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Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that Bashar al-Assad has more support than the Western-backed opposition. Would that not be major news?
December 11, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
In the view of Syrians, the country’s president, Bashar al Assad, and his ally, Iran, have more support than do the forces arrayed against him, according to a public opinion poll taken last summer by a research firm that is working with the US and British governments. 
The poll’s findings challenge the idea that Assad has lost legitimacy and that the opposition has broad support.
The survey, conducted by ORB International, a company which specializes in public opinion research in fragile and conflict environments,  found that 47 percent of Syrians believe that Assad has a positive influence in Syria, compared to only 35 percent for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and 26 percent for the Syrian Opposition Coalition.
At the same time, more see Assad’s ally, Iran, as having a favorable influence (43%) than view the Arab Gulf States—which back the external opposition, including Al Nusra and ISIS—as affecting Syria favorably (37%).
The two Arab Gulf State-backed Al-Qaeda linked organizations command some degree of support in Syria, according to the poll. One-third believe Al-Nusra is having a positive influence, compared to one-fifth for ISIS, lower than the proportion of Syrians who see Assad’s influence in a positive light.
According to the poll, Assad has majority support in seven of 14 Syrian regions, and has approximately as much support in one, Aleppo, as do Al-Nusra and the FSA. ISIS has majority support in only one region, Al Raqua, the capital of its caliphate. Al-Nusra, the Al-Qaeda franchise in Syria, has majority support in Idlip and Al Quneitra as well as in Al Raqua. Support for the FSA is strong in Idlip, Al Quneitra and Daraa.
An in-country face-to-face ORB poll conducted in May 2014 arrived at similar conclusions. That poll found that more Syrians believe the Assad government best represents their interests and aspirations than believe the same about any of the opposition groups. 
The poll found that 35 percent of Syrians saw the Assad government as best representing them (20% chose the current government and 15% chose Bashar al-Assad). By comparison, the level of the support for the opposition forces was substantially weaker:
• Al-Nusra, 9%
• FSA, 9%
• “Genuine” rebels, 6%
• ISIS, 4%
• National Coalition/transitional government, 3%
The sum of support for the opposition forces, 31 percent, was less than the total support for Assad and his government.
Of significance is the weak support for the FSA and the “genuine” rebels, the alleged “moderates” of which British prime minister David Cameron has improbably claimed number as many 70,000 militants. Veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk has pointed out that if the ranks of the moderates were this large, the Syrian Arab Army, which has lost 60,000 soldiers, mainly to ISIS and Al-Nusra, could hardly survive. Fisk estimates generously that “there are 700 active ‘moderate’ foot soldiers in Syria,” and concludes that “the figure may be nearer 70,” closer to their low level of popular support. 
Sixteen percent of Syrians polled said that Moaz Al Khateeb best represented their aspirations and interests, a level of support on par with that for Assad. Khateeb, a former president of the National Coalition for Syrian and Revolutionary Forces—which some Western powers unilaterally designated as the legitimate government of Syria—called on Western powers to arm the FSA and opposed the designation of Al-Nusra as a terrorist group. The so-called “moderate” Islamist, who favors the replacement of secular rule with Sharia law, is no longer active in the Coalition or a force in Syrian politics.
Neither is the FSA a significant force in the country’s politics, despite its inclusion in the ORB survey. According to veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, the FSA “largely collapsed at the end of 2013.”  Fisk says that the FSA is “virtually non-existent.” 
Assad has repeatedly challenged the notion that he lacks popular support, pointing to the fact that his government has survived nearly five years of war against forces backed by the most powerful states on the planet. It’s impossible to realistically conceive of the government’s survival under these challenging circumstances, he argues, without its having the support of a sizeable part of its population.
In a 11 December 2015 interview with Spanish media, Assad observed:
[I]f…the majority of…Syrians (oppose me) and you have…national and regional countries…against me, and the West, most of the West, the United States, their allies, the strongest countries and the richest countries in the world against me, and…the Syrian people (are opposed to me) how can I be president? It’s not logical. I’m…here after five years—nearly five years—of war, because I have the support of the majority of Syrians. 
