Archive for the ‘US foreign policy’ Category

Wikileaks: don´t believe all the hype

July 27, 2010

The publication by Wikileaks of 91.000 ducuments on the Afghanwar has attracted a large amount of attention. Of course, the US national security establishment did’nt like the leaking and publishing of intelligence reports. On the other hand, some people consider the publication as verrrry, verrry important in exposing the horrors of this war that is endlessly and destructively dragging on. The first reaction can be understood, from their enemy perspective. The second reaction is a bit strange.

First, the official reaction. “The US government criticized the publication of the material and said it could threaten national security.” Well, of course! Governments do not like the publishing of their cherished state secrets. They prefer to plan and execute their criminal wars in secret. Otherwise, people might start asking questions and raising objections. The government’s fear is our hope: long live the leaking of state secrets!

And what about national security? The more secure ther national state, the less secure the people living under the mighty arms of that state, whether they be Afghan people or American people or anyone else. If state security is harmed by the leaking of documents, I am all in favor of that. The fact that military or intelligence personnel may be at risk by publication of intelligence reports is, well, bad luck. It is part of the professional risk of complicity in criminal wars. If Obama is truly concerned with the safety of these people, he should withdraw US military and intelligence forces from Afghanistan and stop the US war there.

But what of the docuements itself? From what I see in reports – a useful summary of which can be found in The Guardian – it basically says what anybody following this war already kne, only a bit more so. The war is not being won by the West, the Taliban gets stronger, Western forces killing civilians  and covering up the killing only adds to popular resentment and to Taliban support, Pakistan intelligence helps the Taliban,  unmanned drones kill people by the score. Things like that are hardly news. The Wikileak reports show that all this has been going on, somewhat more so than we already knew. Any qualitative news here? Not really. Chris Floyd makes that point in his usual excellent way on his blog Empire Burlesque, and I agree.

Floyd makes another point: some of the content of the leaked reports can be quite useful for the US military and national security establishent. That is especially true for reports blaming Iran for supporting the Taliban. The whole thing is, als Floyd sarcastically explains, not very logical. The Shia regime in Iran is not exactly good friends with the Sunni Taliban, whicht makes the idea of close cooperation somewhat weird. Then again, Taliban and Iran have an opponent in common: the US empire waging war in Afghanistan and pushiong for war against Iran. Some tactical cooperation betweet Taliban or related factions in Afghanistan and forces within the Iran regime cannnot be entirely excluded.

But there is another problem here that Floyd also points to. Journalists and others tend to treat the Wikileak reports as hard, factual evidence of what is happening there. It is not. Soldiers or intelligence officers reporting to superiors of colleagues, how reliable is that? Sometimes, such people will tell what they have seen. Sometimes they will tell what they think superiors want to hear. How can we know which is the case in this report, or that? Even less convincing are reports on conferences between functionaries. They may show what these functionaries think is going on, and what they would like to be done and so on. But there is, for the readers, no clear way of telling what is truth, what is deception, what is self-deception, and what is sheer illusion. We know how ‘intelligence’ reporting worked in the running-up to the Iraq war. Floyd’s suggestion that the leaks may have something to do with preparing a similar war of aggression against Iran should be taken seriously.

What of the Pakistan connection to the Taliban? That has not been exactly the biggest secret in recent months and years. But here, also, caution is in order. Juan Cole gives space on his weblog to Brian Cloughly, who thinks substantial Pakistani support to the Taliban unlikely. His reasoning goes like this: if the US supports Pakistan, which supports Taliban fighters killing US and Pakistan soldiers, this would amount to treason. Than t cannot be, so Pakistan does not support the Taliban in a substantioal way. This reasoning is not very convincing: sometimes these kind of ‘treasonous’ things do sometimes happen, however distasteful it may be in Cloughley’s eyes.

