what's left

Politics Makes Strange Bed Fellows

“I’d form an alliance with the devil himself if it helped defeat Hitler.” – Winston Churchill

November 8, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

A point I made in a recent article has stirred a fierce reaction, particularly from Michel Chossudovsky, but on earlier occasions from others as well, who seem particularly agitated by my observation that Al Qaeda is “implacably opposed to the US presence in the Muslim world.”

As far as I can tell, Chossudovsky is offended by the following.

The war [of the United States in Yemen] is consistent with the immediate aim of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds—to eliminate any organized, militant opposition to US domination of the Middle East. It is an aim that accounts for Washington’s opposition to entities as diverse as the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and Al Qaeda. While these states and organizations have differing agendas, their agendas overlap in one respect: all of them oppose US domination of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

There are two organizations in Yemen that militantly oppose US domination of Yemen specifically and the Muslim world broadly: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Houthis. Both are Islamist organizations. Both are implacably opposed to US and Israeli interference in the Muslim world.

Apparently, my contention that (a) Al Qaeda is opposed to the US presence in the Muslim world, readily verifiable in the statements of Osama bin Laden and the organization’s subsequent leadership, has been construed as (b) a denial of Al Qaeda’s collaboration with the United States, both in the war on Syria, and in the wars on the Gaddafi government in Libya and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

As a matter of logic b (what Chossudovsky thinks I’ve said or implied) does not follow from a (my observation about Al Qaeda.) Perhaps a few examples will illustrate how Chossudovsky’s thinking—and that of others—has gone wrong.

Opposition to the US presence in the Middle East does not preclude collaboration with the United States to achieve a shared negative goal. The ad rem case in this particular discussion is the elimination of secular, leftist governments. Hostile states and organizations that have otherwise mutually antagonistic aims have, on occasion, if not frequently, formed temporary alliances to achieve common negative objectives.

For example, the resolutely anti-communist Winston Churchill formed an alliance with the resolutely communist Joseph Stalin against Hitler’s Germany, a shared enemy. Once their common negative goal was achieved with Hitler’s destruction, the alliance was dissolved, and the hostility that had previously existed between the two states, based on their pursuit of mutually antagonistic goals, resumed. Stalin was implacably opposed to British imperialism, but we wouldn’t say that his alliance with London refuted this. Nor would we say that the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact refuted the claim that the Soviet Union was implacably opposed to Nazism (though if we followed Chossudovsky’s logic we would.)

Bashar al Assad is implacably opposed to the US presence in the Arab world, readily verifiable in his statements and in the program of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party. All the same, Assad, like Muamar Gaddafi (also an anti-imperialist) collaborated with Washington in the US rendition program. That program was aimed at Al Qaeda and other jihadists, enemies common to Libya, Syria and the United States. Assad’s collaboration with Washington in this matter didn’t mean he wanted a US presence in the Arab world. Nor does it refute the statement that Assad is an anti-imperialist.

At the time, it made sense for Gaddafi and Assad to cooperate with the United States in neutralizing jihadists who threatened their secular governments. Equally, it made sense for Washington to enlist Gaddafi’s and Assad’s assistance. Jihadists threatened US domination of the Arab world. But it also made sense for Washington to enlist the aid of the jihadists to eliminate Gaddafi and Assad, who also threatened US domination of the Arab world. If you’re smart, you play your enemies off against each other.

Some people have argued that Assad’s anti-imperialism is a front, citing his collaboration with Washington in the rendition program and on other matters. They make the same argument about Mugabe, and also Gaddafi and Milosevic and Saddam. These leaders, the argument goes, are (or were) objectively pro-imperialist, because at some point they cooperated with the United States, in implementing structural adjustment programs (Milosevic and Mugabe), seeking a rapprochement with the West (Gaddafi), or collaborating with Washington against Iran (Saddam.) The argument, of course, parallels Chossudovsky’s that Al Qaeda can’t possibly be against a US presence in the Muslim world because it collaborates with Washington.

Many people have asked me how I can say Bashar al Assad is anti-imperialist, since Assad’s government tortured the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar and many others on behalf of Washington. Assad, they say, is “objectively” imperialist for collaborating with Washington, just as Chossudovsky believes that Al Qaeda is “objectively” imperialist for cooperating with the United States. Some say that Assad can’t possibly be “implacably opposed” to the US presence in the Arab world because he collaborated with Washington, just as others say with equal illogic that Al Qaeda can’t possibly be “implacably opposed” to the US presence in the Arab world because it collaborates with Washington. What’s missed here is that Assad participated in the rendition program, not because he wanted to help the United States, but because he wanted to advance Syrian goals. Likewise, Al Qaeda worked with Washington in Libya and Syria, not because it wanted to help the United States, but because it wanted to advance its own anti-secularist goals, and collaborating with the United States, at that particular time and place, was believed by Al Qaeda’s leadership to be the best way to achieve those goals (just as Churchill believed at the time and place of Europe in 1941 that the best way to achieve Britain’s wartime goals was to collaborate with a hated enemy.)

Collaborating with an imperialist power to eliminate a common enemy, no more makes Assad an imperialist, than collaborating with Britain to eliminate Nazi Germany made Stalin an imperialist (or Churchill a communist), or the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact made Stalin a Nazi, or Lenin’s accepting Germany’s assistance to return to Russia in 1917 made Lenin pro-German, or collaborating with the United States to eliminate secular Ba’athists makes Al Qaeda imperialist (or Washington Islamist.)

Islamists have often cooperated with Western powers to topple secular, leftist governments—not because they desired a US presence in the Muslim world, but because they didn’t want secular government. Lenin accepted assistance from Germany not because he desired German-rule but because he didn’t want a Tsarist government and wanted a Bolshevik government in its place. Accepting Washington’s help to rid the Muslim world of secularists like Assad makes sense to jihadists—but it doesn’t mean they want Washington or its puppets running their affairs, anymore than Assad’s and Gaddafi’s accepting Washington’s help (through the rendition program) to rid secular Syria and secular Libya of jihadists meant they wanted Washington to run Syria’s and Libya’s affairs.

To sketch this out:

o Assad wants the US out of the Arab world and a secular government
o Al Qaeda wants the US out of the Arab world and an Islamist government
o Washington wants both Assad and Al Qaeda out of the way

At points the goals overlap; at other points, they’re in conflict. At times Washington works with Syria against Al Qaeda (as in the rendition program); at other times, Washington works with Al Qaeda against Syria. And both Assad and Al Qaeda are quite happy to have US assistance if it means the elimination of the other.

If Washington governed Syria through a local puppet, it would not be improbable to see Ba’athists and Islamists form a temporary alliance against US power in Syria. On other occasions, secular leftists and Islamists have collaborated in the pursuit of common goals. In the 1970s Iran, communists, secular nationalists and Islamists formed alliances to oust the Shah. But communist collaboration with political Islam didn’t make the communists tools of the Islamists or “objectively” Islamist. Nor did it mean that they weren’t implacably opposed to Islamist government.

Communists have often worked with social democrats, with whom they’re implacably opposed, against the right, but their cooperation hasn’t made them “objectively” social democrats or tools of social democracy. Nor would anyone who has a passing acquaintance with logic accept communist participation in a popular front as proof that communists aren’t against social democracy. What a popular front is, is anti-right, not pro-social democracy, in the same way that Al Qaeda’s collaboration with Washington in Syria is anti-Ba’ath, not pro-imperialist.

Groups cooperate with each other where their agendas have points of intersection, and work against each other where their agendas are in conflict. Shifting alliances, temporary collaborations of convenience, playing one side off against the other—these are all common features of human interaction and commerce, as ubiquitous in the political affairs of the Middle East and the wider world as in your own personal life. Collaborating with one enemy against another, temporarily, until one enemy is gone, doesn’t mean you don’t have two enemies.

The choices people face are rarely of the sort: A (ally with) or B (fight against), but are most often of the sort: A (ally with) or B (fight against) or C (do both, shifting between one mode or the other depending on circumstance, opportunity, and the balance of forces.) Unless this is recognized, the complex interaction of competing forces in the Middle East, and elsewhere, will be understood as a Manichean world of over-simplified dualisms suitable only for comic book analysis and the world of half-wit conspiracy theory rather than what Lenin once called “concrete analysis of concrete situations.”

Advertisements

Written by what's left

November 9, 2017 at 2:24 am

Posted in Al Qaeda, Yemen

The US-Led War on Yemen

Washington is hiding its leadership of the war on Yemen behind the Saudis

November 6, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

In October, 2016, two Reuters’ reporters published an exclusive, under the headline: “As Saudis bombed Yemen, U.S. worried about legal blowback.” [1]

The reporters, Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, revealed that legal experts at the US State Department had warned the White House that the United States could be charged with war crimes in connection with the Saudi Air Force bombing campaign in Yemen.

So far, the bombing campaign has left tens of thousands dead and many more wounded, as well as over 10 percent of Yemen’s population homeless. Accompanied by naval and aerial blockades, the aggression has created near famine conditions for somewhere between 25 to 40 percent of the population and has contributed to a cholera outbreak affecting hundreds of thousands.

According to Strobel and Landay, “State Department officials … were privately skeptical of the Saudi military’s ability to target Houthi militants without killing civilians and destroying ‘critical infrastructure’”. [2]

The officials acknowledged that the airstrikes were indiscriminate (a war crime), but said that the indiscriminate nature of the bombing was due to the inexperience of Saudi pilots and the difficulty of distinguishing enemy militants not wearing uniforms from the civilian population.

