Do Communist-Led States Protect Public Health Better Than Capitalism?

By Stephen Gowans

May 5, 2021

Had all capitalist countries managed the Covid-19 pandemic as effectively as the Communist-led countries of China, Cuba, and Vietnam, nearly 147 million people would have been spared illness and over three million lives would have been saved, according to projections based on data from Our World in Data. These projections are based on applying the number of cases and deaths per million for the Communist world to the world as a whole.

Taken together, the Communist countries have limited the spread of the novel coronavirus to 134 cases per million, compared to 24,058 cases per million in the non-Communist world. At the same time, communist countries have held Covid-19 deaths to four per million, while in the capitalist world, the death rate per million has been well over a hundred times greater.

What’s more, according to reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, North Korea has likely been as successful as its Communist cohorts in protecting public health in the face of the worldwide coronavirus emergency.

Clearly, compared to the capitalist countries, the Communist-led states have not only done a better job of protecting their citizens from the dangers of Covid-19, they have done a supremely better job.

Continuity

In 1986, sociologist Shirley Ceresto and physician Howard Waitzkin published research in the American Journal of Public Health comparing the performance of Communist-led states and capitalist countries on physical quality of life indicators, including six public health measures: infant mortality, child death rate, life expectancy, population per physician, population per nurse, and daily per capita calorie intake. Using World Bank data, the researchers found that when comparing Communist-led countries with capitalist states at the same level of economic development, the Communist countries came out ahead on all six public health measures.

Waitzkin told The Los Angeles Times that he believed the Communist-led countries fared better because they considered health care to be a basic human right. Ceresto added: “The first thing a country does when it becomes socialist is improve the health care and education and feed the people.” This, she said, “is their goal: To feed their people and get them health care and education.”

In 1992, sociologist and political scientist Vincente Navarro published in The International Journal of Health Services a continent by continent survey of the performance of socialist and capitalist countries in their response to the health needs of their populations. Navarro concluded that socialism and socialist forces [had], for the most part, been better able than capitalism and capitalist forces to improve health conditions.”  

Among other comparisons, Navarro contrasted China with India, showing how life expectancy in the Communist country lagged India’s by seven years when Mao’s forces came to power in 1949. A quarter of a century later, life expectancy had increased by 35 years and was 12 years greater than in India, where life expectancy had increased only 17 years. Today, China continues to lead India in life expectancy at birth.

Navarro concluded that “the socialist experience … has been more frequently than not more efficient in responding to human needs than the capitalist experience.”

Communist Countries Today

As was true in the 1980s, today’s Communist-led states outperform capitalist countries on various measures of public welfare, including life expectancy, hospital beds per thousand, extreme poverty, as well as scoring higher on the human development index, a composite measure of income, life expectancy, and education.

Table 1 shows that average life expectancy is five years greater in Communist countries than capitalist states (77 vs. 72). The lead is even greater in Cuba and Vietnam (seven years), comparing these countries with capitalist states at the same level of economic development.

Table 2 shows that Communist-led states have close to twice as many hospital beds per 1,000 people as capitalist countries, with Cuba having over three times more beds per 1,000 people than capitalist countries at the same level of economic development.

Table 3 shows that the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty is lower in the Communist-led states (for which data are available, namely, China and Vietnam) than in the capitalist world as a whole, or in capitalist countries with a similar GDP per capita.

The idea that extreme poverty is greater in the capitalist than Communist world challenges the myth, industriously cultivated in the rich countries, that capitalism means wealth and development while the Communist countries are uniquely poor. While it is true that some capitalist regions are very wealthy, specifically, those with an imperialist past and present (North America, Western Europe, and Japan), they comprise only a small part of the world’s population, about ten percent. The Communist countries comprise a further one fifth. That leaves the bulk of humanity—seven of every ten people in the world—living within less developed parts of the capitalist sphere. The capitalist norm, then, is not one of wealth and development, but of poverty and underdevelopment.

Capitalism has two faces. One is the face of great wealth. The other is the face of poverty, agony of toil, brutality, and foreign domination. For most human beings, capitalism has showed, and continues to show, only one of its faces: that of poverty, misery, and imperialism. It is from, and against, this sphere that the Communist countries have emerged.

Table 4 shows that the Communist countries have a higher level of human development (the index ranges from 0 to 1, with 1 as the highest level) compared to the capitalist world. The Communist advantage is particularly evident in the cases of Cuba and Vietnam, where human development in these countries exceeds that of capitalist states with roughly the same income per capita.

Managing the Covid-19 Pandemic

Given that the data indicate that Communist-led countries are more responsive to the human and health needs of their populations, we might expect that the Communist-led countries have also been more effective in protecting their populations from the Covid-19 pandemic. The next two tables confirm this expectation.

Table 5 shows the number of infections per million has been considerably lower in the three Communist-led states than in the capitalist world.

Similarly, Table 6 shows that the Communist countries have significantly outperformed capitalist states in limiting the number of Covid-19 deaths per million.

Note that the difference between the Communist and capitalist worlds is not trivial. The infection and fatality rates in the capitalist countries have been, respectively, 180 and 127 times greater than in the Communist states.

Capitalist Exceptions

Some capitalist states have performed better than others. Unique among the capitalist countries in pandemic management are Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, which have not only achieved infection and mortality rates well below the capitalist average, but have done better than Cuba, as Table 7 shows.

However, while the performance of these capitalist countries has been very good relative to their capitalist peers, as Table 8 reveals, it has nevertheless been less effective than that of the Communist-led states as a group.

The achievement of the capitalist quartet in limiting infections and deaths challenges the belief that infection control is only possible in Communist-led countries and is not possible in liberal parliamentary states. Moreover, all four countries had a low rate of vaccination as of the end of April, refuting the notion, widely promoted in the Western news media, that vaccines are the sole route to managing the pandemic.

Had all countries performed as well as these four, 121 million people would have been spared illness and 2.6 million lives would have been saved. While these numbers represent a substantial improvement over how the world has performed, they are nevertheless not as substantial as the gains that would have been garnered had all countries performed as effectively as the Communist-led states.

The Confucius Hypothesis

Some analysts have attributed China’s stellar pandemic performance to the country’s Confucian culture rather than its Communist politics, pointing out that other countries with strong Confucian influences, namely Japan and Korea, have also stood out in the degree to which they have effectively managed the virus. These analysts argue that Confucian values of duty, obedience, and social solidarity, have predisposed the populations of the Confucian-influenced countries to more fully comply with government directives on infection control than is true in countries in which individual liberties are valued over the collective needs of the community. 

While there may be some merit to this argument, it is still the case that within the Confucian trio, China has performed the best, and significantly better than its capitalist counterparts, as illustrated in Table 9. This suggests that China’s nature as a Communist-led country has conferred an advantage in pandemic control greater than whatever advantage it has reaped from Confucian values.

China vs. India

It is illuminating to compare China to India, a fellow Asian behemoth which differs from China in having rejected a development path under the red flag of Communism. On all seven human welfare and health indices in Table 10, India lags China, including on the number of physicians per 1,000 people; hospital beds per 1,000 people; ICU beds per capita; and health spending as a percentage of GDP.

Coincident with its poorer performance in meeting the health needs of its population, India has also failed to effectively manage the coronavirus pandemic, severely underperforming its Asian neighbor. To be fair, India’s GDP per capita is less than half that of China’s. However, the gulf between China and India in satisfying their respective population’s health needs is so great that even correcting for the income difference would fail to eliminate the gap between the two countries. On grounds of human development and health, if one had to choose between the two countries as a place of residence, Communist-led China is clearly the better choice.    

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian countries have also performed better than the average at curbing the spread of the coronavirus and limiting deaths, though not better than the Confucian trio. Within the Southeast Asian group, Vietnam’s performance is unparalleled. Again, inasmuch as Vietnam and China belong to regions with superior pandemic performance, regional factors have likely contributed to their successes in limiting infections and deaths. However, within both groups, the performance of the Communist-led countries has been ne plus ultra, pointing to their politico-economic orientation as an additional factor explaining their superior pandemic control.

Caribbean and Central American Region

The Caribbean and Central American region has performed less effectively than the rest of the world in checking the spread of the coronavirus and limiting fatalities. While Cuba does not lead the region, as its Communist-led cohort countries do theirs, it has performed much better than the regional average and more effectively than the average of all other countries. Moreover, at 0.58 percent, Cuba is second only to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in case fatality rate, compared to 1.99 percent for the other regions, and 4.64 percent for the Caribbean and Central American region as a whole. Cuba’s low case fatality rate likely reflects the Communist state’s strong emphasis on universal access to a health care system which boasts among the highest number of physicians and hospital beds per capita in the world. Table 2 showed that Cuba not only leads capitalist countries at the same level of development in hospital beds per 1,000 people, but leads capitalist countries in the aggregate.

Table 13 shows health spending as a percentage of GDP among Caribbean and Central American countries. Cuba allocates more resources to health as a percentage of GDP than any other country in the region, demonstrating the Communist-led country’s strong commitment to meeting the health needs of its citizens.

North Korea

Publicly available data for North Korea is scarce if not altogether absent, but there are indications that the DPRK’s performance in checking the spread of the novel coronavirus is consistent with what one would expect of a Communist-led country with strong Confucian influences. Some news reports in Western mainstream news media refer to Pyongyang implementing vigorous measures of pandemic control. For example, The New York Times’ Korea specialist Choe Sang-Hun reported on July 25, 2020 that “North Korea has taken some of the most drastic actions of any country against the virus, and did so sooner than most other nations.” It is clear from the example of China, that countries that have prioritized public health, and have acted quickly and decisively to curb the spread of the coronavirus, have achieved impressive levels of infection control. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal reported on February 26, 2021, that “Alexander Matsegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, said on the embassy’s Facebook page earlier this month that ‘thanks to the most severe bans and restrictions, [North Korea] turned out to be the only country which didn’t get the infection.’”

Given these reports, along with North Korea’s unquestioned ability to manage crises, including the collapse of its foreign markets in the early 1990s, flood- and drought-induced famines in the same decade, and the unremitting threat of US aggression, it seems highly likely that the DPRK has responded to the threat of Covid-19 with a high degree of competence, likely on par with that of its Communist counterparts.

Capitalist Incentives Foster Irrational Public Health Choices

It is instructive to consider that infection control as good as that achieved by the Communist-led countries would have necessitated a departure from capitalist logic in the capitalist countries.  

First, it would have required the temporary closure of a greater percentage of business establishments than most capitalist governments were prepared to tolerate, and for longer periods. Since the shuttering of businesses has deleterious consequences for the profits of business owners, capitalist governments acted to limit business closures in three ways: Shutting down a bare minimum of businesses, allowing many non-essential businesses to continue to operate; re-opening businesses before local infection rates had been brought under control; and failing to require adequate infection control measures for employees in businesses that were allowed to remain open.

