine, January-March, 2008. http://archive.peacemagazine.org/v24n1p12.htm
4. Dobbs, Michael, “US advice guided Milosevic opposition,” The Washington Post, December 11, 2000.
5. Beissinger, Mark R., “Promoting democracy: Is exporting revolution a constructive strategy?” Dissent, Winter 2006. http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=155
6. Bacher, John, “Robert Helvey’s expert political defiance,” Peace Magazine, April-June, 2003. http://archive.peacemagazine.org/v19n2p10.htm
7. Ackerman, Peter, “Paths to peace: How Serbian students brought dictator down without a shot fired,” National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002.
8. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “The nonviolent script for Iran,” Christian Science Monitor, July 22, 2003.
9. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “With weapons of the will: How to topple Saddam Hussein – nonviolently,” Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2002 (Vol 31, No. 5, pp.20-23.)
10. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
11. Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire, “Regime change without bloodshed,” National Catholic Reporter, November 15, 2002.
12. Ackerman and DuVall, 2002.
13. Peace.Ca, “Gene Sharp: A Biographical Profile.” http://www.peace.ca/genesharp.htm .
14. Bacher, 2003.
15. Dobbs, 2000.
16. Ackerman and DuVall, 2002.
17. Ibid.
18. Ballen, Ken and Patrick Doherty, “Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want,” The Guardian (UK), June 15, 2009.
19. Bacher, 2003.
20. Dobbs, 2000.
21. Bacher, 2003.
22. Kazmin, Amy, “Defiance undeterred: Burmese activists seek ways to oust the junta,” Financial Times, December 6, 2007.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Bacher, 2003.
26. Shanahan, Noreen, “The NI Interview: Gene Sharp,” New Internationalist, Issue 296. November, 1997.
27. Foer, 2005.
28. Ackerman, 2002.
29. Ackerman and DuVall, 2002.
30. Pal, Amitabh, “Gene Sharp Interview,” The Progressive, March 2007.
31. Spencer, 2008.
32. CANVAS, “Is nonviolent action a form of warfare?” Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, 2004. http://www.canvasopedia.org/content/servbian_case/otpor_strategy.htm
33. 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996.
Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.

34. Mueller, John, and Karl Mueller. 1999. Sanctions of mass destruction. Foreign Affairs vol.78, no.3:43-53.
35. Ackerman, Peter and Jack DuVall, “Homegrown revolution,” International Herald Tribune, December 29, 2004.
36. Ackerman, 2002.
37. Dobbs, 2000.
38. Ibid.
39. Dobbs, 2000; Bacher, 2003; Spencer, 2008;
40. Dobbs, 2000.
41. Bacher, 2003.
42. Dobbs, 2000.
43. Spencer, 2008.
44. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
45. Ackerman, Peter and Ramin Ahmadi, “Iran’s future? Watch the streets,” The New York Times, January 4, 2006.
46. Ibid.
47. Foer, 2005.
48. The Washington Post, June 30, 2008.
49. Pal, 2007.
50. Foer, 2005.
51. Ackerman and DuVall, 2003.
52. Bacher, 2003.  Bacher is an example of how parts of the peace movement promote US imperialism. In an October-December 2004  Peace Magazine review of Robert Helvey’s  On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals, Bacher writes, “Rather than attempting to build costly and likely leaky shields for missiles from Iran and North Korea, why not seek nonviolently to change these regimes into democracies?”
53. Beissinger, 2006.
54. Foer, 2005.
55. Daragahi, Borzou, “A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution,” The Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
56. Herman, Edward S. and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Pantheon Books, New York, 1988. p. 28.
57. Foer, 2005.
58. Ibid.
59. Ibid.
60. Brzezinski, Zbigniew and Robert M. Gates, “Iran: Time for a New Approach: Report of an Independent Task Force Sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, July 19, 2004. http://www.cfr.org/publication/7194/iran.html .
61. Foer, 2005.
62. Ibid.
63. Ibid.
64. Ibid.
65. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, “Interview with Peter Ackerman, founding chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” October 19, 2006. http://www.international.gc.ca/cip-pic/discussions/democracy-democratie/video/ackerman.aspx?lang=eng .
66. Ibid.
67. Ibid.