All the same, inasmuch as the bombing is indiscriminate, irrespective of why, it constitutes a war crime.

The second point the State Department lawyers made is that the United States is a co-belligerent in the war.

The Reuters article didn’t reveal the true extent to which the United States is involved, but it did acknowledge that Washington supplies the bombs which Saudi pilots drop on Yemen and that the United States Air Force refuels Saudi bombers in flight.

In other words, the United States plays a role in facilitating the campaign of indiscriminate bombing.

This was of great concern to the State Department legal staff.

The lawyers pointed out that while the indiscriminate bombing is the work of Saudi pilots, blame for the war crime could also be pinned on the United States through a legal instrument Washington had helped to create; hence, the fear of legal blowback.

The legal instrument was created by the UN-established Special Court on Sierra Leone, which the United States backed, if not instigated.

The court had ruled that Liberia’s president Charles Taylor was guilty of war crimes committed in the civil war in Sierra Leone, even though Taylor wasn’t in Sierra Leone when the crimes were committed. What’s more, Taylor, himself, had no direct connection to the crimes. This, everyone acknowledged.

But that, said the court, didn’t matter.

What mattered was that Taylor had provided “practical assistance, moral support and encouragement” to people in Sierra Leone who had committed war crimes.

Therefore, the court ruled, Taylor was guilty of war crimes, as well. [3]

The United States used the same legal instrument to indict Al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo Bay for the crime of 9/11, even though the detainees in question had no direct involvement in the 9/11 attacks. It was sufficient that they had provided moral support and encouragement to those who had. [4]

This instrument, which had served Washington well in locking up people it didn’t like, now proved problematic, and the reason why is that the United States provides practical assistance, moral support and encouragement to the Saudis in a campaign of indiscriminate (hence, war criminal) bombing. US military personnel and state officials can therefore be charged with war crimes under a legal principle Washington helped to establish.

Worse, Washington offers the Saudis far more than just encouragement and moral support. It also furnishes its Arabian ally with diplomatic support, as well as the bombs that are dropped on Yemenis, and the war planes that drop the bombs. Additionally, it trains the pilots who fly the warplanes who drop the bombs.

And that’s not all. The United States also flies its own drones and reconnaissance aircraft over Yemen to gather intelligence to select targets for the Saudi pilots to drop bombs on. [5] It also provides warships to enforce a naval blockade. And significantly, it runs an operations center to coordinate the bombing campaign among the US satellites who are participating in it, including Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan—the kingdoms, emirates, sultanates and military dictatorships which make up the United States’ Arab allies, all anti-democratic.

In other words, not only is the United States providing encouragement and moral support to the Saudis—it’s actually running the war on Yemen. In the language of the military, the United States has command and control. The only thing it doesn’t do is provide the pilots to drop the bombs.

Here’s what the Wall Street Journal reported: A Pentagon spokesman said the United States has special operations forces on the ground and provides airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, operational planning [my emphasis], maritime interdiction, security, medical support and aerial refueling. [6]

According to the newspaper, Pentagon war planners run a joint operations center where bombing targets are selected. [7]

When you run the operations center, you run the war.

So, two important aspects of the war: First, the bombing is indiscriminate and therefore a war crime—and Washington knows this. Second, the United States is involved in the war to a degree that is infrequently, if ever, recognized and acknowledged.

In fact, the war on Yemen is almost universally described as a Saudi-led war. This is a mischaracterization. It is a US-led war.

The war is consistent with the immediate aim of the United States in the Arab and Muslim worlds—to eliminate any organized, militant opposition to US domination of the Middle East. It is an aim that accounts for Washington’s opposition to entities as diverse as the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, and Al Qaeda. While these states and organizations have differing agendas, their agendas overlap in one respect: all of them oppose US domination of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

There are two organizations in Yemen that militantly oppose US domination of Yemen specifically and the Muslim world broadly: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and the Houthis. Both are Islamist organizations. Both are implacably opposed to US and Israeli interference in the Muslim world. And both are committed to freeing Yemen from US domination. But they have different approaches.

Al Qaeda directs its attacks at what it calls its distant and near enemies.

The distant enemy is the United States, the center of an empire which Zbigniew Brzezinski, a principal figure in the US foreign policy establishment, had called a hegemony of a new type with unprecedented global reach and scale—in other words, the largest empire in human history.

The near enemy, by contrast, according to Al Qaeda ideology, comprises the component parts of the US Empire—the local governments which are subordinate to the United States and do Washington’s bidding (Yemen under the previous government, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and so on.)

Al Qaeda carries out campaigns against both its distant and near enemies—which is to say, against Western targets on Western soil, and against local governments which collaborate with, and act as agents of, the United States.

The Houthis, in contrast, model themselves on Hezbollah and Hamas. They focus on what Al Qaeda calls the near enemy, that is, local governments which are extensions of US global power. Hezbollah focuses on Western interference in Lebanon, Hamas on the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and the Houthis on Western lieutenants in Yemen, but do not seek to strike Western targets on Western soil as Al Qaeda does.

+++

Before the Houthis took control of the government, Washington was waging a war in Yemen against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Washington had deployed Special Operations Forces and the CIA to deal with an Al Qaeda branch in Yemen that had organized the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and an attempted 2009 Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

But these Al Qaeda attacks were only a symptom of what the United States is waging a war on. The United States says it’s waging a war on terrorism but what it’s actually waging a war on are the forces that oppose US domination of the Muslim world.

That some of those forces happen to use terrorist methods at times, and that they engage in violent politics, is less important to Washington than the fact that they’re against US domination and influence.

+++

The United States was prepared to wage a war against Al Qaeda in Yemen unilaterally, without the cooperation of the former Yemeni government.

Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said “Certainly a willing partner in Yemen…makes missions much more effective. But we have also proven the ability to go after terrorists in various places unilaterally. We … retain that right.” [8]

This was really quite an extraordinary statement, for Kirby was acknowledging in words what was already evident in actions: that the United States does not recognize the sovereignty of any country. It retains the right to intervene anywhere, militarily or otherwise, whether that country’s government assents to the intervention, or not.

The most conspicuous current example of Washington arrogating onto itself the right to intervene unilaterally in any country in pursuit of its foreign policy goals is the US invasion of Syria, carried out over the objection of the Syrian government, and without the slightest regard for the rule of law, which prohibits such affronts against the principle of national sovereignty.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA persuaded Yemen’s president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to allow the U.S. military to conduct operations in Yemen against Al Qaeda targets.

Saleh was reluctant to cede Yemen’s sovereignty, but believed that if he refused the US request, Washington would invade (as it reserved the right to do.)

Hence, under duress, Saleh agreed to allow the CIA to fly Predator drones armed with Hellfire missiles over his country and agreed to the entry of US Army Special Forces into Yemen. [9] He agreed, in other words, to the US occupation of his country.

In early 2011, as the US war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was in progress, a massive revolt against the Saleh government broke out, part of the so-called Arab Spring. It involved tens of thousands of Yemenis participating in weeks-long sit-ins.

Washington supported Saleh throughout this distemper, while at the same time demanding that Syrian president Bashar al Assad step down, charging (falsely) that he, Assad, had lost the support of his people.

In contrast, Saleh, despite having no popular support (or very little) enjoyed US backing—and he did so because, unlike Assad, he was willing to cede his country’s sovereignty to the United States.

After months of unrest in Yemen, Washington came to the conclusion that Saleh’s continued rule was no longer viable. He had become far too unpopular and chances were that he would be toppled by the popular revolt. Whoever took his place might not be as compliant.

So, meetings were arranged with leaders of the opposition, to make the case for continuing US operations. Eventually, a plan was agreed to in which Saleh would step down in favor of his vice-president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. [10]

Hadi proved to be no more popular than Saleh, although he proved to be just as popular with Washington as his predecessor was. Top US officials supported Hadi because he allowed the Pentagon a free hand in Yemen. [11]

Yemenis, in contrast, didn’t like Hadi—and they didn’t like him for a number of reasons, not least of which was that he was perceived correctly as a puppet of the United States.

In September, 2014, the Houthis, who had launched an insurgency 10 years earlier, seized the capital, demanding a greater share of power.

By February 2015, they had taken control of the government. Soon after, Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia.

What did the Houthis want?

The Houthis self-stated aim – their political project – is to cleanse the country of corrupt leaders beholden to foreign powers. They’re against the interference of the United States and Israel in Yemen’s affairs. A Houthi spokesman said, we’re “simply against the interference of those governments.” [12]

In 2015, Newsweek reported that “In essence what the Houthis call for are things that all Yemenis crave: government accountability, the end to corruption, regular utilities, fair fuel prices, job opportunities for ordinary Yemenis and the end of Western influence.” [13]

Newsweek also reported that “Many Yemenis believe the Houthis are right in pushing out Western influence and decision making.” [14]

So, what was the situation, then, for the United States in February 2015, with the unpopular Hadi government ousted and the Houthis, committed to Yemen’s independence, taking control of the government?

The situation was now much worse than it had been when Washington began its war in Yemen on Al Qaeda. Rather than one group militantly opposing US domination of Yemen, there were now two and control of the government had slipped from the hands of Washington’s marionette. In an effort to reverse a deteriorating situation, Washington instigated a war on the Houthis, overlaying a new war upon its existing war on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

But the US administration had no legal authorization to wage a war on a group whose remit was internal to Yemen and wasn’t implicated in the 9/11 attacks. The US Congress had provided the US president with an open-ended authorization to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.” [15] That included Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. But it didn’t include the Houthis.