Second, to approximate Communist country-performance, capitalist governments would have had to have quickly mobilized substantial public health resources to undertake large-scale screening and robust contact tracing. However, rather than implementing this public solution to a public problem—one which offered no benefit to private investors (except in the UK where contact tracing was handed to a private firm which immediately botched the job)—the leading capitalist governments chose to subsidize major businesses to compensate owners for their pandemic losses and to invest untold billions of dollars in vaccine development or pre-payment of vaccine doses or both, creating a pandemic bonanza for the biopharmaceutical industry and its major shareholders. This is not to say that investing in vaccines was unnecessary or undesirable, but that the timing was driven by capitalist incentives rather than public health rationality.

The leading capitalist countries declined to address the worldwide public health emergency by mobilizing resources for “shoe-leather” epidemiology to bring the pandemic quickly to heel, with the consequence that the emergency worsened. The worsening emergency was then used to justify the roll out of vaccines under emergency use authorization before they had been adequately safety-tested in fully completed Phase III trials.

The winners in this scenario have been the investors whose business interests have been protected from the effects of pandemic disruptions by government subsidies, as well as those wealthy enough to reap the benefits of substantial investments in the biopharmaceutical industry. The losers are the 150 million people who became ill or died unnecessarily and could have been protected from the ravages of the pandemic had their capitalist governments chosen to prioritize the health of the public over the health of their business communities’ bottom lines. Business that were able to remain open to satisfy the demand for goods that shuttered businesses would have provided, Amazon, for example, were also winners.

The leading capitalist governments could have mitigated the emergency to manageable levels, equivalent to those achieved by the Communist-led states, and then worked on the development, testing, and dissemination of vaccines. This would have saved millions of lives, and spared countless millions the potential hazard of being inoculated with vaccines which may or may not be harmful over the long term. This approach, however, would have meant spending public funds on “shoe leather” epidemiology, an investment which offered no profit-making opportunities of consequence to the business class favored by capitalist states. Plus, it would have required the closing of a large proportion of businesses for a month or more, attenuating profits—an anathema in capitalist society.

From the perspective of a capitalist logic, the course chosen was far more desirable, even if it meant more illness and more deaths. Limit business closures to a bare minimum to protect profits. Channel resources into subsidies for major businesses hurt by the pandemic. Make vaccines the main plank of the pandemic management strategy. These were the choices made by capitalist governments guided by capitalist logic. Vaccines offered an alternative to business closures and public expenditures on mass screening and contact tracing—an alternative with the promise of vast profits for those wealthy enough to get in on the action in a consequential way. 

The capitalist governments could have made the public health-friendly choices above to mitigate the emergency, prevent sickness, and save lives. They could have, but had they, they wouldn’t have been capitalist governments.

Conclusion

Capitalist society exists to protect and expand the interests of capitalists, not the interests of those who work for them. Capitalism may or may not exist in Communist society, but where it does exist, it is yoked to the people-centered aims of Communism, not the aims of capitalists. In Communist states, capitalists do not have political mastery.  

The degree to which Communist countries have eclipsed capitalist states in protecting their citizens from Covid-19 is substantial, and is evidenced in this: Had all capitalist countries managed the pandemic as effectively as the three Communist-led states, nearly 147 million people would have been spared illness and over three million lives would have been saved.

This conclusion is arrived at in the following way: At the end of April, 2021, approximately 147.8 million people had tested positive for Covid-19. Assuming a world case rate of 134 cases per million, equal to that of the Communist-led countries, the total number of cases in the world would have been 134 x a world population of 7.7 billion x 1/1 million, or approximately one million cases. Hence, 147.8 million less one million, or 146.8 million people worldwide would have avoided the illness. By significantly reducing infections, the pandemic may have been effectively extinguished, and the circulation of the virus sufficiently retarded that it could have been held in check by wide-reaching screening programs and robust contact tracing. This would have provided breathing room for a more deliberate and careful pace of vaccine development, thereby obviating emergency authorization of vaccine use prior to the collection of sufficient safety data.

Communist-led countries limited Covid-19 deaths to four per million. This fatality rate applied to the world as a whole would have produced a little over 27,000 deaths globally, compared to the 3.1 million who have died to date. In nearly a year and a half, a capitalist logic that discouraged temporary business closures, adopted non-pharmaceutical interventions with great reluctance and abandoned the few that were adopted much too early, and by its very nature favored the profit-making opportunities inherent in the pharmaceuticalization of public health, has cost the world over three million lives to date. Many more needless deaths will follow.

The Catastrophes of the Pandemic are the Catastrophes of Capitalism

Make no mistake: Business interests trump public health.

Abstract: For capitalist governments, maintaining conditions conducive to the profit-making interests of business owners and investors is the top priority; public health, only so far as it is necessary to maintain an adequate supply of labor, is not. Understanding this helps explain (i) why many capitalist governments have, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, exhibited a high tolerance for public health catastrophes that could have been averted if only even mild measures had been taken to temporarily subordinate business interests to the public good, and (ii) why countries led by people-centered governments have performed better in protecting public health against the pestilence of COVID-19 than capitalist governments as a whole. This article demonstrates the second point empirically, via an analysis of cross-sectional country-level data bearing on the performance of people-centered vs. capital-centered governments in protecting the health of their citizens in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Stephen Gowans

April 21, 2021

For days, doctors and scientists in Canada’s largest province, Ontario, had offered the government the same advice: close non-essential businesses for a few weeks to avert a looming public health crisis. Coronavirus infections were spreading rapidly in the workplace, in factories, in warehouses, and on construction sites. Workers who were infected on the job, were bringing the virus home to their loved ones. With new cases growing daily at an accelerating rate, hospital beds filling up, a backlog of surgeries growing ever larger, and COVID-19 therapeutics becoming scarce, the public health care system teetered on the edge of an abyss. Strong measures were needed.

The government acted.  It prohibited virtually every activity that could potentially create a super-spreader event—except one, the most significant: employees of non-essential businesses co-mingling at work. This was the engine of the new third wave. And yet the government refused to turn the engine off.

Critical care physicians, ICU nurses, and epidemiologists were bewildered. Why had the government ignored their advice to shutter non-essential businesses? Why was it refusing to implement measures to prevent suffering and save lives?

The director of the committee the government had set up to make science-based recommendations said he was “at a loss” to understand why the “government announced a suite of measures that didn’t account for his group’s advice.” Another panel member said “he was dumbfounded by the government’s rejection of science and common sense.” A third said “she and her colleagues were stunned.”

One critical care physician, interviewed on TV, said that she had been “reflecting on why this happened  and one thing that occurred to me is that the role of government is to protect the citizens.” Why, then, was the government failing to do so?  

Incompetence?

Governments are often accused of ineptitude when they behave in ways that lead to catastrophe. The disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Trump administration in the United States, and the botched response of the Johnson government in the United Kingdom, are often attributed to mismanagement. It’s as if some governments don’t know what they’re doing.

But the only way to know whether a government is incompetent, is to evaluate its actions against its goals. If you say my weight loss plan is a masterpiece of ineptitude because I’ve gained ten pounds, you’re right, assuming my goal is to lose weight. But if my goal is to manage my weight as best I can while gorging on pastries every day, your assessment is off the mark.

The trouble with declaring a government inept is that we may be mistaken about what the government is truly trying to achieve. Too often we make the wrong assumption about the goals that guide a government’s actions.

The critical care physician mentioned above assumed the public health goal of the government was to protect its citizens. And all the advice she offered took this assumption as its starting point. The obvious dissonance between protecting public health as a goal and the government’s failing to do what was necessary to achieve this goal, left her dumbfounded.

One way she could have resolved her puzzlement was to ask whether the government was pursuing a different goal. In fact, at one point she conceded rather tentatively and with much reluctance—as if the thought was too unsettling to contemplate—that maybe the government was more committed to the interests of business owners than to the welfare of the larger community.

As unthinkable as the thought may be, could it be that the true role of government in capitalist society is not to protect its citizens, but to protect what lies at the very heart of capitalism itself: profits? If so, then what seems at first to be government ineptitude, may, to the contrary, be government acting as it ought to act (or must act) within the framework of a capitalist logic.

It would hardly be surprising to discover that the Ontario government has a strong affinity with the business community. Its members are part of that community, and came to power on a platform of catering to its (and their) interests. They promised citizens they would deliver jobs and prosperity in return for allowing businesses to generate handsome profits.

For the head of the government, profits are not only critical, but personal. He is the co-owner of a manufacturing firm—one of the non-essential businesses that scientists advised him to temporarily shutter. Heeding their advice and ‘following the science’ would have had a direct and unwelcome effect on his bank account.

Members of his cabinet are no less married to profits. They include: a former investment banker and insurance company executive; the founder of an advertising business; a corporate/commercial lawyer; a former chamber of commerce president; and a financial analyst, the daughter of a former CEO, prime minister, and member of multiple corporate boards; she is married to an investment banker who is the scion of a wealthy publishing family. One would hardly be going out on a limb to suggest that this group might have a greater preference for keeping the profit spigot open than keeping the polloi—with its lowly factory, warehouse, and construction workers—safe from a pandemic.

It’s also probably safe to assume that the cabinet members are all ambitious people who hope, when their political careers are over, to secure lucrative positions in the C-suites or on the boards of major corporations. They know their ambitions are more likely to be realized if they have acquitted themselves admirably in government as able defenders of the business community against the democratic demands of the public.  Sacrificing profits to public welfare could not possibly recommend them to high-level, munificently remunerated private sector opportunities.

This is not to say that the Ontario government is indifferent to public health, only that public health comes second, and not at all, if one must be sacrificed to the other. The metaphor of sampling delights at a local bakery (protecting profits) while paying some heed to weight-management (protecting public health) illustrates the relationship. Capitalist governments like to say they’re protecting public health, and they are, to a point, but they’re only doing so, so far as they don’t endanger the health of the most important patient—profits.

Who gets harmed by a business-first, public health-second policy? In the case of the Ontario government, not its cabinet. After all, its members have been vaccinated, and have access to private medicine or connections that allow them to get priority access to the public health care system, even one under stress. And while the people who go to work every day in factories, warehouses, and construction sites will, along with their families, bear the brunt of the escalating crisis, what does it matter from the perspective of the business community and their representatives in government? In a capitalist system, factory, warehouse, and construction workers exist for one purpose: to promote shareholder value. Those who the virus ushers along the path from workplace to sick bed to cemetery, to no longer serve their useful function as means to shareholder ends, are easily replaced. The business-friendly fiscal, monetary, and immigration policies of the Ontario government’s federal counterpart have seen to that; they have underwritten a reserve army of potential replacement employees, ready to rapidly fill whatever void the virus creates.

