April 8, 2017
By Stephen Gowans
Washington has added a new dimension to its long war on Syria: direct military intervention.
Since the mid 1950s, the United States has tried to purge Damascus of an Arab nationalist leadership which has zealously guarded Syria’s freedom from US domination and follows an Arab socialist development path which is at odds with the global free enterprise project advanced by Washington on behalf of its Wall Street patron.Until now, Washington has refrained from directly attacking Syrian forces, though it has intervened manu militari in Syria to hold the Islamic State in check so that the militant group remains strong enough to weaken Syrian forces but not so strong that it captures the Syrian state. 
This limited Islamic State-directed US intervention in Syria has involved both airstrikes and an estimated 1,000 boots on the ground.  However, the principal modus operandi of Washington’s long war on Syria has been war waged through proxies, both Israel, which annexed Syria’s Golan Heights and has carried out innumerable small-scale attacks since, and Islamist guerrillas, who, from the 1960s, have waged a jihad against what they view as Syria’s heretical government. 
The United States contemplated direct military intervention in Syria in 2003, as a follow-up to its invasion of neighbouring Iraq, but found that its resources were strained by efforts to pacify Afghanistan and Iraq and that other means of regime change would have to be pursued. 
In place of a muscular boots on the ground strategy, Washington imposed an economic blockade in 2003, which, by 2012, had caused Syria’s economy to buckle, according to the New York Times. 
By the spring of 2012, sanctions-induced financial haemorrhaging had “forced Syrian officials to stop providing education, health care and other essential services in some parts of the country.” 
By 2016, “US and EU economic sanctions on Syria” were “causing huge suffering among ordinary Syrians and preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid, according to a leaked UN internal report.”  The report revealed that aid agencies were unable to obtain drugs and equipment for hospitals because sanctions prevented foreign firms from conducting commerce with Syria.
Veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote that “the US and EU sanctions” resembled the Iraqi sanctions regime, and were “an economic siege on Syria”—a siege it might be recalled that led to the deaths of more than 500,000 Iraqi children, according to the UN, a death toll greater than that produced by all the weapons of mass destruction in history.  Cockburn surmised that the Syrian siege was killing numberless people through illness and malnutrition. 
On top of its merciless campaign of economic warfare, Washington enlisted the Arab nationalists’ longstanding foe, the Muslim Brotherhood, to provoke a civil revolt in Syria. The revolt, inaugurated by Islamist-instigated riots in Daraa in mid-March 2011, soon mushroomed into an all-out campaign of guerrilla warfare, fueled by Saudi, Qatari, Turkish, Jordanian and US money. U.S. and Western intelligence services trained thousands of guerrillas in Jordan and Qatar. 
In 2012, the US Defense Intelligence Agency reported that the insurgency was Islamist, led by the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State’s forerunner, and that Western powers and the kings, emirs and sultans who preside tyrannically over Gulf oil states, were the backers. According to the intelligence agency, Turkey’s Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, a man infatuated with dreams of becoming a neo-Ottoman sultan, and himself an Islamist, was also a major backer. 
But until Washington ordered cruise missiles to rain down on Shayrat Airfield near Homs on April 6, the United States had relied on proxies and siege to bring about regime change in a country which Moshe Ma’oz had termed “a focus of Arab nationalistic struggle against an American regional presence and interests.” 
The Shayrat Airfield attack was presented for world opinion as a response to Syrian forces allegedly gassing civilians at Khan Shaykum on 4 April. The allegations were levelled by blatantly partisan sources.
One source was the White Helmets, which bills itself as a neutral civil defense outfit, but is in reality funded by governments entangled with Washington in its long war on Syria. It is enmeshed, too, or at the very least, cooperates with, al-Qaeda. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a one-person outfit based in the UK which overtly supports the guerrillas, was another source.
Significantly, no one even remotely impartial has investigated the allegations to determine whether (a) chemical agents were indeed used, (b) whether they were used deliberately, and (c) who used them? The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons refuses to weigh in on any of these questions until an investigation has been completed, the only sound course of action.
All the same, Washington and its lickspittle allies, exuding colonial arrogance, immediately pronounced in Olympian fashion that the accusations were beyond dispute, an outcome which was hardly surprising given that the Western champions of neo-colonialism share with the White Helmets and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights a common goal of overthrowing Syria’s Arab nationalist government. Washington can always be counted on to publicize any calumny against its Syrian enemy, no matter how untenable.
Despite assurances that a gas attack had been undertaken at Khan Shaykum on 4 April, and that Syrian forces were responsible, the United States, France and Britain, if they, were not themselves implicated, could have had no certain knowledge of this, since these matters take weeks of on the ground investigation to offer sound judgment, and even then the question of attribution—that is, who did it?—is often unanswerable. The reality, of course, is that Western powers have no idea whether the accusation is valid but seized the opportunity to claim it was to establish a pretext for military action in furtherance of the United States’ long war on Syria.
Mainstream journalists also rushed to judgement in advance of even the barest resemblance of an impartial investigation, their assessments aligning with the assessments, sans evidence, of their own governments.
