The Chinese Uyghur Dark Legend and Washington’s Campaign to Counter Chinese Economic Rivalry

October 25, 2020

Dig below the surface of the allegations that Beijing is abusing its Muslim population, and you won’t find concentration camps and genocide, but a US-led effort to create a Chinese dark legend. The roots of the demonization campaign are to be found in Washington’s desire to counter China’s challenge to US economic supremacy.

By Stephen Gowans

US presidential candidate and former vice-president Joe Biden has referred to the US empire obliquely as “the international system that the United States so carefully constructed.” The late Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo called Biden’s “international system” an “international dictatorship of the United States.” That Biden might implicitly agree with Losurdo’s characterization is evidenced by the fact that Biden referred to the US-constructed international system in a Foreign Affairs article he wrote earlier this year to argue the case for “why America must lead.” [1] (Foreign Affairs is considered the unofficial journal of the US State Department.) “Why America must lead” can also be expressed as “why every other country must follow.” Biden promised that as president he would “take immediate steps to…have America lead the world” and by implication make the rest of the world submit to US leadership. He would, in other words, defend and expand a US empire in which Washington dictates to other countries.

The carefully constructed international system to which Biden refers is, at its base, a system of international trade based on the proposition that barriers to the expansion of US economic activity are an anathema; the world economy must be Americanized.

“More than 95 percent of the world’s population lives beyond our borders,” Biden observed, and “we want to tap those markets.” To do so, Biden pledged to take “down trade barriers” and resist foreign “protectionism” and ensure that the United States writes the “rules that govern trade”. When “American businesses compete on a fair playing field, they win,” boasted Biden. One can’t help but think there’s a certain “tails I win, heads you loose” circularity in Biden’s reasoning. Is a fair playing field defined as one on which US businesses win, and is it unfair, by definition, if US businesses lose?

But what if part of the 95 percent of the world’s population that lives beyond US borders doesn’t care to share its markets with US investors and corporations? Are they to be permitted the liberty to decide how to organize their own economies? And what if they’re willing to open their markets, but only on terms suitable to their own requirements? Is there a reason, beyond the self-interest of corporate USA, why a country tilting the playing field to favor its own enterprises, is wrong?

In a world led by the United States, economic sovereignty—except for that of the United States—is verboten. The international dictatorship of the United States makes two demands of the world: First, the economic playing field must be global; no country can opt out. Second, the playing field must allow US businesses to win; it can’t be tilted to achieve a country’s legitimate public policy objectives—not, for example, full employment, or overcoming a historical legacy of underdevelopment.  

While China has agreed to the first demand, it has rejected the dictatorship’s second. “If China has its way,’ Biden warned, it will continue to use “subsidies to give its state-owned enterprises … a leg up.” It could, by this means, end up “dominating the technologies and industries of the future.”  And, from the point of view of the US ruling class, Beijing’s realization of this possibility must be prevented.

US free enterprise, of course, has long had a leg up in international markets. Over more than two centuries, US land speculators, slave-owners, manufacturers, and financiers grew immensely wealthy, by the plunder of the first Americans, centuries of chattel slavery, and years of expanding colonialism, both veiled and overt. Their wealth came at the expense—indeed, from the labor—of the people and countries they exploited, plundered, and held down. Having accumulated a rich storehouse of capital, corporate USA is in a position to win whatever economic contest is conducted on a “fair” playing field (one on which it wins.) Is it any wonder, then, that “tapping the world’s markets” and “fair playing fields”—the guarantors of continued US domination and wealth-accumulation—are the foundations of US trade and investment policy? 

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then so too is fairness. The “fair trader” Joe Biden, who demands the permanent opening of all foreign markets to US businesses, and the prohibition of state subsidies and assistance to foreign firms, is prepared, if he wins the presidency, to introduce “an ambitious ‘Buy American’ proposal that would earmark more federal funds for U.S. companies.” [2] This hardly sounds fair to foreign firms competing in the US market.

Biden’s proposed Buy American program would complement numerous state subsidies Washington showers upon US businesses.  “In 2004, the U.S. took European countries to the WTO over subsidies to Airbus, and Europe responded soon after with a case against U.S. support for Boeing. WTO rulings since then have found that both sides provided prohibited subsidies.” [3]

On another front, the U.S. Energy Department spends “over $6.5 billion a year on research in the basic sciences,” more than any other country. US government-conducted basic research finds its way into tomorrow’s technologies, to be sold by US firms for private gain. [4] The same firms that benefit from Uncle Sam’s largesse will sing paeans to their ingenuity and inventiveness, while concealing the swindle that their role has been limited to privatizing the ingenuity and inventiveness of government scientists on the public payroll.

And then there’s 5G, robotics, and artificial intelligence, the so-called industries of the future, which China has said it wants to dominate, to the alarm of Washington. Any move to dominate these industries would be unfair to corporate USA, Washington contends. And so, the United States fights back with its own subsidies and government-financed R&D, while thundering sanctimoniously against Beijing’s assistance to China’s state-owned enterprises. “Through the AI Next campaign, a next-generation AI research project by the Defense Department-affiliated Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the US has been pursuing government-led R&D on areas such as AI and heterogeneous chip stacking and integration and neuromorphic chips,” reports the South Korean newspaper, The Hankyoreh. [5] Meanwhile, “Biden aides say they would expand the American-government-backed campaign to compete in strategic high-tech sectors such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and the next-generation 5G wireless standard”. [6] At the same time, Biden, along with Trump and his cabinet, US business lobbies, and The Wall Street Journal, grouse about the Chinese government doing the same.

The hypocrisy of fulminating against Beijing lavishing subsidies and assistance on state-owned enterprises while Washington heaps public subsidies on privately-owned US enterprises, goes largely unmentioned in public discourse. Instead, the backlash against China’s refusal to accept the international dictatorship’s demand that it place the profit-making interests of US firms first, and return to its assigned role as a source of cheap labor for US manufacturers and a vast market for US goods and services, uncontested by Chinese competitors, is waged in another domain: that of human rights.

“The most effective way to meet” the “challenge” of China getting “a leg up on dominating the technologies and industries of the future” is “to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations,” Biden argued. If he had said that Chinese human rights violations in their own right merit a campaign to confront Beijing, the sincerity of his entreaty might, for a brief moment, appear to have an iota of credibility. But he didn’t say that China ought to be confronted because it has engaged in human rights abuses; he said that confronting China over human rights is an effective way to deal with China as an economic rival. In other words, human rights are to be treated as an instrument to protect and promote the profit-making interests of corporate USA, not as ends in themselves. In this is revealed the origin of US-directed campaigns to create a Chinese dark legend based on Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses in Hong Kong, the former British colony, and Xinjiang, the autonomous region in northwestern China, which is home to dozens of minorities, including the largely Muslim Uygurs.

The United States and its Western allies have accused Beijing of locking up Uygurs in concentration camps and seeking their destruction as a people, in a campaign spearheaded by a fanatical anti-communist crackpot, Adrian Zenz, who believes a supernatural being has given him a mission to destroy Communist China. [7] The campaign is funded by a US government foundation whose first president, the historian Allen Weinstein, confessed to The Washington Post that  ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’.” The CIA has a long history of trying to destabilize foreign governments that aren’t sufficiently accommodating of US free enterprise. [8] Under pressure by the Church Committee, a US Senate select committee that investigated abuses by the CIA and other US governmental agencies, the CIA spun off part of its destabilization apparatus to an organization that would work openly under the banner of democracy promotion. It is called the National Endowment for Democracy, a major source of funding for activists involved in confronting China over human rights.

The United States is not a credible interlocuter on either human rights or democracy promotion. Its retinue of allies is littered with despots who unabashedly reject democracy and oppress their people, but buy US weapons, preside over friendly foreign investment climates, and accept that the United States must lead the world. As one of numerous examples of tyrants who count themselves as valued US allies, consider Mohammad bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates.

Doted on by Washington, MBZ, as he is known, “has long argued that the Arab world is not ready for democracy.” [9] In place of democracy, he favors a socially liberal autocracy. [10] MBZ  is so vehemently opposed to even the mildest campaign for suffrage, that last year, he arrested “five activists for organizing a petition for democratic reforms (signed by only 132 people).” He crushes dissent, observed The New York Times. [11]

Will Biden urge the self-professed human rights champion and democracy promoting US government to confront MBZ, as it is confronting China? Of course not. MBZ obediently does what foreign rulers are supposed to do under “the international system that the United States so carefully constructed”, namely,  promote US economic and strategic interests, and he is able to do so precisely because he denies Emeritis the suffrage they seek. If Washington demanded its allies free their people to organize their economies and politics as they see fit, and not as Washington does, the US empire would immediately collapse. The international dictatorship is based on servitude, not democracy. Indeed, the entire notion that the United States must lead the world is anti-democratic to its core.

The UAE, then, is a perfect example of how the US empire is based on the creation of an Americanized world without borders. The emirate is an extension of the Pentagon, CIA, and US economy. Any notion of a genuine, meaningful, sovereignty is illusory.  (China is neither an extension of the Pentagon or the CIA, and, while its economy is partly integrated with that of the United States, it is also its key economic competitor.)

MBZ “has recruited American commanders to run his military and former spies to set up his intelligence services.” Before becoming secretary of defense, Jim Mattis worked as an unpaid advisor; at the time, he was a board member of General Dynamics, which did extensive business with the UAE. [12]

“Prince Mohammed hired a company linked to Erik Prince, the founder of the” US mercenary outfit formerly known as Blackwater, “to create a force of Colombian, South African and other” soldiers for hire. [13] The “800-member battalion”, assembled at a cost of $529 million, includes among its missions the suppression of “internal revolts”. [14]  The Emeriti population objects to being tyrannized by an aristocrat who asserts that Emeratis are ill-suited to democracy owing to their lack “of education” and “backward religious attitudes”. [15]

From 2006 to 2010, the UAE filled the coffers of the US arms industry with proceeds from the purchase of 80 F-16 fighters and 30 Apache helicopters. [16] Last year, the country entered into a deal with the Trump administration to buy a further $8 billion worth of US weapons. [17] Investors in the US arms industry smiled. MBZ is clamoring to buy a fleet of F-35s, which Israel has agreed to waive its objection to, in exchange for Washington supplying Tel Aviv with even more advanced weaponry than it supplies the UAE, in order to maintain its Congress-mandated QME—qualitive military edge over all other countries in the region. US arms industry investors smiled with ever greater pleasure. The so-called Abraham Accords, the formalization of the informal anti-Iran, anti-Syria, anti-Hezbollah alliance between Israel and Washington’s veiled colonies in the Arab world, is proving to be a boon for shareholders with interests in US arms companies.

“The United Arab Emirates began allowing American forces to operate from bases inside the country during the Persian Gulf war of 1991. Since then, the prince’s commandos and air forces have been deployed with the Americans in Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan and Libya, as well as against the Islamic State.” [18] MBZ has also paid for jihadists to wage war against the Syrian government. The UAE is home to 5,000 US troops. [19]

As The New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick wrote, “To many in Washington, Prince Mohammed” has “become America’s best friend in the region, a dutiful partner who” can “be counted on for tasks from countering Iranian influence in Lebanon to funding construction in Iraq.” It is well known that if you need something done in West Asia, the Emiratis will do it. [20]

The Heritage Fund/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom—which measures the degree to which countries cater to US free enterprise—ranks the UAE as the freest (the most US investor-friendly) country in the Arab world, and the 18th freest in the world. (China, in contrast, is ranked 103rd.) Kirkpatrick’s colleague, Robert Worth, likens the U.A.E. to “a hyper-capitalist slave colony” [21]—just the kind of place business-connected US politicians and state officials can love. Is it any surprise, then, that they turn a blind eye to MBZ’s crushing of even the mildest petition for suffrage?  

This, then, is the record of a valued US ally. Not the slightest censure of the UAE passes the lips of even the most muscular of self-declared human rights champions and democracy promoters among US politicians and officials.

But we don’t have to scrutinize the records of Washington’s valued allies to recognize that the US commitment to human rights and democracy is a sham. The United States’ own record shows the country’s self-professed leadership on the question of human rights is the acme of hypocrisy. Indeed, the gulf between US rhetoric and US reality is so wide that Stalin’s observation that the US view of itself is the exact opposite of its record [22] can hardly be contested.

Limiting consideration to the US war on Al Qaeda and allied Islamists who challenged US domination of the Arab world, consider the following:

  • The US invasion of Iraq, by itself, is a gross human rights violation and assault on democracy. (Democracy does not consist of coercing others to organize their economies and politics to suit US goals.)
  • Abu Ghraib, the US prison in occupied Iraq, at which US military and CIA personnel committed a litany of vile abuses against prisoners, including torture, beatings, sexual assault, rape, indecencies against dead bodies, and murder. [23]
  • Guantanamo Bay, the prison on US-occupied Cuban soil, in which militants who have fought against veiled US colonialism in the Arab world have been subject since 2002 to torture under a regime of indefinite detention.
  • In 2009, US General Barry McCaffrey admitted, “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.” [24] In fact, 100 prisoners or more were tortured to death by US thugs. [25] Former US president Barak Obama offered an anodyne description: “We tortured some folks,” he said. [26]
  • Obama ended the detention and torture of Islamist militants, in favor of deploying the presidency’s unaccountable army, the CIA, to assassinate Islamist militants by means of drone strikes. The definition of an eligible target was expanded to include all military age males in whatever zone the CIA chose to strike. [27]
  • The US invasion of Syria, under the pretext of fighting ISIS, apart from being an assault on human rights and democracy, is a flagrant violation of international law—revealing Washington’s commitment to ‘the rule of law’ to be yet another case of US mendacity. The truth is that the class of laws the US ruling class follows is whatever law in the moment happens to serve its interests; otherwise, “the rule of law” is ignored.
  • US president Donald Trump admitted that US troops are in Syria for one reason: not to fight ISIS, but to plunder Syria’s oil fields; [28] US special representative to Syria, James Jeffrey, revealed that the US goal is to impose a level of control over Syria commensurate with the control Washington had over Japan at the end of the Second World War; [29] the United States had planned a full scale invasion of Syria in 2003, as a complement to the invasion of Iraq, but abandoned its plan after the occupation of Iraq presented unanticipated challenges. [30]

Amnesty International summed up US human rights abuses against Muslims as follows:

  • “People have been held for years at the Guantánamo detention camp in Cuba without even being charged with a crime. Prisoners have been tortured and mistreated, and they are not given fair trials.
  • “Surveillance and targeting of Muslims – based on who they are, not what they’ve done – has fueled harassment, discrimination, and violence.
  • “For years, the U.S. government allowed officials to torture people through horrific techniques that violate U.S. and international law. President Trump has vowed to expand the use of torture even further in the years ahead.” [31]

These abuses are mechanically acknowledged by US officials and US media and then quickly forgotten. They fade from the public mind because the golden legend of fundamental US benevolence is carefully and unremittingly cultivated by US politicians, US mass media, and US schools, until it crowds out all inconsistent data. Even the acknowledgement of US abuses is carried out within the framework of the golden legend. Torture, invasion, occupation, rape, physical abuse, colonialism, arbitrary detention, assassination, chattel slavery, despoliation of the first Americans—these actions and institutions never reflect “who we are as a nation,” but are said to be aberrations or mistakes made with the best of intentions. According to this carefully nurtured mass deception, the United States is forever “the beacon on the hill,” no matter what it does; the golden legend can never be tarnished, for it is impervious to experience, invulnerable to reality.  One contribution to the strengthening of the golden legend is the claim made with astounding boldness that fundamental US benevolence is evinced by the abolition of slavery! Reparations to the descendants of the vile institution the United States allowed to flourish for four and half generations, much to the benefit of slave holders, including a number of US presidents and the country’s revered founders, would evidence a desire to correct an intolerable injustice; but it’s not on the agenda.

This is the record of a country that professes to be “a shining light on the hill” and “the world’s last best hope.” It is indeed a “shining light on the hill” for exploiters and “the world’s last best hope” for a system of exploitation that makes the labor of many the wealth of the few. But it is no emissary of a better future, no sentinel of the oppressed, and no champion of human rights, least of all those of Muslims. 

China’s Response to Radical Islam

Xinjiang, officially the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is a territory in the northwest of China with a population of 25 million. It shares borders with eight countries: Afghanistan, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia, and Tajikistan. It is home to dozens of minorities. The Uygurs – a Turkic, mainly Sunni Muslim people – constitute the largest ethnic group in Xianjang.

Xinjiang is China’s top natural gas-producing region and is an important rail and pipeline route linking China to the rest of Eurasia.

The Uyghurs have a long history of armed struggle aimed at establishing political control over a territory they regard as their homeland. In pursuit of this goal, they have operated under the banners of Islam and Turkism. Uyghur jihadists have carried out attacks on civilians for political objectives, i.e., engaged in terrorism.

In 2014:

  • Two Uighur militants staged a suicide bombing outside a train station in Urumqi, the regional capital, that injured nearly 80 people, and killed one.
  • Militants with knives went on a “rampage at another railway station, in southwest China, killing 31 people and injuring more than 140.”
  • Uyghur “assailants tossed explosives into a vegetable market in Urumqi, wounding 94 people and killing at least 39.”[32]

Five years earlier, “156 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured when angry Uighurs attacked Han civilians and battled with security forces.” [33]

Noting that some Uyghur militants had received or were likely to receive “real-war training in Syria and Afghanistan” which they might use “at any time launch terrorist attacks in Xinjiang,” [34] the Chinese government responded.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping advocated a two prong program. First, develop the economy to give Uyghurs jobs and train them in the skills they would need for employment. This would stifle unrest in Xinjiang, he argued. Second, implement educational programs to overcome religious extremism. [35] This was the rationale for developing a system of vocational training and ‘deradicalization’ detention facilities.

The detainees would include: 

1. “People … who participated in terrorist or extremist activities in circumstances that were not serious enough to constitute a crime;

2. “People who … participated in terrorist or extremist activities that posed a real danger but did not cause actual harm;

3. “People who were convicted and received prison sentences for terrorist or extremist crimes and after serving their sentences, [were] assessed as still posing a potential threat to society.” [36]

In other words, the detainees comprised Uyghurs, inspired by political Islam, who were not currently serving a sentence in the regular prison system, and were deemed to constitute a continuing terrorist threat.

The centers delivered a curriculum that included “standard spoken and written Chinese, understanding of the law, vocational skills, and deradicalization,” according to government documents. [37] Detainees were enrolled in courses on distinguishing “between lawful and unlawful religious activities,” and understanding “how religious extremism runs counter to religious doctrine,” with a view to persuading militants to renounce political Islam and violent struggle. [38]

In 2018, The Wall Street Journal described the detention program this way: “China began the mass detentions about two years ago as part of a drive to snuff out an occasionally violent Uighur separatist movement that Beijing says has links to foreign jihadists. Some Uighurs have joined Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” [39]

The United States has subjected the detention facilities to fierce criticism, but US censure represents the height of hypocrisy. Consider how the United States has dealt with violent jihadists, including Uyghurs who have joined ISIS. Rather than rehabilitating them and giving them jobs, as the Chinese have done, the United States has tortured them at CIA black sites, immured them indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, and deployed a drone strike program to assassinate them.

US hypocrisy has not been lost on the veteran foreign affairs correspondent Patrick Cockburn. It “would be naive to imagine that the sudden interest of the west in” the fate of the Uyghurs, wrote Cockburn,  “has much to do with” their cause. “President Xi Jinping has been chosen as the new demon king in the eyes of the US and its allies, his every action fresh evidence of the fiendish evil of the Chinese state.” The US criticism of Xi, Cockburn noted, amounts to “manipulation of public opinion” by calling attention to the acts of “one’s opponents and keeping very quiet about similar acts … by oneself and one’s allies.” [40]

All of this is true, except that the response of the United States to violent jihadists and that of China can hardly be called similar. The US response has been based on overwhelming violence; the Chinese response, on raising living standards and education.

That difference may explain why “the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a group of 57 nations that has been a vocal defender of the Rohingyas and Palestinians” has “praised China for ‘providing care to its Muslim citizens.’” [41] And in July, 2019, “a host of Muslim-majority nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Syria and the United Arab Emirates”, signed “a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council praising China’s governance of Xinjiang.” [42]

Compare the approval of China’s approach, to Amnesty International’s condemnation of the US approach, cited above. To repeat:

  • “People have been held for years at the Guantánamo detention camp in Cuba without even being charged with a crime. Prisoners have been tortured and mistreated, and they are not given fair trials.
  • “Surveillance and targeting of Muslims – based on who they are, not what they’ve done – has fueled harassment, discrimination, and violence.
  • “For years, the U.S. government allowed officials to torture people through horrific techniques that violate U.S. and international law. President Trump has vowed to expand the use of torture even further in the years ahead.” [43]

If the US response has been decidedly violent, the response of governments with significant Muslim populations has been similar to that of China. Egypt and the Gulf states detain jihadists and Islamist radicals and enrol them in ‘deradicalization’ programs. [44]  It is the similarity in approach to China, according to The Wall Street Journal, that accounts for why Muslim-majority countries have not censured China for its response to Islamist violence, [45] and, on the contrary, have praised China for its treatment of its Muslim population.

