what's left

The Berlin Wall

Posted in Communism, German Democratic Republic, The Berlin Wall by what's left on November 29, 2009

Brendan Stone and Stephen Gowans, Unusual Sources Radio Program

Part 1

Part 2

The politics of the U.S. envoy for war crimes

Posted in War Crimes by what's left on November 27, 2009

“Some senior British military officials…suggested privately that Blair, Donald Rumsfeld and others should be charged with war crimes…” [1]

By Stephen Gowans

Through countless wars – Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and yes, even WWII – the United States has amassed a long record of war crimes, from the abuse and torture of prisoners to the bombing of civilians and the deliberate destruction of hydroelectric dams, sewage and water treatment facilities, factories, bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, and dwellings.

The United States has also played an active role in facilitating Israel’s war crimes, while at the same time obstructing efforts to bring Israeli war criminals to account.

But not only is the United States one of history’s boldest war criminal states, it is also one of the most brazenly hypocritical.

Only an Israeli ambassador at large for the promotion of Palestinian rights, or a Nazi ambassador at large for the defense of national sovereignty in Europe, could match for jaw-dropping chutzpah the existence in the United States of an ambassador at large for war crimes.

And yet the office exists, occupied by Stephen Rapp, who has tried former Liberian president Charles Taylor at The Hague, and plans to keep his efforts focussed on Africa, with prosecutions planned for Congo, Guinea and Kenya. [2]

A U.S. envoy on war crimes is like a U.S. envoy on capital punishment, or waterboarding, or hunger (considering that 50 million U.S. citizens struggle to get enough to eat. [3])

Rapp won’t be going after Israeli officials for war crimes committed in Gaza nearly a year ago, nor will he be looking into the trail of death and destruction that U.S. and allied forces have blazed through Afghanistan and Iraq.

That’s because in the twisted world of Stephen Rapp, war crimes are the exclusive preserve of people on the other side of U.S. foreign policy, while anyone on Rapp’s side is innocent by definition.

Rapp’s mandate is to drag before war crimes tribunals any leader who has failed to do Washington’s bidding, as a warning against defying the United States, while remaining silent on the war crimes Washington’s stooges have carried out, usually on Washington’s behalf.

For example, Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi, who not long ago sent his army into neighboring Somalia on U.S. orders, presides over a military that Human Rights Watch accuses “of extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, forcibly displacing thousands of civilians and using food as a weapon.” [4]

“We don’t like to rank abuses in different parts of the world” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, “but we are talking about village elders being strangled, and women raped until the point of unconsciousness. And it is being done with complete impunity, and with a blind eye from the international community.” [5]

Ethiopian and Israeli war criminals are exempt from Rapp’s scrutiny, as too are the Americans who torture detainees, bomb civilians, and give the orders. According to Rapp, “No legitimately motivated international prosecutor…should ever have a legitimate cause to take a case against an American citizen.” [6]

An intelligent chimp could do Rapp’s job. Wrong side of U.S. foreign policy, guilty. Right side, innocent.

Rapp could only be a credible envoy for war crimes, rather than a transparent tool for advancing U.S. interests, were he to focus first on the considerable crimes of his own country and its allies. Until then, the greatest contribution the United States can make to eliminating war crimes is to stop committing them, or better yet, to stop making war.

1. Richard Norton-Taylor, “Iraq: the legacy – Ill equipped, poorly trained, and mired in a ‘bloody mess’”, The Guardian (UK), April 17, 2009.

2. Colum Lynch, “War crimes envoy has personal touch,” The Washington Post, November 27, 2009.

3. Amy Goldstein, “America’s economic pain brings hunger pangs,” The Washington Post, November 17, 2009.

4. The Guardian (UK), June 12, 2008.

5. Ibid.

6. Lynch.

The bootstrap theory of propaganda

Posted in Iran, Propaganda, The New York Times by what's left on November 23, 2009

By Stephen Gowans

The New York Times and U.S. politicians are, through assertion and repetition, attempting to create as common knowledge the idea that Iran has a nuclear weapons program and that the last presidential election in Iran was fraudulent, even though there is no evidence to back either claim.

In today’s (November 23, 2009) New York Times, reporter Alexei Barrionuevo writes that “Brazil’s ambitions to be a more important player on the global diplomatic stage are crashing headlong into the efforts of the United States and other Western powers to rein in Iran’s nuclear arms program” (my emphasis.)