On top of being predicated on an untested allegation by unquestionably partial sources, the US attack was illegal—and on two levels: internationally, because it was undertaken without UN Security Council assent, and domestically, because it represented an unauthorized act of war. The act of war was ordered unilaterally by the White House, notwithstanding the fact that declarations of war are the exclusive remit of Congress, which did not confer—indeed, was not asked for—its authorization.
But the point is academic.
The United Sates has already amassed a sizable record of crimes in Syria, and an even more sizeable record in the larger Arab world, not the least of which crimes is the intrusion of US military personnel on Syrian soil, an act of war itself.
As a military colossus, the United States is at liberty to violate international law with impunity, since there exists no higher authority capable of enforcing international law through the threat of a force greater than that which the Pentagon itself can wield. Expecting the United States to yield to international law is naïve and therefore any discussion of whether this or that act of the United States violates international law is a discussion of no consequence.
The White House is able to violate US law without punishment by eliciting at least the passive acceptance of the US public and its representatives for its wars of aggression; accordingly, with the Congress and the US public on side, there’s no one to hold the White House to account before the US constitution.
White House efforts to secure the acquiescence of the public, if not its jingoistic support, are facilitated by the measures the Pentagon takes to limit US troop casualties, so that no matter how devastating US military operations are for the victims, the US public is not inconvenienced or traumatized psychologically by an accumulation of US combat casualties.
Equally helpful from the point of view of mobilizing support for war in violation of US law is the demonization of Washington’s targets, an activity in which the news media, which accept the pronouncements of US officials on foreign policy at face value, engage with enthusiasm. Witness how easily the Bush administration and Blair government were able to dupe the Western mainstream media into believing (or if they weren’t duped, to ardently propagate) fairy tales about Arab nationalist Iraq concealing chemical and biological weapons.
Moreover, witness how easily Washington shapes the intellectual environment. It has persuaded the world that chemical and biological weapons (which can kill tens or at most hundreds of people under ideal conditions, and many fewer under typical ones) belong to the same class of weapons as nuclear arms (which can kill tens or hundreds of thousands.) This false conflation of minor weapons with authentic weapons of mass destruction has proved useful in portraying such military non-threats as Arab nationalist Iraq under Saddam as signal threats whose elimination is imperative for the safety of the world.
Demonizing targets—often by accusing them of having, using, or intending to use either falsely classified or genuine weapons of mass destruction—creates, from the vantage point of the public, a moral obligation for the United States to act. The Leftists who have an insatiable appetite for moral lapidation and florid language about “murderous regimes,” brutal dictators,” and “moral disgrace,” in connection with the leaders of former colonies which the United States is endeavouring to re-colonize, contribute to the mobilization of consent for war and to an international class struggle from above.
Left collaborators see only the completely powerless as occupying morally tenable ground. Any state which pursues emancipatory goals is denounced as brutal, murderous, or a moral disgrace and arguments are mounted that the state’s emancipatory goals are a sham. Only people without formal power, by this way of thinking, engage in class struggle against oppression and exploitation, while those who exercise formal authority are viewed as agents of oppression by definition.
This view is too simple.
The Italian philosopher Domenic Losurdo argues for a tripartite model of class struggle linked to the division of labour on (1) an international level, (2) a national level and (3) within the household. 
Class struggle on an international level corresponds to the exploitation of the people of one nation by another nation; for example, by the relegation of one country by another to a subordinate role in the international division of labour.
Class struggle on a national level corresponds to the exploitation of labour by the owners of capital within a country, while class struggle within the household pertains to the exploitation of female domestic labour by males.
Class struggle so conceived can be coterminous as when, for example, the people in one country are exploited en masse as a source of labour by the owners of capital of a second.
Washington’s long—and now expanded—war on Syria, is a class struggle on an international level. It is a class struggle in which the United States, as champion of the profit-making interests of corporate America and the class of billionaires who lead it, seeks to permanently relegate Syrians to a subordinate role in the international division of labour, one in which they will be limited to low wage jobs in extractive and basic manufacturing industries, if not subsistence farming.
Washington aspires to sweep away the Arab socialist impediments to the free enterprise, free trade, and free market capitalist nirvana it seeks to establish on a global scale, where US corporations have space to dominate the commanding heights of every country’s economy, and local labour is relegated to low-wage roles, and permanent penury.
Former chief economist of the World Bank Joseph Stiglitz put it this way:
Colonialism left a mixed legacy in the developing world—but one clear result was the view among people there that they had been cruelly exploited…the political independence that came to scores of colonies after World War II did not put an end to economic colonialism. In some regions…the exploitation—the extraction of natural resources and the rape of the environment all in return for a pittance—was obvious. Elsewhere it was more subtle. In many parts of the world, global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank came to be seen as instruments of post-colonial control. These institutions pushed market fundamentalism…a notion idealized by Americans as ‘free and unfettered market.’ … Free-market ideology turned out to be an excuse for new forms of exploitation. 
Arab nationalists in Iraq and Libya waged a class war on an international scale, aiming to free the people of their countries from the disadvantages that colonialism had visited upon them and to end their continued economic exploitation by the West. Their struggle, while successful for a time, ultimately ended in failure, as the United States and its allies, through demonization, siege and warfare, overcame these struggles from below. These victories by Washington were victories in favor of exploitation.