In contrast, China’s efforts to quell radical Islam have been described by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as Orwellian, a “gross human rights violation” and “one of the worst stains on the world of this century”. But The New York Times has observed that US “diplomats have offered only muted public criticism of” a litany of anti-Muslim abuses by the Hindu-nationalist Modi government in India. US silence on India, the newspaper noted, originates in US hostility to China. “Both the United States and India oppose … China’s Belt and Road Initiative to link the economies of Asia, Europe and Africa — and put Beijing at the center of global trade and enhance its geopolitical ambitions.” To avoid alienating the Modi government, Washington has raised no objection to Hindu-nationalist antagonization of India’s Muslim community. “We need like-minded partners,” Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said in New Delhi in August, adding that Washington needed to preserve “the vitality of the U.S.-India partnership” in order to enlist India in efforts to counter China.  [46]

Meanwhile, the actions of Paris to stifle radical Islam in France are accepted by the US government and US media with equanimity, despite their resemblance to the actions of China. French President Emmanuel Macron plans to outlaw what he calls “Islamic separatism” in communities where he says “religious laws are taking precedence over civil ones.” “Groups that practice radical forms of Islam, Mr. Macron said, were trying to create a parallel society governed by different rules and values than those espoused by the Republic.” To supress the rough equivalent of the Islamist-inspired Uyghur separatist movement, Macron is seeking the authority to “shut down associations and schools that he” claims “indoctrinate children,” while at the same time, monitoring “foreign investment in religious organizations in France.” [47]

“France’s banlieues—the working-class suburbs that ring its major cities—have become fertile recruiting grounds for Islamist groups. France was one of the West’s biggest sources of Islamic State militants when the terror group controlled swaths of Iraq and northern Syria. Hundreds of French nationals traveled to Islamic State territory, many bringing children. Others have mounted terrorist attacks in France that have killed more than 250 people over the past five years.” [48] The parallels with Islamist-inspired Uyghurs in Xianjang are obvious, though never remarked on in US media or by US officials.

Recently, “two people were seriously wounded in a knife attack near the former office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo,” [49] which should have recalled “a bomb-and-knife attack in April 2014 that rocked Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi”, [50] but in the West’s frenzy to build a Chinese dark legend, wasn’t.

Paris “has been working on a plan for years to tackle radical Islam. It recently started rolling out pilot programs in 15 different areas. Since February 2018, it has shut down 212 bars and restaurants, 15 mosques or prayer rooms, 13 associations, 11 children’s homes and four schools.” [51]

Adrian Zenz, the US-government-supported propagator of an anti-Chinese dark legend will not be leading a God-given mission to destroy Republican France over its “suppression” and “maltreatment” of its “Muslim population.” However, were France a formidable US economic competitor, refractory to the idea that the United States must lead the world and write the rules of international trade and investment (to suit the US ruling class), his indignation against Marianne may very well be aroused.

Partisans of the US effort to counter Chinese economic competition by building a dark legend as a basis for a confrontation with China on human rights have gone so far as to accuse Beijing of perpetrating a genocide against the Uyghurs. If rehabilitating jihadists is genocidal, then the Gulf states, Syria, Egypt, France, and every other country that has implemented ‘deradicalization’ programs are engaged in a genocide against their Muslim citizens. Inasmuch as the US response to radical Islam is to exterminate radical Islamists (not to rehabilitate them), a stronger case can be made that it is the United States that is perpetrating a genocide.

What’s more, if genocide means population reduction, the charges against Beijing collapse. Uyghur women are allowed to “give birth to more than one child without having to pay a fine, unlike the Han” [52]—hardly the kind of policy you would expect from a government bent on genocide. “Between 2010 and 2018, the Uyghur population in Xinjiang rose from 10.17 million to 12.71 million, up by 25 percent, a growth rate much higher than that of the Han population or the whole population of Xinjiang. There are 24,000 mosques in the region, one for every 530 Muslims,” a higher ratio than in many Muslim countries. [53]

Not only is China not perpetrating a genocide, its efforts to rehabilitate violent Islamist-inspired militants is for from the stain on humanity of Pompeo’s Goebbelsian propaganda. On the contrary, it is largely of the same stamp as the ‘deradicalization’ programs of US allies with significant Muslim populations. It is, moreover, far more defensible than the preferred US practice of dealing with radical Islam by bombing campaigns, secret torture sites, indefinite detention, assassination, illegal occupation (Syria), and predatory war (Afghanistan). US actions serve two purposes: to suppress radical Islamist challenges to US domination of the Arab and Muslim worlds; and to fill the coffers of the US ruling class with profits from arms sales.

Constructing a Chinese Uyghur dark legend also serves a US foreign policy goal, as revealed by one of the US ruling class’s most valued lieutenants, Joseph Biden. The goal is to counter China’s challenge to a future in which US investors monopolize the profit-making opportunities of tomorrow’s industries. A bipartisan article of faith is that the United States must lead the world, shared as much by Donald Trump, as Biden.  Any country that defies the international dictatorship of the United States will become the object of a campaign of vilification whose end state is the construction of a dark legend.  The US ruling class faces a formidable challenge to its international dictatorship from the Chinese Communist Party and has prepared a formidable information war, of a Goebbelsian stamp, to counter it.

1 Joseph R. Biden, “Why America Must Lead Again,” Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2020

2 Jacob M. Schlesinger, “What’s Biden’s New China Policy? It Looks a Lot Like Trump’s,” The Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2020

3 Josh Zumbrun and Daniel Michaels, “Boeing Subsidies Merit EU Tariffs on $4 Billion in U.S. Goods, WTO Rules,” The Wall Street Journal, October 13, 2020

4 Daniel Yergin, “The New Geopolitics of Energy,” The Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2020

5 S. Korea, US, China, Taiwan embroiled in fierce competition to dominate AI semiconductors, The Hankyoreh,  October13, 2020

6 Jacob M. Schlesinger, “What’s Biden’s New China Policy? It Looks a Lot Like Trump’s”, The Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2020

7 See my “Washington’s Xinjiang smear,” what’s left, January 1, 2020, https://gowans.blog/2020/01/01/washingtons-xinjiang-smear/

8 Hernando Calvo Ospina, “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique, August, 2007, https://mondediplo.com/2007/08/04ned

9  David D. Kirkpatrick, “The most powerful Arab ruler isn’t MBS, it’s MBZ,” The New York Times, June 2, 2019

10 Robert E. Worth, “Mohammed bin Zayed’s dark vision of the Middle East’s future,” The New York Times, January 9, 2020

11 Kirkpatrick, June 2, 2019

12 Kirkpatrick, June 2, 2019

13 Kirkpatrick, June 2, 2019

14 Mark Mazzetti and Emily B. Hager, “Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder,” The New York Times, March 14, 2011.

15 Robert E. Worth, “Mohammed bin Zayed’s dark vision of the Middle East’s future,” The New York Times, January 9, 2020

16 Kirkpatrick, June 2, 2019

17 Ruth Eglash and Karen DeYoung, “Peace deal or arms race? Proposed sale of F-35 jets to UAE prompts fears in Israel”, The Washington Post, September 14, 2020

18 Kirkpatrick, June 2, 2019

19 Miriam Berger, “Where US troops are in the Middle East and Afghanistan, visualized,” The Washington Post, January 4, 2019

20 Kirkpatrick,  June 2, 2019

21 Robert E. Worth, “Mohammed bin Zayed’s dark vision of the Middle East’s future,” The New York Times, January 9, 2020

22 William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, W.W. Norton & Company, 1972, p. 20

23 Seymour M. Hersh, “Chain of Command”. The New Yorker, May 17, 2004.; Mark Benjamin, “Taguba denies he’s seen abuse photos suppressed by Obama: The general told a U.K. paper about images he saw investigating Abu Ghraib – not photos Obama wants kept secret”, Salon.com, May 30, 2008 ; Seymour M. Hersh, “The general’s report: how Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties”, The New Yorker, June 25, 2007

24 Glenn Greenwald, “The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture,” Salon.com, June 30, 2009

25 Seaumus Milne, “Sending troops to protect dictators threatens all of us,” The Guardian, December 10, 2014  

26 Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland, “Obama says that after 9/11, ‘we tortured some folks’”, Reuters, August 1, 2014

27 Milne, December 10, 2014.

28 “US convoy transports stolen Syrian oil to Iraq: SANA,” Press TV,  20 September 2020

29 Patrick Cockburn, “A choice between bread and masks’: Syrians face calamity as Trump’s new sanctions combine with surging coronavirus,” The Independent, August 21, 2020

30 “Lawrence Wilkerson on Trump’s Iran aggression: same neocon lies, new target,” The Grayzone, January 7, 2020.

31 Amnesty International, NATIONAL SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTS, https://www.amnestyusa.org/issues/national-security/

32 Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley, “‘Absolutely No Mercy’: Leaked Files Expose How China Organized Mass Detentions of Muslims,” The New York Times, November 16, 2019

33 Edward Wong, “Clashes in China Shed Light on Ethnic Divide”, The New York Times, July 7, 2009

34 Ramzy and Buckley, November 16, 2019

35 Ramzy and Buckley, November 16, 2019

36 “Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang: The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China,” Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd., Beijing, China August 2019

37 “Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang: The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China,” Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd., Beijing, China August 2019

38 “Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang: The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China,” Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd., Beijing, China August 2019

39 Eva Dou, “China acknowledges re-education centers for Uighurs,” The Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2018

40 Patrick Cockburn, “The rise of nationalism has led to increased oppression of minorities around the world – but the Uighur and Kashmir are reported differently,” The Independent, August 7, 2020

41 Jane Perlez, “With pressure and persuasion, China deflects criticisms of its camps for Muslims,” The New York Times, April 8, 2019

42 Jon Emont, “How China persuaded one Muslim nation to keep silent on Xinjiang camps,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2019

43 Amnesty International, NATIONAL SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTS, https://www.amnestyusa.org/issues/national-security/

44 Jared Malsin, Corinne Ramey, and Summer Said, “ Shooting at navy base in Florida is probed as terrorism,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2019

45 Yaroslav Trofimov, “The Muslim world looks on as China persecutes its Muslims,” The Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2019

46 Lara Jakes, “Why the State Dept. has largely been muted on India’s moves against Muslims,” The New York Times, December 17, 2019

47  Noemie Bisserbe, “France’s Emmanuel Macron Targets ‘Islamic Separatism’ With Proposed Law”, The Wall Street Journal, October 2, 2020

48 Bisserbe, October 2, 2020

49 Bisserbe, October 2, 2020

50 Chun Han Wong, “Xi Says China Will Continue Efforts to Assimilate Muslims in Xinjiang”, The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 26, 2020

51. Bisserbe, October 2, 2020

52  Edward Wong, “Clashes in China Shed Light on Ethnic Divide,” The New York Times, July 7, 2009

53 Li Mengyuan, “A flawed investigation of the Uighurs”, The Washington Post, September 11, 2020

Washington’s Long War on Syria: An Update

October 22, 2020

Washington’s long war on Syria has not been kind to the country’s citizens. The war has been fought in many ways over many decades, occasionally as a hot war, mainly as a cold war, at times visible, at other times concealed, at times fought directly, at other times fought through proxies, at times pursued through military means, and often through economic measures.

The war has by no means diminished in its intensity, despite the Syrian government largely prevailing, with the assistance of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, in its struggle against foreign-sponsored jihadists.

Here are the consequences of the war for the people of Syria.

  • The economy has contracted by two-thirds since 2011 [1], the year the United States and its Western allies, along with the Turks, Saudis, Emiratis, and Qataris, assisted by the Israelis, fanned the embers of an Islamist insurgency that has burned since the 1960s into a conflagration.
  • Over 80 percent of Syrians now live below the poverty line. [2]
  • Once classified as a lower middle income country, the World Bank in 2018 reclassified Syria as a low-income country. [3]
  • According to the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, Syrians are trapped “between hunger and poverty and deprivation [created by the long war] on one side and death [from the coronavirus] on the other.” [4]
  • Food prices have increased more than 23 times over the past decade. [5]
  • The World Food Program warns of an impending famine. [6]
  • Syria’s healthcare system, once one of the finest in the region, is in disarray. The country suffers a dearth of doctors, drugs and medical equipment. [7]
  • Dams and oil fields barely function. [8]
  • Industrial areas have been completely devastated. [9]
  • Schools and hospitals lie in ruins. [10]
  • Entire neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble. [11]

Conditions are so desperate, that the lash of poverty has spurred a number of Syrians to enrol in Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s growing army of Syrian mercenaries. They fight in Libya and Azerbaijan, and in their own country, in the service of a neo-Ottoman sultan, trying to recover the old Ottoman domains. [12]

Syria badly needs to be rebuilt. But the United States and it allies have acted to ensure that reconstruction does not happen.  Having arranged the incineration of Syria, the United States intends that the country—or rather those parts of it under the control of the legitimate government—remain a heap of ashes. 

Here’s the intended future of Syria if Washington has its way. The knee of US sanctions, designed to economically suffocate, will remain on the collective neck of the Syrian people, as it remains on the collective necks of Venezuelans, North Koreans, Cubans, and Iranians, until they do what the United States demands of them, namely, clear the way for governments acceptable to Washington to come to power. 

According to The New York Times, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said “the administration will not end the pressure campaign on Mr. al-Assad and his backers unless they agree to a …. transition of power,” [13] which is to say, unless they agree that Assad will be replaced by a successor vetted and approved, but more likely hand-picked, by Washington.

To give you an idea of what kind of leader Washington might choose for Syria, a declassified 1986 CIA report prepared by the agency’s Foreign Subversion and Instability Center, expressed the view that “US interests would be best served by a Sunni regime controlled by business-oriented moderates [who] would see a strong need for Western…investment to build Syria’s private economy.” [14]

Why is Washington so keen on replacing the Syrian government?

We can answer the question if we acknowledge that the United States is a society dominated by business interests, and that those interests must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and establish connections everywhere, if they are to thrive. In contrast, the Syrian government exists not to help US investors and corporations find markets and investment opportunities, but to be responsive to the needs of Syrians. In the US view, the contradiction must be resolved: Either the Assad government serves US corporate and investor needs and the underlying US strategic interests that support them, or it exits the stage.

In the preface to the Russian edition of his book on imperialism, Lenin wrote that it was impossible to understand and appraise modern war and modern politics, without understanding the fundamental economic question, which he defined as the question of the economic essence of imperialism. [15]

Following Lenin, I’ve tried to explicate, in my book Washington’s Long War on Syria, the economic imperatives that underly the US predation. Free trade, or an open door policy, or even more descriptively, a we-need-you give policy,  is central to the story of why the United States has waged a long war on Syria. The Syrian government’s failure to open its economy to US investment and exports on US terms, and insistence on independent economic development, is the causa sine qua non of US hostility. 

In December Assad said, “We didn’t have a [neo-]liberal policy, we’re still socialist, we still have a public sector, a very big public sector.”  [16]

If you examine the United States’ list of countries whose governments must be replaced, you’ll discover that those countries all have substantial public sectors, that is, monopolies closed to the profitable investment of US capital, or which compete with US enterprises, or which restrict or narrow US profit-making opportunities.

Since the Second World War, the United States has incorporated most of West Asia into its empire, largely relying on a system of veiled colonialism, in which Washington exercises influence indirectly through local rulers, who act as de facto viceroys behind a cover of constitutional independence.  These viceroys ensure that their governments establish attractive climates for foreign investment and for the pursuit of the US strategic interests that support investor opportunities.

But one country in West Asia, over the post-war period, has not allowed itself to be integrated into the US empire; has refused to become a party to the practice of veiled colonialism: Syria. Syria is the last remaining independent Arab nationalist state dedicated to independent economic development guided by local interests rather than Wall Street demands. Today, in West Asia, only two governments, and one movement, exist independent of the US empire: Iran, since 1979; Hezbollah, founded in the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolution; and Syria.

No surprise that these are the forces which Washington deems its West Asian enemies—enemies around which it has created black legends, depictions of irredeemable evil, contrasted with the golden legend of fundamental US benevolence.

Washington also deems as a West Asian enemy those Islamist groups which are inspired by the Osama bin Laden strategy of carrying the war to the distant enemy, defined as the United States. Washington, in contrast, cultivates the Islamist groups which follow the alternative strategy of war on the local Arab nationalist, communist, and religious minority enemy. The so-called Al Qaeda Khorasan group plans operations against the United States, and remains a target of US overt and covert warfare. By comparison, the various name-changing, shape-shifting, locally oriented Al Qaeda organizations which focus exclusively on doing battle with what they define as the local Takfiris, or the unbelievers, remain the United States’ allies of convenience in the fight against secular Arab nationalists and communists. These fanatical and intolerant sectarian Islamists have proved to be a useful instrument of US imperialism in dividing the Arab world by attacking Shia, Alawi and other religious minorities and waging war on Arab nationalists and communists.

From the birth of the US empire as 13 English colonies in a stolen land to the present day, the foundation of the empire’s foreign policy has been to crush any force of local independence and national assertiveness that stood in the way of enlarging the empire’s dominant economic interests, whether it was those of land speculators, slave holders lusting after land, manufacturers seeking foreign markets, or financiers pursuing profitable investment opportunities abroad.  In the grips of an expansionary profit-making imperative, Washington is driven to replace all foreign governments which resist integration into the US economy, including the Syrian, Cuban, North Korean, Venezuelan, and Iranian governments.

Sadly, the largely successful struggle of the Syrian Arab Army, backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, against the foreign sponsored Islamist insurgency, has not brought the profit-driven juggernaut of US imperialism to a halt.

As Lenin argued, “An imperialist war does not cease [until] the class which is conducting the imperialist war, and is bound to it by millions of economic threads (and even ropes), is really overthrown and is replaced at the helm of state by the really revolutionary class, the proletariat.” [17]  We’re far from that.

Some believe, with an unduly sanguine cast of mind, that because the jihadist war in Syria is largely over, that the forces of local independence and national assertiveness have won, and that the United States has been defeated. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Lenin called the imperialist predatory war may appear to have been succeeded by what he also called the imperialist predatory peace, but the imperialist predation continues, as does the war, even if the war is now largely concealed.

Having reduced Syria to rubble and its citizens to penury,  the United States silently wages war by blocking the reconstruction of Syria. It does this in two ways:

First, through the so-called Caesar Act, a sanctions regime introduced last summer to punish individuals and corporations anywhere in the world dealing with those sectors of the Syrian economy crucial to restoring Syria to some semblance of economic health. These sectors are:  construction, electricity, and oil. Any company that deals with the Syrian government in any reconstruction effort will be sanctioned by the US Treasury Department and prohibited from accessing the US banking system—a virtual economic death sentence. The Act is deliberately designed, as two US scholars put it, “to make reconstruction impossible.” [18]

The second way the United States prevents Syrians from rebuilding their country is by denying Damascus access to the revenue it needs to fund whatever reconstruction projects might be undertaken by firms willing to defy US sanctions. It does this through a large-scale military occupation that goes virtually unnoticed.

US forces, assisted by opportunistic Kurds—who believe that the United States is about to help them establish a second Israel in West Asia on territory stolen from Syria, (just as Israel was founded on land pilfered from what was once called Greater Syria)—have established an open-ended occupation of territory comprising one-third of Syria, and containing most of Syria’s oil wealth and its best farm land. The ostensible purpose of the US occupation is to continue the fight against ISIS, but the genuine purpose, is otherwise.

The larger purpose, as acknowledged by US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey, is to turn Syria into a Japanese-style veiled US-colony, in which the United States installs an open-ended military occupation and writes the country’s constitution. Jeffrey revealed that the goal is to establish “a degree of control over Syria similar to what it had in Japan at the end of the Second World War.” [19]

The more immediate purpose, as acknowledged by the bloviating US president, is to prevent Syria from recovering its oil fields. This Washington does to deny Damascus a source of revenue for reconstruction. 

To quote Trump:

“We are out of Syria other than we kept the oil. I kept the oil. We have troops guarding the oil. Other than that, we are out of Syria.” [20]

No reference to ISIS.

So, the United States says to Syria: We will not rebuild your country, and we will not allow our allies to do the same, and we will prevent your allies from rebuilding your country by occupying your oil wells and your best farmland to deny you revenue to underwrite reconstruction.

There’s another US goal, also acknowledged by Jeffrey, and that is to turn Syria into “a quagmire” for Russia, like the one the United States faced in Vietnam, in order to evict the Russians from the region. [21] The thinking is that if Russia gets bogged down in Syria, it will eventually surrender its military bases in the country and retreat from the Mediterranean, leaving West Asia and the Mediterranean free for total US domination. 

How many troops has Washington in Syria?

Officially 750. But that was before another 100 were added in August. So, let’s say 850. Insignificant.

But the official number is what the Pentagon calls an “artificial construct”[22]—in other words, it’s meaningless. The number doesn’t include aircrew, which enforce a no-fly zone over US occupied territory, and are a very important part—perhaps the most important part—of the occupation, for US air supremacy makes the occupation zone virtually impregnable.

Neither does the artificial construct number include Special Operations personnel, or US personnel assigned to classified missions.  [23]

And it doesn’t include the assistance US occupation forces receive from the Israeli air force, which regularly carries out airstrikes on targets in Syria. [24]

Moreover, it doesn’t include what The Wall Street Journal called “an unspecified number of contractors,” [25] or what, in plain language, means, a whole lot of mercenaries.

