what's left

Avoiding the Failure of Libya: US Strategy in Syria

September 27, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

While Washington toppled a resource nationalist in Libya who annoyed US oil companies, it failed to install a successor government in a stable environment in which US interests could be effectively advanced. US policy in Syria emphasizes “an orderly political transition” in which Arab nationalists vacate the Syrian state, yielding to anti-nationalist US marionettes. The political transition is to be brought about by proxies, militant jihadists, who the United States and its allies will strengthen enough to weaken and dispirit the current government in Damascus but not enough to topple it and plunge the country into a Libya-style chaos.

Washington’s strategy in Syria is an implicit admission that its direct military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have failed to bring about its desired foreign policy objectives of establishing stable conditions in which pro-US regimes can carry out policies to advance Wall Street’s economic, and Washington’s interlinked political and military agendas, in those few remaining parts of the world that refuse to submit to US hegemony, alternatively described as the international dictatorship of US business interests .

To be sure, the objectives have been partially met. There’s a US-installed regime in Kabul, but the active resistance of the Taliban limits its room to maneuver to advance US goals. Sectarian strife in Iraq, largely the consequence of the divide and rule policies forced upon Iraqis by US occupying forces in the mid-2000s, has produced tension among Iraq’s major ethno-sectarian communities, while Iran competes with Washington for influence in the country. And the US-led (from behind) military operation in Libya—essentially a marriage of NATO air power with al-Qaeda foot soldiers to topple a “resource nationalist” whom US oil companies could no longer abide—has produced a failed state, utter chaos, and no reliable US puppet to take control of the country to reshape it in the interests of corporate USA.

With these failures in mind, Washington has approached the project of purging Damascus of its governing Arab nationalist ideology more judiciously and with greater caution than it approached similar regime change projects in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The strategy is to force a political settlement in which the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his Arab nationalist colleagues step aside, leaving the infrastructure of the Syrian state in place, to be taken over by reliable anti-nationalist US marionettes. The political settlement is to be brought about by forcing a military stalemate between the Syrian government and Islamist rebels. At some point, it’s hoped, the Arab nationalists in Damascus will realize that their situation is hopeless, and sue for a graceful exit.

The key to the strategy is ISIS and other groups of fanatical Islamist militants. They must be allowed to be strong enough to maintain unrelenting military pressure on Damascus but not so strong that they topple the Syrian government. To achieve this delicate balance, ISIS is held in check by a US-led air campaign of containment, while other jihadists are managed through controls on the amount of arms, money and training they receive from their sponsors, the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, and the Gulf oil dictatorships.

The nature of the US strategy has long been discussed openly in major US newspapers. The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post have revealed that: “The White House has drawn up elaborate plans for a post-Assad Syria that includes an orderly political transition that keeps the country together and preserves Western interests.” “U.S. officials are hoping for a diplomatic solution to keep national institutions in place.” “The U.S. … wants to keep technocratic elements of the state in place, seeking to avoid a repeat of what happened in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion”. “American policy is not to oust Mr. Assad precipitously, risking an extremist takeover, but to push him to a political settlement.” The United States doesn’t want “wholesale regime change, institution collapse, state collapse (as it) saw in Iraq.” Christine Wormuth, US undersecretary of defense for policy, points to “a political transition that would see Mr. Assad step down while preserving a government structure to avoid chaos.”

Major U.S. newspapers have also revealed that “The (US) end game requires a very careful calibration that doesn’t tip the meter in an unintended way toward groups that could produce the kind of post-Assad Syria that (the United States isn’t) looking for.” Underscoring this point “The Obama administration doesn’t want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests”. “The White House wants to strengthen the opposition but doesn’t want it to prevail.”

Significantly, “The CIA’s mission…has been defined by the White House’s desire to seek a political settlement, a scenario that relies on an eventual stalemate among the warring factions rather than a clear victor. As a result…limits on the agency’s authorities enable it to provide enough support to help ensure that … U.S.-supported militias don’t lose but not enough for them to win.” “Gen. Martin Dempsey, (when he was) chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, (was) particularly outspoken with lawmakers about his concerns that weakening Mr. Assad too much could tip the scales in favor of al Qaeda-linked fighters.”

Washington’s policy of forcing competing forces in Syria to bleed each other into exhaustion is looked upon favorably by the Israelis, who see it as coming straight out of the playbook of setting Arabs against each other, leaving the Zionists free to continue their project of usurping Arab territory as the Arabs descend into a hell of intra-ethnic internecine warfare. This is congenial to the Zionists’ “imperialism by the inch” as novelist Susan Abulhawa terms it. “Israeli officials have told their American counterparts they would be happy to see its enemies Iran, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and al Qaeda militants fight until they are weakened.” Meanwhile, Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York, notes that “This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie. Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”

It seems clear now that US planning for a post-Assad Syria foresees an end to aid to its jihadist allies—the United States “has trained and equipped nearly 10,000 fighters sent into Syria over the past several years” through a covert CIA program—and an intensification of the US campaign against ISIS, if, and when, a political settlement is reached to purge the Syrian state of its Arab nationalist elements. Obama’s choice of words in declaring war on the self-proclaimed caliphate was not insignificant. The US president said that the Pentagon would “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS. So far US and allied forces have only degraded the militant group’s capabilities, holding it in check so that it doesn’t grow strong enough to topple the Arab nationalists, while not pressing so hard that ISIS is destroyed. The Pentagon won’t turn to destroying ISIS until its usefulness in advancing the US agenda of forcing a military stalemate and Assad’s exit through a political settlement has been realized. At that point, and only then, will the hammer come down.

The character of the Pentagon’s ISIS campaign is reflected in the complaints of many people, from Assad to Obama’s critics in Washington, that the campaign has been ineffective and seemingly half-hearted. Assad points out correctly that the Syrian Arab Army has borne the brunt of the fight against ISIS, and that the Syrian air force, small by comparison with US coalition forces, flies more missions.