The class struggle fought by Arab nationalists in Syria continues, despite the concerted efforts of Washington, its neo-colonial allies, its Arab satraps, apartheid Israel, and Leftist collaborators, to crush it. Concurrently, the Islamic Republic of Iran is conducting its own class struggle against Western efforts of re-colonization, though on a grander scale, with the larger Islamic world as the object of liberation.
The struggle between Iran and the United States is a class struggle on a colossal scale, with Washington seeking to open Iran while keeping the remainder of the Muslim world open to continued exploitation by US financial, industrial, commercial and petrochemical concerns, and Tehran leading a project to build “resistance” economies that prioritize the uplift of the people who live and work in the Muslim world over shareholders of US corporations. This struggle is intertwined with the class struggle at which Syria is the center.
Washington’s expanded war on Syria is, then, an expanded class war from above against an emancipatory struggle from below. Washington’s war-making relies on multiple weapons, from siege, to proxy war, to direct military intervention, and no less to information warfare aimed at demonizing Syria’s Arab nationalists.
1. See my Washington’s Long War on Syria. Baraka Books. 2017, chapter 4.
2. Thomas Walkom, “Putting Donald Trump’s strike against Syria in context,” The Toronto Star, April 7, 2017.
3. Washington’s Long War, chapter 2.
5. Nada Bakri, “Sanctions pose growing threat to Syria’s Assad”, The York Times, October 10, 2011.
6. Joby Warrick and Alice Fordham, “Syria running out of cash as sanctions take toll, but Assad avoids economic pain,” The Washington Post, April 24, 2012.
7. Patrick Cockburn, “US and EU sanctions are ruining ordinary Syrians’ lives, yet Bashar al-Assad hangs on to power,” The Independent, October 7, 2016.
8. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999.
9. 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996; Patrick Cockburn, “US and EU sanctions are ruining ordinary Syrians’ lives, yet Bashar al-Assad hangs on to power,” The Independent, October 7, 2016.
10. Washington’s Long War, chapters 2, 3 and 4.
12. Moshe Ma’oz, Bruce Cumings, Ervand Abrahamian and Moshe Ma’oz, Inventing the Axis of Evil: The Truth about North Korea, Iran, and Syria, The New Press, 2004, p .207.
13. Domenico Losurdo. Class Struggle: A Political and Philosophical History. Palgrave MacMillan. 2006.
14. Quoted in Graham E. Fuller. A World without Islam. Back Bay Books. 2010. p. 262.
Stephen Gowans will launch his new book, “Washington’s Long War on Syria“, in a number of Central Canadian cities over the next two months.
OTTAWA: First stop will be his home town of Ottawa on Wednesday April 5. Sponsored by the Carleton Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Canadian Peace Congress, Stephen will be speaking at Loeb A 720 from 7 to 9 pm.
MISSISSAUGA: Sunday April 23 @ 2 pm at Burnhamthorpe Library, 3650 Dixie Road in Mississauga. – co-sponsored by the Canadian Peace Congress, the Committee of Progressive Pakistani Canadians, and other groups to be confirmed later.
TORONTO: Monday, April 24 @ 7 pm – GCDO Hall, 290 Danforth Ave., Toronto – Co-sponsored by Can Peace Congress, New Labour Press, and People’s Voice.
HAMILTON: Catch Gowans’ book launch at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 25, at New Vision United Church, 24 Main Street West, Hamilton L8P 1H2, diagonally across from Hamilton City Hall. Doors open 6:45 pm. Sponsored by the Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War, hcsw.ca, email@example.com, call Ken at 905-383-7693.
MCMASTER UNIVERSITY (Hamilton) Wednesday, April 26, from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm, at the McMaster University Student Centre, Rooms 311 & 313. MUSC can be accessed by many HSR buses from downtown. Paid surface parking is available on lots near the Student Centre. Sponsored by the Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War.
ST CATHARINES: The launch is at 7 pm on Wednesday, April 26, at St Thomas Anglican Church, 99 Ontario St, St Catharines (downtown near Montebello Park). Plenty of free parking at the rear of church off Cherry St. Sponsored by Niagara Coalition For Peace. Contact Salehw@yahoo.com and 289 990 7683.
TORONTO (again): Stephen Gowans will be speaking at A Different Booklist Cultural Centre on Thursday, April 27 at 7 pm. The event, sponsored by A Different Booklist will take place at the Cultural Centre, 777-779 Bathurst St. (at Bloor). Contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org; 416 538 0889; 416 901 7720.
MONTREAL: Gowans’ Montreal talk and launch will be held on Tuesday, May 2, 7:00-9:00, at the Centre St-Pierre, Salle 101, 1212, rue de la Visitation. The Montreal event, sponsored by Baraka Books, will held in both French and English. Contact: email@example.com; 514-808-8504.
All launches feature FREE ADMISSION and are open to the public of all ages. Gowans will lecture about his analysis of the imperial origins of the war on Syria, answer questions, and sign and sell his new book, which retails at $25. All venues are wheelchair accessible and are close either to paid or free parking as well as to public transit.
As more book launches of this most authoritative book on the Syrian war are organized, they will be announced here.
Below are reviews, abstract, and praise of the book.