Mollycoddling Mubarak, Mugging Mugabe

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By Stephen Gowans

Led by the United States, Western countries spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on what they called democracy promotion. This usually involves promoting pro-private property, pro-free trade, and pro-foreign investment forces in foreign countries where these principles are not firmly implanted. Generous funding is showered upon media, human rights groups, and election monitors that oppose governments whose attachment is less than absolute to the three major freedoms of capitalist ideology (the 3Fs)– free-trade, free-enterprise, and free-markets. Pro-3F political parties, like the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe, and in previous years, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, are provided with training, expert advice, strategic consulting and campaign funds to help them win elections (1). Experts on how to destabilize governments through civil disobedience are dispatched to train nonviolent pro-democracy activists to topple governments that have come to power in elections the West’s preferred 3F candidates have failed to win.

Democracy promotion is not the sole purview of the executive branches of Western governments. Parliaments and the US Congress are involved, as well as Western political parties, organized labor, business lobby organizations, foundations, think tanks and billionaire speculator, George Soros.

Most often, democracy promoters set their sights on countries that hold regular multi-party elections but elect people who fail to genuflect deeply enough to US domination, private property and free markets. Democracy does not, of course, mean private property, free trade and unfettered foreign investment, but in order to marshal public opinion for interventions abroad, democracy promoters implicitly equate capitalism, or anything that favors the unrestricted accumulation of profits by Western banks and corporations, with democracy. US officials often talk of democracy and free markets in the same breath, as if they’re more or less equal. This is far from true. Democracy in the close-to-the-original sense of rule by those who have no private ownership rights to productive property, is deeply inimical to the idea of an economic system that vests productive property in private hands. Even so, democracy promoters insist on treating capitalism and democracy as essentially equal, or if not equal, then complementary.

This explains why democracy promoters are often absent from countries that promote Western capitalist interests, but are not democratic. Saudi Arabia, an absolutist state ruled by a single family, is a good example. There is nothing democratic about Saudi Arabia. There are few civil liberties. Women are oppressed. There are no elections. And power rests in the hands of a tiny hereditary elite. Yet the oil-rich kingdom, whose petro-dollars are recycled through New York investment banks, is not on the democracy promoters’ radar screen.

Egypt is another example of an authoritarian country that is pretty much left alone by democracy promoters. Under the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, some political parties are banned, bloggers have been detained by the police for criticizing the government (2), and the president has only ever run in a contested election once. Ayman Nour, Mubarak’s opponent, was detained before the election, and while he was eventually allowed to campaign, was quickly re-arrested after the election.

Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who “has never taken a bus, never stopped at a red light, never met anyone who wasn’t cleared by security services,” (3) is expected to step into the presidency when his father retires. Gamal is said to have the business class behind him. His father has the United States behind him. Under pere Mubarak, Egypt’s socialist-oriented reforms of the 1960s have been dismantled, and Egypt acts as one of Washington’s cops on the Middle Eastern beat. To fulfill that role, Washington has pumped almost $8 billion in aid into Egypt’s military over the last five years. (4)

If Mubarak is a virtual dictator who locks up critics, jails opponents, and bans political parties, why does US president Barack Obama call him a force for “good” and deny charges that Mubarak is “an authoritarian leader”? (5) Washington maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe because it says the country’s president, Robert Mugabe — who regularly runs in contested elections, hasn’t banned political parties, and hasn’t arranged a hereditary succession — is authoritarian, anti-democratic and has clung to power too long (he has been in power only one year longer than Mubarak.) Yet Mubarak, the anti-socialist, pro-imperialist point man for Washington, is praised by Obama and propped up with military aid, while Mugabe, the land reforming, anti-imperialist, is targeted for regime change.