Be that as it may, the highlighting of the Pakistan-Taliban-link can also be useful for parts of the national security elite, the  war planners in Washington. Just as with the Iran link, it strenghens the idea that resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan is not homegrown, but mostly a product of outside agitators, foreignd meddling – against the biggest foreign meddler of all, the US itself. If only the outside interference would stop, the US could manage its Afghan troubles without too much trouble.

This is an illusion: resistance in Afghanistan has local roots and reasons. It is not, in essence, a product of Pakistan and Iran. It is most of all a reaction to what the US itself is doing there: occupying a country and oppressing its inhabitants. But it is a useful illusion for the powers-that-be desperately seeking a way to, wel not to winning the war, but at least not openly losing it. Arm-twisting Pakistan and intimidating, possibly attacking, Iran, just might do – so some folks in high places perobably hope – what 150.000 Western soldiers in Afghanistan are manifestly failing to do: crushing an Afghan insurgency growing stronger and stronger.

The Wikileaks documents may show something of the horrors of this endless war. But parts of its contents can also contribute in the preparation of even bigger wars. We should applaud the fact of the leaking: there can never be enough openness, there is no such thing as a legitimate state secret. But we should not take a single word in it at face value. There are lies, there are big lies – and then there is intelligence reporting.


Obama and the continuity of war crimes

June 26, 2010

Change you can belive in, yes indeed! We are at the end of a week in which continuity, not change, was the name of the Obama game. Continuity in war and in war crimes, that is.

Firsdt, we had the high-profile quarrel about general McChristal, ending in his dismissal as commander of the Western troops in Afghanistan. The general and his aides had made a number of unflattering remarks about president Obama and high civilian officials in his administration. Rolling Stone magazine published them in a profile of the general, written with his cooperation. This was – so the liberal commentarocracy commented – insubordination, contempt for civilian elected leadership, and so on and on. The general had to go.

Of course,  this is hardly cause for relief. There goes the general, but the war remains. And the president insisted:  there will not be a change in strategy. “This is a change in personnel, not in policy. We will not miss a beat because of the change of command in the Afghan theatre.” Thus spoke the President of Change. The new Afghan commander? General Petraeus, (in)famous for his presumed ‘successes’ in the Iraq ‘theatre’, ‘successes’ on which Juan Cole has some interesting observations. By the way, you see, war is played out in ‘theatres’, these days. There is no bloodier busines than this bloody show business. 

Yes, much more can be said about the fall of the general. It says something about relationship between civilian and military authorities, about the way power is working in high circles, and about the impasse in which America’s war inm Afghanistan has landed. But that is for another place and time. For now, I’ll just quote Arthur Silber, from one of his perceptive pieces on his weblog: “I don’t give a glimmer of a shadow of the faintest damn about the outcome of incidents of this kind, because the major participants are all war criminals.” The whole article, in which he explains why he is saying this, is well worth reading.

The poor general had barely left the scene when another  highly symbolic announcement attracted some attention. Guantanamo Bay wil stay, for much longer than Obama promised. Remember the promise? He would close that concentration camp, that symbol of the horrors of the so-calles War on Terror, that place with cages for human beings, from which stories of mistreatment and outright torture dripped like blood from the bodies of its prisoners.

Within a few mothns after becoming president, Obama let go of his own deadline, after resistance from Congress. And now, we read in the New York Times: “Stymied by political opposition and focused on other priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.” THe NY Times bases this conclusion on what priminent senators, presumably with inside knowledge, are saying.

Changing priorities, resistance age against policies, that is the story. Let’s just say this. Committing new and continuing crimes seems to be a much higher priority for Obama than ending earlier, but still ongoing, crimes. Where’s the change in that?

Shock Doctrine: a review

June 19, 2010

This Saturday evening, I went to see “The Shock Doctrine”, here in the Filmfoyer in Tilburg (1), a documentary based on Naomi Klein’s book of the same title. It was a worthwhile experience. The move is a clear exposition of how the neoliberal version of capitalism came to dominate many parts of the world, the harm this capitalism is doing, and both the possibility and the necessity of resistance.

