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Promoting Plutocracy: U.S.-Led Regime Change Operations and the Assault on Democracy

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January 11, 2015

PROMOTING PLUTOCRACY
By Stephen Gowans

Chapter 1. What the West’s Position on Iran Reveals about its Foreign Policy
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Foreign Policy and Profits
Chapter 4. The State in Capitalist Society
Chapter 5. Concealing the Influence of the Corporate Elite on Foreign Policy
Chapter 6. Syria: Eradicating an Ideological Fixation on Socialism
Chapter 7. Ukraine: Improving the Investment Climate
Chapter 8. Kosovo: Privatizing the Economy
Chapter 9. Afghanistan: Investment Opportunities in Pipelines and Natural Resources
Chapter 10. The Military-Industrial Complex, Foreign Aid and Marionettes
Chapter 11. How Foreign Policy Hurts Workers
o Divide and Rule
o Socializing the Costs, Privatizing the Benefits
o The Assault on Substantive Democracy in Korea
o The Terrorism of the Weak
o Bulking Up the Police State
o Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak
Chapter 12. The West’s Foreign Policy Priorities

Canada and the Terrorism of the Weak

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November 2, 2014

By Stephen Gowans

Seven years after the 2003 invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British forces, the director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency at the time of the invasion, Lady Manningham-Buller, confessed that Iraq had posed little danger, and that the invasion itself created a threat by radicalizing Muslims. [1] Thirteen years after the United States launched a “war on terror” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda, once a small group with a few bases in Afghanistan, had metastasized into the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a militarily sophisticated organization which controlled an area in Iraq and Syria the size of Britain.

Al-Qaeda has come a long way, despite the war on terror. Jihadist militants now challenge Western domination of traditionally Sunni Muslim areas from North Africa to Afghanistan. They do so in various ways: with weapons captured from the regular armies of Iraq, and of the independent, secular, nationalist governments of Libya and Syria, or provided to them by Gulf monarchies subservient to the United States; through suicide bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings; and through terrorist attacks on Western countries.

In the film, The Battle for Algiers, a journalist asks the Algerian liberation leader Ben M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it’s a bit cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosives that kill so many people?” M’Hidi replies: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenceless villagers so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombs and you can have our baskets.” [2]

Victims of Western foreign policy fight back. And since they do not have access to sophisticated weapons, they use whatever is at hand, which often means low-level attacks on civilian populations to induce them to press their governments to end policies the terrorists object to. Terrorist attacks are not random, irrational, unplanned events, without concrete goals. Political scientist Robert A. Pape, who studied every case of suicide terrorism that occurred over a two decade span, points out that the terrorism of the weak is invariably aimed at pressuring target countries to withdraw their military forces from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland. [3] For example, Osama bin Laden attributed his campaign of terrorism against the United States to Washington “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorising its neighbours, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples.”[4] Other programs of suicide terrorism have pursued similar goals. Pape notes that, “Suicide terrorists sought to compel American and French military forces to abandon Lebanon in 1983, Israeli forces to leave Lebanon in 1985, Israeli forces to quit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1994 and 1995, the Sri Lankan government to create an independent Tamil state from 1990 on, and the Turkish government to grant autonomy to the Kurds in the late 1990s.” [5]

Canada’s decision to support the U.S.-led war against ISIS won’t enhance the security of Canadians. It will, like the 2003 U.S.-British invasion and occupation of Iraq, simply radicalize more Muslims. Canadians could become the targets of retaliatory attacks. A Canadian member of ISIS warned in a video uploaded to YouTube in “a message to Canada and all American powers. We are coming and we will destroy you.” [6]

Strengthening the Canadian Police State

The increased threat of terrorist attack has led police states in the Western world, including Canada, to become police states on an elevated scale. Calling Canada a police state may seem odd. We are so thoroughly imbued with the notion that North American and Western European countries are liberal democratic counter-examples to the police state, that the idea of calling Canada a police state seems as nonsensical as calling night, day. Even critics who are acutely aware of the parallels between Canada and the archetype of the police state, East Germany (with its notorious Stasi) find it difficult to put “Canada” and “police state” together in the same sentence. Canadian social scientists Reg Whitaker, Gregory Kealey and Andrew Parnaby wrote a long history of the police state in Canada [7], but couldn’t bring themselves to use the phrase “Canada’s police state.” Instead, they noted that “the state in a liberal democracy like Canada” has behaved remarkably like a police state. It has “persistently spied on its own people, run undercover agents and maintained secret sources of information…and kept secret files that categorized people in terms of their personal beliefs.” All the same, in the hands of Whitaker et al., Canada escapes the police state designation. The journalist Patrick Cockburn complains that Western governments have adopted the methods of police states, but Cockburn doesn’t say they are ones. It’s as if it’s all right to acknowledge that Canada and its liberal democratic cohorts behave like police states, but not to label them as such.

Yet consider the facts: The political police in Canada have shown “remarkable energy and zeal in spying on larger numbers of citizens. (An official) commission (of inquiry) discovered in 1977 than the RCMP security service maintained a name index with 1,300,000 entries, representing 800,000 files on individuals,” at a time the country had a population of only 24 million. [8] Among the Canadians the police state spied on was Tommy Douglas, revered for his contributions to the creation of Canada’s public health insurance system. Although Douglas died three decades ago, the state refuses to publicly disclose its file on the prairie politician to protect the informants who secretly passed on information about him to the state. The informants may still be alive, and the state doesn’t want to reveal their names to assure future informants that their anonymity is guaranteed and that it is safe to spy on fellow Canadians. [9]

Ken Stone, a non-violent activist from Hamilton, Ontario, has spent a lifetime organizing on behalf of workers and for various progressive causes. After graduating from the University of Toronto in the 1960s—where he ripped up his Bachelor of Arts degree at his graduation ceremony, telling the audience “This piece of paper is meaningless”—he sought out a working class job, settling in Hamilton to drive trucks for Canada Post. He became active in his union, and politically engaged, “protesting, organizing, rallying, struggling, demonstrating, sitting in, agitating, voting and even running for office.”[10] That was enough to bring Stone to the attention of Canada’ police state, which amassed “a 700-page long RCMP and CSIS file, detailing every meeting he attended between 1968 and 1986.” [11]

Between 1950 and 1986 Canada’s political police compiled a list of 66,000 Canadians who were active in working class causes, who would, in the event of a leftwing threat to the established order, be arrested and interned in concentration camps. Stone was on the list. [12]

The leftwing U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky has pointed out that politics is far more than voting, and that voting is only a very small part of politics. Politics is doing what Stone has done most of his life: organizing, struggling, pressuring, agitating, educating, rallying, and demonstrating, on top of voting and participating in the electoral process. Chomsky, and other leftwing intellectuals, criticize elections “as a method of marginalizing the population” [13] by encouraging people to think that the political process is limited to casting a ballot every few years.

The effect of believing that politics equals voting, full stop, is to yield the political field to the corporate elite. In the Fall 2014 issue of Perspectives in Politics, political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page examined over 1,700 public policy issues, concluding 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.” [14]

Economic elites exert an outsize influence on public policy because they recognize that politics is far more than voting and use their wealth to buy resources that allow them to influence policies of interest to them in the state. They overcome their disadvantage of holding only a tiny fraction of all votes (they are, after all, only the one percent) by pressuring politicians directly, shaping public opinion to favor corporate positions, and becoming directly involved in public life. They lobby; fund public policy think-tanks and advocacy organizations to promote pro-corporate positions; donate to political campaigns; rotate their members in and out of key positions in government and the state; provide lucrative job opportunities to former politicians who supported corporate elite positions while in office, thereby encouraging sitting politicians to aspire to the same opportunities and to act accordingly; and shape public opinion to support pro-business positions through their ownership and control of the mass media.

Stone wasn’t marginalized by the deception that politics is voting and nothing more—the misconception that allows the corporate elite a free hand to dominate the country’s political life. But the reality is that people who recognize that politics is more than voting and act accordingly come to the attention of Canada’s police state, if they work on behalf of progressive, popular, or working class interests. On the other hand, Canadians who promote corporate Canada’s interests, or limit their political activity to voting, or are politically inert, never know that a police state exists in Canada, and wonder about the sanity of those who say it does.

Already strong, the police state has been strengthened further in the wake of 9/11. Laws which once set limits on the political police have either been weakened or done away with. Additionally, Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, has revealed that the United States and its anglosphere partners in the so-called Five Eyes signal intelligence network, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, operate a massive electronic surveillance program that scoops up personal information on virtually everyone. There is no doubt that information collected through ubiquitous surveillance could protect Canadians from people with malicious designs (but not from terrorists who are sophisticated enough to take effective measures to minimize the risks of their communications being intercepted.) The problem is that Snowden’s revelations have shown that the surveillance program is also used to spy on world leaders, including allies, and to gather information related to trade and business deals [15], while there’s little evidence that it has actually prevented terrorist attacks.

While the strengthening of the police state in Canada might seem to be a matter of indifference for ordinary Canadians—after all, isn’t disrupting a terrorist plot the worst that could happen?—the political orientation of the political police should worry anyone who works to advance the interests of the 99 percent. The history of the police state in Canada is one of monitoring and disrupting people who organize on behalf of the exploited and oppressed in the economic and political spheres. A stronger police state, then, means the state is in a stronger position to use its surveillance apparatus to undermine unions, working class political parties, and groups and individuals advancing progressive causes which challenge the rich and powerful.