“The war over Syria has been, in truth, a fight for control over the global economic and political order—a last, failing stand for a declining American empire to forestall the current shift toward a new global balance of power. Unlike so many hastily-written books on Syria that miss this point, Stephan Gowans’ work will prove to be an essential primer on the Syrian conflict for years to come. A must read.” —Sharmine Narwani, Journalist and Analyst of Mideast geopolitics.
When President Barack Obama demanded formally in the summer of 2011 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down, it was not the first time Washington had sought regime change in Damascus. The United States had waged a long war against Syria from the very moment the country’s fiercely independent Arab nationalist movement came to power in 1963. Assad and his father Hafez al-Assad were committed to that movement.
Washington sought to purge Arab nationalist influence from the Syrian state and the Arab world more broadly. It was a threat to Washington’s agenda of establishing global primacy and promoting business-friendly investment climates for US banks, investors and corporations throughout the world. Arab nationalists aspired to unify the world’s 400 million Arabs into a single super-state capable of challenging United States hegemony in West Asia and North Africa. They aimed to become a major player on the world stage free from the domination of the former colonial powers and the US.
Washington had waged long wars on the leaders of the Arab nationalist movement. These included Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and Syria’s Assads. To do so, the US often allied with particularly violent forms of political Islam to undermine its Arab nationalist foes. By 2011, only one pan-Arabist state remained in the region—Syria.
In Washington’s Long War on Syria Stephen Gowans examines the decades-long struggle for control of Syria. This struggle involved secular Arab nationalism, political Islam, and United States imperialism, the self-proclaimed Den of Arabism, and last secular pan-Arabist state in the region.
“Stephen Gowans paints a very clear portrait of the Syrian Arab Republic, and documents the extensive efforts from the Pentagon to bring it down. With the mainstream media spewing regime change propaganda 24-hours a day, Gowan’s book is a must-read. It tells the true story of the Syrian people and their struggles for independence and development, a story that desperately needs to be heard. This book would make even the most ardent interventionist question Washington’s policies. Gowan’s tells truths that are so deeply hidden in western countries, but yet are so vital in understanding world events.” Caleb Maupin, Journalist & Political Analyst
“Gowans’ book is a timely and indispensable resource for those seeking to understand recent events in Syria.” Eva Bartlett, Independent Canadian Journalist
“Washington’s Long War on Syria” is a well-researched and highly readable account of why the United States has launched a major crusade to overthrow the Baathist government in Damascus. Needless to say, the story it tells is completely at odds with the US-sponsored fairy tale about a brutal dictator crushing a democratic protesters, leaving noble Americans no choice but to ride to the rescue.” Dan Lazare, Journalist and Author
Stephen Gowans runs the popular and widely read What’s Left webzine. Often interviewed on The Taylor Report (CIUT 89.5, Toronto), Stephen Gowans lives in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
March 29, 2017
Stephen Gowans will do a four-city speaking tour to launch his seminal book Washington’s Long War on Syria.
First stop will be his home town of Ottawa on Wednesday April 5. Sponsored by the Carleton Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Canadian Peace Congress, Stephen will be speaking at Loeb A 720 from 7 to 9 pm. Books can be purchased at the launch.
The Hamilton launch, organized by the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War, will take place on Tuesday, April 25 at 7 pm, at the New Vision United Church, 24 Main Street West. This event is free of charge. For more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Toronto, Stephen Gowans will be speaking the A Different Booklist Cultural Centre on Thursday, April 27 at 7 pm. The event, sponsored by A Different Booklist will take place at the Cultural Centre, 777-779 Bathurst St. (at Bloor). Contact info: email@example.com; 416 538 0889; 416 901 7720.
His Montreal talk and launch will be held on Tuesday, May 2, at the Centre St-Pierre, 1212, rue Panet, Room 101. The Montreal event, sponsored by Baraka Books, will held in both French and English. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 514-808-8504.
The Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Carleton University
The Canadian Peace Congress
“Gowans’ book is a timely and indispensable resource for those seeking to understand recent events in Syria.” EVA BARTLETT
“”Washington’s Long War on Syria” is a well-researched and highly readable account of why the United States has launched a major crusade to overthrow the Baathist government in Damascus. Needless to say, the story it tells is completely at odds with the US-sponsored fairy tale about a brutal dictator crushing a democratic protesters, leaving noble Americans no choice but to ride to the rescue. In fact, the Damascus government is far more democratic than the opposition, which, as Stephen Gowans shows, is composed almost entirely of Islamic fundamentalists and thoroughly dominated by Al Qaeda and its allies and offshoots. These are groups that the US supposedly opposes due to their role in 9/11 but which in fact it has used as a tool for dislodging the Assad government. Gowans is a thorough researcher and top-notch writer with a deep knowledge of the Syrian situation and that of the broader Middle East.” – DAN LAZARE
“Stephen Gowans paints a very clear portrait of the Syrian Arab Republic, and documents the extensive efforts from the Pentagon to bring it down. With the mainstream media spewing regime change propaganda 24-hours a day, Gowans’ book is a must-read. It tells the true story of the Syrian people and their struggles for independence and development, a story that desperately needs to be heard. This book would make even the most ardent interventionist question Washington’s policies. Gowans tells truths that are so deeply hidden in western countries, but yet are so vital in understanding world events.” – CALEB MAUPIN
“The war over Syria has been, in truth, a fight for control over the global economic and political order—a last, failing stand for a declining American empire to forestall the current shift toward a new global balance of power. Unlike so many hastily-written books on Syria that miss this point, Stephen Gowans’ work will prove to be an essential primer on the Syrian conflict for years to come. A must read.” — SHARMINE NARWANI
Pentagon Leads Over 300,000 Troops in a Rehearsal for an Invasion One Week after the White House Announces It’s Considering Military Action against North Korea
March 13, 2017
By Stephen Gowans
The United States and South Korea are conducting their largest-ever military exercises on the Korean peninsula , one week after the White House announced that it was considering military action against North Korea to bring about regime change.  The US-led exercises involve:
• 300,000 South Korea troops
• 17,000 US troops
• The supercarrier USS Carl Vinson
• US F-35B and F-22 stealth fighters
• US B-18 and B-52 bombers
• South Korean F-15s and KF-16s jetfighters. 