When you follow media reports…you see that the rate of the airstrikes conducted by what they call a coalition against terrorism is sometimes less than 10 strikes a day or a little more…We are talking about a coalition which includes 60 countries, some of which are rich and advanced. On the other hand, the Syrian air force, which is very small in comparison… conducts in a single day many times the number of airstrikes…That’s why we say simply that there is no serious effort to fight (ISIS’s) terrorism, and what is being achieved by Syrian forces on the ground equals in one day what is being achieved by these states in weeks.

Veteran journalist Robert Fisk echoes Assad’s assessment. “I don’t think the U.S. is serious. Very occasionally, you can hear the rumble of American bombs. But they’re certainly not having much effect.”

According to US secretary of state John Kerry, “Our focus remains on destroying ISIL and also on a political settlement with respect to Syria.” US strategy might be more aptly summed up this way: “Our focus remains on destroying ISIL eventually and also on a political settlement with respect to Syria to be brought about, we hope, partly by the pressure ISIS and other jihadists can bring to bear on Damascus.”

According to Western dogma, Kerry, along with British foreign secretary Philip Hammond, are champions of democracy, on a moral plane far higher than that on which the Syrian president operates. After all, Assad is a dictator, or so we’re told, whose ‘brutal repression” of “largely” (i.e., not entirely) peaceful demonstrations in 2011 sparked an Islamist rebellion. It’s not clear how a peaceful call for democracy can almost instantly metamorphose into a violent rebellion on behalf of the anti-democratic project of creating a state based on the Quran. But this is not the only reason to question the narrative. The story suffers from another problem.

Islamist rebellions have been an ongoing feature of Syria’s modern history, antedating Bashar al Assad’s presidency. Tensions between secular Arab nationalists on the one hand, and conservative Islamists on the other, have been a staple of Syrian politics. The conflict has often been deliberately stoked by London and Washington, seeking to use political Islam to counter communist and nationalist threats to their domination of the Near East and its immense petroleum resources, no less in Syria than in Egypt (against Nasser), Iraq (against Saddam Hussein) and in Afghanistan (against a leftist, secular, modernizing government committed to eliminating discriminations based on race, sex and property.) Britain and the United States don’t want the populations of Western Asia owning and controling their own natural resources for use in their own interests. As Bernard Lewis put it in a 1992 article in the virtual house organ of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs, the danger to the United States of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was the possibility that it would lead to ”monopolistic control (by Arab nationalists) of (Arab) oil.” Damascus is perhaps the final redoubt of the kind of Arab nationalist thinking that inspired Lewis to call for a rethinking of the Middle East.

Curiously, Kerry and Hammond appear to be able to work themselves up into great fits of outrage over Assad, the “dictator”, who, contrary to the odious appellation Western officials and media have foisted upon him, is not as dictatorial as may be supposed. He was elected in a multi-candidate contest, and Syria has an elected legislature. At the same time, the two Western foreign ministers feel only the warmest regard for Saudi dictator, King Salman, the head of a family of parasites who owes his political position, privileges and immense wealth to hereditary succession and the patronage of his imperialist sponsor, the United States. The West recognizes no limits to its indulgence of the misogynistic, anti-Shia, sectarian, belligerent, democracy-abominating brutes in Riyadh, whose reciprocal indulgence of Western business interests is no less limitless. Apart from facilitating the Western oil industry’s accumulation of profits, the Saudi royal dictatorship uses oil revenues, not to develop the Arab nation as the Arab nationalists would do, but to keep the pipeline of money flowing to New York investment banks and Western weapons companies.

For their services in expanding the wealth of the West’s corporate elite, the Saudi despots get a pass. They can send Canadian-supplied light armored vehicles into Bahrain to violently repress protestors who call for a parliamentary democracy without fear the Canadian government will allow its rhetoric about promoting human rights scuttle future sales of more light armored vehicles to Riyadh. Recently asked to justify his policy of arming a repressive regime, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper could only lamely reply, “They’re our allies.” This was the same lame defense invoked by US State Department spokesman Mark Toner, when asked by a journalist for his reaction to the jaw-dropping news that Saudi Arabia, which has executed more than 100 people this year, mostly by beheading, has been selected to head a key U.N. human rights panel. “I don’t have any comment, don’t have any reaction to it,” said Toner. “I mean, frankly it’s—we would welcome it. We’re close allies.”

The nature of the blatant hypocrisy that indulges a medieval tyranny while seeking to regime-change an elected president was spelled out clearly in the pages of The Washington Post by a senior US official. “The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass. Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.” We need look no further to understand why the United States and its allies are using jihadists to try to force a political settlement in Damascus that would cleanse the Syrian state of a non-cooperative Arab nationalist ideology while giving a pass to the cooperative Saudi dictatorship to behead and crucify, sequester and veil women, prevent them from driving automobiles and subordinate them to male domination, and illegally invade, bomb and blockade Yemen (amply assisted, incidentally, by Washington and London whose high state figures never tire of singing paeans to the rule of law they have no intention of being bound by themselves.)

To return to Kerry and Hammond, the alleged democrats, and Assad, the alleged anti-democrat, which of the following statements reflects the spirit of democracy, and which reflects the spirit of its opposite, rule of a people without representation from abroad, (the very arrangement that American colonists rebelled against King George III over)?

Assad: For us, the president comes through the people and through elections, and if he goes, he goes through the people. He doesn’t go as a result of an American decision, a Security Council decision, the Geneva conference or the Geneva communiqué.

Hammond: “Assad has to go. He can’t be part of Syria’s long-term future.”

Who is Philip Hammond, a member of the British political elite, resident of a country half a world away from Syria, to say who Syrians can and can’t have as their president?