Echoing the entanglements of Ken Stone with Canada’s police state, Whitaker, Kealey and Parnaby point out that Canadian security services have a long history of surveillance “on the side of the political/economic status quo” and against those “who challenge the powerful and the wealthy.” They add that the history of the political police in Canada is one of “conservatism” where the “the targets of state surveillance form a kind of roster of Canadian (working class) radicalism” and where those who pursue the class war from the bottom up have been seen as subverting “the proper political and economic order” and therefore are deemed legitimate subjects for surveillance and disruption. They adduce “evidence that the secret police may have played an active role in covertly disrupting, dividing and defeating unions.” Accordingly, they brand the activities of Canada’s security police as “an activist conservatism on behalf of capital against its perceived enemies” and note that the intervention of the security services against working class activists challenges “the standard rhetoric about the neutrality of the democratic state.” [16]

The strengthening of the political policing apparatus of the state—while it may indeed be useful in disrupting terrorist attacks—opens up space for the corporate community through its sway over the state to more muscularly assert its interests against ordinary Canadians.

Obviating the Terrorism of the Weak to Protect Canadians

Terrorism is the use of political violence against civilians to pressure governments to bring about changes in public policy. Used by the weak, it almost invariably aims at pressuring target countries to withdraw their military forces from territory the terrorists consider to be their homeland. But it is not exclusively the tool of the weak. Terrorism is also used on a massive scale by Western countries and their allies, whose bombing campaigns against foreign targets deliberately create misery among civilian populations in order to pressure them to overthrow their government or demand that it capitulate to the ultimata of Western powers. No better evidence of the terrorist intent of Western bombing campaigns is provided than in U.S. Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 U.S.-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia, in which Canada took part. Explained Short, “If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo? [17] How much more of this do we have to withstand?’” [18] This is a text-book example of terrorism.

The most effective way to deal with the terrorism of the weak is to treat its causes. If it aims to force foreign military forces to withdraw from territory the terrorists consider their homeland, and military forces are in the territory on illegitimate grounds, it follows that morally and politically, but also with regard to safeguarding the security of Canadians, that the occupations and interventions should be brought to an end. Canadian military force ought to be deployed to protect Canadians, not to endanger them by unnecessarily provoking retaliatory attacks. Since Western militaries have no legitimate right to intervene in the territories militant Sunni Muslim fundamentalists consider to be their homeland, the most effective way to safeguard the security of Canadian citizens from ISIS’s terrorism of the weak is to bring the interventions to an end.

But in order to justify continued military intervention in the Middle East, Canadian politicians, including the prime minister, deliberately confuse cause and effect. They would like Canadians to believe that the threat of terrorism against Canadians has caused the government to contribute military personnel and equipment to the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS as a measure of self-defence. However, the truth of the matter is that ISIS poses no threat to Canada, except insofar as the country’s military participates in a campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy it. Canada’s sending troops and warplanes to Iraq has caused ISIS terrorists to threaten Canada, not the other way around. And the 13-year war on terror has done nothing to eliminate the terrorism of the weak. To the contrary, it has made it stronger and more pervasive.

Security analysts had warned that the threat against Canada had been increasing for more than a decade, “after Canada sent the military into Afghanistan and amid Mr. Harper’s robust support for Israel and strong criticism of Iran.” Ray Boisvert, a former senior official with CSIS, explained that “We have been in the top five of al Qaeda targets now for over a decade.” He didn’t, however, explain that this is not, as politicians and much of the mass media would have us believe, because al-Qaeda has an irrational hatred of Canada, but because the organization views Canada as contributing to the U.S.-led project of occupying Muslim territory, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, and humiliating its people, as bin Laden put it. More specifically, CSIS warned that Canada’s joining the fight against ISIS would increase the chances that ISIS or its sympathizers would strike Canadian targets. [19]

The security agency didn’t have to uncover hidden information to learn that Ottawa’s declaration of war on the Islamic State raised the terrorism threat level. ISIS announced it. The militant organization’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, urged sympathizers to carry out attacks on the nationals of countries taking part in the mission against ISIS. He said, “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French —or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be.” [20]

One month later—and just one day after CF-18s were dispatched to an airbase in Kuwait to take part in the U.S.-led campaign to degrade and destroy ISIS—Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a convert to Islam, and possibly inspired by al-Adnani’s exhortation, shot and killed a soldier standing guard at the Cenotaph in Ottawa, before making his way to the Parliament Buildings, where he fought a gun battle with security officers before being fatally wounded. A week earlier, Martin Couture-Rouleau, a convert to Islam who aspired to travel to Iraq to fight with ISIS, used an automobile to run down two soldiers in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, before being shot and killed by police. The government seized on these incidents to justify its decision (which had been taken before these incidents occurred) to join the coalition against the Islamic State. The prime minister told the country that Canada would continue to “fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores.” This was tantamount to poking at a hornets’ nest, getting stung, and then using the fact you were stung as a reason to continue poking.

Clearly, ISIS was not calling for terrorist attacks on Canadians out of random, irrational, lust for violence. It did so to pressure Ottawa to reverse its decision to send special forces to northern Iraq to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces to fight ISIS and warplanes to the Middle East to attack ISIS positions in Iraq’s Anbar province. Significantly, Ottawa raised no objection to ISIS when the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists were slaughtering their way across Syria and threatening to topple the independent secular nationalist government of Bashar al-Assad. Indeed, ISIS’s successes were largely attributable to aid received, both directly and indirectly, from Ottawa’s allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It was only when ISIS threatened the Iraqi government, which Ottawa supports, that Canada joined the Washington-led campaign to stop ISIS.

The appeal of the Islamic State to many Arab Sunni Muslims lies in their sympathy for what they see as the organization’s goals: (1) to erase the artificial divisions in the Arab world created by Britain and France after WWI when the two European powers carved up Arab territory into multiple states subordinate to the West; (2) to overthrow the corrupt dictators of the Arab world who rule at the pleasure of the United States; and (3) to return the region’s oil wealth to the people. [21]

There are no lofty reasons for Canada to participate in the war on ISIS. To claim that Canada’s intervention against the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists is motivated by opposition to the organization’s barbarity is a demagogic sham. ISIS is virtually indistinguishable in the cruelty of its methods and harshness of its ideology from Saudi Arabia, which Canada strongly supports. If Ottawa truly abhorred ISIS’s vicious anti-Shia sectarianism, cruel misogyny, benighted religious practices, and penchant for beheadings, CF-18s would be bombing Riyadh, in addition to ISIS positions. Instead, Saudi Arabia, a theocratic absolutist monarchy, one of the last on earth, continues to receive Canada’s undiminished support.

ISIS is only a threat to Canada because the RCAF has been deployed to a military campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy it, and in support of continued Western domination of the Arab world, which militant Sunni Muslim fundamentalists (as well as many others in the region) vehemently object to. While ISIS may be the immediate cause of the terrorist threat to Canada, Ottawa’s decision to commit Canadian military forces in support of the maintenance of U.S. hegemony over Arab territory is the root cause, and a danger to the non-combatant Canadian soldiers and ordinary citizens who are the potential targets of blowback against this policy. Ottawa ought to be using the military to protect Canadians, not to unnecessarily endanger them.

Moreover, Ottawa should not be using the elevated threat of terrorists attack, of which it, itself, is the author, to justify the expansion of a police state which, if history is a guide, will be used to monitor and disrupt the activities of unions, left-wing political parties, and groups and individuals who challenge the rich and powerful, on top of Islamists and other opponents of Canada’s illegitimate military interventions abroad.

1. Sarah Lyall, “Ex-0fficial says Afghan and Iraq wars increased threats to Britain”, The New York Times, July 20, 2010.
2. The Battle of Algiers, Quotes, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058946/quotes
3. Robert A. Pape, “The strategic logic of suicide terrorism,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, August 2003.
4. Pape.
5. Pape.
6. Patrick Cockburn. The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising. OR Books. 2014.
7. Reg Whitaker, Gregory S. Kealey, and Andrew Parnaby. Secret Service: Political Policing in Canada from the Fenians to Fortress America. University of Toronto Press. 2012.
8. Whitaker, Kaley, and Parnaby.
9. Colin Freeze, “CSIS fights to keep Tommy Douglas spying file under wraps,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), February 10, 2010.
10. Jeff Mahoney, “Working the shop floor of democracy,” The Hamilton Spectator, October 27, 2014.
11. Mahoney.
12. This was the RCMP’s ProFunc (prominent functionaries of the communist party) list. See Kimball Cariou, “Profunc questions remain unanswered” People’s Voice, October 16-31, 2011.
13. In Andre Vltchek, “Down with Western democracy,” counterpunch.org, May 23, 2014.
14. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014. http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf
15. James Glanz and Andrew W. Lehren, “N.S.A. spied on allies, aid groups and businesses”, New York Times, December 20, 2013.
16. Whitaker, Kealey, and Parnaby.
17. A reference to the country’s leader, Slobodan Milosevic.
18. “What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail, May 26, 1999.
19. Paula Vieira, Alistair MacDonald and Ben Dummet, “Two dead in Canada shootings,” The Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2014,
20. Ian Austen and Rick Gladstone, “Gunman panics Ottawa, killing soldier in spree at capital,” The New York Times, October 22, 2014.
21. David D. Kirkpatrick, “New freedoms in Tunisia drive support for ISIS,” The New York times, October 21, 2014.