Or how about the recently deceased Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 41 years? While Western newspapers and politicians compete to see who can unleash the most vitriolic denunciation of Robert Mugabe for his 29 years in office, Bongo escaped their disapproving notice. And yet here was a man the democracy promoters would surely despise. He won overwhelming majorities in elections routinely denounced as fraudulent, was criticized for a poor human rights record that included limits on freedom of speech, torture and arbitrary arrest, and used his office to become immensely wealthy. Bongo lived extravagantly in a $500 million presidential palace while collecting sumptuous properties in and around Paris. And yet despite Bongo’s kleptocracy and disdain for democracy, he was “France’s point man in the region” and was long viewed as France’s “special partner.” Significantly, “France maintains a military base in the capital, Libreville, (and) has extensive oil interests in the country”, (6) which explains why Bongo was known as a “special partner” and “point man”, rather than a “thug,” “thief” and “dictator.” It also explains why the ultimate democracy promotion organization, the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, has dozens of programs in Zimbabwe to get rid of Mugabe and his Zimbabwe-first policies, but not one in Gabon to get rid of Bongo and his Western oil interests-first policies.

For a brief period, the Bush administration pushed Egypt to hold elections. Bush had announced his Freedom Agenda, a plan to promote democracy throughout the Middle East. As part of the agenda, elections were also to be held for the Palestinian Legislative Council. Democracy promotion funding pored into Egypt from Washington and “Mubarak initially responded by allowing an unprecedented degree of political freedom.” But when members of the Muslim Brotherhood (the same organization that produced Hamas) “did well at the polls, Egypt’s security apparatus cracked down. The Bush administration, concerned about pushing a key ally too far, responded meekly. And that, arguably, marked the inglorious end of the Freedom Agenda.” (7) The election of Hamas in January 2006 was no less an inglorious occasion for the Bush scheme. So ill-conceived was allowing electoral democracy to flourish in the Middle East, that Pentagon officials wondered “who the fuck recommended this?” (8)

The response to Hamas’s election was to immediately freeze the new government’s funding. If Palestinians refused to elect the right people, their vote would be negated. Hamas wouldn’t be allowed to govern. In Egypt, the White House eliminated American funding for democracy promotion and announced that neither military nor civilian funding would be conditional on democratic reforms. (9) The Obama administration has followed suit, paring back the funding Mubarak’s political opponents would have used to challenge Washington’s “point man” in Egypt. (10)

With the Bush administration’s brief dalliance with promoting democracy in the Middle East having gone terribly awry, Washington – with Obama now at the helm — has learned its lesson. And so democracy promotion returns to its accustomed paradigm. As always, fifth columns continue to be funded under the guise of promoting democracy, the goal to install new point men for Western economic elites where reliable ones don’t already exist. Elsewhere, the autocrats who are already point men are once again left in peace, untroubled by elections, democracy and freedom agendas.

1. Stephen Gowans, “US Government Report Undermines Zimbabwe Opposition’s Claim of Independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
2. Jeffrey Fleishman, “In Egypt, a blogger tries to spread ‘culture of disobedience’ among youths,” The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2009.
3. Patrick Martin, “Who will be Mubarak’s heir?” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 23, 2009.
4. Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney, “Don’t give up on Egypt,” Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009.
5. Michael Slackman, “Arab states cool to Obama pleas for peace gesture,” The New York Times, June 3, 2009.
6. Adam Mossiter, “Omar Bongo, Gabon Leader, Dies at 73,” The New York Times, June 9, 2009.
7. James Traub, “Obama realism may not play well in Cairo streets,” The New York Times, May 31, 2009.
8. “The Gaza Bombshell,” Vanity Fair, April 2008.
9. James Traub, “Obama realism may not play well in Cairo streets, The New York Times, May 31, 2009.
10. Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney, “Don’t give up on Egypt,” Foreignpolicy.com, June 2009.