Hammond’s arrogance, as US policy on Syria, is an affront against both geography and democracy.

Written by what's left

September 26, 2015 at 9:33 pm

Posted in Syria

Visible and Invisible Victims

September 26, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

Why is it that this photograph of a young Syrian refugee who drown in flight from the war in Syria has been made an iconic image…

Syrian refugee

…while this similar photograph of a young Palestinian killed by the Israeli military while playing on a Gaza beach has not?


Which isn’t to say that one tragedy is more worthy of attention than the other, but that’s just the point. One has been made more worthy than the other.


The answer, I think, has much to do with how politics pervades the mass media and uses it to draw attention to some events and not others.

Why has a media spotlight been shone on the pitiable plight of refugees, now, and not earlier? Syrians have been displaced in countless numbers by the jihadist rampage through their country for more than four years. For four years their plight has been largely invisible.

What of refugees fleeing the chaos created by the war on Libya—essentially a marriage of NATO air forces with al-Qaeda foot soldiers to oust a resource nationalist, Muammar Gaddafi, whom US oil companies could no longer abide?

Why has little attention been paid to the exodus of refugees from the ongoing tumult in Afghanistan, and Iraq?

And the little boy slaughtered on a Gaza beach: He too is forgotten, if he was ever really noticed in the first place.

Could the invisibility of these victims have something to do with reality that they were victimized by the United States, by NATO, by Israel, the supposed “good guys”?

And could the visibility of the drowned little Syrian refugee boy, on a beach, serve a political purpose—to blame the tragedy of the Syrian war on the supposed “bad guy”, Bashar al-Assad, a man the West wants to step aside from his job as president of Syria, because he, like Gaddafi, is a nationalist, and the United States doesn’t like nationalists?

Meanwhile, Saudi King Salman, not a nationalist, is illegally bombing, invading, and blockading his neighbor Yemen (with the assistance of the United States.) The United States likes Salman. Journalist Glen Greenwald recently wrote that “Saudi Arabia executed more than 100 people already this year, mostly by beheading (a rate of 1 execution every two days), and not only is it serially flogging dissidents, but it is reaching new levels of tyrannical depravity as it is about to behead and then crucify the 21-year-old son of a prominent regime critic, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who was convicted at the age of 17 of engaging in demonstrations against the government.”

Earlier, Saudi Arabia invaded neighboring Bahrain to violently repress protesters demanding a parliamentary democracy. They used Canadian-supplied light armored vehicles. The Canadian government has organized the sale of more light armored vehicles to the Saudi royal dictatorship. This is all pretty much invisible.

A US official explains that “The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass. Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.” That goes a long way toward explaining visibility and invisibility. A free pass, the reward for cooperation, is a cloak of invisibility.

If the image of a drowned Syrian refugee is being used in an attempt to blame the tragedy of the Syrian war on the supposed “bad guy”, Bashar al-Assad, that too, would be another feat of deflection, of concealing the crimes of the West, namely, that the chaos of Syria that ultimately led to the death of a little child on a beach (and the death of numberless others in far more gruesome ways), is as much as the chaos of Afghanistan, of Iraq, and of Libya, a product of decisions taken by the United States and its allies to impose their wills, their politics, their militaries, their economics, their religions, and their proxies, on other peoples’ countries.

The United States has trained and equipped almost 10,000 rebels and sent them into Syria to foment chaos, misery, and terror, part of a covert CIA program. Its allies have showered fanatical Islamist militants with money, weapons and training, to destabilize Syria, to force a political settlement that would see the current government in Syria step down, to make way for one that is willing to cooperate with the United States politically, militarily and economically.

Two little boys lying dead on beaches killed by governments that present themselves as the “good guys.” Neither are.

Written by what's left

September 26, 2015 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Palestine, Syria

Why Conservatives Take Marx Seriously

September 26, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

More than 130 years after the death of Karl Marx, and 24 years after the demise of the USSR, conservatives in the world’s leading capitalist countries still take the co-author of The Communist Manifesto seriously.

One such conservative is Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer, whose essay The Middle Class Squeeze, appeared in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.

Moore uses “middle class” as a synonym for Marx’s “proletariat.” By “middle class squeeze” he means the class war, as Warren Buffet famously termed it–the one Buffet said he and his fellow billionaires, major investors, and high-level CEOs are winning. The connection between the expanding wealth of the owners of capital, on the one hand, and the flagging standard of living of people who must sell their labor in order to survive, on the other, is becoming all too evident, frets Moore.

Moore, who apart from singing paeans to Margaret Thatcher, was the editor at various times of the British newspapers The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator, offers a good account of the growing harshness of capitalism for the West’s middle class. (It has always been harsh for residents of the periphery.)

In Britain, the average age for buying a first home is now 31 (and many more people than before depend on “the bank of Mom and Dad” to help them do so). In the mid-’80s, it was 27. My own children, who started work in London in the last two years, earn a little less, in real terms, than I did when I began in 1979, yet house prices are 15 times higher. We have become a society of “have lesses,” if not yet of “have nots.”

In a few lines of work, earnings have shot forward. In 1982, only seven U.K. financial executives were receiving six-figure salaries. Today, tens of thousands are (an enormous increase, even allowing for inflation). The situation is very different for the middle-ranking civil servant, attorney, doctor, teacher or small-business owner. Many middle-class families now depend absolutely on the income of both parents in a way that was unusual even as late as the 1980s.

Persuaded during the Cold War that life would always get better in the capitalist West, the proletariat now lives with unfulfilled expectations.

In Britain and the U.S., we are learning all over again that it is not the natural condition of the human race for children to be better off than their parents. Such a regression, in societies that assume constant progress, is striking. Imagine the panic if the same thing happened to life expectancy.

All of this makes Moore anxious.