In December 2019, Assad said:

“The funny thing in American politics is that they announce the number between thousands and hundreds. When they say thousands: it is to make the the-pro-war lobby – particularly the arms companies, happy that they are in a state of war. When they say hundreds: they are addressing the people who oppose the war by saying that they are only ‘a few hundred.’ In actual fact, both figures are incorrect for a simple reason … they are based on the number of American soldiers and not the number of individuals fighting with the American army. The American regime relies significantly in its wars on private firms like Blackwater… So even if they had a few hundred American soldiers in Syria, they still have thousands – maybe tens of thousands [of mercenaries fighting alongside acknowledged US troops.]” [26]

The occupation is flagrantly illegal. US forces weren’t invited into Syria. On the contrary, the Syrian government has stated repeatedly that US forces need to withdraw.

Syrian oil is being plundered. Indeed, a US energy company, Delta Crescent Energy, manages the oil wells and sells the oil to the Turks, just as earlier ISIS did the same. [27] It’s piracy, pure and simple.

“The Americans,” said Assad in March, “ are occupiers; they occupy our lands. The Americans are thieves stealing our oil.” [28]

And US forces are not the only occupier. There is also a Turkish occupation zone in the north, an Al Qaeda occupation zone in Idlib, and an Israeli occupation zone (which has lasted 53 years) in Al Qunaytirah (Syria’s smallest province, two-thirds of which Israel conquered and ethnically cleansed in 1967. The conqueror changed the name to the Golan Heights.)

While the United States has arranged for Syria to be burned to the ground; while it has organized and connived in the partition of Syria into multiple occupation zones; while it acts to prevent Syria from rebuilding, it has, despite these predations, failed to achieve its ultimate goal of replacing the Syrian government—a government acceptable to the Syrian people and responsive to its needs.

What’s more, the United States has failed to crush Syria’s will to overcome US imperialism.

Quoting Assad.

“[O]ur policy is to … liberate remaining territories to restore our territorial integrity and protect our people. Timing will depend on the readiness of our armed forces to march into battle. When the battle starts, we will not distinguish between … Zionists, Turks, and Americans. On our territory, they are all enemies. [29]

“We have said that we’re going to liberate every inch of Syria…This is our land [and] this is our duty. “[30]

There is another duty—one that falls on the shoulders of internationalists—the duty to ruthlessly expose the machinations of our “own” countries; to support—in deed, not merely in word—Syria’s efforts to resist its recolonization and recover its territory; to demand the end of foreign occupations; and to inculcate in the hearts of our compatriots an attitude of true brotherhood with Syrians acting to liberate and defend their country from the imperial predations of the United States and its satellites. [31]

1. Raja Abdulrahim and Nazih Osseiran, “Reviving Syria’s economy is an uphill battle for Assad after years of war,” The Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2020

2. Ibid

3. Ibid

4. Ben Hubbard, “Syria’s Economy Collapses Even as Civil War Winds to a Close,” The New York Times, June 15, 2020

5. Patrick Cockburn, “A choice between bread and masks’: Syrians face calamity as Trump’s new sanctions combine with surging coronavirus,” The Independent, August 21, 2020

6. Patrick Cockburn, “The next Gaza Strip? Daily battle of survival for those left in Idlib,” The Independent, October 7, 2020

7. Aleksandr Aksenenok, “War, economy and politics in Syria: broken links,” Russian International Affairs Council, April 17, 2020

8. Abdulrahim and Osseiran

9. Ibid

10. Ibid

11. Ibid

12. Kareem Fahim, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Zakaria Zakaria, “Deaths of Syrian mercenaries show how Turkey, Russia could get sucked into Nagorno-Karabakh conflict,” The Washington Post, Oct. 14, 2020

13. Pranshu Verma and Vivian Yee, “Trump’s Syria Sanctions ‘Cannot Solve the Problem,’ Critics Say,” The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2020

14. “Syria: Scenarios of Dramatic Political Change, 30 July 1986, Central Intelligence Agency, https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP86T01017R000100770001-5.pdf

15. V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline, International Publishers, 1939, p. 8.

16. “The interview that Italian Rai News 24 refrained from broadcasting…President al-Assad: Europe was the main player creating chaos in Syria,” SANA, December 9, 2019

17. V.I Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918, Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pages 227-325

18. Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, “The Pointless Cruelty of Trump’s New Syria Sanctions, Foreign Affairs, August 17, 2020

19.Cockburn,  August 21, 2020

20. “US convoy transports stolen Syrian oil to Iraq: SANA,” Press TV,  20 September 2020

21. Cockburn, August 21, 2020

22. John Ismay, “US says 2,000 troops are in Syria, a fourfold increase,” The New York Times, December 6, 2017

23. Ibid

24. Han Goldenberg, Nicholas A. Heras, Kaleigh Thomas, and Jennie Matuschak, “Countering Iran in the Gray Zone: What the United States should learn from Israel’s operations in Syria,” Center for a New American Security, 2020

25. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017

26. “President al-Assad: ‘The Belt and Road Initiative’ constituted worldwide transformation in international relations…There will be no prospect for US presence in Syria,” SANA, December 16, 2019

27. Lara Seligman and Ben Lefebvre, “Little-known U.S. firm secures deal for Syrian oil,” Politico, August 3, 2020; “US convoy transports stolen Syrian oil to Iraq: SANA, Press TV”, 20 September 2020; “Another US convoy smuggles Syrian oil to Iraq: SANA”, Press TV, 11 October 2020

28. “President al-Assad: Erdogan fights beside terrorists out of his brotherhood ideology…Our military is Idleb as its liberation  means that we move towards liberating the eastern regions,” SANA, March 5, 2020

29. Quoted in Statement by H.E. Walid Al-Moualem, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Syrian Republic at the General Debate of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, September 26, 2020

30. “President al-Assad to Mail on Sunday: UK publicly supported White Helmets that are a “President al-Assad to Mail on Sunday: UK publicly supported White Helmets that are a branch of Al Qaeda, US and French existence in Syria is invasion,” SANA, June 10, 2018

31. See condition 8 of V.I. Lenin, The Terms of Admission to Communist International, 1920, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x01.htm

Did Putin order the assassination of Alexei Navalny?

By Stephen Gowans

September 25, 2020

The question of whether the Russian president ordered the killing of a marginal Russian politician is unclear; at the moment, there’s no evidence he did, only an accusation by the United States. And since Washington has a clear political motive to blacken the reputation of the president of a country it deems a peer competitor, its accusation, unencumbered by evidence, can be readily dismissed. What’s not so readily dismissed, however, is the reality that the US government and major Western news media are using the events surrounding the alleged poisoning to call for the cancellation of a pipeline that would transport Russian natural gas directly to Germany. The cancellation would simultaneously hurt Russia and benefit the United States. Washington proposes to sell liquefied natural gas to Germany, at a higher cost to Germany than the Germans would pay to import natural gas from Russia. The cancellation of the pipeline and its replacement by US LNG shipments, would bind Germany more strongly to the United States, by making the country more dependent on the United States for its energy needs, and less dependent on Russia, while creating a handsome profit-making opportunity for US energy and shipping firms. Putin had a very weak motive to eliminate Navalny. The latter is a marginal opponent, but the United States has a strong motive to create a pretext to call for the cancellation of the pipeline; the cancellation would open the door to US LNG sales to Germany. That motive may have impelled Washington to use the Navalny incident to opportunistically accuse Putin of an attempted assassination and to call for the cancellation of the pipeline in retaliation, or worse, may have involved the United States in faking an assassination attempt, relying on the complicity of Navalny, who has in the past received US government funding.

Introduction

I can’t know whether Alexei Navalny, a low-profile Russian politician, was the target of a Putin-ordered assassination attempt, but I do know that the account offered by Western governments and news media, alleging that the Russian president or his underlings ordered Navalny eliminated, is far from convincing. Indeed, the narrative is nonsensical, and requires the suspension of critical judgment to be believed. To this point, it is nothing more than an accusation without evidence.

The fact of the matter is that the events surrounding the collapse of Navalny on an airplane and his subsequent hospitalization in Germany are murky. There are many questions about the Navalny affair that remain unanswered, observed The New York Times in a September 22 editorial. “And this will likely remain so. Chief among them is whether President Vladimir Putin ordered or approved the attempted assassination.” [1]

Basis for the accusation

On what basis does The New York Times raise the question of whether Putin tried to murder Navalny?

To begin, we’re told that it “is now an established fact, confirmed by laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden, that Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union.” [2] Embedded in this observation is an insinuation, namely, that if Novichok was developed by the Soviet state, then only the agents of its successor state, Russia, could have used it. This was the argument used by the British government to explain a previous alleged Novichok poisoning—that of Sergei Skripal, a Russian intelligence agent who spied for the British, was caught and jailed in Russia, and later released in a prisoner exchange. Since no one else had the means and motive to do this, argued London, the Russian state must have been involved.

It needn’t be pointed out that it doesn’t follow as a logical necessity that because the nerve agent was developed in Russia that it remains exclusively in Russian hands. For “a number of years specialists from Western states and relevant NATO centres have been developing chemical substances related to the ‘Novichok’ group,” contends The Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union.  The Mission claims the United States “has issued more than 150 patents for combat use of the mentioned chemical substances.” [3]

The claim, of course, may or may not be true; I’m in no position to verify it. But arguing that because Novichok was made by Soviet scientists that only Russian agents could have used it, is akin to attributing the death of anyone who has ever been killed by an AK-47 to Moscow, since the machine gun was developed by a Soviet engineer. It also converges on blaming the Swedish government for every hit and run death involving a Volvo.

Considering that Putin was accused in the West of ordering Skripal’s assassination, it would seem highly unlikely that Novichok would, at this point, be the murder weapon of choice for Russian assassins. “The perpetrators knew that Novichok had been identified in the attack against Mr. Skripal,” observed the Times, “and that its use was a violation of international law.” [4] This, the editorial board offered as evidence of Putin’s culpability. But far from inculpating the Russian president, the Times’ observation seems, on the contrary, to point to a different explanation: That whoever poisoned Navalny (if indeed he was poisoned) did so with the intention of framing Moscow. Novichok, as a consequence of the Skripal case, and the ‘Made in the USSR’ label stamped on it by Western officials and news media, has turned the nerve agent into a Russian calling card. Only the most incompetent assassin would leave a calling card behind as an identifier. Indeed, if we’re to believe the conspiracy theory favored by Western governments and news media, we must believe that Russian intelligence is so incompetent that it’s (i) incapable of  successfully carrying out assassinations (both Navalny and Skripal survived their putative poisonings), and that (ii) it has a self-defeating penchant for littering crime scenes with signs the West can use to point an accusatory finger at Moscow.

What’s more, how credible is a narrative that relies on a nerve agent as a murder weapon? A bullet to the head, a garrote around the neck, a stiletto to the heart, or maybe even a plastic bag over the head, followed by dismemberment by a bone-saw, much favored by Mohamed bin Salman’s henchman, are surely simpler and more effective ways of eliminating a political foe. Death by Novichok has a Hollywood feel about, more James Bond than reality.

Chauvinist hypocrisy

Significantly, MBS, the day-to-day ruler of the Saudi feudal tyranny, can order the carving up of a critic, Jamal Khashoggi, and still The New York Times editorial board eschews any reference to the Saudi government as a regime, in contrast to the fondness it has for tarring with the R word any state that refuses to genuflect to US global primacy, Russia included.  Neither do the same Western officials and news media demand accountability of MBS, a US client, as they do Putin, the head of a government which does not bow to the international dictatorship of the United States.  

That Navalny survived his poisoning, as did Skripal, despite the lethality of the nerve agent—surely low probability events—invites another question: How likely is it that an assassin’s target would survive poisoning by a deadly toxin? Is it not reasonable to ask: Were Navalny and Skripal really poisoned by Novichok? If so, has the nerve agent’s deadliness been accurately described?  

Navalny: US hero, Russian nobody

Western officials and news media present Navalny as a major political figure in Russia, but in seven polls conducted from April 2014 to December 2019 by The Levada Center, a Russian polling organization, Navalny’s support never exceeded 2 percent of Russian voters. [5] According to Fred Weir, the veteran Russia correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, “Navalny, who is part of the extra parliamentary opposition, he’s kind of like, say, the Communist Party would be in the United States. Or something like that. He’s definitely on the margins.” [6] Which invites the question: Why would the Russian president seek to assassinate a figure who’s definitely on the margins? Doing so would only raise Navalny’s meager profile, and provide ammunition to Western governments and news media to further their war on Russia. “Navalny,” concludes Weir, “is little more than a nuisance, and I can’t believe that Putin would rocket him to the top of the world political agenda through a botched attempt to assassinate him or even an effective one.” [7] This would be self-defeating. The preferred Western narrative demands that we suspend critical judgment to believe that Russian assassins are the world’s most incompetent, incapable of successfully carrying out their missions, and that Putin is an inept practitioner of the political arts.  

Nord Stream 2

As Navalny rockets to the top of the world political agenda, his name is invoked increasingly in connection with Nord Stream 2, a pipeline to carry natural gas from Russia directly to Germany, by-passing such US clients as Ukraine. The pipeline, nearing completion, will join Nord Stream 1 as a second direct Russia-to-Germany route. US president Donald Trump has criticized Berlin, opining that the pipeline should never have been allowed to have been built, and has vowed to impose sanctions to stop it. Germany’s purchase of Russian natural gas, Trump charges, will make the US satellite “captive to Russia” and enrich Moscow. [8] The reality, of course, is that the pipeline will make Germany less captive to the United States. Furthermore, Nord Stream 2 will allow Germany to reduce its imports of Persian Gulf oil, eroding US oil company profits. Successive US administrations, reported The Wall Street Journal, “have pushed Europe, and Germany in particular, to create the infrastructure required to receive shipments of liquefied natural gas from the U.S.—a potential source of large revenues” for US big business, as an alternative to buying from Russia. But liquefied natural gas “from the U.S. needs to be shipped over the Atlantic and would be considerably more expensive than Russian gas delivered via pipelines. A senior EU official working on energy regulation said Russian gas would be at least 20 percent cheaper.” All the same, Washington wants Europe to “agree to some sort of racket and pay extortionate prices,” as one EU official put it. [9] In order to maintain Germany’s energy dependency on the United States, Trump has ordered the Germans to stop Nord Stream 2, and a plan is being bruited about in Washington to sanction companies involved in the pipeline’s construction.

As Canadian journalist Eric Reguly explains:

“U.S. President Donald Trump has condemned the project, and several senior Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz, have called for sanctions against the German port that is helping to build the pipeline. The Novichok poisoning in August of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has heightened calls outside and inside Germany to kill Nord Stream.” [10]

Navalny may very well be an instrument of a racket developed by Washington to coerce Germany into paying extortionate rates to US energy firms. The New York Times editorial board has added its voice to the growing chorus of calls for “the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” [11] and for the silent but implied call for the purchase by Germany of US liquefied natural gas. How convenient that there’s a surplus of US natural gas ready to be transported across the Atlantic if and when the pipeline is cancelled in retaliation for Putin’s alleged assassination of a political opponent.

In contrast, the Times has not called for an end to US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and US senators haven’t demanded that the United States impose sanctions on the Saudi kingdom, even after US intelligence concluded that MBS ordered the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi; indeed, even after the kingdom’s de facto ruler ordered the assassination of not a single man but a whole nation when he initiated an unprovoked war on Yemen. To be sure, the complication here is that the war on Yemen is led from behind by Washington [12] and arms sales to the Saudis are highly lucrative and a source of Brobdingnagian profits for the US arms industry. By comparison, Russian natural gas sales to Germany deny US investors a profit-making opportunity, while at the same time increasing German dependence on Russia while concurrently reducing it on the United States. What’s more, while there is credible evidence MBS ordered the Khashoggi dismemberment, there is no evidence that the attempted assassination of Navalny was ordered by Putin. 

The US-Navalny nexus

It should be pointed out that while Navalny is a marginal figure in Russia, he is a figure to which the US government is willing to give money. As evidenced by the contradictory way he his portrayed by Western news media and his derisory status in Russia, Navalny’s significance is many times greater in the West than it is in his home country. He is Washington’s man.

The National Endowment for Democracy, a discreditable organization created by the US government to overtly undertake civil interventions abroad that the CIA once undertook covertly, has provided Navalny with financial assistance, according to The New York Times. This was reported under the headline, “Russia isn’t the only one meddling in elections. We do it too.” [13] In an August 2007 article titled “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique reported that the NED “was created in 1983, ostensibly as a non-profit-making organisation to promote human rights and democracy. In 1991 its first president, the historian Allen Weinstein, confessed to The Washington Post: ‘A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA’.” [14] In other words, the NED overtly works to destabilize governments Washington doesn’t like, namely, those that in the interests of democracy refuse to submit to rule from Washington. That US meddling in other peoples’ affairs is carried out under the bold guise of promoting democracy and human rights reveals the boundless hypocrisy of the US government. Navalny is an instrument of this apparatus, a tool for Washington to try to destabilize a country it regards as a peer competitor, and to use in the project of upending a pipeline project that favors Russia at US investors’ expense.

Assassins R US

The spectacle of US officials and news media expressing moral repugnance at the assassination of political opponents is, frankly, vomit-inducing. The US government runs the world’s largest assassination program. The Pentagon and CIA, working together, regularly assassinate by means of drone strikes anyone who takes up arms against the United States’ political, military, and economic domination of their homeland—a domination which challenges the concepts of democracy, self-determination, and human rights. One particularly gruesome weapon used by US assassins is named appropriately, the Ninja; it’s a “modified Hellfire missile” which carries  “six long blades tucked inside, which deploy seconds before impact to slice up” its prey, [15] recalling the bone-saw used to slice up Jamal Khashoggi.

Conclusion

The Russian president “had the greatest motive, means and opportunity” to attempt an assassination of Navalny, reasons the New York Times editorial board, pointing to Putin as the perpetrator of a botched assassination, and demanding that he be held to account (by, inter alia, cancelling Nord Stream 2, thus preparing the way for US energy and shipping companies to step into the breach and profit handsomely.) The reasoning is flawed. While the Russian leader may have had the motive, means, and opportunity, others also had the motive, means, and opportunity, and perhaps to a greater degree. It doesn’t make sense for Putin to have targeted an inconsequential opponent unless he is a fool; indeed, such an act would be self-defeating, and no one questions the nous of the Russian president. Moreover, it makes no sense that if Navalny were truly the object of an assassination attempt that Russian operatives would use Novichok, since Western officials and news media had already run a campaign, in connection with Sergei Skripal, to indelibly stamp “Made in Russia” on the toxin. As mentioned above, using Novichok would be akin to leaving a calling card, an act more befitting agents trying to frame Russia than Russian agents trying to evade detection. At the same time, the US government, which decries Russia as a peer competitor and has entered into a low-level war against it, has its own motive. It is forever on the look out for opportunities to demonize the Russian president, in order to justify new actions to weaken Russia, including calling for the cancellation of Nord Stream 2, an event that should it transpire will create an important profit-making opportunity for US businesses. The events surrounding the Navalny incident offer a pretext for actions by the United States against Russia and on behalf of US investors. The possibility that the affair is a politically motivated operation run by Washington in aid of US corporate interests (both directly in securing a market for US LNG exports and indirectly in keeping one economic competitor, Germany, under the US thumb, and another, Russia, deprived of natural gas revenues) cannot be easily dismissed.

1. The Editorial Board, “Vladimir Putin Thinks He Can Get Away With Anything,” The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2020.

2. Ibid.

3. Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the European Union Comments on the situation with Alexey Navalny, Sep 15, 2020, https://russiaeu.ru/en/novosti/permanent-mission-russian-federation-european-union-comments-situation-alexey-navalny .

4.  The Editorial Board

5. https://www.levada.ru/en/2020/02/18/presidential-election-2/

6. Aaron Maté, “In Navalny poisoning, rush to judgment threatens new Russia-NATO crisis,” The Grayzone, September 6, 2020.

7. Ibid.

8.  Emre Peker, “Trump slams Germany over gas imports from Germany,” The Wall Street Journal, July 11, 2018.

9.  Bojan Pancevski, “Trump Presses Germany to Drop Russian Pipeline for Trade Deal,” The Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2018.

10. Eric Reguly, “A dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean has brought Turkey and Greece close to war once again. But this time it’s different,” The Globe and Mail, September 11, 2020.

11. The Editorial Board.  

12. Stephen Gowans, “The US-Led War on Yemen,” what’s left, November 6, 2017, https://gowans.blog/2017/11/06/the-us-led-war-on-yemen/

13. Scott Shane, “Russia isn’t the only one meddling in elections. We do it too.” The New York Times, February 17, 2018.

14. Hernando Calvo Ospina, “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique, August, 2007, https://mondediplo.com/2007/08/04ned .

15.  Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Commandos Use Secretive Missiles to Kill Qaeda Leaders in Syria,” The New York Times, September 24, 2020.

Cruelty with a Point: The Continuing US Immiseration of Syria

[We] take our rewards in the goodies of the imperial marketplace and in the false coin of self-righteousness. – William Appleman Williams*

By Stephen Gowans

August 19, 2020

Two US scholars, writing in the unofficial journal of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs, have denounced the cruelty of US intervention in Syria, while passing over its criminal and imperialist nature, and accepting as legitimate assumptions underlying US foreign policy about the fundamental goodness of the United States and the fundamental depravity of its victims.

In The Pointless Cruelty of Trump’s New Syria Sanctions, Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma, and Steven Simon, Senior Director for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs at the White House from 2011 to 2012, denounce the sanctions Washington has inflicted on Syria. However, far from being an anti-imperialist j’accuse, the piece perpetuates myths about the aims of US foreign policy and sanitizes the nature of the US intervention.

washingtons-long-war-on-syriaThe problem with US sanctions, the authors argue, is that they’re pointlessly cruel, which is to say that they are at the same time highly punitive and incapable of achieving the goals they are putatively designed to achieve. Presumably, cruelty, if it worked, would have a point, and would be acceptable; but the current cruelty does not work and therefore is pointless and should be brought to an end, the scholars contend.