This treats the existence of a nuclear arms program in Iran as an established finding.

Yet, Tehran denies it has a nuclear weapons program and the U.N nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, says it “‘has no concrete proof’ that Iran ever sought to make nuclear arms…” [1] The 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate disagrees, in part, claiming that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in 2003, but says that Iran has since disbanded it. In February, “US officials said that…no new evidence has surfaced to undercut the findings of the 2007 (estimate).” [3]

According to the head of the I.A.E.A, Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency has

“not seen concrete evidence that Tehran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program… But somehow, many people are talking about how Iran’s nuclear program is the greatest threat to the world… In many ways, I think the threat has been hyped. Yes, there’s concern about Iran’s future intentions and Iran needs to be more transparent with the IAEA and the international community… But the idea that we’ll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn’t supported by the facts as we have seen them so far.” [3]

Barrionuevo isn’t alone in asserting, without evidence, that Iran is building nuclear arms. U.S. Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, told Barrionuevo that “the world is trying to figure out how to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons,” assuming, as a given, that Iran is trying to have nuclear weapons.

Engel also says that Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “is illegitimate with his own people,” a reference to the disputed presidential election Iran’s opposition claims Ahmadinejad won through fraud. Barrionuevo points to critics who worry that a planned visit to Brazil by Ahmadinejad will “legitimize” the Iranian president “just five months after what most of the world sees as his fraudulent re-election.”

Yet there is no evidence the election was stolen. All that backs the allegation is the assertion of the opposition that the election was fraudulent and “what most of the world” believes, this being based on the Western media treating opposition claims as legitimate.

This is a circular process. Most of the world believes the election was fraudulent because that’s what the principal source of information on this matter, the media, led it to believe. Now the New York Times offers the fact that the assertion is widely believed as evidence it is true. This might be called the bootstrap theory of propaganda: legitimize an assertion by treating it as true, and when most of the world believes it’s true, offer the reality that everyone believes it to be true as evidence it is.

The only relevant evidence that would allow us to determine whether the outcome of the election was crooked or fair is provided by the sole methodologically rigorous poll conducted prior to the election. It was sponsored by the international arm of the U.S. Republican Party, the International Republican Institute, hardly a booster of Ahmadinejad. Carried out three weeks prior to the election, the poll “showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin – greater than his actual apparent margin of victory”. [4] The pollsters, Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, concluded that “Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want.”

The process of creating commonly held beliefs that have no evidentiary basis, and doing so through assertion and repetition, is not new. To justify an illegal war on Yugoslavia, Western politicians, and the Western media in train, asserted without evidence that a genocide was in progress in Kosovo in 1999. Tens of thousands of corpses were expected to be found littering the “killing fields” of the then-Serb province. But when forensic investigators were dispatched to Kosovo after the war to document the genocide, the bodies never turned up. By frequently repeating unsubstantiated claims, people were led to believe that systematic killings on a mass scale were being carried out, and that the West had a moral obligation to intervene. The public was duped.

Similarly, Western politicians “sexed up” intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Western media went along, acknowledging only after public support for the war had been engineered by the media’s propagation of U.S. and British government lies, that it got it wrong. The politicians said they had been misled by the C.I.A. The C.I.A said it was pressured by the politicians. All that mattered was that many people believed that Saddam Hussein was hiding banned weapons. When none were found, a new pretext for dominating Iraq militarily was trotted out, and acceptance of the pretext was aided by the repetition of more unsubstantiated assertions.

The bootstrap theory of propaganda is at work again, this time in connection with Iran.

1. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “Report says Iran has data to make a nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, October 4, 2009.

2. Greg Miller, “US now sees Iran as pursuing nuclear bombs,” The Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2009.

3. William J. Cole, “UN nuclear watchdog says Iran threat hyped,” The Boston Globe, September 2, 2009.

4. Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, “Ahmadinejad is who Iranians want,” The Guardian (UK), June 15, 2009.

Dracula censures mosquito for feasting on human blood‏

Posted in Afghanistan, Canada, Imperialism, Iran by what's left on November 22, 2009

Despite revelations of complicity in major human rights abuses, Canada takes lead role in U.N. rebuke of Iran.