When things go backward in nations accustomed to middle-class stability, people start to ask questions. What is the use of capitalism if its rewards go to the few and its risks are dumped on the many? The rights of property do not seem so enticing if the value of what you own collapses or if that property is trapped by debt. What is so great about globalization if it means that the products and services you offer are undercut by foreign competition and that millions of new people can come to your country, take your jobs and enjoy your welfare benefits?

So, where might today’s proletariat, the squeezed middle class, look for answers? “How about this,” asks Moore, pointing to quotes from Marx:

“The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the bourgeoisie.” Or this: “Modern bourgeois society…is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the power of the nether world which he has called up by his spells.” Or this: “The productive forces no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property: on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions…[and] they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property.”

Moore assures his fellow conservatives that he has not “become a late convert to Marxism.”

But Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

We might pause for a second to wonder who it is that Moore is addressing when he says “we don’t want to be a Marxist society.” Surely, it can’t be the squeezed middle class, for why would its members object to a society shaped in their interests?

When Moore says “we need to put it right” he means conservatives need to put it right in a way that preserves their ability to exploit “the middle class” to maintain their wealth and privileges; it’s just that they need to improve the condition of the middle class with a little less squeezing. It’s as if a prescient slave-owner is warning his class cohorts that “The slaves are getting restless. There are two ways this can be put right. We can improve the conditions of our slaves. Or the slaves can take it into their hands to abolish slavery. Let’s do the first before the slaves do the second.”

One wonders whether Moore is as familiar with the work of Marx’s intellectual companion, Friedrich Engels, as he appears to be with that of Marx? In the last paragraph of his The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels wrote:

The classes are divided more and more sharply, the spirit of resistance penetrates the workers, the bitterness intensifies, the guerilla skirmishes swell into more important battles, and soon a slight impulse will suffice to set the avalanche in motion, then, indeed, will the war-cry resound through the land: ‘War to the palaces, peace to the cottages!’—but then it will be too late for the rich to beware.”

Moore appears to be sounding the same warning. But Engels wrote an important sentence which immediately precedes the paragraph cited above: “It is too late for a peaceful solution.”

Written by what's left

September 26, 2015 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Marxism

Phyllis Bennis: Antiwar Imperialist

Phyllis Bennis, champion of democracy, argues that great powers should decide who rules in Syria, so long as they do so through diplomacy and not war.

Written by what's left

September 16, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Assad talks to Russian Media

Highlights from a Russian media interview of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on September 16, 2015.

On the West’s campaign against ISIS

Since this coalition started to operate, ISIS has been expanding. In other words, the coalition has failed and it has no real impact on the ground.

On why the West is against him

Assad-photo-620x330[T]he Western principle followed now in Syria and Russia and other countries is changing presidents, changing states, or what they call bringing regimes down. Why? Because they do not accept partners, and they do not accept independent states. What is their problem with Russia? What is their problem with Syria? What is their problem with Iran? They are all independent countries. They want a certain individual to go and be replaced by someone who acts in their interests and not in the interest of his country. For us, the president comes through the people and through elections, and if he goes, he goes through the people. He doesn’t go as a result of an American decision, a Security Council decision, the Geneva conference or the Geneva communiqué.

On the origins of unrest in Syria

[W]e saw that the war [in Iraq would] turn Iraq into a sectarian country, into a society divided against itself. To the West of Syria there is another sectarian country, Lebanon. We are in the middle. We knew well that we will be affected. Consequently, the beginning of the Syrian crisis, or what happened in the beginning, was the natural result of that war and the sectarian situation in Iraq, part of which moved to Syria, and it was easy for them to incite some Syrian groups on sectarian grounds.

The second point which might be less crucial is that when the West adopted terrorism officially in Afghanistan in the early 1980s and called terrorists at that time “freedom fighters,” and then in 2006 when the Islamic State appeared in Iraq under American sponsorship and they didn’t fight it.

All these things together created the conditions for the unrest with the Western support and Gulf money, particularly from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and with Turkish logistic support, particularly that [Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip] Erdogan belongs intellectually to the Muslim Brotherhood. Consequently, he believes that if the situation changed in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, it means the creation of a new sultanate, this time not an Ottoman sultanate, but a sultanate for the Brotherhood extending from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and ruled by Erdogan.

And if … gaps and weak points [in democracy] are the cause [of the unrest], why didn’t they lead to revolutions in the Gulf States, particularly in Saudi Arabia which doesn’t know anything about democracy?

Written by what's left

September 16, 2015 at 3:36 pm

Posted in Syria

Part of the Imperialist West’s Line of March: Hushing Up—and Profiting from—Saudi Aggressions, while Warmongering against Russia

The West has portrayed Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an aggression, but the re-integration of Crimea into Russia can be understood as a pre-emptive measure on the part of Moscow to preserve Russian access to a strategically important naval base at Sevastopol, from which the Russian Black Sea fleet likely would have been ejected by the new Russophobe regime in Kiev. While a highly visible campaign has been mounted in the West of demonizing Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to mobilize popular support for tough measures against Russia, the West has supported major aggressions by Saudi Arabia in Bahrain and Yemen. While Western politicians and commentators have vociferously condemned Russia’s “aggressions,” they have met the Saudi aggressions, which are on another scale entirely, with almost complete silence.