From this perspective, the decision of the government to ignore its science panel’s advice to close non-essential businesses makes perfect sense. Seeing the logic in the decision requires that we ask: Government for who? Policy for who? Democracy for who? If the pandemic policies of the Trump and Johnson governments were disasters, who were they disasters for? They may have been catastrophic for the bulk of US and British citizens, but were they disasters for major investors and shareholders?

In a multitude of ways the interests of private profit-making enterprises, and those of the public, are antithetical. Businesses have an interest in paying their employees as little as possible, and employees have an interest in resisting their exploitation, and eliminating it altogether. The public has an interest in clean air and water, and polluters have an interest in shifting the costs of remediating pollution to the public. Employers have an interest in making their employees work under unsafe conditions if it means healthier bottom lines, and employees have an interest in safeguarding their health.

 In competitions that pit investors and shareholders against employees and consumers, businesses often come out on top. Their ownership and control of the economy equip them with the resources and leverage they need to ensure their policy preferences are transformed into policy directives—not always, but most of the time. They do so by ensuring their representatives are elected to public office, by funding think tanks to propagate their policy preferences, and by lobbying governments to adopt policies that are congenial to corporate aspirations. 

Moreover, the business community sets the ideological tenor of the times. It influences public opinion through its ownership of the mass media and influences the academic agenda by endowing university chairs and funding research programs. As a result, a pro-business ideology is instilled in politicians long before they arrive in government.

In an analysis of over 1,700 public policy issues, political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [1]

In other words, the demos, the ordinary people referred to in the word ‘democracy’, have virtually no influence on public policy, while wealthy business people and their lobbies and representatives in government, who constitute only a tiny fraction of the population, have substantial sway. G7 countries, and many others in the world, are not democracies, but plutocracies, countries ruled by the wealthy. And the public health policy of a plutocracy is one which, not always, but for the most part, addresses the concerns, interests and aspirations of the country’s financial and business center, not Main Street.

If government policy makes no sense within the logic of public welfare, but makes perfect sense within the logic of capitalism, the reason why is plain; it’s not incompetence that leads governments to stumble into public health catastrophes; it is capitalist logic that produces public health catastrophes as a by-product of the pursuit of capitalist interests.

A publicly-owned and publicly-directed economy is preferable to one predicated on a capitalist logic, for three reasons.

#1. A public system is specifically designed to redress the capitalist shortcomings and inequities that affect the lives of the majority.  

#2. Democracy. Capitalism, by definition, is a system for privileging capitalists, an infinitesimally tiny elite, at public expense. In contrast, a public system—which is accountable to the public at large rather than a small minority of private business owners—is democratic, by definition.

#3. People matter more in a public system. This can be seen in the superior pandemic performance of countries that have moved, to varying degrees, toward the ideal of public-ownership and planning of their economies, namely, Cuba, North Korea (DPRK), China (PRC), and Vietnam—countries led by what I’ve called Communist, or people-centered, governments. While none of these countries has achieved the ideal, they are the furthest along the path. 

In the graph below, I’ve shown per capita fatality rates for four Communist countries, as well as for major capitalist powers. I’ve also included capitalist countries and jurisdictions in East Asia and Oceania which have performed well in pandemic management. Since a country’s ability to manage a public health crisis ought to vary proportionally with income, I’ve juxtaposed fatality data against GDP per capita.

The graph shows that countries with higher incomes (Italy, France, the UK, and the USA) have performed poorly in protecting the health of their citizens, while the four Communist countries have performed well, despite having considerably lower incomes and therefore fewer resources for pestilence-management. The graph also shows that with the exception of Cuba, the best performers have been the East Asian and Oceanic countries, both capital- and people-centered.

The graph below shows that the three East Asian Communist countries have performed better than South Korea (ROK), Japan, and Australia, but only as well as Taiwan and New Zealand. However, the region’s people-centered  countries have achieved comparable levels of pandemic management despite lower per capita incomes than their capitalist regional counterparts.

The final graph compares the four people-centered countries with the capitalist world as a whole. Clearly, the East Asian and Oceanic capital-centered countries are anomalies, and the performance of the capitalist countries as a category has been significantly worse than that of the Communist countries in protecting their citizens from COVID-19.

Moreover, the superior public health performance of the people-centered countries has been achieved with significantly fewer resources than are available to capitalist countries, which have higher incomes per capita, and therefore more resources to protect public health if they choose to allocate their resources to this project. This finding suggests that Communist countries are not only more committed to safeguarding the health of their citizens, but do so with greater efficiency, since they have achieved better outcomes with fewer resources. This is consistent with the well-established finding that public systems deliver better public health outcomes at lower cost than private systems.

The graph also demonstrates that the idea that the public health role of government is to protect its citizens, while valid in connection with people-centered countries, is invalid as a description of capital-centered countries as a whole. Clearly, in the capitalist world, business interests trump public health.

Together, the graphs also show that public health disasters and recurring waves of infection are not inevitable outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic, and that it is possible to provide a high level of public health protection against the dangers of COVID-19, even with limited resources. Given that the people-centered governments have performed admirably without wide-spread vaccination roll-outs, it can also be concluded that vaccination is not the sole route to public health protection in the face of a novel virus. It is widely believed in the leading capitalist countries that vaccines are the offramp from the pandemic, but the data  presented here suggest that it was capitalist logic that steered most countries onto the pandemic freeway in the first instance—a freeway on which the Communist countries have never travelled.

An objection to this analysis is that Communist China and Vietnam are not people-centered but profit-centered, since both have embraced capitalism. While it is true that these countries have flourishing private sectors, it also true that they have substantial and growing public sectors and significant state planning. Moreover, Communist parties remain in charge, and while China and Vietnam may appear, at first glance, to be Communist in name alone, the red flag continues to fly in Beijing and Hanoi. In Bright Red: The Chinese Communist Ideal, [2] French Sinologist Alice Ekman examines the Chinese Communist Party’s internal documents and concludes that China’s true color remains red. China’s orientation toward capitalism compared to that of the United States, in which there is no ambiguity about its capitalist identity, is perhaps best illustrated by the following observation from the Wall Street Journal. “A figure like [Apple’s Tim] Cook commands a great deal of respect, even deference, in Washington. In Beijing, he’s treated like any other business executive—as a supplicant, angling for favors to keep his market hopes alive.” [3] In other words, unlike in capitalist countries, where government is but the means to capitalist ends, in China, capitalists are but the means to Communist ends.

Pandemics are inevitable. Whether they become disasters is contingent on who is prioritized by the underlying logic of a society’s organization. As the data above suggest, it is in capitalist countries, where capitalist logic elevates the interests of a tiny minority of wealthy business-owners above public health interests, that the coronavirus pandemic has become a disaster. In contrast, in Communist countries, where capitalist logic has either been eliminated or subordinated to Communist goals, public health has been protected to a degree far in excess of what is true of capitalist countries as a whole.  Avoiding future pandemic disasters will depend on learning the lessons that the public health catastrophes of COVID-19 have been the catastrophes of capitalism, its successes the successes of people-centered Communism, and that a pandemic of catastrophes need not happen the next time a zoonotic pathogen breaches the species barrier. Whether we, in the capitalist world, meet the next public health crisis as effectively as China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea have met the challenge of COVID-19, will depend on the choices we make about whether to transition to a democracy where our common interests are brought to the fore, or whether we continue to accept our subordination to a capitalist logic in which we are only the means to capitalist ends.   

Sources

GDP per capita (PPP), The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency.

“Mortality Analyses”. Johns Hopkins University, Coronavirus Resource Center, March 28, 2021. Accessed on 7 March 2014.

Notes

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

2. English translation of the book’s French title, Rouge Vif: L’Idéal Communiste Chinois.

3. Andrew Browne, “China’s dream is Apple’s nightmare: US tech firms cave for Beijing’s rules,” The Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2017.

DPRK. While there are no solid COVID-19 data for North Korea, there are a number of indications that the country’s infection and fatality rates are low. First, we can assume that the factors that have uniquely contributed to the superior performance of East Asian countries in managing the pandemic also apply to the DPRK as a fellow East Asian state. Second, a number of news reports refer to Pyongyang implementing vigorous measures of pandemic control.  For example, the New York Times’ Korea specialist Choe Sang-Hun reported on July 25, 2020 that “North Korea has taken some of the most drastic actions of any country against the virus, and did so sooner than most other nations.” It is clear from the example of China, that countries that have prioritized public health, and have acted quickly and decisively to curb the spread of the coronavirus, have achieved impressive levels of infection control. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reported on February 26, 2021, that “Alexander Matsegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, said on the embassy’s Facebook page earlier this month that ‘thanks to the most severe bans and restrictions, [North Korea] turned out to be the only country which didn’t get the infection.’”

Given these reports, along with North Korea’s reported commitment to effectively managing the pestilence, and its unquestioned ability to manage other crises, including the collapse of its foreign markets in the early 1990s, flood- and drought-induced famines in the same decade, and the unremitting threat of US aggression, it seems highly likely that the DPRK has responded to the threat of COVID-19 with a high degree of competence. Accordingly, for this analysis, DPRK deaths per 100,000 were set to the minimum for all other countries.

Taiwan. While the analyses include Taiwan, the territory is not recognized here as a separate country, but as a part of China under the control of the government of the Republic of China. Since the ROC offers an example of a capital-centered government in contradistinction to the PRC’s more people-centered approach, its inclusion in the analyses as a separate jurisdiction was warranted.

A Quintessential Eastern Marxist State: A Review of A.B. Abrams’ Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power

By Stephen Gowans

April 3, 2021

On the eve of the First World War, and for a good many years thereafter, the bulk of humanity was in the thrall of a handful of great powers: Britain, France, Russia, and the rising powers of the United States, Japan, and Germany. These self-declared chosen nations and soi-disant models for humanity, enjoyed unexampled prosperity as the product of their ruthless despoliation of nine-tenths of humanity, made possible by their military and industrial supremacy.

In East Asia, the French raped Indochina; the British plundered Borneo, Malaya, Siam, and Hong Kong; Japan held Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria in colonial subjection; the United States colonized the Philippines and Guam; the Netherlands looted Indonesia; the Portuguese enslaved Macau and East Timor; and China, as Sun Yat-sen remarked, was exploited by everyone.