If the United States was to lead a war against the Houthis legally, it would have to seek out and obtain Congress’s authorization. And the chances of the White House obtaining Congress’s consent for a war on the Houthis was next to zero. So Washington prepared a deception. It put the Saudis out front and said the war on the Houthis was Saudi-led.

To give the deception a semblance of credibility, the Saudis were said to view the Houthis as a threat. The Houthis were alleged to be a proxy of Iran, a country the Saudis regard as their principal rival in the Middle East.

But this was nonsense. In April, 2015, the US National Security Council declared that, “It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen,” adding “It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for Iran.” [16]

The United States instigated the war on the Houthis for two reasons: First, because the Houthis are an organized, militant force against US interference in Yemen. And second, because the Houthis had ousted a government whose subordination to the United States had been useful for Washington in pursuing a campaign to eliminate another organized, militant force against US interference in the Muslim world, namely Al Qaeda.

The aim of the war is to drive the resistant sovereigntist Houthis out and bring the malleable puppet Hadi back in.

So, the United States organized a war using Saudi pilots as the tip of its spear, in exactly the same way it is pursuing a war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria using Kurds as the tip of its spear. In both cases the United States provides command and control, while in Syria and Iraq the Kurds provide the boots on the ground and in Yemen the Saudis provide the pilots in the air. But the war on the Houthis is no more a Saudi-led war than the US war on ISIS is a Kurd-led war.

US leaders don’t put US boots on the ground or US pilots in the air if they can get someone else to do the fighting for them.

As long ago as 1949, the US journalist Marguerite Higgins remarked on how “an intelligent and intensive investment of combat-hardened American men and officers could be used to train local forces to do the shooting for you.” [17]

More recently, in 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that “America’s special-operations forces, have landed in 81 countries, most of them training local commandos to fight so American troops don’t have to.” [18]

There are a number of advantages for the United States of using local forces to do the fighting so that it doesn’t have to.

First, cost savings. It costs the US Treasury less to have Saudi pilots drop bombs on the Houthis than to have US pilots do the same.

Second, control of public opinion. Consent for yet another US war doesn’t have to be obtained.

Third, certain legal obligations are avoided, such as the need to obtain a legal authorization for war.

From the perspective of the US state, to run a war from behind the scenes, and let local forces assume the burden of being the tip of the spear, is simpler, more cost effective, less troublesome legally, and easier to manage issues of public consent.

Another reason we should believe the war on Yemen is a US- and not a Saudi-led war is that US national security strategy insists on US leadership. It is inconceivable that the United States would cede leadership of a military campaign in which it is involved to a satellite country.

Statements of US leadership abound in the utterances of US politicians, US military leaders, and US commentators.

“We lead the world,” declared former US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. [19]

“The question is never whether America should lead, but how we lead,” asserted Obama’s National Security Strategy. [20]

Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, describes the United States as having a “global leadership role.” [21]

In his second inaugural address, Bill Clinton described the United States as imbued with a special mission to lead the world. [22]

John McCain recently said that the United States has “an obligation” to lead. [23]

Would a country with such a fixation on leadership willingly assume a back-seat support role in a military campaign in a country in which it had already initiated a war and spent years fighting it? If the answer isn’t obvious, the reality that US war planners provide operational planning of the anti-Houthi war should lay to rest any doubts about who’s really in the driver’s seat.

This is a US-led war for empire, against an organized, militant force, which insists on Yemeni sovereignty; which insists on self-determination; and which therefore repudiates US leadership (a euphemism for US despotism and US dictatorship.)

If we’re committed to democracy, we ought to support those who fight against the despotism of empires; we ought to support those who insist on the equality of all peoples to self-determination; we ought to support those who find repugnant the notion that the United States claims a right to intervene in the affairs of any country, regardless of whether the people of that country agree to the intervention or not.

The fight of Yemenis to organize their own affairs, in their own way, in their own interests, by their own efforts, free from the interference of empires and their local proxies, is a fight in which all of us have a stake.

The struggle to end the war on Yemen, and the larger struggle to end the empire-building, the despotism, the dictatorship, of the United States, is not only a struggle for peace, but a struggle for democracy—and a struggle for the Enlightenment values of freedom (from despotism) and equality (of all peoples to determine their own affairs.)

1. Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, “Exclusive: As Saudis bombed Yemen, U.S. worried about legal blowback,” Reuters, October 10, 2016.
2. Strobel and Landay.
3. Strobel and Landay.
4. Strobel and Landay.
5. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “Quiet support for Saudis entangles U.S. in Yemen,” The New York Times, March 13, 2016.
6. Gordon Lubold and Paul Sonne, “U.S. troops return to Yemen in battle against Al Qaeda, Pentagon says,” The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2016.
7. Lubold and Sonne.
8. Damian Paletta and Julian E. Barnes, “Yemen unrest spells setback for U.S.”, The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2015.
9. Dana Priest, “U.S. military teams, intelligence deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes,” The Washington Post, January 27, 2010.
10. Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. is intensifying a secret campaign of Yemen airstrikes”, The New York Times, June 8, 2011.
11. Paletta and Barnes.
12. Ben Hubbard, “Plight of Houthi rebels is clear in visit to Yemen’s capital,” The New York Times, November 26, 2016.
13. “Photo essay: Rise of the Houthis,” Newsweek, February 9, 2015.
14. Newsweek.
15. Authorization for Use of Military Force, S.J.Res.23, September 14, 2001.
16. Kenneth Katzman, “Iran’s Foreign Policy,” Congressional Research Service, August 24, 2016.
17. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005, p. 255.
18. Michael M. Phillips, “New ways the U.S. projects power around the globe: Commandoes,” The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2015.
19. “U.S. envoy urges no cut in U.N. funding,” The Associated Press, January 13, 2017.
20. US National Security Strategy, 2015.
21. Felicia Schwartz, “U.S. to reduce staffing at embassy in Cuba in response to mysterious attacks,” The Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2017.
22. William J. Clinton, Inaugural Address. January 20, 1997.
23. Solomon Hughes, “Trump warns McCain: ‘I fight back’,” The Wall Street Journal, October 17, 2017.

Written by what's left

November 6, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Yemen

Tagged with

Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom

Koreans have been fighting a civil war since 1932, when Kim Il Sung, the founder of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, along with other Korean patriots, launched a guerrilla war against Japanese colonial domination. Other Koreans, traitors to the cause of Korea’s freedom, including a future South Korean president, joined the side of Japan’s empire, becoming officers in the Japanese army or enlisting in the hated colonial police force.

But even before there was a civil war, Koreans fought for their freedom. From the early years of the twentieth century, when Japan incorporated Korea into its burgeoning empire, Koreans struggled against foreign domination, both that of Japan and the United States. At times they protested peacefully. At other times they rioted, launched insurrections, and fought sustained guerrilla wars. And after the United States engineered the political division of their country, they fought a conventional war, from 1950-1953, which cost three million Koreans their lives.

When the Japanese Empire collapsed in 1945, Koreans erupted in joy, quickly organizing an independent state, the Korean People’s Republic, to usher in the freedom they had long struggled for. But their joy quickly turned to bitterness as the United States refused to recognize the new republic, and soon declared war on it.

Koreans hungered for self-determination, land reform, and an economy directed to local needs, and they turned to communists as leaders, who had established great moral authority in the anti-colonial struggle for freedom, and looked to the Soviet Union for inspiration.

But a communist Korea failed to comport with the aspirations of US policy planners, mainly Wall Street lawyers and bankers, who sought a world in which US corporations and investors would be free to scour the globe in search of lucrative trade and investment opportunities. A Korea which handed control of the country’s land, resources, and factories to farmers, cooperatives and state-owned enterprises clashed sharply with the planners’ agenda.

In Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom, Stephen Gowans explores the fight of Korean patriots for freedom against the empires and traitors who opposed them, starting in 1905 and following the struggle through the Korean War to North Korea’s efforts to become a nuclear weapons-state, invulnerable to attack by the United States.

Coming in 2018 from Baraka Books.

Written by what's left

September 15, 2017 at 11:35 pm

Posted in DPRK, north Korea, south Korea

Tagged with

The Myth of the Kurdish YPG’s Moral Excellence

July 11, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

A barbed criticism aimed at the International Socialist Organization, shown nearby, under the heading “If the ISO Existed in 1865” encompasses a truth about the orientation of large parts of the Western Left to the Arab nationalist government in Damascus. The truth revealed in the graphic is that the ISO and its cognates will leave no stone unturned in their search for an indigenous Syrian force to support that has taken up arms against Damascus, even to the point of insisting that a group worthy of support must surely exist, even if it can’t be identified.

If the ISO existed in 1865.

Of course, Washington lends a hand, helpfully denominating its proxies in the most laudatory terms. Islamist insurgents in Syria, mainly Al Qaeda, were not too many years ago celebrated as a pro-democracy movement, and when that deception proved no longer tenable, as moderates. Now that the so-called moderates have been exposed as the very opposite, many Leftists cling to the hope that amid the Islamist opponents of Syria’s secular, Arab socialist, government, can be found votaries of the enlightenment values Damascus already embraces. Surely somewhere there exist armed anti-government secular Leftists to rally behind; for it appears that the goal is to find a reason, any reason, no matter how tenuous, to create a nimbus of moral excellence around some group that opposes with arms the government in Damascus; some group that can be made to appear to be non-sectarian, anti-imperialist, socialist, committed to the rights of women and minorities, and pro-Palestinian; in other words, a group just like Syria’s Ba’ath Arab Socialists, except not them.