The story is built around a lecture Naomi Klein is giving. We see her speak clearly, for a short while. Then we are taken out of the lectuere hall, to be shown the realities that illustrate her story. These realities – footage of psychological experiments, coup détats, wars, enonomic disasters, with explanatory comments – take up the bulk of the film. But again and again we are taken back to the lecture hall, and in this way we are reminded of the the function of all the footage: illustrating the talk by Naomi Klein, the argument she is making.

The first episode is about medical-psychological experiments in the US, later taken over by the CIA: people are made into a kind of mental blank, which makes it possible fo fill the mind with an endlessly repeated message. We see one of the victims of this shock treatment, for this is literally what it is. This is, as it were, the metaphoric message of the whole movie: you shock people into accepting things they would not otherwise tolerate.

Then we get to the essence of the movie: neoliberal economics conquers the world. Enter Milton Friedman, economist, an outsider in the Fifties, with his strange message of privatisation, free markets, dismantling state protection. However, his kind of policies came to dominate many parts of the world. The way that happened is a road full of violence.

For instance, violence in Chili. There, social protections became part of society during the sixties of the twentieth century. A left wing government was elected into office in 1970. The US government did not like it, a military coup ubnder Pinochet took over, torture an death were imposed upon people who resisted, trade unionists, leftists. What policies were imposed by the new gevernment? Naked neoliberalism, leading to more poverty and unemployment. Who advised the government? Milton Friedman and people who had been his students. A similar military victory for neoloberalism happened in Argentine. In Britain and the US, similar economic policies were imposed by right wing giocvernments under Thatcher and Reagan.  We see vivid pictures of the resistance Thatcher’s government provoked in Britain. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially Russia became the victom of a ferocious experiment in imposed l neoliberal free market fundamentalist policies.

Again and again we are made aware of how a shock – military couop, in Thatcher’s case a war with Argentine about the Falklands – waused to shock the popular tion, after which a new dose of neolobaralism follows. The same happened in 2001 after nine- eleven, the terror attacks. Wars against Afghanistan and Iraq followed. In Iraq, the US occupation impsed far-going privatisation, war profiteering through contractors, the dismantling of large parts of the state and the civil service. The shock of war was followed by the ‘therapy’ of neoliberalism. Then there was ther tsunami in Asia, and the hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, used in a similar way: Sri Lankan people preventing afterwards to return to their places of living on the coast, to make room for luctrative sale of coastal areas, for instance.

Ans so it went, again and again. But Klein leaves us with messages of hope. Near the end of the movie, the women hathat endured the shock experiments in the Fifties, was shown again. W She had forced the government to recogbnise the wrong that she had to suffer. A small but significant, of which she was righly proud.

The end of the movie was significant as well. Klein told an anecdote about president Roosevelt – whole New Deal was part of the trend to welfare capitalism which later was replaced by the neoliberal victories . She told how a progressive gropup once visited Roosevelt and made a proposal. The president listened, and then said, in essence: “Now go home, and force me to do it.” She mentioned how many strikes there were in the year 1937, under Roosevelts presidency: a good way to indeed forcefully bringing about change. The message: things change if we don’t wait for politicians, but move ourselves, take action, and  make things change. The movie ended with sounds of what must have been a large demonstration. The slogans were audible. I heard the familiar : “A-Anti-Anticapitalista!”

The move leaves a strong impression, and is well worth watching. This review does onluy mention parts of the threads Klein is weaving to make her argument. There are weaknesses in her analysis, however. I think Klein is a bit too positive about the welfare capitalism that went before neolaiberal capitalism, too positive for instance about Roosevelt and his New Deal, and maybe even under the illusion that we should return to something like that. I think we deserve better.

Her sketch of the dominance of neoliberalism is clear, but her explanation is not totally convincing. She makes it seem as if the victory of neoliberal doctrines, its march from a small currency in economic science to dominant ideology from Britain to Chile, is a product of clever peoplen in high places conspiring cvery affectively. There is, however, much more to in than that. At the root of it is the fact that the economic model of the Fifties – let’s call it welfare capitalism – suited the capitalist class very well in those years. Relatively high wages and a system of sopcial benefits meant hign consumtion, high sales and high profits. This was well worth the relatively high taxes and relatively strong trade unions that came along with it, as far as most capitalists were concerned .