While the United States labels the drills as “purely defensive”  the nomenclature is misleading. The exercises are not defensive in the sense of practicing to repel a possible North Korean invasion and to push North Korean forces back across the 38th parallel in the event of a North Korean attack, but envisage an invasion of North Korea in order to incapacitate its nuclear weapons, destroy its military command, and assassinate its leader.
The exercises can only be construed as “defensive” if undertaken as preparation for a response to an actual North Korean first-strike, or as a rehearsed pre-emptive response to an anticipated first strike. In either event, the exercises are invasion-related, and Pyongyang’s complaint that US and South Korean forces are practicing an invasion is valid.
But the likelihood of a North Korean attack on South Korea is vanishingly small. Pyongyang is outspent militarily by Seoul by a factor of almost 4:1,  and South Korean forces can rely on more advanced weapons systems than can North Korea. Additionally, the South Korean military is not only backed up by, but is under the command of, the unprecedentedly powerful US military. A North Korean attack on South Korea would be suicidal, and therefore we can regard its possibility as virtually non-existent, especially in light of US nuclear doctrine which allows the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea. Indeed, US leaders have reminded North Korean leaders on numerous occasions that their country could be turned into “a charcoal briquette.”  That anyone of consequence in the US state truly believes that South Korea is under threat of an attack by the North is risible.
The exercises are being carried out within the framework of Operation Plan 5015 which “aims to remove the North’s weapons of mass destruction and prepare … for a pre-emptive strike in the event of an imminent North Korean attack, as well a ‘decapitation’ raids targeting the leadership.” 
In connection with decapitation raids, the exercises involve “US Special Missions Units responsible for the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, including SEAL Team Six.”  According to one newspaper report, the “participation of special forces in the drills…may be an indication the two sides are rehearsing the assassination of Kim Jong Un.” 
A US official told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that “A bigger number of and more diverse US special operation forces will take part in this year’s … exercises to practice missions to infiltrate the North, remove the North’s war command and demolish its key military facilities.” 
Astonishingly, despite participating in the highly provocative exercises–which can have no other consequence than to rattle the North Koreans and place them under imminent threat—the South Korean ministry of national defense announced that “South Korea and the US were keenly monitoring the movements of North Korean soldiers in preparation for possible provocations.” 
The notion that Washington and Seoul must be on the alert for North Korean ‘provocations’, at a time the Pentagon and its South Korean ally are rehearsing an invasion and ‘decapitation’ strike against North Korea, represents what East Asia specialist Tim Beal calls a “special sort of unreality.”  Adding to the unreality is the fact that the rehearsal for an invasion comes on the heels of the White House announcing urbi et orbi that it is considering military action against North Korea to bring about regime change.
In 2015, the North Koreans proposed to suspend their nuclear weapons program in exchange for the United States suspending its military exercises on the peninsula. The US State Department peremptorily dismissed the offer, saying it inappropriately linked the United States’ “routine” military drills to what Washington demanded of Pyongyang, namely, denuclearization.  Instead, Washington “insisted the North give up its nuclear weapons program first before any negotiations” could take place. 
In 2016, the North Koreans made the same proposal. Then US president Barack Obama replied that Pyongyang would “have to do better than that.” 
At the same time, the high-profile Wall Street-directed Council on Foreign Relations released a task force report which advised Washington against striking a peace deal with North Korea on the grounds that Pyongyang would expect US troops to withdraw from the peninsula. Were the United States to quit the peninsula militarily, its strategic position relative to China and Russia, namely, its ability to threaten its two near-peer competitors, would be weakened, the report warned. Accordingly, Washington was adjured to refrain from promising Beijing that any help it provided in connection with North Korea would be rewarded by a reduction in the US troop presence on the peninsula. 
Earlier this month, China resurrected Pyongyang’s perennial proposal. “To defuse the looming crisis on the peninsula, China [proposed] that, as a first step, [North Korea] suspend its missile and nuclear activities in exchange for a halt in the large scale US – [South Korea] exercises. This suspension-for-suspension,” the Chinese argued, “can help us break out of the security dilemma and bring the parties back to the negotiating table.” 