What sanctions have failed to achieve, and will continue to fail to achieve, Landis and Simon argue, is the replacement of the current Syrian government with one acceptable to the United States. If the Syrian government has yet to fall, despite the enormous efforts the US government has made to see that it does, more sanctions are not the answer. Landis and Simon write:

“Assad and his supporters won the country’s civil war against considerable odds. They did not crack when rebels massacred their entire national security team early in the war; they did not crack when they lost Palmyra, Idlib, half of Aleppo, the oil fields, the northeast, or the southeast; they brushed off Trump’s 60-second bombing campaign; and they withstood an energetic U.S. effort to equip and train the armed opposition. If nine years of brutal violence … did not defeat Assad and his military, economic embargoes are unlikely to faze him.”

The most conspicuous aspects of the US intervention in Syria are its flagrant illegality and manifest imperialism, yet at no point do the scholars point out that the US occupation of northeastern Syria, the US take-over of Syria’s oil fields, US training and funding of insurgents, US missile strikes on Syria, and the imposition of coercive economic measures, are criminal, murderous, and anti-democratic, though they openly acknowledge that Washington has pursued all of these means to achieve its goal of overthrowing the Syrian government.  It’s as if Landis and Simon set out to write an article about the history of Hiroshima and somehow overlooked the fact that it was the site of the first atomic bombing. Landis and Simon fail to mention the following additional expressions of US imperialism: US complicity in Turkey’s military occupation of northern Syria and US endorsement of the Israeli annexation of two-thirds of the Syrian province of Al Qunaytirah, conquered by Israel in 1967 and then ethnically cleansed and illegally settled. The invaders changed the name of the territory to the Golan Heights.

The goal of the US intervention, thoroughly anti-democratic in stamp, is to impose the US will on another people. Landis and Simon fail to question the legitimacy of this goal. Instead, they accept the aim as a desirable part of a larger US project of constructing “an international liberal order premised on the conviction that free trade and a vital middle class [will] produce democratic governance and societal well-being.”  What free trade will produce, pace Landis and Simon, is not democratic governance and societal well-being, but continued poverty for poor countries, and continued affluence for the wealthy. Poor countries are incapable of competing on a global level against rich countries, and can only develop economically by emulating the policies rich countries themselves pursued to become rich: tariff barriers to nurture infant industries, industrial planning, subsidies, state-owned enterprises, and restrictions on foreign investment. [1]

Free trade is central to the story of why the United States has waged a long war on Syria. The Syrian government’s failure to open its economy to US investment and exports on US terms, and insistence on independent economic development—emulating what the rich countries did to become prosperous—is as much a part of the reason Washington has tried to oust the Assad government as is the fact that Damascus has long irritated Washington by acting as a beacon of local independence and national assertiveness in the Arab world.  Assad vowed in 2013 that “Syria will never become a western puppet state” and that his government would do whatever was necessary to “best serve the interests of the Syrians,” not the West.  [2] Promoting the interests of a republic’s citizens is what a president is supposed to do, remarked Robert Mugabe during an address to the United Nations General Assembly, but under a US-superintended liberal order, what presidents are really supposed to do is submit to a global order based on free trade designed to promote the interests of US investors. Syria has been non-compliant with the US-agenda, operating what US government researchers described in a 2005 report as a largely publicly-owned, state-planned economy based on “Soviet models” while supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, [3] enemies of US-attack dog, Israel, the Zionist state in colonized Palestine.

From the birth of the US empire as 13 British colonies in a stolen land to the present day, the foundation of the empire’s foreign policy—guiding its continental expansion, and then its extra-continental enlargement through formal and informal colonialism—has been to crush any force of local independence and national assertiveness that stands in the way of US economic interests.  Washington must replace the Syrian government with one that accepts the international liberal order, an order which various figures in the US foreign policy establishment have described as: created by US officials with US interests in mind and US prosperity (though unmentioned, specifically that of corporate America) as its goal.

The late John McCain wrote that “We are the chief architect and defender of an international order governed by rules derived from our political and economic values. We have grown vastly wealthier and more powerful under those rules.” [4] Barak Obama described the US-superintended international order as one upon which US prosperity depends. [5] The recently deceased Brent Scowcroft, a US national security power broker,  “for decades mentored generations of national security professionals … in a realist brand of foreign policy that championed a U.S.-led international order … and looked on revolutionary change with suspicion.” [6] Revolutionary change, it should be noted, often involves transferring ownership of economies from foreign investors to local governments or local business people, an act inimical to US investor interests.

If we’re to be honest, the prosperity of investors and high-level executives of major corporations is the principal aim of the liberal (note, not liberal democratic, but liberal sans democratic) international order which Landis and Simon cite as the desired end of US policy. The prosperity of US citizens en masse—Main Street not Wall Street—is not the primum mobile of US foreign policy. Neither is building democratic governance and middle-class societies abroad an authentic goal, however much this deceit figures in the rhetorical flourishes of various US experts in casuistry, Landis and Simon included.

One need only look at Latin America, a region on which Uncle Sam has long imposed his will. The outcome of the United States’ smothering influence after hundreds of years is that Latin America remains poor, despite its being forced, often at the point of a US gun, to accept US economic prescriptions based on free trade, a regime William Appleman Williams once described as a piratical “We need, you give.” [7] Those prescriptions, while dishonestly presented as the key to a future Latin American prosperity, have left the region stagnating in poverty. Meanwhile, the United States has prospered.

Landis and Simon have constructed their argument within a framework of assumptions that accepts without question that the United States wants to “make a positive contribution to regional development” and create “freedom and advancement” in Syria (presumably just as it promised but failed to do in its Latin American backyard.) Clearly, the United States has delivered neither freedom nor advancement to either Syrians or Latin Americans. Instead, in Syria, US policies have led to the strangulation of the Syrian economy, immiseration of the Syrian people, and creation of public health and refugee crises.

To explain the contradiction of an allegedly benevolent US foreign policy producing obviously malevolent results (the foreign policy equivalent of the theodicy problem—How can an omnipotent God be benevolent if he allows misery and cruelty to flourish?), Landis and Simon point, not to the obvious answer that US foreign policy is not benevolent, but to US-produced malignancies as the unintended consequences of policy missteps by the US foreign policy establishment. US intentions are good, they contend, but US officials have blundered; they’ve drawn from the wrong policy set. Economic warfare ought never to have been pursued against Syria, they argue, because “there is little evidence that economic sanctions ever achieve their objectives. Even the best designed sanctions can be self-defeating, strengthening the regimes they were designed to hurt and punishing the societies they were supposed to protect.”

What Landis and Simon don’t accept, despite the evidence staring them in the face, is that sanctions were never intended to protect foreign populations. Instead, they were deployed to do precisely what they almost invariably do—immiserate.  If the stated aim of policy x is to produce y but almost always produces z, at what point do you accept that z is the real aim and that y is a misdirection?

The point of immiserating a people—what makes the cruelty rational, rather than pointless—is to weaken local forces of independence and national assertiveness to the point that they’re no longer capable of challenging US power. A further objective is to make an example of such forces so that other countries never emulate them, seeing subordination to the US will as preferable to being sanctioned (and in some cases bombed) back into the stone age. For the United States, the fewer independently-minded rich countries to compete against, the better. Washington doesn’t want Syria or Iran following a development model that will monopolize profit-making opportunities, exclude US investors and exports, and set the two countries on a path to becoming future Chinas (though on a much smaller scale.) The US grievance against China is that it used its opening to US economic penetration to acquire the capital and know-how necessary to build, under a regime of dirigisme and industrial planning, home-grown enterprises which now compete against—and sometimes out-compete—US enterprises for the same profit-making opportunities. Washington is dead-set against allowing Syria and Iran do the same.

In her study of the Vietnam wars, Marilyn B. Young wrote that by the early 1950s, the US foreign policy establishment “had accepted a set of axioms … as unquestionable as Euclid’s.” The first axiom, she wrote, could be summarized as follows:

“The intentions of the United States are always good. It is possible that in pursuit of good ends, mistakes will be made. But the basic goodness of US intentions cannot ever be questioned. The intentions of the enemies of the United States are bad. It is possible that in the pursuit of bad ends, good things will seem to happen. But the basic badness of enemy intentions cannot ever by questioned.” [8]

The axiom reverberates throughout the Landis and Simon piece; indeed, it is the glue that holds it together. Not only are US intentions in Syria good, but the basic badness of the Syrian government (demonized accordingly as a regime) cannot be questioned. This leads Landis and Simon to argue that sanctions should be abandoned because “Assad doesn’t care if more of his people starve.”

We have no evidence of whether Assad cares or doesn’t care about whether Syrians starve, except this: By failing to bow to US aggression, he allows US sanctions policy to continue, and therefore condemns Syrians to starvation as victims of US policy. This is tantamount to saying that FDR didn’t care about whether US conscripts died in a terrible war, citing his failure to bow to Japanese aggression as evidence. According to the axioms of US foreign policy, standing up to foreign aggression is heroic when it’s done by US leaders, but sinister when done by foreign leaders in response to US aggression.

While we don’t have evidence of indifference to the suffering of Syrians on the part of Assad, we do have evidence of US indifference to the fate of Syrians. It is after all, Washington, not Assad, that pulled the trigger on the starvation policy. Blaming sanctions-related Syrian deaths on Assad is equal in principle to attributing WWII US military casualties in the Pacific to Roosevelt.

We have further evidence of Washington’s indifference to the misery of foreign populations. Washington cared not one whit that it killed over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five through sanctions-related disease and malnutrition. When this figure was cited by a UN agency in 1995, and accepted by the US government as valid—and moreover, defended as ‘worth it’—sanctions continued for another eight years, and the US-produced Golgotha grew ever larger. No tears were shed by US leaders.

What’s more, the US government doesn’t care if Iranians starve.  The “Iranian leadership,” warned US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, “has to make a decision that they want their people to eat.” [9] Unless Tehran accepts US demands—a long list that amounts to Iran surrendering the right to make consequential decisions independent of US oversight—Pompeo is prepared to see this grim outcome brought to fruition.

But in the morally astigmatic view of Landis and Simon, it is Assad, Saddam, and the Ayatollah who starve their people by refusing to submit to a US-superintended international liberal order of free trade, and not the United States, which punishes states that are refractory to this demand by strangling their economies and starving their populations.  Domenico Losurdo cited Frantz Fanon. “When a colonial and imperialist power is forced to give independence to a people, this imperialist power says: you want independence? Then take it and die of hunger.” Losurdo continued: “Because the imperialists continue to have economic power, they can condemn a people to hunger, by means of blockades, embargoes, or underdevelopment.” [10]

For all its failings, the Landis and Simon article reveals the depravity of the US intervention in all its repugnant detail. The scholars acknowledge that:

a) Washington is pursuing a “scorched-earth policy” whose aim is “to gain enough leverage to reconstitute the Syrian government along the lines that the United States imposed on Japan after World War II.”

b) To that end, the US is “systematically bankrupting the Syrian government.”

c) “To increase pressure” on Syria, Washington has “endorsed Israeli strikes against Syrian territory and Turkish expropriation of Syrian energy resources. It has also closed the main highway to Baghdad to choke off trade.”

(d) Washington has hired “a U.S. firm to manage the oil fields”  (that are now under an illegal US military occupation. Not only is Turkey freebooting in Syria; so too is the United States.)

e) Washington has designed its sanctions “to make reconstruction impossible. The sanctions target the construction, electricity, and oil sectors, which are essential to getting Syria back on its feet.”

f) The United States has added humanitarian exemptions to its sanctions, but the exemptions are “deliberately vague” to produce “overcompliance”—a phenomenon in which nongovernmental organizations decline to provide humanitarian aid out of fear that they will become inadvertently entangled in complex legal issues and will themselves to be subjected to US sanctions.

g) “Blocked from reconstructing their country and seeking external assistance, Syrians face mass starvation or another mass exodus.”

It is important to emphasize that the opposition of Landis and Simon to US intervention in Syria is predicated, not on the intervention’s  imperialist and criminal character, but on its cruelty. This suggests a parallel with the opposition that arose in the West to the rape of the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold.  There were two classes of critics: those who opposed Leopold’s imperialism (mainly ignored) and those who viewed the intervention as legitimate but objected to the cruelty of Leopold’s methods (frequently lionized.) The latter believed that Africans were inferior to Europeans and should submit to European rule, but felt that European rule ought to be more humane. Their attitude to Africans paralleled that of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; dogs and cats were clearly inferior creatures, which must be kept in servile relations to their masters, but they were to be treated humanely. So too Africans.

Another parallel exists between those who criticize US military interventions on the grounds that they are unjust and imperialist, and those whose concern is limited to whether the interventions conform to conventions related to the just conduct of war. The following oppositions are equivalent in principle: to Leopold’s intervention in the Congo because it was cruel (not imperialist); to the wars on Iraq, because they violated the principle of jus in bello (not because they transgressed the principle of jus ad bellum); to the US intervention in Syria, because its methods are cruel (not owing to the repugnance of Washington seeking to replace the Syrian government with another acceptable to the United States and US investor interests.)

Landis and Simon believe that Syrians ought to submit to US rule, but that US rulers ought to avoid pointless cruelty in bringing Syrians under their boot. In their Foreign Affairs article they have set out to portray the US war on Syria as a masterpiece of incompetence and pointless cruelty which dishonors the basic goodness of US goals. In reality, US intervention in Syria has been a masterpiece of cruelty with a point—an enterprise redolent with the stench of criminality and imperialism, aimed at imposing the US will on a foreign population for the benefit of corporate America.

That Landis and Simon should have a favorable attitude to a US-led liberal international order based on free trade is no mystery. They are a fellow and research analyst respectively at The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank funded by some of corporate America’s largest foundations: among others, The Charles Koch Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and billionaire investor George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Foreign Affairs, the journal in which the scholars’ article appears, is owned by The Council on Foreign Relations, an organization Laurence H. Shoup has described in books by the same names as Wall Street’s Think Tank and an Imperial Brain Trust.

*  William Appleman Williams, America Confronts a Revolutionary World, 1776-1976, William Morrow & Company, 1976, p. 183.

1) Erik S. Reinert, How Rich Countries Got Rich, Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, Public Affairs, 2007.

2) Syrian Arab National News Agency, August 27, 2013.

3) Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States After the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service, February 28, 2005.

4) John McCain, “John McCain: Why We Must Support Human Rights,” The New York Times, May 8, 2017.

5)  Letter of outgoing US President Barack Obama to incoming President Donald Trump.

6) Warren P. Strobel, “Brent Scowcroft, a U.S. National Security Power Broker, Dies at 95,” The Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2020.

7) William Appleman Williams, “Confessions of an Intransigent Revisionist,” in ed. Henry W. Berger, The William Appleman Williams Reader, Ivan R. Dee, 1992, p. 343.

8) Marilyn B. Young, The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990. Harper Perennial.1991. p.27.

9) Mike Pompeo, November 7, 2018, quoted in ”Iran letter to the UNSG and UNSC on Pompeo provocative statement,” Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, November 30, 2018.

10) Domenico Losurdo, “The New Colonial Counter-Revolution,” Revista Opera, October 20, 2017.

What South Korea’s ballistic missiles say about South Korea, the United States, and the UN Security Council

By Stephen Gowans

July 30, 2020

A Choe Sang-Hun report in the New York Times of July 28 indirectly revealed three points of significance, neither of which Choe mentioned, but which, in an ideological environment less subservient to US foreign policy goals, might be brought to the fore.

The report concerned the go-ahead the United States recently gave South Korea to loft five surveillance satellites into space in 2023. The satellites would be used to spy on North Korea and to add to the enormous military advantage South Korea already has vis-à-vis the DPRK. Since 1979, Washington has imposed limits on the range and payload of the ballistic missiles Seoul is permitted to deploy. In March, South Korea test-launched a ballistic missile with a range of 800 kilometers, with US approval.

What Choe’s report indirectly reveals is:

#1. That the United States severely limits South Korean sovereignty.  While an authentically sovereign country would make its own decisions about its missile capabilities, decisions about South Korean missile deployments, range, and payloads are made in Washington.

This is only one aspect of South Korea’s truncated sovereignty. In times of war, command of South Korean forces falls to a US general. Richard Stilwell, a former commander of US forces in Korea, remarked that this is the “most remarkable concession of sovereignty in the entire world.”

#2.  South Korea continues to flout the commitments it made at the April 2018 Panmunjom Summit to  “completely cease all hostile acts … in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict.”

Plans to loft spy satellites into orbit are clearly provocative. Additionally, South Korea is buying advanced F-35A jet fighters from the United States, providing its military with fighting capabilities well beyond those of North Korea. These developments contradict South Korea’s professed desire for peace.

South Korea wants ballistic missiles to enhance its military intelligence capabilities in order to undermine North Korea’s security. North Korea wants ballistic missiles as delivery systems for nuclear warheads in order to deter US aggression. With the military balance titled decisively in South Korea’s favor, ballistic missiles are unnecessary to South Korea’s defense, but redound to its project of bringing about North Korea’s collapse.

#3. South Korea’s US-approved ballistic missile program has not been condemned by the UN Security Council, unlike North Korea’s independent ballistic missile program, which has been. In an effort to pressure Pyongyang to relinquish its ballistic missiles—a campaign which, if successful, would denude the country of a vital means of self-defense—the Security Council, at Washington’s instigation, has imposed a near-total blockade on the North Korean economy.

http://www.barakabooks.com/
Choe’s report makes no comment on the obvious dissonance between international norms of national sovereignty, on the one hand, and Washington’s dictatorship over South Korean missile policy, on the other. At best, Pyongyang’s charge that South Korea is a puppet state controlled by Washington is dismissed as hyperbole in Western media and scholarship, but the charge cannot be dismissed so readily. To be sure, South Korea’s sovereignty is not so severely restricted that the country can be legitimately characterized as a US-puppet state, tout court, but it does submit to US direction in many important ways, to a degree most other allies of the United States do not.

Neither does Choe comment on the provocative nature of the South Korean plan to loft spy satellites above its northern neighbor. The obvious hypocrisy of the Security Council invoking ballistic missiles as a rationale for sanctioning North Korea, while South Korea is allowed to develop its own missile program unmolested (except by the United States), is also passed over without comment.

These omissions are predictable. They fit with the fundamental narrative that informs all Western discourse on Korea. That narrative rests on the assumptions that the state in the south seeks peace, contra the state in the north, which is bent on war. The south, according to this narrative, has entered voluntarily and gratefully into an alliance with the United States, which seeks no end but the defense of its ally.

The narrative is a fairy-tale. Militarily, North Korea is no match for its much larger and much richer neighbor. South Korea, moreover, is equipped with US-supplied weapons systems far superior to anything in North Korea’s conventional armamentarium. The DPRK poses no significant threat to South Korea; its ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons are purely defensive, and its conventional capabilities are meager compared to those of its peninsular neighbor.

The United States exploits its South Korean satellite as a military outpost and source of manpower for a vast East Asian reserve army, fully interoperable with the US military, and under the de facto, and in times of war, de jure, control of US flag officers. From the US point of view, South Korea is geopolitically significant owing to its proximity to the two countries Washington designates as its peer competitors, China and Russia.

The US military presence in Korea, and the informal US dictatorship over Seoul, is only weakly related to the United States protecting its militarily robust satellite from any effort by the militarily weak DPRK to unify and revolutionize the peninsula, a project North Korea was unable to bring to fruition 70 years ago when the balance of forces was much more favorable to its cause; the DPRK is completely incapable of mounting any such effort today.

The informal US dictatorship over South Korea serves the same purpose as US military occupations serve in other US allied states, including Germany, Italy, Japan, and Britain (formerly imperial rivals of the United States.) The purpose is to ensure these countries remain within the US economic sphere, and outside of the Chinese and Russian orbits; and in the case of Japan and Germany, to prevent them from nurturing latent drives to contest US hegemony. With regard to Germany, the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Russell Mead described the U.S. troop presence in the country as reassuring “Germany’s neighbors east and west that Berlin will never again disturb the peace of Europe or threaten their security,” another way of saying that the US occupation ensures that the United States, not Germany, dominates Europe.

What South Korea’s ballistic missiles reveal, then, is that South Korea is a tool of US foreign policy; the United States has a dictatorial relationship with Seoul; and the UN Security Council acts, at times, as South Korea does, as an instrument of US policy.

US attorney general explains the real reason Washington is hostile to China

In a major speech, US Attorney General William Barr dwelled at length on the threat Chinese-owned firms pose to corporate America’s domination of the global economy, but said little about Chinese policy on Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea, the usual reasons Washington cites for its growing anti-Chinese animus. 

July 19, 2020

In a 17 July speech on China policy at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, US Attorney General William Barr explained why the United States has escalated its cold war on China. The cold war began in earnest when the preceding Obama administration initiated the US military ‘pivot to China,’ a project to ‘contain’ the rapidly developing nation.

The roots of the US-initiated war lie in the threat the People’s Republic of China poses to US technological supremacy, according to Barr.

In his speech, the attorney general argued that the “prosperity for our children and grandchildren” depends on the global economy remaining Americanized. Chinese-owned firms, in his view, must be prevented from dominating key emerging growth sectors, including 5G, robotics, and AI; these sectors must remain the preserve of Western (and preferably US) investors.