By Stephen Gowans

Canada sponsored on November 20 a U.N. General Assembly Resolution censuring Iran for human rights abuses, only three days after a senior Canadian diplomat testified before a Canadian House of Commons committee that the Canadian military had been complicit in the torture of Afghans.

Richard Colvin, who served 17 months in Afghanistan, testified that Afghans who were detained by Canadian soldiers were tortured after they were turned over to Afghan authorities. Colvin says that when he raised the matter with higher authorities, he was ignored and later told to remain silent.

In his testimony, Colvin asked Canadian members of parliament, “If we are complicit in the torture of Afghans in Kandahar, how can we credibly promote human rights in Tehran or Beijing?” [1]

As early as May 2006, Colvin informed Lieutenant-General Michel Gauthier, then-commander of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, that he had reason to believe ”the likelihood is that all the Afghans we handed over were tortured.” [2]

Despite repeated attempts to red-flag his concerns to higher authorities, Colvin was ignored. Then in April 2007, he received “written messages from the senior Canadian government co-ordinator for Afghanistan to the effect that (he) should be quiet and do what (he) was told.” [3]

Canada had defended its transfer policy, arguing that if detainees were tortured, the Red Cross would let Canadian military officials know. But Colvin testified that when the Red Cross tried to alert the Canadian military, the “Canadian Forces in Kandahar wouldn’t even take their phone calls.” [4]

After Colvin raised the alarm, it took more than a year for Ottawa to negotiate a new transfer agreement. Under the new agreement, Canadian officials were able to visit detainees to determine whether they were being tortured. An Afghan human rights organization that receives funding from the Canadian government, reported this year that 98 percent of detainees are tortured, an indication that torture continues, despite the amended transfer agreement. [5]

While Colvin condemned Canada’s complicity in torture on the grounds that it is “a very serious violation of international and Canadian law” and is “a war crime,” [6] the Canadian media have largely overlooked the principal wrong, focusing instead on how the revelation could strengthen the insurgency and complicate efforts to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. That Canada’s military has committed a serious violation of international law – a war crime — is barely acknowledged.

Colvin is partly to blame for deflecting attention from the principal crime to tactical considerations. In his testimony, he offered four reasons Canadians ought to care about Afghan detainees being tortured. (That he felt he had to offer any reason, is shocking.) Violating Canadian and international law ranked only second. What concerned Colvin more – and what the Canadian media have picked up on as the principal crime – is that most of the detainees were “innocent,” that is, weren’t insurgents. In other words, implicit in much of the media coverage, and Colvin’s testimony, is the idea that the real scandal isn’t that detainees were tortured, but that the wrong people were tortured, and that this strengthens the insurgency by turning large numbers of Afghans, who would have otherwise acquiesced to the occupation, against it. Based on the additional concern Colvin has shown for the “farmers, truck drivers, tailors, peasants” and “random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time; young men in their fields and villages who were completely innocent but were nevertheless rounded up,” [7] torturing those who resist a foreign military occupation isn’t the problem; it’s the torture of “innocents” that is troubling, and it’s troubling because it stirs up the natives. Canadian soldiers, then, are being criticized, not, as they should be, for committing a war crime, but for acting in a way that undermines the mission’s goal of pacifying the Afghan population.

The use of the word “innocents” to describe those who aren’t resisting occupation, and by implication, “guilty” for those who are, is a criminalization of a behavior that, while inconvenient to the goals of the Canadian military in helping to enforce U.S. domination of Afghanistan, is hardly criminal at all. It is what some part of a population will reliably do, and has every right to do, when confronted by an uninvited foreign military presence. Complicity in the torture of insurgents is every bit as much a crime as complicity in the torture of non-insurgents.

As other Western countries, Canada presents itself as having the moral authority to call non-Western nations to account for human rights abuses. Its condemnations, however, are selective, directed exclusively at countries that resist Western domination, while passing over those that are firmly within the orbit of U.S. imperialism. Canada is prepared to censure Iran, Zimbabwe and China, but not Haiti (where it acts as part of a foreign occupation force), Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and countries of North Africa, despite regular and flagrant human rights violations in these countries. It is difficult to understand how a country that participates in the military occupation of Afghanistan for reasons that are contrived and indefensible, joined an unprovoked and illegal air war against Yugoslavia in 1999, is complicit in torture, and has treated its aboriginal people abominably, has the moral authority to lecture anyone on human rights.

