what's left

The Korean Conflict, Reevaluated

By Dan Kovalik

Patriots, Traitors & Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, Stephen Gowans’ latest book on the Korean conflict, could not be more timely given the recent tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as the recent overtures being made for peace and reconciliation. The book is also a very good antidote to the anti-DPRK propaganda we have been fed for so many decades.

The Korean conflict, usually thought of as beginning in 1950 and ending in 1953, is one of the least known and understood conflicts in which the US has been involved. Given the lack of knowledge about this conflict, it has been easy to paint the DPRK, usually referred to as North Korea, as a rogue state led by a succession of madmen. As Gowans’ book explains, the real story is much more complex than this and indeed greatly favors the DPRK over the United States which has truly been the villain in this saga.

First of all, Gowans explains that the beginning of the Korean conflict can fairly be said to begin in 1945 when, as WWII was coming to an end, two US generals drew the arbitrary dividing line of Korea at the 38th parallel and when the US began to intervene quite deeply in what quickly became South Korea. The conflict could indeed be said to have begun even sooner as Gowans explains – that is, in 1932 when Kim Il-sung began the Korean armed resistance against the brutal Japanese occupation of Manchuria and Korea.

Kim and his fellow Koreans had much to rebel against. As Gowans reminds us, the Japanese occupation involved impressing Koreans, and Chinese as well, into forced labor as well as into sexual slavery. By 1938, Gowans explains, “30,000 to 40,000 women, mainly Koreans, [were] subjected to regular sexual violence by Japanese soldiers.”

Of course, after WWII was over and fascist Japan defeated, the Koreans reasonably believed that all of this would end and that Korea would proceed as an independent and unified country as it had been for centuries before. However, the US had other plans, as it had for Vietnam which had aspirations quite similar to that of Korea. Thus, as Gowans explains, the US, in the interest of blocking Soviet expansion and preventing countries like Japan and Korea from voluntarily turning to communism or socialism, decided that it was critical to help Japan maintain its economic dominance over parts of Asia, including Korea, or at least the Southern half.

Continued at counterpunch.org .

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Written by what's left

April 6, 2018 at 4:48 pm

The (Largely Unrecognized) US Occupation of Syria

The United States has invaded Syria with a significant military force, is occupying nearly one-third of its territory, has announced plans for an indefinite occupation, and is plundering the country’s petroleum resources. Washington has no authorization under international or even US law to invade and occupy Syria, much less attack Syrian forces, which it has done repeatedly. Nor has it a legal warrant to create new administrative and governance structures in the country to replace the Syrian government, a project it is undertaking through a parallel invasion of US diplomatic personnel. These actions—criminal, plunderous, and an assault on democracy at an international level—amount to a retrograde project of recolonization by an empire bent on extending its supremacy to all the Arab and Muslim worlds, including the few remaining outposts of resistance to foreign tyranny. Moreover, US actions represent an escalation of Washington’s long war on Syria, previously carried out through proxies, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, into a full-scale conventional war with direct US military involvement. Yet, despite the enormity of the project, and the escalation of the war, the US occupation of Syria has largely flown under the radar of public awareness.

March 11, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

Atop multiple indignities and affronts to liberty and democracy visited upon the Arab world by the West, including the plunder of Palestine by European settlers and the political oppression of Arabs by a retinue of military dictators, monarchs, emirs and sultans who rule largely at the pleasure of Washington and on its behalf, now arrives the latest US transgression on the ideals of sovereignty, independence, and the equality of nations: marauders in Washington have pilfered part of the territory of one of the last bastions of Arab independence—Syria. Indeed, Washington now controls “about one-third of the country including most of its oil wealth”, [1] has no intention of returning it to its rightful owners, has planned for an indefinite military occupation of eastern Syria, and is creating a new Israel, which is to say, an new imperialist outpost in the middle of the Arab world, to be governed by Kurdish proxies backed by US firepower. [2] The crime has been carried out openly, and yet has hardly been noticed or remarked upon.