Barr’s analysis comports with the widely held view in Washington and on Wall Street that the PRC’s desired role in the global economy is one of facilitating US profit-making, not competing against it. China, in this view, must return to the role originally envisaged by US policy-makers of a vast consumer and low-wage labor market teeming with investment and profit-making opportunities for corporate America, not as a rival for economic supremacy.

Significantly, Barr’s speech was mostly free from the rhetoric that has marked the accustomed Sinophobic diatribes and slurs which nowadays are de rigueur in Washington. Mainly absent were references to alleged Chinese human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong and accusations of Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

These allegations and accusations ring hollow, coming from a US state whose principal allies in West Asia—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, and Israel—are hostile to the human rights and democratic values Washington professes falsely to champion, to say nothing of the United States’ own egregious human rights failings (witness, for example, the events that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement) and its robust imperialism (including continued direct colonialism; consider Puerto Rico, for example.)

Washington’s substantive grievance with China is that the Chinese Communist Party has pursued a state-directed development model which has vaulted China from the ranks of poor countries relegated to the role of serving US profit-making interests, to a level of technological and economic prowess which threatens to topple corporate America from its perch atop the global economy.

Barr’s speech is important in revealing the material basis of US anti-Chinese hostility. Washington routinely conceals its struggles for commercial advantage behind Olympian rhetoric about democracy, human rights, and selfless devotion to humanitarian causes. The practice resonates with an observation Hitler made in Mein Kamp. “[Man] does not sacrifice himself for material interests…[He] will die for an ideal, but not for a business.” Recognizing that its citizens will not support a struggle for Wall Street’s narrow interests, Washington, as much as Hitler, has resorted to rhetoric about ideals rather than plainspoken references to profit-making, to mobilize public opinion behind, what is at its base, a struggle for commercial supremacy.

The following excerpts from Barr’s speech elucidate the fundamental economic question underlying US hostility to China. Lenin observed in 1917 that it is “impossible to understand and appraise modern war and politics”, without understanding “the fundamental economic question”, namely, the “question of the economic essence of imperialism.”

Excerpts from Barr’s speech

“Since the 1890’s, at least, the United States has been the technological leader of the world. And from that prowess, has come our prosperity, the opportunity for generations of Americans, and our security. It’s because of that that we were able to play such a pivotal role in world history. … What’s at stake these days is whether we can maintain that leadership position and that technological leadership. Are we going to be the generation that has allowed that to be stolen- which is really stealing the future of our children and our grandchildren?

“[At] the dawn of America’s reengagement with China, which began obviously with President Nixon in 1972 … it was unthinkable that China would emerge after the Cold War as a near-peer competitor of the United States.

“Deng Xiaoping, whose economic reform launched China’s remarkable rise had a famous motto: “hide your strength and bide your time.” That is precisely what China has done. China’s economy has quietly grown from about 2 percent of the world’s GDP in 1980, to nearly 20 percent today. And by some estimates based on purchasing parity, the Chinese economy is already larger than ours. The General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping … now speaks openly of China moving closer to the center stage, building a socialism that is superior to capitalism…From the perspective of its communist rulers, China’s time has arrived.

“The People’s Republic of China is now engaged in an economic blitzkrieg—an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government (indeed, whole-of-society) campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent technological superpower.  A centerpiece of this effort is the Chinese Communist Party’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, a plan for PRC domination of high-tech industries like robotics, advanced information technology, aviation, and electric vehicles, and many other technologies.  Backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, this initiative poses a real threat to U.S. technological leadership.  Despite World Trade Organization rules prohibiting quotas for domestic output, “Made in China 2025” sets targets for domestic market share (sometimes as high as 70 percent) in core components and basic materials for industries such as robotics and telecommunications.  It is clear that the PRC seeks not merely to join the ranks of other advanced industrial economies, but to replace them altogether.

“‘Made in China 2025’ is the latest iteration of the PRC’s state-led, mercantilist economic model. … To tilt the playing field to its advantage, China’s communist government has perfected a wide array of … tactics [including] tariffs, quotas, state-led strategic investment and acquisitions … [and] state subsidies,

“The PRC also seeks to dominate key trade routes and infrastructure in Eurasia, Africa, and the Pacific.

“Another ambitious project to spread its power and influence is the PRC’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.  Although billed as “foreign aid,” in fact these investments appear designed to serve the PRC’s strategic interests and domestic economic needs.

“I have previously spoken at length about the grave risks of allowing [China] to build the next generation of global telecommunications networks, known as 5G.  Perhaps less widely known are the PRC’s efforts to surpass the United States in other cutting-edge fields, like artificial intelligence.  Through innovations such as machine learning and big data, artificial intelligence allows machines to mimic human functions, such as recognizing faces, interpreting spoken words, driving vehicles, and playing games of skill, much like chess or the even more complex Chinese game, Go.  In 2017, Beijing unveiled its “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan,” a blueprint for leading the world in AI by 2030.  Whichever nation emerges as the global leader in AI will be best positioned to unlock not only its considerable economic potential, but a range of military applications, such as the use of computer vision to gather intelligence.

“The PRC’s drive for technological supremacy is complemented by its plan to monopolize rare earth materials, which play a vital role in industries such as consumer electronics, electric vehicles, medical devices, and military hardware.  According to the Congressional Research Service, from the 1960s to the 1980s, the United States led the world in rare earth production.  “Since then, production has shifted almost entirely to China,” in large part due to lower labor costs and lighter economic and environmental regulation.

“The United States is now dangerously dependent on the PRC for these essential materials.  Overall, China is America’s top supplier, accounting for about 80 percent of our imports.  The risks of dependence are real.

“For a hundred years, America was the world’s largest manufacturer — allowing us to serve as the world’s “arsenal of democracy.”  China overtook the United States in manufacturing output in 2010.

“How did China accomplish all this?  … [No] one should doubt that America made China’s meteoric rise possible.  China has reaped enormous benefits from the free flow of American aid and trade.  In 1980, Congress granted the PRC most-favored-nation trading status.  In the 1990s, American companies strongly supported the PRC’s accession to the World Trade Organization and the permanent normalization of trade relations.  Today, U.S.-China trade totals about $700 billion.

“Last year, Newsweek ran a cover story titled “How America’s Biggest Companies Made China Great Again.”  The article details how China’s communist leaders lured American business with the promise of market access, and then, having profited from American investment and know-how, turned increasingly hostile.  The PRC used tariffs and quotas to pressure American companies to … form joint ventures with Chinese companies.

“Just as American companies have become dependent on the Chinese market, the United States as a whole now relies on the PRC for many vital goods and services.  The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a spotlight on that dependency.

“China’s dominance of the world market for medical goods goes beyond masks and gowns.  It has become the United States’ largest supplier of medical devices.

“America also depends on Chinese supply chains in other vital sectors, especially pharmaceuticals.  America remains the global leader in drug discovery, but China is now the world’s largest producer of active pharmaceutical ingredients, known as “APIs.”  As one Defense Health Agency official noted, “[s]hould China decide to limit or restrict the delivery of APIs to the [United States],” it “could result in severe shortages of pharmaceuticals for both domestic and military uses.”

“To achieve dominance in pharmaceuticals, China’s rulers went to the same playbook they’ve used to gut other American industries.  In 2008, the PRC designated pharmaceutical production as a “high-value-added-industry” and boosted Chinese companies with subsidies and export tax rebates.

“To secure a world of freedom and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, the [United States] … will need to win the contest for the commanding heights of the global economy. ”

(Transcript of Attorney General Barr’s Remarks on China Policy at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Friday, July 17, 2020)

Why North Korea blew up the inter-Korean liaison office

“But peace cannot be hoped for on the basis of some making concessions and the others making none. Peace based on the demands of the other side is not peace, it is ignominious surrender, and no revolutionary country sells itself or surrenders.” Fidel Castro. [1]

June 20, 2020

North Korea recently blew up the “inter-Korean liaison office in the western border town of Kaesong,” an act The Wall Street Journal described, and other Western news media saw as, “provocative.” [2]

The liaison building, located in North Korea, opened “following a 2018 inter-Korean pledge to tone down military hostilities and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.” “At the 2018 opening ceremony, a large white-and-blue unification banner, showing the entire Korean Peninsula, was draped down the building’s front.” [3]

Now the banner, and the building, are gone. Hopes for peace between the two Koreas have, according to Western press accounts, dissolved in a puff of North Korean smoke.

http://www.barakabooks.com/

In late April 2018 the leaders of the two Koreas, Kim Jong Un, from the north, and Moon Jae-in, from the south, met at Panmunjom, a village located in North Korea where the 1953 Armistice Agreement had been signed. The armistice brought the open hostilities of the Korean War to a close. Officially, however, the war continues, a peace treaty having never been signed.

At the ‘peace village’ Kim and Moon “solemnly declared before the 80 million Korean people and the whole world that there” would “be no more war on the Korean Peninsula” and that a new era of peace had begun. [4]

A little over two years later, the Panmunjom declaration is in shreds. North Korea no longer sees South Korea as a peace partner, but as an enemy.

What went wrong?

At Panmunjom both governments “agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict.” [5]

They also agreed to stop broadcasting propaganda through loudspeakers and through the distribution of leaflets, usually carried by balloons. [6]

Additionally, they pledged to embark on programs of mutual disarmament. [7]

In short, both leaders committed to refrain from provoking or threatening the other side. This presumably meant that the South Koreans would bring to a halt the war games they regularly conducted with the United States which the North Koreans regarded as dress-rehearsals for an invasion of their country.

Moreover, they would forbear from acquiring new and more lethal weaponry. In fact, they would do the opposite—reduce arms. And they would stop denigrating each other through broadcasts and the launching of propaganda balloons across their shared border.

Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech

On January 1 Kim Jong Un briefed his country on the status of peace talks with the United States, the other piece of the puzzle of how to bring about a new era of peace on the peninsula. The United States is, through the UN Command, a party to the Armistice Agreement, has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, and has orchestrated the campaign to coerce North Korea into abandoning its nuclear arms.

Kim was frustrated. While Pyongyang had proposed that the two states engage in a series of reciprocal confidence-building measures, Washington was pursuing a campaign of maximum pressure, designed to strongarm Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons. [8] The campaign was, on the world stage, what Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd was on the streets of Minneapolis—an act of suffocation designed to bring about submission, even death. Washington’s aim was to starve North Korea of oxygen by organizing a near-total blockade of the country, using occasional summits and meetings with the North Koreans as platforms for demanding a North Korean surrender.

couvGowa
http://editionsdelga.fr

Kim observed that while he had halted his nuclear tests, suspended his missile tests, and closed his nuclear-test site—measures taken to persuade Washington he was sincere in his intentions to work out a durable modus vivende with the West—Washington had done little in return. To the contrary, rather than acting to mitigate tensions, Washington had acted to escalate them. It continued to conduct joint military drills with South Korea (despite US president Donald Trump promising to suspend the exercises and Moon declaring at Panmunjom that all hostile acts against North Korea would cease.)

Washington had also escalated the military threat against North Korea by sending to South Korea state-of-the-art weaponry that far out-classed anything in North Korea’s conventional arsenal. Additionally, Washington had intensified its economic war on North Korea.

Kim said that Washington had evinced no commitment to peace and was simply buying time to allow sanctions to bring about North Korea’s surrender or collapse. Washington’s professed interest in dialogue and negotiations was pure theater, he said. North Korea had been played.

This, by the way, wasn’t the first time the United States had played North Korea. To dissuade the North Koreans from building nuclear weapons, after they had threatened to do so in the wake of the US Air Force announcing in the early 1990s that it was re-targeting some its strategic missiles away from the now dissolved Soviet Union to North Korea, the Clinton Administration promised to build two proliferation-safe light-water reactors in North Korea in return for Pyongyang shuttering its plutonium reactor. But Washington tarried on construction of the reactors, figuring that with the demise of the USSR, and the disintegration of the socialist bloc on which Pyongyang had depended for trade, North Korea would follow East Germany down the path of absorption by its capitalist neighbor. Why live up to the terms of the deal, when North Korea’s days were numbered? But when the prediction of an imminent North Korean collapse failed to pan out, Washington reneged on the deal, issuing a virtual declaration of war on the revolutionary government, listing it as part of an “Axis of Evil,” along with Iraq and Iran, two other countries that had also insisted on independence from the United States.

Kim acknowledged that North Korea urgently needed peace to afford the space, trade, and resources necessary to develop his country’s economy. That’s why he had agreed to talks. But he would not give up security for economic rewards.

The North Korean leader also observed that while the United States professed that its hostile actions were motivated by its opposition to North Korea’s nuclear arms program, the reality was that Washington had pursued a policy of unrelenting hostility to North Korea from the very first moments of the country’s birth more than seventy years earlier. Indeed, North Korea had built its nuclear arsenal as a response to US hostility. He reasoned that Washington would always find some fault with North Korea, and would never abandon its campaign to destroy the North Korean state qua state committed to achieving the freedom from foreign domination of Koreans as a nation.

As a consequence, North Korea must resolve, Kim said, to live with sanctions for as long as necessary. It would also expand its strategic weapons program to strengthen its ability to deter US aggression. North Korea’s goal, Kim said, was to build a national defense strong enough to deter any power from using its armed force against North Korea. We must be sufficiently armed, he declared, to keep hostile forces at bay so that they will never dare to undermine our sovereignty and security. [9]

Seoul’s failure to abide by the Panmunjom agreement

As Washington dissimulated negotiating peace with Pyongyang, Washington’s junior partner, South Korea, flouted the commitments Moon had made at Panmunjom. Seoul was buying advanced F-35A jet fighters from the United States, providing South Korea, already more advanced militarily than North Korea, with war-fighting capabilities light years ahead of anything North Korea could muster with its aging fleet of obsolete and frequently ground MiG fighters, acquired from the old Soviet Union.

At the same time, the South Koreans were allowing US pilots to fly strategic bombers through Korean airspace, rattling the North Koreans.

And while all this happened, Seoul continued to participate in war games with the United States. The exercises, as the North Koreans like to point out, are rehearsals for an invasion of their country.

Last year, North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, complained that South Korea “has persisted in the introduction of offensive weapons including F-35A and held more aggression war drills with outsiders … maintaining that ‘there is no change in military posture despite the south-north agreement in the military field’ [10] – a reference to South Korea’s declaration at Panmunjom to “cease all hostile acts” that produce “military tension and conflict.”

The North Koreans further complained about the Janus-faced actions of their southern compatriots. As the South Korean military dismantled military posts and removed land mines from the Demilitarized Zone, it simultaneously carried out “military exercises with the foreign force and brought the latest military hardware aiming at [its] fellow countrymen” [i.e., North Koreans.] [11]

What’s more, despite explicitly committing at Panmunjom to end the distribution of propaganda leaflets, the practice continued. North Korean officials said balloons were released across the border 10 times in 2019 and three times in the first six months of 2020. [12]

When balloons were launched in June, Pyongyang had had enough.

A spark tossed upon the accumulated kindling

“Having seen that the balloons are still being launched and having observed reports that South Korea-US joint military exercises are continuing to take place at the battalion level and lower, North Korea” saw “South Korea as breaking the inter-Korean agreement,” explained Korean National Diplomatic Academy Chancellor Kim Joon-hyung. “There’s been discontentment building up over that, and it looks like it has now erupted over the balloon issue.” [13]

While talking peace, the United States and South Korea refused to depart from their hostile maximal pressure strategy. As always, the two countries cooperated to exert military, political, economic, and propaganda pressure on the Kim government—placing their conjoined knees on the DPRK’s neck—hoping the North Korean state would either surrender, or expire. Kim had grasped the open hands of Trump and Moon, at summits that had been billed as ‘historic’, but he finally had to concede that his interlocutors brandished knives behind their backs.

“When we say ‘imperialism is ferocious’,” Mao once observed, “we mean that its nature will never change, that the imperialists will never lay down their butcher knives, that they will never become Buddhas, till their doom. Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, fight again . . . until their victory; that is the logic of the people, and they too will never go against this logic. [14]

Despite their lofty words about peace, Trump and Moon have not become Buddhas.

This, however, isn’t the story told in the West. The Wall Street Journal says that “Seoul has long exercised restraint with its provocative northern neighbor, in hopes of drawing Pyongyang into peace talks,” and that Moon continues to encourage “the North to not give up on peace.” [15]

But a country that regularly carries out war games, incessantly expands its military budget, buys ever more deadly weapons systems, colludes with the world’s principal military power in incessant acts of intimidation against its neighbor, and continues to allow the scattering of propaganda leaflets denigrating its ‘peace-partner,’ can hardly be described as exercising restraint. Nor can such a country be described accurately as setting conditions favorable to the pursuit of peace on mutually agreeable terms.

So, rather than offering an account of the parties’ records in meeting their commitments, and then noting which party has succeeded and which has failed, we’re treated to an explanation of the breakdown of the Korean peace regime that lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the North Korean leadership. “North Korea’s near-term aim appears to be distracting its domestic audience from immediate economic challenges caused by U.S.-imposed sanctions and the spread of the coronavirus,” writes Andrew Jeong, The Wall Street Journal’s Korea reporter. “By labeling South Korea as an enemy, the North can blame any internal dysfunction on an external threat.” [16]

But wait. In creating economic challenges for North Korea by imposing ever more onerous sanctions, is the United States committed in any discernable way to peace on the Korean peninsula? Yes, if peace means elimination of an enemy. In Tacitus’s formulation, peace is the annihilation of the other side. And since North Korea’s economic challenges originate in Washington’s organizing a near total economic blockade of North Korea—to say nothing of the incessant US-South Korea military pressure which forces North Korea to divert scarce resources needed for economic development to its military—how could blaming “internal dysfunction on an external threat” be anything but a true and uncontroversial assessment?

If we believe the Western news media, by blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office, North Korea has scorned hopes for peace on the Korean peninsula. But neither Washington nor Seoul were ever interested in peace, except on US terms, and US terms require North Korea’s surrender and its absorption into a hierarchy of nations in which the United States sits at the top.

North Korea has given its answer. It will not happen.

1. William R. Long, “Radicalism not necessary, Castro advises Sandinistas,” The Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1985.
2. Timothy W. Martin, “North Korea Blows Up Liaison Office With South, Seoul Says”, The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2020.
3. Ibid.
4. “Full text of Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula,” The Strait Times, April 27, 2018.
5. Ibid
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. “Remarks of Vice President Pence at the 6th US-ASEAN summit,” November 14, 2018.
9. “Report on 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK,” KCNA, January 1, 2020.
10. “KCNA commentary urges S. Korean authorities to be prudent,” KCNA, October 24, 2019.
11. “S. Korean Authorities Deserve Punishment: KCNA Commentary”, KCNA, June 19, 2020.
12. Ibid.
13. “Likelihood of N. Korea launching ICBMs or escalating military tensions is low, former S. Korean ambassador to Russia says”, The Hankyoreh, June, 15, 2020.
14. Mao Tse-tung, “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle” (August 14, 1949), Selected Works, Vol. IV, p. 428.
15. Andrew Jeong, “South Korea Takes Harder Line After North Blows Up Liaison Office”, The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2020.
16. Ibid.

If you think the coronavirus lockdown is worse than the disease, you don’t understand the disease

By Stephen Gowans

May 16, 2020

It’s no accident that one of the world’s great morons—he who thinks injecting disinfectants and shining bright lights into bodily cavities will save the world from COVID-19—should be cheering on one the world’s most moronic public health policy choices.

The novel coronavirus—aptly dubbed the stealth virus—is highly infectious, if not peerlessly contagious. People can be infected by the virus—and spread the disease to others—for up to two weeks before showing symptoms. Or they can experience symptoms so mild that they’re not aware they’re ill. If we believe it’s now safe to co-mingle with people who aren’t visibly sick, we’re mistaken.

It’s estimated that if no measures to limit the spread of the virus are taken, each infected person will pass on the pathogen to three others. If you do the math, it will soon become apparent that left unchecked, the coronavirus will spread like wildfire. According to standard epidemiological models, a virus as contagious as this will reproduce exponentially until 60% of the world’s population is infected, whereupon the spread will begin to slow. In the end, 90% of us will be infected. With an estimated death rate of 1%, COVID-19 will kill 68.4 million people (the world’s population of 7.6 billion X a 90% final epidemic size X a 1% fatality rate)—that is, if we decide that letting the virus spread unfettered is better than continuing the lockdown until the virus is brought to heel.

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of those infected won’t die, and the fatality rate is miniscule, but a miniscule fraction of a large number (the world’s 7.6 billion people) can be surprisingly large. Only 3% of the world’s population was killed by the Second World War, but we would hardly blithely accept a reprise of that conflict simply because most of us would make it out alive.

If the pandemic is allowed to run its course, millions more will die from other conditions than can’t be treated as hospitals are overwhelmed and doctors and nurses are left bedridden by infection. Millions will die from heart attacks, strokes, other infections, postponed surgeries, delayed cancer treatments, and trauma that over-stressed healthcare systems can no longer accommodate. Economies will teeter, and then collapse, from massive absenteeism, as workers succumb to infection or refuse to show up to work to protect themselves from a now raging pandemic. If you think lockdown is tough, just wait to see what happens when the virus spreads unchecked.