Stepping forward to fulfill that hope is the PKK, an anarchist guerrilla group demonized as a terrorist organization when operating in Turkey against a US ally, but which goes by the name of the YPG in Syria, where it is the principal component of the lionized “Syrian Democratic Force.” So appealing is the YPG to many Western Leftists that some have gone so far as to volunteer to fight in its units. But is the YPG the great hope it’s believed it to be?

Kurds in Syria

It’s difficult to determine with precision how many Kurds are in Syria, but it’s clear that the ethnic group comprises only a small percentage of the Syrian population (less than 10 percent according to the CIA, and 8.5 percent according to an estimate cited by Nikolaos Van Dam in his book The Struggle for Power in Syria. [1] Estimates of the proportion of the total Kurd population living in Syria vary from two to seven percent based on population figures presented in the CIA World Factbook. Half of the Kurd community lives in Turkey, 28 percent in Iran and 20 percent in Iraq. A declassified 1972 US State Department report estimated that only between four and five percent of the world’s Kurds lived in Syria [2]. While the estimates are rough, it’s clear that Kurds make up a fairly small proportion of the Syrian population and that the number of the group’s members living in Syria as a proportion of the Kurd community as a whole is very small.

The PKK

Kurdish fighters in Syria operate under the name of the YPG, which is “tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a radical guerrilla movement combining [anarchist ideas] with Kurdish nationalism. PKK guerrillas [have] fought the Turkish state from 1978” and the PKK is “classified as a terrorist organization by the European Union, Turkey and the U.S.” [3]

Cemil Bayik is the top field commander of both the PKK in Turkey and of its Syrian incarnation, the YPG. Bayik “heads the PKK umbrella organization, the KCK, which unites PKK affiliates in different countries. All follow the same leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been in prison in Turkey” [4] since 1999, when he was apprehended by Turkish authorities with CIA assistance.

Ocalan “was once a devotee of Marxism-Leninism,” according to Carne Ross, who wrote a profile of the Kurdish nationalist leader in The Financial Times in 2015. But Ocalan “came to believe that, like capitalism, communism perforce relied upon coercion.” Imprisoned on an island in the Sea of Marmara, Ocalan discovered “the masterwork of a New York political thinker named Murray Bookchin.” Bookchin “believed that true democracy could only prosper when decision-making belonged to the local community and was not monopolized by distant and unaccountable elites.” Government was desirable, reasoned Bookchin, but decision-making needed to be decentralized and inclusive. While anarchist, Bookchin preferred to call his approach “communalism”. Ocalan adapted Bookchin’s ideas to Kurd nationalism, branding the new philosophy “democratic confederalism.” [5]

Labor Zionism has similar ideas about a political system based on decentralized communes, but is, at its core, a nationalist movement. Similarly, Ocalan’s views cannot be understood outside the framework of Kurdish nationalism. The PKK may embrace beautiful utopian goals of democratic confederalism but it is, at its heart, an organization dedicated to establishing Kurdish self-rule—and, as it turns out, not only on traditionally Kurdish territory, but on Arab territory, as well, making the parallel with Labour Zionism all the stronger. In both Syria and Iraq, Kurdish fighters have used the campaign against ISIS as an opportunity to extend Kurdistan into traditionally Arab territories in which Kurds have never been in the majority.

The PKK’s goal, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher, “is a confederation of self-rule Kurdish-led enclaves in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey” [6] countries in which Kurdish populations have a presence, though, as we’ve seen, an insignificant one in Syria. In pursuit of this goal “as many as 5,000 Syrian Kurds have died fighting alongside the PKK since the mid-1980s, and nearly all of YPG’s top leaders and battle-hardened fighters are veterans of the decades-long struggle against Turkey.” [7]

In Syria, the PKK’s goal “is to establish a self-ruled region in northern Syria,” [8] an area with a significant Arab population.

When PKK fighters cross the border into Turkey, they become ‘terrorists’, according to the United States and European Union, but when they cross back into Syria they are miraculously transformed into ‘guerrilla” fighters waging a war for democracy as the principal component of the Syrian Democratic Force. The reality is, however, that whether on the Turkish or Syrian side of the border, the PKK uses the same methods, pursues the same goals, and relies largely on the same personnel. The YPG is the PKK.

An Opportunity

Washington has long wanted to oust the Arab nationalists in Syria, regarding them as “a focus of Arab nationalist struggle against an American regional presence and interests,” as Amos Ma’oz once put it. The Arab nationalists, particularly the Ba’ath Arab Socialist party, in power since 1963, represent too many things Washington deplores: socialism, Arab nationalism, anti-imperialism, and anti-Zionism. Washington denounced Hafez al-Assad, president of Syria from 1970 to 2000, as an Arab communist, and regards his son, Bashar, who succeeded him as president, as little different. Bashar, the State Department complains, hasn’t allowed the Syrian economy—based on Soviet models, its researchers say—to be integrated into the US-superintended global economy. Plus, Washington harbors grievances about Damascus’s support for Hezbollah and the Palestinian national liberation movement.

US planners decided to eliminate Asia’s Arab nationalists by invading their countries, first Iraq, in 2003, which, like Syria, was led by the Ba’ath Arab Socialists, and then Syria. However, the Pentagon soon discovered that its resources were strained by resistance to its occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and that an invasion of Syria was out of the question. As an alternative, Washington immediately initiated a campaign of economic warfare against Syria. That campaign, still in effect 14 years later, would eventually buckle the economy and prevent Damascus from providing education, health care and other essential services in some parts of the country. At the same time, Washington took steps to reignite the long-running holy war that Syria’s Islamists had waged on the secular state, dating to the 1960s and culminating in the bloody takeover of Hama, Syria’s fourth largest city, in 1982. Beginning in 2006, Washington worked with Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood to rekindle the Brother’s jihad against Assad’s secular government. The Brothers had two meetings at the White House, and met frequently with the State Department and National Security Council.

The outbreak of Islamist violence in March of 2011 was greeted by the PKK as an opportunity. As The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov recounts, “The PKK, once an ally of…Damascus…had long been present among Kurdish communities in northern Syria. When the revolutionary tide reached Syria, the group’s Syrian affiliate quickly seized control of three Kurdish-majority regions along the Turkish frontier. PKK fighters and weapons streamed there from other parts of Kurdistan.”[9] The “Syrian Kurds,” wrote Trofimov’s colleagues, Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak, viewed “the civil war as an opportunity to carve out a self-governing enclave—similar to the one established by their ethnic kin in neighboring Iraq.” [10] That enclave, long backed by the United States and Israel, was seen as a means of weakening the Iraqi state.

Damascus facilitated the PKK take-over by withdrawing its troops from Kurdish-dominated areas. The Middle East specialist Patrick Seale, who wrote that the Kurds had “seized the opportunity” of the chaos engendered by the Islamist uprising “to boost their own political agenda” [11] speculated that the Syrian government’s aims in pulling back from Kurd-majority areas was to redirect “troops for the defence of Damascus and Aleppo;” punish Turkey for its support of Islamist insurgents; and “to conciliate the Kurds, so as to dissuade them from joining the rebels.” [12] The PKK, as it turns out, didn’t join the Islamist insurgents, as Damascus hoped. But they did join a more significant part of the opposition to Arab nationalist Syria: the puppet master itself, the United States.

By 2014, the PKK had “declared three self-rule administrations, or cantons as they call them, in northern Syria: Afreen, in the northwest, near the city of Aleppo; Kobani; and Jazeera in the northeast, which encompasses Ras al-Ain and the city of Qamishli. Their goal [was] to connect all three.” [13] This would mean controlling the intervening spaces occupied by Arabs.

A Deal with Washington

At this point, the PKK decided that its political goals might best be served by striking a deal with Washington.

The State Department had “allowed for the possibility of a form of decentralization in which different groups” — the Kurds, the secular government, and the Islamist insurgents — each received some autonomy within Syria. [14] Notice the implicit assumption in this view that it is within Washington’s purview to grant autonomy within Syria, while the question of whether the country ought to decentralize, properly within the democratic ambit of Syrians themselves, is denied to the people who live and work in Syria. If we are to take seriously Ocalan’s Bookchin-inspired ideas about investing decision-making authority in the people, this anti-democratic abomination can hardly be tolerated.

All the same, the PKK was excited by the US idea of dividing “Syria into zones roughly corresponding to areas now held by the government, the Islamic State, Kurdish militias and other insurgents.” A “federal system” would be established, “not only for Kurdish-majority areas but for all of Syria.” A Kurd federal region would be created “on all the territory now held by the” PKK. The zone would expand to include territory the Kurds hoped “to capture in battle, not only from ISIS but also from other Arab insurgent groups.” [15]

The PKK “pressed U.S. officials” to act on the scheme, pledging to act as a ground force against ISIS in return. [16] The group said it was “eager to join the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in return for recognition and support from Washington and its allies for the Kurdish-dominated self-rule administrations they [had] established in northern Syria.” [17]

The only people pleased with this plan were the PKK, the Israelis and the Americans.