By contrast, Iran, the object of Canada’s censure, hasn’t attacked any country in the modern era, doesn’t act as a janissary to an imperialist bully, and isn’t complicit in torture as an occupying force in foreign territory.

Were Canada genuinely interested in promoting human rights it would have long ago sponsored U.N. General Assembly resolutions to censure the United States for its notorious abuses of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and at the largest U.S. detention facility in Afghanistan, Bagram air base, where US “military personnel who know Bagram and the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, describe the Afghan site as tougher and more Spartan” and where “many are still held communally in big cages.” [8] But, then, the abuse of prisoners carried out in the service of U.S. foreign policy goals doesn’t seem to rank high on Canada’s list of human rights violations.

Canadian officials defend their country’s military presence in Afghanistan as necessary to back up the “democratic” government of Hamid Karzai, and yet Karzai’s government routinely tortures prisoners, and without the slightest censure by Canada in international forums. Karzai recently won a second term as president in an election marred by fraud engineered in part by his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a C.I.A. operative who is “a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade.” [9] While vote fraud in the last presidential election in Iran is only alleged, and without much supporting evidence, the fraudulent nature of the last Afghan presidential election is nowhere in dispute. [10] The Afghan president should be denounced as a dictator, (and would be, were he not a puppet of the United States and therefore immune from the demonizing criticism the Western media and Western governments dole out to leaders of countries that resist U.S. control and domination.) And yet, far from censuring the Afghan government for its human rights abuses and vote fraud, Canada helps prop up the country’s deeply unpopular government through an illegitimate military presence.

Despite calls in parliament for an inquiry into Colvin’s allegations, the Canadian government refuses to pursue the matter publicly, preferring instead to engage in attempts to discredit Colvin as unreliable, an effort undermined by its having seen fit to appoint him to a senior diplomatic post in Washington. Ottawa insists there is no evidence that Afghan officials tortured detainees turned over by Canadian soldiers. But the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, which receives substantial funding from the Canadian government, reported this year that a survey it conducted of detention center inmates found that 98 percent had been tortured. [11]

On top of complicity in the torture of the people of a country it is guilty of participating in an indefenesible military occupation of, the Canadian government is guilty of torturing the truth, in the service of the fiction that it has the moral authority to rebuke other countries for their human rights abuses. We in the West, and particularly those of us in Canada, ought to be more concerned about the behavior of the Canadian government and its military, than of the Iranian government, whose censurable activities (related to political survival in the face of an overthrow movement Western powers have had a hand in organizing [12]) are by far the lesser crimes, if indeed, they can even be called crimes.

Canada, then, is waging an unjust war, within which, the evidence suggests, it has committed a war crime. On top of this, it has been silent on the crimes and human rights abuses of its Western allies and non-Western countries that operate, as it does, under the umbrella of U.S. imperialism.

The only way Canada can begin to establish moral authority is to withdraw from Afghanistan, offer restitution to the Afghans it has been complicit in the torture of, and hold the United States, Britain, Israel and other allies to account for their crimes and human rights abuses. And that’s just for starters. It also needs to refrain from sponsoring movements to overthrow governments, such as Iran’s, that pursue an independent course outside the domination of other countries. (Tehran’s arrest of political activists who have sought, with Western assistance and encouragement, to overthrow the Ahmadinejad government, would never have happened had Canada and other Western countries not interfered in Iran’s affairs by financing regime change NGOs.) Until Ottawa makes these amends, its censure of Tehran remains tantamount to Dracula rebuking a mosquito for feasting on human blood.

1. “Transcript: Explosive testimony on Afghan detainees,” The Canadian Press, November 18, 2009.
2. Steve Chase, “Canada complicit in torture of innocent Afghans, diplomat says,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 2009.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Steve Chase and Campbell Clark, “Many detainees were just farmers, Afghan official says,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), November 20, 2009.
6. “Transcript: Explosive testimony on Afghan detainees,” The Canadian Press, November 18, 2009.
7. Ibid.
8. Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon seeks prison overhaul in Afghanistan,” The New York Times, July 20. 2009.
9. Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, “Brother of Afghan leader is said to be on C.I.A payroll,” The New York Times, October 28, 2009.
10. Stephen Gowans, “When election fraud is met by congratulations,” What’s Left, November 3, 2009. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/when-electoral-fraud-is-met-by-congratulations/
11. Steve Chase and Campbell Clark, “Many detainees were just farmers, Afghan official says,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), November 20, 2009.
12. Stephen Gowans, “The role and aims of US democracy promotion in the attempted color revolution in Iran,” What’s Left, July 4, 2009. https://gowans.wordpress.com/2009/07/04/the-role-and-aims-of-us-democracy-promotion-in-the-attempted-color-revolution-in-iran/