Written by what's left

June 10, 2009 at 10:38 pm

The Politics of The New York Times

with 4 comments

By Stephen Gowans

The New York Times’ and The Washington Post’s promotion of a chauvinist understanding of foreign policy is evidenced in their recent treatment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and their non-treatment of criminal proceedings in Spain against six senior Bush administration officials for torture.

Al-Bashir is sought by the ICC in connection with war crimes charges related to the civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan. Like the United States and Israel, Sudan is not a signatory to the treaty establishing the court. Neither country is willing to submit to the ICC for fear, they say, that their officials will face politically-motivated prosecutions, a fear they unjustifiably suppose is unique to their own nationals. State officials of other countries are as likely to become targets of politically-motivated indictments, all the more so if they preside over land, labor and resources coveted by powerful countries able to exercise influence over the court through their permanent positions on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). But the refusal of the United States and Israel to sign the ICC treaty is more likely motivated by fear that their frequent resort to military campaigns will open their officials to the risk of prosecution for war crimes by an international tribunal. While Sudan has not agreed to be bound by the court, the UNSC — three of whose members refuse to recognize the court — ordered the ICC to investigate al-Bashir.

The New York Times: Propagating chauvinist politics behind a façade of independent analysis and journalistic neutrality.

The New York Times: Propagating chauvinist politics behind a façade of independent analysis and journalistic neutrality.

Meanwhile, the Spanish counter-terrorism judge who prosecuted former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet has initiated an investigation of six Bush administration officials for their role in writing the US policy that justified the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay. The officials are: former White House counsel and attorney general Alberto Gonzales; former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; former US Justice Department senior advisers John Yoo and Jay Bybee; and Douglas Freith, who was undersecretary of defense.

The six are said to have,

“participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention center at Guantánamo”. (1)

If the Spanish judge decides to issue arrest warrants, the six US officials could be detained and extradited if they travel outside the United States. In 1998, Pinochet was arrested in Britain after the same Spanish judge issued a warrant for his arrest. The Observer, a British newspaper which covered the Spanish court’s investigation of the six former US officials, approached the story as a “political problem” for the Obama administration, rather than in the high moral tones reserved for the leaders of countries the United States opposes, like al-Bashir. Western newspapers can work themselves up into high moral dudgeon over Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s “thugs” allegedly torturing political opponents, while calmly deliberating on the political difficulties attempts to hold US officials accountable for torture present to the Obama administration. There is an implicit assumption in Western media coverage of US crimes that US officials won’t be prosecuted, and that anyone who thinks they ought to be has stepped outside the bounds of acceptable thought. Obama, as unctuous as any other ambitious, exhibitionist, lawyer whose charm, intelligence and acceptable politics recommends him to the role of ruling class political representative, covered all his bases. He denounced the former administration’s torture policies, while disguising his craven refusal to prosecute the perpetrators as an admirable focus on the future. “Obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices, and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” Obama said in January. “But my orientation’s going to be forward-looking.” (2)

Al-Bashir finds himself in the same situation Freith et al. could soon be in, running the risk when travelling abroad of detention and extradition. Despite this, the Sudanese president recently travelled to an Arab League summit in Qatar, in what The Washington Post denounced as a “brazen act of defiance.” (3) (If Gonzales and his band of torture advocates face arrest warrants from the Spanish court but travel abroad anyway, will The Washington Post comment in disapproving tones on their brazenly defiant act?) Rather than being arrested, al-Bashir was welcomed by the heads of Arab states, many of whom denounced the court for its double standards. The leaders pointed out that the warrant for al-Bashir’s arrest was issued soon after Israel brazenly defied the rules of war to carry out a massacre in the Gaza Strip. Despite the Zionist army’s amply documented use of disproportional force against Gazan resistance fighters, its indiscriminate use of white phosphorus in civilian areas, its bombing of civilian infrastructure and targets, and its use of human shields, no indictments of Israeli leaders or soldiers have been forthcoming, or ever will be under the current global order dominated by Israel’s patron, the United States. Israel isn’t a party to the ICC and, with the United States wielding a Security Council veto, the UNSC won’t order the court to investigate Israeli war crimes.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad denounced the court and its indictment against al-Bashir, saying that the ICC’s “weak pretexts about fabricated crimes committed by Sudan” should only be discussed after “those who committed the atrocities and massacres in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq,” face the judgment of the court. (4)