Written by what's left

November 2, 2014 at 11:10 pm

Posted in Canada, Iraq, ISIS, Terrorism

If Maliki’s a good guy, then so is Assad

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Maliki’s “anti-Sunni policies have blown up in his face — literally”–Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, January, 2014

By Stephen Gowans

The armed rebellion in Iraq is a broad-based attempt by Sunnis to press for the resolution of legitimate grievances against a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad which has marginalized them and treated them as second class citizens. Prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government reacted to largely peaceful Sunni demonstrations earlier this year with mass arrests, torture and violence. This sparked an armed rebellion, of which ISIS, the Islamist group which has dominated Western media coverage of the conflict, acts as only one part of a larger alliance of Sunni rebel organizations. The Iraqi army has met the armed rebellion with barrel bombs and indiscriminate shelling of residential targets, including a hospital in Fallujah.

Maliki’s policies have marginalized Iraq’s Sunni minority politically and economically. He has targeted Sunni politicians for arrest, manoeuvred to transform political power into a Shiite monopoly, and alienated ordinary Sunnis, who say they’re discriminated against in housing, employment, and education. Sunnis complain of being treated as second class citizens.

Sunni frustration with Maliki’s policies boiled over into mass demonstrations in five major cities last January. Tens of thousands of Sunnis participated. The Maliki government met the protests with violence (killing 51 protesters at one demonstration) and invoking anti-terrorism laws to scoop up protesters in mass arrests. According to Human Rights Watch, “detainees reported prolonged detentions without a judicial hearing and torture during interrogations.” The rights organization cited multiple abuses by Iraqi security forces, including the rape of female prisoners.

It was Baghdad’s draconian crackdown on peaceful protests that sparked the armed rebellion, not the aspirations of ISIS, the formerly al-Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel group which aims to carve a Sunni Islamist state out of parts of Syria and Iraq. Baghdad’s response to the armed rebellion has been no less draconian than its response to the largely peaceful demonstrations. Earlier this month, government forces “abandoned previous pledges not to harm civilians” and began to indiscriminately shell parts of Fallujah, including a hospital and residential areas, which had been captured by Sunni rebels. Human Rights Watch reported that “indiscriminate government attacks have included the use of barrel bombs, dropped from helicopters, on populated areas of Fallujah.” The attacks have “caused civilian casualties and forced thousands of residents to flee.” The rights group also says that Maliki’s forces have “illegally detained, tortured and extra-judicially executed an unknown number of” Sunnis since the conflict began in January.

It’s small wonder, then, that Sunnis regard Iraqi security forces as “an occupation army” and as “a foreign force in their own country.”

While early reports of the uprising reduced the armed rebellion to an ISIS campaign, it has become clear that ISIS is only one part of a broad-based and co-ordinated Sunni armed struggle. Human Rights Watch reported last month that “11 armed opposition groups are fighting in Anbar,” the Sunni-majority province of Western Iraq which borders Syria. These include fighters affiliated with Anbar’s tribes. Veteran foreign correspondent Patrick Cockburn points to “Jaish Naqshbandi, led by Saddam Hussein’s former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, former members of the Baath party, the Mukhbarat security services and the Special Republican Guard,” as groups that are also involved in the armed rebellion. “It is these groups,” reports Cockburn, “rather than ISIS, which captured Tikrit.” The New York Times’s Tim Arango and Washington Post’s Joby Warrick have also reported that the rebellion cuts across a number of Sunni groups, encompassing tribal militias and former Ba’ath Party members, as well as ISIS.

In many respects Iraq’s Sunni rebellion resembles the conflict in neighboring Syria. A protest movement quickly transforms into an armed rebellion, with armed Sunni jihadists assuming a highly visible role on the ground, and the government facing accusations of using mass arrests, torture, barrel bombs, and indiscriminate shelling against rebel forces and civilians. Of course, there are important differences, too, but the differences are not so large as to warrant the vastly different ways in which Damascus and Baghdad are treated by Western state officials and mass media.

To begin, there has been a tendency to try to minimize the role played by Islamist takfiri elements in the Syrian rebellion in favor of emphasizing the largely illusory “moderate” rebels, while in the Iraqi case, the role played by non-takfiri Sunni militants has been downplayed in favor of presenting the rebellion as an almost exclusively ISIS affair.

What’s more, Maliki has never been subjected to the demonization Assad has endured at the hands of Western state officials and mass media. And yet, much of what Assad has been accused of to warrant his demonization has been done by Maliki too. First, there’s the matter of the Iraqi prime minister failing to resolve Sunni grievances through discussion, negotiation, and inclusion, preferring instead to use anti-terrorism laws to target Sunni leaders for arrest and to try to repress mass demonstrations. Second, there are the reports of the Iraqi army’s indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and use of barrel bombs against the civilian population. Even Human Rights Watch, an organization which is linked to the US foreign policy establishment and tends to go easy on US allies, has raised the question of whether Maliki’s security forces have committed serious violations of the laws of war. Yet none of this has received more than passing mention in Western media, and no mention at all by Western state officials, who have loudly denounced Assad for the same behavior.

Similarly, the Western mass media have demonized ISIS for destabilizing Iraq, but not for destabilizing Syria. Their use of the label “terrorist” is reserved for ISIS when the organization operates in Iraq (against a US client) but not when it operates in Syria (against an officially designated enemy.) So it is that the Wall Street Journal could run an opinion piece titled “The terrorist army marching on Baghdad” when it’s inconceivable that the Journal, or any other Western newspaper, would run an opinion piece titled “The terrorist army marching on Damascus.”

ISIS and other Jihadi groups in Syria are armed and funded by reactionary Arab regimes, including the feudal tyrannies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar, all warmly embraced as allies by Washington, despite their complete contempt for democracy. According to Wall Street Journal reporters Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes, Qatari officials have assured Washington that Islamist militants in Syria can be eliminated once they’ve served the useful purpose of toppling Assad, yet, while Assad remains president, ISIS in Syria is safe from US attack. By contrast, as part of a coalition to redress legitimate Sunni grievances in Iraq against a US satellite government, ISIS has become a target of possible US air strikes.

If ever there were an example of governments (and mass media) dishonestly invoking charges of terrorism to justify a war against people with legitimate grievances, this is it. As one tribal leader of a Sunni rebel tribal council in Anbar put it: “It is an exaggeration and an attempt to stop the revolution against the Maliki government to say that ISIS is leading the fight. This is a rebellion against the unfairness and marginalization” of Sunnis by Baghdad.

It’s also a demonstration of Western double-standards and the complete bankruptcy of the official Western discourse on antiterrorism, human rights, democracy and the Arab Spring.

Written by what's left

June 17, 2014 at 1:22 am

Posted in Iraq, Syria

On the Iraq-Syria Border, ‘Terrorists’ and a Prime Minister on One Side, ‘Rebels’ and a ‘Brutal Dictator’ on the Other

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By Stephen Gowans

No one would be surprised these days to open a newspaper to read: Violence in Syria has risen dramatically since the spring of 2011, when a mostly Sunni and primarily peaceful protest movement against the Alawite-dominated government in Damascus drew a violent response from regime forces.

But would they be surprised to read the same sentence, with Shiite replacing Alawite, and Baghdad in place of Damascus?

Probably.

Yet much the same sentence appeared in the Wall Street Journal on October 24. Reporters Matt Bradley and Ali A. Nabhan wrote that, “Violence (in Iraq’s Anbar province) has risen dramatically since the spring, when a mostly Sunni and primarily peaceful protest movement against the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad drew a violent response from security forces.”

Anbar borders Syria.

The Western narrative on Syria is that a government dominated by one religious group used violence to quell a largely peaceful protest movement of another, triggering an armed rebellion. Just like Anbar.

The government’s actions, and the uprising that followed, were labelled a problem by Western news media and governments—a problem to be resolved by removing a president who is “killing his own people” (and who also, just happens, to refuse to play along with Washington’s economic and foreign policy agenda.) Not like Anbar.

Hence, while two very similar situations exist side-by-side, they have been met by completely different reactions in the West, not only on the part of governments, but also the news media, and a certain faction of leftists that mistake reaction for revolution.

The Western news media have been virtually silent on Maliki’s cracking down violently on a mostly Sunni and primarily peaceful protest movement, yet fevered and voluble in its coverage of the Syrian insurgency, and was, even in the uprising’s early days. Practically everyone knows about Syria. How many know about Anbar?

Western governments have designated Syrian president Bashar al-Assad a pariah, but haven’t demonized Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, have refused to denounce him as a brute who kills his own people, and haven’t told him he has lost his legitimacy, and must step down, as Assad has been told.

And yet as the Washington Post’s Liz Sly noted on 8 February,

The grievances [against Maliki]…are real, as was articulated last week in a Human Rights Watch report condemning the “draconian” measures used by the Maliki government to curtail its opponents. The report cited widespread allegations of abuse within the criminal justice system including torture, the rape of female prisoners and arbitrary arrests, as well as the successful suppression of an earlier attempt to organize Arab Spring-style demonstrations in Baghdad and elsewhere in 2011 (“Arab Spring-style protests take hold in Iraq”).

While some leftists in the West have embraced the Syrian insurgency as if it were a modern day October Revolution in embryo, they have not rallied to the cause of the Anbar insurgents. Probably because they’ve never heard of them, and maybe because the Western news media have yet to invent a faction of moderate (i.e., ‘good’) rebels that the kind souls of the left can embrace. The field, instead, is dominated by the same al-Qaeda-linked Islamists who lead Syria’s insurgency.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Anbar fighters “flow fluidly back and forth across the Iraq-Syria border, staging attacks on both sides…” These are the same fighters the US occupation army battled in Iraq during the surge of 2007. Of course, back then, they were called “terrorists”, and were considered “legitimate” targets in a war on terror.