“US support for these Kurdish groups” not only in Syria, but in Iraq, where the Kurds were also exploiting the battle with ISIS to expand their rule into traditionally Arab areas, helped “to both divide Syria and divide Iraq,” wrote The Independent’s veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk. [18] Division redounded to the benefit of the United States and Israel, both of which have an interest in pursuing a divide and rule policy to exercise a joint hegemony over the Arab world. Patrick Seale remarked that the US-Kurd plan for Kurdish rule in northern Syria had been met by “quiet jubilation in Israel, which has long had a semi-clandestine relationship with the Kurds, and welcomes any development which might weaken or dismember Syria.” [19]

For their part, the Turks objected, perceiving that Washington had agreed to give the PKK a state in all of northern Syria. [20] Meanwhile, Damascus opposed the plan, “seeing it as a step toward a permanent division of the nation.” [21]

Modern-day Syria, it should be recalled, is already the product of a division of Greater Syria at the hands of the British and French, who partitioned the country into Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan, and what is now Syria. In March, 1920, the second Syrian General Congress proclaimed “Syria to be completely independent within her ‘natural’ boundaries, including Lebanon and Palestine.” Concurrently “an Arab delegation in Palestine confronted the British military governor with a resolution opposing Zionism and petitioning to become part of an independent Syria.” [22] France sent its Army of the Levant, mainly troops recruited from its Senegalese colony, to quash by force the Levantine Arabs’ efforts to establish self-rule.

Syria, already truncated by British and French imperial machinations after WWI “is too small for a federal state,” opines Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. But Assad quickly adds that his personal view is irrelevant; a question as weighty as whether Syria ought to become a federal or confederal or unitary state, he says, is a matter for Syrians to decide in a constitutional referendum, [23] a refreshingly democratic view in contrast to the Western position that Washington should dictate how Syrians arrange their political (and economic) affairs.

Tip of the US Spear

For Washington, the PKK offers a benefit additional to the Kurdish guerrilla group’s utility in advancing the US goal of weakening Syria by fracturing it, namely, the PKK can be pressed into service as a surrogate for the US Army, obviating the necessity of deploying tens of thousands of US troops to Syria, and thereby allowing the White House and Pentagon to side-step a number of legal, budgetary and public relations quandaries. “The situation underscores a critical challenge the Pentagon faces,” wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Sonne; namely, “backing local forces…instead of putting American troops at the tip of the spear.” [24]

Having pledged support for Kurdish rule of northern Syria in return for the PKK becoming the tip of the US spear, the United States is “providing “small arms, ammunition and machine guns, and possibly some nonlethal assistance, such as light trucks, to the Kurdish forces.” [25]

The arms are “parceled out” in a so called “drop, op, and assess” approach. The shipments are “dropped, an operation [is] performed, and the U.S. [assesses] the success of that mission before providing more arms.” Said a US official, “We will be supplying them only with enough arms and ammo to accomplish each interim objective.” [26]

PKK foot soldiers are backed by “more than 750 U.S. Marines,” Army Rangers, and US, French and German Special Forces, “using helicopters, artillery and airstrikes,” the Western marionette-masters in Syria illegally, in contravention of international law. [27]

Ethnic Cleansing

“Large numbers of Arab residents populate the regions Kurds designate as their own.” [28] The PKK has taken “over a large swath of territory across northern Syria—including predominantly Arab cities and towns.” [29] Raqqa, and surrounding parts of the Euphrates Valley on which the PKK has set its sights, are mainly populated by Arabs, observes The Independent’s veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn—and the Arabs are opposed to Kurdish occupation. [30]

Kurdish forces are not only “retaking” Christian and Muslim Arab towns in Syria, but are doing the same in the Nineveh province of Iraq—areas “which were never Kurdish in the first place. Kurds now regard Qamishleh, and Hassakeh province in Syria as part of ‘Kurdistan’, although they represent a minority in many of these areas.” [31]

The PKK now controls 20,000 square miles of Syrian territory [32], or roughly 17 percent of the country, while Kurds represent less than eight percent of the population.

In their efforts to create a Kurdish region inside Syria, the PKK “has been accused of abuses by Arab civilians across northern Syria, including arbitrary arrests and displacing Arab populations in the name of rolling back Islamic State.” [33] The PKK “has expelled Arabs and ethnic Turkmen from large parts of northern Syria,” reports The Wall Street Journal. [34] The Journal additionally notes that human rights “groups have accused [Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish fighters] of preventing Arabs from returning to liberated areas.” [35]

Neither Syrian nor Democratic

The PKK dominates the Syrian Democratic Forces, a misnomer conferred upon a group of mainly Kurdish fighters by its US patron. The group is not Syrian, since many of its members are non-Syrians who identify as Kurds and who flooded over the border from Turkey to take advantage of the chaos produced by the Islamist insurgency in Syria to carve out an area of Kurdish control. Nor is the group particularly democratic, since it seeks to impose Kurdish rule on Arab populations. Robert Fisk dismisses the “Syrian Democratic Forces” as a “facade-name for large numbers of Kurds and a few Arab fighters.” [36]

The PKK poses as a Syrian Democratic Force, and works with a token force of Syrian Arab fighters, to disguise the reality that the Arab populated areas it controls, and those it has yet to capture, fall under Kurd occupation.

A De Facto (and Illegal) No Fly Zone

In August, 2016, after “Syrian government bombers had been striking Kurdish positions near the city of Hasakah, where the U.S. [had] been backing Kurdish forces” the Pentagon scrambled “jets to protect them. The U.S. jets arrived just as the two Syrian government Su-24 bombers were departing.” This “prompted the U.S.-led coalition to begin patrolling the airspace over Hasakah, and led to another incident…in which two Syrian Su-24 bombers attempted to fly through the area but were met by coalition fighter jets.” [37]

The Pentagon “warned the Syrians to stay away. American F-22 fighter jets drove home the message by patrolling the area.” [38]

The New York Times observed that in using “airpower to safeguard areas of northern Syria where American advisers” direct PKK fighters that the United States had effectively established a no-fly zone over the area, but noted that “the Pentagon has steadfastly refused to” use the term. [39] Still, the reality is that the Pentagon has illegally established a de facto no-fly zone over northern Syria to protect PKK guerillas, the tip of the US spear, who are engaged in a campaign of creating a partition of Syria, including through ethnic cleansing of the Arab population, to the delight of Israel and in accordance with US designs to weaken Arab nationalism in Damascus.

An Astigmatic Analogy

Some find a parallel in the YPG’s alliance with the United States with Lenin accepting German aid to return from exile in Switzerland to Russia following the 1917 March Revolution. The analogy is inapt. Lenin was playing one imperialist power off against another. Syria is hardly an analogue of Imperial Russia, which, one hundred years ago, was locked in a struggle for markets, resources, and spheres of influence with contending empires. In contrast, Syria is and has always been a country partitioned, dominated, exploited and threatened by empires. It has been emancipated from colonialism, and is carrying on a struggle—now against the contrary efforts of the PKK—to resist its recolonization.

The PKK has struck a bargain with the United States to achieve its goal of establishing a Kurdish national state, but at the expense of Syria’s efforts to safeguard its independence from a decades-long US effort to deny it. The partition of Syria along ethno-sectarian lines, desired by the PKK, Washington and Tel Aviv alike, serves both US and Israeli goals of weakening a focus of opposition to the Zionist project and US domination of West Asia.

A more fitting analogy, equates the PKK in Syria to Labor Zionism, the dominant Zionist force in occupied Palestine until the late 1970s. Like Ocalan, early Zionism emphasized decentralized communes. The kibbutzim were utopian communities, whose roots lay in socialism. Like the PKK’s Syrian incarnation, Labor Zionism relied on sponsorship by imperialist powers, securing their patronage by offering to act as the tips of the imperialists’ spears in the Arab world. Zionists employed armed conquest of Arab territory, along with ethnic cleansing and denial of repatriation, to establish an ethnic state, anticipating the PKK’s extension by armed force of the domain of a Kurdish state into Arab majority territory in Syria, as well as Kurd fighters doing the same in Iraq. Anarchists and other leftists may have been inspired by Jewish collective agricultural communities in Palestine, but that hardly made the Zionist project progressive or emancipatory, since its progressive and emancipatory elements were negated by its regressive oppression and dispossession of the indigenous Arab population, and its collusion with Western imperialism against the Arab world.

Conclusion

Representing an ethnic community that comprises less than 10 percent of the Syrian population, the PKK, a Kurdish anarchist guerrilla group which operates in both Turkey and Syria, is using the United States, its Air Force, Marine Corps, Army Rangers and Special Forces troops, as a force multiplier in an effort to impose a partition of Syria in which the numerically insignificant Kurd population controls a significant part of Syria’s territory, including areas inhabited by Arabs in the majority and in which Kurds have never been in the majority. To accomplish its aims, the PKK has not only struck a deal with a despotic regime in Washington which seeks to recolonize the Arab world, but is relying on ethnic cleansing and denial of repatriation of Arabs from regions from which they’ve fled or have been driven to establish Kurdish control of northern Syria, tactics which parallel those used by Zionist forces in 1948 to create a Jewish state in Arab-majority Palestine. Washington and Israel (the latter having long maintained a semi-clandestine relationship with the Kurds) value a confederal system for Syria as a means of weakening Arab nationalist influence in Arab Asia, undermining a pole of opposition to Zionism, colonialism, and the international dictatorship of the United States. Forces which resist dictatorship, including the most odious one of all, that of the United States over much of the world, are the real champions of democracy, a category to which the PKK, as evidenced by its actions in Syria, does not belong.