The First World War—the Weltkrieg, or World War, as the Germans called it—marked the beginning of the end of the Columbian period, that era marked by the plunder of the world by Europe and its offshoots beginning with the voyages of Columbus to the Americas at the end of the fifteenth century and continuing through today. The 500-year-plus domination of Asia, Africa, and Latin America by the West has been aptly called “The 500 Year Reich,” an allusion to the identity of the practices used by the Nazis with those of their predecessors and contemporaries, not only by Germany, but also by the other ‘model nations’ as well. These practices comprised the methodology of colonialism. Deployed by Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, the United States, Italy, and Japan outside Europe, they became the paradigm for the Nazis, whose great crime in the eyes of their rivals was that, as Sven Lindqvist put it, they did in the heart of Europe what had theretofore only been done in the hearts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Racism, genocide, dispossession, and colonial subjugation outside of the metropole were acceptable in the capitals of Western Europe and North America, deemed necessary and inevitable, even extolled, but became great iniquities only when the Nazis inflicted them upon Europe.

Today, nearly half of the world’s wealth is controlled by the 10 percent the population that makes up the G7 countries, while the other half is shared by the remaining nine-tenths. The chasm dividing the East from the West has considerably narrowed with the Communist Party-orchestrated rise of China, a phenomenon ultimately traceable to what Domenico Losurdo argued was the signal event of the Weltkrieg.

The World War of 1914-1918 was many things, but among these it was “a war between two groups of the imperialist bourgeoisie for the division of the world, for the division of the booty, and for the plunder and strangulation of small and weak nations,” as Lenin put it. Lenin called for unity among the workers of the “model” nations, to emancipate, not only their labor from its exploitation by the bourgeoisie, but also to liberate their bodies from the war of industrial extermination the bourgeoisie had visited upon them. At the same time, the Bolshevik leader called for unity between the workers of the West and the oppressed peoples of India, China, Korea, Indochina, and elsewhere, against their common oppressor, the metropolitan bourgeoisie.  Broadening the compass of Marxism, the Bolsheviks extended Marx’s and Engel’s 1848 battle cry “Workers of the world unite!” to “Workers of the world and oppressed peoples, unite!”

This widening orientation, along with the Bolsheviks’ success in using the state and patriotism to mobilize the Russian population against the intervention of the “model nations” in Russia’s Civil War of 1919–21, inspired revolutionary nationalists like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Kim Il Sung, inaugurating a movement to end the 500-year Reich.

The World War, and the Bolshevik Revolution that sprang from its womb, had generally positive effects in the East. The toll of the war weakened the grip of the exploiting nations upon the peoples they exploited, while the Bolshevik example precipitated the anti-colonial revolution in the East. An Eastern Marxism developed, responsive to the needs of colonial peoples to overcome their dependency and achieve political and economic sovereignty.  Revolutionary nationalists would make good use of patriotism, the state, and industry to achieve political sovereignty and economic independence, as well as to protect dearly bought gains from the unceasing efforts of the imperialist Leviathans to reverse them.

By contrast, the Weltkrieg was a catastrophe in the West, and Western Marxism developed to reflect the experience of the war in Europe. Whereas the revolutionary nationalists of the East harnessed patriotism to the project of national liberation, Marxists in the West eschewed national devotion as a bourgeois subterfuge used to divide the proletariat along national lines. In the East, Marxists saw violence as a means of liberation and the military as an instrument for defending national revolutionary gains. In the West, the horrors of the war envenomed Marxists to violence and the military. Marxists of the Orient viewed the state as the means to organize economic development and as an instrument of repression to be ruthlessly deployed in the defense of revolutionary nationalist gains. Marxists of the Occident viewed the state with suspicion, an engine of class oppression, that had been used against them.

Each form of Marxism represented a set of proposed solutions to the problems of emancipation present at a specific time and place. In the East, the germane question concerned how people under colonial and semi-colonial domination could achieve political and economic sovereignty and safeguard their achievements once gained. In the West, the relevant question revolved around how to win political power to liberate industry from the control of shareholders and financiers and vest it in the hands of the proletariat.

Whether intentional or not, A.B. Abrams’ Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power, examines the relationship between North Korea and the West from an Eastern Marxist perspective. Without using the idiom, Abrams presents the DPRK as a quintessential Eastern Marxist state. Korean patriotism, strong central authority, military preparedness, self-reliance, and the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are identified as sources of North Korea’s resilience in the face of Washington’s 73-year project to bring about “the end of North Korea”, as John Bolton once described Washington’s policy aim. These practices are presented as the bases for the DPRK’s success in achieving the revolutionary nationalist goals that lie at the center of the Eastern Marxist project.

Abrams’ history of the DPRK-US relationship begins with the arrival of US forces in Korea in 1945, after Koreans had declared a Korean People’s Republic, with which the US military government immediately went to war. Abrams devotes considerable attention to the Korean War, known as the Great Fatherland Liberation War in North Korea (memorializing the success of the combined Korean and Chinese forces in evicting the US invaders from territory administered by the DPRK), and the War to Resist America and Aid Korea, in China. Nearly half of the tome, weighing in at 675 pages, covers events since 1990, and a substantial part deals with recent events.  

Abrams’ history is not archival; he uncovers no new facts. Instead, it is perspectival, offering a fresh take on what the archives have already revealed—or, what seems like a fresh take to those, like myself, who are familiar with an historiography that is congenial to the Western Marxist perspective. To illustrate, Abrams makes an observation and poses a question that, at best, are quickly passed over in Western  accounts, if broached at all, but within the framework of Eastern Marxism, are critical. The observation is this: Of small countries that have liberated themselves from the iron-grip of colonialism, only North Korea, a country of a mere 24 million, has survived the aggressions of US imperialism, stood unbowed before relentless military pressure, withstood the burdens of sanctions, and developed its military strength to a high degree sufficient to take a US war on the East Asian state off the table. To be sure, in the realm of post-colonial resistance to US imperialism, Cuban resilience also stands out, but unlike the DPRK, Havana cannot stay the hand of US military aggression with a retaliatory strike capability.

Indeed, there is a lengthy list of states that have succumbed to US efforts to reverse the tide of national liberation. Egypt betrayed the Arab nationalist cause; the Soviet Union surrendered; Ba’athist Iraq was outmaneuvered; Gaddafi fell prey to the West’s blandishments and left his country defenseless; Ba’athist Syria has been partitioned among the United States, the Turks, the Israelis, Al Qaeda, and Kurd separatists; Iran’s economy is squeezed by a US blockade; and Venezuela is bedeviled by the twin demons of low oil prices and US sanctions. “Yugoslavia, Haiti, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria and others were all much softer targets,” writes Abrams.

“The KPA [Korean People’s Army] boasted the most sophisticated defense industry, densest air defense network, best trained soldiers, hardest fortifications, and largest submarine force and special forces of these states. Of America’s potential targets, Korean air, artillery, tank and ballistic missile forces were second only to those of China.”

North Korea’s borders are secure; it has a manufacturing economy that produces many of its own goods; it makes its own tanks, artillery, and submarines (including those capable of launching ballistic missiles), manufacturers MiG-29s domestically under license, and produces some of the world’s most advanced missiles. Pyongyang exports military gear to Cuba, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, and has provided special forces training to its allies. Its pilots flew missions on behalf of Arab nationalist forces in the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 October War, and against US forces in the Vietnam War.  Far from being a failed state and the impoverished, bizarre,  laughing-stock of US propaganda, North Korea, in point of fact, is the most accomplished of the small post-colonial states. This gives rise to the central question that lies at the heart of Abrams’ book. How has Pyongyang managed to pull off this extraordinary feat?

“The successes of North Korea’s defense sector in developing high end missile technologies, and having done so in such a short time, with a very limited budget, totally contradicted predominant Western perceptions of the state as corrupt, inept, and backward. …[How] could the failed ‘Kim Regime’ have developed such technologies?”

In 1950, the DPRK fielded an army of soldiers equipped with rifles against a nuclear-armed military whose brutality knew few limits. In a footnote, Abrams observes: “It is estimated that the number of civilians killed by the IDF [Israeli military] in more than 70 years of frequent wars [is] less than the US-led coalition killed in an average week of war in Korea.” 

Since the US  war of mass extermination against the DPRK—at a minimum, 20 percent of the country’s population was killed by US and allied marauders from 1950 to 1953—the United States has continued to do everything in its power to enfeeble North Korea. It has deployed battlefield nuclear weapons to the peninsula; threatened the DPRK repeatedly with nuclear annihilation; and imposed the world’s longest lasting, and by now, most comprehensive, sanctions regime. Despite facing Himalayan obstacles, North Korea has advanced both economically and militarily. Its economy is stronger than ever, and it has replaced rifles with nuclear-tipped ICBMs as its principal means of self-defense. This represents a radical break from the Columbian era, when Europe and its offshoots felt free to wage war on the peoples it sought to conquer, knowing their victims were incapable of retaliating. No more will the DPRK face a nuclear-armed United States with rifles alone.

In Abrams’ view, the DPRK’s successful test launch in 2017 of an ICBM capable of striking the US mainland…

“represented the first time a medium or small state was able to effectively deter a superpower at such a peer level without need for support from a nuclear umbrella of a superpower sponsor of its own. In this respect North Korea’s achievement in 2017 was historically unprecedented, and was referred to by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Commander of the US Strategic Command John Kyten as having ‘changed the entire structure of the world.’”

This radical change, construed as ominous by Kyten, is assessed as a welcome development by Abrams—one which heralds peace and stability in East Asia.

“Considering the rationales widely expressed for American military action against the DPRK [and] the apparent willingness [of the United States] to bring death and destruction to supposedly allied Northeastern Asian states [in pursuit of the US foreign policy goal of bringing about the debellation of the DPRK] there is a strong argument that North Korea’s development of a viable nuclear deterrent with an intercontinental range is strongly in the interests not just of its own population—but of peace and stability in the entire region. Had the US and its Western allies been free to initiate a war, South Korea and Japan would have been devastated alongside North Korea and very likely parts of China and Russia, as well. By constraining America’s ability to start a war in East Asia through introduction of mutual vulnerability, North Korea’s deterrence program has ensured that extra-regional actors cannot initiate a regional war by ensuring that they too could be targeted should hostilities break out.”

What accounts for North Korea’s success?  Abrams traces the DPRK’s achievements to:

“The Korean nationalist state’s rooting in both Korean history and culture, its ‘culture of resistance’ built on the potent historical memory of subjugation, and its firm commitment to the centrally organized party system…These often overlooked factors do much to explain its unique ability to sustain a conflict under immense pressure for so long.”

Immovable Object argues that Washington’s hostility to North Korea originates, not in the East Asian state’s  proliferation activities, alleged human rights abuses, or mislabelled ‘provocations’ (North Korea doesn’t initiate provocations, but it does respond to them), but in Pyongyang’s embodiment of the fundamental values of the UN Charter—values which contradict Washington’s arrogation of world “leadership” (read dictatorship).