However, this system entered into crisis of profitali bility, partly because of overproduction and unsaleable products, partly because the working class became to strong. Capitalist circles were in need for a restructuring of the economy that weakened the working class and restored profits. Neoliberalism offered a way to do it. That is why a doctrine that was marginal in 1951 became hegemonous from the seventies onwards. This is the kind of background that is needed to understand the shift that Klein sketches in the, otherwise very valuable, documentary “The Shock Doctrine”.

(1). Thanks, Riekie and Ardin, for taking me along 🙂

Remembering the Kent State killings

May 4, 2010

On May 4, exactly 40 years ago today,  soldiers of the National Guard shot and killed  four students protesting the invasion of Cambodia. With that invasion, president Nixon escalated the Vietnam War. That was on April 30.

After that invasion, protests broke out immediately. Within hours, there were people protesting on the streets. The days and weeks after that saw 4 million people in action. Universities and colleges closed down because of student strike action. High school kids protested.

Students revolted on Kent State University, Ohio. Activists burned down a recruiting centre on campus. The National Guard occupied the university. Students assembled to protest. Their number was around 4,000. Some threw rocks, some threw molotov cocktails. The days of purely peaceful protests were – after a war that dragged on and on and had already cost hundresds of thousands of Vietnamese lives, and tens of thousands of American lives as well – were gone.

Then, National Guardsman opened fire on the crowd. From a distance,  67 bullets  were fired. Four students died, two of them, on their way to class, were not even part of the protests. In the days after thisese shootings, more people got killed. On May 14, two protesters were shot dead by National Guards on Jackson State University, Mississippi. These state killings got much less publicity than theose on Kent State. The victims on Kent, you see, were white. The victims on Jackson State were black.

For days and weeks, revolt rumbled through the United States. Anger against the escalation f the war combined with anger because of the state killings. Within months, president Nixon announced that the invasion of Cambodia would end. The Vietnam war, however, dragged  on for a number of years. We should not forget the people who were murdered by the U.S. state in its effort to keep that war going against the will of a large part of the U.S population.

Based on:

Obama, or: changes we can become sick of

March 31, 2010

Are there still left wing people around who can believe in Obama’s ‘Change you can believe in’? Decision after decision had been made by Obama and his White House crew that proves theat hs presidency is becoming more dangerous and – to left-wing hopes misplaced in him – dissappointing by the day.

A few examples. Obama spoke beautiful words about climate change, how big a problem that is, and how measures to stop it are urgenty needed. Yet, today we read that “Obama has announced proposals to expand offshore il and gas exploration in a bid to reduce foreign energy dependency.” The source of the fossile fuels – whose use contributes mightily to carbon dioxine in the atmosphere, and hence to the greenhouse effect which is a source of climate change – may change, from Middle East oil to Atlantic ocean oil. The addiction to these fossile fuels  remains, the monster destabilising the climate will be fed – with Obama’s explicit consent. n this way, he hopes to get Republican support for a law to  combat… climate change! In order to save the climate, we had to destroy it…

Talking about energy and the Middle East: the U.S. drive against oil state Iran is continuing. The U.S. president has pressed for tougher UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program to be passed in a matter of weeks.” Iran is building nuclear facilities. The US claims Iran is doing that because it  is making nuclear wapons. There is no evidence for that claim.

And even if it were true, that is no reason for any aggression towards Iran. An Iranian nuclear weapons capability wuld mean that the country becomes what Pakistan, Iran, India already are: nuclear powers. Rejecting  Iran’s step in that direction,while accepting those three powers als friends and allies – it is vile hypocracy. And let us not forget that the US – that same US that Obama is pushing towards aggression  against Iran – is the one and only country that has actually used nuclear weapns – against two cities of a defeated enemy.