Polls show a spectre is haunting Europe…and much of the rest of the world

Posted in Communism, Socialism by what's left on November 15, 2009

By Stephen Gowans

Just two months before the West celebrated the 20th anniversary of the events that would lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the Pew Global Attitudes Project, a polling organization funded by a tax-exempt trust established by the founder of the Sun Oil company, conducted a poll that showed that Eastern Europeans are decidedly gloomy about their lives under capitalist democracy.

While Western media and politicians spoke glowingly of Eastern Europeans embracing freedom and regular multi-party elections, Russians, Poles, Bulgarians, Ukrainians and other residents of former communist states complained to the Pew pollsters about being worse off today than under communism, about their dissatisfaction with capitalist democracy, and about the transition from communism to capitalism benefiting business owners and politicians, not ordinary people.

The poll revealed that what Eastern Europeans really think about life under capitalism is a far cry from the picture painted by US and British journalists, who, in their celebration of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall, mostly presented the events of 1989 to 1991 through the eyes of dissidents and business owners rather than ordinary people. “Our voice, the voice of those whose lives were improved by communism,” remarked Zsuzsanna Clark, who has written a book about her life growing up in communist Hungary, “is seldom heard when it comes to discussions of what life was like behind the Iron Curtain. Instead, the accounts we hear in the West are nearly always from the perspectives of wealthy émigrés or anti-communist dissidents with an axe to grind.” [1]

The poll of 14,760 Eastern Europeans was conducted in August and September in eight countries: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine. [2]

According to the poll, one-half of Eastern Europeans say they’re worse off today than they were under communism. Only one-third say they’re better off. [3]

The chief beneficiaries of the collapse of communism, according to eight of 10, have been business owners. More than 90 percent say politicians have also benefited. But less than one-quarter say ordinary people have reaped any advantage.

Other findings:

• Only one-third of Eastern Europeans believe their country is run for the benefit of all people.

• Only one in three is satisfied with capitalist democracy.

• Only one-quarter believes that most elected officials care what ordinary people think.

The failure of Eastern Europeans to laud their retrogression from full employment and freedom from economic insecurity under communism to high rates of unemployment and the tyranny of the market under capitalism was chalked up to cultural retardation in one New York Times article. “We have created democratic institutions, but we are missing the democratic-political culture to make them effective,” a Bulgarian academic explained. [4]

Rather than being a neutral observer, the Pew Global Attitudes Project is an integral part of a public relations program of imbuing Eastern Europeans with the right culture – a public relations project that has failed miserably.

Funded by the wealth sweated out of oil industry labor by Sun Oil Company founder, Joseph Pew, the Pew Charitable Trust channels money to organizations and individuals that work toward propping up, legitimizing and disseminating capitalist ideology and weakening capitalism’s opponents.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project is part of this wider project. It monitors global attitudes, as an early warning system, to detect growing dissatisfaction with capitalism so that defensive measures can be taken to pre-empt possible challenges to the capitalist state. It also sets benchmarks, to monitor progress in inculcating global populations with attitudes favorable to capitalism.

What is likely to trouble the poll’s sponsors is the continued commitment of Eastern Europeans to the values of solidarity and welfare that characterized communism. Two-thirds of the residents of the former Warsaw Pact countries continue to cleave to one of the defining values of communism: that it’s more important that the state play an active role in guaranteeing that nobody is in need than it is for everyone to be free to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state.