On the precipice of a disaster

Fatigued by the lockdown, a number of countries, jurisdictions, and people, are giving up the fight. They’re lifting suppression measures, or ignoring social distancing guidelines, on the grounds that ‘the cure can’t be worse than the disease.’ The trouble is, if the disease is an out-of-control pandemic whose destination is 68.4 million dead, healthcare systems in collapse, and supply chains breaking down under massive worker absenteeism, it will be far worse than they imagine—and unquestionably far worse than the cure.

In North America, some states and provinces are pressing ahead with the phased reopening of their economies despite the counsel of public health officials that it’s too early; the virus has not yet been brought under control. In some jurisdictions, rather than slowing, the virus has resumed a growth path. The R value, a measure of the virus’s reproduction rate, has climbed above 1.0 in many places—indicating that the number of new infections has returned to an exponential path. In jurisdiction after jurisdiction, economies that weren’t supposed to reopen until the number of new infections had unremittingly declined over many weeks, are now throwing caution to the wind, and inviting populations to begin resuming normal activities.

The idea is to sacrifice some people, mainly the elderly, so we can save the economy. But killing off 68.4 million people so we can get back to work, won’t produce the desired outcome. On the contrary, as bodies pile up in mass graves, economies will collapse—the worst of all possible worlds.

UCLA economist Andrew Atkeson explains:

Under the policy of resuming normal activity now, or in 30 days, the disease is likely to spread rapidly. The dynamics of the disease would build to a crescendo over the next several months. At peak, over 10% of the population would have an active infection at the same time, and the daily death rate is likely to be very high – on the order of 20,000 deaths per day. And all of this would be going on in the context of a completely overloaded healthcare system. One naturally wonders whether under these conditions, Americans would lock themselves down, afraid to go out to shop and work given the illness and death around them, meaning that economic activity would grind to a halt then just as it is doing now under lockdown likely to spread rapidly. The dynamics of the disease would build to a crescendo over the next several months. At peak, over 10% of the population would have an active infection at the same time, and the daily death rate is likely to be very high – on the order of 20,000 deaths per day. And all of this would be going on in the context of a completely overloaded healthcare system. One naturally wonders whether under these conditions, Americans would lock themselves down, afraid to go out to shop and work given the illness and death around them, meaning that economic activity would grind to a halt then just as it is doing now under lockdown.

US treasury secretary Stephen Mnuchin has been lobbying for the reopening of the US economy on the grounds that it’s being ravaged by the lockdown. In a tense Oval Office meeting, US national security adviser Robert O’Brien—exhibiting more foresight and critical analytic skill than Mnuchin—told the treasury secretary that, on the contrary, the economy would be destroyed if officials did nothing.

A policy that kills the economy, and dispatches 68.4 million people to early graves, is, come to think of it, the public policy equivalent of injecting Lysol in your arm and shining a bright light up your ass.

How the US intends to keep its group of corporate marauders on top

March 24, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

On March 22, The Wall Street Journal’s Michael R. Gordon reported on how “Marines plan to retool to meet China threat.” What Gordon refers to as China’s “threat”, turns out to be the threat of China being in a position to defend itself. [1] Here are annotated excerpts from Gordon’s article.

[Over the past decades] China and Russia worked on systems to thwart the American military’s ability to assemble forces near their regions. … If war broke out … China could … keep U.S. warplanes at bay.

Russia similarly would use the surface-to-surface missiles, air defenses and antiship missiles deployed in Kaliningrad and on the Crimean peninsula in the Black Sea…

The Chinese and Russian advances [in self-defense] led the Pentagon to conclude that the U.S. was entering a new age of great-power conflict [which is to say, an age in which the US would no longer be able to easily dominate China and Russia militarily.]

[In response, the US Secretary of Defense at the time James] Mattis oversaw the development of a new national defense strategy, which asserted that the long-term competition with China and Russia was the Pentagon’s top priorit[y].

[As part of the new military strategy all] branches of the armed forces are honing new fighting concepts and planning to spend billions of dollars on what the Pentagon projects will be an era of intensified competition with China and Russia [aimed, from the US side, at overcoming China’s and Russia’s ability to keep US forces at bay.]

Among an array of new high-tech programs, the Air Force is developing a hypersonic missile that would travel five times the speed of sound…

The Marine Corps is … developing the ability to hop from island to island in the western Pacific to bottle up the Chinese fleet.

Why does Washington feel the need to bottle up China’s fleet and assemble forces on Russia’s perimeter? Perhaps the 2017 US National Security Strategy explains.

Marines

The Strategy defines the world as “an arena of continuous competition” among three great powers: The United States, China, and Russia. China and Russia are designated as ‘revisionist” powers. They are “revisionist” because they seek to “revise” the international order—one in which the United States has political, military, and economic primacy. In this world, China and Russia seek “to shape a world consistent with their…model…to promote their own interests at the expense of…America and our allies,” according to Mattis. [2] At the root of the competition is a battle for economic supremacy. “We must do everything possible,” said Mattis, “to advance an international order that is most conducive to our … prosperity.”

The Strategy’s specific grievances with China pivot on the Communist Party’s challenge to US business interests. China is deemed a threat because it “subsidiz[es] its industries, forc[es] technology transfers, and distort[s] markets,” and resolves to make economies less open to US free enterprise. Free enterprise, the Strategy says, is central to who US citizens are as a people. What this really means is that free enterprise is central to who the owners of free enterprise are as a class.

The Strategy’s principal concern is that China is expanding the reaches of its state-driven economic model and reordering the Asia-Pacific region in its favour at the expense of corporate America.

Additionally, Washington opposes China’s challenge to the Monroe Doctrine, the nineteenth century instrument of US imperialism which effectively declares Latin America a US sphere of influence. China, the Strategy complains, seeks to pull Latin America into its orbit through state-led investments and loans.

US planners define Russia as a great power competitor for many of the same reasons. Russia, the Strategy says, seeks to establish spheres of influence near its borders, contest US geopolitical advantages, and bolster communist Cuba while supporting socialist Venezuela.

The 2018 National Defense Strategy echoes the National Security Strategy’s themes:

The central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by … revisionist powers …. [China] continues to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future…[At the same time, Russia] seeks [to] change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favour … China and Russia are now undermining the international order … by … undercutting its principles and “rules of the road.”

The late John McCain, a principal figure of the US foreign policy establishment, explained what the rules of the road are and where they come from. “We are the chief architect and defender of an international order,” wrote the US senator, “governed by rules derived from our political and economic values.” He added: “We have grown vastly wealthier and more powerful under those rules” of the road. [3]

Failure to meet US defense objectives, the Strategy declares—that is, failure to enforce the US rules of the road—“will result in … reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living.”

The United States, then, is planning for wars, which, if they happen, will be wars of industrial extermination, undertaken for the sole purpose of ensuring its group of corporate marauders stays on top. How many of us want to get dragged into global conflagrations to ensure that US investors continue to receive the lion’s share of the world’s potential profits?

1. Apropos of this are the remarks of China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.

China’s National People’s Congress has never introduced any bill on the internal affairs of the United States. However, the US Congress has reviewed and adopted one bill after another that blatantly interferes in China’s internal affairs. China has never sent its military vessels and aircraft to the neighborhood of the United States to flex muscles, yet the US naval ships and airplanes have been flexing muscles at China’s doorsteps. China has never sanctioned any US businesses. On the contrary, we welcome US businesses to invest in China, and we have provided them with a sound business environment. However, the United States has tried every opportunity and means to suppress Chinese companies. It has introduced unilateral sanctions against Chinese companies by exercising long-arm jurisdiction, and tried to limit China’s development rights. So talking about threat, it is not that China is threatening the US, but the US is threatening China. [Emphasis added.]

2. “Read Jim Mattis’s letter to Trump: Full text,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
3. John McCain, “John McCain: Why We Must Support Human Rights,” The New York Times, May 8, 2017.

Is Peace on the Korean Peninsula Achievable?

Unless “the fundamental economic question, viz., the question of the economic essence of imperialism … is studied, it will be impossible to understand and appraise modern war and modern politics.” – Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin), 1917

March 15, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

I wrote a book in 2018 book titled, Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom.

The word “patriots” in the title, refers to the people who founded the state of North Korea, and I argue that North Korea is a patriot state because it was founded by anti-Japanese resistance fighters guided by the mission of freeing Korea from foreign domination.

“Traitors” refers to the people who collaborated with the United States in founding the Republic of Korea, or what we informally call South Korea, and who collaborated before that with the Japanese, to enforce Japan’s colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945. When the United States occupied the southern part of Korea in 1945 at the end of the Second World War, it established an administration in the southern half of Korea made up largely of Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese.

“Empires” refers to two empires, the Japanese, which dominated Korea through much of the first half of the twentieth century, and the United States, which has dominated the southern part of Korea ever since.

The last part, “The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom,” refers to the struggle Koreans have waged for over a century to free themselves from the domination of these two empires. And when I say the struggle of Koreans, I mean all Koreans, of both north and south. It’s clear that North Koreans reject US domination and control, but what’s not so clear is that many South Koreans do, as well.

http://www.barakabooks.com/

The Pentagon’s operational control of the South Korean military illustrates US hegemony over Seoul. The current South Korean government has asked the United States to transfer to it operational control of the South Korean armed forces. The reality that South Korea has to ask for operational control of its own military reveals that the United States is the de facto power in South Korea.

In response to South Korea’s request for operational control, the United States has temporized, saying that it’s prepared to talk about a possible transfer and has indeed held discussions with its South Korean subordinates. But the conditions under which the United States would transfer control would effectively make South Korean command of its own military a charade. Specifically, one of the conditions the United States proposes is that South Korean troops be placed under the command, not of South Korea’s head of its joint chiefs of staff, but of a lower-ranking South Korean general, who would be required to be headquartered at the main US military base in Korea, and would have a US general as deputy commander.

South Korea has a long tradition of US diplomats and military advisors operating in the background as the de facto governors of the state, with South Koreans as the state’s public face, creating the illusion of sovereignty. South Korea has been so decisively under US influence that throughout much of its history the South Korean government had been answerable to three people: the US ambassador, the head of the US military in Korea, and the CIA station chief.

There are a few facts which Washington is also hoping to use to block any meaningful transfer of operational control to its client state.

• The Korean War never ended in a peace treaty, and South Korea and the United States are still officially at war with North Korea.
• In this war, South Korean forces fight under the United Nations Command.
• The United Nations Command is officially led by a US general.

The corollary is that so long as a de jure war continues, South Korean forces remain under the UN (hence, US) Command. Therefore, in the absence of a formal peace on the Korean peninsula, South Korean troops remain assets of the Pentagon, even if the United States formally cedes operational control of South Korea’s military to Seoul, or to a South Korean general operating from a US military base with a US deputy nearby to ensure his actions remain within the framework of US power.

Washington has never evinced an interest in declaring a formal end to the war, despite North Korea urging Washington on multiple occasions to declare one. Colin Powell, when he was US Secretary of State, reacted to one North Korean request for a peace treaty by replying, “We don’t do non-aggression pacts or treaties, things of that nature.” That it could no longer use the UN Command as a pretext to control South Korean forces is one reason why the United States is averse to a peace treaty with North Korea.

To be sure, the United States is not entirely averse to peace on the Korean peninsula; it is only averse to a peace that isn’t on its own terms. And those terms are North Korea acceding to becoming a satellite of the US economy and outpost of the US military. If North Korea agreed to these terms, the United States would lift its sanctions, cease its military pressure, and declare a formal end to the war. But North Korea shows no sign of submitting to US demands, and therefore, peace on the Korean peninsula will have to be achieved by arriving at mutually agreeable terms. It’s important to note, however, that the respective objectives and worldviews of the two sides—one for empire and the other against—are so completely antithetical that the possibility of their arriving at mutually agreeable terms is approximately zero.

In any event, the United States pursues a negotiating strategy congruent with its overwhelming strength: it makes demands, and defines negotiation as the other side’s submission. Concessions from the US side (at least ones Washington doesn’t intend to revoke at some point in the future) are viewed in Washington as unthinkable, a sign of weakness, at odds with the gross imbalance of power in Washington’s favor that characterizes the US-DPRK relationship.

The question we need to ask, then, is why the US negotiating position is one of awaiting Pyongyang’s surrender, while dissimulating interest in genuine negotiations? The US historian William Appleman Williams once observed that the United States often rejects the give-and-take of negotiations in favor of the imperial dynamic of, we need, you give.

The first, and most important, answer to the question of why Washington has no genuine interest in negotiating a formal peace with North Korea, is that there is no reason for Washington to make concessions to the country. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is too small and too enfeebled to pose a threat. From the US perspective, the best strategy is to continue the enfeeblement process—to be achieved through unrelenting military pressure, diplomatic isolation, and economic strangulation—until North Korea surrenders. Pyongyang’s capitulation would represent peace on US terms.

Second, the South Korean military is a formidable asset. It is big, powerful, and equipped with advanced US military hardware. And it’s integrated into the US military, to the degree that it is, in reality, not a sovereign military, but an inter-operable component of the US Defense Department—what one US historian called an US Asian army in reserve. The continuation of an official state of war on the Korean peninsula affords the United States a pretext to maintain control of this formidable military asset, and to use it for its own purpose. We’ll see that the purpose is not the protection of South Korea from North Korean aggression—for North Korea is in no position to wage a war on its neighbor—but to threaten China.

South Korea sent over 300,000 troops to fight for the United States in Vietnam, and did so in return for significant injections of US economic aid—aid which was instrumental in triggering the take-off of the South Korean economy. This makes South Korea both a mercenary state and an accomplice of US imperialism. In return for military favors, Seoul received significant lucre from Uncle Sam. This arrangement was good for South Koreans (minus those who died or were disabled fighting for a US cause in a foreign land) but was detrimental to the Vietnamese, fellow East Asians with a common history of being raped by colonial powers, including the Japanese. South Korea, thus, helped the US empire do to the Vietnamese, what the French and Japanese empires had done before it.

Significantly, US troops were stationed on the Korean peninsula at the time. They had been there since 1945, and from 1950, it was said, to deter North Korean aggression. And yet, one would think that if the North Koreans were truly a threat to South Korea, Seoul could hardly have spared 300,000 troops.

Today, the pretext for the United States’ continued presence on the Korean peninsula is to defend South Korea from North Korea, but the argument is transparently false. South Korea, by any measure, is fully capable of defending itself against a North Korean attack. Its population is twice as large as North Korea’s and its economy is many times larger (partly as a consequence of the significant injections of US aid it received in return for its mercenary services.) South Korea spends $40 billion a year on its military (and its military spending is increasing robustly every year) while North Korea spends an estimated $5 billion, one-eighth of the South Korean level, and equal to the size of the budget of the New York City Police Department.

What’s more, South Korea is equipped with the latest US weapons systems, while North Korea relies on obsolete military equipment procured from the Soviet Union many decades ago, for which it cannot get spare parts and for which a fuel shortage prevents it from operating except infrequently. Part of the US playbook against North Korea is to create ambiguous military situations in which a US or South Korean invasion appears imminent, requiring the North Koreans to scramble their obsolete jet fighters, thus depleting their scarce stores of aviation fuel.

Also, the United States has 26,000 military personnel in South Korea, a trifle against the 625,000 South Korean troops. If North Korea attacked South Korea, who would be defending who?

In 1950, North Korea tried by military means to unify the country, and failed, at a point conditions were far more favorable to North Korean success than they are today. Back then, the South Korean government was weak and had little popular support. In contrast, veteran Korean fighters had returned to Korea from China, where they had taken part in China’s civil war on the side of Mao’s forces. They were ready to unify their country and overcome the collaborators in the south. What’s more, North Korea had the partial backing of the Soviet Union, and full support of Mao. If Pyongyang was incapable of bringing about a military success in 1950 when conditions were infinitely more favorable to its project, it’s unlikely in the extreme that the state would embark on the same project today, when it has no international support and South Korea is larger and many times stronger. Hence, the notion that the presence of US forces in Korea is necessary to deter North Korean aggression has no validity.

The truth of the matter is that the South Korean military is an extension of the 26,000 US troops in Korea, whose purpose couldn’t possibly be to deter North Korean aggression, since North Korea is too feeble and its military too obsolete to undertake any aggression. With its decaying military hardware and puny military budget, it’s barely able to defend itself, to say nothing of mounting an attack. Indeed, it is North Korean weakness that has compelled the country to develop nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense.

The purpose of the South Korean military under US command is to form part of the ring around China, which the United States has been building ever since it “lost China” to the Chinese. China, under the Chinese, has become, in the words of the official US Defense Strategy, a ‘great power’, something it never would have been allowed to have become under US leadership. Washington says it is engaged in a struggle with China, a country the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently called ‘the greatest threat of our time’.

That’s the reason US troops continue to be deployed to South Korea; they are the nucleus around which 625,000 South Korean troops are organized for the projection of US power in East Asia against China. South Korea’s raison d’etre from the point of view of the US state is to serve as a US power projection platform, or a stationary, unsinkable aircraft carrier under US command, on China’s periphery, critical to the US foreign policy project of eclipsing China’s independent economic development. US decision-makers have been keen to make China available to US investors and corporations as a sphere for the exploitation of low-wage manufacturing labor, and a vast market for US goods and services, but object to Chinese firms, whether private or state-owned, challenging US free enterprise. In other words, China is coveted by US planners as a satellite economy, but opposed as an independent economic actor.

Another reason Washington refuses to sign a peace treaty with North Korea is that remaining in a perpetual state of war with the North Korean state is part of the pressure campaign Washington has waged against the country from the moment North Korea was founded in 1948. The objective then, as now, is to bring about the collapse of the independence-minded government in Pyongyang in order to replace it with a government acceptable to the United States. This would bring all of the Korean peninsula under the informal control of Washington.

Yet another reason for the United States to oppose a formal peace on the peninsula is to establish a pretext to allow Washington to maintain pressure on North Korea in order to prevent it from developing a successful counter-example to the US-approved model of economic development. Washington says that a country must integrate into the US superintended global economic order, in order to thrive economically. This is a lie. Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico, all near neighbors of the United States, have long been integrated into the US economy—often at the point of a US gun—and still they wait, and wait, and wait for a promised prosperity that never arrives. Far from being a route to prosperity, an open door to US economic penetration has often been a route to unremitting poverty and permanent relegation to serving as a means to US prosperity and territory from which US businesses suck wealth, leaving the natives with subsistence-level existences.

The United States tells the same lies to North Korea. It must build a US business-friendly investment climate, it must cater to US investors, it must welcome US banks, and it must allow US investors unfettered access to every profit-making opportunity that is latent in the country’s labor, land, markets, and resources. It must put the interests of US investors ahead of the interests of its own citizens. That’s what empire means: that the interests of the mother country, in particular, the interests of the metropolitan rich, prevail over the interests of the metropolitan powers’ satellites. Even more than that, empire means that the metropolitan rich stand on the backs of the hinterland’s poor.

North Korea has always rejected the US lie. That’s a problem from the point of view of officials in Washington. If North Korea is allowed to pursue an alternative development strategy, one at odds with US prescriptions, which rejects Korea serving as a means to US ends and insists on Korea being an end in itself, and in pursuing its alternative development model it thrives, it becomes a model to be emulated by other countries—one that portends a diminishing set of profit-making opportunities for US investors and the growing courage of subordinate countries to reject their role as victims to be bled white.

Consequently, the United States has always, as a matter of policy, made it its task to ensure that any government that repudiates US lies, will be forced to live under a terrible burden of economic strangulation, isolation, and military threat. As the US campaign plays out, Washington attributes the poverty, chaos, and societal breakdown that ensue, not to the US campaign that caused them, but to the alleged failures of the target country’s alternative model of development.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an op-ed by an estadounidense who had visited Cuba with his church group, and reported that he had witnessed widespread poverty in the Caribbean country. He said that Cubans deserve better, and declared that Cuban poverty is a consequence of the socialist policies of the Cuban government. This was offered as an object lesson to US citizens of what happens when socialists (Bernie Sanders’ name was mentioned) come to power. What he didn’t mention was that almost from the very first moments of the Cuban Revolution, the US government resolved to cripple Cuba economically. So, writing about Cuban poverty without mentioning US economic sanctions, was like writing about the devastation of Hiroshima without mentioning the atomic bombing that produced it.

William Blum wrote a number of books on US foreign policy, with particular emphasis on US interventions in the affairs of other countries. He also wrote a monthly report called the Anti-Empire Report, an allusion to the United States as an empire. Blum once used an analogy to describe the US practice of sabotaging alternative development models, in an essay he titled, “Will humans ever fly? Smashing socialism in the 20th century.”

Imagine that the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each and every test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Humans shall never fly.

Fact: Virtually every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century has been either overthrown, invaded, or bombed … corrupted, perverted, or subverted … sanctioned, embargoed, or destabilized … or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one of these socialist governments or movements – from the Russian Revolution to Fidel Castro in Cuba, from Communist China to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua – not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home.

The US Empire

There are three reasons I describe the United States as an empire:

1. It acquired most of its North American territory by force, stealing it from the First Americans and Mexicans.

2. Beginning in the nineteenth century, it acquired formal colonies in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Caribbean, including Hawaii, Samoa, Guam, the Philippines, the US Virgin Islands, Wake Island, Midway Island, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico, some of which remain de facto colonies today.

3. Today, it uses its vast economic and military power, and its globe-girding network of military bases, to impose its will on all but the few countries large enough to resist it, or committed enough to a meaningful independence, to defy it.