While it’s hard to argue with al-Assad’s point, The New York Times did, trying to discredit it by citing the critical comments of a representative of what the newspaper deceptively dubbed as an independent NGO, the Doha Center for Media Freedom. The group’s spokesperson branded al-Assad as a hypocrite for wanting Israel to be investigated while complaining about al-Bashir’s indictment. That’s not exactly what al-Assad said. He criticized the ICC for its double standards, suggesting that its operation has far more to do with politics, than the pursuit of justice.

While presented as independent by The New York Times, The Doha Center is no more independent than The New York Times itself is. In fact, they are both beholden to the same class interests. Mia Farrow sits on the center’s advisory council and Reporters sans Frontiers’ (RSF’s) Robert Menard runs it. Farrow is an outspoken proponent of Western intervention in Sudan, while Menard is well known for his pro-Western chauvinism and hostility to the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions.

The Doha Center is a regional satellite of RSF. RSF receives much of its funding from the French government, the US Congress (through the CIA offshoot, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)), the Soros Foundation (notorious for putting up the financial backing for color revolutions), and the Center for a Free Cuba. The Center for a Free Cuba, whose mission is to help overthrow Cuba’s socialist system, is run by Frank Calzon, who spent 11 years with the CIA-interlocked Freedom House. The Center relies on funding from the US State Department (through USAID) and the US Congress (through the NED.)

The New York Times use of the Doha Center to provide ostensibly independent commentary is emblematic of the Western media practice of drawing on experts offered up by ruling class think-tanks and foundation-funded-NGOs to propagate ruling class positions under the guise of providing independent analysis. This practice has been especially evident in Western media coverage of events in Zimbabwe, where news stories have relied heavily on interviews with opposition figures and so-called independent experts, all of whom are generously funded by Western governments and foundations interested in regime change. Having a stable of NGO representatives and opposition politicians the media can turn to for a ready quote, who sing from the same songbook, creates the impression of unanimity born of common experience, rather than a common source of funding.

Another practice of the US media is to ignore or minimize events that challenge the doctrinal view that the United States and its allies do not commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, or carry out gross violations of human rights. Abuses may be duly noted, but the basic tenet that the West’s intentions are well-meaning remains sacrosanct. There could hardly be a better example of this than an April 4, 2009 New York Times paean to Nato, an organization established well before the Warsaw Pact, and which arose as the successor to the anti-Comintern Pact of Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan against the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed, (in which Nato pressure played no small role), and presumably now without a raison d’etre, the alliance launched an illegal and aggressive terror bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999, deliberately disdaining to secure UN approval for its actions, knowing it would be turned down. This gave rise to a whole industry aimed at supplying Nato with a legal figleaf to justify its aggressions. The alliance has since been pressed into service in the attempted conquest of Afghanistan. Its incessant expansion up to the borders of Russia is viewed as a hostile act by the Russian government, spurring Moscow to initiate a defensive military build-up. And yet, despite its aggressive and hostile nature, The New York Times celebrates Nato as “an alliance that deterred the Soviet Union, opened the door to emerging democracies (and) battled ethnic cleansing.” (5) In this, threatening the Soviet Union becomes deterrence, building a ring of military bases around Russia becomes opening the door to emerging democracies, and state terrorism against Yugoslav civilians carried out in contempt of international law becomes battling ethnic cleansing. If Nato truly battled ethnic cleansing, it would be locked in battle with the Israeli military, whose 61-year long effort to cleanse historic Palestine of Arabs, marks it as an ethnic cleansing organization par excellence. Instead, Nato countries are putting up the money that allows Israel to bomb, bulldoze and terrorize Palestinians.