Assad’s view of his level of support appears to be largely corroborated by the ORB poll.
The persistence of the myth that Assad lacks support calls to mind an article written by Jonathan Steele in the British newspaper the Guardian on 17 January 2012, less than one year into the war. Under a lead titled, “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know it from western media,” Steele wrote:
Suppose a respectable opinion poll found that most Syrians are in favor of Bashar al-Assad remaining as president, would that not be major news? Especially as the finding would go against the dominant narrative about the Syrian crisis, and the media consider the unexpected more newsworthy than the obvious.
Alas, not in every case. When coverage of an unfolding drama ceases to be fair and turns into a propaganda weapon, inconvenient facts get suppressed. So it is with the results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll…ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.
Steele reminds us that Assad has had substantial popular support from the beginning of the war, but that this truth, being politically inconvenient, is brushed aside, indeed, suppressed, in favor of falsehoods from US, British and French officials about Assad lacking legitimacy.
Steele’s observation that inconvenient facts about Assad’s level of support have been “ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go,” raises obvious questions about the independence of the Western media. Private broadcasters and newspapers are, to be sure, formally independent of Western governments, but they embrace the same ideology as espoused by key figures in Western governments, a state of affairs that arises from the domination of both media and governments by significant corporate and financial interests. Major media themselves are major corporations, with a big business point of view, and Western governments are made up of, if not always “in-and-outers” from the corporate world, by those who are sympathetic to big business.
Wall Street and the corporate world manifestly have substantial interests in the Middle East, from securing investment opportunities in the region’s vast energy resources sector, the construction of pipelines to carry natural gas to European markets (cutting out Russia), access to the region’s markets, and the sale of military hardware to its governments. Saudi Arabia, for example, a country of only 31 million, has the world’s third largest military budget, ahead of Russia , much of its spent buying expensive military equipment from Western arms manufacturers. Is it any wonder that Western governments indulge the Riyadh regime, despite its fondness for beheadings and amputations, official misogyny, intolerance of democracy, propagation of the violently sectarian Islamist Wahhabi ideology that inspires Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra and ISIS, military intervention in Bahrain to crush a pro-democracy uprising, and a war of aggression on Yemen?
The research firm also conducted a broadly similar poll in Iraq in July . Of particular interest were the survey’s findings regarding the view of Iraqis on the possible partitioning of their country into ethno-sectarian autonomous regions. A number of US politicians, including in 2006 then US senator and now US vice-president Joseph Biden, have floated the idea of carving Iraq into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish states. Indeed, US foreign policy has long fostered the deepening of ethno-sectarian cleavages in Iraq, and US government officials have long labored to shape public opinion in the West to the view that Iraqis self-identify on tribal, sectarian, and ethnic grounds, to a far greater degree than they identify as Iraqis. If US government officials are to be believed, Iraqis themselves are eager to see their country split into ethno-sectarian mini-states.
But the ORB poll strongly rejects this view. According to the survey, three of four Iraqis oppose the partition of their country into autonomous regions, including majorities in both Sunni and Shiite communities. Only in the north of Iraq, where the Kurds already have an autonomous regional government, is there any degree of support for the proposal, and even there, only a slim majority (54%) is in favor.
Robert F. Worth, in a 26 June 2014 New York Times article , pointed to earlier public opinion polling that anticipated these findings. Worth wrote, “For the most part, Iraqis (with the exception of the Kurds) reject the idea of partition, according to recent interviews and opinion polls taken several years ago.”
US foreign policy favors the promotion of centrifugal forces in the Middle East, to split the Arab world into ever smaller—and squabbling—mini-states, as a method of preventing its coalescence into a single powerful Arab union strong enough to take control of its own resources, markets and destiny. It is in this goal that the origin of US hostility to the Syrian government, which is Arab nationalist, and to Iraqi unity, can be found. US support for Israel—a settler outpost dividing the Asian and African sections of the Arab nation—is also related to the same US foreign policy objective of fostering divisions in the Middle East to facilitate US economic domination of the region.