The United States began as 13 British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America which came together to declare independence from Britain, mainly because Britain was blocking the colonists’ expansion westward. What began as a very small country, within a very restricted area, became a vast territory stretching from one ocean to another. The process of continental expansion, of moving ever westward, of expropriating the territory of the First Americans, of annexing parts of Mexico, of settling on other people’s land, of driving First Americans into graves and reservations, was one of empire building.

Once this vast continental empire was acquired, the United States embarked on the project of extending its territory beyond the continent. But those parts of the empire that exist beyond the continent are largely hidden today through what the US historian Daniel Immerwahr calls “the logo map of the United States.”

The logo map is the usual cartographic representation of the United States as territory that falls exclusively within North America. That representation is what we understand the country to be, and not an empire, even though the territory includes vast tracks of land that were never part of the United States as originally established in the US War of Independence, and even though US power is present on every continent, a reality reflected in the vast network of US military bases and outposts that straddles the globe.

Immerwahr points out that the logo map is a misrepresentation of US territory in total, because US territory extends far beyond North America. The United States formally includes territory in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and the Atlantic. US territories are properly called colonies, and were openly called colonies by US presidents as recently as the first half of the 20th century. Nowadays, they’re euphemized as territories, if they’re even recognized as US possessions. Often these places are misunderstood to be, not colonies of the United States, but foreign countries.

Puerto Rico, for example, is a colony of the United States. It was acquired by the United States in the Spanish-American War at the end of the nineteenth century. Puerto Ricans have no voting representation in the US Congress. They cannot vote in US presidential elections. The same is true of the US colonies of Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas—all US territories in which the residents have no voice in Congress and no say over who will be their head of state. Their status is the same as India’s was under British rule.

Stalin once observed that the United States’ record in world affairs is exactly the opposite of its view of itself. That the United States could exist as a formal colonial empire—indeed, can continue to exist as one today—while persuading the world that it has always been an anti-colonial power, untainted by the sin of colonialism, as its rivals Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Russia were, affirms the point. By one account, Puerto Rico is the world’s oldest colony. This means that the United States, which understands itself to be anti-colonial to its core—or at least wants the world to believe this—is in reality the most enduring colonial empire of all.

Hawaii is a state, not a colony, but it was a colony (as the other colony turned state, Alaska was) until 1959. How and why was it acquired? The United States was looking for an island on which to park a few battleships, as the author Sarah Vowell memorably put it—battleships that would be useful in projecting US power into East Asia, and Hawaii fit the bill. Before Korea, Hawaii was the principal US power projection platform aimed at East Asia.

The Philippines served a similar role. The territory was a formal colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946, half a century. And when Washington relinquished its formal control of the country, it insisted on receiving ninety-nine year leases on select military sites, so that the Philippines could continue to act as a US power projection platform important to the US project of dominating East Asia. At the same time, Washington could boast falsely (for it hung on to its colonies of Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico, Guam and so on) that granting the Philippines independence proved that it was an anti-colonial power. By the same reasoning, Britain’s granting India independence must have proved that Britain too was an anti-colonial power.

US experts in casuistry, as William Appleman Williams called them, have frequently tried to turn US vices into virtues. For example, it has been argued that a US commitment to liberty is evinced in the manumission of the slaves, a sophistical maneuvering that requires us to forget the very existence of the institution that invalidates the point. In short, if the United States was committed to liberty, it never would have tolerated slavery; if it abhors the enslavement of colonial peoples, it would have never enslaved them. Nor would it tolerate holding residents of its euphemized territorial possessions in colonial subjection today.

Interestingly, there is an event called Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor, the event, was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the place. Pearl Harbor, the place, is a US naval base in Hawaii. The Japanese attacked the base in December 1941—an attack which brought the United States formally into the Second World War. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, Hawaii was a US colony. The attack was part of what the Japanese called the Greater East Asian War, which, from their perspective, was a campaign to liberate the territories of East Asia that had been colonized by the West, and to fold them into what the Japanese called a Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, a high-sounding term for an expanded Japanese empire.

The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere had a parallel: the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was a US declaration that the Western Hemisphere, the Americas, would be an exclusive US sphere of influence, closed to European powers. Indeed, William Appleman Williams wrote that Japan saw itself as the United States of Asia whose goal was to impose its own Monroe Doctrine on the Far East.

I mention this because on the day the Japanese attacked the US colony of Hawaii, they also attacked the US colonies of the Philippines, Guam, Midway Island, and Wake Island. Additionally, attacks were launched on the British colonies of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In other words, what is now called ‘Pearl Harbor’ marks the beginning of a campaign to transfer the Asia-Pacific colonies of the British and US empires to the Japanese empire. But if the Japanese attacked eight Western colonies on that day, why is it that the event is commemorated by the attack on only one of them?

Immerwahr argues that omitting US colonies from historical memory serves the purpose of hiding the US empire, of concealing the reality that in 1941 the United States was a formal empire with colonial possessions in East Asia and the Pacific that were coveted by a competing empire, and that the war between these two empires was not a war of democracy against militarism, but a war over who East Asia belonged to. Would it belong to the Japanese, or would it belong to the United States? Of course, there was a third possibility: it could belong to the peoples of East Asia. Korea could belong to the Koreans (a possibility that would have obviated the Korean War), China could belong to the Chinese (rendering the US question “Who lost China?” meaningless), and Vietnam could belong to the Vietnamese (sparing us the Vietnam War.) This was the model—a fundamentally democratic one—that the guerillas who founded North Korea espoused.

Incidentally, the US colonization of the Philippines played an important role in shaping the thinking of Kim Il Sung, who would become the first leader of North Korea. In 1905, Japan declared Korea a protectorate, essentially announcing formally that Korea would fall under Japanese rule. Seeking international recognition for this move, Japan approached the United States and said: “Look, if you recognize our control of Korea, we’ll return the favor by recognizing US control of the Philippines.” Washington readily accepted and the two empires signed an agreement to formalize their division of East Asia.

Five years later Japan formally integrated Korea into its empire, and Koreans began to work in various ways to free themselves from Japanese tyranny. One such Korean was a man named Syngman Rhee, who would become the first president of South Korea. Rhee spent much of his life in the United States, collecting degrees from Ivy League universities, and lobbying the US government to help free Korea from Japanese rule.

Kim Il Sung chose another route. He went to Manchuria, a part of China which abuts Korea, to fight a guerilla war against the Japanese. Kim thought that Koreans, like Syngman Rhee, who were petitioning Washington to help free Korea from Japanese rule were naïve, since the United States was an empire, with colonies in East Asia and the Pacific, and had, as Kim put it, sold Korea into colonial slavery through its agreement with Japan to recognize Japan’s colonization of Korea in return for Japan recognizing US colonization of the Philippines. Kim regarded Rhee as a fool for begging and pleading for help from a colonial power, reasoning that a colonial power would be more interested in dominating Korea than liberating it.

In his autobiography, Kim described the US and Japanese empires as armed robbers: “An armed robber in your house will not spare your life, just because you plead for your life. Other armed robbers standing outside will not rush inside to help you no matter how loud you scream. If you want to live, you must fight off the armed robber yourself.”
So, in Kim’s view, appealing to one empire to help free oneself from another, was like asking an armed robber waiting outside your door to help you eject the armed robber inside your house.

The Korean War, 1932-Present

To understand Korea today, the division between north and south, and the hostility between the two states, one needs to understand the Korean War. The overt hostilities of the war ended, not in a peace treaty, but an armistice. The war is still nominally in progress.

In the conventional account, the Korean War began in 1950 and ended in 1953. On one side was the UN Command, which included US forces, South Korean forces, and token representations from US allies, all under the command of the United States. On the other side was North Korea initially, and very quickly thereafter, China, which took command of joint Chinese-North Korean forces. The Korean War is sometimes called the Sino-America War, or a war between the United States and China, which, in one respect, it was.

1950-1953 is the conventional dating of the war. But as mentioned earlier, the war didn’t officially end in 1953. US forces haven’t left the peninsula. The UN Command has not been dissolved. And a peace treaty has never been signed. So the war, while in a dormant phase, continues. We ought to date it, 1950 to present.

But even the conventionally understood 1950 start-date is wrong. June 1950 was the month North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, a dividing line drawn by the United States in 1945, and accepted by the Soviets, for separating the US and Soviet occupation forces, who, by agreement, committed to quit the peninsula within five years. The parallel was never an international border; never the border between two countries; and only ever a temporary informal border between two occupation forces. Soviet troops exited the peninsula at the end of 1948. The US occupation has never ended. The latter point underscores a simile. US troops deployed to foreign countries are like cockroaches. Once they move in, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of them. Many US citizens find the simile offensive, but to people who endure occupation, the occupiers are, like cockroaches, unwelcome pests.

In the conventional US dating, June 1950, not June 1949, marks the start of the war, but from June 1949 to June 1950 North Korea and South Korea fought along this imaginary line. June 1950 is the point at which North Korean forces, in the conventional US account, committed an act of international aggression by moving across the 38th parallel. The problem with this view is that, for the reasons explained above, the 38th parallel wasn’t an international border. Indeed, no one recognized it as such—not the South Koreans, not the North Koreans, and not the US government.

In June 1950, the South Korean government regarded itself as the sole legitimate government in all of Korea and viewed North Korea as a criminal organization illegally occupying territory north of the 38th parallel. At the same time, the North Korean government regarded itself as the sole legitimate government of all of Korea and saw South Korea as a criminal organization illegally occupying territory south of the 38th parallel. Both states declared Seoul to be their capital, and both claimed exclusive jurisdiction over the entire Korean peninsula.

The model of the Korean War as a conflict between two countries does not fit. Two countries didn’t exist. One country, Korea, did, but it was claimed by two separate states. It’s more accurate to think of the conflict as a civil war between two groups of Koreans for control of a single country. One group comprised traitors who collaborated with the Japanese, while the other was made up of patriots who fought the Japanese. From the perspective of civil war, no invasion occurred in June of 1950, since it was impossible for Koreans to invade their own country. What happened was that the army of one group of Koreans (the patriots) moved into the territory occupied by the army of another group of Koreans (the traitors), with the aim of liberating their country from the traitors and the traitors’ patron, the United States.

A parallel can be glimpsed in imagining a conflict between Free France and Vichy France during the Second World War. Could Free French forces invade Vichy France? Would crossing into the territory under the control of the Vichy regime, be an act of international aggression, or simply French patriots trying to liberate their country from traitors collaborating with a foreign invader?

The UN Command operated under a UN Security Council Resolution which authorized the use force to compel the North Koreans to withdraw to the 38th parallel. This, the patriots were forced to do, but the empire-commanded forces quickly proceeded to violate the resolution by moving north beyond the 38th parallel toward the Chinese border. When it was pointed out that if North Korea had committed an act of international aggression by invading across the 38th parallel, then so too had US forces by crossing the parallel in the other direction, the US ambassador to the United Nations countered that the 38th parallel was not an international border but an imaginary line, thus invalidating the initial charge against North Korea. The United States was seeking to have matters both ways, defining the crossing on an imaginary line as an invasion when North Korea did it but not an invasion when by the United States did it.

The double standard reflected the ideology underlying US foreign policy. As explained by the US historian Marilyn B. Young, US foreign policy insists that the intentions of the United States are always good and the intentions of the enemies of the United States are always bad. Therefore, North Korea’s crossing the 38th parallel must have been bad, because it was an act of a US enemy, while the United States’ crossing of the same parallel must have been good, because it was an act of the United States.

Bruce Cumings, a leading US historian of twentieth century Korea, argues that the civil war between Koreans began, not in 1950, when Kim Il Sung set out to liberate, unify, and revolutionize his country, and not in 1949, when patriot and traitor forces began to fight along the 38th parallel, but in 1932, when Kim Il Sung formed his first patriot guerrilla unit to fight the Japanese, and collaborators, who would become central figures in the South Korean government, chose another route, joining the Japanese army to enforce Japan’s colonial tyranny over Korea.

One of those traitors was Park Chung-hee, who was for many years, the military dictator of South Korea. While Kim Il Sung was fighting the Japanese in the mountains of Manchuria, Park was serving voluntarily as an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army, in a counter-insurgency unit in Manchuria, hunting down Korean guerillas, like Kim Il Sung, and the patriots who would later found the North Korean state.

In South Korea, Kim Il Sung is demonized, just as he is in the West. But Cumings reports than in 1989, South Korea’s leading scholar of Korean communism was allowed to tell the true story of Kim Il Sung. When it was explained to a group of South Korean students who Kim really was, namely, a patriot hero of the guerilla struggle for Korean independence, the students broke out in loud applause.

Cumings points out that the descendants of Koreans who fought each other beginning in the 1930s as anti-Japanese guerillas versus pro-Japanese collaborators, continue to struggle today against each other as the leaders of North and South Korea. The current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is the grandson of the guerilla leader Kim Il Sung. The president of South Korea, prior to the current one, Park Geung-hye, is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the military dictator who, as an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army, hunted down guerillas like Kim Il Sung. Thus, as Cumings has argued, the civil war that began in 1932 between patriots and traitors has never ended and is carried on today by their descendants.

Health Care and the Empire’s Economic War Against Korean Patriots

The most significant determinant of the quality and level of health care available to North Koreans today is their government’s rejection of empire. This rejection has led to the United States, and its allies, and finally the UN Security Council, imposing punitive sanctions on North Korea, intended to destroy its economy and as a corollary to coerce the government and people of North Korea to surrender their independence and become part of the informal US empire (as their compatriots in the south are.)

No country has been subjected to a campaign of economic warfare as long as North Korea has, and I use the term economic warfare as a synonym for sanctions, sanctions being an anodyne term for what in international law are called coercive economic measures. If the aim of warfare is for one state to impose its will on another—that is, to engage in international coercion to work its will—then we can think of coercive economic measures as warfare conducted through economic means.

The United States has waged economic warfare on North Korea from the very first moments of North Korea’s birth in 1948, and the burden on the country of the US-pursued war by economic means has increased since 2006, when the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution enjoining all members of the United Nations to participate in this campaign. Today, North Korea is facing a near-comprehensive sanctions program—an almost complete blockade of trade and its total isolation from the global financial system.

The sanctions have banned the export of coal, of iron ore, and of other key North Korean products, as well as drastically cut oil imports. The amount of refined petroleum North Korea is allowed to import has been cut by almost 90 percent. How is it possible to operate a modern economy under these conditions? Of course, it isn’t possible, which is the point.

The sanctions have also undercut North Korea’s ability to import food, necessary to alleviate an already existing chronic food shortage, the consequence of previously-imposed sanctions. Food-insecurity has obvious implications for public health.

Sanctions programs often provide exemptions for the importation of drugs and other humanitarian goods, subject to approval. Those approvals are often denied on the grounds that the requested imports go beyond fulfilling a basic humanitarian function, which is regularly defined as the prevention of famine. That’s the idea, or at least, that’s the way the United States interprets humanitarian exemptions: exemptions should do no more than prevent mass starvation. In other words, under the US definition, sanctions which create enormous suffering and misery are humanitarian, so long as the people subjected to them, don’t starve to death. By this definition, locking up people in concentration camps and feeding them a diet only sufficient to prevent organ failure constitutes humane treatment.

But even if North Korea were allowed to import all the food and drugs it requires—that is, even if humanitarian exemptions were truly humanitarian—food and drugs alone would hardly be sufficient to address the public health care needs of North Koreans. Public health requires more than access to food and medicine. It requires access to clean water and ways of transporting drugs, food, and medical equipment to where they’re needed. It requires electricity to power medical equipment, to provide lighting in hospitals and clinics, and to provide refrigeration to prevent drugs and food from spoiling.

If you prevent a country from importing trucks, tires, spare parts, and fuel, how can it distribute drugs, food, and medical supplies? How can it run hospitals and ambulances? If you prevent a country from importing machinery and industrial equipment, how can it maintain its sewage and water treatment facilities? How can it maintain its power plants?

In Iraq in the 1990s, UN sanctions prevented the Iraqi government from rebuilding its water treatment and sewage facilities, which the United States had damaged in the Gulf War. This led to outbreaks of water-borne illness, including typhus and cholera. During the Gulf War the United States deliberately bombed water treatment and sewage facilities, with full knowledge of the probable public health consequences. The Pentagon acknowledged in advance of the bombing that there would be outbreaks of water-borne illness.

UN sanctions complemented the effects of the bombing campaign by preventing the Iraqi government from importing the goods it needed to repair the infrastructure the United States had destroyed or damaged. The intent, then, of the Gulf War and the sanctions program that accompanied it, was not only to damage the health of Iraqis but to return their country to the middle-ages—which is precisely what happened. Today, Iraqis suffer the consequences; basic civilian infrastructure remains in ruins; life is one preventable misery piled atop another. A country that had enjoyed during the 1970s what one former US State Department official had called a golden age is now a crucible of human misery, thanks to the war, both military and economic, waged by the United States, and participated in, if not on the military side, then on the economic side, by numerous countries throughout the world, which delude themselves that they are morally above the war-obsessed United States, because they dropped no bombs on Iraq. But they did contribute to the economic war which, as we’ll seen in a moment, was very likely more deadly than the bombing war.

Returning to North Korea, the US Treasury Department has effectively blocked the transfer of funds to and from the country, isolating it from the world banking system, so that on top of the prohibitions on goods that can be imported from or exported to North Korea, the US government makes it virtually impossible for North Korea to pay foreign suppliers. The United States does this by refusing to deal with any bank that deals with North Korea, and since no bank cares to be shut out of the US market, banks steer clear of the US-designated pariah state. For example, the World Health Organization has an office in North Korea. To pay its local staff, it needs to procure funds through a foreign bank. The bank is in India. But the bank refuses to transfer funds to North Korea, fearing that if it does so, it will be cut off from the US banking system.

This happens in all the countries the United States embargoes. Few companies or organizations want to transact business with a sanctioned country. The bureaucratic hurdles that must be overcome to get approvals to export goods to a pariah state are so steep that they act as a deterrent It’s just not worth the effort to complete all the paper work necessary to trade with North Korea. Additionally, and more importantly, organizations don’t want to run the risk of running afoul of the US Treasury Department and becoming the target of secondary sanctions. Accordingly, sanctioned countries have difficulty finding partners to transact business with, even when the business to be transacted is not formally prohibited.

Why have sanctions been imposed on North Korea?

Ostensibly the sanctions were imposed to pressure North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and that’s true of the multilateral UN Security Council sanctions that have been in effect since 2006, but the United States and its allies have maintained sanctions on North Korea from the moment of North Korea’s birth, long before North Korea ever had nuclear weapons.

Some of the reasons for imposing the sanctions are really quite deplorable. One set of US sanctions was imposed because, as the framers of the legislation imposing the sanctions wrote, North Korea maintains a Marxist-Leninist economy. The fact that the United States feels it is legitimate to use coercive economic measures to pressure a foreign country to change the way it organizes its economy is indefensible. It is not within the legitimate remit of the US government to decide how another people organizes its economy. Meddling in the internal affairs of other countries is an affront to both the concepts of geography and democracy. US politicians behave as if North Korea is part of the United States, and that Washington has the right to impose US economic preferences on North Korea’s citizens. It does not.

Even if North Korea dismantled its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, it would still be sanctioned, because nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles aren’t at the heart of why sanctions were imposed. Sanctions were imposed because North Korea has refused to allow its territory to become a satellite of the US economy and outpost of the US military.

Let’s consider the casual sequence. North Korea refuses to be absorbed into the US empire. Unwilling to take no for an answer, the United States uses various methods to coerce North Korea into surrendering its sovereignty. To deter the United States, and to defend its independence, North Korea develops nuclear weapons.

Let me draw your attention to the work of Kenneth M. Waltz. Waltz was a high-profile US political scientist, the president of the American Political Science Association, and founder of what is called the neo-realistic or structural realistic school of international relations. Waltz wrote:

Like any dominant power, [the United States] is a looming threat in the minds of many international leaders. When President George W. Bush identified Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as forming an axis of evil in January of 2002, and when he then ordered the invasion of one of them, what were the other two to think? It would make sense for them to believe that they might be next, and in that case to take steps to deter the United States from invading. But how can any state hope to deter a world-dominant power? Conventional defense and deterrence strategies have historically proven ineffective against the United States, so, logically, nuclear weapons are the only weapons capable of dissuading the United States from working its will on other nations.

Waltz was saying, if you’re a small and weak country, and you’re threatened with invasion by the United States—which, elsewhere, Waltz had pointed out has a penchant for beating up on weak countries—what are your options? The only option is to acquire the one class of weapons capable of deterring the United States: nuclear weapons. Waltz went on to argue that North Korea’s interests in nuclear weapons stem from “serious security concerns.”

North Korea began thinking about acquiring nuclear weapons in the early 1990s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union dissolved, North Korea was no longer under the Soviet nuclear umbrella. It was exposed, terribly insecure, and at risk of invasion by the United States.

It’s easy to deplore North Korea’s decision to acquire nuclear weapons as we in Canada, or South Korea, or Japan, or Germany, sit under the US nuclear umbrella. Countries that live under the US nuclear umbrella feel secure. Since these countries rely on US nuclear weapons for protection, they have no need to develop their own.

Insecure countries, on the other hand, have very compelling reasons to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea found itself in the early 1990s directly targeted for nuclear strike by the United States. The US Strategic Command, the body that operated the US nuclear force, announced that it was retargeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles from the now defunct Soviet Union to North Korea. Shortly thereafter, North Korea announced that it was withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The message was: If you threaten us with nuclear annihilation, we have no option but to find a deterrent to your threat.