Funny, “terrorists” is what the Syrian government calls them today, when they set off car bombs, execute captives, eviscerate bodies, and saw off heads, on the Syrian side of the border. All the same, this is considered illegitimate terminology by Western governments, who prefer that terrorists who work on their side be called rebels, freedom fighters, or part of a popular, democratic, uprising.

Maliki, the prime minister who wields violence to crush largely peaceful protest movements, remains Washington’s man in Baghdad. As a consequence, he need not worry about getting the Assad-treatment…for now. Just as Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi was in reality the monster Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is made out to be by Western governments and news media, Meles escaped sanction and demonization from the West, and was lionized when he died last year, because he did the West’s bidding. Mugabe is more interested in his country’s independence from the West—hence, the sullying of his name in Western capitals and newsrooms.

It didn’t matter how many people Meles locked up, killed and tortured, he remained the model statesman in Western eyes, as Maliki may, so long as he doesn’t develop too much of an independent streak. Assad, the president who says “Syria is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West,” is, however, quite another matter.

Written by what's left

October 25, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Iraq, Syria

For Whom the War Bill Tolls

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The $1 trillion-plus Iraq and Afghanistan wars were the first US wars since the American Revolution to have been fought without a general tax increase to cover them. Without tax increases to pay for the Pentagon’s ballooning budget, the country’s debt as a percentage of GDP has grown. Since a rise in debt relative to income can’t continue indefinitely, politicians are looking for ways to arrest the trend. It’s very likely that the burden of covering the costs of run-away US military spending will fall upon poor and middle-income Americans. High-profile economists like N. Gregory Mankiw are preparing public opinion for eventual rate hikes, concealing the role played by US war spending in driving up the percentage of debt to GDP, and blaming growing entitlement spending on the need to raise taxes.

By Stephen Gowans

Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw, economic policy adviser to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, and author of a widely used introductory economics textbook, weighed in this Sunday in The New York Times on the growing ratio of US debt to gross domestic product and what to do about it. [1] Forget about raising taxes on the wealthy, counselled Mankiw. Instead, stick it to everyone else. Here’s Mankiw’s reasoning:

• Debt as a proportion of national income is growing “thanks largely to growth in entitlement spending.”
• If debt to GDP continues to grow, investors will eventually refuse to lend at manageable rates, tipping the United States into a Greek-style financial crisis.
• The crisis can’t be averted simply by raising taxes on the rich. There just aren’t enough wealthy taxpayers around to make much of a difference. Nor would tax increases on the wealthy be fair. “The current tax system looks plenty progressive,” says Mankiw. “The rich are not…shirking their responsibilities.”
• Instead, entitlements need to be scaled back and taxes hiked on the vast majority of Americans.

Mankiw presents this as a corrective to too much wishful thinking on middle-class tax rates. But his argument is more snow job than corrective.

Wasteful Military Spending

Mankiw misses the elephant in the room on federal spending: the military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to World Bank figures, from 1999 US military expenditures have steadily increased as a share of national income, rising from 3.0 percent of GDP to 4.7 percent by 2011. [3] New York Times’ reporters Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller reported last year that the US military budget “has doubled to $700 billion a year since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” [3] Yes, doubled. If anything is growing, the military is. The Pentagon’s budget is now “the highest in absolute and in inflation-adjusted, constant (for any year) dollars since 1946, the year after the Second World War ended. Adding non-Pentagon defense-related spending, the total may exceed $1 trillion.” [4]

The US defense budget exceeds the combined expenditures of the next 14 highest spenders—China, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Australia, Canada and Turkey. All but two of these countries are US allies. [5] China and Russia are not part of a US-led military alliance. But their combined military expenditures are less than one-third of the Pentagon’s budget. It’s difficult to fathom why soi disant hard-headed deficit hawks aren’t scolding Washington for wasteful overspending on defense, unless the professed deficit hawks are using debt as a pretext to argue for cut-backs in programs for poor and middle-income Americans.

The Pentagon’s obesity is largely due to the United States starting two completely unnecessary and extremely expensive wars: one on Iraq, based on the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and one on Afghanistan, to topple the Taliban who will likely return to power in a negotiated settlement.

Bumiller reported in 2010 that both wars had “cost Americans a staggering $1 trillion to date, second only in inflation-adjusted dollars to the $4 trillion price tag for World War II, when the United States put 16 million men and women into uniform and fought on three continents.” [6] With the war in Afghanistan dragging on at a cost of “about $2 billion a week” [7] another $200 billion has come due since Bumiller tallied up the original $1 trillion price tag. Genuine concern about managing US finances would have long ago led to an end to both wars (not just one), if not complete avoidance of either to begin with.

Taxes were not raised to pay for either war. These are the first wars since the American Revolution for which Washington hasn’t called upon taxpayers to ante up. [8] The reason is clear. Neither war was likely to galvanize Americans to accept sacrifices. So, the only way to get Americans behind them was to fight the wars in a way that allowed the country to avoid “breaking a sweat,” as historian David Kennedy put it. [9]

Many Americans are willing to acknowledge that the wars should never have been fought, but rationalize them by pointing to the supposed good they’ve done (the toppling of Saddam Hussein, improved conditions for women in Afghanistan.) But how accepting will they be when they’re presented with the bill, as they most assuredly will be? Someone will have to pay eventually. The trick for politicians will be to blame the bill on something else. Entitlements come to mind.

The Flat Tax System

If Mankiw ignores the obvious links among rising military expenditures, absent tax increases, and a climbing debt to GDP ratio, he also ignores property, state, excise, and sales taxes, to argue that the wealthy are already paying their fair share, and that “the current tax system looks pretty progressive.” Well, yes, the current federal income tax system does look progressive, and Mankiw would be on target if the federal income tax was the only tax Americans pay. But they also pay sales taxes, property taxes and more. Factor in all other taxes and the tax system isn’t quite as progressive as Mankiw would have us believe. As Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein noted in September, “Confining the discussion to the federal income tax…makes the tax code look much more progressive than it actually is.” [10]

So, just how unprogressive is the tax system? According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, total taxes in 2011 as a percentage of income were:

• Top 1% of income earners, 29.0%
• Bottom 99%, 27.5% [11].

In other words, taking into account all the taxes Americans pay and not just the one Mankiw wants to confine the discussion to, the real tax system is essentially flat. The super-wealthy are paying about the same rate as everyone else. And yes, while the poor pay little if anything in federal taxes, they make up for it in state, local and other levies. Which means that were federal income taxes hiked on the bottom 99 percent, as Mankiw urges, the real tax system would go from flat to regressive.

taxday2012table

Who Benefits?

It’s widely believed that taxes on the wealthy are redistributed to the poor. It’s true that some redistribution of tax revenue from the wealthy to the poor does occur, but what’s less widely known, and rarely talked about, is that federal tax revenue flows mainly from the bottom 99 percent to the top one percent. This is clear if we recognize that:

• The bulk of taxes are paid by the bottom 99 percent (which is why defenders of the current flat tax system, like Mankiw, keep reminding us that hiking taxes on the rich will make little difference to government finances. The heavy lifting is done by poor and middle-income Americans.)
• A large fraction of tax revenue is used to fund activities the wealthy disproportionately benefit from.

What do federal income taxes pay for?

The US war machine, for one. A large part of federal income tax is paid to defense contractors, companies like Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics. The top executives and shareholders of these companies make off like bandits in regular times, but have benefited even more handsomely ever since post 9/11 military expenditures doubled. The profits of the top five defense contractors “rose from $2.4 billion in 2002, adjusted for inflation, to $13.4 billion in 2011,” a 450 percent increase. [12]

US federal income tax also helps finance US wars. And US wars almost invariably create profit-making opportunities for banks and corporations. For example, then US ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz was positively rhapsodic about the business opportunities that were opened by the US-led (from behind) Nato assault that toppled Muammar Gadhafi, not just petroleum-related but infrastructure contracts too. [13] In the charmed circle of US capitalism, defense contractors reap a bonanza of profits by supplying the Pentagon with arms, which the Pentagon use to destroy infrastructure that US engineering giants, like Bechtel, rebuild.

Military and non-military aid to other countries is also underwritten by federal income tax revenue. The bottom 99 percent, who contribute the bulk of funds to these programs, benefit only indirectly, if at all. Instead, their tax dollars are converted into credits, which are doled out to other countries to purchase goods and service from US corporations, the direct beneficiaries. For example, the $3 billion in annual military aid Israel receives travels from taxpayers’ pockets to US defense contractors’ coffers. The arms industry sends military equipment to Israel, with payment for the purchase never leaving the United States. The same kind of arrangement is used to provide economic aid to poor countries. These countries don’t get cash to spend as they see fit. They get credits to spend on American goods and services. There may be benefits to poor and middle-income Americans in job opportunities, but the benefits are disproportionately enjoyed by the top executives and shareholders of the companies on which the credits are spent.

Another sizeable part of US federal income tax revenue goes to purchasers of US debt—the debt that piled up to pay for the wars Washington didn’t want to raise taxes to pay for. Needless to say, it is the super-rich, not poor and middle-income Americans, who are the major holders of US debt. And super-wealthy bondholders are often the same people who own shares in companies that supply the Pentagon and benefit from the new foreign business opportunities that US military interventions secure.