August 29, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

France cancelled the sale to Russia of two Mistral warships in response to “Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine,” [1] but announces that it is perfectly happy to sell the same warships to a coup government in Egypt, which has a deplorable—though in the West, largely glossed over—human rights record. Since Egypt’s Western-backed dictator Abdel Fattah Sisi “came to power in a coup two years ago, his government has criminalized street protests, sentenced hundreds to mass death in mass trials, and, according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, imprisoned some 40,000 political opponents and their supporters.” [2] On top of the possible sale of the Mistral warships to Cairo, France announced in February “the sale of nearly $6 billion worth of military hardware to Egypt, including two dozen Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate.” [3]

Saudi troops arrive in Bahrain on Monday, March 14, 2011. A Saudi-led military force crossed into Bahrain with Canadian-supplied light armored vehicles to suppress a movement for a representative parliamentary democracy.    APA /Landov

Saudi troops arrive in Bahrain on Monday, March 14, 2011. A Saudi-led military force crossed into Bahrain with Canadian-supplied light armored vehicles to suppress a movement for a representative parliamentary democracy. APA /Landov

Based on France’s purported commitment to the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty, one might think its government would have some reservations about striking weapons deals with a politically repressive regime which gags journalists, marches tens of thousands of political opponents into jail, and has condemned to death the elected president it overthrew. Certainly, France makes much of its commitment to liberal democratic values. How, then, could it support a regime that represents the very antithesis of the values it professes to cherish–unless the profits of France’s substantial citizens are senior to all other considerations?

Not to be outdone, in either arming an Arab dictator or exhibiting stunning hypocrisy in doing so, the United States gives Cairo $1.3 billion annually in military aid—effectively a pre-paid credit card for use in the US arms bazaar. The annual largesse, briefly suspended as a pro forma response to the coup for public relations purposes, has been resumed. In March, US “President Barack Obama agreed to release to Egypt a dozen F-16 attack aircraft and other military equipment,” including 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles, and 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits. [4]

Meanwhile, the Canadian government, which, along with France, has made a show of deploring Russian “intervention” in Ukraine—and met it with its own interventions in encouraging the Maidan uprising, and in providing military training to Ukrainian militias—has facilitated a $15 billion sale of light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada. Significantly, “it was Canadian-made fighting vehicles that Saudi Arabia sent into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising.” [5] So, while France cancelled a deal to deliver Mistral warships to Russia owing to Russian intervention in Ukraine, Canada arms Saudi Arabia with the very same equipment the kingdom’s military used to intervene in Bahrain to suppress protestors demanding a representative, democratically-elected, government. France too is arming the Saudi defenders of illegitimate royalist rule. In June, it “announced plans to sell $12 billion worth of equipment to Saudi Arabia, including civilian helicopters and naval patrol boats.” [6] No pressure is exerted on Canada or France by the EU or Washington to suspend their deals with the Saudi tyranny.

That Canada and France have any dealings with Saudi Arabia is remarkable, considering the country is a human rights sewer, where woman have no rights, the state regularly amputates the heads (a la ISIS) and limbs of people convicted of crimes, and there is no democracy, procedural or otherwise. Its foreign policy is as ugly as its domestic policy. It has initiated a war of aggression on neighboring Yemen, part of which involves a blockade in which one in five faces starvation. [7] It exports its benighted, medieval Wahhabi ideology, backing anti-secular, misogynistic, sectarian religious fanatics to break the backs of socialist, communist and secular national forces in the Arab world, all to the delight of the Western imperialist powers that benefit. The Saud family plunders the country’s oil wealth, investing it abroad in US banks and on arms purchases that swell the coffers of US, French and Canadian weapons manufacturers, rather than investing it at home in Arab economic development—which explains why Ottawa and Paris haven’t the slightest reservations about arming this regionally aggressive abomination. The only reservation Canada’s government has is whether the arms deal it has approved with the Saudi tyranny is acceptable to another abomination, Israel [8], whose founding principle is the dispossession of one Arab people from its land, the Palestinians, to make way for Jewish settlers from other lands. Diderot remarked that humanity would never be free until the last king was strangled with the entrails of the last priest. It might be said that the Arab world will never be free until the last Arab king is strangled with the entrails of the last Jihadi. (As Robert Dreyfuss has pointed out, the oil monarchies are ruled by royal kleptocracies whose legitimacy is nil. Most Arabs know that the monarchies were established by imperialists building fences around oil wells. [9] The kleptocracies have a symbiotic relationship with the imperialists. They loot the country and share the stolen wealth with the imperialists who provide military support.

Regarding Russia’s “intervention” in Ukraine, let’s be clear that the annexation of Crimea followed in the wake of the emergence of two major threats that arose from Washington’s sponsorship of a coup d’état in Kiev to bring to power a Russophobe government. [10]

The first threat was expressed in the European Association Agreement, whose signing became the immediate raison d’être of the Maidan rebellion that preceded the coup. The terms of the agreement direct Ukraine to reorient its economic and foreign and military policies to the West. [11] Since Ukraine is Russia’s largest trading partner, the signing of the agreement has overwhelmingly important and deleterious economic consequences for Russia. Imagine Canada and Mexico signing agreements to reorient their economies toward Russia.

There are compelling geographic and economic reasons why Russia ought to be Western Europe’s principle economic partner, and not the United States. It’s close to Western European markets and production, and offers a vast treasure trove of natural resources, easily transportable over comparatively short distances to Western European markets. A significant role for Russia in Western Europe, however, threatens US economic hegemony. To eclipse the threat, US foreign policy has long sought to weaken and isolate Russia, by keeping Western Europe locked in the US orbit, while at the same time drawing countries on Russia’s periphery into the US-superintended circle, severing their historical and geographically natural connections to Russia’s economy. Washington’s sponsorship of the Russophobe coup in a country that is Russia’s principal economic partner is part of the larger US strategy of weakening Russia through isolation from its natural markets and peripheral economies.

The second threat was expressed in the probability that the coup government in Kiev would try to evict Russia from its Black Sea naval base in Crimea, significantly undermining Russia’s security environment. Russian self-defense would be further threatened by the probability that the base would be transferred to the US Sixth Fleet. As Putin explained, “What did our partners (the West) expect from us as the developments in Ukraine unfolded?…[W]e could not allow our access to the Black Sea to be significantly limited, and could not allow NATO forces to come to Crimea and Sevastopol.” [12]

Hence, the narrative that Western foreign policy is animated by opposition to foreign aggression is challenged by the arms deals that France and Canada—whose governments profess to oppose foreign intervention—have struck with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi tyranny has intervened militarily in Bahrain against a movement for a representative political democracy, and, to the shame of the Canadian government, using light armored vehicles sold to Saudi tyrants by a Canadian arms manufacturer, approved by Ottawa.