In 2002, a Pentagon list was leaked of seven countries deemed possible targets of a US nuclear strike. The list included North Korea. Russia, China, Syria, Libya, Iran, and Iraq were also on the list.

The central tenet of nuclear non-proliferation is: don’t threaten non-nuclear countries. If you’re genuinely concerned about nuclear non-proliferation, you painstakingly avoid creating the conditions that encourage countries to arm themselves with nuclear weapons in order to achieve security. And yet the United States has acted in ways, and continues to act in ways, that virtually guarantee the spread of nuclear weapons from one threatened insecure country to another. The United States is the world’s major cause of the spread of nuclear weapons.

Muammar Gaddafi, the former leader of oil-rich Libya, overthrown by Islamist rebels backed by NATO warplanes, had also found himself in a very insecure position after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The US government didn’t like Gaddafi’s policies. They were too nationalist for the tastes of US oil companies. Gaddafi tried to rectify his precarious security condition by developing a nuclear weapons program. Gaddafi’s program never really got off the ground, but if it had, and had succeeded, it may have provided Libya with the security the radical economic nationalist sought.

However, instead of pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, Gaddafi struck a deal with the West. He was offered concessions, and in return, he abandoned his nuclear weapons program. But before long, he found himself double-crossed. Effectively disarmed, he became an easy target, and was overthrown—indeed, gruesomely murdered—by radical Islamists backed by the United States and its allies.

The North Koreans pointed to the Libyan example as confirmation that they had made the right decision in building nuclear weapons, vowing that they would never let themselves be double crossed the way Gaddafi had.

The Arab nationalist leader of Iraq, Saddam—I call him Saddam because that’s how he was referred to in Iraq and how he wanted to be referred to, and also because Hussein wasn’t his family name but his father’s name—Saddam, also embarked on the development of nuclear weapons, as a means of making his country secure from the growing threats of the United States. To deny him nuclear weapons that would effectively make him invulnerable to US attack, and for other reasons related to the US goal of completely dominating West Asia and its oil resources, the United Nations Security Council, under US pressure, imposed a comprehensive sanctions program on Iraq from 1990 to 2003, much like the one we see today on North Korea.

The sanctions program generated a lot of controversy because there was plenty of evidence it was killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through malnutrition and disease. In the controversy surrounding the sanctions, a paper was written by two US academics, John Mueller and Karl Mueller, that appeared in Foreign Affairs (the informal journal of the US State Department.) In their article the two political scientists pointed out that in the twentieth century, sanctions had killed more people than all the weapons of mass destruction in history, including all the chemical weapons used in World War I and the atomic bombs used at the end of World War II.

This was notable, because the Iraq sanctions were ostensibly aimed at pressuring the Iraqi government into giving up its weapons of mass destruction. I say ostensibly because Washington had made clear that the sanctions wouldn’t be lifted until the government in Iraq was replaced by one acceptable to the United States. Hence, the goal of the sanctions program went well beyond denying Iraq its weapons programs. In announcing that the sanctions would not be lifted until the Iraqi government was ousted in favor of a US-approved replacement, the United States removed any incentive for Baghdad to relinquish its weapons.

If sanctions were killing more people than all the weapons of mass destruction in history, not only was this a cruel irony, but the sanctions deserved the label ‘sanctions of mass destruction’ — because that’s what they were doing: producing the mass destruction of human life. This was a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

In making this argument, Mueller and Mueller pointed out that the Allied blockade of Germany in World War I had killed over 750,000 people through disease and malnutrition, far more people than were killed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Allied blockade of Germany, then, is one example of mass destruction of human life that exceeds the use of atom bombs. There is also the mass destruction brought about by fire-bombing, that is, through the use of incendiary weapons, including jellied gasoline and napalm, to incinerate cities and cremate the people inside them. The British and US air forces in World War II discovered that it was easier to burn cities to the ground than to blow them apart, and they burned a number of cities to the ground—Hamburg and Dresden in Germany, and over 100 Japanese cities, including Tokyo.

Let’s consider the fire-bombing of Hamburg. As Sven Lindqvist recounts in his book A History of Bombing, when the rescue teams made their way into Hamburg’s bomb shelters, they were faced with scenes reminiscent of those encountered at the same time by Jews forced to clear the bodies of other Jews out of the gas chambers. What they found was ‘intertwined piles of people, killed by fumes and pressed against the vents of the barricaded doors.’ Hence, as some have pointed out—the US historian Lewis Mumford, for example—the difference between incinerating civilians in a fire-bombing raid and incinerating civilians in deathcamp ovens are too trivial to mention. Mumford wrote: “In principle, the extermination camps where the Nazis incinerated … helpless Jews were no different from the urban crematoria our air force improvised in its attack by napalm bombs on Tokyo,” a reference to the March 9-10, 1945 US fire-bombing of Tokyo, which scorched, boiled and baked to death 100,000 Japanese civilians, as Curtis LeMay, the US general who planned the raid, put it.

After learning to incinerate Japanese cities, LeMay applied what he learned to the project of incinerating all of North Korea, destroying the country so thoroughly that there were only two modern buildings left standing in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, when the air raids were brought to a halt in 1953. LeMay recounted that “over a period three years or so…we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea too.”

Returning to Iraq, sanctions on the country during the 1990s killed perhaps well over one million people. We know that by 1995 they had killed over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five through disease and malnutrition, according to a UN agency, and the sanctions would last another eight years. This was an atrocity the US Secretary of State at the time, Madeline Albright, did not deny. Instead she said it was a tough decision to impose the sanctions that produced death on this scale, but “it was worth it.”

Over a half a million children dead as a result of sanctions is more than the combined fatalities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This has led some people to equate sanctions to economic atom bombs, recognizing that the effects of sanctions in the destruction of human life can be as great as, if not greater, than a nuclear attack.

Or we can look at this another way. Combined, the fire-bombing of over 100 Japanese cities in World War II and the atomic bombing of two more, produced 500,000 fatalities. Thus, the number of deaths produced by the sanctions of mass destruction inflicted on Iraq in the first five years was greater than the number of deaths produced by the fire- and atom-bombings of Japan during World War II.

Economic atom bombs have been denotated not only over Iraq and North Korea, but over Syria, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.

Ten years ago, Amnesty International released a report on what it called the crumbling state of health care in North Korea, which the organization blamed on what it said was North Korea’s mismanagement of its economy. Misattributing economic breakdown to a country’s alleged mismanagement, rather than to the economic warfare that produced it, is a standard practice of Western governments and their non-governmental allies.

Here’s what happens: Economic atom bombs are dropped on a country. Its economy collapses. People go hungry. Public health care suffers. And organizations like Amnesty International blame the collapse, not on the sanctions, but on the economic policies of the country under attack. The mainstream media are no different. Read Western newspaper accounts of the economic troubles experienced by sanctioned countries and you will invariably see that those troubles are attributed to mismanagement. Because the ravages of US sanctions are almost invariably inflicted on communist, socialist, and radical nationalist governments— and not on the pro-imperialist, pro-capitalist human rights horror shows of Saudi Arabia, Israel, the India of the Islamophobic BJP, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, all of which Washington cherishes as allies—US politicians, Amnesty International, and the mainstream news media, are able to intone that socialism or any program intended to uplift the poor, the underdeveloped, or the historically oppressed, is unrealistic, impractical, and bound to produce failure. This is a way to strengthen profit-centered ideology and attack its people-centered challengers.

I wrote a criticism of the Amnesty International report which began with a quotation from a 1997 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article was titled, “The sleep of reason produces monsters—human costs of economic sanctions,” and the quote I chose was this: “Economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health.”

Consider that recently economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs found that sanctions on Venezuela “have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018.” That’s more deaths than produced by the US-British fire-bombing of Hamburg during the Second World War.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Iranian government—whose citizens are being crushed by the burden of massive US sanctions—must do what the United States says “if they want their people to eat.” That’s called, “Do as we say, or starve.” And that’s why under international law, sanctions are not called sanctions but coercive economic measures. Sanctions have adversely affected health care in Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran’s “health care system has … been depleted after the U.S. imposed economic sanctions in 2018… hindering imports of certain medicines and medical equipment.”

Is Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Iraqis, North Koreans, and Others Worth It?

One might be of the view that no matter how much sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health, that waging a war against the public health of North Koreans is worth it, to protect us from the possibility of a North Korean nuclear strike.

There are a number of problems with this view. No serious commentator believes that North Korea’s nuclear weapons pose an offensive threat to the United States, or to South Korea, or to any other country. North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is strictly defensive. The country is not in a position to launch a first strike attack on the United States or its allies and survive a retaliatory strike. North Korea would be completely vaporized and the leadership knows it. What’s more, no one of consequence in the US state seriously believes that the North Korean leadership is suicidal.

Additionally, as I’ve already pointed out, Western sanctions on North Korea began decades before the North Koreans ever had nuclear weapons. From this we can conclude that sanctions weren’t imposed to punish North Korea for developing nuclear weapons. They were imposed for other reasons. It is meaningless, then, to talk of waging a war against the public health of North Koreans to protect us from the possibility of a North Korean nuclear strike, when an offensive North Korea nuclear strike is not in the cards, and deterring a North Korean nuclear strike has never been the reason for the sanctions.

What, then, is the reason?

It’s not difficult to find out. The Congressional Research Service, a think-tank and information service of the US Congress, published a paper on US sanctions on North Korea. Look through the list of sanctions, which is extensive, and you’ll find that one of the stated reasons for inflicting economic hardship on North Korea is to punish the state for running, as I mentioned earlier, what the US government calls “a Marxist-Leninist” economy, and for failing to operate what it calls a “market economy.”

In other words, the goal of many of the sanctions inflicted by Washington on North Korea (not all of them, but many of them) has been to coerce the North Koreans into opening their economy to US exports and investments. Indeed, at the turn of the twentieth century, the United States adopted what it called the Open Door Policy as the basis for its foreign policy; that is, US foreign policy would promote an open door throughout the world for US businesses. Woodrow Wilson, the US president in the years immediately before and during the First World War argued that those countries that refused to open their doors—either because they rejected free enterprise in favor of public ownership or were radical nationalist and wanted to develop their own industry internally and therefore needed to shut out foreign competition—these countries would have to be coerced to open their doors, to accept free trade, and US free enterprise, even if it meant “outraging their sovereignty.” This might mean invasion, or sanctions, or the overthrow of governments—whatever it took to bring about a change that would allow US business people to do business in a previously closed economy.

What this means is that the United States is waging a war on the public health of North Koreans because North Koreans have decided—as they have every right to do—to organize their economy in a manner they believe is most suited to their own needs and interests rather than the needs and interests of US corporations and investors.

So, here’s the message: Unless you organize your affairs in the manner we say—in a manner conducive to the interests of the US billionaire class—we will undertake an economic war on you, which, at its core, will be a war against public health.

It’s not widely known, but the United States has imposed sanctions on Syria since 1979, and escalated its sanctions in 2003, and then later in 2011. But why 2003?

That was the year the United States and Britain invaded Iraq. And the plan, revealed by the US Congressional Research Service, was for US forces to follow up their invasion of Iraq with an invasion of neighboring Syria to replace the government of Bashar al-Assad with one acceptable to the United States. The year before, Washington had added Syria to its so-called Axis of Evil list, which included initially Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and then was expanded to include Syria, Cuba, and Libya.

That Washington was planning to invade Syria in 2003 was confirmed recently by Lawrence Wilkerson, who had been chief of staff to Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State at the time. Wilkerson told Aaron Maté of the investigative news organization, The Grayzone, that

“The next plans were for Syria. Syria just fell right in line with Iraq, because we thought it was going to be swift, quick, roses in the street, candy in the bars, and so forth, everything was going to be over very quickly. Rumsfeld [the Secretary of Defense] thought we were going to be out of Iraq by August [2003] and we’d bounce right over into Syria. And we thought that Syria would be sufficiently cowed by how fast we did Iraq, and it wouldn’t be very hard in Syria. And then we’d move on from there. I actually saw the contingency planning for that, the classified contingency planning.”

Assad has the same commitment to political and economic independence that Saddam had, one based on economic and foreign policies that stress Arab independence. Washington disapproves. If you read US government documents on Syria, you’ll see that they’re teeming with complaints about Syria being insufficiently accommodating of foreign investment and US free enterprise. Damascus is also denounced for supporting independence movements.

When the Pentagon discovered that Iraqis were resisting their occupation, the generals decided that a follow-up invasion of Syria was a bridge too far, whereupon the US political leadership concluded that the goal of replacing the Assad government with one acceptable to the United States—one which would implement the open door policy in Syria and renounce Syria’s support for liberation movements—would have to be brought about by other means.

One of those means would be sanctions. Hence, coercive economic measures were stepped up in 2003, and by the spring of 2012, The Washington Post would report that sanctions had “forced Syrian officials to stop providing education, health care and other essential services in some parts of the country.”

Thus, long before the outbreak of the so-called Arab Spring in 2011, the United States was waging an economic war on Syria’s education, on its health care, and on its other essential services.

In 2011, the EU, Turkey, the Arab League, Canada and Australia joined the US assault on the essential services of Syrians, including their health care.

In May of last year, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Syria described the sanctions as effectively a total blockade.

And while exceptions are theoretically constructed to allow the flow of humanitarian relief into Syria, a report prepared for a UN commission pointed out that there is “perilous reluctance among western suppliers and banks to offer humanitarian goods and related finance, in part, for fear of sanctions issues, such as fines for inadvertent technical violations.”

The Special Rapporteur also observed that

“The uncertainty around what transactions do, or do not violate the unilateral coercive measures, have created a ‘chilling effect’ on international banks and companies, which as a result are unwilling or unable to do business with Syria.”

Thus, the entry points through which humanitarian aid is supposed to flow exist in theory alone and not in reality.

Sanctions have severely limited the Syrian government’s ability to purchase the drugs and medical equipment it needs. As a consequence, Syria’s public health care system—once one of the best in Arab Asia—is in a state of virtual collapse, as is North Korea’s. Significantly, both countries refuse to become economic and military satellites of the United States.

Commenting on the sanctions, the veteran foreign affairs correspondent Patrick Cockburn observed that the US, EU, and Canadian sanctions resemble the sanctions the UN imposed on Iraq—the ones that killed over 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five in the first five years of the 13-year-long economic strangulation campaign. The de facto total blockade of Syria also calls to mind the Allied blockade of Germany, which killed over 750,000 German civilians during World War I.

Madeline Albright said that killing 500,000 Iraqi children through sanctions-related disease and malnutrition was worth it. Worth what? What did the United States gain in exchange for the lives of over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five?

It gained opportunities for major US investors. Washington expanded its control over a West Asia pullulating with profit-making opportunities and rife with strategic significance. The profit-making opportunities of West Asia’s petroleum resources are obvious. But there’s also a strategic significance that’s less obvious. Western Europe and East Asia are dependent on West Asian oil. If you control West Asian oil and its transportation routes, you control Western Europe and East Asia, and control of these regions translates into profit-making opportunities for US businesses.

Recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Belarus, trying to persuade Belarus to move out of the orbit of Russia and into the orbit of the United States. Russia is Belarus’s major source of oil and natural gas, so severing ties with Russia can’t be accomplished without complications. But Pompeo assured the Belarussian president that if his country joined the US empire that “Our energy producers stand ready to deliver 100 percent of the oil you need at competitive prices.” And that’s what US control of West Asia means. It means leverage over countries that have no internal sources of petroleum—countries such as Japan, Germany, France, South Korea, China, and Belarus.

There are a few countries that were standing or continue to stand in the way of total US domination of the stupendous material and strategic prize of West Asian oil and natural gas, as a US State Department official once called it: Gaddafi’s Libya, Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, and Iran.

Soon after the demise of the Soviet Union, Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the US under-secretary of defense for policy, informed US General Wesley Clark that:

With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity. The Soviets won’t come in to block us. And we’ve got five, maybe 10, years to clean up these old Soviet surrogate regimes like Iraq and Syria.

He could have added North Korea.

How has the United States been cleaning up those old Soviet surrogate regimes? Partly by sanctions. In other words, the public health of a number of countries abroad is adversely affected by the foreign policy of the United States and its allies.

US foreign policy is shaped by the profiting-making imperatives of the most politically consequential sector of Western society, namely, corporations and major investors operating within the context of a capitalist system, who insist on open doors abroad, and access to every profit-making opportunity the world has to offer.

The implication is that the public health care systems of North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela, are profoundly affected in a very adverse way by the profit-making imperatives that condition and guide the foreign policy choices of Western states.

Sanctions are intended to cripple economies and undermine public health for three reasons:

First, to create enough misery that the population of the crippled country attempts to relieve its misery by overthrowing its government. This ends the sanctions and relieves the people’s misery but also clears the way for the installation of a government acceptable to the United States which will open the country’s doors to US business and allow the US military access to the country’s territory.

Second, to make an example of what will happen to any government that defies the US open door policy and chooses to implement communist, socialist, or radical nationalist policies.

Third, to turn public opinion against economic programs that reject free trade, free markets, and US free enterprise, by sabotaging them and then misattributing their sanctions-induced failures to the rejection of US free enterprise, rather than to the sanctions which were imposed with the deliberate aim of undermining them.

Sanctions are a weapon of US foreign policy for destroying any way of living that does not comport with the profit-making imperatives of the US business community. They destroy economies by design, gut public health care, create hunger, spread disease, and kill silently in numbers that regularly exceed the fatality rate produced by military means. Sanctions are not an alternative to war; they are war.

The Empire That Worships Mars

All empires worship Mars, the god of war, but the United States stands apart, not in the usual ways its experts in casuistry profess, but in warranting the status of being perhaps the most bellicose empire in modern history. Harry Stout estimates that over a period of 233 years, from 1776 to 2009, the United States engaged in 309 military interventions or nuclear standoffs, an average of 1.3 per year. This does not include covert activities, blockades, proxy wars, assassinations, or threats of war. A country with a record of aggressiveness this egregious cannot be expected to be interested in peace anywhere, let alone on the Korean peninsula.

US bellicosity is a means to the end of US expansionism. From its birth, the United States has unremittingly expanded, first territorially, and then informally. In only four cases of the 309 military interventions Stout identified were US actions taken in response to an attack on US soil. These were the War of 1812, the December 1941 Japanese attack on US colonial possessions in the Pacific, and the Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre attack in 1993 and 2001. Significantly, all of these attacks were related to US expansion. The War of 1812 was a struggle between an established empire, the British, and a nascent one, the United States. The 1941 Japanese attack occurred as part of the struggle between the US and Japanese empires for control of East Asia, while the Al-Qaeda attacks were part of a struggle between the United States and the Islamist organization for control of Arab West Asia. In over 98 percent of the interventions, US forces attacked foreign soil.

The engine of US expansionism is the need of US businesses for new markets and fields for investment, and the fear of US planners that if US businesses cannot expand unchecked, that the US economy will settle into a secular stagnation, and demands will arise for major economic reforms, if not revolutionary change. There are few territories remaining in the world that have not been folded into the US economy (often at the point of a US gun), and Washington acts vigorously to absorb the hold outs. Among them is North Korea. Also, Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Venezuela. And more significantly, Russia and China.

The US war on Korea began not in 1945 but in 1871, when US forces invaded Korea, to punish the natives for refusing to trade with US businesses. Today, Washington continues to punish North Korea for the same reason. Washington deplores Pyongyang’s refusal to accommodate US free enterprise. It also punishes North Koreans for insisting that their country not to be used as territory for US military bases.

In light of US bellicosity and US expansionism, it’s difficult to accept that peace between the United States and North Korea, on terms agreeable to both sides, is even remotely possible. The one condition that might make the United States consider such an agreement—the need to deter a genuine North Korean threat to US security—is not even remotely present. North Korea, a small, enfeebled country, poses not the slightest threat to the United States. The DPRK is, unfortunately, the only interlocuter genuinely committed to arrive at a mutually agreeable peace. That’s because peace serves North Korea’s interests. As we’ve seen, it doesn’t serve Washington’s, unless it’s achieved on Washington’s terms.

A US-DPRK peace depends on the United States turning its back on its worship of Mars. Reversing centuries of US bellicosity depends on the United States radically re-engineering its economy so that it’s no longer dependent on global expansion. Removing the US economy’s dependence on global expansion means removing profit-making as the economy’s engine and replacing it with a consciously guided plan to satisfy the material, social, and psychological needs of US citizens at home, and practicing what the leading US historian of the first half of the twentieth century, Charles Austin Beard, called self-containment. Whereas today labor is but a means to create profits, the work people do needs to become the means to widen, to enrich, and to promote the existence of all who work. Not only would a radical re-engineering of this type improve the lives of the many (though not of all—billionaires would no longer live in the lap of luxury on the backs of others), it would significantly reduce (though not eliminate) the reasons for conflict among states. At that point, peace between the United States and North Korea would become an achievable reality rather than what it is today: a pleasant fantasy for dreamers.

As to South Korea, its liberation depends, ultimately, on economics. Slavery ended when its economic logic was no longer supportable. Colonialism ended (where it ended) when the revolt of the natives made the economic logic of colonialism indefensible. US neocolonialism in Korea will end when one or both of the following conditions are met: (1) The revolt of the natives undermines the economic logic of neo-colonialism. (2) US citizens revolt and change the expansionary logic of their economy.

Stephen Gowans is the author of Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform (2019); Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom (2018); and Washington’s Long War on Syria (2017). All are published by Baraka Books, Montreal.