If the Pew poll points to the tenacity of pro-socialist values in Eastern Europe, a GlobeScan poll conducted in 27 countries, representing 70 percent of the world’s population, shows that most people in the world are social democrats, while a sizeable number are anti-capitalist. [5]

One-half of the world’s population living in areas in which capitalism is the dominant economic system hold social democratic views, believing that capitalism’s problems can be solved through reforms and stricter regulation, while one in five are radicals, believing capitalism is fatally flawed and a new economic system is required. The remainder, 30 percent, hold laissez-faire capitalist views, believing capitalism works well and should not be subject to reforms and government oversight. [6]

GlobeScan is a strategic issues management firm that provides public relations advice to governments and transnational corporations. To survey global attitudes toward capitalism, GlobeScan partnered with the Program on International Policy Attitudes, an organization funded by the Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller and other capitalist foundations, which largely exist to burnish the reputation of capitalism. GlobeScan also does work for the World Bank and World Trade Organization.

The poll found that a clear majority of the world’s population favors policies traditionally associated with socialism, including public ownership of major industries, redistribution of wealth, and an active role for governments in regulating businesses.

According to the poll, 62 percent of adults living in the world’s capitalist areas would like governments to play some role in owning or controlling major industries, while 44 percent believe governments should play an even more active role than they play today.

At the same time, three-quarters want governments to distribute wealth more evenly and 60 percent favor governments being more active in redistributing income.

Seven of 10 of the 29,000 people polled by GlobeScan say governments should play at least as much of a role in regulating businesses as they play today, while 55 percent believe governments should play an even stronger role.

The poll, which sampled opinion in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, revealed that the greatest percentage of radicals is in France, where 43 percent believe capitalism should be replaced by a different system. (Three-quarters of French citizens, according to the Pew poll, believe that government providing for the basic needs of all is more important than ensuring individuals can pursue personal goals without government interference.) By contrast, Japan, Germany and the United States have the smallest percentage of radicals. Only 10 percent in these countries believe capitalism is fatally flawed and needs to be replaced.

On balance, the GlobeScan survey of world opinion shows that in the world’s capitalist areas, a majority remains unwilling to write capitalism off as fatally flawed, but recognizes the system’s problems are severe enough to warrant public ownership, income redistribution and regulatory measures as correctives. While this may appear to be a pessimistic finding to those who favour a clear break with capitalism, public ownership, regulation of enterprises (through central planning) and a sharp reduction in income inequality were central planks of the economic policies of countries that broke decisively with capitalism after 1917 and World War II. Despite a reluctance to reject capitalism entirely, the world’s majority favors decidedly socialist policies.

Taken together, the two polls show that the political attitudes of the world’s population reflect the majority’s position in the world economy as sellers of their own labor, vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the labor market and faced by growing economic insecurity. Eastern Europeans recognize that capitalist democracy benefits business owners and politicians, not ordinary people, and that elected officials are not responsive to the majority. They are also dissatisfied with capitalist democracy and believe that life was better under communism. A majority of the world’s population favours a traditional socialist policy of government ownership and control of the commanding heights of the economy and calls for governments to play more of a role in distributing wealth evenly, an expression of a commitment to egalitarian values. And while half of the world’s population believes that capitalism’s flaws are remediable, a large majority, 70 percent, recognizes that capitalism is a flawed system.

The polls suggest that most people are socialists, whether they recognize themselves as such, or would use the word to describe their core political values. That they routinely vote for parties of private property is not indicative of the majority’s political orientation. A substantial number of people don’t vote, recognizing, as Eastern Europeans do, that elected officials do not work on behalf of the interests of ordinary people and that the state operates in the interests of business owners. Those who do vote, often vote against parties and policies they don’t want, finding no parties that advocate policies they do want, settling for the lesser evil. Pro-capitalist parties command a virtual monopoly on the resources required to run the marketing campaigns necessary to win elections, meaning they are often the only choice voters are aware of. And many people shy away from parties that advocate anti-capitalist positions for fear that if the parties come to power they will provoke businesses to move elsewhere or curtail investment, thereby touching off an economic crisis, leading to the loss of their jobs.

The polls underscore that the goal for those who advocate a radical solution to capitalism’s problems is to show that the widely-favoured policies of public ownership, income redistribution and tighter regulation, without a wholesale rejection of capitalism, cannot bring about the intended benefits in any lasting way.

The Pew poll also shows that history’s lone top-to-bottom alternative to capitalism, the socialist states of Eastern Europe, were not rejected holus-bolus by the people who lived in them, and that the popular reaction to the successor capitalist regimes does not warrant the celebratory retrospectives on the “fall of the Berlin Wall” and the collapse of communism favoured by the Western media.