“North Korea’s existence is considered unacceptable [to Washington] because it refuses to submit to the imposition of Western leadership and become part of the Western-led order. For Pyongyang, the Western position is considered unacceptable because it is contrary to states’ right to self-defense as contravening international law and the UN Charter. The Western Bloc are so often referred to as ‘the imperialists’ in Korean rhetoric because they seek to impose their values, their ideologies, their economic and political systems and above all their soldiers and governance—whether direct or indirect—on the Korean people.”

In Abrams’ view, the mutual hostility of the United States and DPRK springs from a conflict between their antithetical Weltanschauungs. This isn’t…

“…a clash of capitalist and socialist ideologies, but rather of nations’ perceptions of the nature of international relations, world order and states’ rights to self-determination. The DPRK, like other East Asian states which won their independence in the aftermath of the Second World War, expressed a strong belief in global and regional orders comprised of nation states equal in their rights to their sovereignty, including self-defense and self-determination and prohibiting forced external interference into their domestic affairs. This is the same order enshrined in the United Nations Charter.”

While I agree to a point, I would argue that Washington is not opposed to Pyongyang’s embodying the UN Charter simply because it doesn’t like the UN Charter,  but that it dislikes the UN Charter for legitimizing the right of countries to pursue their own economic development outside of a system that privileges Wall Street’s interests.  This view is summarized in the words of Norman Bethune, a Canadian whose life anticipated that of Che Guevara: physician, communist, internationalist, martyr. Bethune died while serving with the Eight Route Army in China. He wrote: “Money, like an insatiable Moloch, demands its interest, its return, and will stop at nothing, not even the murder of millions, to satisfy its greed. Behind the army stands the militarists. Behind the militarists stands finance capital.” To which can be added: Behind finance capital stands a contempt for the UN Charter and any country that, exercising its Charter-defined right to independent economic development, denies the insatiable Wall Street Moloch its interest.   

Abrams’ compares South Korea’s Westernized society, with its strong US cultural influences, to North Korea’s non-Westernized society, with its strong indigenous influences.

“[South] Korean society [values] US education ties more than any others—with the majority of professors at leading universities holding degrees from the US … Similar trends can be observed among the country’s political elite. From 1948-1968 much of the [South] Korean leadership boasted higher education in Japan, which, as the previous imperial power occupying Korea, had heavily influenced the Korean elite through education. This Japanese influence would gradually recede to be replaced by an American one, and from 1968 to 2001 71% of ministers in the ROK held degrees from the United States. This fosters not only positive views towards and close ties with the new hegemon, as it was intended to do towards Japan beforehand, but also ensures American thought will continue to have a major influence over scholarship and political discourse in the country.”

The contrast with North Korea is sharp.

“North Korea lacks the colonial-era foundations for Western soft influence and an idealization of the West common to many countries formerly under American or European rule. North Koreans were never second class citizens in their own country, which combined with a lack of Western soft influence and strongly nationalist ‘Korea-first’ identity, perpetuated through media and education, means its population are not moved to remake themselves in the image of or to idolize the West—esthetically or otherwise. The extent of Western influence in South Korea and other Asian client states, and the depths to which it has permeated, shows the alternative fate for the Korean population to that of resistance under the DPRK—namely life under a system which attributes the greatest value not to one’s own nation, culture and thought, but instead under one which is heavily influenced by and idolizes the Western hegemon.”

One important aspect of Abrams’ book is its delineation of North Korea’s foreign relations and the vital support it provides to other small- and medium-sized states that are on a congeneric path of development independent of US domination and control. This is a neglected area. In Western propaganda, North Korea is portrayed as a ‘hermit kingdom’, hermetically sealed and separated by choice from the family of nations. While it is undoubtedly a US aim to isolate North Korea, and block its commerce with other countries, the aim is not reality. Readers might be surprised to discover that the DPRK has long been engaged in aiding the struggles of other peoples to free themselves  from the 500-year Reich. I will highlight two: Syria and Hezbollah, though Abrams also covers DPRK engagements with Vietnam, Iran, Libya, and southern Africa.   

“Of all America’s adversaries,” notes Abrams, “it is the Syrian Arab Republic which has relied most heavily on North Korean support in the face of Western and allied military and economic pressure.” From 1980 to 2010 the KPA “bolstered Syria’s defenses with a permanent stationing of forces including pilots, tank operators, missile technicians, and officers who trained much of the country’s military.” North Korean engineers “developed a specialized class of missile specifically for Syria’s defense needs, known as the Scud-ER,” and the East Asian state furnished Damascus with nuclear technologies to construct a reactor based on the DPRK’s Yongbyon plutonium reactor. The Syrian reactor was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

“Without continued Korean assistance Syria’s deterrent capabilities likely would have eroded into obsolescence in the post-Soviet era,” writes Abrams, “leaving the state highly vulnerable. Korean actions thus served to severely constrain Western and allied freedom of military action against a leading regional adversary.”

The resurgence of the Islamist war on the secular Arab nationalist state in 2011 led to stepped up North Korean aid.

“Notably, in 2015, the Korean People’s Army reportedly set up a command and control logistic assistance center to support the Syrian war effort, with Korean officers deployed to multiple fronts, including the frontlines of engagement against jihadist forces in Aleppo. A number of Western sources have meanwhile claimed regarding the KPA role on a second front in 2013: ‘Arab-speaking North Korean military advisors were integral to the operational planning of the surprise attack and artillery campaign during the battle for Qusair. According [to one report] KPA pilots were operating Syrian aircraft against jihadist forces. Considering the significant shortages of trained pilots Syria has endured since the mid-1990s, this report has some plausibility. Other reports … indicate that North Korea dispatched two special forces units … to Syria to engage jihadist forces, and that these units proved ‘fatally’ dangerous on the battlefield.”

Notably, Syria established a park in 2015 to honor the founder of the North Korean state, Kim Il Sung. The park is adjacent to a street in Damascus named after the Korean leader.

The DPRK’s military aid to Hezbollah has also been extensive. Abrams notes that “much of Hezbollah’s central leadership, including current Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Security and Intelligence chief Ibrahim Akil and head of counter-espionage operations Mustapha Badreddine, were trained” in North Korea.

Hezbollah’s military wing is “effectively a smaller reproduction of the Korean People’s Army.”

“Some indications of the extent of defense cooperation between the two parties were highlighted in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War—a conflict in which the militia’s means of waging war indicated strong Korean influence. Israeli experts described Hezbollah’s war effort as ‘a defensive guerilla force organized along North Korean lines,’ concluding ‘all the underground facilities [Hezbollah’s], including arms dumps, food stocks, dispensaries for the wounded, were put in place primarily in 2003-2004 under the supervision of North Korean instructors.’ Other intelligence sources indicated that the Korean People’s Army had a military presence on the ground, concluding that Hezbollah was ‘believed to be benefiting from assistance provided by North Korean advisors.’ A further decisive factor was Hezbollah’s high degree of discipline and effective command and control…These factors were reportedly strongly focused on by the KPA when training Hezbollah’s special forces and officer corps.”

Abrams’ attributes Hezbollah’s success in defeating the Israeli military in 2006—the first time Israel had been vanquished in war—to the assistance it received from Pyongyang.

“Had Hezbollah lacked the tunnel networks, intelligence network, high level training, or missile assets provided by the DPRK, it is highly likely that it would have faced a swift and outright defeat in the summer of 2006 as the Israeli government had initially predicted. The tunnel and bunker network in particular, alongside the communications network and fortified armouries, were all reportedly built by Korean Mining Development Trading Corporation.”

Abrams’ chapter on North Korean ideology is particularly valuable for Westerners, for whom North Korean thinking may seem to be opaque, and may to Marxists appear to be un-Marxist. The renowned Korean scholar Bruce Cumings was once asked: “How many liberal democrats are there in North Korea?”  He replied: “As many as there are followers of Confucius in the United States.” Many Westerners fail to understand the DPRK because they view it from the lens of Western culture and fail to grasp the unique set of circumstances that created the Korean experience.

Abrams’ writes:

“From its formation North Korea’s ideology has been influenced by and has assimilated parts of the country’s traditional culture, Confucianism in particular, in a way that few if any other ideologies have in communist states. Premier Kim Il Sung’s reformism Juche speech in December 28, 1955, which outlined the country’s future ideological position … notably stressed the need to draw inspiration from national culture, history and traditions... While no mention was made of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao or even Stalin, the Korean leader warned against the ‘negation of Korean’ history with ‘foreign ideas,’ emphasizing above all else the importance of a Korean national identity. While the Stalinist economic model, which had rapidly industrialized the Soviet Union, would be largely adopted, this would be interpreted and applied in a way that was compatible with Korea’s own culture. As the Korean leader envisioned, the ‘essence’ and ‘principles’ of communist ideology would be ‘creatively applied’ in line with the needs of the Korean nation—the former would bend to the latter rather than vice-versa. He thus strongly criticized ‘dogmatism and formalism’ in ideological work and advised: ‘There can be no set principle that we must follow the Soviet fashion. Some advocate the Soviet way and others the Chinese but is it not high time to work out our own?’”

The coincidence of North Korea’s ‘Stalinist’ economic model with the ability of the country’s economy to weather the fierce storms of US hostility, raises two questions: Can the same model be exported to other countries to produce the same success? What could North Korea achieve without the unceasing efforts of the United States to bring about its destruction? While Abrams doesn’t address these questions, elsewhere he has written:

"If the country were free to trade and export its goods, capitalizing on advantages including a weak currency and a highly educated and skilled workforce and established technological and industrial bases, annual growth rates several times higher and likely significantly over 10% would be expected.”

 Syria’s ambassador to North Korea in 2017, Tammam Sulaiman, intoned, “I visited many other countries. I look at this country I see that … they do miracles here, really. This country, after the sanctions and with the skills that they have, they are making miracles.” Pausing he asked, “What if they were not under sanctions? They would do even more.”

According to one view, communism is the politics of liberation. Indeed, communists have always been involved in, if not in the van of, the world’s greatest emancipatory struggles. “The socialist revolution is by no means a single battle,” Lenin wrote in his essay “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination.” Instead, it is “a whole series of battles around all problems of economic and democratic reforms” including “equal rights for women” and—importantly from the perspective of people trying to free themselves from colonial subjugation— “self-determination.” Socialism “would remain an idle phrase,” Lenin insisted, “if it were not linked up with a revolutionary approach to all the questions of democracy, including the national question,” by which he meant the right of peoples, including Koreans, to exercise sovereignty over their own affairs, rather than being dominated by imperialist masters.  Lenin envisaged what he termed “a truly democratic, truly internationalist” order, in which each nation is free to set its own course, and freely join with other states in relationships of mutual benefit. That, significantly, is the vision of the DPRK.