So, no, the tax system doesn’t work against the wealthy, as Mankiw and others would have us believe. Instead, a large part of the tax system’s function is to transfer tax revenues from the bottom 99 percent to foreign aid, military appropriations, wars, and interest on debt that the top one percent disproportionately benefit from.

Conclusion

The United States has doubled military spending since 9/11, outspending its peer competitors, China and Russia, by more than a factor of three. It has squandered more than $1 trillion on wars that never should have been fought, and continues to waste $2 billion a week on war in Afghanistan. This excess has been paid for by borrowing rather than taxes, presumably to avoid hurting Americans in their pocketbooks, a pain that would likely provoke anti-war opposition. But the bills are coming due. Mankiw, and other prizefighters for the super-wealthy, are drawing attention away from outsize military spending—a significant contributor to burgeoning debt—and directing it instead to entitlements. They’re also deceptively ignoring payroll, property, sales and other taxes, to argue that the US tax system is progressive and that the wealthy already pay their fair share. In other words, Mankiw is arguing for higher taxes on poor and middle-income Americans, misdirecting attention to entitlement spending to conceal what the bill is really for: military spending that the super-rich have used to fatten their bank accounts.

Lessons learned.

A. Nothing comes free. Military spending can’t be doubled—and $1 trillion-plus wars fought— without someone eventually being handed the bill. And in the United States, the bill is always paid by the bottom 99 percent. This bill will be paid in entitlement cutbacks and tax increases.

B. The job of establishment economists is to make robbing poor and middle-income Americans seem both necessary and desirable. Feudal lords relied on priests to justify the exploitation of working people. Bankers, top executives and investors have economists.

1. N. Gregory Mankiw, “Wishful thinking and middle-class taxes”, The New York Times, December 29, 2012.
2. The World Bank, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS
3. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
4. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
5. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 2012
6. Elisabeth Bumiller, “The war: A trillion can be cheap”, The New York Times, July 24, 2010.
7. David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, “Steeper pullout is raised as option for Afghanistan”, The New York Times, June 5, 2011.
8. Elisabeth Bumiller, “The war: A trillion can be cheap”, The New York Times, July 24, 2010.
9. Ibid.
10. Ezra Klein, “The one tax graph you really need to know”, The Washington Post, September 19, 2012.
11. http://ctj.org/images/taxday2012table.jpg
12. Study co-written by Lawrence J. Korb for the Center for American Progress, cited by Walter Pincus in “Excess-profits tax on defense contractors during wartime is long overdue”, The Washington Post, December 31, 2012.
13. David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. reopens its embassy in Libya”, The New York Times, September 22, 2011. Cretz said, “We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources, but even in Qaddafi’s time they were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things. If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs.”

Written by what's left

January 1, 2013 at 7:48 pm

US Ambassador Echoes Cecil Rhodes

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By Stephen Gowans

When in 1916 Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin expounded what historian V.G. Kiernan would later call virtually the only serious theory of imperialism, despite its shortcomings (1), Lenin cited Cecil Rhodes as among the “leading British bourgeois politicians (who) fully appreciated the connection between what might be called the purely economic and the political-social roots of modern imperialism.” (2)

Rhodes, founder of the diamond company De Beers and of the eponymous Rhodesia, had made the following remarks, which Lenin quoted at length in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism.

I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ ‘bread,’ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more than ever convinced of the importance of imperialism … My cherished idea is a solution for the social problem, i.e., in order to save the 40,000,000 inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced by them in factories and mines. The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question. If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists. (3)

Skip ahead 95 years. Here’s US ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz:

We know that oil is the jewel in the crown of Libyan natural resources, but even in Qaddafi’s time they were starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things. If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs. (4)

New York Times’ reporter David D. Kirkpatrick noted that “Libya’s provisional government has already said it is eager to welcome Western businesses (and)…would even give its Western backers some ‘priority’ in access to Libyan business.” (5)

A bread and butter question. Also a profit-making one.

What Ahmadinejad really said at the UN

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s address to the 66th UN General Assembly meeting provided the Iranian president with the usual occasion to make the usual points and the Western media the usual occasion to misrepresent them.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon wrote that Ahmadinejad “sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the Holocaust,” (6) reminding readers that Ahmadinejad had once called for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, a distortion that will live on in history through its mere retelling. (What the Iranian president really said was that Israel would dissolve as the Soviet Union had.)

I read the transcript of Ahmadinejad’s address, but found no questioning of the Nazi-engineered holocaust.

Here are his remarks on Zionism and the Holocaust.

They view Zionism as a sacred notion and ideology. Any question of its very foundation and history is condemned by them as an unforgivable sin.

Who imposed, through deceits and hypocrisy, the Zionism and over sixty years of war, homelessness, terror and mass murder on the Palestinian people and countries of the region?

If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon the slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?

By using their imperialistic media network which is under the influence of colonialism they threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the September 11 events with sanctions and military action. (7)

It would have been more accurate for Solomon to have written that Ahmadinejad sought to stoke controversy by again questioning the legitimacy of Zionism and the manipulative use of the Nazi-perpetrated holocaust to justify it.

But these themes are unmentionable in the Western corporate media.

It is common practice to capitalize the Nazi-engineered effort to exterminate the Jews as the ‘Holocaust’, as if there had never been any other holocaust—or any at rate, any other worth mentioning. Even the transcript of Ahmadinjad’s address refers to ‘the Holocaust’ rather than ‘a holocaust.’

The Justice Process

It seems that the only argument US president Barack Obama could muster for why Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas shouldn’t seek recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN is that the ‘peace process’ would be derailed.

Let’s lay aside the obvious difficulty of Barak the Bomber caring about peace, and that the ‘peace process’ has been off the rails for some time. His objection missed the point. Recognition of a Palestinian state isn’t a question of the peace process but of the justice process, and hardly a very satisfying one at that. What justice is there in Palestinians settling for one fifth of their country? Which is what, in any practical sense, UN recognition of the Palestinian territories as a state would amount to.

But it’s better than the status quo and a starting point.

For Zionists, the peace process is a little more appealing, but is the opposite of the justice process. It means getting Palestinians to settle for even less than one-fifth of their country, and to acknowledge the theft of it as legitimate.

An aside: Over 30 countries do not recognize Israel, among them Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Iran and Syria.

Rational Ignoramuses?

Do those who promote what Keynes called the fallacy of thrift (or fallacy of austerity, to give it a contemporary spin) really believe what they preach: that cutting pensions, laying off public servants, raising taxes on the poor, and closing government programs, is the way to avert a deeper economic crisis for the bulk of us?

Do they even care about the bulk of us?

Or is austerity simply a way of bailing out bankers and bondholders by bleeding the rest of us dry?

British prime minister David Cameron, on a trip to Canada to compare notes with fellow deficit-hawk Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM, remarked that “Highly indebted households and governments simply cannot spend their way out of a debt crisis. The more they spend, the more debts will rise and the fundamental problem will grow.” (8)

This was reported with tacit nods of approval in Canada’s corporate press, as if Cameron’s utterings were incontrovertible, rather than the ravings of an economic illiterate (in the view of economists), or the words of a political con artist (in the view of class struggle literates.)

Highly indebted governments simply cannot cut their way out of an economic crisis. The more they cut, the more aggregate demand weakens and the worse it gets. Greece’s continued slide into economic ruin underscores the point. The United States’ inability to drag itself out of the depths of the Great Depression, until arms orders brought the economy back to life, strikes an historical cautionary note.

But recessions are not without benefits for corporate plutocrats. It’s easier to cut wages, salaries and benefits during downturns, and to enjoy bigger profits as a result. Small competitors can be driven out of business. Unions can be weakened. And governments have an excuse to slash social programs that have pushed the balance of power a little too far in labor’s direction. Indeed, all manner of sacrifices can be extracted from most of us if we’re persuaded that debt is the cause of the problem and that belt-tightening is the physic that will cure it.

My bet is that Cameron and his fellow water carriers for moneyed interests are no dummies — but they’re hoping the rest of us are.

Knowing Who Your Friends Are
Here is the widely reviled (by Western governments) Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly.

After over twenty thousand NATO bombing sorties that targeted Libyan towns, including Tripoli, there is now unbelievable and most disgraceful scramble by some NATO countries for Libyan oil, indicating thereby that the real motive for their aggression against Libya was to control and own its abundant fuel resources. What a shame!

Yesterday, it was Iraq and Bush and Blair were the liars and aggressors as they made unfounded allegations of possessions of weapons of mass destruction. This time it is the NATO countries the liars and aggressors as they make similarly unfounded allegations of destruction of civilian lives by Gaddafi.

We in Africa are also duly concerned about the activities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which seems to exist only for alleged offenders of the developing world, the majority of them Africans. The leaders of the powerful Western States guilty of international crime, like Bush and Blair, are routinely given the blind eye. Such selective justice has eroded the credibility of the ICC on the African continent.

My country fully supports the right of the gallant people of Palestine to statehood and membership of this U.N. Organisation. The U.N. must become credible by welcoming into its bosom all those whose right to attain sovereign independence and freedom from occupation and colonialism is legitimate. (9)

It’s clear why he’s reviled by imperialists, but also by leftists?

If the Movement for Democratic Change’s Morgan Tsvangirai, favorite of the West, ever becomes president, expect a very different kind of address at future General Assembly meetings.