Another example of The New York Times’ implicit commitment to the view that US foreign policy is at root guided by admirable values, is the newspaper’s reaction to the Obama administration announcing it will seek a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council because “it believed working from within was the most effective means of altering the council’s habit of ignoring poor human rights records of member states.” (6) Anyone who has been paying the slightest attention, and whose function isn’t to act as a public relations hack for the US government, will greet this with stunned amazement. After Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and the humanitarian catastrophes of immense scale sparked by the wars of conquest against Iraq and Afghanistan – and this on top of a blood-soaked history of military intervention, destabilization, and mass murder around the world – the United States has the gall to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council in order to rescue it from failing to admonish others more energetically over their human rights records. Rather than being gobsmacked by this stunning chutzpah, The New York Times blithely carries on as if Quasimodo hadn’t announced it’s time for everyone to sit up straight. We’re assured that “human rights organizations generally applauded the move,” including the “nonprofit organization Human Rights First,” inviting the question: What legitimate human rights organization could possibly welcome the equivalent of Nazi Germany seeking to join the anti-imperialist league to exercise a self-proclaimed anti-colonialist leadership?

In light of the above, we might expect Human Rights First to be a ruling class vehicle, lurking behind the disarming label “nonprofit.” And, indeed, it is. Previously known as The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Human Rights First is a corporate law firm-dominated organization funded by the Ford Foundation, Soros (again), arms manufacturer Lockheed-Martin, and Mitsubishi. The organization’s job is to attack US foreign policy betes noire over human rights abuses. According to its website, it acts to “strengthen systems of accountability in countries where human rights violations occur,” though a look at where the organization’s attentions are focussed would lead one to believe that Human Rights First regards human rights violations to occur only “in places like Guatemala, Russia, Northern Ireland, Egypt, Zimbabwe, and Indonesia” but not in places under United States or Israeli control. The landing page of its website on April 4, 2009 featured reports on Russia, Colombia, Guatemala, hate crime laws, Cuba, and Thailand and a paper arguing that “terrorism” suspects should be prosecuted in federal courts, but nothing on Israel’s unending human rights violations or US abuses in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. Small wonder then that an organization that believes all the big human rights problems occur under the purview of countries the United States opposes should applaud Washington’s intention to join the UN Human Rights Council.

Mainstream newspapers and the human rights organizations, NGOs and think-tanks they rely on for expert commentary, propagate ruling class positions under the guise of providing independent and neutral analyses. Their analyses implicitly accept certain values and assumptions: that the military strategy and foreign policies of the United States and its allies are guided by defensive and humanitarian considerations; that the countries and movements the United States opposes are hostile, threatening, despotic, contemptuous of human rights, and are best subordinated to US leadership and moral guidance; that tribunals, international courts and international law must be pressed into service to prosecute and punish others, but the United States must not be prevented by international law from exercising its moral authority and leadership. This doctrine has a political purpose: to engineer the consent of 9/10ths of humanity for their exploitation and oppression by a US state acting on behalf of the corporations and hereditary capitalist families that recruit and sponsor its personnel, formulate its policy through a network of think-tanks, and structure its decision-making.

1. Julian Borger and Dale Fuchs, “Spanish judge accuses six top Bush officials of torture,” The Observer (UK), March 29, 2009.
2. Ibid.
3. Brian Murphy, “Sudan’s leader arrives in Qatar,” The Washington Post, March 30, 2009.
4. Michael Slackman and Robert F. Worth, “Often Split, Arab Leaders Unite for Sudan’s Chief, The New York Times, March 31, 2009.
5. Steven Erlanger and Thom Shanker, “Nato leaders debate Afghan strains at summit,” The New York Times, April 4, 2009.
6. Neil MacFarquhar, “In reversal, US seeks election to UN human rights council,” The New York Times, April 1, 2009.