Washington rejected the proposal immediately. So too did Japan. The Japanese ambassador to the UN reminded the world that the US goal is “not a freeze-for-freeze but to denuclearize North Korea.”  Implicit in this reminder was the addendum that the United States would take no steps to denuclearize its own approach to dealing with North Korea (Washington dangles a nuclear sword of Damocles over Pyongyang) and would continue to carry out annual rehearsals for an invasion.
Refusal to negotiate, or to demand that the other side immediately grant what is being demanded as a precondition for talks, (give me what I want, then I’ll talk), is consistent with the approach to North Korea adopted by Washington as early as 2003. Urged by Pyongyang to negotiate a peace treaty, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell demurred. “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature,” Powell explained. 
As part of the special unreality constructed by the United States, Russia, or more specifically its president, Vladimir Putin, is routinely accused by Washington of committing “aggressions,” which are said to include military exercises along the Russian border with Ukraine. These exercises, hardly on the immense scale of the US-South Korean exercises, are labelled “highly provocative”  by US officials, while the Pentagon-led rehearsal for an invasion of North Korea is described as routine and “defensive in nature.”
But imagine that Moscow had mobilized 300,000 Russian troops along the Ukraine border, under an operational plan to invade Ukraine, neutralize its military assets, destroy its military command, and assassinate its president, one week after the Kremlin declared that it was considering military action in Ukraine to bring about regime change. Who, except someone mired in a special sort of unreality, would construe this as “purely defensive in nature”?
1. “THAAD, ‘decapitation’ raid add to allies’ new drills,” The Korea Herald, March 13, 2017; Elizabeth Shim, “U.S., South Korean drills include bin Laden assassination team,” UPI, March 13, 2017.
2. Jonathan Cheng and Alastair Gale, “North Korea missile test stirs ICBM fears,” The Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2017.
3. “S. Korea, US begins largest-ever joint military drills,” KBS World, March 5, 2017; Jun Ji-hye, “Drills to strike N. Korea taking place,” Korea Times, March 13, 2017.
4. Jun Ji-hye, “Drills to strike N. Korea taking place,” Korea Times, March 13, 2017.
5. Alastair Gale and Chieko Tsuneoka, “Japan to increase military spending for fifth year in a row,” The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2016.
6. Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.
7. “THAAD, ‘decapitation’ raid add to allies’ new drills,” The Korea Herald, March 13, 2017.
8. “U.S., South Korean drills include bin Laden assassination team,” UPI, March 13, 2017.
10. “U.S. Navy SEALs to take part in joint drills in S. Korea,” Yonhap, March 13, 2017.
11. Jun Ji-hye, “Drills to strike N. Korea taking place,” Korea Times, March 13, 2017.
12. Tim Beal, “Looking in the right direction: Establishing a framework for analyzing the situation on the Korean peninsula (and much more besides),” Korean Policy Institute, April 23, 2016.
13. Choe Sang-hun, “North Korea offers U.S. deal to halt nuclear test,” The New York Times, January 10, 2015.
14. Eric Talmadge, “Obama dismisses NKorea proposal on halting nuke tests,” Associated Press, April 24, 2016.
16. “A Sharper Choice on North Korea: Engaging China for a Stable Northeast Asia,” Independent Task Force Report No. 74, Council on Foreign Relations, 2016.
17. “China limited in its self-appointed role as mediator for Korean peninsula affairs,” The Hankyoreh, March 9, 2017.
18. Farnaz Fassihi, Jeremy Page and Chun Han Wong, “U.N. Security Council decries North Korea missile test,” The Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2017.
19. “Beijing to host North Korea talks,” The New York Times, August 14, 2003.
20. Stephen Fidler, “NATO struggles to muster ‘spearhead’ force to counter Russia,” The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2014.
March 7, 2017
By Stephen Gowans
The White House is considering “possible military action to force regime change” in North Korea, another in a long succession of threats Washington has issued against Pyongyang, piled atop unremitting aggression the United States has directed at the country from the very moment of its birth in 1948.
In addition to direct military action from 1950 to 1953 against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the country’s official name), US aggression has included multiple threats of nuclear annihilation, and the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons into South Korea until 1991. Re-deployment is now under consideration in Washington.
Most US nuclear threats against Pyongyang were made before North Korea embarked upon its own nuclear weapons program, and constitute one of the principal reasons it did so. The country’s being declared an original member of the Bush administration’s Axis of Evil, along with Iraq and Iran, provided an additional impetus.
US aggression against Gaddafi’s Libya, after the Arab and African nationalist leader abandoned his country’s nuclear weapons program in a failed effort at an entente with the West, only affirmed Pyongyang’s view that its decision to acquire a nuclear deterrent was sound and imperative. To make Gaddafi’s blunder would be to commit suicide.
North Korea has additionally been menaced by annual US-directed war games involving hundreds of thousands of troops, carried out along North Korea’s borders. While US officials describe the twice yearly assembling of significant military forces within striking range of the DPRK as routine and defensive, it is never clear to the North Korean military whether the US–directed maneuvers are defensive exercises or preparations for an invasion. Accordingly, the exercises are objectively minatory.