Here are the facts:

In January, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that US “troops will remain in Syria” indefinitely “to ensure that neither Iran nor President Bashar al-Assad of Syria will take over areas” [3] the United States captured from ISIS, even though these areas belong to the Syrian Arab Republic, by law and right, and not to Washington, or to Washington’s Kurdish proxy, the SDF. The SDF, or Syrian Democratic Force, is a US-constructed outfit which, in journalist Robert Fisk’s words, is neither Syrian (it’s dominated by Kurds, including those of Turkish origin) nor democratic (since it imposes Kurdish rule over traditionally Arab areas and dances to a tune called by a foreign master.) Moreover, it’s not much of a force, since, without US airpower, artillery, and Special Operations support, it is militarily inconsequential. [4] “US President Donald Trump’s rollout of an updated Syria policy,” reports Aaron Stein, writing in the unofficial journal of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs, “commits US forces to maintaining a presence” in northeast Syria in order to “hedge against” any attempt by Damascus to assert sovereignty over its own territory. [5]

The Pentagon officially admits to having 2,000 troops in Syria [6] but a top US general put the number higher, 4,000, in an October press briefing. [7] But even this figure is an “artificial construct,” as the Pentagon described a previous low-ball figure. On top of the infantry, artillery, and forward air controllers the Pentagon counts as deployed to Syria, there is an additional number of uncounted Special Operations personnel, as well as untallied troops assigned to classified missions and “an unspecified number of contractors” i.e., mercenaries. Additionally, combat aircrews are not counted, even though US airpower is critical to the occupation. [8] There are, therefore, many more times the officially acknowledged number of US troops in Syria, operating out of 10 bases in the country, including “a sprawling facility with a long runway, hangars, barracks and fuel depots.” [9]

In addition to US military advisers, Army Rangers, artillery, Special Operations forces, satellite-guided rockets and Apache attack helicopters [10], the United States has deployed US diplomats to Syria to create government and administrative structures to supersede the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic. [11] Plus, the United States “is now working to transform Kurdish fighters into a local security force” to handle policing [12] while US diplomats on the ground work to establish local governments to run the occupied territory’s affairs. [13]

“The idea in US policy circles” is to create “a soft partition” of Syria between the United States and Russia along the Euphrates, “as it was among the Elbe [in Germany] at the end of the Second World War.” [14] On top of the 28 percent of Syria the United States occupies, it controls “half of Syria’s energy resources, the Euphrates Dam at Tabqa, as well as much of Syria’s best agricultural land.” [15]

During the war against ISIS, US military planning called for the Kurds to push south along the Euphrates River to seize Syria’s oil-and gas-rich territory. [16] While the Syrian Arab Army and its allies focussed mostly on liberating cities from Islamic State, the Kurds, under US direction, went “after the strategic oil and gas fields”, [17] “robbing Islamic State of key territory,” as The Wall Street Journal put it. The US newspaper correctly designated the seizure of key territory as a robbery, but failed to acknowledge the victim, not Islamic State, which itself robbed the territory, but the Syrian Arab Republic. But this skein of equivocation needs to be further disentangled. It was not the Kurds who robbed ISIS which earlier robbed the Syrians, but the United States which robbed ISIS which robbed Syria. The Kurds, without the backing of the US armed forces, are a military cipher incapable, by their own efforts, of robbing the Arab republic. The Americans are the robbers, the Syrians the victims.

The United States has robbed Syria of “two of the largest oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzour”, including the al-Omar oil field, Syria’s largest. [18] Last September, the United States plundered Syria of “a gas field and plant known in Syria as the Conoco gas plant” (though its affiliation with Conoco is historical; the plant was acquired by the Syrian Gas Company in 2005.) [19] Russia observed that “the real aim” of the US forces’ (incontestably denominated) “illegal” presence in Syria has been “the seizure and retention of economic assets that only belong to the Syrian Arab Republic.” [20] The point is beyond dispute: the United States has stolen resources vital to the republic’s reconstruction (this from a country which proclaims property rights to be humanity’s highest value.)

Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma professor who specializes in Syria, has argued that by “controlling half of Syria’s energy resources…the US will be able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced.” [21] Bereft of its petroleum resources, and deprived of its best farmland, Syria will be hard-pressed to recover from the Islamist insurgency—an operation precipitated by Washington as part of its long war on nationalist influence in the Arab world—a war that has left Syria in ruins. The conclusion that “Assad has won” and that the war is over except for mopping up operations is unduly optimistic, even Pollyannaish. There is a long road ahead.