1. Zsuzsanna Clark, “Oppressive and grey? No, growing up under communism was the happiest time of my life,” The Mail on Sunday (UK), October 17, 2009.

2. The Pew Global Attitudes Project, “Two decades after the Wall’s fall: End of Communism cheered but now with more reservations,” November 2, 2009. http://pewglobal.org/reports/pdf/267.pdf

3. All figures represent averages weighted by country population.

4. Matthew Brunwasser, “Bulgaria still stuck in trauma of transition,” The New York Times, November 11, 2009.

5. PIPA and GLobeScan, “Wide Dissatisfaction with Capitalism — Twenty Years after Fall of Berlin Wall,” November 9, 2009, http://www.globescan.com/news_archives/bbc2009_berlin_wall/bbc09_berlin_wall_release.pdf

6. All figures represent averages weighted by country population.

When election fraud is met by congratulations

Posted in Afghanistan, Democracy, Democracy Manipulation by what's left on November 3, 2009

By Stephen Gowans

It has become standard practice in many parts of the world for opposition candidates to decry as fraudulent election results that favor the incumbent. Charges of vote fraud are routinely levelled against governing parties that win elections contested by opposition parties backed by Western governments. 

For example, after (and even before) Zimbabwe’s last set of elections, the governing Zanu-PF party was accused of vote fraud, but the evidence for the opposition’s claim was gathered by organizations funded by the United States, a major backer of the opposition movement. Washington makes no secret of its desire to drive the incumbent president, Robert Mugabe, from power, by hook or crook, not because he’s corrupt, despotic or a human rights abuser, as Washington alleges, but because he has done what all foreign leaders back to Lenin have done who have fallen astray of Washington – failed to honor contracts and safeguard private property. (That’s not to say Mugabe and Lenin are alike in any way other than having committed what in Washington’s view is the supreme crime.) A cooked exit poll is not beyond the motivations and capabilities of US and British-backed anti-Mugabe forces, but that’s largely beside the point. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF did poorly in the election, and Mugabe, himself, failed to win a first round victory in the presidential election. If Zanu-PF rigged the vote, it blundered badly.

Similarly, the outcome of the last Iranian presidential election, which saw the return to power of the incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was denounced by the opposition as a fraud. The charge was taken up by Western politicians, journalists and a substantial fraction of the Western left, despite the opposition’s failure to produce a single jot of credible evidence that the election was stolen. Worse, the sole methodologically sound public opinion poll taken prior to the election – funded by the international arm of the Republican Party, the IRI – predicted that Ahmadinejad would win by a wide margin – wider, it turns out, than the margin he actually did win by. This was a case of widespread distaste for Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Islamic Revolution leading to the collective dulling of critical faculties. To be sure, if one hated Ahmadinejad and fundamentalist Islam (or fundamentalist religion, period), witnessing Iranians embrace secular Western enlightenment values was bracing indeed. The only problem was there was no evidence it actually happened.

We might expect, then, that charges of vote fraud will be routinely levelled against governing parties that win elections contested by opposition parties backed by Western governments, and that the Western media will accept the charges uncritically. This happens regularly.

But what of cases in which the weight of evidence points to an incumbent, backed by the US government, winning an election by fraud? How might we expect Western politicians, Western media, and even the UN, to react? One would predict that they would try to cover it up, and failing that, minimize its significance. Conspicuously absent would be the indignant denunciations that attend the electoral losses of parties backed by Western governments.

In Afghanistan’s August presidential elections, the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, who had initially been installed in his position by the US government, failed to win a first round victory. This we know now, largely owing to the efforts of the UN’s former number two man in Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, who blew the whistle on extensive fraud perpetrated by the Karzai-appointed Independent Electoral Commission. [1] Also involved in the fraud, according to a recent New York Times report, was the president’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. [2]

Galbraith charged that the Karzai appointed electoral commission abandoned “its published anti-fraud policies, allowing it to include enough fraudulent votes in the final tally to put Karzai over the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.” Galbraith estimated that “as many as 30 percent of Karzai’s votes were fraudulent.” But when he “called the chief electoral officer to urge him to stick with the original guidelines, Karzai issued a formal protest accusing” Galbraith of foreign interference. Galbraith’s boss, Kai Eide “sided with Karzai”, effectively concealing the electoral fraud. [3] Eide told Galbraith that “the UN mandate was only to support the Afghan institutions in their decisions, not to tell them to hold an honest election.” [4]