1. Nikolaos Van Dam, The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Assad and the Ba’ath Party, IB Taurus, 2011, p.1.

2. “The Kurds of Iraq: Renewed Insurgency?”, US Department of State, May 31, 1972, https://2001-2009.state.gove/documents/organization/70896.pdf

3. Sam Dagher, “Kurds fight Islamic State to claim a piece of Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2014.

4. Patrick Cockburn, “War against ISIS: PKK commander tasked with the defence of Syrian Kurds claims ‘we will save Kobani’”, The Independent, November 11, 2014.

5. Carne Ross, “Power to the people: A Syrian experiment in democracy,” Financial Times, October 23, 2015.

6. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

7. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

8. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

9. Yaroslav Trofimov, “The State of the Kurds,” The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2015.

10. Joe Parkinson and Ayla Albayrak, “Syrian Kurds grow more assertive”, The Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2013.

11. Patrick Seale, “Al Assad uses Kurds to fan regional tensions”, Gulf News, August 2, 2012.

12. Seale, August 2, 2012.

13. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

14. David E. Sanger, “Legacy of a secret pact haunts efforts to end war in Syria,” the New York Times, May 16, 2016.

15. Anne Barnard, “Syrian Kurds hope to establish a federal region in country’s north,” The New York Times, March 16, 2016.

16. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

17. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

18. Robert Fisk, “This is the aim of Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and it isn’t good for Shia communities,” The Independent, May 18, 2017.

19. Seale, August 2, 2012.

20. Yaroslav Trofimov, “U.S. is caught between ally Turkey and Kurdish partner in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2017.

21. Anne Barnard, “Syrian Kurds hope to establish a federal region in country’s north,” The New York Times, March 16, 2016.

22. David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, Henry Holt & Company, 2009, p. 437.

23. “President al-Assad to RIA Novosti and Sputnik: Syria is not prepared for federalism,” SANA, March 30, 2016.

24. Paul Sonne, “U.S. seeks Sunni forces to take militant hub,” The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2016.

25. Dion Nissenbaum, Gordon Lubold and Julian E. Barnes, “Trump set to arm Kurds in ISIS fight, angering Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2017.

26. Nissenbaum et al, May 9, 2017.

27. Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib, “Syria’s newest flashpoint is bringing US and Iran face to face,” The Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2017; “Syria condemns presence of French and German special forces in Ain al-Arab and Manbij as overt unjustified aggression on Syria’s sovereignty and independence,” SANA, June 15, 2016; Michael R. Gordon. “U.S. is sending 400 more troops to Syria.” The New York Times. March 9, 2017.

28. Matt Bradley, Ayla Albayrak, and Dana Ballout, “Kurds declare ‘federal region’ in Syria, says official,” The Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2016.

29. Maria Abi-Habib and Raja Abdulrahim, “Kurd-led force homes in on ISIS bastion with assent of U.S. and Syria alike,” The Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2017.

30. Patrick Cockburn, “Battle for Raqqa: Fighters begin offensive to push Isis out of Old City,” The Independent, July 7, 2017.

31. Robert Fisk, “This is the aim of Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – and it isn’t good for Shia communities,” The Independent, May 18, 2017.

32. Dion Nissenbaum and Maria Abi-Habib, “U.S. split over plan to take Raqqa from Islamic state,” The Wall Street Journal. March 9, 2017.

33. Raja Abdulrahim, Maria Abi_Habin and Dion J. Nissenbaum, “U.S.-backed forces in Syria launch offensive to seize ISIS stronghold Raqqa,” The Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2016.

34. Margherita Stancati and Alia A. Nabhan, “During Mosul offensive, Kurdish fighters clear Arab village, demolish homes,” The Wall Street Journal, November 14, 2016.

35. Matt Bradley, Ayla Albayrak, and Dana Ballout, “Kurds declare ‘federal region’ in Syria, says official,” The Wall Street Journal, March 17, 2016.

36. Robert Fisk, “The US seems keener to strike at Syria’s Assad than it does to destroy ISIS,” The Independent, June 20, 2017.

37. Paul Sonne and Raja Abdulrahim, “Pentagon warns Assad regime to avoid action near U.S. and allied forces,” The Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2016.

38. Michael R. Gordon and Neil MacFarquhar, “U.S. election cycle offers Kremlin a window of opportunity in Syria,” The New York Times, October 4, 2016.

39. Michael R. Gordon and Neil MacFarquhar, “U.S. election cycle offers Kremlin a window of opportunity in Syria,” The New York Times, October 4, 2016.

Written by what's left

July 11, 2017 at 1:46 am

Posted in Syria

Tagged with

The Real Reason Washington is Worried about North Korea’s ICBM Test

With its ICBM test signaling its capability to retaliate against US aggression, North Korea has made clear that the United States’ seven decades long effort to topple its government may never come to fruition—a blow against US despotism, and an advance for peace, and for democracy on a world scale

July 5, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

A number of countries have recently tested ballistic or cruise missiles and a handful, not least Russia and China, possess nuclear-tipped ICBMs capable of striking the United States. And yet the missiles and nuclear weapons program of only one of these countries, North Korea, arouses consternation in Washington.

What makes tiny North Korea, within its miniscule defense budget, and rudimentary nuclear arsenal and missile capability, a threat so menacing that “worry has spread in Washington and the United Nations”? [1]

“The truth,” it has been said, “is often buried on the front page of The New York Times.” [2] This is no less true of the real reason Washington frets about North Korea’s missile tests.

In a July 4, 2017 article titled “What can Trump do about North Korea? His options are few and risky,” reporter David E. Sanger, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the unofficial think-tank of the US State Department, reveals why Washington is alarmed by North Korea’s recent test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“The fear,” writes Sanger, “is not that [North Korean leader] Mr. Kim would launch a pre-emptive attack on the West Coast; that would be suicidal, and if the North’s 33-year-old leader has demonstrated anything in his five years in office, he is all about survival.”

Washington’s alarm, according to Sanger, is that “Mr. Kim [now] has the ability to strike back.” In other words, Pyongyang has acquired the means of an effective self-defense. That, writes Sanger, makes North Korea “a dangerous regime.”

Indeed, to a world hegemon like the United States, any renitent foreign government that refuses to place itself in the role of vassal becomes “a dangerous regime,” which must be eliminated. Accordingly, allowing pro-independence North Korea to develop the means to more effectively defend itself against US imperialist ambitions has no place in Washington’s playbook. The United States has spent the past 70 years trying to integrate the tiny, plucky, country into its undeclared empire. Now, with North Korea’s having acquired the capability to retaliate against US military aggression in a manner that would cause considerable harm to the US homeland, the prospects of those seven-decades of investment bearing fruit appear dim.

US hostility to North Korean independence has been expressed in multifarious ways over the seven decades of North Korea’s existence.

A three-year US-led war of aggression, from 1950 to 1953, exterminated 20 percent of North Korea’s population and burned to the ground every town in the country [3], driving the survivors into subterranean shelters, in which they lived and worked. US General Douglas MacArthur said of the destruction the United States visited upon North Korea that “I have never seen such devastation…After I looked at the wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.” [4]

A vicious seven-decades-long campaign of economic warfare, aimed at crippling the country’s economy, and engendering attendant miseries among its people, has conferred upon North Korea the unhappy distinction of being the most heavily sanctioned nation on earth. Nestled among the tranches of US sanctions are those that have been imposed because North Korea has chosen “a Marxist-Leninist economy,” [5] revealing what lies at the root of US hostility to the country.

For decades, North Koreans have lived under a US nuclear Sword of Damocles, subjected repeatedly to threats of nuclear annihilation, including being turned into “charcoal briquettes” [6] and “completely destroyed,” so that they “literally cease to exist” [7]—and this before they had nuclear weapons and the rudimentary means to deliver them. In other words, in threats to vaporize North Koreans, Washington has threatened to make them the successors to aboriginal Americans as objects of US perpetrated genocides.

We should remind ourselves why North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in the first place. As University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings writes, for North Korea the nuclear crisis began in late February 1993, when

“General Lee Butler, head of the new U.S. ‘Strategic Command,’ announced that he was retargeting strategic nuclear weapons (i.e., hydrogen bombs) meant for the old U.S.S.R, on North Korea (among other places.) At the same time, the new CIA chief, James Woolsey, testified that North Korea was ‘our most grave current concern.’ By mid-March 1993, tens of thousands of [US] soldiers were carrying out war games in Korea…and in came the B1-B bombers, B-52s from Guam, several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles, and the like: whereupon the North pulled out of the NPT.” [8]

Two and half decades later the B1-B bombers and several naval vessels carrying cruise missiles—this time, US ‘power-projecting” aircraft carriers—are back.