If Eastern Marxism is the use of patriotism, the military, and state-directed economic development to achieve and defend emancipatory goals, then the DPRK is, in practice, a quintessentially Eastern Marxist state. It is, moreover, a successful one, whose emulation by similar states in similar circumstances inspired by similar goals could significantly advance the world’s struggle to achieve a complete victory over the 500-year-plus Reich. 

Immovable Object is published by Clarity Press.

Stephen Gowans is the author of Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, and Washington’s Long War on Syria, both published by Baraka Books.

The watchdogs of imperialism and the Uyghur genocide slander

March 2, 2021

By Stephen Gowans

On February 26 the Canadian Parliament passed a motion, by a vote of 226 to 0, expressing the opinion that “the People’s Republic of China has” implemented “measures intended to prevent” Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim births and that these measures are “consistent with” the United Nations Genocide Convention.

The reality is that Beijing is not preventing Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim births, and a report by a German anthropologist widely cited as evidence that it is, contradicts this claim. That report, by Adrian Zenz, a fellow at a US government-created foundation whose mission is to bring about the end of communism and the Chinese Communist Party,  reveals that while Chinese family planning policy restricts the number of children Chinese couples are allowed to have, it does not prevent couples in any group, including Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, from bearing children. Moreover, limits on family size are the same between the Han Chinese ethnic majority and religious minorities. There is, therefore, no discrimination in Chinese family planning policy on the basis of national, religious, or ethnic affiliation.

Perhaps aware their position was untenable, the parliamentarians sought to buttress their motion by citing political opinion in the United States, where “it has been the position of two consecutive administrations that Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims are being subjected to a genocide by the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” the motion observed. In an act of unseemly subservience to imperial power, Canada’s parliament constructed a motion, based on no evidence, to echo a point of view articulated in Washington, also based on no evidence.

Significantly, the last two consecutive administrations have designated China a rival, and therefore have politically-motivated reasons for slandering their challenger. Moreover, apart from using the hyper-aggressive US military to extort economic and strategic concessions from other countries, US administrations have a long record of fabrication to justify their aggressive actions. That “two consecutive administrations” have held that the Chinese are carrying out a genocide is evidence of nothing more than Washington continuing to operate in its accustomed fashion of churning out lies about states that refuse to be integrated into the US economic, military and political orbit. A Serb-orchestrated genocide against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo; hidden weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; moderate rebels in Syria: these are only the tip of the iceberg of US lies and calumnies offered as pretexts for imperial aggression. Genocide in Xinjiang is but the latest.

Below, I look at the genocide slander from four perspectives:

  1. The geostrategic context.
  2. Who is behind the accusation?
  3. How do the accusers define genocide?
  4. What is the evidence?

The geostrategic context

In 2003, Graham E. Fuller, a former vice-chair of the US National Intelligence Estimate and one-time CIA station chief in Kabul, wrote a book for the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Study at the Johns Hopkins University, titled The Xinjiang Problem. His co-author was the academic  S. Frederick Starr.

Fuller and Starr wrote that:

the historical record suggests that the decision of countries and even of international organizations to raise specific human rights issues is often politicized and highly selective. Many countries will devote attention to human rights issues in China in inverse proportion to the quality of their overall bilateral relationship.

It need not be said that today, 18 years later, the quality of overall bilateral relations between the United States and China has deteriorated sharply. China has emerged as a formidable competitor to US economic and technological supremacy, and US policy has shifted, beginning with the Obama administration, toward an explicit program of eclipsing China’s rise.

In recent days, US president Joe Biden has said “American leadership must meet … the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States.” The Wall Street Journal reports that Biden’s “goal is to stay ahead of China in semiconductors, artificial intelligence and other advances that are expected to define the economy and military of the future.” However, the US president, according to the newspaper, intends to portray the conflict as one based on “a clash of values: democracy vs. autocracy,” rather than a clash of economic interests.

At the base of a deteriorating Sino-US relationship, then, lies a commercial rivalry, on top of which Washington has layered a narrative about a clash of values. In a Foreign Affairs article written before he became president, Biden outlined a strategy of confronting China over the economic challenges it poses to US businesses, US domination of the industries of tomorrow, and US technological (and concomitant military) supremacy. Biden said he would use a human rights narrative to rally support for a US-led campaign against China.

Fuller and Starr continued: “It would be unrealistic,” they wrote, “ to rule out categorically American willingness to play the ‘Uyghur card’ as a means of exerting pressure on China in the event of some future crisis or confrontation.” Many “of China’s rivals have in the past pursued active policies in Xinjiang and exploited the Uyghur issue for their benefit.” Almost two decades later, with US hostility rising as Washington’s claim to primacy on the world stage is under challenge, the United States has decided to play the Uyghur card.

Who is behind the accusations?

A network of groups and individuals, animated by an antagonism to the Chinese Communist Party, and supportive of continued US global supremacy, are involved in originating the slanders against Beijing. At the center is the German anthropologist, Adrian Zenz.

Zenz’s opposition to Beijing lies in his religious beliefs. A fundamentalist Christian, he views communism, feminism and homosexuality, as abominations against God. Zenz also believes that he is on a divinely-inspired mission to bring about the demise of communist rule in China.

Zenz is a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The foundation, created by the US government to discredit an ideology which competes against the United States’ first favorite religion, US state-capitalism (Christianity being the second) seeks to free the world “from the false hope of Marxism” and save it from “the tyranny of communism” (the leitmotif of Hitler’s political career.) This it strives to do by educating future generations that “Marxist socialism is the deadliest ideology in history,” (one that, by this view, is fully capable of carrying out a genocide), a task the foundation sees as especially pressing today, when “Positive attitudes toward communism and socialism are at an all-time high in the United States.”

Zenz has also written anti-Beijing reports for the Jamestown Foundation,  an anti-Communist outfit supported by corporations, foundations, and wealthy individuals, whose mission is to shape public opinion against China and North Korea.

The slanderers also include a number of Uyghur exile groups, including the World Uyghur Congress, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED is a US government-bankrolled organization whose first president conceded that it does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly, namely destabilize foreign governments by strengthening fifth columns. The NED does so under the cover of promoting democracy and human rights.  The organization has boasted on Twitter that it has been funding fifth columnists in Xinjiang since 2004.

Another propagator of anti-Beijing slanders is the Epoch Times, the newspaper of the Falun Gong. Like Zenz, the roots of Falun Gong’s anti-Beijing animus lie in reactionary religious convictions. The cult deplores gender equality, homosexuality, and communism as affronts against God.

How do the accusers define genocide?

Those who accuse Beijing of carrying out a genocide employ a ruse regularly used in the corporate world to dupe consumers and employees. The subterfuge is to redefine a word to mean something other than what the word would be reasonably interpreted to mean.

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo used this ruse. He accused Beijing of trying to integrate Xinjiang and its Turkic people into the larger Chinese society. While this did not meet the definition of genocide, Pompeo labelled Beijing’s actions as genocide all the same.  According to the magazine Foreign Policy, State Department lawyers told Pompeo that Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang did not satisfy the UN convention’s definition of genocide. Pompeo, who has no respect for the truth, much less the contrary opinions of government lawyers, was undeterred.

The current US secretary of state Anthony Blinken also accused Beijing of genocide. Using the same ruse, Blinken pointed to non-genocidal actions, namely one million Uyghurs in ‘concentration camps’, to make the claim that Beijing was trying to destroy a Muslim minority.  The claim was a double deception. First, there are no Uyghur concentration camps in Xinjiang, and second, even if there were, concentration camps do not equal genocide. Blinken was likely trying to exploit the association of the Holocaust with German death camps to insinuate that concentration camps and genocide go together, like the artic and snow, and that the Chinese government, and its Communist Party, are contemporary expressions of Nazi horror.    

The source of the concentration camp allegation is yet another of Beijing’s political foes, an Islamist media outlet run by Uyghur separatists in Turkey, which serves as a platform for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, an al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist outfit which seeks to transform Xinjiang into an Islamic State. ETIM is considered a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States—or was considered a terrorist organization by the United States until Pompeo removed the group from the US terrorism list in October, thereby eliminating an impediment that had limited the contribution the jihadists could make to the US project of destabilizing Xinjiang, propagating calumnies about the Chinese government, and ultimately undermining China’s ability to compete with US businesses on the world stage.

In July of last year, Zenz wrote a paper for the Jamestown Foundation on Uyghur birthrates, which appears to be the basis for the claim cited by Canadian parliamentarians that China is carrying out a genocide in Xinjiang. Zenz’s report raised the question of genocide only in its final sentence, and then only tentatively. It was, instead, the Jamestown Foundation editor, John Dotson, a former US naval officer and US Congressional staff researcher, who concluded in an introductory note that “Zenz presents a compelling case that the CCP party-state apparatus in Xinjiang is engaged in severe human rights violations that meet the criteria for genocide as defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Zenz, however, concluded only that Chinese policies “might be characterized” as constituting “a demographic campaign of genocide per” the UN convention. To be sure, any policy might be characterized in any particular way one wants, but the ad rem question isn’t, can policy x be characterized as y, but is it y?  Zenz, unlike Dotson, was not prepared to say that Chinese birth control policy constitutes genocide. And there’s a good reason for this; it clearly doesn’t.

Zenz’s paper was a political tract erected on the foundations of a report on Beijing’s family planning policies and their effects on Uyghur and Han birthrates in Xinjiang. What the report showed, notwithstanding Dotson’s politically-motivated misinterpretation, was that:

  • Previously, Han Chinese couples were limited to one child, while Uyghur couples were allowed two in urban areas, and three in rural areas. Family planning restrictions were not rigidly enforced on Uyghur couples.
  • Today, Han Chinese couples are permitted to have as many children as Uyghur couples are permitted (two children in urban areas, and three in rural areas.)
  • Family planning restrictions are now rigidly enforced.
  • The change from lax to rigid enforcement has been accompanied by a decrease in the Uyghur birth rate.

Zenz’s report showed that the Uyghur population continued to grow, despite enforcement of family planning policies; Uyghur couples are not prevented from having children, (they’re only limited in the number of children they can have); and family planning rules apply equally to Han Chinese.

Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, reads as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The relevant consideration is the fourth item, namely, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. Chinese family planning policy does not prevent births within the Uyghur population; it only restricts them, and the restriction is non-discriminatory; it applies equally to all groups.

What is the evidence?