Needless to say, Damascus aspires to recover its lost territory, and “on February 7 sent a battalion-sized column to [recuperate] a critical gas plant near Deir Ezzour.” [22] This legitimate exercise of sovereignty was repulsed by an airstrike by US invaders, which left an estimated 100 Syrian Arab Army troops and their allies dead. [23] The significance of this event has been under-appreciated, and perhaps because press coverage of what transpired disguised its enormity. An emblematic Wall Street Journal report, for example, asserted that the US airstrike was a defensive response to an unprovoked attack by Syrian forces, as if the Syrians, on their own soil, were aggressors, and the invading Americans, victims. [24] We might inquire into the soundness of describing an aggression by invaders on a domestic military force operating within its own territory as a defensive response to an unprovoked attack. Likewise, we can inquire into the cogency of Washington’s insistence that it does not intend to wage war on the Syrian Arab Army. That this statement can be accepted as reasonable suggests the operation of what Charles Mills calls an epistemology of ignorance—a resistance to understanding the obvious. It should be evident—indeed, it’s axiomatic—that the unprovoked invasion and occupation of a country constitutes an aggression, but apparently this is not the case in the specially constructed reality of the Western media. Could Russia invade the United States west of the Colorado River, control the territory’s airspace, plunder its resources, establish new government and administrative structures to supplant local, state, and federal authority, and then credibly declare that it does not seek war with the United States and its armed services? Invasion and occupation are aggressive acts, a statement that shouldn’t need to be made.

Washington’s February 7 attack on Syrian forces was not the first. “American troops carried out strikes against forces loyal to President Bashar Assad of Syria several times in 2017,” reported the New York Times. [25] In other words, the United States has invaded Syria, is occupying nearly a third of its territory, and has carried out attacks on the Syrian military, and this aggression is supposed to be understood as a defensive response to Syrian provocations.

It is incontestable that US control of the airspace of eastern Syria, the invasion of the country by untold thousands of US military and diplomatic personnel, the plunder of the Levantine nation’s resources, and attacks on its military forces, are flagrant violations of international law. No country has more contempt for the rule of law than the United States, yet, in emetic fashion, its government incessantly invokes the very rule of law it spurns to justify its outrages against it. But what of US law? If, to Washington, international law is merely an impediment to be overcome on its way to expanding its empire, are the US invasion and occupation of Syria, and attacks on Syrian forces, in harmony with the laws of the United States? If you ask the White House and Pentagon the answer is yes, but that is tantamount to asking a thief to rule on his or her theft. The question is, does the US executive’s claim that its actions in Syria comport with US law stand up to scrutiny? Not only does it not, the claim is risible. “Under both Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump,” explains the New York Times’ Charlie Savage, “the executive branch has argued that the war against Islamic State is covered by a 2001 law authorizing the use of military force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks [my emphasis] and a 2002 law authorizing the invasion of Iraq.” However, while “ISIS grew out an offshoot of Al Qaeda, the two groups by 2014 had split and became warring rivals,” and ISIS did not perpetrate the 9/11 attacks. What’s more, before the rise of ISIS, the Obama administration had deemed the Iraq war over. [26]

Washington’s argument has other problems, as well. While the 2001 law does not authorize the use of military force against ISIS, it does authorize military action against Al Qaeda. Yet from 2011 to today, the United States has not only failed to use force against the Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra, Al Qaeda’s largest branch, it has trained and equipped Islamist fighters who are intermingled with, cooperate on the battle field with, share weapons with, and operate under licence to, the group, as I showed in my book Washington’s Long War on Syria, citing the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post, which have extensively reported on the interconnections between US trained and armed fighters and the organization founded by Osama bin Laden. [27]

Finally, by implication, since the law does not authorize the use of force against ISIS, it does not authorize the presence of US aircrews in Syrian airspace or US military and diplomatic personnel on Syrian soil. In addition, it certainly does not authorize the use of force against a Syrian military operating within its own borders.

Let’s look again at Washington’s stated reasons for its planned indefinite occupation of Syria: to prevent the return of ISIS; to stop the Syrian Arab Republic from exercising sovereignty over all of its territory; and to eclipse Iranian influence in Syria. For only one of these reasons, the first, does Washington offer any sort of legal justification. The latter two objectives are so totally devoid of legal warrant that Washington has not even tried to mount a legal defense of them. Yet, these are the authentic reasons for the US invasion and occupation of Syria. As to the first reason, if Washington were seriously motivated to use military force to crush Al Qaeda, it would not have armed, trained and directed the group’s auxiliaries in its war against Arab nationalist power in Damascus.