But – Obama fans may retort – hasn’t he finally reformed health care? Yes, he did – in an atrocious way. Millions of Americans will remain uninsured. The rest will be forced to buy expensive insurance policies which don’t even cover all costs. People on lower incomes get government subsidies for buying insurance – but these subsidies cover only part of the costs of that policies. No full coverage, rising expenses for people, money going from government to insurnce companies through the subsidies people get for buying insurance….

It is a bad deal. If yo don’t take my word for it, maybe Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, one of the founders of Physicians for a National Health programme, can convince you. Or maybe the statement of that organisation itself, will.

If all this is not quite enough,  you might uesefully check out Chris FLoyd’s beautiful blog, Empire Burlesque. He write article after article attacking the Obama myth with facts, figures and quotes. Enlightening stuff.

War threats against Iran: time to act now

July 31, 2008

There is a serious danger of a new and even bigger war in the Middle East. US and Israeli war threats against Iran have bene going on and on. The excuse: the nuclear program of the Iranian regime. The real reason: rain is the only big and oil-rich state in the Middle East that does not abide by the American-imposed rules, does nog accept Amercan hegemony. For that reason, American rulers and strategic planners and their Israeli sidekicks consider Iran a threat that must be brought to heel. That is way they prepare a wave of bombing raids on Iran.

In recent weeks, the war threat seems to be receding just a little bit. Mike Mullen, Chief of Staff of the US military, is not too keen on war: “I’m fighting wo wars and I don’s need a third one”, he has been quoted as saying. (Paul Rogers, “Iran, Israel and the risk of war”, OpenDemocracy, 24 July). The threat of serious resistance in the whole region, and of Iranian closure of the Street of Hormuz, through which a large part of Middle Easter oil moves to their destination, may giove the war planners second thoughts. Oil prices, already rising, may only explode even further if war with Iran comes.

Some commentators conclude from these factors that war with Iran is becoming somewhat less likely. Tom Engelhardt, a few weeks ago, says of those that push for war: “It’s a reasonable proposition today – as it wasn’t perhaps a year ago – thast, whatever their desires, they will not, in the end, be able to to launch an attack on Iran; that, even where there’s a will, there may not be a way.” But we cannot be sure. As he himselrff admits: “for the maddest  gamblers an dystopian dreamers in our history, never say never.” Richard Seymour, of Lenin’s Tomb, agrees with that last sentence after explaining why he is not convinced that hig oil prices and the prospect of spreading chaos will be enough to convince the war mongers that they better think twice. “I’m not saying they’re going to do it, because how in the hell would I know, but can you  really put it past them?”

For the moment, I tend to side with Tom Engelhardt here, but only partially. The threat of war may be receding – just a little bit. And  this is no reason to sit back and just relax. A receding threat is still a threat, and it can start growing again any minute.

To prevent that – and make it as hard as possible for the US and Israelis leaderships to start this new war of aggression – peace movement people have to move, to act. The price that agressors have to pay must be driven even higher that the price of oil. How? By threatening turmoil in the streets. By mobilising for an explosion of protest – now. The war people should not be in any doubt that their law and their order will not be safe when they start lawlessly spreading diorder from the skies above Tehran.

Activists and their organisations should me make ait clear beyond any doubt: the fiirst bomb – either American or Israeli – on Iran, wil be answered by organised prorotest and resistence. They attack Iran? We will put every American or Israeli embassy, every American and Israeli consulate or other diplomatic mission, under a siege by demonstrators, as soon as the bombs start falling. And we will announce our intention to do so from now on, and start planning for such actions.

And we will take to the streets in every city of every  ally of the US and Israeli state. This obviously includes the country that I live in myself, the Netherlands, a state that is disgustingly loyal to the US empire. We should demand of the governments of these allies : no support for the US/Israeli war drive against Iran, whether through sanctions, or theruogh miltary, logistical or economic support to this next war. An attack on Iran is the start of a war of agression, in other words: a major war crime. We should not let them get their way.