1. V.G. Kiernan, Marxism and Imperialism, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1974.

2. V. I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, International Publishers, New York. 1939. p 78.

3. Ibid. p 79.

4. David D. Kirkpatrick, “U.S. reopens its embassy in Libya”, The New York Times, September 22, 2011.

5. Ibid.

6. Jay Solomon, “Iran adds Palestine statehood wrinkle”, The Wall Street Journal, September 23, 2011.

7. http://www.president.ir/en/?ArtID=30573

8. Campbell Clark, “Cameron, Harper preach restraint in teeth of global ‘debt crisis’”, The Globe and Mail, September 22, 2011

9. http://nehandaradio.com/2011/09/24/full-text-of-robert-mugabe-speech-at-un-assembly/

Written by what's left

September 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm

The anti-war movement in the context of illegitimate but largely non-disruptive wars

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By Stephen Gowans

If legitimacy and moral principle mattered, a groundswell of effective popular resistance would have arisen in NATO countries and brought the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end long ago. But vigorous opposition is inspired by more than ideals; it happens when war has very real personal consequences for a large part of the population. In the NATO countries, this has not been true of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have been fought with light causalities to a tiny fraction of the population that makes up a volunteer, professional military; have led to no major tax increases; and have provoked few disruptions due to retaliatory terrorist attacks. By contrast, the wars have had very real, tragic, personal consequences for large parts of the Afghan and Iraqi populations. Asymmetrical conditions (intolerable ones for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq; life lived much as it always is in the aggressor countries) produce asymmetrical responses (a determined armed resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq; a weak anti-war movement in the aggressor countries.)

Absence of Legitimacy

While it’s true that large numbers of people have been opposed to the war on Iraq from its formal beginning in 2003, those who said there was no credible evidence that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that the WMD angle was a transparent pretext, that the war was for oil, and that it (along with the war on Afghanistan) wouldn’t lessen threats to the US and Britain but increase them, were in the minority. They were dismissed in various ways: as loony and pro-authoritarian, as having never met a dictator they didn’t like, as thug-huggers and apologists for terrorism, and so on.

Others, perhaps intimidated by the ridicule they saw heaped upon this minority and afraid of departing too far from the mainstream of mass media-approved opinion, compromised. Some called for more sanctions rather than war, although sanctions, which are simply war by other means, had already led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children under the age of five(1)and perhaps as many people over five. Perhaps their concern was chauvinistic: not that Iraqis were being killed, but that US and British troops might get killed. Or maybe they didn’t know that sanctions are indeed directed at ordinary people. After all, the politicians who imposed them kept assuring everyone that sanctions only hurt the leadership of target countries, not the people.

The cowardly, afraid they would be tarred as dictator-lovers, issued statements denouncing both sides – the aggressor and the intended victim, as if, on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland, they had declared, “We like neither the Nazis nor the Poles,” in case, in opposing the Nazi action, they should be accused of supporting Polish politics.

Some of these people thought they were being clever. If they said (quite truthfully though irrelevantly) that they hated Saddam Hussein because he was a dictator, they could take the dictator-lover charge off the table, and focus public attention on US actions. But all they did was help to give heart to those seeking a silver lining in the dark cloud of impending war. “The war might be conducted for the wrong reasons,” rationalized the silver lining seekers, “but at least some good will come of it. The world will be rid of a vicious dictator.”

Perhaps the largest part of the sector that opposed the war did so, not because the war was nakedly imperialist and would increase the threat to Americans by further inflaming anger against US domination of the Middle East, but because they were Democrats and this was Bush’s war. Likewise, there were many Republicans who opposed the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia, not because it was nakedly imperialist, but because it was Clinton’s war. The Democrats who opposed the Iraq war weren’t anti-war or anti-imperialist, they were anti-Bush. And the Republicans who opposed the Kosovo air war weren’t anti-war or anti-imperialist, they were anti-Clinton. Part of the reason the anti-war movement, which has been mostly a part-time affair limited to a series of ritualized, orderly, marches, has virtually died out, is because Bush – the impetus for opposition to the wars – has retired to his ranch in Texas. Protest, at least in the view of partisan Democrats, is no longer necessary; indeed, from their point of view, it is to be vigorously avoided.

Withdrawal: An Exercise in Semantics

Today, the war in Iraq is in the midst of a US troop draw down, but not as the beginning to the end of US military involvement in Iraq. The real purpose is to redeploy troops to Afghanistan, where, with the war going poorly for the Pentagon, more troops are needed. US military occupation of Iraq is open-ended.

The withdrawal, which will reduce the number of American troops to 50,000 — from 112,000 earlier this year and close to 165,000 at the height of the surge — is … an exercise in semantics. What soldiers today would call combat operations — hunting insurgents, joint raids between Iraqi security forces and United States Special Forces to kill or arrest militants — will be called “stability operations.” Beyond August the next Iraq deadline is the end of 2011, when all American troops are supposed to be gone. But few believe that America’s military involvement in Iraq will end then. The conventional wisdom among military officers, diplomats and Iraqi officials is that after a new government is formed, talks will begin about a longer-term American troop presence. (2)

A longer-term American troop presence is exactly what US Secretary of War Robert Gates in 2007 told Congress could be expected. He said he envisioned keeping at least five combat brigades in Iraq as a long term presence, which is equal to about 20,000 combat personnel with an equal number of support staff. (3) The US military spokesman in Iraq, Major General Stephen Lanza, assured supporters of a US troop presence in Iraq that despite the troop draw-down, “In practical terms, nothing will change.” (4)

Meanwhile, the US government isn’t just rebranding the occupation, it’s also privatising it. There are around 100,000 private contractors working for the occupying forces, of whom more than 11,000 are armed mercenaries, mostly “third country nationals”, typically from the developing world. … The US now wants to expand their numbers sharply in what Jeremy Scahill, who helped expose the role of the notorious US security firm Blackwater, calls the “coming surge” of contractors in Iraq. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the number of military contractors working for the state department alone from 2,700 to 7,000, to be based in five “enduring presence posts” across Iraq. (5)

Colonialism without Colonies

The 1980 Carter Doctrine identified Persian Gulf oil as a US national security interest. In plain language, this meant that the petroleum rich countries of the Persian Gulf would be reserved as an area open to exploitation by US business enterprises and investors. The US would tolerate no attempt by other outside forces – or internal forces either — to control the region’s petro-reserves, and thereby deny or limit US enterprises access to the region’s oil and gas on preferential terms. Access would be guaranteed to ensure that US oil majors reaped a bonanza of profits from the sale of Middle Eastern oil to its principal consumers, namely Western Europe and Japan, and not primarily to guarantee sufficient oil to run the US military machine and economy, as is commonly supposed. Indeed, while the United States relies on oil from the Middle East, it has access to plentiful supplies of fossil fuels from sources that are much closer to hand: Canada (which has the world’s largest reserves of oil after Saudi Arabia); Venezuela (sixth in the world in oil reserves); and from its own oil wells. (6)

The Carter Doctrine was the modern version of colonialism. Under the old one, an outside power claims a territory as its own for the purposes of monopolizing its land, labor, markets and raw materials for the enrichment of its dominant politico-economic interests, its ruling class. It does so by planting its flag, appointing a governor, and establishing a military garrison. This announces to the world that use of this territory is exclusively at the discretion of the colonial power, and that the monopoly is backed by the colonial power’s military.

Under the Carter Doctrine, Washington would leave the flags, constitutions, currencies and leaders of the nominally independent Middle Eastern countries in place. But it would be understood that these countries would open themselves to exploitation by US business enterprises, if they weren’t already, or would remain open, if they were. The Pentagon would be the ultimate enforcer, ensuring that investment opportunities remained available on preferential terms to US businesspeople and that US investments were kept free from the threat of expropriation, or limitation by high taxes, stringent regulations, strong unions, restraints on repatriation of profits, and affirmative action programs designed to promote local businesses. Whereas the colonial powers had carved out territories for themselves and ipso facto claimed them as their own, Carter simply said what amounted to, “This now belongs to the United States on a de facto basis and anyone who says otherwise will have to deal with the Pentagon.” Significantly, this warning wasn’t directed at outside powers alone; it was also intended for communist, socialist and nationalist forces, who might take it into their heads that the land on which they lived and their raw materials ought to be collectively or publicly owned for the benefit of the local population or turned over to the local bourgeoisie to spur independent internal development.

Iran (after 1979) and Iraq were a problem. Nationalists were in power in both countries. Washington provided military assistance to help Iraq in its war against Iran, hoping the two nationalist powers would exhaust and weaken each other in war, and, in the aftermath, Washington could step in to assert control. When Iraq invaded Kuwait with what it believed was tacit US approval (7), Washington used the event to initiate a war against Iraq that continues today. The eventual invasion of Iraq was carried out under the Wolfowitz Doctrine, which said the United States would prevent the emergence of a regional Middle Eastern power capable of monopolizing the region’s petroleum resources, but which really meant that regional oil powers, like Iraq and Iran, would be prevented from controlling their own petroleum resources. George W. Bush pointed to preventing “a world in which these extremists and radicals got control of energy resources” (8) as the rationale for US military strategy in the Persian Gulf. What made the objects of Bush’s alarm “extreme” and “radical” was that they weren’t prepared to surrender control of their oil and gas to US corporations.

The Insecurity State

Fighting terrorism and preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons has become the rationale for US military domination of the Middle East. Yet it was US military domination of the Middle East that sparked terrorist attacks against US targets in the first place, and established the conditions that pressure Iran to develop nuclear weapons (which isn’t to say that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, only that the need to build a defense against US and Israeli aggression makes it more likely that it will.)