Saudi Arabia is waging a war of aggression on Yemen, in a blatant violation of international law. The war involves an air campaign, and a naval blockade that has left one in five facing starvation. US warships  assist in enforcing the starvation blockade and the Pentagon provides the Saudis with logistics and intelligence support.

Saudi Arabia is waging a war of aggression on Yemen, which blatantly violates international law. The war involves an air campaign, and a naval blockade that has left one in five facing starvation. US warships assist in enforcing the starvation blockade and the Pentagon provides the Saudis with logistics and intelligence support.

The Saudi tyranny has also launched a blood-soaked intervention into neighboring Yemen, with the ostensible goal of restoring to power a pro-Saudi president who was ousted in an uprising. That president, Abd-Rabbu Hadi, has virtually no support in Yemen. [13] There is some resemblance to Ukraine, i.e., a president ousted in a coup and a military response by a neighboring country, though the toppled Ukraine president was neither pro- nor anti-Russian, had far more support in Ukraine than Hadi has in Yemen, and Russia isn’t bombing Ukraine or enforcing a blockade to starve Ukraine into submission. Nor does Russia seek the restoration to power of Victor Yanukovych, the ousted Ukraine president. Yet bombing and blockade happen in Yemen, and there’s only silence in the West. US and British warships assist in maintaining the blockade. The Pentagon provides logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi bombing campaign. [14]

The entire affair is a blatant breach of international law, and an assault on authentic democracy and self-determination. Yet it is met by silence in the West (whose Saudi partner in robbing the Arabs of their oil wealth is the perpetrator.) Western politicians who rail against “Putin’s aggressions” and commentators who counsel tough measures against Moscow’s “belligerence”, have nothing to say about the US- and British-assisted Saudi war of aggression on Yemen, just as earlier they could find no words to condemn the Saudi march into Bahrain.

Imagine that Russia was bombing Ukraine and blockading its borders, instead of the Saudis doing the same to Yemen. The outcry would be deafening. Already, there is a full-throated call for aggressive economic and military action against Russia. And yet, what, in truth, was Moscow’s offense? Has it bombed Ukraine? No. Is it blockading its neighbor’s borders? No. It annexed Crimea, historically part of Russia, whose residents opposed the coup government in Kiev and welcomed their reintegration into Russia [15], and which is the site of an important Russian naval base. Russia’s actions were a predictable defensive measure against an aggressive US-led campaign to deprive Russia of its principal economic partner and its strategically important naval base on the Black Sea.

There is much to condemn and oppose: The Saudi interventions in Yemen and Bahrain; Western support for the Arab kleptocracies; the economic and military threats from the US against Russia that provoked Moscow’s defensive annexation of Crimea; royalist oppression in Saudi Arabia and the Western arms manufacturers and their partners in government who furnish the Saudi kleptocrats with weapons to suppress internal revolts. “Putin’s aggressions”—largely a fantasy—are not among them.

1. Matthew Dalton, “Egypt in talks to buy Mistral warships from France,” The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2015.

2. Tamer el-Ghobashy, “Egypt’s leader reinvents himself as bulwark against terrorism,” The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2015.

3. Nicola Clark, “Egypt to purchase fighter jets and a warship from France,” The New York Times, February 12, 2015.

4. Bryon Tau and Adam Entous, “Obama administration releases military aid to Egypt,” The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2015.

5. Steve Chase, “Foreign Affairs found no ‘red flags’ for Israel is Saudi arms sale,” The Globe and Mail, August 27, 2015.

6. Dalton.

7. Shuaib Almosawa, Kareem Fahim and Somini Sengupta, “Yemeni government faces choice between a truce and fighting on,” The New York Times, Aug 14, 2015.

8. Chase.

9. Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, Holt, 2005, p. 99.

10. The arguments developed in connection with Ukraine are based mainly on Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, I.B. Taurus, 2015.

11. Sakwa, p. 75.

12. Sakwa, p. 167.

13. Patrick Cockburn, “In the Middle East, our enemy’s enemy must be our friend,” The Independent, April 12, 2015.

14. Ian Sinclair, “Yemen: Britain lurks behind Saudi atrocities,” The Morning Star, July 20, 2015; Shuaib Almosawa, Kareem Fahim and Somini Sengupta, “Yemeni government faces choice between a truce and fighting on,” The New York Times, Aug 14, 2015; Jay Solomon and Asa Fitch, “U.S. met secretly with Yemen rebels,” The Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2015; Maria Abi-Habin and Adam Entous, “U.S. widens role in Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen,” The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2015; Hakim Almasmari and Maria Abi-Habib, “Saudi-backed forces set back in Yemen,” The Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2015.

15. Peter Hart, “Radioactive Putin is ‘Stalin’s Spawn’”, Extra!, May 1, 2014.

Written by what's left

August 29, 2015 at 2:06 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Cuba’s Low Level of Internet Use: Not a Policy of Restricting the Flow of Information

If you want to find examples of governments restricting the flow of information on the internet for political purposes, look to the United States and its allies, and not to the low-level of internet use in Cuba, which, notwithstanding press reports to the contrary, is a consequence of Cuba’s comparatively low-level of economic development, not communist ‘totalitarianism.’