US State Department lawyers told Pompeo there is no evidence of genocide in Xinjiang. As we have seen, that didn’t stop Pompeo–who once boasted that as CIA director “we lied, cheated, and stole“– from making the accusation. He simply changed the definition of genocide, carrying on the US state tradition of fabricating lies to advance its interests.

Bob Rae, Canada’s representative to the UN, accused China of committing genocide, and then said efforts should be made to gather evidence to demonstrate this to be true.

John Ibbitson, a columnist with Canada’s Globe and Mail, conceded that Chinese government actions in Xinjiang do not meet the UN definition of genocide, but that Beijing is carrying out a genocide all the same.

The watchdogs of imperialism

The United States is waging an economic and information war on China, to preserve its economic,  military, and technological supremacy. Washington is recruiting its citizens, its allies and their citizens, and the progressive community, into a campaign to protect the international dictatorship of the United States from the challenge posed by the peaceful rise of China. Every manner of slander has been hurled at China to galvanize popular opposition to Beijing and mobilize popular support for economic aggression and growing military intimidation against the People’s Republic, from accusations that Chinese officials concealed the spread of the coronavirus; to calumnies about Muslims being immured in concentration camps, subjected to forced labor, and targeted for genocide; that Beijing is violating the one state-two systems agreement in Hong Kong (when in fact it’s only implementing a security law to undergird the one state part of the accord) and that Beijing’s efforts to reunify the country by re-integrating a territory the US Seventh Fleet prevented it from reintegrating in 1950, are really acts of aggression against an independent country named Taiwan.

Progressive forces, from Democracy Now!, which has provided Adrian Zenz a platform to traduce Beijing, to the New Democratic and Green parties in Canada, which voted for the motion declaring a genocide is in progress in Xinjiang, collude in the campaign to protect and promote the profits of Western shareholders, investors, and bankers from the challenges posed by China’s rise. Lenin, who knew a thing or two about communism, international rivalries, and the perfidy of progressives, described the predecessors of today’s Democracy Nows, Greens, and New Democrats as the watchdogs of imperialism. His words echo through the corridors of time.

The problematic relationship of Canada’s parliament to the concept of genocide

By Stephen Gowans

February 23, 2021

Sadly, a country that has played a significant role in what David E. Stannard called the American Holocaust, the massive depopulation of aboriginal people from the Americas, has blithely debased genocide by ignoring it where it occurs and condemning where it hasn’t.

In a vote of 266 for, and 0 against, the Canadian House of Commons declared on Monday that Chinese authorities committed atrocities in Xinjiang that contravene the United Nations’ Genocide Convention.

Canada’s parliamentarians made this declaration on the basis of dubious evidence, sourced to an ideologically-inspired researcher who opposes communism and openly seeks the demise of the Chinese Communist Party.  

The allegation is politically contrived, not legally defensible.

On the eve of the vote, the magazine Foreign Policy reported that “The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor” had concluded that “there was insufficient evidence to prove genocide.”

Even John Ibbitson, a right-wing columnist with the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper which has led the charge against China, conceded that the case that Beijing has breached the United Nations genocide convention had not been made. (That didn’t stop him, however, from insisting that China had committed genocide notwithstanding.)

The genocide allegation, the fantasy of German anthropologist Adrian Zenz, which was aped by Canada’s parliament, is “ridiculous to the point of being insulting to those who lost relatives in the Holocaust”, intoned Lyle Goldstein, a China specialist and Research Professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department of the Naval War College, quoted by The Grayzone.

The Grayzone’s Gareth Porter and Max Blumenthal showed that the genocide charge—first made by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in the dying days of the Trump administration—rests on dubious analyses carried about by Zenz.

Zenz has argued that the evidence for a Beijing-orchestrated genocide lies in the decline in the birth rate of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population. While it is true that rate at which the Uyghur population is growing has slowed, slower growth does not mean no growth, or contraction. Indeed, the Uyghur population continues to grow. Growth has slowed because Beijing is enforcing measures to limit population growth in the form of a two child per couple limit (three in rural areas) which apply equally to Uyghurs, and the Han Chinese ethnic majority, alike. Previously, the policy was not rigidly enforced in Xinjiang. Today it is, with the consequence that the Uyghur population is growing, but not as rapidly as it once was. Zenz has seized on the change in birth rate as evidence of genocide. While the UN Convention would define the prevention of births with the intention of destroying the Uyghurs as genocide, Uyghurs aren’t prevented from having children. On the contrary, with a limit of two children per couple and three in rural areas–the same limit that applies to the Han majority–Uyghurs are hardly being subjected to a discriminatory policy of birth control or a demographic genocide.

The German researcher is a senior fellow with the US-government-founded Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which works toward the destruction of the Chinese Communist Party.

As for Pompeo—who did much to publicize Zenz’s nonsense–he once boasted that under his leadership the CIA “lied, cheated, and stole.”  

It is no secret that the United States, and its ductile and craven subordinate Canada, regard China as an economic and ideological rival. Ever since the People’s Republic of China began to challenge US economic and technological primacy, departing from its Wall Street-desired role as low-wage manufactury for US corporations and market for advanced Western goods and services, the United States has pursued a campaign of information warfare to discredit Beijing and blacken China’s reputation.

Joe Biden endorsed this approach nearly a year ago in an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs.

“The most effective way to meet” the “challenge” of China getting “a leg up on dominating the technologies and industries of the future,” the future president wrote, is “to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.”

If Biden had said that Chinese human rights violations in their own right merited a campaign to confront Beijing, the sincerity of his entreaty might, for a brief moment, have appeared to possess a jot of credibility. But Washington has shown itself to have an endless tolerance for human rights abuses, as long as they serve US corporate and strategic interests. And he didn’t say that China ought to be confronted over actual human rights abuses; he said that confronting China over human rights (presumably real or imagined) is an effective way to deal with China as an economic rival.

China’s economic rivalry is matched by its systemic rivalry. Where the Chinese government has overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, set its economy once again on a growth trajectory, and lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty (a project that continues unabated), governments in North America have proved themselves incapable of meeting the health, human welfare, and economic challenges of Covid-19. While Chinese citizens look to the future with optimism, their living standards ever improving,  North Americans look to the future with pessimism, plagued by governments that fail to deliver, growing inequality, declining economic opportunity for all but the wealthiest, and incomes that, at best, stagnate.

As the former US diplomat Chas Freeman recently pointed out,

This year, China will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its ruling Communist Party.  Chinese associate the Party with the astonishingly rapid transformation of their country from a poor and beleaguered nation to a relatively well off and strong one.  Most Chinese  … are optimistic that the enormous progress they have experienced in their lifetimes will continue.  China’s decisive handling of the pandemic has bolstered its citizens faith in its system.  Morale is high.  China is focused on the future.

By contrast,

….the United States entered this year in an unprecedented state of domestic disarray and demoralization.  A plurality of Americans disputes the legitimacy of the newly installed Biden administration. Despite a booming stock market supported by cheap money and chronic deficit spending, we are in an economic depression.

If a government fails to delivers for its citizens while its rival succeeds, what better way to divert attention from its failure and recover its credibility than to create a dark legend to vilify its successful rival and a golden legend to celebrate itself?  Certain players in the United States and Canada—Biden, Pompeo, the Canadian parliament, and the mass news media—have chosen to follow this course, and are doing so by carelessly echoing accusations of genocide made by an anti-Communist fanatic with an ideological ax to grind. The practice debases the very concept of genocide. Sadly, it is hardly new.

From my window, I can see Canada’s National Holocaust Monument. A short distance away is the site of the as-yet-completed Memorial to the Victims of Communism. Canada commemorates the genocide of the Jews (carried out in another land by another people) but does not commemorate the Canadian Holocaust, carried out on its own territory by its own people. At the same time, it commemorates the Nazis, fascists, and their supporters, who perpetrated the Holocaust Canadians profess to abhor. The ‘victims’ the memorial honors, were, after all, the very same people the communists jailed and executed.

Canada has no monument to the Canadian Holocaust. While it is prepared to ensure “the lessons of the [Nazi] Holocaust … remain within the national consciousness for generations to come,” it makes no such commitment to ensuring the lessons of the Canadian holocaust remain in the national consciousness, much less enter it.

As for The Holocaust, with a capital H, the Canadian government defines that genocide as “the mass extermination of over six million Jews and countless other victims.”

Who are these countless other victims?

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which defines the Holocaust as ‘the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators,” has the answer. Helpfully, the Museum enumerates its victims. Unhelpfully, it lists the victims in a way that obfuscates who the primary victims were.

The Museum claims there were nearly 12.5 million non-Jewish Slavs (comprising Soviet civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, and Poles) who were victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, as against the usually cited six million Jews. The Museum breaks out the Slav groups separately, so that individually, neither group preponderates Jewish victims, and in listing the victims this way, the reality that the principal victim category was Slavs, not Jews, is obscured. Richard C. Lukas made a brave attempt to correct this oversight in his 1986 book Forgotten Holocaust.

The conclusion, then, is that while both Canada and the United States commemorate the genocide of the Jews, they have anonymized the more numerous Slav victims, and have largely made them invisible—consonant with the refusal of both countries to commemorate the much larger holocaust against American Indians perpetrated on their own territories.

The elevation of Jews to the status as principal–and in the pedestrian understanding, the sole—victims of the Nazi genocide, did not happen by accident. It is the outcome of a political agenda—one of legitimizing the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine; sheltering it from criticism; and allowing Zionists to conceal the true motivations for their settler colonialism and aggression on behalf of US foreign policy behind a pretext of Holocaust-prevention. The entire project of Zionism in West Asia, sponsored and bankrolled by the US state, is to promote US corporate, and particularly energy, interests, contra indigenous movements for national independence and sovereignty, rationalizing every action taken on behalf of this project as necessary to prevent another Holocaust.

Likewise, the fabrication of a black legend about a Chinese holocaust in Xinjiang has a political purpose: to discredit an economic and systemic rival.

The holocaust against the Slavs; the Germans’ earlier holocaust against the Nama and Herero people of southwestern Africa; and countless other holocausts perpetrated by colonial powers against defenseless peoples, are marginalized and never memorialized for the simple reason that they were modelled, sometimes explicitly, on the American and Canadian Holocausts. Genocide, as Mahmood Mamdani has pointed out, is an act of nation building, and European settlers in North America provided the template.

Nazi Germany deliberately sought to exterminate the Slavs of Eastern Europe, a territory its leaders saw as equivalent to the North American West. Just as Europeans committed a genocide against the American Indians and stole their land, Germans, following the American model, would exterminate the Slavs and steal their land. It was on this very same territory that the majority of the world’s Jews lived, and were victimized—along with their non-Jewish Slav neighbors—by Germans inspired by the US and Canadian conquest of the North American West.