At the centre of the fraud were ghost polling centres (1,500 inaccessible locations that were physically impossible to confirm the existence of), a corrupt election commission, [5] and the president’s brother. Ahmed Wali Karzai, “a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal (drug) trade” receives “regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency.” He “orchestrated the manufacture of hundreds of thousands of phony ballots” [6] and “is also believed to have been responsible for setting up dozens of so-called ghost polling stations — existing only on paper — that were used to manufacture tens of thousands of phony ballots.” [7]

In other words, the UN was involved in an attempt to cover up vote fraud, while the CIA, through the president’s brother, was at least indirectly involved in perpetrating it.

Some US news analysts, dismissing the affair as of little consequence, insist the runner-up, Abdullah Abdullah, stood no chance against Karzai in a fair vote anyway. But an honest account of the initial vote “would have had Karzai at 41% and Abdullah at 34%,” [8] putting Abdullah within striking distance of victory in a run-off election. Abdullah, however, refused to participate, arguing that there was no reason to believe the run-off would be any less corrupt than the initial vote. He has a point. While Karzai’s electoral commission was asked to eliminate “the ghost polling centres and to replace staff who committed fraud,” Karzai increased the number of centres and rehired the authors of the initial fraud. [9]

The sole concern of officials in Washington – who, when their favored candidates abroad fail to win elections, present themselves as champions of fair elections and lead the charge to have the allegedly fraudulent election overturned — has not been that the Afghan election was stolen, or that Abdullah withdrew because the prospects for a fair run-off were slim. On the contrary, with Karzai winning another term as president only because Abdullah withdrew over legitimate fears the run-off election would be unfair, the official US response has been to “congratulate President Karzai on his victory in this historic election and look forward to working with him.” [10] Instead, Washington’s sole concern has been the exposure of electoral fraud, and its effect in undermining the legitimacy of their man in Kabul (who never had much legitimacy in the first place.)

Contrast the US reaction with the sharp Western criticism of Robert Mugabe after Morgan Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off round of Zimbabwe’s last presidential election, claiming the conditions were not conducive to a fair vote. The difference is as wide as night and day.

Where are the stern lectures, the US-government and ruling class foundation-assisted nonviolent pro-democracy activists, the blanket mass media coverage of Afghanistan’s stolen election, the denunciations of Karzai as a dictator – all which attend the defeat of US-backed opposition movements in elections where the charges of fraud have become routine and the evidence for fraud bare to non-existent?

The reaction to electoral fraud, then, depends on the answer to a single question: Does Washington back the beneficiary of the alleged fraud or not? Or more fundamentally, does the beneficiary promote the sanctity of contracts, private property, free trade, free enterprise and free markets? If the answer is no, the reaction will be one of indignation and outrage, even where the evidence of fraud is thin to absent. If the answer is yes, the reaction will be muted, even where the evidence of fraud is voluminous and incontrovertible. Between Zimbabwe and Iran on the one hand, and Afghanistan on the other, official outrage, and therefore the outrage of the media, and therefore the outrage of the people, including a substantial part of the left, has been inversely proportional to the weight of evidence that fraud has actually occurred.

Washington cares not one whit about democracy — only about the interests of the corporations, investors and banks that dominate its policy-making. If “democracy” comports to those interests, well and good. If not, there are no phoney allegations of electoral fraud Washington is not prepared to take a hand in propagating, and no genuine electoral fraud it is unwilling to live with.

1. Peter W. Galbraith, “What I saw at the Afghan election,” The Washington Post, October 4, 2009.

2. Dexter Filkins, Mark Mazzetti and James Risen, “Brother of Afghan leader is said to be on C.I.A payroll,” The New York Times, October 28, 2009.

3. Galbraith, October 4.

4. Peter Galbraith, “Karzai was hellbent on victory. Afghans will pay the price,” The Guardian (UK), November 2, 2009.

5. Ibid.

6. Filkins, Mazzetti and Risen, October 28.

7. Ibid.

8. Galbraith, November 2.

9. Ibid.

10. Statement of U.S. Embassy in Kabul, reported in Michael Muskal, “U.S. congratulates Afghan President Karzai on another term in office,” Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2009.

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