Regarding Washington’s stated aim of eclipsing Iranian influence in Syria, we may remind ourselves of the contents of a leaked 2012 U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report. That report revealed that the insurgency in Syria was sectarian and led by the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner of Islamic State. The report also disclosed that the United States, Arab Gulf oil monarchies and Turkey supported the insurgents. The analysis correctly predicted the establishment of a “Salafist principality,” an Islamic state, in eastern Syria, noting that this was desired by the insurgency’s foreign backers, which wanted to see the secular Arab nationalists isolated and cut-off from Iran. [28] The United States has since decided to take on the role that it had once planned for a Salafist principality. A planned Saudi-style state dividing Damascus from Tehran has become an indefinite US occupation, from whose womb US planners hope to midwife the birth of a Kurd mini-state as a new Israel.

The reality that the US operation in Syria is illegal may account for why, with Washington’s misdirection and the press’s collusion, it has largely flown under the radar of public awareness. Misdirection is accomplished by disguising the US occupation of eastern Syria as a Kurd-, or SDF-effort, which the United States is merely assisting, rather than directing. The misdirection appears to be successful, because the narrative has been widely mentally imbibed, including by otherwise critical people. There are parallels. The United States is prosecuting a war of aggression in Yemen, against a movement that threatens US hegemony in the Middle East, as the Syrian Arab Republic, Iran and Hezbollah do. The aggression against Yemen is as lacking in legal warrant as is the US war on Syria. It flagrantly violates international law; the Houthis did not attack Saudi Arabia, let alone the United States, and therefore there is no justification for military action on international legal grounds against them. What’s more, the Pentagon can’t even point to authorization for the use of force against Yemen’s rebels under US domestic law since they are not Al Qaeda and have no connection to the 9/11 attacks. To side step the difficulty of deploying military force without a legal warrant, the war, then, is presented as “Saudi-led”, with the involvement of the United States relegated in the hermeneutics to the periphery. Yet Washington is directing the war. The United States flies its own drones and reconnaissance aircraft over Yemen to gather intelligence to select targets for Saudi pilots. [29] It refuels Saudi bombers in flight. Its warships enforce a naval blockade. And significantly, it runs an operations center to coordinate the bombing campaign among the US satellites who participate in it. In the language of the military, the United States has command and control of the aggression against Yemen. The only US absence is in the provision of pilots to drop the bombs, this role having been farmed out to Arab allies. [30] And that is the key to the misdirection. Because Saudi pilots handle one visible aspect of the multi-dimensional war, (whose various other dimensions are run by the Americans), it can be passed off to the public as a Saudi affair, while those who find the Saudi monarchy abhorrent (which it is) can vent their spleen on a scapegoat. We do the same to the Kurds, hurling rhetorical thunderbolts at them, when they are merely pawns of the US government pursuing a project of empire-building. Jeremy Corbyn, the British Labour Party leader, has seen through the misdirection, declaring that it is the West, not the Saudis, who are ‘directing the war’ in Yemen. [31]

It would profit us to heed the words of Ibrahim Al-Amin, who, on the occasion of the White House recognizing Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as the capital of Israel, asked Arabs whether it wasn’t time to realize that the United States is the origin of all that plagues them. Let us leave ‘Israel’ aside, he counseled. “Whatever is said about its power, superiority and preparation, it is but an America-British colony that cannot live a day without the protection, care and blind support of the West.” [32] The same can be said of the Saudi monarchy and the SDF.

I leave the last word to the Syrian government, whose voice is hardly ever heard above the din of Western war propaganda. The invasion and occupation of eastern Syria is “a blatant interference, a flagrant violation of [the] UN Charter’s principles…an unjustified aggression on the sovereignty and independence of Syria.” [33] None of this is controversial. For his part, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has pointed out incontestably that foreign troops in Syria “without our invitation or consultation or permission…are invaders.” It is time the US invasion and occupation of Syria—illegal, anti-democratic, plunderous, and a project of recolonization—was recognized, opposed, and ended. There is far more to Washington’s long war on Syria than Al Qaeda, the White Helmets and the Kurds. As significant as these forces are, the threat they pose to the Syrian center of opposition to foreign tyranny has been surpassed by a more formidable challenge—the war’s escalation into a US military and diplomatic occupation accompanied by direct US military confrontation with the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.