David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen recounted in their 2010 book, The Kaiser’s Holocaust, that “Hitler told his entourage that the peoples of the East were to suffer the same fate as the ‘Red Indians.’ They were to be exterminated and then simply forgotten. ‘We also eat Canadian wheat’, [Hitler] reminded his audience, ‘and don’t think about the Indians.’”

Beijing has had to contend with jihadist violence in Xinjiang, just as other governments have found it necessary to deal with violent jihadism on their own or other territories. The approach of the United States and Canada to violence inspired by political Islam has been war, military occupation, assassinations, torture, arbitrary detention, massive electronic surveillance of their own populations, and Islamophobia.

Beijing, by contrast, has followed an approach based on job training, economic development, and deradicalization. Part of the reason US and Canadian governments have called for boycotts against goods produced in Xinjiang is to stymy Beijing’s efforts to mitigate the problem of violent Jihadism through economic development.

That China is relying on uplift and deradicalization to conciliate its jihadists, rather than aping the US approach of assassination, torture, and secret prisons, explains 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.’” Similarly, 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.”

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.  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. On the contrary, they have praised Beijing for its treatment of China’s Muslim population.

The careless hurling of genocide charges, in the context of a commercial rivalry between a US-led West and China, stamps the practitioners of this regrettable act as chauvinists, prepared to stoop to any depth to give “their” bourgeoisie a leg up in a competition with an international rival. That the so-called progressive wing of Canada’s parliament, the New Democratic Party and Green Party, voted en masse for the anti-Chinese motion, is a stain on their record, but only one of many, and hardly surprising. Progressives have made a habit, dating back to World War One, of backing “their” bourgeoisie, even to the point of siding with their own ruling class in the industrial slaughter of their class cohorts. The infamy continues.

Rather than taking up the jingo’s cry against an emerging China by endorsing a politically-inspired confection concocted by Adrian Zenz, an anti-Communist fanatic who believes a supreme being has inspired him with a mission to destroy the Chinese Communist Party, Canada’s parliamentarians ought to address a genocide that really did happen—the one perpetrated on their own territory, which they continue to ignore.  

US media hide malignant and destabilizing US actions in plain sight, while accusing an official enemy of the same

January 27, 2021

US bombers, says a B-52 pilot at 8:20 of this video, “are what you send over there to change people’s minds when you want to get things done.” He doesn’t say what people’s minds are to be changed to, but there are plenty of indications that “getting things done” means making people ‘over there’ more accommodating to the demands of US investors and corporations. When minds need to be changed to accept unimpeded access to foreign markets by US businesses, protection of US intellectual property, and the opening of strategic industries to US investment, the bomber is a US instrument of choice. [1]

“Basic U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific,” observes Chas Freeman, a retired US diplomat, “remain simple and straightforward:” They are: “Unimpeded access to the region’s markets, products, services, financial resources, and scientific and technological innovations.” [2]

Jacob J. Lew, a former US Treasury Secretary, and Richard Nephew, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, identify fundamental U.S. foreign policy interests as promoting free trade and creating foreign markets for U.S. goods and services. [3]

Which is to say, US foreign policy, backed by B-52 mind-changers, is guided by the goal of securing profit-making opportunities around the world for US investors and corporations. If “people over there” resist, well, the United States has plenty of B-52s to change minds and get things done.  

The Pentagon, the Wall Street Journal informs us, plans to rely on B-52s “to prepare for the wars of the future.”  [4] This suggests that US planners have already queued up a series of foreign aggressions, calling to mind the future wars once planned in Berlin (against a string of European countries) and Tokyo (against China, as well as the East Asian and Pacific colonial possessions of the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands.) Imagine the outcry, entirely warranted, were China’s Global Times to run a story under the headline, For Wars of the Future, PLA Looks to Hypersonic Missiles. Were China openly planning wars of the future, as the United States is, and crowing about them in its newspapers, it would be marked, quite justifiably, as a menace to humanity. The logic applies no less strongly to the United States.

China, it is no secret, will be the target of, if not a future war, then at least unrelenting US military pressure. True, China is very accommodating of US businesses—to a point. US business people lust after the vast Chinese market and cheap Chinese labor, and Beijing, in large measure, accommodates them. But at the same time, US investors and the CEOs of major US corporations complain bitterly about high Chinese import tariffs, competition from state-owned enterprises, and demands that foreign investors take on Chinese partners. [5] And some strategic industries remain closed to US investment.

In an effort to change minds over there, the United States has, since 2004, maintained a “continuous bomber presence” on the verges of Chinese airspace, including over waters claimed by China. [6]

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal featured a story about a B-52 crew “lumbering 100 miles off China’s coast”—part of the continuous bomber presence Washington maintains to “demonstrate the US military’s long reach.” [7] This is an anodyne way of saying that the Pentagon is the ultima ratio regnum of the United States’ global economic empire, as the historian Arno J. Mayer once put it. When the crew was warned by Chinese air traffic control to turn back, it replied with a scripted response: it was conducting lawful military activities in international airspace. Michael R. Gordon, the author of the piece, explained that one of the goals of the Pentagon’s continuous bomber presence is “to preserve” the US “role as the region’s pre-eminent military power.” Gordon, of course, didn’t tarry over the question of why the United States needs to be the region’s pre-eminent military power, perhaps because asking the question would evoke the parallel questions: Why did Germany feel the need to be the pre-eminent military power in Europe, and why did Imperial Japan, like the United States today, pursue military pre-eminence in the Indo-Pacific region?

One would assume that an 18-year long unending US bomber presence on the margins of Chinese airspace might be considered an act of intimidation. Outside of US doctrine, it clearly is. Inside, it is not. That’s because, as the historian Marilyn B. Young once explained, US doctrine rests on “a set of axioms … as unquestionable as Euclid’s,” that purify every US action, no matter how heinous or despotic, and vilify every enemy action, no matter how benevolent. “We can summarize these axioms as follows,” wrote Young.

“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]

Hence, an unremitting US bomber presence over the South China and East China seas, and open discourse in a major US newspaper about future wars, can only be good, because these actions are American. But any action, even remotely similar, carried out by a designated enemy, must be evil.

If proof of this is required, consider that on the same day it ran its jingoist encomium to B-52 warriors and the aircraft they fly, the Wall Street Journal also ran a story under the headline “China Flies Warplanes Near Taiwan in Show of Force, Promoting U.S. Warning.”

The story revealed that:

“China sent strategic bombers, jet fighters and a turboprop on 13 sorties into Taiwan’s southwestern air-defense identification zone on Saturday and followed up with 15 fighter and turboprop sorties into roughly the same area the next day, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. On both days, the Taiwanese military responded by deploying aircraft, issuing radio warnings and tracking the Chinese planes with air-defense missile systems.” [9]

While the newspaper presented the projection of US strategic bombers into China’s air-defense identification zone as a legitimate exercise of “upholding the right of international passage in disputed airspace”—and not an act of intimidation—China’s deployment of strategic bombers within its own sovereign territory elicited implied censure and a rebuke from Washington.  “U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price voiced concern over what it called continuing Chinese attempts ‘to intimidate its neighbors, including Taiwan.’” [10] Washington followed up by admonishing Beijing to cease its military pressure against the Chinese island.

Congruent with its role in enforcing an ideological orthodoxy consistent with the interests of the US state’s corporate-based management committee, the Journal described Chinese, but not, US bombers, as warplanes. Instead, B-52s–the instruments by which US imperialism has spread its dark wings over the lands of oppressed people whose minds needed to be changed to accept their continued oppression–were described only in neutral terms; for example, as military aircraft carrying out lawful activities.  

The narrative on behalf of US imperial objectives didn’t stop there. Taiwan, in the official discourse of the US state, and the unofficial discourse of its public relations arm, the US news media, is a country separate and sovereign from China, rather than what it truly is: a part of China which has never declared independence. China can’t invade, threaten to invade, intimidate, or exert military pressure on, China.

The Chinese island is important to Beijing for two reasons. Washington intervened in China’s civil war in 1950, to prevent communist forces gaining control of the island and unifying the country. This was an act equivalent to its contemporaneous intervention in the Korean civil war to prevent communist forces there from revolutionizing and unifying that country. China, just as much as Korea, remains divided today, as a consequence of US imperialism.

There is also a strategic motive to recover Taiwan. As the writer John MacDonald explains, the island “sits in the middle of a chain of small islands from Japan in the north to the Philippines in the south.” These islands, referred to by US military strategists as ‘the first island chain,’  are either directly or indirectly under US military control. “Together they block China’s access to the Pacific.” A hostile force—in this case, the United States—through its control of the first island chain, has the capability of bottling up China, denying it access to sea lanes—a capability that would allow the Pentagon to impose a naval blockade on China in a time of war. “Taiwan’s return to the mainland would open a crucial break in the wall.” [11] Today, US Marines train to operate from these islands with the explicit goal of bottling up China’s fleet [12], a malign and destabilizing project which the Wall Street Journal has documented on a number of occasions, but prefers to describe in strictly neutral terms. [13] Malignity and destabilization are terms in US propaganda practice that are reserved to describe the actions of official enemies, in order to justify malign and destabilizing actions against them.

Who, then, is intimidating who? Who is the aggressor, and who is aggressed upon?

In the upside-down world of US doctrine, US acts of intimidation against China are lawful exercises of upholding international law. China’s efforts to recover its territory are acts of intimidating a neighbor.

1.  Another method of choice is the use of sanctions, economic warfare, and financial isolation to immiserate foreign populations, with the foreseeable consequence of producing widespread malnutrition and disease.

2. “The United States and a Resurgent Asia,” Remarks prepared for delivery to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.), 14 April 2020.

3. Jacob J. Lew and Richard Nephew, “The use and misuse of economic statecraft: How Washington is abusing its financial might,” Foreign Affairs, October 15, 2018.

4. Michael R. Gordon, “For Wars of the Future, Pentagon Looks to Distant Past: The B-52,” The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2021.

5. James T. Areddy, “Xi Jinping aims to rebrand China—as an importer,” The Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2018.

6. Jeremy Page and Gordon Lubold, “U.S. bomber flies over waters claimed by China,” The Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2015.

7. Gordon.

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

9.  Chun Han Wong, “China Flies Warplanes Near Taiwan in Show of Force, Promoting U.S. Warning,” The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2021.

10. Ibid.

11. John MacDonald. When Globalization Fails: The Rise and Fall of Pax Americana. Farrar, Straus and Giroux,  2015. p. 239.

12. Gordon; Page and Gordon.

13. See for example Gordon and Page.

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, making up a plurality, but not a majoritym of the region’s population.

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 to 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.