August 22, 2015

By Stephen Gowans

cuba-computerPart of the dogma of capitalist societies is that communist states are inherently restrictive and ‘totalitarian’, in contrast to liberal democracies, which are portrayed as beacons of liberty. Communist states, we’re told, suppress dissent, while capitalist states allow it to flourish. This, of course, is nonsense. All states, regardless of how they’re organized economically, suppress dissent under circumstances of grave threat, and relax repression as danger diminishes. Those that are the most free, are those that face the least danger. Highly restrictive societies are typically highly threatened. The restrictions in the Soviet Union from its birth in 1917 to its collapse in 1991 are pointed to as proof of the totalitarian nature of communism (or “Stalinism”), but the reality that the country was in a permanent state of crisis is ignored, and restrictive measures have long been recognized as legitimate and necessary under emergency conditions, including in liberal theory and practice. Wave after wave of aggression crashed against the Soviet Union from its birth until its collapse. These included the aggressions of Wilhelmine Germany, the intervention of the Entente powers in the Civil War, Japan’s harassment of Soviet borders in the 1930s, the invasion of Nazi Germany, the Cold War, and Reagan’s program of spending the Soviets into bankruptcy. The objective of each aggression was the total annihilation of the communist state.

Totalitarianism has not been a stranger to liberal democracies either. Despite being sheltered by two oceans, having no hostile powers on its borders, and facing no realistic threat of invasion, the US state in two world wars invested its executive with dictatorial powers. These were used to direct the country’s economy, control the flow of information, crackdown on dissent, and herd potential fifth columnists into concentration camps. Even today, despite facing the comparatively minor threat of potential blowback from the political Islamic forces it has long supported to disrupt secular Arab nationalism [1], the United States, Britain, France, Canada and Australia have invested the political policing functions of their respective states with growing powers of surveillance and disruption.

Philosopher and historian Domenico Losurdo observes:

In reality, although protected by the Atlantic and the Pacific, every time it has rightly or wrongly felt itself imperilled, the North American republic has proceeded to a more or less drastic reinforcement of executive power and to more or less heavy restrictions on freedom of association of expression. This applies to the years immediately following the French Revolution (when its devotees on American soil were hit by the Alien and Sedition Acts), to the Civil War, the First Word War, the Great Depression, the Second World War and the Cold War. Even in our day, the sequel of the attack of 11 September 2001 was the opening of a concentration camp at Guantanamo, where detainees have been imprisoned without trial, and without even being informed of a specific charge, regardless of age. However terrible, the threat of terrorism is minor compared with that of invasion and military occupation, not to mention nuclear destruction. [2]

The restrictive practices, or ‘totalitarianism’, of communist states are not inherent. They are, instead, defensive measures against external threat. Cuba and North Korea have been under a greater sustained threat of invasion and military occupation than any other country (and North Korea is additionally under the threat of nuclear destruction.) It is in these countries that the pressure for restrictive practices is most acutely felt. Nor are restrictions on civil and political liberties unique to communist states. They are also found in abundance in capitalist countries, as well.

To illustrate how the dogma in capitalist society conditions its mass media to portray communist countries as inherently restrictive, consider a recent Wall Street Journal article on the expansion of internet access in Cuba (“Cubans get a tantalizing taste of the internet,” August 19, 2015).

The article attributes the comparatively low level of internet use on the Caribbean island to a theorized desire of Cuban authorities to control the flow of information, rather than to a more likely explanation, namely Cuba’s low level of economic development. We would expect that more developed countries would have a higher level of internet use, and less developed countries a lower level. If the level of internet use in Cuba is on par with that of other countries at the same level of economic development, the country’s low level of internet use can be explained by economic development, not a desire to restrict access to the internet to control the flow of information.

The graph below uses World Bank data to show the relationship between internet use per 100 people and GDP per capita. If the Cuban government deliberately restricts internet use, we would expect Cuba to depart significantly to the right of the trend line. Instead, it falls close to it, meaning the level of internet use in Cuba is typical of countries at an equal level of economic development. We can dismiss, therefore, the view that the Caribbean island’s low level of internet use is due to the government deliberately restricting access to the Web. The Wall Street Journal’s explanation of the low level of internet use in Cuba is a political argument, intended to mislead and discredit, not illuminate.

Internet users per 100At 30 users per 100 people in 2014, internet use in Cuba was on par with that of Egypt (32) and El Salvador (30) and greater than in Guatemala (23), Honduras (19), India (18), Nicaragua (18) and Haiti (11) (World Bank). The average for Central America, a region on which the United States has lavished much attention to keep it free from communist ‘totalitarianism’, was 29, virtually equal to that of Cuba. If Cuba’s low level of internet use is indicative of Havana deliberately restricting access to the internet to control the flow of information, then the governments of Central America, along with Egypt and India, must also be ‘totalitarian.’

More fertile ground for identifying governments that impede the flow of information for political purposes can be found in the US orbit, among such trusted US (and capitalist) allies as South Korea, Turkey, Britain, Canada and the United States itself.

The South Korean police state vigorously effaces online content it doesn’t want South Koreans to see. When a computer user in South Korea clicks on an item on the North Korean Twitter account, a government warning against illegal content pops up. In 2011, South Korean authorities blocked over 53,000 internet posts for infractions which included having a kind word to say about North Korea. In the same year, the South Korean police state deleted over 67,000 Web posts that were deemed favorable to North Korea or which criticized the US or South Korean government. Over 14,000 posts were deleted in 2009. [3]

In Turkey, “thousands of Web sites are blocked by the state, mostly without any publicized reason.” [4]

In Britain, government officials have met with representatives of Twitter, Facebook and BlackBerry “to discuss voluntary ways to limit or restrict the use of social media to combat crime and periods of civil unrest.” Free-speech advocates liken these policies to those the British government “has criticized in totalitarian and one-party states.” [5]

The Canadian government recently passed legislation that would give its spy agency, CSIS, authority to disrupt “radical websites” and remove “terrorist propaganda” from the Internet—that is, restrict the flow of information on the Web. [6]

As for the United States, in 2009 “the U.S. Treasury Department ordered the closure of more than eighty websites related to Cuba that promoted trade and thus violated U.S. legislation on economic sanctions.” [7]

If the United States, South Korea, Turkey, Britain and Canada restrict the flow of information on the Internet for political reasons, how is it that Cuba is totalitarian, but these states are beacons of liberty?