What motivates Osama bin Laden and his followers has largely been kept from Western audiences, who have been fed pabulum about al Qaeda’s “hatred of our freedoms,” but it is clear that bin Laden’s campaign of terrorism is a reaction to US imperialism in the Middle East. He importunes his followers to strike the United States because:

…the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorising its neighbours, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. (9)

On another occasion bin Laden explained that:

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy Mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. (10)

Having operated on behalf of the CIA to oppose Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s, bin Laden is sometimes said to be a creation of the United States, a kind of Frankenstein monster. But receiving assistance from a state does not make one its creation. Bin Laden would have militantly opposed Soviet intervention in Afghanistan whether the CIA helped him out or not. There is, however, a sense in which bin Laden is, indeed, a creation of the United States, or more precisely, a reaction against its policies. Bin Laden, as a fighter against US domination of the Middle East, wouldn’t exist were it not for the United States stationing troops in Saudi Arabia, and now Iraq and Afghanistan; were the United States not the guarantor of Israel’s existence as an anti-Arab settler state; and had Washington not created a string of marionette rulers throughout the Arab world. In seeking to extend and consolidate US hegemony on behalf of the United States’ dominant economic class, these policies have had the effect of stirring up a nest of hornets. Once stirred up, the danger the hornets pose become a pretext for further extension of US hegemony to deny the hornets sanctuary and a base of operations from which they can inflict harm. As Victor Kiernan once remarked: “Now, as on other occasions, it appear[s] that American security require(s) everyone else to be insecure.” (11)

Right All Along

The ridiculed minority was right. The Iraq war was – and continues to be – about oil; there never were any weapons of mass destruction; Iraq posed no danger to the West; and rather than lessening the threat of terrorist attack, it has increased it. As for the idea, promulgated by Barack Obama as justification for his war policy in Afghanistan, that Afghanistan must be occupied by US forces and the militaries of its allies in order to prevent the country from becoming a base of operations for al-Qaeda, it can be pointed out that terrorist attacks can be – and have been – plotted and organized just about anywhere. William Blum asks:

[W]hat actually is needed to plot to buy airline tickets and take flying lessons in the United States? A room with some chairs? What does “an even larger safe haven” mean? A larger room with more chairs? Perhaps a blackboard? Terrorists intent upon attacking the United States can meet almost anywhere, with Afghanistan probably being one of the worst places for them, given the American occupation. (12)

Indeed, it is very unlikely that al-Qaeda is the position to establish a base of operations in Afghanistan, a point made by Stephen Biddle, a scholar at the uber-establishment Council on Foreign Relations, who advised General Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander in Afghanistan. Biddle “said the chance of a new Qaeda stronghold that could threaten American territory was relatively low” equating the odds of this happening “to a 50-year-old dying in the next year in America” which he said was “substantially less than 1 percent.” So why carry on an occupation whose costs approach $1 trillion (13) in order to avert an event that has virtually no chance of happening? Because, says Biddle – who advances an argument that is perhaps one of the least cogent ever — “It’s like buying life insurance” and “most Americans buy life insurance.” (14)

Richard Boucher had a different view. When he spoke on September 20, 2007 at the Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies in Washington, he was US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. Boucher’s account of why the United States has spent countless dollars on war in Afghanistan had nothing to do with insurance policies and much to do with oil and gas. “One of our goals is to stabilize Afghanistan, so it can become a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so that energy can flow to the south,” he explained. (15) Boucher’s views mesh with Biddle’s if we take “stabilize” to mean pacifying forces opposed to the United States controlling Afghanistan as a hub between South and Central Asia.

Fadhil Chalabi, an adviser to Washington in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq and later Iraq’s oil undersecretary of state, described the invasion of Iraq as “a strategic move on the part of the United States of America and the UK to have a military presence in the Gulf in order to secure [oil] supplies in the future”. (16) He echoed the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, who, in his memoirs, The Age of Turbulence, lamented “that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” (17) George W. Bush himself, in worrying that “extremists would control a key part of the world’s energy supply” if the US did not have a troop presence in Iraq, indirectly acknowledged that oil was central to the reason he ordered an invasion of the country. (18) But it should be recalled that it is not the need to guarantee a secure supply of Middle Eastern oil for US consumers that was central to the reason for the invasion, for the US has access to plentiful oil from sources close to home. What really counted was the attraction of securing a bonanza of profits for US oil majors from the sale of Middle Eastern oil to Western Europe and Japan. A subsidiary benefit also figured in the equation: if Washington controls Japan’s and Western Europe’s oil supply, it controls Japan and Western Europe. (19)

Testifying before the Chilcot Inquiry into the Britain’s role in the Iraq war, Baroness Manningham-Buller, the former director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI-5, confirmed what the minority had said eight years earlier: “That Iraq had presented little threat … before the invasion”(20) and that fears that “Saddam could have linked terrorists to weapons of mass destruction, facilitating their use against the west…certainly wasn’t of concern in either the short term or the medium term.” (21)

Manningham-Buller also testified that “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had greatly increased the terrorist threat” and that “involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalized a whole generation of young people — not a whole generation, a few among a generation — who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.”(22)

Democracy for the Few

The majority of citizens of the aggressor countries are opposed to their governments deploying their nations’ troops to Iraq and Afghanistan,(23)and yet the wars go on. US voters elected a president whose equivocations led them to believe he would end the wars, although the letter of what he said was never anti-war. The wars continue, just as they did under his predecessor. The Nobel committee (grotesquely) gave the new US president the Peace Prize, hoping it might nudge him to declare peace. Its members’ hopes were dashed. There never were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and yet the occupation of Iraq continues, and will for the foreseeable future, by both US troops engaged in combat operations under a new name that draws a veil over their continued combat role and private sector mercenaries hired by the United States. The reasons for conducting the wars have been shown to be false, and yet talk of bringing US military intervention to a close is merely a sop to public opinion. The conventional wisdom among decision-makers is that a significant US troop presence will continue in both countries beyond 2011.(24) Even if US troops are repatriated (or redeployed to the next war for profits), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue anyway through local surrogates: the US-trained, equipped and directed Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan) armies, to say nothing of US State Department-hired mercenaries.

In a true democracy, the decisions made within the society reflect the interests of the majority. Does anyone believe the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan are waged in the interests of the majority?

We?

It is commonplace to refer to the waging of the wars as if it is something that legitimately involves the plural “we”, as in: “we” are still in Afghanistan, and when are “we” going to get out of Iraq? There is no “we”. “We” weren’t asked to consent to the wars, “we” don’t support them, and “we” don’t benefit from them. The reality is that “we” don’t matter, except insofar as we have to be tossed a lagniappe every now and then to prevent our opposition from escalating to levels that would threaten to destabilize the rule of those who, from the system’s perspective, really do matter.

On the other hand, “we” are not really burdened by the wars, either. “We” don’t fight them, or not many of us do. A small minority of volunteer professional soldiers and private sector mercenaries fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they fight in ways that minimize the number of their casualties. And because “we” don’t fight the wars, even though “we” oppose them and “we” don’t benefit from them, it doesn’t really matter whether “we” are opposed morally and intellectually. Foreign policy is shaped without reference to public opinion and in complete isolation from it, and therefore the moral and intellectual opposition of majorities counts for little. Foreign policy, it should be clear, doesn’t depend on public opinion as an input. That’s not to say it can’t be shaped by pressure from below, but the pressure that alters foreign policy doesn’t come in the form of ritualized, non-disruptive expressions of popular opposition: the orderly and nonviolent march; petitions and letter writing campaigns; letters sent to editors of newspapers, and so on. The fact that all of these things have been done and continue to be done without the slightest discernible effect is proof enough. No, foreign policy bends from pressure that disrupts the normal functioning of society and therefore threatens the interests of the dominant economic class; in other words, from activities that are “incompatible with the stability required by big business for the tranquil digestion of profits.” (25) And foreign policy becomes something other than an expression of the class interests of big business, that at best can be momentarily restrained only by enormous pressure from below, when the authority to make foreign policy is wrested from the control of big business’s representatives and reconstituted on the basis of a different class altogether.

But bringing about reforms within the system (that is actually bringing them about and not simply registering dissent), much less changing the system altogether, requires a willingness to accept all manner of risks, dangers and penalties: trouble with the police and security services and the potential of going to jail or being forced to live underground. While a small minority may be prepared to accept these risks as the price of pursuing their moral and intellectual ideals, most people are not made in the mold of Che Guevara. Mass movements for change that disrupt the tranquil digestion of profits arise when conditions become intolerable for the mass of people – so intolerable that the considerable costs of acting to change them are outweighed by the costs exacted by the conditions themselves. It is no surprise that the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States was student-led. It was students who faced the unwelcome prospect of being sent to Southeast Asia to kill or be killed. It wasn’t until the war led to tax increases that opposition in the wider society was aroused. But as “soon as the risk of having to serve at the front was removed, agitation and concern over Vietnamese sufferings died down abruptly; a year or two more, and Vietnam was forgotten.”(26)In the end, it wasn’t the student movement that brought the war to a close; it was the resistance of the people for whom the conditions of the war and decades of colonial domination had proved intolerable: the Vietnamese.

Cost of War

It’s worth quoting an Elisabeth Bumiller New York Times article on this at length.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost Americans a staggering $1 trillion to date, second only in inflation-adjusted dollars to the $4 trillion price tag for World War II, when the United States put 16 million men and women into uniform and fought on three continents. (27)

But while the numbers are high in absolute terms, a second look

shows another story underneath. In 2008, the peak year so far of war spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, the costs amounted to only 1.2 percent of America’s gross domestic product. During the peak year of spending on World War II, 1945, the costs came to nearly 36 percent of G.D.P. (28)

With the cost of the war being eminently affordable, there’s little burden on US citizens.