4. Robert Fisk, “David Cameron, there aren’t 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria—and whosever heard of a moderate with a Kalashnikov anyway?”, The Independent, November 29, 2015
5. Patrick Cockburn, “Syria and Iraq: Why US policy is fraught with danger ,“ The Independent, September 9, 2014
6. Robert Fisk, “Saudi Arabia’s unity summit will only highlight Arab disunity,” The Independent, December 4, 2015
7. “President al-Assad: Russia’s policy towards Syria is based on values and interests, the West is not serious in fighting terrorists,” Syrian Arab News Agency, December 11, 2015, http://sana.sy/en/?p=63857
8. Source is The Military Balance, cited in The Globe and Mail, Report on Business, November 25, 2015
10. Robert F. Worth, “Redrawn lines seen as no cure in Iraq conflict,” The New York Times, June 26, 2014
Phyllis Bennis, champion of democracy, argues that great powers should decide who rules in Syria, so long as they do so through diplomacy and not war.
Part of the Imperialist West’s Line of March: Hushing Up—and Profiting from—Saudi Aggressions, while Warmongering against Russia
The West has portrayed Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an aggression, but the re-integration of Crimea into Russia can be understood as a pre-emptive measure on the part of Moscow to preserve Russian access to a strategically important naval base at Sevastopol, from which the Russian Black Sea fleet likely would have been ejected by the new Russophobe regime in Kiev. While a highly visible campaign has been mounted in the West of demonizing Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to mobilize popular support for tough measures against Russia, the West has supported major aggressions by Saudi Arabia in Bahrain and Yemen. While Western politicians and commentators have vociferously condemned Russia’s “aggressions,” they have met the Saudi aggressions, which are on another scale entirely, with almost complete silence.
August 29, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
France cancelled the sale to Russia of two Mistral warships in response to “Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine,”  but announces that it is perfectly happy to sell the same warships to a coup government in Egypt, which has a deplorable—though in the West, largely glossed over—human rights record. Since Egypt’s Western-backed dictator Abdel Fattah Sisi “came to power in a coup two years ago, his government has criminalized street protests, sentenced hundreds to mass death in mass trials, and, according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, imprisoned some 40,000 political opponents and their supporters.”  On top of the possible sale of the Mistral warships to Cairo, France announced in February “the sale of nearly $6 billion worth of military hardware to Egypt, including two dozen Rafale fighter jets and a naval frigate.” Based on France’s purported commitment to the principles of equality, fraternity and liberty, one might think its government would have some reservations about striking weapons deals with a politically repressive regime which gags journalists, marches tens of thousands of political opponents into jail, and has condemned to death the elected president it overthrew. Certainly, France makes much of its commitment to liberal democratic values. How, then, could it support a regime that represents the very antithesis of the values it professes to cherish–unless the profits of France’s substantial citizens are senior to all other considerations?
Not to be outdone, in either arming an Arab dictator or exhibiting stunning hypocrisy in doing so, the United States gives Cairo $1.3 billion annually in military aid—effectively a pre-paid credit card for use in the US arms bazaar. The annual largesse, briefly suspended as a pro forma response to the coup for public relations purposes, has been resumed. In March, US “President Barack Obama agreed to release to Egypt a dozen F-16 attack aircraft and other military equipment,” including 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles, and 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits. 
Meanwhile, the Canadian government, which, along with France, has made a show of deploring Russian “intervention” in Ukraine—and met it with its own interventions in encouraging the Maidan uprising, and in providing military training to Ukrainian militias—has facilitated a $15 billion sale of light armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada. Significantly, “it was Canadian-made fighting vehicles that Saudi Arabia sent into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising.”  So, while France cancelled a deal to deliver Mistral warships to Russia owing to Russian intervention in Ukraine, Canada arms Saudi Arabia with the very same equipment the kingdom’s military used to intervene in Bahrain to suppress protestors demanding a representative, democratically-elected, government. France too is arming the Saudi defenders of illegitimate royalist rule. In June, it “announced plans to sell $12 billion worth of equipment to Saudi Arabia, including civilian helicopters and naval patrol boats.”  No pressure is exerted on Canada or France by the EU or Washington to suspend their deals with the Saudi tyranny.
That Canada and France have any dealings with Saudi Arabia is remarkable, considering the country is a human rights sewer, where woman have no rights, the state regularly amputates the heads (a la ISIS) and limbs of people convicted of crimes, and there is no democracy, procedural or otherwise. Its foreign policy is as ugly as its domestic policy. It has initiated a war of aggression on neighboring Yemen, part of which involves a blockade in which one in five faces starvation.  It exports its benighted, medieval Wahhabi ideology, backing anti-secular, misogynistic, sectarian religious fanatics to break the backs of socialist, communist and secular national forces in the Arab world, all to the delight of the Western imperialist powers that benefit. The Saud family plunders the country’s oil wealth, investing it abroad in US banks and on arms purchases that swell the coffers of US, French and Canadian weapons manufacturers, rather than investing it at home in Arab economic development—which explains why Ottawa and Paris haven’t the slightest reservations about arming this regionally aggressive abomination. The only reservation Canada’s government has is whether the arms deal it has approved with the Saudi tyranny is acceptable to another abomination, Israel , whose founding principle is the dispossession of one Arab people from its land, the Palestinians, to make way for Jewish settlers from other lands. Diderot remarked that humanity would never be free until the last king was strangled with the entrails of the last priest. It might be said that the Arab world will never be free until the last Arab king is strangled with the entrails of the last Jihadi. (As Robert Dreyfuss has pointed out, the oil monarchies are ruled by royal kleptocracies whose legitimacy is nil. Most Arabs know that the monarchies were established by imperialists building fences around oil wells.  The kleptocracies have a symbiotic relationship with the imperialists. They loot the country and share the stolen wealth with the imperialists who provide military support.
Regarding Russia’s “intervention” in Ukraine, let’s be clear that the annexation of Crimea followed in the wake of the emergence of two major threats that arose from Washington’s sponsorship of a coup d’état in Kiev to bring to power a Russophobe government. 
The first threat was expressed in the European Association Agreement, whose signing became the immediate raison d’être of the Maidan rebellion that preceded the coup. The terms of the agreement direct Ukraine to reorient its economic and foreign and military policies to the West.  Since Ukraine is Russia’s largest trading partner, the signing of the agreement has overwhelmingly important and deleterious economic consequences for Russia. Imagine Canada and Mexico signing agreements to reorient their economies toward Russia.
There are compelling geographic and economic reasons why Russia ought to be Western Europe’s principle economic partner, and not the United States. It’s close to Western European markets and production, and offers a vast treasure trove of natural resources, easily transportable over comparatively short distances to Western European markets. A significant role for Russia in Western Europe, however, threatens US economic hegemony. To eclipse the threat, US foreign policy has long sought to weaken and isolate Russia, by keeping Western Europe locked in the US orbit, while at the same time drawing countries on Russia’s periphery into the US-superintended circle, severing their historical and geographically natural connections to Russia’s economy. Washington’s sponsorship of the Russophobe coup in a country that is Russia’s principal economic partner is part of the larger US strategy of weakening Russia through isolation from its natural markets and peripheral economies.
The second threat was expressed in the probability that the coup government in Kiev would try to evict Russia from its Black Sea naval base in Crimea, significantly undermining Russia’s security environment. Russian self-defense would be further threatened by the probability that the base would be transferred to the US Sixth Fleet. As Putin explained, “What did our partners (the West) expect from us as the developments in Ukraine unfolded?…[W]e could not allow our access to the Black Sea to be significantly limited, and could not allow NATO forces to come to Crimea and Sevastopol.” 
Hence, the narrative that Western foreign policy is animated by opposition to foreign aggression is challenged by the arms deals that France and Canada—whose governments profess to oppose foreign intervention—have struck with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi tyranny has intervened militarily in Bahrain against a movement for a representative political democracy, and, to the shame of the Canadian government, using light armored vehicles sold to Saudi tyrants by a Canadian arms manufacturer, approved by Ottawa.The Saudi tyranny has also launched a blood-soaked intervention into neighboring Yemen, with the ostensible goal of restoring to power a pro-Saudi president who was ousted in an uprising. That president, Abd-Rabbu Hadi, has virtually no support in Yemen.  There is some resemblance to Ukraine, i.e., a president ousted in a coup and a military response by a neighboring country, though the toppled Ukraine president was neither pro- nor anti-Russian, had far more support in Ukraine than Hadi has in Yemen, and Russia isn’t bombing Ukraine or enforcing a blockade to starve Ukraine into submission. Nor does Russia seek the restoration to power of Victor Yanukovych, the ousted Ukraine president. Yet bombing and blockade happen in Yemen, and there’s only silence in the West. US and British warships assist in maintaining the blockade. The Pentagon provides logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi bombing campaign. 
The entire affair is a blatant breach of international law, and an assault on authentic democracy and self-determination. Yet it is met by silence in the West (whose Saudi partner in robbing the Arabs of their oil wealth is the perpetrator.) Western politicians who rail against “Putin’s aggressions” and commentators who counsel tough measures against Moscow’s “belligerence”, have nothing to say about the US- and British-assisted Saudi war of aggression on Yemen, just as earlier they could find no words to condemn the Saudi march into Bahrain.
Imagine that Russia was bombing Ukraine and blockading its borders, instead of the Saudis doing the same to Yemen. The outcry would be deafening. Already, there is a full-throated call for aggressive economic and military action against Russia. And yet, what, in truth, was Moscow’s offense? Has it bombed Ukraine? No. Is it blockading its neighbor’s borders? No. It annexed Crimea, historically part of Russia, whose residents opposed the coup government in Kiev and welcomed their reintegration into Russia , and which is the site of an important Russian naval base. Russia’s actions were a predictable defensive measure against an aggressive US-led campaign to deprive Russia of its principal economic partner and its strategically important naval base on the Black Sea.
There is much to condemn and oppose: The Saudi interventions in Yemen and Bahrain; Western support for the Arab kleptocracies; the economic and military threats from the US against Russia that provoked Moscow’s defensive annexation of Crimea; royalist oppression in Saudi Arabia and the Western arms manufacturers and their partners in government who furnish the Saudi kleptocrats with weapons to suppress internal revolts. “Putin’s aggressions”—largely a fantasy—are not among them.
1. Matthew Dalton, “Egypt in talks to buy Mistral warships from France,” The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2015.
2. Tamer el-Ghobashy, “Egypt’s leader reinvents himself as bulwark against terrorism,” The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2015.
3. Nicola Clark, “Egypt to purchase fighter jets and a warship from France,” The New York Times, February 12, 2015.
4. Bryon Tau and Adam Entous, “Obama administration releases military aid to Egypt,” The Wall Street Journal, March 31, 2015.
5. Steve Chase, “Foreign Affairs found no ‘red flags’ for Israel is Saudi arms sale,” The Globe and Mail, August 27, 2015.
7. Shuaib Almosawa, Kareem Fahim and Somini Sengupta, “Yemeni government faces choice between a truce and fighting on,” The New York Times, Aug 14, 2015.
9. Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, Holt, 2005, p. 99.
10. The arguments developed in connection with Ukraine are based mainly on Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands, I.B. Taurus, 2015.
11. Sakwa, p. 75.
12. Sakwa, p. 167.
13. Patrick Cockburn, “In the Middle East, our enemy’s enemy must be our friend,” The Independent, April 12, 2015.
14. Ian Sinclair, “Yemen: Britain lurks behind Saudi atrocities,” The Morning Star, July 20, 2015; Shuaib Almosawa, Kareem Fahim and Somini Sengupta, “Yemeni government faces choice between a truce and fighting on,” The New York Times, Aug 14, 2015; Jay Solomon and Asa Fitch, “U.S. met secretly with Yemen rebels,” The Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2015; Maria Abi-Habin and Adam Entous, “U.S. widens role in Saudi-led campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen,” The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2015; Hakim Almasmari and Maria Abi-Habib, “Saudi-backed forces set back in Yemen,” The Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2015.
15. Peter Hart, “Radioactive Putin is ‘Stalin’s Spawn’”, Extra!, May 1, 2014.
While the United States and its allies warn that a military attack on Iran is an option they won’t rule out, this doesn’t mean that a war on Iran is only a future possibility, not a present reality. The war is underway, and has been for years. “I often get asked when Israel might attack Iran,” says Patrick Clawson, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I say, ‘Two years ago.’”
Clawson has a point, but two years is too short. A case can be made that the war has been going on since 1979, when Iranians booted out the US-backed dictator, the Shah, and set out on a path of independent development.
It’s just that in the last decade, the intensity of the war has been ratcheted up.
True, cruise missiles haven’t smashed into downtown Tehran. And Israeli bombers haven’t flown missions to reduce Iranian nuclear sites to rubble, despite Tel Aviv’s incessant threats to do so. But the United States and its allies have:
• Imposed crippling sanctions
• Kept up threats of military intervention
• Used cyber-warfare to cripple Iran’s uranium enrichment program
• Assassinated Iran’s nuclear scientists
• Met with Iranian dissidents to plan covert actions to destabilize the government
• Funded opposition groups
• Financed anti-government media
• Worked to foment a popular revolution under the guise of democracy-promotion
• Created Farsi language satellite television programming to broadcast anti-government propaganda into Iran.
A US military attack on Iran would be “a last option” explained the former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. But for the moment, the United States is relying on “economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution.”
One view is that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and so must be stopped. Of course, we might question whether it’s legitimate for countries that have nuclear weapons aplenty, Israel included, to demand that no other country challenge their monopoly.
And since many of these countries have threatened Iran militarily on numerous occasions, we might wonder whether Iran should indeed have nuclear weapons to deter the threats.
But lay these considerations aside, for Iran’s leaders say they’re not developing nuclear weapons, and the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the US intelligence community say they believe them. It’s not only the absence of evidence, but also the evidence of absence, that leads the intelligence agencies to this conclusion. There are certain things the Iranians aren’t doing that you would expect them to do if they were developing warheads.
We can also quickly dispense with the canard that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the map. While war-mongering Machiavellis trot out this myth whenever they wanted to whip up fear of Iran, it has long been disproved. See here.
The likely reasons for the war can be separated into an immediate one and a strategic one. The immediate reason is to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability of building nuclear weapons. The strategic reason is to recover Iran as a US sphere of influence. The latter means replacing the current regime, committed to Iran’s independent development, with a government amenable to Iran’s economic domination by the United States and integration into the US military machine. Since a nuclear-armed Iran would be better able to resist US pressure to kow-tow to Washington and Wall Street, it must be denied even the threat of (nuclear) self-defence.
The recent talks between Iran and the P5+1 group (US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) on Iran’s nuclear program broke down because the two sides are completely at odds. Iran wants the big powers to acknowledge its right to enrich uranium. The big powers want to deny Iran the right. And so economic sanctions—which have already driven consumer prices up by 40 percent, cut the value of Iran’s currency in half, and led to the lay-off of 100,000 factory workers this year—will be ratcheted up.
The style of war the US and its allies is waging against Iran is hardly new. The United States has conducted “low-intensity” warfare against other countries outside its sphere of domination before. North Korea and Cuba have been the targets of this style of warfare for decades. Low-intensity wars mobilize:
• Economic sanctions
• Funding and support for a political opposition and overthrow movements
• Broadcasting anti-government propaganda
• Threats of military intervention
Here’s how it works: Economic sanctions cripple the economy. Standards of living plummet. To counter threats of military intervention, the besieged country spends more on defence. This, in turn, exacerbates the country’s economic troubles.
Economic difficulties create popular discontent. The West’s anti-government propaganda, which blames the slumping economy on the government’s “mismanagement”, inflames discontent and strengthens opposition. The Western-aided political opposition channels the discontent into demands for the government to step down.
To survive, the government curtails civil and political liberties. And this, plus the sanctions-induced economic crisis, provides the West with pretexts for continued low-intensity warfare.
Low-intensity warfare doesn’t inspire anti-war movements. Hot wars do. This is a shame, because politically their effects are the same. And sanctions—as should now be evident from the hundreds of thousands, if not more than one million sanctions-related deaths in Iraq, and the sanctions-driven collapse of North Korea’s healthcare system—can have more devastating consequences than the hot wars anti-war movements have traditionally opposed.
By Stephen Gowans
New York Times reporter William J. Broad wrote today about the apocalyptic vision of fiction-writer and Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich warns that U.S. bêtes noire Iran or North Korea could send the United States back to the Middle Ages, detonating a nuclear missile high above the United States, which would create an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out anything that runs on electricity.
“Millions would die in the first week alone,” Gingrich cautions in the foreword to “One Second After,” a novel written by William R. Forstchen, a Gingrich friend and co-writer with Gingrich of historical novels. The novel describes a calamitous scenario in which an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack cripples the United States.
Gingrich announced before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in May 2009 that he favored “taking out Iranian and North Korean missiles on their sites” to prevent either country from delivering an EMP Armageddon to the United States.
Gingrich is not alone in calling for strikes on Iran and North Korea.
In a March 30, 2010 piece, Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus wrote that the then head of the US strategic nuclear command, former astronaut General Kevin P. Chilton, had told US senators that “no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” Chillingly, Pincus added that Chilton’s observation is something that “others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability”…a not so veiled call for wars to prevent North Korea and Iran from eliminating the risk of their being conquered. 
Equally chillingly, in a July 18, 2008 New York Times op-ed, Israeli historian Benny Morris urged the United States “to use bombs to stave off war”…that is, for “the US to use its formidable military to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities”. (Using bombs to stave off war is like using famine to stave off hunger.) To make his case, Morris constructed a fantasy about Israel being “threatened almost daily with destruction by Iran’s leaders,” adding bizarrely that they “are likely to use any bomb they build…because of fear of Israeli nuclear pre-emption.”  In other words, because Israel threatens to pre-empt Iran, Iran must be pre-empted, otherwise it might pre-empt Israel’s pre-emption.
As the Cold War drew to a close, Colin Powell, at the time the top US solider, warned: “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and (then North Korean leader) Kim Il Sung.”  On the eve of the Soviet Union’s demise, cold warriors Robert McNamara, Carl Kaysen and George W. Rathjens echoed Powell’s warning in an autumn 1991 Foreign Policy piece: “With the end of the Cold War,” they wrote, “it is hard to construct even a semi-plausible military threat to the United States.” 
Keen to keep US taxes flowing to the Pentagon and straight to the bottom lines of Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and other profit-soaked US defense contractors, US officials took on what the cold warriors envisaged as a difficult task. They puffed up military midgets into military Gargantua, and found dire threats—an alleged genocide in Kosovo and WMDs in Iraq—where none existed. 9/11 sealed the deal.
Today Pentagon chief Leon Panetta can cite “North Korea and Iran as persistent threats” which the US military must remain bulked up to “to deter and defeat,”  with few people batting an eye. At $700 billion per year , US military spending is greater than that of the next 19 biggest spending countries combined,  many of which are US allies, and none of which are North Korea or Iran. And the New York Times turn over its pages to the Benny Morrises of the world as a platform to urge the United States to prevent wars by waging more of them. It turns out that Powell’s and McNamara’s fears that the United States had run out of demons to justify the pumping of billions in profits into defense contractors were based on a misjudgment of the prowess of the propaganda system to crank out compelling fiction.
Maybe it was a desire to discredit Gingrich, a Republican whose hand on the tiller of the ship of state may be too frightening for the liberal New York Times to contemplate that led Broad to puncture some of the myths that have been carefully constructed about Iran and North Korea as nuclear menaces–myths the Times itself has been no stranger to lending credence to. Whatever the case, the Broad article ran against form, challenging Gingrich’s fear-mongering.
Broad cited Philip E. Coyle III, a former head of Pentagon arms testing, who has complained that Gingrich and his fellow fear-mongers are puffing up Iran and North Korea “with the capabilities of giants.” Broad then pointed to other military experts who say that North Korea and Iran “are at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.” To this might be added that it’s far from certain that Iran is even at the kindergarten stage, while North Korea, the most sanctioned country on earth , will find its US-imposed poverty keeps it at the kindergarten stage well into the future.
“To even begin to attempt to do what Mr. Gingrich fears,” Broad writes, Iran and North Korea “would have to perfect big rockets, powerful bombs and surreptitious ways to loft them high above America.” Yet “Iran is having trouble keeping its missile bases from blowing up and North Korea cannot seem to get a big rocket off the ground without it tumbling out of control.”
Broad’s reporting deflates myths about an EMP attack, but it is just as damning to the more widely-circulated myths about North Korea and Iran threatening the United States and its allies with a garden variety nuclear strike.
The Real Threat
Still, it’s true that both countries pose a threat—though not a military one and not to the bulk of US citizens. Iran and North Korea, like Gaddafi’s Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, defy a US-favored regime of free-trade, free-markets and free-enterprise–one that opens doors to US enterprises and keeps foreign profits pouring into Wall Street.
According to the US Congressional Research Service, numerous US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption.”  Iran, as the US Congress of Library’s country study documents , favors a host of state-led economic development measures that, like North Korea’s publically-owned and planned economy, walls off large parts of the country’s markets, resources and labor from foreign corporations, banks and investors.
It is the limitations on US elite economic interests, and the threat of their becoming a model for other developing countries, that drives Gingrich, Pincus and others to puff up military pipsqueaks into giants and to elevate kindergarten students into MIT graduates. Transformed into threats, they become seemingly legitimate targets for all manner of aggressions—sabotage, economic warfare, funding of overthrow movements, military harassment, and, at times, overt war. The aim is replace leaders who favor independent, self-directed economic development, with puppets who will throw open the country’s doors to US exports and investment and co-operate with the United States militarily.
Burhan Ghalioun is a fine example of an aspiring puppet. He is the president of the Syrian National Council, an exile group linked to the Movement for Justice and Development . The latter has received $6 million in US government funding to organize opposition to the Assad government, according to a WikiLeaks cable . The supplicant marionette, who has met with Hilary Clinton and has already persuaded French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague to declare his organization “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people”  is promising US officials that if they bring him to power he will “cut Damascus’s military relationship to Iran and end arms supplies to Middle East militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas” while integrating Syria with “the region’s major Arab powers”,  a reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council, the club of US-allied oil tyrannies which recently used military force to crack down on a democratic uprising in Bahrain, a member country, and home to the US 5th Fleet, the main military threat against Iran. (Bahrain, for the record, is a foreign investor’s paradise, ranking number 10 on the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom). Ghalioun’s eagerness to become entangled with a conspiracy of democracy-abominating absolute monarchies speaks volumes about his commitment to democracy and the direction of a possible Syrian National Council-led revolution in Syria.
1. William J. Broad, “Among Gingrich’s passions, a doomsday vision”, The New York Times, December 11, 2011.
2. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
3. Benny Morris, “Using Bombs to Stave Off War,” New York Times, July 18, 2008.
4. Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear Weapons After the Cold War”, Foreign Affairs, Fall 1991.
6. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
8. “Defence spending: The world’s biggest armies in stats,” The Daily Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/8002911/Defence-spending-the-worlds-biggest-armies-in-stats.html
9. Then US President George W. Bush had called North Korea “the most sanctioned nation in the world”. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
10. Dianne E. Rennack, “North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31696.pdf
11. The Library of Congress. Iran: A Country Study. 2008. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/irtoc.html
12. The leader of the Movement for Justice and Democracy is Anas Al-Abdah. He is a member of the SNC.
13. James Rosen, “U.S. Fears Syrian Reprisals After WikiLeaks Disclosure,” FoxNew.com, April 18, 2011.
14. Jay Solomon, “Clinton Meets With Syrian Opposition”, The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2011.
15. Jay Solomon and Nour Malas, “Syria would cut Iran military tie, opposition head says”, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2011
In an Unusual Sources radio program, Brendan Stone and Stephen Gowans discuss three myths about Iran: (1) That there’s compelling evidence that Iran is building nuclear arms; (2) that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad governs without popular support; and (3) that the Green movement represents a majority of Iranians. Click here to listen.