Last month, Washington sent not one, but two aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, to the waters between Japan and Korea, to conduct “exercises,” “a show of force not seen there for more than two decades,” reported The Wall Street Journal. [9]

At the same time, the Pentagon sent B1-B strategic bombers, not once, but twice last month, to conduct simulated nuclear bombing runs “near the Military Demarcation Line that divides the two Koreas;” in other words, along the North Korean border. [10]

Understandably, North Korea denounced the simulated bombing missions for what they were: grave provocations. If the communist country’s new self-defensive capabilities spurred consternation in Washington, then Washington’s overt display of its offensive might legitimately enkindled alarm in Pyongyang. The Wall Street Journal summed up the US provocations this way: the “U.S. military has conducted several flyovers near the Korean Peninsula using B-1B [i.e., nuclear] bombers and directed a Navy aircraft carrier group to the region—all to North Korea’s consternation.” [11]

Robert Litwak, director of international security studies for the Wilson Center, explains the reason for Pyongyang’s consternation, if it’s not already blindingly obvious. US-led war games “[may look] like a defensive maneuver for us, [but] from North Korea‘s perspective, they may think we’re preparing an attack when you start bringing B2 fighters.” [12]

In January, North Korea offered to “sit with the U.S. anytime” to discuss US war games and its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Pyongyang proposed that the United States “contribute to easing tension on the Korean peninsula by temporarily suspending joint military exercises in south Korea and its vicinity this year, and said that in this case the DPRK is ready to take such responsive steps as temporarily suspending the nuclear test over which the U.S. is concerned.” [13]

The North Korean proposal was seconded by China and Russia [14] and recently by South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in. [15] But Washington peremptorily rejected the proposal, refusing to acknowledge any equivalency between US-led war games, which US officials deem ‘legitimate’ and North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, which they label ‘illegitimate.” [16]

US rejection of the China-Russia-South Korea-backed North Korean proposal, however, is only rhetorically related to notions of legitimacy, and the question of legitimacy fails to stand up under even the most cursory examination. How are US ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons legitimate and those of North Korea not?

The real reason Washington rejects the North Korean proposal is explained by Sanger: an agreed freeze “essentially acknowledges that the North’s modest arsenal is here to say;” which means that Pyongyang has achieved “the ability to strike back,” to stay the US hand, and deter Washington from launching a regime change aggression in the manner of wars it perpetrated against Saddam and Gaddafi, leaders who led pro-independence governments which, like North Korea, refused to be integrated into the informal US empire, but which, unlike North Korea, relinquished their means of self-defense, and once defenseless, were toppled by US-instigated aggressions.

“That is what Mr. Kim believes his nuclear program will prevent,” writes the Council on Foreign Relations member, referring to the US effort to bring the United States’ seven-decades-long campaign of regime change against Pyongyang to a head. And he may, Sanger concedes, “be right.”

Anyone concerned with democracy should take heart that North Korea, unlike Gaddafi’s Libya and Saddam’s Iraq, has successfully resisted US predations. The United States exercises an international dictatorship, arrogating onto itself the right to intervene in any part of the globe, in order to dictate to others how they should organize their political and economic affairs, to the point, in North Korea, of explicitly waging economic warfare against the country because it has a Marxist-Leninist economy at variance with the economic interests of the upper stratum of US society whose opportunities for profit-making through exports to and investments in North Korea have been accordingly eclipsed.

Those countries which resist despotism are the real champions of democracy, not those which exercise it (the United States) or facilitate it (their allies.) North Korea is calumniated as a bellicose dictatorship, human rights violator and practitioner of cruel and unusual punishment of political dissidents, a description to a tee of Washington’s principal Arab ally, Saudi Arabia, a recipient of almost illimitable military, diplomatic and other favors from the United States, showered on the Arabian tyranny despite its total aversion to democracy, reduction of women to the status of chattel, dissemination of a viciously sectarian Wahhabi ideology, an unprovoked war on Yemen, and the beheading and crucifixion of its political dissidents.

If we are concerned about democracy, we should, as Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo argues, also be concerned about democracy on a global scale. The worry that has spread in Washington and the United Nations is a worry that democracy on a global scale has just been given a boost. And that should not be a worry for the rest of us, but a warm caress.

1. Foster Klug and Hyung-Jin Kim, “North Korea’s nukes are not on negotiation table: Kim Jong-un,” Reuters, July 5, 2017.

2. This may be attributable to Peter Kuznick, co-writer with Oliver Stone of The Untold History of the United States.

3. According to US Air Force General Curtis LeMay, head of Strategic Air Command during the Korean War, cited in Medi Hasan, “Why do North Koreans hate us? One reason—They remember the Korean War,” The Intercept, May 3, 2017. LeMay said, we “killed off…20 percent of the population…We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”

4. Glen Frieden, “NPR can’t help hyping North Korea threat,” FAIR, May 9, 2017.

5. “North Korea: Economic Sanctions,” Congressional Research Service, 2016.

6. Colin Powell warned North Korea that the United States could turn it into a “charcoal briquette.” Bruce Cumings, “Latest North Korean provocations stem from missed US opportunities for demilitarization,” Democracy Now!, May 29, 2009.

7. US General Wesley Clark, quoted in Domenico Losurdo, Non-Violence: A History Beyond the Myth, Lexington Books, 2015, Clark said, “The leaders of North Korea use bellicose language, but they know very well that they do not have a military option available…Were they to attack South Korea, their nation would be completely destroyed. It would literally cease to exist.”

8. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.

9. Gordon Lubold, “North Korea, South China Sea to dominate Defense Secretary’s Asia Trip,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2017.

10. Jonathan Cheng, “U.S. bombers fly near North Korean border after missile launch,” The Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2017.

11. Jonathan Cheng, “North Korea compares Donald Trump to Adolph Hitler,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2017.

12. “US experts argue in favor of scaling down S. Korea-US military exercises,” The Hankyoreh, June 20, 2017.

13. Korean Central News Agency, January 10, 2015.

14. Jonathan Cheng and Alastair Gale, “North Korea missile launch threatens U.S. strategy in Asia,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2017.

15. David E. Sanger, “What can Trump do about North Korea? His options are few and risky,” The New York Times, July 4, 2017.

16. Jonathan Cheng and Alastair Gale, “North Korea missile launch threatens U.S. strategy in Asia,” The Wall Street Journal, July 4, 2017.

Written by what's left

July 5, 2017 at 11:03 pm

The Real Defenders of Democracy: Syria and the Struggle against the International Despotism of Wall Street

April 30, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

A day before my book Washington’s Long War on Syria was sent to the press, I read a short essay by a notable Canadian, Norman Bethune. The essay was titled Wounds. Bethune was a skilled and innovative surgeon who was at the forefront of the fight for public health care in Canada. But he’s mainly known for participating in two wars in the late 1930s: The Spanish Civil War and the Second Sino-Japanese War. In the Second Sino-Japanese War Bethune joined Mao’s forces as a frontline surgeon in the resistance against Japanese efforts to colonize China.

In an April 27, 2017 Telesur interview, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad argued that US presidents “merely implement” policies formulated by US “financial institutions,” “big arms and oil companies,” as well as “the intelligence agencies” and “the Pentagon.”

It was in China that Bethune wrote his essay, a meditation on the causes of the war in which he was entangled which produced the wounds he was called upon everyday to operate on.

As I read Bethune’s essay, it struck me that what he was saying, in very few words, was what I had tried in a whole book to say. So I quickly asked my publisher if he would include a short quote from Wounds as the epigraph of the book. He readily agreed. The epigraph reads:

Are wars of aggression, wars for the conquest of colonies … just big business? Yes, it would seem so, however much the perpetrators of such national crimes seek to hide their true purpose under banners of high-sounding abstractions and ideals. [1]

The idea that wars of aggression, wars for the conquest of colonies, are motivated by the profit-making interests of big business strike many as facile. But once you strip away the high-sounding abstractions and ideals Washington invokes to justify its wars of aggression, an obvious question remains: If the reasons Washington cites to justify its wars are bogus, what, then, are the real reasons?

In his book Towards a New Cold War: U.S. Foreign Policy from Vietnam to Reagan, Noam Chomsky argues that:

If we hope to understand anything about the foreign policy of any state, it is a good idea to begin by investigating the domestic social structure. Who sets foreign policy? What interests do these people represent? What is the domestic source of their power? It is a reasonable surmise that the policy that evolves will reflect the special interests of those who design it. [2]

In an article published yesterday in The New York Times, reporter Kate Kelly reveals that nearly 300 top executives have visited the White House in the president’s first 100 days, an average of three per day. [3] That offers a clue about who influences the public policy direction of the United States.

Here’s another: After examining over 1,700 policy issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interests groups have little or no independent influence.” [4]

The shoguns of finance and industry who have enjoyed access to the White House in Trump’s first 100 days include multi-billionaire Stephen Schwarzman, head of the giant equity manager Blackstone Group; near billionaire Jack Welch, the former chairman and chief executive of General Electric; billionaire Jamie Dimon, head of JPMorgan Chase; multi-millionaire Larry Fink, head of BlackRock, the world’s largest money-management firm; billionaire Eric Schmidt, head of Google’s parent company Alphabet; multimillionaire Andrew Liveris, head of Dow Chemical; Roy Harvey, chief executive of Alcoa. [5] The list goes on.