1. Neil MacFarquhar, ‘Russia’s greatest problem in Syria: It’s ally president Assad,’ The New York Times, March 8, 2018.
2. Anne Barnard, “US-backed force could cement a Kurdish enclave in Syria,” The New York Times, January 16, 2018; Domenico Losurdo, “Crisis in the Imperialist World Order,” Revista Opera, March 2, 2018.
3. Gardiner Harris, “Tillerson says US troops to stay in Syria beyond battle with ISIS, The New York Times, January 17, 2018.
4. Robert Fisk, “The next Kurdish war is on the horizon—Turkey and Syria will never allow it to create a mini-state,” The Independent, January 18, 2018.
5. Aaron Stein, “Turkey’s Afrin offensive and America’s future in Syria: Why Washington should be eying the exit,” Foreign Affairs, January 23, 2018.
6. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017.
7. Andrew deGrandpre, “A top US general just said 4,000 American troops are in Syria. The Pentagon says there are only 500,” the Washington Post, October 31, 2017.
8. John Ismay, “US says 2,000 troops are in Syria, a fourfold increase,” The New York Times, December 6, 2017; Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017).
9. Dion Nissenbaum, “Map said to show locations of US forces in Syria published in Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2017.
10. Michael R. Gordon, “In a desperate Syrian city, a test of Trump’s policies,” The New York Times, July 1, 2017.
11. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to send more diplomats and personnel to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2017.
12. Dion Nissenbaum, “US moves to halt Turkey’s drift toward Iran and Russia,” the Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2018.
13. Nancy A. Yousef, “Some US-backed Syrian fighters leave ISIS battle to counter Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2018.
14. Yaroslav Trofimov, “In Syria, new conflict looms as ISIS loses ground,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2017.
15. Gregory Shupak, “Media erase US role in Syria’s misery, call for US to inflict more misery,” FAIR.org, March 7, 2018.
16. Trofimov, September 7, 2017.
17. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.
18. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.
19. Abdulrahim and Adnan, November 3, 2018.
20. Raja Abdulrahim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tension rise,” the Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018.
21. Joshua Landis, “US policy toward the Levant, Kurds and Turkey,” Syria Comment, January 15, 2018.
22. Yaroslav Trofimov, “As alliances shift, Syria’s tangle of war grows more dangerous,” The Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2018.
23. Raja Abdulralhim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tensions rise,” The Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018; Nancy A. Yousef and Thomas Grove, “Russians among those killed in US airstrike is eastern Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2018.
24. Yousef and Grove, February 13, 2018.
25. Charlie Savage, “US says troops can stay in Syria without new authorization,” The New York Times, February 22, 2018.
26. Savage, February 22, 2018.
27. Stephen Gowans. Washington’s Long War on Syria. Baraka Books. 20017. Pp. 149-150.
28. DIA document leaked to Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation, which promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.
http://www.judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf
29. Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, “Quiet support for Saudis entangles U.S. in Yemen,” The New York Times, March 13, 2016.
30. Stephen Gowans, “The US-Led War on Yemen, what’s left, November 6, 2017.
31. William James, “May defends Saudi ties as Crown Prince gets royal welcome in London,” Reuters, March 7, 2018.
32. Ibrahim Al-Amin, “Either America or Al-Quds,” Alahednews, December 8, 2017.
33. Syria condemns presence of French and German special forces in Ain al-Arab and Manbij as overt unjustified aggression on Syria’s sovereignty and independence, SANA, June 15, 2016.

Written by what's left

March 11, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Posted in Syria

The US-Led War on Yemen

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

November 6, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did the Houthis want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by what's left

November 6, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Yemen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming in 2018 from Baraka Books.

Written by what's left

September 15, 2017 at 11:35 pm

Posted in DPRK, north Korea, south Korea

Tagged with

The Myth of the Kurdish YPG’s Moral Excellence

July 11, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

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

If the ISO existed in 1865.

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

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

Kurds in Syria

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

The PKK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

A Deal with Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tip of the US Spear

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

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

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

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

Ethnic Cleansing

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

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

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

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

Neither Syrian nor Democratic

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

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

A De Facto (and Illegal) No Fly Zone

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

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

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

An Astigmatic Analogy

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

7. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

8. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

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

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

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

12. Seale, August 2, 2012.

13. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

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

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

16. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

17. Dagher, November 12, 2014.

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

19. Seale, August 2, 2012.

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

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

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

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

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

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

26. Nissenbaum et al, May 9, 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 11, 2017 at 1:46 am

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

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

July 5, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by what's left

July 5, 2017 at 11:03 pm

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

April 30, 2017

By Stephen Gowans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Norman Bethune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Kelly

6. Kelly

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

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

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

10. Baer, p. 193

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

12. Bethune

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

14. Bethune

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

Written by what's left

April 30, 2017 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Syria

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