US officials have described Russian war games along Russia’s western border as “provocations” and as a sign of Russian “aggression.” One US official said, “The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the borders, with a lot of troops. From our perspective, we could argue this is extraordinarily provocative behavior.” And yet when US and South Korean troops do the same, right up against North Korea’s borders, their actions are deemed routine and defensive. (Threats made routinely, it should be noted, do not become non-threats simply because they are routine.)
On top of military aggression, the United States has added economic aggression to its decades-long quest to bring about regime change in North Korea. For almost seven decades Washington has led a campaign of economic warfare against the DPRK, designed to do what economic sieges are always intended to do: make the lives of ordinary people sufficiently straitened and miserable that they rise in revolt against their own government.
While the United States struts around the globe as the self-proclaimed champion of democracy, while counting kings, emirs, sultans and military dictators among its closest allies, it has imposed sanctions on North Korea for the most profoundly undemocratic reason. A US Congressional Research Service 2016 report, “North Korea: Economic Sanctions,” enumerates a detailed list of economic penalties imposed on North Korea for having the temerity to operate a “Marxist-Leninist” economy contrary to Washington’s Wall Street-approved economic prescriptions. Hence, the United States wages economic warfare on people in other lands because it doesn’t like the decisions they make about how to organize their own economic lives (and more to the point, because those decisions fail to comport with the profit-making interests of corporate America, the only sector of the United States whose voice matters in US policy.) What could be more hostile to democracy—and more imperialist—than that?
The US decision to consider military action against North Korea to force regime change may be considered a response to Pyongyang’s “threats,” but the DPRK, regardless of its bluster, has never posed a threat to the physical safety of the United States. It is far too small (its population is only 25 million) and too weak militarily (its annual defense spending is less than $10 billion, swamped by the Himalayan military outlays of its adversaries, from South Korea’s $36 billion to Japan’s $41 billion to the United States’ $603 billion), to pose a significant threat, or even a derisory one. Moreover, it is totally devoid of the means to convey a military force to US soil, lacking long range bombers and a capable navy.
To be sure, Pyongyang may have developed ICBMs capable of reaching the United States, and it may have acquired the know-how to miniaturize nuclear warheads that can be carried atop them, but the notion that Pyongyang would undertake an offensive strike against the United States is risible. Doing so would be tantamount to a porcupine tangling with a mountain lion. Since porcupines have no hope of defeating mountain lions, and would be mangled in the attempt, they avoid confrontations with them. They do, however, have self-defensive quills—the equivalent of North Korea’s nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs—to deter mountain lions, and other predators, from tangling with them.
North Korea is often criticized for being a garrison state, closed off to the outside world, yet its insularity can be understood as an imperative of surviving as an independent, sovereign state, in a world in which the United States insists on exercising global “leadership” (i.e., denying other countries their sovereignty) and using its military supremacy to coerce the world to fall into step behind its leadership of the global economy.
Washington has been waging a cyber-war against North Korea, which it is speculated may be responsible for a string of missile test launch failures which recently plagued the DPRK’s missile program, and additionally explains why the country’s leadership is chary about openness. You don’t facilitate sabotage of your own country by opening up to a hostile government that is committed to your demise. And should there be any illusions about what Washington’s intentions are, consider the words of John R. Bolton. In 2003, Bolton was the US under secretary of state for arms control. Asked by New York Times’ reporter Christopher Marquis what Washington’s policy on North Korea was, Bolton “strode over to a bookshelf, pulled off a volume and slapped it on the table. It was called ‘The End of North Korea.'” “‘That,’ he said, ‘is our policy.'” North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs have nothing whatever to do with Washington’s desire to bring about the end of North Korea, since this has been US policy since 1948, the year the DPRK was founded, long before Pyongyang embarked on developing nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them. Instead, the reasons for Washington’s hostility lie in economics and Pyongyang’s refusal to submit to US leadership.
Next month, South Korea will significantly increase the rewards it pays to defectors from the north who treasonously disclose state secrets or surrender military equipment. High-ranking North Korean officials will receive $860,000 for defecting and selling out their compatriots, while pilots will be offered the same to fly their warplanes to South Korea. Sailors who surrender their warships to Seoul will also receive $860,000. At the same time, payouts from $43,000 to $260,000 will be handed to North Korean military personnel who defect, if they bring with them lesser weapons, such as tanks or machine guns.
South Korea, in contrast to the much-threatened North, is a US neo-colonial appendage which hosts tens of thousands of US troops on its soil, ostensibly for protection against the DPRK, even though North Korea is weaker militarily than its peninsular counterpart, has less advanced equipment and weapons systems, and its military outlays are only one-quarter of Seoul’s. South Korea denies itself sovereign control of its own military, yielding to de jure US command in times of emergency, and de facto US control otherwise. This reflects the history of the country. It began as a regime of collaborators with the Japanese, who shifted their collaboration to their new American overlords at the end of the Second World War. Meanwhile, to the north, it was guerrillas who fought Japanese colonization, and committed their lives to the manumission of Korea from foreign control, who founded the government in Pyongyang. Then as now, one half of the Korean peninsula exhibited a prickly independence, while the elite of the other half kow-towed to an imperialist behemoth (in contradistinction to a grassroots guerilla movement in the south that sought, unsuccessfully, to throw off the yoke of oppression by collaborationist governments and their US suzerain.)