“The army is at war, but the country is not,” said David M. Kennedy, the Stanford University historian. “We have managed to create and field an armed force that can engage in very, very lethal warfare without the society in whose name it fights breaking a sweat.” The result, he said, is “a moral hazard for the political leadership to resort to force in the knowledge that civil society will not be deeply disturbed.” (29)

The wars haven’t imposed a painful tax burden either. Bumiller points out that,

taxes have not been raised to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan — the first time that has happened in an American war since the Revolution, when there was not yet a country to impose them. Rightly or wrongly, that has further cut American civilians off from the two wars on the opposite side of the world. (30)

Some will say the anti-war movement is weak because it has been hijacked by the Democrats and derailed by Obama’s beguiling anti-war rhetoric. While these factors can’t be discounted, it seems more likely that a greater cause of the weakness can be found in the light to virtually non-existent costs the wars have imposed on the civilian populations of the aggressor countries and the failure of massive demonstrations of the past to make any difference, coupled with the expectation that future demonstrations will likewise fail to influence decision-makers. People seem to implicitly recognize that on matters of foreign affairs, governments operate on a plane completely divorced from, and unresponsive to, public opinion expressed in peaceful, respectful, and non-disruptive ways. Or to put it another way, despite its vaunted status, democracy, as it is practiced in most places, bears little connection to the original and substantive meaning of the word.

Questions

Everything about Bush’s wars, now Obama’s wars, and which have always been US wars and more broadly wars for profits, is false. They weren’t started to reduce threats to the physical safety of citizens of the countries that waged them, but to consolidate US domination of the Middle East to ensure the region’s land, labor, markets and especially its raw materials and petro-resources are available for the enrichment of the business enterprises of the United States and its allies. The effect has been quite the opposite of the stated intent. Rather than reducing the threat of terrorist attacks, which had arisen in response to ongoing US efforts to dominate the Middle East, the wars have increased the threat. Still, while the threat has increased, disruptions due to terrorist attacks have been minimal. The wars have made little difference in the lives of the citizens of the aggressor countries. As a result, while military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq are completely illegitimate and their continuation is opposed by majorities in the NATO bloc, they are not total wars involving global conflicts among fairly evenly matched countries that disrupt the lives of the citizens of all belligerents, but grossly uneven contests between an alliance of rich countries led by a global hegemon of unprecedented military power against weak, Third World, countries that suffer complete devastation while the civilian populations of the other side emerge unscathed. The gross imbalance in wealth and military strength means that for the hegemonic powers there is no need to inconvenience their civilian populations with conscription, there are no tax increases explicitly levied to fund the wars, and there are few retaliatory attacks of consequence. Civil society, accordingly, remains quiescent, and while its members may be morally and intellectually opposed to the wars, the costs they face as a result of the wars are too mild and the threat of jail and trouble with the police that an effective resistance implies is too great, to allow a strong, effective and sustained anti-war movement to develop. It seems that so long as disruptions are kept to a minimum and most people’s lives are kept fairly comfortable and filled with family, friends and work, that naked imperialism and rule by governments with utter disdain for popular opinion are possible as the normal features of political life in an imperialist “democracy”.

Contrast the quietude of life in the aggressor countries with conditions in Iraq (little different from those in Afghanistan.)

It’s not only the hundreds of thousands of dead and 4 million refugees. After seven years of US (and British) occupation, tens of thousands are still tortured and imprisoned without trial, health and education has dramatically deteriorated, the position of women has gone horrifically backwards, trade unions are effectively banned, Baghdad is divided by 1,500 checkpoints and blast walls, electricity supplies have all but broken down and people pay with their lives for speaking out. (31)

And what was the reason for producing this humanitarian catastrophe? It wasn’t to eliminate the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, for Iraq’s WMDs would have posed little threat, if they existed, which they didn’t, when US and British troops invaded. Nor was it to eliminate a dictator. If it was, the costs — hundreds of thousands dead, four million refugees, and a destroyed society – can hardly be justified to eliminate a single man whose threat to the wider world was virtually nil. Neither was the reason for the 2003 invasion to guarantee access to the world’s energy supply so that Americans can continue to burn fossil fuels in their SUVs, run their power plants, keep their B2 bombers in the air, and continue to enjoy a standard of living based largely on petroleum. Yes, it’s true that the US standard of living depends on oil, but the United States is capable of satisfying its energy requirements through ready access to plentiful supplies of oil located elsewhere in the world and closer to home. Its next door neighbour, Canada — which is a virtual appendage of the United States — has the world’s largest reserves of oil after Saudi Arabia. No, the reasons for the invasion of Iraq weren’t WMDs, eliminating a dictator, and keeping the world’s oil supply out of the hands of radicals and extremists; the reason was to secure a bonanza of profits for US oil majors from the sale of Iraqi oil to Western Europe and Japan, the principal customers for oil from the Middle East. Energy profits – specifically those to be derived from transforming Afghanistan into “a conduit and a hub between South and Central Asia so that energy can flow to the south” – figured in the decision to invade that country. In a business society where key decision-making posts in the state are filled by corporate executives, corporate lawyers and ambitious politicians backed by corporate money, is it really any surprise that its wars, much as almost everything else about it, are organized around the inexorable need of business to expand its capital?

All of this should leave us thinking about how much substance there is to the idea that we live in democracies of the many; of whether the democracies we live in are really democracies of, for, and by the few; and whose interests really matter. Other questions: How can the societies in which we live be made different? Who – and what — is standing in the way of real, meaningful change? And how might the roadblocks be swept away? Also: What conditions conduce to the mobilization of the mass energy necessary to bring about radical change? And what activities carried out when the conditions are not present can facilitate their emergence and prepare for the time they do emerge?

1. “Iraq surveys show ‘humanitarian emergency’”, UNICEF.org, August 12, 1999. http://www.unicef.org/newsline/99pr29.htm

2. Tim Arango, “War in Iraq defies U.S. timetable for end of combat”, The New York Times, July 2, 2010.

3. The New York Times, September 27, 2007.

4. Seumas Milne, “The US isn’t leaving Iraq, it’s rebranding the occupation”, The Guardian (UK), August 4, 2010.

5. Milne

6. Research Unit for Political Economy, Behind the Invasion of Iraq, Monthly Review Press, New York, 2003, pp. 97-98; Albert Szymanski, The Logic of Imperialism, Praeger, 1983, pp. 161-166.

7. David Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, 2003.

8. Robert A. Pape, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No.3, August 2003.

9. Pape.

10. Pape.

11. V.G. Kiernan, America: The New Imperialism, Verso, 2005, pp. 293.

12. William Blum, ”The Anti-Empire Report”, August 4, 2010, http://killinghope.org/bblum6/aer84.html

13. Elisabeth Bumiller, “The war: A trillion can be cheap”, The New York Times, July 24, 2010.

14. Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt, “Several Afghan strategies, none a clear choice,” The New York Times, October 1, 2009.

15. William Blum, “The Anti-Empire Report”, December 9, 2009.

16. Naomi Klein, “Big Oil’s Iraq deals are the greatest stick-up in history,” The Guardian (UK), July 4, 2008.

17. The Observer (UK), September 16, 2007.

18. The Guardian (Australia), September 5, 2007.

19. Research Unit for Political Economy.

20. Sarah Lyall, “Ex-official says Afghan and Iraq wars increased threats to Britain”, The New York Times, July 20, 2010.

21. Haroon Siddique, “Iraq inquiry: Saddam posed very limited threat to UK, ex-MI5 chief says”, The Guardian (UK), July 20, 2010.

22. Siddique.

23. In April 2010, 39 percent of Canadians supported Canada’s military mission to Afghanistan, while 56 percent opposed it. “Support for Afghanistan Mission Falls Markedly in Canada,” http://www.visioncritical.com/2010/04/support-for-afghanistan-mission-falls-markedly-in-canada/

Two out of three Germans are opposed to the war, according to a poll in Stern magazine. Judy Dempsey, “Merkel tries to beat back opposition to Afghanistan”, The New York Times, April 22, 2010.

Some 72 per cent of Britons want their troops out of Afghanistan immediately. William Dalrymple, “Why the Taliban is winning in Afghanistan”, New Statesman, June 22, 2010.
In the United States, public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans have turned against the war. Dexter Filkens, “Petraeus takes command of Afghan mission”, The New York Times, July 4, 2010.

A July 11 ABC/Washington Post poll, found just 42 percent of respondents said that the Afghan War was “worth fighting” — with a majority, 55 percent, saying they did not think it was. A CNN poll (5/29/10) found that 56 percent opposed the war in Afghanistan, while 42 percent supported it. In three surveys since July, the AP/GfKpoll has reported that at least 53 percent of respondents say they oppose the Afghanistan War. In September, 51 percent told the Washington Post/ABC News poll (9/10–12/09) that the war was not “worth fighting.”

Steve Rendall, “USA Today: Americans continue to support Afghan war—in 2001”, FAIR Blog, July 30, 2010.

24. Arango.

25. Kiernan, p.302.

26. Kiernan, pp. 340-341.

27. Bumiller.

28. Bumiller.

29. Bumiller.

30. Bumiller.

31. Milne.

Written by what's left

August 7, 2010 at 10:54 pm

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