Written by what's left

April 3, 2009 at 9:05 pm

Washington suppressed Kenyan exit poll to keep Kibaki in power

with 6 comments

By Stephen Gowans

Q: When does the US government hide an exit poll that calls a foreign election into question?

A: When it doesn’t want the candidate who got the most votes to win.

That’s what happened when a US government-financed exit poll cast doubt on the victory of Kenya’s president Mwai Kibaki in a December 2007 election.

In a January 31, 2009 New York Times article, “A chaotic Kenya vote and a secret US exit poll,” reporters Mike McIntyre and Jeffrey Gettleman revealed that the “results of an exit poll, paid for by the United States government, that supported the initial returns” favoring the challenger, Raila Odinga, were kept secret.

The exit poll showed Kibaki losing by six percentage points.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, favored by the US government in Kenya's December 2007 election, lost the vote according to a suppressed US government-financed exit poll.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, favored by the US government in Kenya's December 2007 election, lost the vote according to a suppressed US government-financed exit poll.

When Kibaki claimed he had won the election, despite charges of ballot counting fraud and its own exit poll that called the result into question, Washington rushed to congratulate him and urged Kenyans to accept the outcome of the disputed vote.

The US government favored Kibaki, who “had a good relationship with the Bush administration and generally supported American counterterrorism policies in East Africa,” the article says.

Odinga, on the other hand, was viewed skeptically by US officials, because “he was educated in East Germany and named his son after Fidel Castro.”

During the election the US ambassador, Michael Ranneberger, tried to influence the vote in Kibaki’s favor, proposing to release “a voter survey showing Mr. Kibaki ahead and trying to block a roughly simultaneous one favoring Mr. Odinga.” Ranneberger also “made public comments praising Mr. Kibaki and minimizing” corruption in Kibaki’s government.

The poll was conducted by the International Republican Institute, the international arm of the Republican Party, with funding provided by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development. The IRI receives much of its funding from the US Congress’s NED, the National Endowment for Democracy, whose ostensible mission is to promote democracy abroad. Its real mission is to promote the foreign interests of US banks, corporations and investors, by backing political parties and movements that oppose governments that fail to provide a congenial climate for US investment and exports.

While presented as an organization with an admirable mission, the NED was established to do openly what the CIA used to do covertly – meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. The US government established the NED after the CIA’s role in funding overseas political parties, church groups, cultural organizations, dissidents and trade unions was revealed in the press. These revelations served to discredit these organizations, most social democratic and all vehemently anti-communist.

By changing the paradigm from covert to overt funding and by replacing the CIA with a new “democracy promotion” organization as the source of funding for US fifth columns, it was hoped the stench of secret CIA funding would be lifted, even though the objective was the same: to manipulate the internal affairs and elections of other countries to serve the interests of US capital.

The IRI is involved in many countries, including Zimbabwe, where it has played an active role in formulating the policy platform of the Movement for Democratic Change. That platform, not surprisingly, favors the creation of a climate favorable to foreign investment and exports, and advocates robust privatization and elimination of subsidies, tariff barriers and affirmative action for domestic investors – measures congenial to the interest of the US corporate ruling class.

The hollowness of the US government’s pro-democracy stance is so frequently revealed, it’s hardly necessary to point it out. Its backing of Israeli efforts to reverse the January 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections that brought Hamas to power and its support for innumerable corrupt and despotic Arab regimes shows that the US government’s conception of democracy is roughly synonymous with its foreign policy interests. New revelations that it concealed an exit poll that pointed to electoral fraud in order to protect a favored candidate in Kenya’s December 2007 election, simply reinforces the view that Washington is not democracy’s champion, but its greatest enemy.

Written by what's left

February 1, 2009 at 12:40 am

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