South Korea’s hostility to its pro-independence northern neighbor, along with the United States’ nearly seven full decades of overt aggression against the DPRK, is directly responsible for the North Korean state’s closed, garrisoned, and authoritarian character. The country’s anti-liberal democratic orientation is not an expression of an ideological preference for police state rule, but an adaptation to a geopolitical reality. The nature of the North Korean state, its military strategy, and its nuclear weapons and missile programs, are consequences of its ideological commitment to independence intersecting with the difficulties of charting an independent course in the midst of hostile and much stronger neighbors whose US patron insists on North Korean submission.
When the infant Bolshevik state was surrounded by enemies who were stronger than the Bolsheviks by many orders of magnitude, Lenin argued that allowing the revolution’s enemies freedom of political organization would be self-defeating. “We do not wish to do away with ourselves by suicide and therefore will not do this,” the Bolshevik leader averred. North Korea’s voluntarily making over itself into an unrestricted liberal democracy—an open society—would likewise imperil the Korean nationalist project and amount to a self-engineered demise.
The DPRK is also criticized for being an economic basket-case, though its economic travails are almost invariably exaggerated. Nevertheless, nearly seven full decades of economic warfare and the imperatives of maintaining a military strong enough to deter the aggression of hostile neighbors and their imperialist patron must necessarily take a toll. Trying to bankrupt the DPRK by imposing on it trade sanctions, working to cut Pyongyang off from the world financial system, and maneuvering the country into a position where it has been forced to spend heavily on self-defense to survive (Pyongyang allocates an estimated 15%-24% of its GDP to defense compared to South Korea’s 2.6% and the United States’ 3.3%), and then attributing its economic difficulties to its “non-market” economy, as Washington has done, is dishonest in the extreme.
Perhaps it’s a measure of how bellicose the United States is that its threats of war are treated as sufficiently routine that they can be casually mentioned in the press without arousing much attention or protest. According to one calculation, the United States has been at war for 224 of its 241 years of existence. Against the background of its unceasing and devoted worship of Mars, Washington’s review of the merits of becoming embroiled in yet another war makes the latest eruption of belligerence an accustomed spectacle. This may explain the quietude with which the possibility of US military action against North Korea has been met. Contributing to the quiescence is the reality that war with the DPRK would require no direct participation from the vast majority of US citizens, short of their applauding from the sidelines. This, combined with North Korea’s total demonization, makes military action (should it be carried out) easy for the US public to accept, or at least to push it to the margins of its awareness.
The revelation that the White House is considering military action against its long-standing victim was casually tucked away in a Wall Street Journal article, and was thought so inconsequential as not to merit inclusion in the headline. Instead, the article’s headline mentioned that North Korea had fired “four ballistic missiles into waters off coast, South Korea says,” in keeping with the portrayal of the DPRK as a signal menace. Accordingly, the announcement of a considered US military strike on North Korea could be positioned as a legitimate response to an alleged North Korean provocation, rather than North Korea’s test firing of ballistic missiles being presented more reasonably as a legitimate reaction to nearly seven full decades of US belligerence.
Some liberals, worried by the increased tempo of US saber-rattling against Pyongyang, adjure Washington to negotiate a peace treaty with the DPRK, in exchange for North Korea undertaking Gaddafi’s folly and dismantling its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The idea that the United States reciprocate is never considered and is seen as Quixotic. The preferred arrangement is one of a nuclear weapons apartheid where the United States and its subalterns keep their nuclear arms as a “self-evident” necessity of self-defense and a bulwark against “nuclear blackmail,” while the rest of the world is expected to voluntarily submit to the nuclear weapons blackmail of the United States and the established members of the nuclear weapons club.
However, almost equally Quixotic is the idea that the DPRK will relinquish its nuclear arms and the means of delivering them. The United States has unintentionally created conditions which make a North Korean nuclear weapons program almost inevitable, and perfectly sound from Pyongyang’s point of view. For a nuclear deterrent not only forces Washington to exercise extreme circumspection in the deployment of its military assets against the DPRK, it also allows Pyongyang to reduce its expenditures on conventional deterrence, freeing up resources for its civilian economy. Nuclear weapons are cost-effective. This thinking is implicit in North Korea’s “Byungjin policy, “the “two-track program’ of building the economy and nuclear weapons, defined in the resolution adopted by the 7th Congress of the Korean Workers’ Party in May as its ‘permanent strategic course.’”
James Clapper, the former head of US intelligence, told the Wall Street-directed foreign policy think tank, The Council on Foreign Relations, to forget about negotiating a nuclear deal with Pyongyang. “I think the notion of getting the North Koreans to denuclearize is probably a lost cause,” said Clapper last October. “They are not going to do that. That is their ticket to survival. And I got a good taste of that when I was there about how the world looks from their vantage. And they are under siege…So the notion of giving up their nuclear capability, whatever it is, is a nonstarter with them.
“So an Iranian kind of negotiation that would put a cap or suspend is not—your experience in diplomacy is that it’s not likely to happen,” he was asked.
Clapper replied; “I don’t think so.”
Publication date April 17.
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