Two further points.

First, the United States has waged a campaign of economic warfare against Cuba for over five decades. It’s impossible to say how large the Cuban economy would be today had it been allowed to develop unimpeded, but some estimates put the cost to Cuba of US economic aggression at $750 to $975 billion. [8] One analyst estimates that “Without the blockade, the Cuban standard of living today might well be equal to that of Western Europe.” [9] If so, internet use in Cuba would likely resemble European levels of 76 per 100 people, rather than today’s 30.

Second, the US propaganda system can’t mention internet access in Cuba without making reference to blogger Yoani Sanchez, whose online newspaper 14ymedio “is blocked in Cuba,” according to The Wall Street Journal. [10] There is a good reason for this. Sanchez’s web site appears to be a hostile project of the United States, a country in a virtual state of war with Cuba. Despite her status as a grassroots dissident, Sanchez’s web site is miraculously “available in no less than 18 languages….No other site in the world, including those of major international institutions such as the UN, World Bank, IMF, OECD, and the European Union, has as many language versions available. Not even the U.S. State Department web site or the CIA has such a variety.” [11]


The site hosting the blog of Sanchez has a bandwidth 60 times higher than Cuba has for all its Internet users! Other questions inevitably arise about it: Who manages these pages in 18 languages? Who pays the administrators? How much? Who pays for the translators who work daily on Sanchez’s site? How much? Furthermore, the management of a flow of more than 14 million visitors monthly is extremely expensive. Who pays for that? [12]

Jose Luis Martinez, a spokesman for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, attributes the blocking of 14ymedio to the Cuban government’s desire “to have some type of control” and of being “a totalitarian regime trying to operate in the 21st century.” [13] US client state Egypt has locked up nearly 500 of Sanchez’s fellow political bloggers [14], while Washington’s strategic partner and major arms buyer Saudi Arabia has sentenced one blogger to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for his dissident views [15], yet Havana, the ‘totalitarian regime’ that insists on ‘some type of control’, has spared Sanchez a similar fate. By Martinez’s reasoning, Egypt—which receives $1.3 billion annually in military aid from the United States, second only to Israel [16]—must be a totalitarian state on steroids. And yet it suffers none of the denigration Western news media heap on Cuba.

Losurdo observes that if Cuba’s measures for repressing some political dissent are totalitarianism, then West Germany, which did not shrink from repressing communists, and which, like Hitler, banned the Communist Party, would also have to be regarded as totalitarian. [17] The same could be said of South Korea, whose infamous National Security Law continues to be used to lock up leftists. The South Korea police state recently disbanded one left-wing party, stripping its legislators of their parliamentary seats, and jailing a handful of its members, including the lawmaker Lee Seok-ki. [18]

Decades of low-intensity warfare against Cuba carried out by the United States, including a blockade, unremitting military threat, sabotage, support for fifth columnists, and occasional terrorism, has created a de facto state of war. Nevertheless, Cuba has reacted to this situation with measures no more drastic than those implemented in the United States during two world wars, [19] and no more drastic than those once implemented in West Germany and currently practiced with vigor in South Korea.

It’s not ‘totalitarian’ Cuban government policy that has limited internet use in Cuba. Internet use in Cuba has been limited by the comparatively low level of development of the Cuban economy and the US economic aggression which has stifled it. What restrictions Cuba has implemented are warranted defensive measures against the predations of its hyper-aggressive neighbor to the north. This, however, would be news to those who follow the mass media in capitalist societies. The sole interest of these media when it comes to Cuba and North Korea is to discredit ideological competitors through the propagation of dogma which treats the warts of all societies as uniquely present in those of communism and absent in those of capitalism.

1. See Robert Dreyfus, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, Holt Paperbacks, 2005 and Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam, Serpent’s Tail, 2010.

2. Domenico Losurdo. War and Revolution: Rethinking the 20th Century. Verso. 2015. p 58.

3. Stephen Gowans, “South Korea’s Police State Wages War on Proponents of Democracy,” what’s left, January 27, 2015.

4. Sebnem Arsu, “Internet filters set off protests around Turkey”, The New York Times, May 15, 2011.

5. Ravi Somaiya, “In Britain, a meeting on limiting social media”, The New York Times, August 25, 2011.

6. “Tell Parliament-defeat police state bill C-51!”, People’s Voice, February 5, 2015.

7. Salim Lamrani, “The Contradictions of Cuban Blogger Yoani Sanchez,” MRZine, December 11, 2009.

8. Aida Calviac Mora, “With Obama in the White House, the blockade hasn’t changed at all”, Granma International, September 16, 2010; Thomas Kenny, “Interview with Thomas Kenny co-author of Socialism of ‘Betrayed Behind the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1917-1991,” PoliticalEconomy.ie, March 16, 2015.

9. Kenny.

10. Ryan Dube, “Cubans get a tantalizing taste of the internet,” The Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2015.

11. Lamrani.

12. Lamrani.

13. Dube.

14. Jeffrey Fleishman, “In Egypt, a blogger tries to spread ‘culture of disobedience’ among youths,” The Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2009.

15. Jay Solomon and Felicia Schwartz, “U.S. rebukes Saudis for sentencing blogger to 1,000 lashes,” The Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2014.

16. Carol E. Lee and Gordon Lubold, “U.S. seeks to allay concerns of allies on Iran nuclear deal,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2015.

17. Losurdo, p. 312.

18. Gowans.

19. Losurdo, p. 312.

Written by what's left

August 22, 2015 at 3:11 pm

Posted in Cuba


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