Not only is the administration lobbied directly by the heads of corporate America, but measures have been taken to systematize their influence. Blackstone’s Schwarzman, writes the New York Times’ Kelly, “recruited a range of business leaders, economists and policy experts for the president’s strategic and policy forum, which regularly meets at the White House and has emerged as the most elite outside counsel.” [6]

On top of titans of corporate America enjoying unfettered access to the president, Trump has appointed to posts in his administration billionaires and multi-millionaires whose fortunes come from the business world. A number of his top advisers had careers in the pharaonicly wealthy investment bank Goldman Sachs, known on Wall Street as “Government Sachs” for its history of placing top executives in commanding posts in the US state. [7]

Goldman Sachs’ ties to the White House (and to aspiring presidents) date back to the Clintons, if not earlier. As president, Bill Clinton appointed Goldman co-chair Robert Rubin to the post of Treasury Secretary. (The current Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin had a 17 year career with Goldman, rising to the post of the firm’s Chief Information Officer.) Goldman chair and CEO Lloyd Blankfein raised funds for Hillary Clinton’s first presidential bid, and also paid Clinton $675,000 to deliver three speeches at Goldman events after she left the State Department. Blankfein was one of the guests at Clinton’s 64th birthday celebration. (Blankfein’s predecessor as Goldman’s top executive was Henry Paulson, who served as Treasury Secretary in the George W. Bush administration.) “Over 20-plus years,” observed The New York Times, “Goldman provided the Clintons with some of their most influential advisors, millions of dollars in campaign contributions and speaking fees, and financial support to the family foundation’s charitable programs.” [8]

Obama’s administration was no less in thrall to Wall Street. Seventeen members of the previous president’s administration were members of the Council on Foreign Relations, Wall Street’s foreign policy think tank. Council members included national security advisors James Jones Jr., Thomas Donilon, and Susan Rice, Defense Secretaries Robert Gates, Chuck Hagel and Ashton Carter, and CIA director David Petraeus.

Council members also include most of the captains of finance and industry who have paraded through Trump’s White House since the beginning of the year. The think tank is the chief interlock between Wall Street and US administrations, bringing together giants of US finance, banking and industry with scholars, military officers and ambitious politicians to address questions of US foreign policy. As of 2016 over 70 council members held key cabinet positions and were usually members of the Council before they were appointed or elected to these posts, including 10 National Security Advisers, 9 US Ambassadors to the United Nations, 8 Secretaries of State, 8 Secretaries of Defense, 8 CIA Directors, 4 Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, 3 World Bank Presidents and 2 Presidents of the United States.

Given that Wall Street’s tentacles reach everywhere in Washington it is hardly surprising that successive US administrations have been hostile to the Syrian government. Since 1963, Syria has been ruled by the very antithesis of the world-leading financiers and industrialists who rule in Washington; Syria has been governed in contrast by people who call themselves and are called in Washington socialists.

Norman Bethune

For over half a century, Syria has been governed by the Baath Arab Socialist Party, which is guided by the party’s motto of unity (of the Arab world), freedom (from Western domination), and socialism (in contrast to Washington’s preferred paradigm of free enterprise, free markets and free trade.) The party presided over the drafting of Syria’s constitutions, which mandate government ownership of the commanding heights of the economy and a significant role for government in the guidance of the economy, i.e., socialism.

Ba’ath Arab Socialists have been seen in Washington as “Arab communists” [9] and the state they lead as “socialist Syria.” [10]

Indeed, Washington and Wall Street have long complained about Damascus’s refusal to fully integrate into a US-led global neo-liberal economic order, and about the “ideologues” in the Syrian government who refuse to disavow their commitment to socialism. The Wall Street Journal-Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom is replete with grievances about the Syrian government’s economic policies, from its subsidies to local businesses, tariff barriers, state-owned enterprises, and restrictions on foreign investment. These policies are designed to overcome the injuries of under-development visited about the Arab world by colonialism, but severely limit US investment and trade opportunities, and are therefore anathema in free enterprise, profit-hungry, Washington.

That the US government is—as two German philosophers once described the governments of business-driven societies—a committee for managing the common affairs of the country’s business owners, is not lost on the current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. In an April 27, 2017 interview with Telesur, Assad described US foreign policy as being set by US “financial institutions” and “the big arms and oil companies” as well as “the intelligence agencies” and “the Pentagon.”

The American President merely implements these policies, and the evidence is that when Trump tried to move on a different track, during and after his election campaign, he couldn’t. He came under a ferocious attack. As we have seen in the past few weeks, he changed his rhetoric completely and subjected himself to the terms of the deep American state, or the deep American regime…[The president] ultimately does what these institutions dictate to him. This is not new. This has been ongoing American policy for decades. [11]

Bethune denounced as an enemy of the human race the very same class which rules in Washington. In his view, in its hunt for profits, this class starts the wars which create the wounds which he was, and all frontline surgeons are, called upon to heal. What do the members of this class, these enemies of humanity, look like, he wondered.

Do they wear on their foreheads a sign so that they may be told, shunned and condemned as criminals? No. On the contrary. They are the respectable ones. They are honoured. They call themselves, and are called, gentlemen. …They are the pillars of the state, of the church, of society. They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. They endow institutions. In their private lives they are kind and considerate. …. But there is one sign by which these gentlemen can be told. Threaten a reduction [in their profits] and the beast in them awakes with a snarl. They become ruthless as savages, brutal as madmen, remorseless as executioners. [12]

Muamar Gaddafi was inspired by the same Baath Arab Socialist goals of unity, freedom and socialism that guide the Syrian state. A year after he was violently removed from power by Islamists backed by NATO (Canadian fighter pilots quipped that they were al-Qaeda’s air force), The Wall Street Journal revealed that Western oil companies had agitated for Gaddafi’s removal because he was driving hard bargains and insisting that Libyans benefit from their own oil resources. [13] Gaddafi had effectively threatened a reduction in the oil companies’ profits, awakening the beast in the respectable burghers and pillars of US society.

Bethune ended his essay with this: “Such an organization of human society as permits [these enemies of humanity] to exist must be abolished.” [14]

The overarching theme of my book follows along the very same lines: Washington’s long war on Syria can only be understood within the context of the organization of human society—one in which economic power, driven by profit-hunger, is coterminous with political power—as permits these enemies of humanity to exist.

A final thought. Many in the West have taken a stand against the Syrian government, arguing that it is not democratic, nor engaged in a fight for democracy. They also argue that amid the alliance of business-driven US foreign policy, the Arab monarchs who funnel support to the al-Qaeda and ISIS insurgents, and the US-backed guerrillas who are enmeshed with, cooperate on the battlefield with, and exchange weapons with, the former, that there can be found a pro-democratic element. The problem is that no one has ever been able to adduce the slightest evidence that such an element exists, and nor are the proponents of this view bold enough to assert that this hypothetical element plays anywhere near a consequential role in the conflict.

A more sophisticated view holds that there exists in Syria an indigenous Islamist movement which—though rejecting democracy as a man-made ideology and seeking rule by the Quran (Islam’s holy book) and Sunna (the record of the Islamic prophet Mohammad’s thought and actions)—is fundamentally democratic insofar as it represents the aspirations of the majority. This view, however, suffers from two fatal defects: (1) There is no evidence that a majority of Syrians hold Islamist aspirations; and (2) a significant part of the Islamist opposition to the secular Syrian government is of foreign origin.

Even if a genuinely democratic opposition element did exist, it does not follow that support for the Syrian government in its efforts to assert its sovereignty against neo-colonial efforts to negate it, is undemocratic. On the contrary:

If we are seriously concerned with the question of democracy [we should be concerned about] the democratization of international relations. If a country or a group of countries declare and decide that they have the right to provoke a war…without the authorization of the Security Council, they are developing a theory in which the West has the right to exercise despotism over the rest of humanity. It is open despotism; the United States and the West declare openly that they have the right to intervene in every corner of the world. That is despotism. [Washington] already said at the start of the century that Assad should be toppled. They said that they should carry out a change of regime in Syria because Assad is against Israel, against the West, etc. That is despotism, and those [who] struggle against such despots are the real defenders of democracy. [15]

1. Norman Bethune, “Wounds,” in Roderick Stewart, The Mind of Norman Bethune, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2002, pp. 183-186.

2. http://www.kropfpolisci.com/foreign.policy.chomsky2

3. Kate Kelly, “Persuasive business leaders parade through White House,” The New York Times, April 29, 2017

4. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall, 2014

5. Kelly

6. Kelly

7. Julie Creswell and Ben White, “The Guys from ‘Government Sachs’,” The New York Times, October 19, 2008

8. Nicholas Confessore and Susanne Craig, “2008 crisis deepened the ties between Clintons and Goldman Sachs,” The New York Times, September 24, 2016

9. Robert Baer, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, Three Rivers Press, 2003, p. 123

10. Baer, p. 193

11. President al-Assad to Telesur: Stopping outside support to terrorists and reconciliation among Syrians are means to restore security to Syria,” SANA, April 27, 2017, http://sana.sy/en/?p=105108

12. Bethune

13. Benoit Faucon, “For big oil, the Libya opening that wasn’t”, The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2012

14. Bethune

15. Attributed to Domenico Losurdo. I cannot find the original source, and therefore cannot vouchsafe that Losurdo is the author. All the same, the words are worthy of repeating, whether they are those of Losurdo or not.

Written by what's left

April 30, 2017 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Syria

Tagged with

Cruise Missile Attacks: A New Step in Washington’s Long Class War on Syria

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. [1]

This limited Islamic State-directed US intervention in Syria has involved both airstrikes and an estimated 1,000 boots on the ground. [2] 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. [3]

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. [4]

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. [5]

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.” [6]

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.” [7] 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. [8] Cockburn surmised that the Syrian siege was killing numberless people through illness and malnutrition. [9]

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. [10]

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. [11]

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.” [12]

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. [13]

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. [14]

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.
4. Ibid.
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.
11. http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf
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.

Written by what's left

April 8, 2017 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Syria

%d bloggers like this: