By Stephen Gowans
The South Korean police state has cracked down, with varying degrees of intensity over the years, on virtually any public expression of leftism, including anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, and anti-imperialism. Some degree of intolerance of leftist dissent is emblematic of all states in capitalist societies. Even in liberal democratic societies, which are believed to tolerate dissent to a higher degree than other societies, the security services have had a long history of surveillance “on the side of the political/economic status quo” and against those “who challenge the powerful and the wealthy.” The history of the political police in such societies is one of “conservatism” where “the targets of state surveillance form a kind of roster of (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. This is “an activist conservatism on behalf of capital against its perceived enemies.” 
South Korea’s police state differs from that of other liberal democracies in degree only, the difference due to its daily confrontation with a state, parked on its northern borders, which embodies leftism, and which, in its official ideology of self-reliance and rejection of foreign domination—to say nothing of its existing as one of the few top-to-bottom alternatives to capitalism—acts as an inspiration to many South Koreans. It’s virtually impossible to be committed to anti-imperialism and convinced there’s a better alternative to capitalism without espousing values which significantly overlap those of the North Korean state. Consequently, it’s virtually impossible for anyone in South Korea who embraces any kind of serious leftism not to be accused of being a North Korean fellow-traveller—someone who sympathizes with many of North Korea’s aims and values, without having a formal connection to it.
Consider the platform of the Unified Progressive Party (UPP), a leftwing party founded in 2011, which has recently been disbanded by South Korea’s Constitutional Court on grounds that it was intent on pursuing “North Korea-style socialism.” The party sought an end to the US military presence in South Korea (as does Pyongyang), advocated an end to South Korea’s subordinate relationship to the United States (paralleling North Korea’s rejection of foreign domination) and wanted to end the artificial division of the peninsula authored by two US colonels, Dean Rusk and Charles Bondsteel, in 1945, with Soviet compliance (this is also a North Korean goal.) The party talked of “rectifying” Korea’s “shameful history tainted by imperialist invasions, the national divide, military dictatorship, the tyranny and plunder of transnational monopoly capital” and large South Korean conglomerates. 
The UPP leader Lee Jung-hee averred that the party rejected North Korea’s political model. Had it not, she told the Constitutional Court, the UPP could never fulfill its ambition to be a mass party since, in her view, South Koreans would never accept North Korean-style socialism. All the same, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the UPP, or at least many of its members, could not be categorized as fellow-travelers of North Korea. And to be guileless about it, it seems very likely that in the event of an outbreak of war with North Korea that some proportion of the UPP membership would have acted as a fifth column—at least, that’s how the South Korean state is likely to have perceived matters, as would any other state—and have states in the past—which share a border with an ideological and military enemy. We can expect that as tensions between the two states heightened, that Seoul’s concern about the dangers of fifth columnists heightened in train. Potential fifth columnists (though not so named) were widely denounced as “jongbuk,” a derogatory term denoting blind followers of North Korea, who conservatives believe are infiltrating South Korean society and spreading subversive ideas challenging the merits of capitalism and South Korea’s subordinate relationship with the United States. 
To be understood, the South Korean police state must be situated in the context of South Korea’s relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, North Korea’s official name. The DPRK has long been vilified and condemned by the Western news media as bellicose, provocative and unpredictable. But blow away the fog of enduring Cold War propaganda and it’s clear that the DPRK represents something praiseworthy: a tradition of struggle against oppression and foreign domination, rooted in the experience of a majority of Koreans dating back to the end of WWII and the period of Japanese colonial rule. This tradition found expression in the Korean People’s Republic, a national government, created by, for, and of Koreans, that was already in place when US troops landed at Inchon in September, 1945. The new government was comprised of leftists who had won the backing of the majority of Koreans, partly because they had led the struggle against Japan’s colonial occupation, and partly because they promised relief from exploitation by landlords and the Japanese. The USSR, which occupied the north of the country until 1948, worked with the KPR in its occupation zone, but the United States suppressed the KPR in the south, worked to exterminate leftist forces in its zone—which included a significant guerrilla movement under the banner of the People’s Army—and backed conservatives reviled by Koreans for their collaboration with the Japanese. By 1948, the peninsula was divided between a northern government led by guerrillas and activists who fought to liberate Korea from Japanese rule, and a southern government led by a US-installed anti-communist backed by conservatives and landowners tainted by collaboration with the Japanese.
For the next nearly seven decades, the essential character of the competing regimes has remained the same. Park Geun-hye, the current South Korean president is the daughter of a former military dictator, Park Chung-hee, who came to power in a 1961 coup. As a young man Park Chung-hee joined the Japanese military, training at an officers’ school in Japan. He later joined the Kwantung Army, a unit of the Japanese Imperial Army, which enforced Japanese hegemony over Manchuria. Historian Bruce Cumings notes that a biography of Park “subsidized by his supporters (showed) how proud (Park) was to get a gold watch from Emperor Hirohito as a reward for his services, which may have included tracking down Korean guerrillas who resisted the Japanese.”  Significantly, it was the very same Korean guerrillas, among them, Kim Il-sung, who founded North Korea, who Park may have been involved in trying to hunt down. Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the DPRK’s current leader, Kim Jong-un, carried out significant guerrilla warfare against the Japanese in Manchuria. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also has a familial connection to Manchuria. Abe is the grandson of Nobusuki Kishi, a former prime minister who was a member of Tojo’s wartime cabinet and chief industrial planner in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. An historical continuity is thus evidenced in the current leaders of North Korea, South Korea, and Japan, being direct descendants of men involved in the struggle over Manchuria—Park’s father and Abe’s grandfather on the side of colonial oppression—Kim’s grandfather on the side of liberation.
Indeed, the DPRK represents the traditions of struggle against foreign domination, both political and economic, while South Korea represents the tradition of submission to and collaboration with a foreign hegemon. Significantly, there are no foreign troops stationed in the DPRK, but are in South Korea. DPR Korean troops have never fought abroad, but South Korea’s have, odiously in Vietnam, in return for infusions of mercenary lucre from the United States, and later in Iraq. That South Korea’s conservatives are steeped in a tradition of subservience to foreign domination is evidenced by the views of Moon Chang-keuk, a widely known South Korean newspaper columnist who was nominated by President Park Geun-hye to be her prime minister, but whose nomination was later withdrawn. Moon gave a lecture in 2011 at a Seoul church, in which he described Japan’s colonization of Korea as “God’s will” and a “necessary hardship.” He went on to blame Koreans for “laziness, lack of independence and a tendency to depend on others”—these being qualities he viewed as inhered in Koreans’ “national DNA.” It was necessary, too, that the Americans bisect the peninsula, Moon added, otherwise Korea would have been “communized…given the way we were then.”  Historians tend to agree that if Koreans had not been interfered with and left to their own devices they would have freely chosen communism. Moon obviously regards this as an outcome that was fortunately avoided, and would seem to view US intervention in 1945, the US-led war to exterminate the left in the immediate post-war period, and the war with North Korea from 1950 to 1953, as necessary to rescue Koreans from themselves.
As regards repression, South Korea’s authoritarianism on behalf of rightist causes is long and enduring. Its centerpiece is the notorious National Security Law (NSL), a piece of vile anti-leftist legislation created in 1948 officially to criminalize communism and recognition of North Korea and to unofficially suppress leftists. Criticized by Amnesty International , Human Rights Watch , and the UN , the NSL has been variously used to lock up South Koreans “for acts ranging from praising North Korea in casual conversation to running as an opposition candidate in presidential elections.” 
South Koreans have run afoul of the NSL for making comments that were construed as supportive of the DPRK, setting up web sites with pro-North Korean content, calling for the establishment of a socialist state, discussing alternatives to capitalism in public forums, re-tweeting messages from North Korea’s Twitter account, possessing books published in the DPRK, listening to radio broadcasts from North Korea, and visiting the DPRK without Seoul’s permission. Other sins against the NSL have included criticizing the official government inquiry into the sinking of the South Korean warship the Cheonan (blamed on North Korea by South Korean authorities),  and promoting reconciliation between the South and North.
In the 1970s, the poet Kim Chi-ha was jailed under the NSL because his poems advocated “class division.” In 1976, South Koreans who signed a declaration commemorating an uprising against Japanese rule were imprisoned, courtesy of the NSL. In 1987, a publisher was arrested for distributing travel essays written by Korean-Americans who were reputed to be sympathetic to North Korea. The NSL has been used to jail university students for forming study groups to examine North Korean ideology. In 1989, the South Korean police state arrested an average of 3.3 citizens per day for infractions of the NSL. In the first half of 1998, more than 400 were arrested under NSL provisions for demonstrating against unemployment. In 2001, sociology professor Kang Jeong-koo was jailed on his return to South Korea for visiting the birthplace of Kim Il-sung while on a visit to the DPRK. 
A 53 year old was acquitted 30 years after being arrested for violating the NSL. He was convicted of having in his possession “printed matter aiding the enemy.” The offending printed material included E.H. Carr’s The Russian Revolution, Maurice Dobb’s Capitalism Yesterday and Today, Eric Fromm’s Socialist Humanism, and Paul Sweezy’s Theory of Capitalist Development.  In 2007, Kim Myung-soo was locked up in a jail cell so small “he could spread his arms and touch the facing walls.” His crime: aiding the enemy by operating a Web site that sold Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China, a biography of Karl Marx, and other titles deemed to be pro-North Korean. 
In 2008, members off the South Korean military were banned from reading Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: The Secret History of Capitalism (Chang is no Marxist, just critical of capitalism), Noam Chomsky’s Year 501: The Conquest Continues, and Hyeon Gi-yeong’s novel A Spoon of the Earth, all of which have been labelled as subversive books under an order banning pro-North Korea, anti-capitalist, and anti-US publications. 
And if the South Korean police state suppresses books, it no less vigorously wipes out online content it doesn’t want South Koreans to see. “When a computer user in South Korea clicks on an item on the North Korean Twitter account, a government warning against ‘illegal content’ content pops up.”  In 2011, South Korean authorities blocked over 53,000 internet posts for infractions which included having a kind word to say about North Korea.  In the same year, the South Korean police state deleted over 67,000 Web posts that were deemed favorable to North Korea or which criticized the US or South Korean government. Over 14,000 posts were deleted in 2009. 
So militantly anti-leftist is South Korea that “a brand of crayon called Picasso was once banned because of the artist’s Communists associations.”  Equally absurd, at one time the South Korean police state would splotch black ink over any photographs of Kim Il-sung that appeared in international magazines, to prevent South Koreans from seeing the face of the reviled leftist. 
If that wasn’t enough, South Korea’s police state bona fides go way beyond the NSL. The National Intelligence Service—established to spy on North Korea–has illegally “run an extensive operation of bugging the telephones of politicians, businessmen, journalists, and others.”  In 2012, NIS agents “posted more than 1.2 million messages on Twitter and other forums in a bid to sway public opinion in favor of the conservative governing party and its leader” Park Geun-hee, in the lead-up to presidential and parliamentary elections in 2012.  The messages NIS agents posted anonymously included praise for government policies, as well as denunciations of Park’s rivals as “servants” of North Korea. The NIS defended its actions, saying the posts were part of a campaign of psychological warfare against North Korea. South Korea’s Cyberwarfare Command, a unit of the military created to guard against hacking threats from North Korea, joined in the campaign of online slander of Park’s opponents. 
The vigor with which the South Korean police state acts to snuff out expressions of leftism has increased under the last two administrations, led by Lee Myung-bak, who had been chairman and chief executive officer of Hyundai, one of South Korea’s largest corporations, and Park Geun-hye, the daughter of a dictator and Japanese Imperial Army officer. In August 2011, Prosecutor General Han Sang-dae “declared ‘a war against fellow-travelling pro-north Korean left-wing elements,’ and said, ‘We must punish and remove them.’” 
South Korea’s police state has lived up to Han’s promise, recently disbanding the left-wing UPP, stripping its legislators of their parliamentary seats, and jailing a handful of its members, including the lawmaker Lee Seok-ki. Lee was convicted of violating the NSL. His offenses include singing the Song of the Red Flag at a gathering of party members and calling Korea “Chosun,” the country’s last official name before colonization by Japan. North Korea resurrected the name, while South Korea has adopted a new name. Ever since, the use of Chosun in South Korea has become associated with sympathy for North Korea.  Conservatives, even liberals, have vociferously criticized “jongbuk,” or followers of North Korea, accusing them of spreading “subversive” ideas and worming their way into positions of influence in South Korean society. In Lee’s view, “a problem far bigger than ‘jongbuk’ is ‘jongmi’—blindly following the United States.”  Lee was also accused of calling, at a closed meeting, for the sabotage of South Korean infrastructure in the event of war with North Korea. He was convicted of inciting an insurrection. He’s now serving a nine-year jail term.
While Lee’s case was before the courts, the Park government referred the UPP to the South Korean Constitutional Court, asking for the party’s disbandment on grounds that its program mirrored the aims and values of North Korea. The government called the UPP’s commitment to “overcoming foreign domination and dissolving South Korea’s dependence on the alliance with the US,” as well as its defining South Korea as a “not a society where the workers are master, but the reverse, where a privileged few act as masters,” as “identical to the argument coming from Pyongyang.”  The court accepted the government’s brief, ruling that the UPP sought to undermine South Korea’s liberal democracy and pursue North Korea-style socialism. This has provided a basis for a further crackdown on leftism, by defining by implication each and every one of the 100,000 members of the disbanded UPP as an anti-state activist. If they belonged to an officially designated anti-state organization, they must carry the taint of anti-state activity, the reasoning goes.
The banning of the UPP and jailing of Lee Seok-ki can be called the death of democracy in South Korea, but South Korea has never been a democracy, not in any substantive sense, not even when it abandoned open dictatorship and adopted a procedural democracy. Democracy can be construed as a set of procedures (voting, political parties, secret ballots, universal suffrage and so on) or as a type of society. “Democracy” in the second sense is more meaningful. We think of democratic societies as operating in the interests of, and on behalf of, the bulk of the people who make them up. And indeed, this has always been how the word democracy has been understood. Democratic societies reflect and promote mass interests. In contrast, societies that exist to serve the interests of a tiny elite at the apex of society, or of foreign masters, or both, can hardly be said to be democratic, even if they have elections, secret ballots, and so on. South Korea fails the test. It is dominated by a few large conglomerates. “The sales of Korea’s ten largest companies are equal to about 80% of Korea’s GDP.”  And few deny that South Korea is locked in a subordinate relationship with the United States, which maintains a significant military presence in the country, and has wartime command of South Korean forces. How can a society dominated by a business elite at home and the United States from abroad be a democracy?
As for the designation of South Korea as a “liberal” democracy, it should be recalled that liberalism represents the conditions necessary for the functioning of a capitalist society, not for the flowering of left-wing dissent and efflorescence of workers’ movements and parties. Historically, “liberal” democracies have not been particularly liberal for anyone but the dominant class. The United States, supposedly a model of liberal democracy, maintained slavery for the first 89 years of its existence. “The self-styled champions of liberty branded taxation imposed without their consent as synonymous with despotism and slavery. But they had no scruples about exercising the most absolute and arbitrary power over the slaves.”  So too today, champions of liberal democracy may worry about the liberty to exploit labor, but care not one whit about freedom from exploitation. Even after slavery’s abolition in the United States, it took decades—and the Soviet Union pointing to the United States’ deplorable treatment of its black citizens—to goad the United States to fully recognize the civil and political liberties of the descendants of the slaves. As for leftist movements, the United States accommodated them only insofar as was necessary to co-opt them, and otherwise undertook various campaigns of anti-leftist suppression, which waxed and waned, depending on the need to mobilize for war and confront an external enemy.
Indeed, the history of police state suppression of the left is really not much different between the United States and South Korea. The only difference lies in the degree of threat posed by the left to the established order—mostly unremitting in South Korea and only occasional in the United States; accordingly, the United States appears to be the more liberal society, but is only freer when it’s not facing a perceived threat of significance from the left, or, these days, from the efforts of jihadists to end US domination of their homelands. The latter, it will be acknowledged, has spurred multiple efforts to scale back civil liberties.
Under the presidencies of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, both liberals—and Kim, himself a victim of the NSL—the South Korean police state’s war on the left was throttled back. All the same, the NSL remained on the books, and leftists continued to be arrested for NSL-violations, though in more modest numbers. Liberals may have reduced the vigor of the war on leftism, but never called it off.
Rather than being the death of democracy, the suppression of the UPP, the jailing of a handful of its members, and efforts to intimidate its former members by threatening to designate them as anti-state activists, represent attempts to abort efforts to bring a real democracy to life in South Korea. Perhaps, it is the North Koreans themselves, watching from across the 38th parallel, who have summed up the eruption of anti-leftism centered on the UPP most aptly. “It is a political coup d’état aimed at stamping out the progressive forces desirous of independence, democracy and peaceful reunification” .
1. 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.
2. Choe Sang-hun, “Leftist leaders accused of trying to overthrow South Korean government,” The New York Times, August 28, 2013.
3. Choe Sang-hun, “Leftist leader accused of trying to overthrow South Korean government,” The New York Times, August 28, 2013.
4. Bruce Cumings. Korea’s Place in the Sun.: A Modern History. W.W. Norton & Company. 2005. p. 355.
5. Choe Sang-hun, “Nominee for South Korean premier exits over colonization remark,” The New York Times, June 24, 2014.
6. Amnesty International recommends that “South Korea abolish or substantially amend the NSL in line with the country’s international human rights obligations and commitments.” “The National Security Law: Curtailing freedom of expression, and association in the name of security in the Republic of Korea,” 2012.
7. Human Rights Watch says that “The law clearly violates South Korea’s international human-rights obligations” KaySeok, “South Korea: Abolish or Fix National Security Law,” Joongang Daily, September 17, 2010.
8. “National Security Law again being used in communist witch hunts,” The Hankyoreh, January 13, 2015.
9. Diane Kraft, “South Korea’s National Security Law: A tool of oppression in an insecure world,” Wisconsin International Law Journal, 2006, Vol. 4, No 2.
10. “Police crack down on Cheonan rumors,” The Korea Herald, May 24, 2010.
12. “Man acquitted, 30 years later for ‘subversive books’ on capitalism and revolution,” The Hankyoreh, November 26, 2014.
13. Choe Sang-hun, “South Korean law casts wide net, snarling satirists in hunt for spies,” The New York Times, January 7, 2012.
14. “Military expands book blacklist,” The Hankyoreh, July 31, 2008.
15. Choe Sang-hun, “North Korean takes to Twitter and YouTube,” The New York Times, August 17, 2010.
16. Choe Sang-hun, “Korea policing the Net. Twist? It’s south Korea,” The New York Times, August 12, 2012.
17. Choe Sang-hun, “South Korean indicated over Twitter posts from North,” The New York times, February 2, 2012.
18. Choe Sang-hun, “An artist is rebuked for casting South Korea’s leader in an unflattering light,” The New York Times, August 30, 2014.
19. Bruce Cumings. Korea’s Place in the Sun.: A Modern History. W.W. Norton & Company. 2005. p. 365.
20. Choe Sang-hun, “Prosecutors raid South Korean spy agency in presidential election inquiry,” The New York Times, April 30, 2013.
21. Choe Sang-hun, “Former South Korean spy chief convicted in online campaign against liberals,” The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
22. Choe Sang-hun, “Former South Korean spy chief convicted in online campaign against liberals,” The New York Times, September 11, 2014.
23. Choe Sang-hun, “South Korean law casts wide net, snarling satirists in hunt for spies,” The New York Times, January 7, 2012.)
24. “South Korea Police State: National Intelligence Service (NIS) Arrests Rep. Lee Seok-ki: Did ROK Lawmaker Really Try to Overthrow the Government?” Global Research News, October 1, 2013.
25. Choe Sang-hun, “Leftist leader accused of trying to overthrow South Korean government,” The New York Times, August 28, 2013.
26. Jamie Doucette and Se-Woong Koo, “Distorting Democracy: Politics by Public Security in Contemporary South Korea [UPDATE]”, The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, February 20, 2014.
27. Kwon Eun-jung, “Top 10 chaebol now almost 80% of Korean economy,” The Hankyoreh, August 28, 2012.
28. Domineco Losurdo. Liberalism: A Counter-History. Verso. 2011. p. 10.
29. “Park Geun Hye Branded as ‘Yusin’ Dictator, KCNA, December 26, 2014.
Puppets vs. anti-puppets: Why Syria’s Assad is persona non grata in the West while Egypt’s Sisi gets $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid annually
January 15, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
In a January 14 Wall Street Journal article on how “four years after the Arab Spring began, the new Middle East looks more and more like the old one,” reporter Yaroslav Trofimov noted that:
In his three decades in power, (former Egyptian president Hosni) Mubarak often told visiting American dignitaries that the choice was between him and the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main Islamist organization with branches across the region. He did prove right: A year after his ouster, the country’s first democratic presidential elections put the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi in power.
In Syria, too, the view of the Assads was that the choice is between a secular government and the Muslim Brotherhood or violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists.
The Muslim Brothers had organized a series of riots against the Syrian government throughout the 1960s.
On coming to power in 1970, Hafez Assad—the current president’s father– tried to overcome the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood by weakening his party’s commitment to socialism (which political Islam opposes) and opening space for Islam.
This, however, did little to mollify the Muslim Brothers, who organized new riots and called for a jihad against Assad, denigrating him as “the enemy of Allah.” His “heretical” government was to be brought down and the secular character of the state overthrown.
By 1977, the ideological forbears of today’s jihadists were engaged in a guerrilla struggle against the Syrian army and its Soviet advisers, culminating in the 1982 occupation of the city of Hama. The Syrian army quelled the occupation, killing 20,000 to 30,000.
In an effort to win the Islamists’ acquiescence, Assad built new mosques, opened Koranic schools, and relaxed restrictions on Islamic dress and publications. With these measures he secured some degree of calm, but political Islam remained a perennial source of instability, according to a U.S. Library of Congress country study of Syria, and the government was on continual guard against it. “The Muslim Brothers in Syria,” wrote the late Patrick Seale, a leading British writer on the Middle East, “were a sort of fever that rose and fell according to conditions at home and manipulation from abroad.”
What’s interesting about the parallel between Egypt and Syria in both sharing tensions between secular government and political Islam is that the West has sided with secularism in Egypt and the use of coercive methods to quell opposition to it while supporting jihad in Syria and condemning the Syrian government’s attempts to quash it.
So it is that no one in the West is calling for Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, to step down, even though Sisi’s Egypt is hardly the model of the liberal democracy the West professes to promote. As Trofimov reports, “Egypt’s new authorities have…imprisoned tens of thousands of political foes and imposed new restrictions on protesting, the media, nongovernmental organizations and human-rights groups.” Sisi’s forces have also killed over a thousand Morsi supporters for the crime of demonstrating against the ouster of the legitimately elected president. Human Rights Watch concluded that Sisi’s violent crackdown was a crime against humanity.
In short, the West backs a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations and rewards him with over a billion dollars of military aid annually.
Meanwhile, the West, Turkey, and the Gulf oil tyrannies funnel arms, money and other assistance to violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists in Syria, including al-Qaeda and its offshoots, who are but the latest expression of a decades-long jihad which began with the Muslim Brotherhood against secular government in Syria. And the ostensible rationale for this exercise is said to be the necessity of overthrowing a dictator with a deplorable record of human rights violations.
It should be recalled that Egypt sold out the Palestinians by signing a peace treaty in 1979 with Israel to recover the Sinai Peninsula, and that the military, the real ruler of the country, is attached at the hip to the Pentagon.
The situation in Syria is quite different.
The West’s insistence that Assad step down (to yield power to puppets the West designates as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people) “has nothing to do with democracy, freedom, or supporting the people in the region,” argues the Syrian president. “The West wants client states ruled by puppets.”
And Syria, under the Assads, unlike Egypt under Sadat, Mubarak and Sisi, is not a client state.
France wanted Syria to play a role with Iran concerning the nuclear file. What was required was not to be part of that file, but to convince Iran to take steps which are against its interests. We refused to do that.
They also wanted us to take a position against resistance in our region before putting an end to Israeli occupation and aggression against the Palestinians and other neighboring countries. We refused that too.
They wanted us to sign the Euro-Association Agreement which was against our interests and was meant to turn our country into an open market for their products while giving us a very small share of their markets. We refused to do that because it is against the interests of the Syrian people.
The Syrian government refuses to be one of the West’s marionettes, insisting on promoting domestic interests at the expense of foreign powers and foreign businesses. Egypt, by contrast, has stepped wholly into the club of the West’s marionettes.
January 2, 2015
By Stephen Gowans
It is the accustomed practice of Western news media to refer to North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, as a propaganda outlet, by which is implied that it is a source of self-serving lies. It would be more accurate to say that KCNA propagates the point of view of the North Korean government, which is unquestionably self-serving, or at least intended to be. It is hardly likely that anyone would express a point of view that was deliberately self-damaging. And as far as lies go, while I have no evidence that the North Korean government lies, it would come as no surprise to discover that it has, from time to time, backed its point of view with deceptions, both deliberate and unintended. Humans, as a rule, are not unfailingly honest or free from cognitive biases that sometimes make it difficult for them to see what others see, and North Koreans are as human as anyone else.
All the same, were KCNA to carry reports completely devoid of deception, it seems very likely that it would still be the case that the Western news media would label the news agency a propaganda outlet, in the sense of passing off deliberate lies as truth. This is so because the North Korean view is so often at odds with the spin pumped out in Western capitals by officials of state and reported and passed along by Western news media that it must seem to the purveyors of the Western point of view than the North Korean alternative must be wrong and deliberately so.
If we define propaganda as propagating a self-interested point of view, then entirely absent in Western journalistic commentary on the official news agencies of the foreign states that Western governments are hostile to is any recognition that they, themselves, i.e., the Western news media, are indistinguishable from the foreign news agencies they discredit. As much as the KCNA, Western news media propagate the official viewpoints of states, in their case the points of view of Western states, expressed by presidents, prime ministers, secretaries of defense, Pentagon generals, heads of intelligence agencies, and so on, whose words are carefully reproduced and reported, almost always uncritically, in Western newspapers and TV and radio broadcasts. Asked by the journalist and film-maker John Pilger to explain how his news organization failed to challenge official deceptions about Iraq’s mythical weapons of mass destruction, the pretext for the 2003 Anglo-US invasion and occupation of Iraq, a senior news executive replied that it is not the job of the news media to question what state officials say, only to report their words. This amounts to admitting what left critics have long contended: that the Western news media are merely stenographers for those in power.
Moreover, the fact that Western news media are mainly privately-owned and not run by the state does not make them disinterested and neutral. For the most part, Western news media are owned by an ultra-wealthy business elite. Accordingly, these media promote positions that are compatible with and conducive to the interests of the larger corporate community to which they belong. The view that the news media reflect corporate community interests because they are part of the corporate community is almost axiomatic. There would be no controversy in the claim that a newspaper owned by labor unions would promote positions that are compatible with the interests of labor. Nor would there be much disagreement with the view that a news network owned by environmentalists would take a dim view of fracking. Clearly, then, we should expect media owned by wealthy business owners to reflect the viewpoint of wealthy business owners.
Indeed, it would be naive to accept the deception implied in the phrase “independent media” that media that are independent of the state are neutral, unbiased, and therefore uniquely authoritative. They may be independent of the state, but that does not make them independent; they’re still dependent on their owners. But concealing their dependency allows the news media’s business owners to smuggle their interests into the ways the news is reported behind a facade of journalistic neutrality. Hence, a pro-business point of view is seen to be common sense, since it is disseminated by news media which profess to be independent and therefore impartial, unbiased, and objective. However, the truth of the matter is that privately-owned news media have a point of view, i.e., that of the corporate elite which own them. The same corporate elite dominates the state and the public policy process through: lobbying; funding think tanks to prepare policy recommendations for governments; political campaign contributions; and over-representation relative to their numbers in the legislative, executive and bureaucratic branches of the state. This explains why the Western news media uncritically echo the viewpoint of state officials: they’re both working for the same masters.
The function of the Western news media in propagating a point of view that favors its owners is evident in its propagation of certain ideas about North Korea as incontestable truths, though which in fact are far from incontestable, but which have the congenial effect from the perspective of the corporate elite of seeming to uphold the superiority of the capitalist system and the necessity of governments catering to foreign investors if they’re to secure prosperity for their citizenry.
These ideas, or myths, come in two parts:
1. The idea that North Korea is desperately poor.
2. The attribution of its alleged poverty to the public ownership and central planning of its economy and failure to establish an attractive climate for foreign investment.
Visitors to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital city, are often struck by the contrast between the city as it is (clean, modern, and teeming with well-dressed and seemingly prosperous residents) and North Korea as it is portrayed by the Western news media (impoverished, rundown, gloomy, on the verge of collapse.) Pyongyang is not the horror of poverty that Western news media make it out to be.
A recent article in the South Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh paints a picture wildly at odds with the Western news media’s gloomy view.
Three years after Kim Jong-un came to power in North Korea, the streets of Pyongyang look much different. The streets of the city are lined with new 40-floor skyscrapers, and taxis drive down them. Before, they had been dark at night, but now they are illuminated by bright lights, while smartphone-toting women are dressed more smartly than before.
The Hankyoreh quotes a recent visitor to North Korea, Jin Zhe, Director of Northeast Asia Studies for the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences: “The economy appears to be moving briskly in Pyongyang these days. What particularly stood out were the large apartment buildings being built in various parts of the city and the bustling activity at the markets. You can really feel how much it’s thriving.”
The North Korean economy is growing and production of industrial and agricultural goods is on the rise . Food scarcity, however, has been a problem (though a diminishing one), and conditions appear to be less favorable in the countryside than in Pyongyang.  The existence of food scarcity is almost invariably attributed by Western reporters and editorial writers to the alleged inefficiencies of public ownership and planning or to North Korea’s investment in its military, allegedly at the expense of its people. Both attributions are facile.
Until the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, North Korea experienced no food insecurity under an economic system based on public ownership and planning. It was only after the demise of communism in Eastern Europe that food security became a problem. As in Cuba, the crash of the Eastern European socialist states created an economic shock, as North Korea’s trading relationships and economic interconnections with these states broke down. Agricultural production suffered as inputs became scarce. Food production was further set back by a series of natural calamities.
The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe had two additional effects on North Korea’s economy.
First, it allowed the United States to ramp up its military intimidation of North Korea. In 1991, the top US military official at the time, Colin Powell, complained that “I’m running out of demons. I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.”  With the Warsaw Pact out of the way, the United States could now concentrate on eliminating other communist states. In February 1993, Lee Butler, head of the US Strategic Command, announced that the United States was retargeting hydrogen bombs aimed at the old USSR on North Korea (and other targets), though at the time, North Korea was a non-nuclear weapons state. One month later, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  Already on a permanent war footing—the Korean War had never officially ended and the United States had tens of thousands of troops garrisoned across the border in South Korea and in nearby Japan—North Korea was forced to devote a crushingly large part of its resources to its military and self-defense. Now the pressure on the North Korean economy was being ratcheted up further.
Second, the United States and its allies had maintained a wide-ranging system of sanctions on North Korea—more accurately described as a campaign of economic warfare, aimed at wrecking the North Korean economy. With the option open prior to 1990 of establishing economic ties and trading relationships with communist allies, North Korea was largely able to side-step the effects of the US-led campaign of economic warfare. However, after 1991 the door was closed, except for North Korea’s relationship with its neighbor China.
John Mueller and Karl Mueller explain:
During the Cold War the effect of economic sanctions was generally limited because when one side imposed them the other side often undermined them. Thus the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba was substantially mitigated for decades by compensatory Soviet aid. But in the wake of the Cold War, sanctions are more likely to be comprehensive and thus effective, in causing harm if not necessarily in achieving political objectives. So long as they can coordinate their efforts, the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive, and potent weapon to use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated. 
Western news media almost never attribute the economic difficulties experienced by countries that have been subjected to campaigns of economic warfare to the effects of those campaigns. Instead, their economic difficulties are almost invariably imputed to economic mismanagement (which is equated to expropriation of privately-owned productive assets or failing to compete for, cater to, and indulge foreign investors) or to the targeted government’s socialist policies (and always, targeted governments pursue policies the US State Department would decry as socialist, though they’re often more accurately labelled as economically nationalist.) The aim of this deception is obvious: to discredit economic policy that fails to comport with the profit-making interests of the Western corporate community.
Much has been said by the political left about the devastating effects of the US embargo on Cuba and of the millions of Iraqis who died as a result of disruptions caused by Western sanctions throughout the 1990s. But very little has been said about sanctions in connection with North Korea, despite the reality that North Korea is the most heavily sanctioned country on earth and has been menaced by a campaign of unremitting US-led economic warfare since 1950. Policy-makers in Washington now despair of having any levers left to exert pressure on North Korea. The country is under such a heavy burden of sanctions, and so thoroughly menaced by military pressure, that there are few levers left to reach for.
In a December 26 Washington Post op-ed former US president Jimmy Carter opened a tiny crack in the near total embargo on mentioning sanctions and their effects on North Korea’s economy. Carter acknowledged that the “U.S. embargo, imposed 64 years ago at the start of the Korean War, has been more strictly enforced, with every effort made to restrict or damage North Korea’s economy.” Carter then went on to draw the link between US policy aimed at “destroying the (North Korean) economy” and “the plight of people,” arguing for economic warfare that didn’t attack “the living conditions” of North Koreans.  What he didn’t espouse (not unexpectedly, but which needs to be argued for) is the complete removal of sanctions on North Korea. The US-led campaign of economic warfare on the country has no legitimate grounds. Its ultimate aim, working in conjunction with US-led military pressure, is to force the North Korean government to jettison its system of public ownership and planning and to fold itself into South Korea, where it can become part of a larger US neo-colony. There are no legal or moral grounds for this policy. Its existence is rooted entirely in the profit-making interests of the West’s corporate elite. The more immediate goal of the campaign is to limit and disrupt the North Korean economy in order to discredit alternatives to capitalism and US free enterprise. Achieving this aim critically depends on the cooperation of the Western news media. They must ignore the effects of the sanctions (as well as US military pressure) and attribute North Korea’s economic difficulties to its economic and defense policies.
If propaganda amounts to the propagation of a self-serving narrative, the Western news media need look no further than themselves and their owners to find the perfect model. North Korea, according the propaganda system of the West, is desperately poor, when in fact, at least in Pyongyang, it is anything but. North Korea’s alleged poverty, according to the same model, is due to it military policies, with no mention made of how they are legitimate self-defensive measures taken to resist the very real military threat posed by the United States and its allies. Similarly, North Korea’s alleged indigence is imputed to its economic system, with the effect of economic warfare whose object is the destruction of the North Korean economy totally ignored.
What Western propaganda must miss is the most compelling story of all—how a country born off a guerrilla struggle against Japanese occupation holds on, and even, by some measures, has managed to thrive, despite being subjected to 64 years of economic warfare and military threat, including the threat of nuclear annihilation, by the most powerful and predatory state on the planet.
1. “After three years of Kim Jong-un, skyscrapers popping up on Pyongyang skyline,” The Hankyoreh, December 29, 2014.
2. In his New Years 2015 address, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un referred to his country’s “food problem” as well as “the shortage of electricity.”
3. Quoted in Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear weapons after the Cold War,” Foreign Affairs, Fall 1991.
4. Bruce Cumings, Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005. p. 488-489.
5. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999.
6. Jimmy Carter, “Cuba, North Korea, and getting sanctions right,” The Washington Post, December 26, 2014.
Paris Match: Many people say the solution lies in your departure. Do you believe that your departure is the solution?
Syrian president Assad: What was the result (of French policy when they attacked Gaddafi)? Chaos ensued after Gaddafi’s departure. So, was the departure the solution? Have things improved, and has Libya become a democracy?
December 5, 2014
By Stephen Gowans
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has told an interviewer from the French magazine Paris Match that he won’t step down. And not because he wants to remain president, but because he “will never accept that Syria become a western puppet state.”
The view that Syria is under attack because it isn’t a western puppet state, and that Washington wants Assad to step down to make it one, cannot be so easily dismissed. There’s plenty of evidence that states that seek to remain independent of US prescriptions on how they ought to organize their economies and foreign policies are uniquely targeted for sub-critical warfare (sanctions, sabotage, demonization, diplomatic isolation), or—where a military victory can be secured with impunity for the aggressor—by outright military intervention.
The Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic, who NATO forces worked tirelessly to depose, told Canadian lawyer Christopher Black that Washington sought his ouster for two reasons: Because he was a communist. And because he told the Americans to go fuck themselves. Which is to say, Milosevic refused to turn Yugoslavia into a western puppet state.
Libyan leader Muamar Gaddafi was overthrown because he insisted that foreign investment in Libya work to the benefit of Libyans, an attitude that threatened to cut into the profit margins of Western investors. The US State Department complained that Gaddafi was practicing “resource nationalism,” while oil companies reacted bitterly to the tough bargains he was driving. This was hardly behavior befitting a western puppet state (which Libya wasn’t.) For telling Western oil companies that they could go fuck themselves if they thought they were going to get rich on Libyan oil while leaving Libya with nothing, Gaddafi, in the view of the Western foreign policy elite, had to go.
Assad is cut from the same cloth. He leads a state that was founded on anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism, Arab nationalism, and non-Marxist socialism, not subservience to an imperial master, and not setting the profit-making interests of foreign investors ahead of Syria’s economic development. The US State Department complains that “ideological reasons” prevent Assad from “liberalizing” the economy (that is, making it profitable for foreign investors), while the U.S. Library of Congress Country Study of Syria refers disapprovingly to “the socialist structure” of the Syrian government and economy.
Meanwhile, the US regional ally Egypt is crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, jailing thousands of moderate Islamists, meting out mass death sentences to supporters of the legitimately elected former president, (who the current president deposed in a military coup), and reversing whatever modest gains the Arab Spring brought to the country. Egypt’s president isn’t asked to step down. On the contrary, he’s showered with US military aid, subsidized with Saudi oil money, and praised by Western politicians.
The rulers of the Gulf kingdoms, the last theocratic absolutist redoubts on the planet, continue to thrive under US tutelage. Saudi Arabia, a particularly vile state, stands out in its abhorrence of basic human rights (for example, by forbidding women to drive automobiles), penchant for beheading criminals, and zeal in spreading the harsh 18th century version of Islam from which ISIS’s ideology springs.
As for Turkey, it continues to back ISIS, while remaining an important ally of the United States.
The lesson is plain: Create a good foreign investment climate, become a market for the US arms industry, turn over your resources to the West, cooperate with the US military, and you can kill as many of your own people as you like, resist democracy as long as you want, and merrily trample on human rights. Just don’t insist that your economy work to the benefit of your own people.
States that insist on screening and managing foreign investment become the subject of a propaganda assault, carried out ardently by Western state officials and their echo chambers, the Western mass media, which are, after all, large businesses, with a pro-business orientation, that quite naturally favor states that favor them and their class cohorts.
Under this propaganda system, the offending states become “regimes,” which have “secret police” (versus the West’s “security agencies”.) Members of the state become “regime personnel” or the leader’s “cronies,” rather than government members or ministers. If the state is large enough, it has “satellites,” versus the United States’ “strategic interests” and “allies.”
Assad brooked none of this in his interview with Paris Match. When the magazine’s interviewer called the Syrian government a “regime,” Assad retorted, “Let’s agree on terms first. In Syria we have a state, not a regime.”
The Syrian president faced a number of hostile questions, on whether Syria was backing ISIS to weaken the opposition, whether Syria’s army was using chlorine gas against its opponents, and why he denounces the US airstrikes in Syria as illegal when they’re helping Syrian forces (which they’re not, according to Assad).
Asked how he responds to the allegation that Syria encouraged the rise of Islamic extremists in order to divide the opposition,” Assad replied, “Assuming that what you are saying is true, that we supported ISIS, this means that we have asked this organization to attack us, attack military airports, kill hundreds of soldiers and occupy cities and villages. Where is the logic in that?”
(The question also overlooks the reality, about which there is no controversy, that funding for Islamic extremism comes from the Gulf states and Turkey, the ideology of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the principal rebel forces in Syria, originates in Saudi Arabia, and Western powers have used Islamic extremists for decades as allies of convenience to undermine secular nationalist movements and to attack communist, socialist and Arab nationalist states.)
The Syrian president told Paris Match that US and allied airstrikes in Syria have done nothing to degrade ISIS in any meaningful way. “We are the ones fighting the battles against ISIS on the ground,” he said, “and we haven’t felt any change.”
Accordingly, he views “the alliance’s airstrikes (as) merely cosmetic,” as “tactics without a strategy.”
“You cannot achieve results on the ground,” he said, “without land forces who know the geographical details of the regions and move in tandem with the airstrikes.”
Assad called US airstrikes in Syria “an illegal intervention,” explaining that they’re “not authorized by a Security Council resolution” and not authorized by Syria.
The Syrian president ridiculed allegations that Syrian forces have used chlorine gas, pointing out that conventional weapons are capable of killing far more people, and far more readily, and that Syria has conventional weapons, so why use an ineffective weapon when you don’t have to?
While he didn’t raise the point directly, the West’s accusing Syria of using chlorine gas has more to do with its need to demonize a state it’s preying upon, than reality. The popular view of chemical weapons is that they are particularly gruesome and their use inhuman, though it’s unclear how choking to death in a gas attack is any more gruesome than bleeding to death from wounds suffered in a drone strike, or how waging war with chemical weapons is more inhuman than doing the same with cruise missiles and B1 bombers. (Still, aerial bombing attacks may seem cleaner. The late British historian Eric Hobsbawm once observed that young men who dropped bombs on civilians from the air would recoil from the demand that they drive a bayonet through the belly of a pregnant woman, though the effect is the same.)
Gas and biological weapons (as well as battlefield nuclear weapons) have mostly been shunned by militaries, not because their use is considered inhuman, but because they’re messy and may endanger their users and because their effects are greatly dependent on weather conditions. Conventional weapons are simply cleaner and more effective.
But given the reputation of chemical weapons as inhuman, there are propaganda dividends to be paid to predators who accuse their victims of using them, for those who use them are, in the public view, uniquely vile. And portraying victims as vile creates a public relations rationale for eliminating them.
Making the accusation stick is not a difficult task. The mass media view their job as disseminating the pronouncements of state officials, no matter how implausible they are, and not scrutinizing or challenging them. Given this stenographic approach to journalism, it’s enough that Western governments make an accusation to diabolize a potential target. No evidence is required.
Consider how it’s now widely believed that Syrian forces used gas to attack opposition forces. This is so because the accusation has been repeated time and again, until everyone believes it to be true because everyone believes it to be true and those who challenge it have no high-profile platform to reach a mass audience to show how it’s almost certainly not true. The claim is based on little more than Washington announcing its belief that Syrian forces were behind the infamous Ghouta attack. Yet a careful reading of the document Washington produced to back up its accusation showed that no gun was ever found, let alone a smoking one, an inconvenient reality Washington buried in the small print of its document. In effect, Washington said, “We believe the Syrians used chemical weapons, though we have no real evidence to back it up.” As for the official UN inquiry into the event, it was unable to assign responsibility.
All the same, it is now widely taken as indisputable that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, while a host of other dubious assertions, originating in the imaginations of high state officials in the West, are equally accepted as incontestable claims—for example, that there exist “moderate” rebels in Syria.
There are indeed moderate rebels in Syria, if moderate is defined as amenable to direction by Washington. But most rebels are Islamists whose goal is to establish a state governed by the Koran. US strategy in Syria is not to allow Islamists to come to power, but to use them to force a political settlement—one in which Assad steps down and relinquishes power to actors who are keen to turn Syria into a western puppet state, much like the current government in Ukraine, with its cadre of wealthy business people, investment bankers, anti-Russian rightists, and foreigners, including a former US government employee as finance minister.
Syrians will be spared Ukraine’s fate, or worse, Libya’s, so long as they continue to repudiate the illegitimate demands of the West and its crony powers in the Gulf and Turkey to abdicate the defining of their future to others. And Assad will continue to face hostile questions from the Western media, and worse from Western powers and their regional puppets, for doing what Milosevic did: having the backbone to tell the Americans to go fuck themselves.
Two Lectures to the Unifor-McMaster University Labour Studies Program, Oct-Nov, 2014
I became interested in foreign policy in 1999, when Canada joined the 3-month long air war on the former Yugoslavia. What interested me was that Canada had abandoned what I, at the time, believed was its traditional peace-keeping role for a role of waging war in cooperation with the United States and other NATO powers against a country that posed no threat whatever to Canada, or its allies. I followed the war very closely and considered the reasons politicians and people in the media said the war needed to be fought, and the reasons didn’t make a lot of sense to me.
So I started to look at critical analyses of the reasons that had been offered for why the war was being waged, and those analyses demonstrated in a very convincing way that the narrative that had been offered to justify the war was full of holes. The rationale just didn’t add up. And it became very easy to show that the war couldn’t possibly be about the things that politicians and the media said it was about.
It turns out that the justifications for Canadian foreign policy, and US foreign policy, and the foreign policy of other Western countries, is pretty easy to discredit, if you pay close attention to it.
But most people don’t, for a variety of very understandable reasons.
First, foreign policy is about things that happen in remote corners of the world with which we have no direct experience, so it’s difficult to get an intuitive grasp based on personal experience of what’s going on, on the ground.
Secondly, the major source of information about foreign policy for most people is the news media. And the practice of the news media is to report what high government and state officials have to say in the House of Commons, or the White House, or the State Department, or the Pentagon, or the Department of National Defence. In other words, the news media pass along the official view, or what people in government and the state would like to public to understand, which may not be the whole truth or even close to it.
Which means that when it comes to foreign affairs you’re seeing matters through a lens provided by the government or the state in a way you wouldn’t do on domestic affairs, because you have personal experience with the matters that domestic affairs is about, on jobs policy, on taxation, on policies respecting unions, on social programs, and so on, but usually not on matters of foreign policy.
Take for example, the federal government proposal to reduce employer EI premiums on the grounds that this will create jobs. You can use your own experience to evaluate whether this claim is convincing. But when someone tells you about what’s happening half way around the world, in a country you’ve never visited, and perhaps have never really heard about until now, and then they put forward a proposal about what must be done in that country, you have no personal experience on which to draw to make any kind of evaluation of whether what you’re being told is true or reasonable or against your interests or compatible with them. (I mean if domestic policy can be against your interests, and it often is, well, maybe foreign policy can be against your interests too. But how do you determine whether it is or not?)
Well, if you have the time—and unfortunately few of us do—but if you have the time to pay close attention to what’s going on, you’ll find that what you’re told about foreign policy often doesn’t add up and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
And some people think that just means that politicians are dumb and are always screwing up. But my argument is that foreign policy makes sense once you know the motivations behind it. But if you don’t know them, it doesn’t make sense at all.
Let me give you an example. Canada is currently contributing CF-18s and special forces to the war against ISIS in Iraq. And Canadian politicians and the news media and others will tell you that Canada’s contribution to this operation needs no justification, that this is the right thing to do, that ISIS is a repellent, head-chopping, backward, anti-woman, sectarian, anti-democratic, medieval organization that needs to be eradicated—and ISIS is indeed all of these things. But there’s a country in the Middle East that Canada supports strongly, as do our allies, that’s very much like ISIS: Saudi Arabia. There’s not a lot of discussion about Saudi Arabia. But Saudi Arabia is a head-chopping, backward, anti-woman, sectarian, anti-democratic, medieval country ruled over by despotic crowned dictators, who have violently put down Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings in their own country, and in neighbouring Bahrain (where they sent tanks and troops to quell demonstrators calling for a constitutional monarchy). And Saudi Arabia is one of the principal sources of funding for ISIS. Indeed, the ideology of ISIS is based on the official ideology of Saudi Arabia, known as Wahhabism—which is a very severe 18th century fundamentalist version of Islam.
It happens that while ISIS was cutting off the heads of US and British journalists—which got a lot of play in the media—Saudi Arabia was beheading dozens of criminals, most convicted of non-violent offenses, including one for sorcery.
So when Canadian politicians and media people tell you that Canada is sending CF-18s to Iraq because we don’t like violent fundamentalist Sunni Muslims who are anti-woman and anti-Shia and cut off people’s heads and want to impose religious rule, we’re being sold a bill of goods, for if this were true we would be bombing Saudi Arabia too, rather than embracing Saudi Arabia as a great ally in the Middle East.
There are other examples.
Canada sent CF-18s to participate in an air war against the Libyan government of Muamar Gaddafi. Libya, today, is a failed state. It is completely and utterly in chaos. Rather than making conditions better in Libya, the NATO intervention made conditions immeasurably worse. The people who led the rebellion against Gaddafi were violent fundamentalist Sunni Muslims who wanted to overthrow a secular nationalist government, which was considered offensive to their ideology, and replace it with a religious state. In other words, they wanted to do in Libya what ISIS is trying to do in Iraq and Syria–and we supported them.
The Libyan rebels, were, as ISIS is, connected to al-Qaeda. A reporter at The Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese, wrote extensively on how the rebel groups in Libya were jihadists connected to al-Qaeda, and about how Canadian pilots bombing Libyan government positions joked that they were al-Qaeda’s air force—that Canadian CF-18s helped provide air cover to al-Qaeda to overthrow a secular nationalist government in Tripoli.
We can put this all aside, and say, “Let’s forget that the rebels in Libya were violent al-Qaeda-linked Jihadists and assume that they were people who simply wanted democracy, rather than fundamentalist Islamic rule in Libya that resembles the kind of backward, religious rule that prevails in Saudi Arabia.
And let’s do the same in Syria. Let’s assume, incorrectly, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that the rebellion in Syria was led by people who simply wanted democracy.
And just to digress for a second on Syria.
The official narrative these days is that the rebellion against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria began as a “largely” peaceful pro-democracy uprising but was quickly hijacked by violent jihadists. Why is it that the origins of the uprising are invariably described as “largely” peaceful, rather than just “peaceful”? The answer is because the first demonstrations were not peaceful. They may have been “largely” peaceful in the sense that most people didn’t engage in violence, but there was still a fair amount of violence. The first significant demonstration happened in the city of Dara. Demonstrators shot and killed police officers, and set fire to a court house and burned down a branch of Syria Tel, the state owned telephone company. Well, you can call that “largely” peaceful if you want, but it was clear from the beginning that the uprising involved more than a little violence, and it’s not surprising that the Syrian state used violent methods in response, as any state would, including Canada. What would happen here at home if demonstrators killed police officers, and set fire to buildings? There would be a very vigorous reaction from the government.
And no one denies that the rebellion in Syria is now led—no matter what its origins were–by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, or the al Nusra front, both of which are al-Qaeda. The Nusra front is the official al-Qaeda franchise in Syria. ISIS grew out of the official al-Qaeda franchise in Iraq, which was known as AQI or al-Qaeda in Iraq. The so-called moderate rebels don’t exist, and all of the rebel groups, are Islamists, and by Islamists I mean people who seek to replace a secular government with a fundamentalist Islamic government, following the credo the Koran is our constitution. These groups abhor democracy because, in their view, man-made laws shouldn’t supersede the laws of God.
But even if the moderate rebels did exist, no one denies that the rebellion is led by the violent, immoderate, head-chopping, women-hating rebels of al-Qaeda, and that the battle that rages in Syria, and has been raging for three years, is a battle very much like the battle that occurred in Libya: a battle between the violent Sunni Muslim fundamentalists of al-Qaeda, on the one hand, and a secular nationalist government, on the other.
Now, despite the fact that the Syrian government is locked in a battle with al-Qaeda, and not with pro-democracy forces, Canada continues to be against the Syrian government. Why is that? I mean, it’s one thing to say, “You’re repressing a pro-democracy uprising, and our foreign policy is based on promoting democracy (except in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt), so we’re against you.” But on what grounds can Canada now say it is against Syria, since the battle is not about democracy (if it ever was) but is about two different visions of government: a secular non-sectarian one, represented by the Assad government, and a sectarian Sunni Islamist one, represented by al-Qaeda? So if Canada is against al-Qaeda, and the battle in Syria isn’t over democracy, and the Syrian government is battling al-Qaeda, why is Canada against the Syrian government?
The other thing about Syria is that the rebels have perpetrated all manner of barbarities, from beheadings, to suicide bombings in elementary school playgrounds to kill children belonging to a sect that al-Qaeda rebels consider to be heretical, to ethnic cleansing, to eviscerations.
And no one in Ottawa or the news media seems to care much about this, or to pay particular attention to it. It is as if the government wants Assad gone, and they don’t particularly care who drives him away, so long as he is driven way, so they don’t want to draw attention to how brutal the Syrian rebels are—the rebels who, by the way, are being funded by, and armed by, and coordinated by, the intelligence services of our allies. But when the same rebels behead an American journalist and a British journalist, and it just so happens at a time when ISIS is threatening to capture strategic parts of Iraq, suddenly they’re an intolerable threat and something has to be done about them.
So, Canadian foreign policy is riddled with inconsistencies. It doesn’t add up.
Ottawa said it was against Gaddafi and Assad because both leaders were dictators, and because they used violence against their own people. But at the same time, we didn’t support uprisings for democracy in Bahrain, and we didn’t support uprisings for democracy in Saudi Arabia, even though these countries have authoritarian, non-democratic governments that brutally cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators. Why do we support rebels in Libya and Syria but not in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia?
Consider Egypt. Canada supports Egypt’s government. Egypt is effectively a military dictatorship. The current head of state, president Sisi, led a military coup against the legitimately elected government of Mohammed Morsi. When Morsi’s supporters protested against the ouster of the president, Sisi violently cracked down. He killed over a thousand. He wounded many more. He jailed tens of thousands. Human Rights Watch said that Sisi was committing crimes against humanity. When Gaddafi used the coercive powers of the state to quell a violent uprising against him, we sent bombers to destroy his military, but when Sisi uses the coercive powers of the state to quell demonstrators demanding the reversal of a coup d’état and the restoration of democracy, the United States sends him $1.3 billion in military aid, with Canada’s blessing. And no one in the Canadian government has said that Sisi must step down, or that he has lost legitimacy, or that he’s a brutal dictator. However, all these charges were levelled against Gaddafi and all these charges are levelled against Assad.
So, you have to ask, how is it that Egypt can be led by a military dictator, who staged a coup against a legitimately elected president, who used violence against his people, who committed crimes against humanity according to Human Rights Watch, and yet continues to be supported by the Canadian government? If Canadian foreign policy seeks to promote democracy abroad—and if you visit the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs you’ll see it does— this couldn’t possibly be.
Here’s another example. Bahrain.
Bahrain is an oil-rich hereditary monarchy in the Persian Gulf. The monarch, King Khalifa, is the head of state. He appoints the head of government and the cabinet. The government isn’t elected; it’s appointed. The head of government is the king’s uncle. He has been prime minister for the last 43 years–the longest serving prime minister in the world. All of the deputy first ministers are relatives, all named Khalifa. So Bahrain, an ally of Canada, is not a democracy, but a family dictatorship.
Ottawa complains that North Korea and Syria are family dictatorships. The Assads have ruled Syria since 1971. The current president, Bashar al-Assad, took over from his father, Hafiz al-Assad. Kims have ruled North Korea since the late 1940s. Kim Il Sung founded the state. His son Kim Jong il succeeded him. Now the founder’s grandson, Kim Jong un, is the head of state.
But Ottawa doesn’t complain that the Khalifas have been heads of state and heads of government since Bahrain achieved independence over four decades ago. Somehow Bahrain’s family dictatorship is okay, but North Korea’s and Syria’s are not. Why is that?
Of Arab Spring countries, Bahrain had the largest protests per capita. 400,000 people took to the streets in one demonstration alone out of a total population of 1.3 million. The demonstrators denounced Bahrain as a police state. They demanded a transition to a more democratic constitutional monarchy, where the government would be elected by the people, rather than appointed by the king. You would think that that was something that Canada would support. But when the protests were violently suppressed Canada stood by and did nothing. And the crackdown was done with the help of the troops and tanks of Saudi Arabia, another family dictatorship. So how is it that Canadian foreign policy is not against the Khalifa family dictatorship in Bahrain or the House of Saud dictatorship in Saudi Arabia but is against dictatorships in Syria and Libya?
So when I said it’s possible to poke holes in Canadian foreign policy and show that it’s inconsistent and that it can’t be based on the considerations Ottawa says it’s based on (like promoting democracy), it was examples like these I was thinking of.
There are a number of foreign policy critics, and very good ones, whose method is based on uncovering the contradictions in the foreign policy of various countries to show that foreign policy is not driven by the kinds of considerations that politicians and state officials and people in the media say it is driven by.
But if you can show that foreign policy is not about what the official narrative says it’s about, what, then, is it about? What is the answer to the question: Why is Ottawa for the rebels in Libya and Syria but not in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Egypt?
You need a theory about foreign policy to make sense of the contradictions and to understand what the true aims of Canadian foreign policy are, and what the forces are that shape it.
Everyone carries theories around in their heads about foreign policy whether they know it or not.
For example, you may carry in your head the theory that Canada is traditionally a peace-keeping country, but that it has been diverted from its traditional peace-keeping policy by the neo-conservatism of Stephen Harper, and that if the Conservatives are defeated in the next election that Canada will return to its traditional peace-keeping role.
You might carry in your head the theory that the foreign policy of Canada and its Western allies is motivated by lofty, praiseworthy goals, like promoting democracy, and preventing genocide, and protecting vulnerable populations.
Or you may believe that foreign policy is formulated as a response to a world that is teeming with multiple threats, and that a myriad of groups and countries seek to harm us.
So we all have theories about foreign policy even though we might not recognize them as theories but think of them simply as common sense.
What I’m going to do is present a theory that is very different from the one that politicians and state officials and the news media present.
The theory comes in two parts. The first is a consideration of who makes foreign policy in Canada, who shapes it, and who influences it. The second is an inference. The inference is that whoever makes foreign policy, whoever shapes it, whoever influences it, does so to promote a benefit for themselves.
So the view is that foreign policy is formulated to defend and promote the interests of someone or some group or some class, and to understand who that is, we have to understand who exercises the greatest influence over foreign policy in Canada.
If the theory is any good, we should be able to use it to predict which foreign governments Canada is against, and which governments it supports. We should be able to use it to explain the contradictions we’ve just seen in Canadian foreign policy. It should tell us why Ottawa supports the rebels in Syria and Libya but not Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia
So who makes foreign policy? Well, it’s made in Ottawa by politicians. At least, politicians sign off on foreign policy (although it may be formulated somewhere else.) But is it made in a vacuum? Do politicians get together with the officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and put together a policy without reference to anyone else in the country, or without reference to very powerful allies, like the United States? Or do they receive inputs from various groups? And are the interests of certain groups more likely to be considered than the interests of others? Are there some groups that have money and resources to get their point of view across in Ottawa to a degree that others can’t?
Foreign policy can be broken down into two components: What benefits we want to derive from our relationships with other countries. And how we’re going to derive those benefits.
So, let’s think of the benefits.
When politicians and bureaucrats are formulating foreign policy in Ottawa, they could say: the benefits we want to achieve in our relationships with foreign countries are these:
• We want more job security for our workers at home.
• We want better pay and better working conditions for our workers at home.
• We want full-employment.
• We want to expand the amount of free or nearly free public services, like transportation, healthcare, child care, and education.
• We want policies that help trade unions rather than undermine them.
These are our goals. These are our priorities. Now, what do we need to do in the way we manage our affairs with foreign countries to make this happen?
Is that what’s going on in Ottawa?
Or is it that when politicians and bureaucrats get together to make foreign policy they say something like this? The benefits we want to achieve in our relationships with foreign countries are these:
• We want to increase the number of Canadian firms doing business in overseas markets.
• We want to deepen commercial engagement in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
• We want to promote and protect investment opportunities overseas for Canadian investors and business owners.
• We want to ratify the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, as an investors’ bill of rights to penalize governments that interfere with the profitability of Canadian investments.
So, which of these two scenarios do you think is closer to what actually goes on in Ottawa?
Well, if you want to find out, visit the web site of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and look at the department’s list of priorities. You’ll discover that the department’s priorities are exactly the same as the ones I just presented in the second scenario.
Laid out on the web site are these priorities.
• Increase the number of Canadian firms doing business in overseas markets.
• Deepen commercial engagement in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
• Focus on investment promotion and protection.
• Ratify the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
Clearly, these are priorities aimed at providing a benefit to a certain sector of Canadian society. Not average Canadians. Not workers. Not organized labor. Not unions. But shareholders and bankers and business owners and people with money to invest. In short, corporate Canada.
So how is it that the views of corporate Canada are so strongly represented in the list of priorities of the Department of Foreign Affairs and that there’s nothing on the list that directly concerns the interests of workers?
I mean we have elections in this country. We have politicians who, in theory, are accountable to the electorate. So, shouldn’t it be the case that the policies of the government, including its foreign policy, reflect the interests of the majority, that is the interest of workers, and not the interests of a small section of the population made up of shareholders, and corporate CEOs, and bankers, and business owners?
Well, there’s a long tradition in parts of sociology and political science going back to the 17th century that says that whoever owns the economy has the greatest influence on the government and the policies of the state, no matter what the form of political arrangement, whether it’s a monarchy, a military dictatorship, a fascist regime, or a democracy. Whoever owns the economy, by virtue of their control of vast wealth and resources, can play an overwhelming role in the political life of a society.
There is a study recently published in the academic journal Perspectives in Politics by two US political scientists that the Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman has publicized. The authors looked at over 1,700 policy issues. And their conclusion was this: “Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” In other words, the corporate community has extraordinary influence over public policy and average citizens and mass-based groups have virtually none.
Well, this invites the question: How is this the case? How is it that in a democracy a small section of the society can have an outsize influence on the politics of the society, virtually monopolizing public policy?
There has been work done over the last half century by some sociologists and political scientists to explain how it is that the corporate community has extraordinary influence while average citizens and mass-based groups have virtually none.
One way is through lobbying. The corporate community has a vast network of lobbyists representing its point of view to government. No other sector of Canadian society lobbies the government to the degree the corporate community does. Large corporations have entire departments dedicated to pressuring government officials to accommodate their interests. Industries have lobbyists to represent the common interest of their industry. And there are lobby groups representing the corporate community as a whole, constantly pressing government to adopt policies that serve the interests of the corporate elite.
What’s more, people who occupy high-level positions in government and the state are very likely to have come from high-level positions in the corporate community.
Let’s take, for example, the New York investment bank Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs is sometimes called Government Sachs, and it’s called Government Sachs because so many of its executives have held very important positions in the state, not only in the United States, but in Canada and Europe and beyond. The former governor of the Bank of Canada, David Carney, now head of the Bank of England, had a 13 year career at Goldman Sachs, rising to the managing director level, before he joined the Department of Finance and later the Bank of Canada. Robert Rubin and Henry Paulson, recent US Secretaries of the Treasury, were both Goldman Sachs executives. Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, was a Goldman Sachs executive. And there are many other Goldman Sachs alumni who have held less visible, but still very important positions in the state in the US, in Canada, in Europe and elsewhere. And that’s just one company.
In Canada, former high-level executives from scores of major enterprises hold senior positions in the bureaucracy. For example, Harper’s former chief of staff Nigel Wright was managing director of the investment firm Onex, and held positions on various corporate boards, before joining the prime minister’s office.
This is known as the revolving door. People who hold high-level positions in the corporate community move into high-level positions in public service, later return to the corporate community, only to come back into public service again and again.
Related to this is the practice of the corporate community offering very lucrative senior executive positions or appointments to boards of directors to politicians when their careers in politics come to an end. Politicians know that if they play their cards right and indulge the corporate community while they’re in office that there’s a reward waiting for them when they end their political careers.
The corporate community also funds and directs think-tanks, whose purpose it is to bring together university professors and journalists and corporate executives to formulate foreign policy, which is then recommended to the government. Foreign policy think-tanks in Canada include the CD Howe Institute, the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, the Asia-Pacific Foundation and the Canadian International Council. These think-tanks are often understood by the public to be neutral, non-partisan expert policy organizations, but what they really are, are corporate funded, corporate directed, advocacy organizations whose purpose is to persuade government to adopt foreign policy positions which serve the interests of the corporate community. They present themselves as neutral, and non-partisan, and they may be non-partisan in the party-political sense, but they’re not non-partisan with respect to the interests of the corporate community. They are corporate Canada’s front organizations.
They also act as advocacy organizations to shape public opinion to support policies that favor the corporate community.
I can illustrate with a US example. The Institute for the Study of War, or ISW, is a US foreign policy think tank. The ISW is funded by the arms industry. Its sponsors are Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, DynCorp. These are the largest arms manufacturers in the world. The think-tank is headed by a man named Jack Keane. Jack Keane is a retired US general. He sits on the boards of MetLife, the giant insurance company, and the weapons industry giant, General Dynamics.
The ISW plays two roles: a policy formation role and a public opinion shaping role. As part of its policy formation role, it creates policy recommendations for the government that favor a robust military and its frequent use. As part of its public opinion shaping role, it runs advocacy campaigns to support a muscular military. Keane plays a lead role in shaping public opinion to support policies that will benefit the corporate sponsors of his think tank. In July and August, he appeared on CNN at least nine times as a military analyst to promote US military intervention in Iraq and Syria. CNN didn’t disclose that Keane is on the board of General Dynamics or that his think tank is sponsored by a who’s who of Pentagon suppliers.
That’s just one example of how the corporate community uses think-tanks to provide so called impartial experts to the mass media to frame how viewers and readers ought to interpret events in order to persuade the public to back policies that favor corporate community interests.
Another way in which the corporate elite influences public opinion to support policies of interest to it in the state is through the mass media. The corporate elite own the mass media. And it’s not unreasonable to expect—and nor is it conspiracy theory-mongering to say—that the mass media, by virtue of the fact that they’re owned by the corporate elite, reflect the interests and the point of view of the corporate elite.
This is hardly a controversial observation. A newspaper that was owned by labor unions would promote positions that are compatible with the interests of labor, and no one would think that was odd. A news network that was owned by environmentalists would take a dim view of building pipelines through ecologically sensitive habitat, and no one would bat an eye at that. So why would anyone think that news media owned by wealthy business owners would somehow not reflect the point of view of wealthy business owners? News media have a certain point of view. And the point of view is compatible with the interests of their owners.
So, to summarize: Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
The outsize influence of the corporate community on public policy happens through a number of mechanisms.
• Through direct lobbying of the government, which corporate Canada does to a degree that no other group in Canada can even come close to matching.
• Through the revolving door, which sees people in top positions in the corporate community rotating in and out of government and the bureaucracy.
• Through the promise of lucrative jobs in the corporate sector to politicians who work to promote the interests of the corporate community while in government.
• Through think-tanks to formulate foreign policy on behalf of the corporate community.
• And through the corporate community’s shaping of public opinion to support policies of interest to it through its advocacy organizations and its ownership of the mass media.
So what would we expect a foreign policy to look like, if the corporate elite exercises an overwhelming influence on policies of interest to it in the state?
Well, it’s going to look like the set of priorities the Department of Foreign Affairs has set for itself. It’s going to be interested in protecting and promoting profit-making opportunities abroad for Canadian investors and business owners.
So let’s go back to our original question. If Canada’s foreign policy is aimed at protecting and promoting the profit-making interests of Canadian investors and business owners, which countries will Canada be against, and which countries will it be for?
Well, it follows that the countries that Canada will be for, are countries that eagerly offer opportunities for corporate Canada to generate profits, and that the country’s record on democracy and respect for human rights will be less important, or completely unimportant, compared to whether the country is a source of profits for Canadian business owners and investors.
At the same time, Canada will be against countries that deny or limit opportunities for corporate Canada to generate profits. But it’s pretty unlikely that the government is going to say we’re sending CF-18s to bomb this or that country because we don’t like their foreign investment climate. Instead, the government will manufacture some reason the public can support, like protecting vulnerable populations or overthrowing a dictator or combating terrorism or eradicating head-choppers.
So, if we find countries that have failed to build business climates that are friendly to foreign investment, we’ll probably find countries that the Canadian government doesn’t like. And if we find countries that welcome Canadian foreign investment, we’ll probably find countries that the Canadian government likes a lot, even if the countries aren’t democracies, and even if they don’t respect human rights.
In Lecture I I talked about how the business community has a number of ways of dominating public policy, and that the research literature shows that the business community has been very successful in using these mechanisms to get its way in the public policy arena.
So we can make a guess, or arrive at a hypothesis, that says, foreign policy in Canada is probably based on the interests of investors and the business community, since big business and the groups that represent it seem to have a large influence on the government. And following from this, that Canadian foreign policy isn’t about promoting democracy and respect for human rights but promoting and protecting the overseas profit-making interests of Canadian businesses and investors.
If this is true, then what we should find if we look closely enough is that the foreign governments that Canada supports are the ones that create profit-making opportunities for Canadian investors and businesses, while the foreign governments that Ottawa opposes are the ones that deny or limit profit-making opportunities for Canadians looking for investment opportunities around the world.
In other words, what we should find is that what matters is not democracy and respect for human rights, but how good a country’s business and investment climate is.
One measure of the degree to which countries maintain business and investment climates to support the profit-making interests of Canada’s corporate elite is provided by the Index of Economic Freedom. This is an index that is complied annually by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation (which is a foundation founded by the Coors family.) The Wall Street Journal, of course, is the chief newspaper of investors in the Western world.
The index ranks countries based on how much profit they allow foreign investors to make, or how many opportunities they provide to people looking for investment opportunities around the world.
Here are the countries that are at the very bottom of the Heritage Foundation/ Wall Street Journal index—the countries that the business and investment communities like the least.
North Korea. The problem with North Korea, in the view of the business and investor community, is state control of the economy and centralized planning, which means all of the economy is in the public sector, and there are virtually no investment opportunities for Canadian investors and business owners.
Zimbabwe. The problem with Zimbabwe is the government’s policy of indigenization, which means, placing ownership of the country’s land and mineral resources in the hands of the indigenous African population. If you want to extract minerals in Zimbabwe, that is, if you want to invest in mining, you’re going to have to take on a domestic partner. Zimbabwe is also not against expropriating land and mineral resources to serve public policy goals. And the goals are to redress historical wrongs related to the colonization of the country by European settlers.
British settlers came to Zimbabwe when it was a British colony called Rhodesia and drove the indigenous people from their land and onto the worst land and denied them any say in the politics of their country. When the indigenous people fought back and won political independence and won the right to vote, they said, “It’s time to get the land back that was stolen from us.”
That raised the question of who was going to compensate the settlers of European origin whose land was going to be redistributed to the indigenous population from which it was originally taken. The Zimbabweans said the British should compensate the settlers because, after all, it was the British who were responsible for the theft of the indigenous people’s land in the first place. When the British said, “No, we’re not going to do that,” the Zimbabweans said, “Fine, we’ll take it back without compensation—which they did, earning them condemnation by governments in the West, all dominated by business interests, who said the idea that any government anywhere should expropriate income-producing property without compensation is intolerable, and that Zimbabwe must be punished severely to send a warning to other governments that anyone who goes down the same path will be punished severely.
So, Zimbabwe says, “It’s time to put the economy of the country in the hands of Zimbabweans.” Investors don’t like that. Their attitude is: All for us and as little as possible for you, ideally, only enough to keep you alive to do the labor we need to make our investments pay off.
Cuba. The problem with Cuba is that only a very small part of it is open to foreign business interests. Virtually all of the economy is in the public sector.
Eritrea. Eritrea is a small country, sometimes known as the Cuba of Africa. It is disliked by the business and investor community because it has a strict command economy in which most private investment has been eliminated and where the economy is almost wholly within the public sector.
Venezuela. The problem with Venezuela, according to the corporate and investor community, is its readiness to impose high taxation rates on businesses and to expropriate land and other private holdings to serve public policy goals. If you’re a business and the Venezuelan government doesn’t like what you’re doing, there’s a big risk they’ll expropriate you.
Myanmar. Myanmar is a country that had a mostly state-owned economy. Western powers, including Canada, imposed sanctions on Myanmar and isolated it diplomatically, on grounds that it was not democratic, though they seemed to have no trouble with other non-democratic, authoritarian states, like Saudi Arabia, for example (which I’ve already talked about.) Then suddenly, about the time Muamar Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya, Myanmar decided it wanted to open its economy to foreign investment and exports, and quickly Western powers began to lift sanctions and restore diplomatic relations. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that Obama was in Myanmar recently, where there’s some concern that Myanmar isn’t transitioning quickly enough to a democracy, but all the same Obama was pretty tolerant. And he was tolerant because Myanmar is moving in the right direction economically, providing investment and business opportunities for corporate American, and that’s what really matters to Washington, not whether Myanmar becomes a democracy.
Libya under Gaddafi. Libya’s problem was that Gaddafi was practicing what the US State Department called resource nationalism, which was imposing conditions on foreign investment that said if you’re going to invest here you have to provide jobs and other advantages to Libyans. Gaddafi said a lot of Westerners have made a lot of money from our oil, and now it’s our turn to derive some benefit from it. Western oil companies didn’t like that because giving more to the Libyans meant less for them. So, if you could get rid of Gaddafi, and replace him with someone who wasn’t so insistent on Libyans sharing in the benefits of Libya’s oil wealth, so much the better for oil companies.
Finally, Iran. The problem with Iran, from the point of view of the corporate elite, is that it prohibits foreign investment in major sectors of its economy. Banking is off limits to foreign investment. The telecom industry is out of bounds. You can’t invest in transportation. Oil and gas are treated as strategic industries. And there are restrictions placed on investment in other sectors.
So, these are among the bottom 10 countries on the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal index.
They are, to a country, communist, socialist, or economically nationalist, and it’s not surprising that the business and investor community should dislike them. They offer few, or no, opportunities for foreign investment and when they do offer opportunities, they insist on taking a cut of the profits.
Significantly, governments that are perennially targets of Western regime change efforts rank at or near the bottom of the index. All of the countries I talked about are countries that Western powers, including Canada, would like to change the governments in.
Syria scores fairly low on the index as well. Its economy is, to some extent socialist, and the Assad government is economically nationalist. It pursues many of the same policies these other countries pursue.
Efforts to change governments in these countries are invariably attributed to some praiseworthy or necessary goal, like promoting democracy or protecting vulnerable populations or combating state sponsorship of terrorism.
For example, the official reason why we participated in the air war on Libya was to prevent Gaddafi from slaughtering his people.
That’s a pretty effective way to get the public behind you. All you have to say is that some leader is planning to slaughter his people, and if you say, “How do you know?” the answer is: “Do you want to stand by and let a genocide happen?”
The same method was used by the United States to build public support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Washington said Iraq had banned weapons. When asked what proof they had, some in the Bush administration said, “We might not know for sure, but do you want to wait and find out when a mushroom cloud rises in the sky?”
So, justifying the use of force on the grounds that there is some necessary or praiseworthy reason for it is often used. It is also used in domestic policy.
The political scientist Ralph Miliband once wrote that “On innumerable occasions, and in all capitalist countries, governments have played a decisive role in defeating strikes, often through the coercive power of the state and the use of naked violence, done so in the name of the national interest, law and order, constitutional government or protection of the public rather than simply to support employers.”
And that’s what happens when Western countries like Canada intervene in the affairs of other countries. The intervention is always portrayed as some noble, humanitarian or necessary cause, and never what it actually is, which is intervening to protect or promote the interests of investors and business owners.
Which is why all the noble, and humanitarian, and necessary causes seem to be in countries that are the least receptive to foreign investment.
It’s also why none of these noble, humanitarian, and necessary causes are in countries where governments welcome foreign investment and bend over backwards to make sure business owners make as much profit as they possibly can.
Not one of the top 10 corporate-elite-friendly countries on the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal index is a target of Western regime change. These are: Hong Kong; Singapore; Australia; Switzerland; New Zealand; Canada; Chile; Mauritius; Ireland; and Denmark.
None of the countries in the top half are targets of Western regime change efforts.
How could this be?
If regime change were linked to human rights concerns and not unfavourable investment and business climates, you might expect to find regime change targets scattered throughout the rankings, rather than bunched up at the bottom and none at the top.
But that doesn’t happen.
All the countries that Western powers, including Canada, are against happen to be at the bottom of the index in terms of the attractiveness of their investment and business climates.
Now, you could object to my reasoning. You could say that countries with favourable investment and business climates are also democracies that respect human rights, which is why the worst offenders on both counts are found at the bottom of the list.
However, this couldn’t possibly be true.
And here’s why:
The United State is ranked as the 12th most attractive country in the world in terms of its business and investment climate, but it has an atrocious human rights record. Think about it. There’s Guantanamo Bay, which is territory in Cuba that the United States has no legitimate right to, but which it holds by force, on which is located a prison to hold people indefinitely, some of whom were simply resisting a foreign invasion and occupation of their country; there was the scandal at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where prisoners were abused; there’s the practice of water-boarding prisoners, which is torture; there is extrajudicial assassination, where targets are assassinated on suspicion, and US citizens living abroad are now considered legitimate targets if they’re seen to be at war with the United States; there’s the massive spying of the US government on its own citizens, that was revealed by Edward Snowden, and which Canada is equally guilty of, all of which makes East Germany, which was supposed to be the model of the police state, look quite tame; there are restrictions in the United States on travel to Cuba; the United States has the largest per capita prison population in the world; and the treatment of minority populations in the United States, especially blacks, is deplorable.
The United States keeps up a fiction that it’s a model of tolerance and respect for human rights as a way of asserting its self-claimed moral authority around the world to justify its military interventions, but it has no moral authority to assert.
So it can’t be true that countries that have attractive business and investment climates are the ones that have the greatest respect for human rights. They have the greatest respect for the rights of investors, and business owners, and employers, but are indifferent to the rights of anyone else.
How about Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia’s woman-hating, head-chopping, anti-democratic, crowned dictatorship, which ranks in the top half of the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal index, is without question the least free country in the world in terms of political and civil liberties. So, a good business and investment climate does not go hand in hand with respect for human rights.
Let’s talk about Bahrain. Bahrain’s foreign investment climate is ranked next to the United States. Regionally, Bahrain is top ranked in North Africa and West Asia, while under Gaddafi, Libya was ranked 173 of 179 countries—close to last in the world, and dead last in regional rankings.
Bahrain, which is home to the US 5th Fleet, is an investor’s dream. If you’ve got money to invest, that’s where you might want to put it.
The government won’t expropriate you, that’s guaranteed, but in Libya, there was always a chance that Gaddafi would, especially if he thought that you weren’t doing enough to help the Libyan economy grow and work for Libyans.
If you wanted to invest in Libya under Gaddafi, the first thing you had to do was convince the government that the investment was good for Libya. Then you had to take on certain obligations as the price of being allowed to invest in the country. And finally you had to find Libyan partners to take on a 35 percent stake in your enterprise.
Contrast that with Bahrain. In Bahrain there’s no screening of foreign investment, there are no obligations on investors to help Bahrain’s economy develop, and you don’t have to take on local partners.
Gaddafi barred investors from taking all of their profits out of the country. He said, you have to reinvest some of your profits here in Libya.
But in Bahrain things are quite different. You can take all of your profits out the country. The government doesn’t ask that you reinvest in the economy.
If you wanted to export goods to Libya, you might have been in trouble, because Gaddafi used a number of barriers and subsidies to help Libyan firms compete and grow and develop.
Also, if you were a business operating in Libya you were subject to tax rates of up to 40 percent. By contrast, Bahrain has no corporate tax, expect on oil companies.
So, if you’re an investor, scouring the globe for opportunities, Bahrain looks like a pretty interesting place. Libya under Gaddafi looked like a nightmare to investors (though not so much of a nightmare to the people who were living there.)
A year after Gaddafi was overthrown, The Wall Street Journal reported that oil companies had been livid with the oil deals the Gaddafi government had been negotiating with them. They said, Gaddafi was demanding too much and they “hoped regime change in Libya…would bring relief in some of the tough terms they had agreed to in partnership deals” with Libya’s national oil company.
Wikileaks obtained a US State Department cable that warned that those “who dominate Libya’s political and economic leadership are pursuing increasingly nationalistic policies in the energy sector.”
And the cable went on to say that there was “growing evidence of Libyan resource nationalism”—which means trying to use Libya’s natural resources for the benefit of Libyans, rather than giving it all away to Western oil companies.
The cable then criticized Gaddafi for a speech he made where he said: “Oil companies are controlled by foreigners who have made millions from them. Now, Libyans must take their place to profit from this money.”
So, Gaddafi was challenging the attitude of investors of “all for us and as little as possible for you” by demanding “some for us and less for you.” And that attitude was intolerable to Western governments—not surprising, since as we’ve seen, Western government are dominated by business and investor interests.
The oil companies, it turned out, where also very unhappy with what they called Gaddafi’s efforts to “‘Libyanize’ the economy,” that is, to let Libyans have a greater stake in their own economy. So Gaddafi said, if you want to operate in Libya, you have to hire Libyan managers, you have to hire Libyan finance people, you have to hire Libyan human resources directors, and so on.
Well, that was just too much for the oil companies, who wanted to put their own people in Libya. They couldn’t have Gaddafi telling them who to hire.
Here’s what The New York Times said: “Colonel Gaddafi proved to be a problematic partner for international oil companies.”
Why? Because he said, “If you want to operate here, you have to contribute to our economy. You have to hire Libyans. You have to re-invest in the country. You can’t just suck up all our oil wealth, take the profits out of the country, and leave us with nothing but a hole in the ground.”
But over in Bahrain, the crowned dictator and his family sing a different tune. They say, “Hey, take it all. We don’t care. Just leave enough for us to live in our grand palaces, and protect us from revolts by our own people.”
Funny, isn’t it, that Gaddafi, who was trying to make deals with foreign investors to develop his own country and create jobs for his own people has been presented in the media and by politicians as a clown and a monster, while the family dictatorship of Bahrain which allows foreign firms to vacuum up as much of Bahrain’s oil wealth as possible with no obligation to help develop the economy, get invited to royal weddings in London, and when they crush pro-democracy demonstrations, the media and politicians say next to nothing.
The double-standard we’ve practiced in bombing Libya but not Bahrain, shows that the stated reasons for the Libyan intervention were a sham. We were in on the campaign to get rid of Gaddafi because he was making life a little less profitable for oil companies, with all of his demands that if they were going to get rich on Libya’s oil then maybe they should give something back to Libyans in the way of jobs and reinvestment.
If we were to define Canadian foreign policy the definition would be this: The foreign policy of Canada is not motivated by the promotion of democracy and respect for human rights. It is not aimed at securing a benefit for the majority of Canadians. It doesn’t care one iota whether foreign governments are killing their own people. Instead, the aim of Canadian foreign policy is to work with the United States and its NATO allies to promote and protect foreign investment opportunities for investors and major corporations.
If that’s what Canadian foreign policy is—if it’s all about helping investors and business owners make money in foreign markets—how does it hurt Canadian workers, if indeed, it hurts Canadians workers at all? I mean, what’s wrong with helping investors and business owners make money? Does that hurt workers?
Well, the first thing I would say is that foreign policy has nothing to do with helping workers or looking out for their interests.
In Lecture I, I asked, when politicians and bureaucrats sit down in Ottawa to formulate the country’s foreign policy do they ask:
• How can we structure our foreign policy to get more job security for our workers at home?
• How can we structure our foreign policy to get better pay and working conditions for our workers at home?
• How can we structure our foreign policy to create full-employment?
• How can we structure our foreign policy to help trade unions?
No, of course not. They ask: How can we structure our foreign policy to help the business and investor community which lobbies us daily, which gives us lucrative jobs when we finish our political careers, whose high ranking members are working with us in key policy decision-making roles, who own the mass media and can shape public opinion to turn the public against us?
They don’t care about our interests.
In fact, Canadian foreign policy is hostile to all the goals we would hope that Canadian foreign policy would be about.
Take, for example, the idea of safeguarding our physical safety against external threat. That should be the role of the military: self-defence. I mean, we have an army and a navy and an air force to protect us from invasion. Or at least, that’s what they’re supposed to do.
But we sent CF-18s to bomb Libya. Was Libya a threat to Canada? Were Gaddafi’s forces going to invade us?
We sent CF-18s to bomb Yugoslavia in 1999. Was Yugoslavia a threat to Canada? Were Yugoslav forces going to invade us?
The answer to all these questions was no. But we sent warplanes anyway. That means we engaged in wars of aggression, not self-defence, but aggressions, which are illegal under international law.
You don’t hear much about international law, except when countries that aren’t our allies violate it. Obama yesterday said, in connection with the Ukraine, with jaw-dropping hypocrisy, that countries shouldn’t invade other countries, as if the United States and Britain didn’t invade Iraq—as if the United States, and Britain, and Canada, and other NATO countries, didn’t invade Afghanistan.
He also said that countries shouldn’t finance proxy groups to break countries apart, as if the United States isn’t financing and directing the Free Syrian Army as a proxy group to break up Syria.
So, what happens when you bomb someone else’s country, and there’s no legitimate reason for doing so?
Well, the woman who was the director general of Britain’s domestic intelligence agency at the time of the US-British invasion of Iraq in 2003, Lady Manningham-Buller, can tell you what happens.
In 2010, seven years after the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, she made a confession at an official inquiry.
She said Iraq was never a danger to Britain.
That may seem like a shock, but anyone who was paying attention at the time could see that Iraq was never a danger to Britain or the United States.
The UN’s chief weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, kept affirming that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.
And the evidence that Britain and the United States were putting forward to make the case that Iraq was concealing banned weapons was laughable. You may remember that the whole process was called “sexing up the evidence”—which is another way of saying “making it up”, which, if it wasn’t clear back then that it was made up, is undeniable today.
But even if Iraq did have banned weapons—and everyone knows now that they didn’t—even if they did, Iraq would still have posed absolutely no real threat to Britain.
Saddam Hussein wasn’t going to attack Britain. He didn’t have the means to. And he didn’t have any reason to either, unless he had a grand plan to commit suicide, which he didn’t.
When Manningham-Buller confessed that Iraq had posed no threat to Britain, she was simply stating the obvious that anyone who paid attention and had half a brain could have figured out for himself.
But then she said something interesting. She said that while Iraq had posed no danger, the invasion itself created a danger. The invasion itself created a danger, by radicalizing Iraqis, and Muslims living in surrounding countries who sympathized with the plight of the people who were being bombed, and shot at, and terrorized, and driven from their homes.
The invasion created an insurgency. The invasion radicalized Muslims and others who vowed to take revenge. The invasion created al-Qaeda in Iraq, which later became ISIS.
So if the British military’s function is to protect British citizens from threats, it had spectacularly failed, because its actions did the very opposite. They created a threat that had not previously existed. They created the threat of what the CIA called “blowback”—which is retaliation by people who are angry and upset by the harm you’ve done to them.
So by invading Iraq, rather than protecting the safety of the British people, the British military put the British people in harm’s way.
There’s a political scientist named Robert Pape, who began studying every case of suicide terrorism that has happened in the world since 1980.
Pape asked, what motivates suicide terrorism? A lot of people think it’s religious fanaticism, or specifically Muslim fanaticism. But Pape found that the leader in suicide terrorism in the world wasn’t fundamentalist Muslims, but the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. And the Tamil Tigers aren’t religious. They’re secular. They’re atheists. Their ideology is Marxism-Leninism.
So he said, well, it can’t be religious fanaticism that explains suicide terrorism, so what is it?
And what he found that is common to all the groups that practice suicide terrorism is this: They are all trying to drive foreign militaries from territory they consider to be their homeland.
It’s not that they’re religious fanatics. It’s just that they object to their country or homeland being occupied by a foreign military, and they choose suicide terrorism as a way of driving the foreign occupiers out.
The same is true of al-Qaeda and bin Laden. You don’t hear much about why al-Qaeda launched its terrorist attacks on 9/11, just silly things like, “they hate our freedoms.” Something that Pape pointed out is that terrorist attacks are not random acts of violence without an objective. They’re well-planned, well thought out, and they have a goal: And the goal is driving a foreign military from territory the terrorists consider their homeland.
When Manningham-Buller in Britain said the US-British occupation of Iraq created a threat by radicalizing Muslims, what she really meant was that some people would resort to terrorism as way to drive the British and the Americans out of territory they consider their home.
When you look at what bin Laden said about why he was using terrorism against the United States you see the same motivation that Pape talked about and that Manningham-Buller acknowledged when she said the invasion of Iraq created a threat by making people in Iraq very angry.
Just some background. The United States has military bases sprinkled throughout the Middle East. It had troops in Saudi Arabia, but later withdrew most of them, but still has a small military base in the Kingdom. But it has bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, as well as in Turkey and Afghanistan. These are all countries in which most people are Muslim.
So here, in bin Laden’s words, are the reasons he launched a war of terrorism against the United States. He said, the reason why was because US forces were “occupying the lands of Islam…. plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorising its neighbours, and turning its bases…into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples.”
This fits with what Pape found about all groups that practice suicide terrorism. They’re saying, “Look, this is our country. Get out of it.” Bin Laden was saying, “Look, stop meddling in traditionally Muslim territory. Withdraw your forces. Stop propping up puppet governments in the region. ”
He said the same thing to the Soviets when the Soviets occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s. Back then, bin Laden was involved in the war to drive the Soviets out of territory the jihadists considered to be a Muslim homeland.
And back then, Washington thought he was a great guy and supported his struggle, calling him and other jihadists “freedom fighters” rather than “terrorists.” But of course, the United States only liked him so long as he was fighting against governments they were against, like the Soviet Union, or the Marxist-Leninist government in Afghanistan at the time.
This is the idea of the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But the moment bin Laden tried to drive the United States out of territory he considered a Muslim homeland he was transformed from a “freedom fighter” into an “evil terrorist.”
The same thing is happening in Syria. No one in Washington or Ottawa had much bad to say about ISIS when it was slaughtering its way across Syria, blowing up school children because they adhered to the wrong brand of Islam and decapitating captured Syrian soldiers, but the moment they threatened the Iraqi government, which Washington and Ottawa support, they became the epitome of evil, whereas in Syria, they weren’t evil at all…just rebels fighting a tyrant.
Violent Muslim fundamentalists have little appeal in the Arab and Muslim worlds. But they do support causes that have a broad appeal to Muslims and Arabs. They support the self-determination of the Palestinians. They demand the removal of unpopular US military bases from the region. They resist dictatorial regimes, like Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain that the United States and Canada support.
In other words, the Arab and Muslim worlds support the goals of the terrorists. They might not support their methods, but they support their goals.
Now, the British government, and the US government, and the Canadian government, know this. They know that people in the Arab and Muslim worlds don’t like our foreign policies. They know that people in the Arab and Muslim worlds are angry at us. And they know that some of these people are going to strike out against us in anger. But they keep doing the things that make these people angry, not because they’re stupid, but because the rewards to the business and investor community of Western powers controlling a very important oil-producing region are much greater than their concern for the safety of ordinary people in Canada.
CSIS has warned that we have been in the top five of al Qaeda targets for over a decade, and for three reasons: One, because Canada sent the military into Afghanistan. Two, because of Ottawa’s support for Israel against the Palestinians. And three, because we sent CF-18s to bomb ISIS positions in Iraq.
Now, we can analyze this the way Lady Manningham-Buller analyzed the British invasion of Iraq.
Did the Taliban government in Afghanistan pose a threat to Canada? No.
Do the Palestinians’ efforts to achieve self-determination pose a threat to Canada? No.
Did ISIS pose a threat to Canada before we joined the campaign to degrade and ultimately eliminate it? No.
So, none of these are threats.
Does invading Afghanistan, supporting the Israelis against the Palestinians, and bombing Iraq, create a threat by angering people in the Muslim and Arab worlds? Yes it does.
It creates the threat of terrorism.
I should mention something about terrorism. You’ll find no agreed upon definition of terrorism, and that’s because governments insist on using the term in shifting ways to suit their own political purposes. Bin Laden was transformed from a freedom fighter into a terrorist, not because he changed his methods, but because he changed his targets. Nelson Mandela, once labelled a terrorist, and once banned from entering the United States, was transformed from a terrorist into a heroic figure. So, there’s that old aphorism: One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. And in the United States and Canada one can be a terrorist and freedom fighter at different times, depending on political circumstances.
But we could say that terrorism is the use of violence against civilians for the purpose of inducing civilians to pressure their government to change the policies the terrorists object to.
So, for example, if a supporter of ISIS blows up an airplane in mid-air, the purpose is to frighten people so they start questioning whether their country’s contribution to the air war against ISIS is really worthwhile, and maybe that’s not something the country needs to be involved in.
I call that the terrorism of the weak, to distinguish it from the terrorism of the strong.
Now, it’s sometimes said that terrorism is the weapon of the weak. It’s what people who don’t have a military do.
A good illustration of this is provided in the movie The Battle for Algiers.
The Battle for Algiers is about the campaign of the Arabs of the French colony of Algeria to evict the French, their colonizers. The Arabs used some terrorist methods, like setting off bombs in cafes in French communities in Algeria to terrorize civilians.
In the movie a French journalist asks an Algerian liberation leader: “Don’t you think it’s a bit cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosives that kill so many people?”
And the leader, who would be called a terrorist, or freedom fighter, depending on your perspective, 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.”
So, the liberation leader was saying, “What option do we have? We have no option but to resort to terroristic methods.” Terrorism is the weapon of the weak.
But I object to that characterization, because it obscures the reality that terrorism is also a weapon of the strong.
Let’s go back to the definition of terrorism: the use of violence against civilians for the purpose of inducing civilians to pressure their government to change the policies the terrorists object to.
Do countries, like Canada or the United States, ever use violence against civilians in other countries for the purpose of inducing those civilians to pressure their governments to change the policies that Canada or the United States object to?
Well, listen to this.
In 1999, The Globe and Mail carried an interview with U.S. Air Force Lt. General Michael Short. At the time, Canada was involved, along with the United States and other NATO countries, in bombing Yugoslavia, which was done over a period of about 3 months.
What you should know about Yugoslavia is that it was a communist country. At the time of the bombing, it was coming apart, with various republics splitting off, or trying to split off. The government in power was the successor to the communist party, and still maintained a largely socialist economy, which was enough to make Western powers hate it. The West had delivered an ultimatum to the government, and in a secret appendix had demanded a transition to a market economy. The ultimatum was rejected, and NATO started bombing on the pretext that there was a genocide in progress that needed to be stopped in Kosovo, a part of Yugoslavia at the time.
At the end of the conflict forensic pathologists rushed to Kosovo, which was where a civil war had been going on between the government and a rebel army that had been trained, equipped and funded by Western powers. The forensic pathologists were ready to document the genocide that NATO said had been in progress and which, it said, had prompted it to intervene. But when they got there, they found no evidence of a genocide, and left in disgust, complaining that they had been duped, which they, and the rest of the world, had been.
So, as NATO forces, including Canadian CF-18s were dropping bombs on civilian targets, and killing innocent civilians, and destroying roads, power plants, bridges and factories, The Globe and Mail asked General Short to explain what the objectives of the bombing campaign were.
I’m going to quote what he said, and compare what he says, to the definition of terrorism of inducing civilians to pressure their government to change its policies.
“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? (Slobo being a reference to the president at the time.) Hey Slobo. How much more of this do we have to withstand?’”
That is terrorism. It’s the use of violence against civilians to induce them to pressure their government. So terrorism is not only used by ISIS and al-Qaeda. It’s used by NATO powers, as well, including Canada.
Let me wrap up.
We don’t live in a democracy. It might be called a democracy. We might have elections. But the kind of society in which we live is more accurately described as a plutocracy—rule by wealthy business owners and investors.
Having a lot of money, I don’t need to tell you, is enormously advantageous. It will not only give you access to all the good things in life, it will also give you enormous political influence.
With money you can buy lobbyists to represent your interests in Ottawa, each day and every day.
With money you can buy politicians, with promises of lucrative jobs when they leave political life.
With control over major corporations, you can get your point of view heard in Ottawa whenever you want.
With money you can shape public opinion to support positions that favor your interests.
Governments have dual constituencies. They have their own populations but they also have the investor community, both here at home and abroad. If investors don’t like the government’s policies they can hurt the economy, by speculating against the currency or withdrawing or curtailing their investments or forcing massive layoffs—a kind of economic terrorism. Do what we say and nobody gets hurt.
The way to create a true democracy, in place of the current plutocracy, is to take power out of the hands of the wealthy elite, and bring the economy under public control, where it can be democratically managed. That way, we can make public policy, including foreign policy, work for us.
In a real democracy, when politicians and bureaucrats get together in Ottawa to formulate foreign policy, they’ll ask, how can we structure our foreign policy to get:
• More job security for our workers at home?
• Better pay and better working conditions for our workers at home?
• More free or nearly free public services, like transportation, healthcare, child care, and education?
• A Canada that is free from the threat of blowback?
Getting there won’t be easy. To paraphrase Edward Dowling, the two greatest obstacles to democracy are the widespread delusion among ordinary people that we have one and the fear among the rich that we might get one. But get one, we must.
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.  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.” 
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.  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.” 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.” 
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.” 
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 , 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.  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. 
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.” 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.” 
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. 
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”  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.” 
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 , 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.” 
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?  How much more of this do we have to withstand?’”  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. 
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.” 
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. 
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.
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.
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.