We should applaud the Syrian military’s actions in Idlib, not deplore them

The US news media perversely view the prospective liberation of millions of Syrians from a Turkish-backed Al Qaeda tyranny in Idlib as a humanitarian tragedy, betraying their allegiance to Washington’s geopolitical agenda and its aim of dominating every country in West Asia without exception, even if it means relying on Al Qaeda to accomplish its goal.

February 23, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

Imagine journalists deploring the Allies’ liberation of Europe because the project created refugees, and you’ll understand the US news media’s reaction to the prospect of the Syrian military liberating Idlib from the rule of a branch of Al Qaeda. Implicit in the condemnation is support for the status quo, since any realistic attempt to end an occupation will trigger a flight of civilians from a war zone. What is in fact support for continued occupation by reactionaries, and their imposition of a terrorist mini-state on millions of Syrians, is slyly presented by the US news media as concern for the welfare of Syrian civilians.

Washington's Long War on Syria
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On February 20, The Wall Street Journal ran an article on what it said could be the “biggest humanitarian horror story of the 21st century,” namely, the advance of the Syrian military into Idlib, “backed by Russian airstrikes and pro-Iranian militias” which has “forced the flight of some 900,000 people” as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad vows “to retake every inch of Syria.” [1]

To illustrate the so-called impending horror, Journal reporter Raja Abdulrahim follows “Amro Akoush and his family” as they flee “their home in northwest Syria with no time to pack a bag and no vehicle to escape the machine-gun fire and falling bombs.” [2]

“I feel like this is the end, the army will advance and kill us all and that will be the end of the story,” Abdulrahim quotes Akoush as saying. “We no longer have hope for anything other than a quick death, that’s it. That’s all we ask for.” (3)

In Abdulrahim’s narrative, Assad is a tyrant setting in motion a humanitarian catastrophe to satisfy his urge (are we to construe it as greed?) to “retake” every inch of his country (not recover or liberate it.) Assad’s foil, his nemesis in this tale, is Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, presented as the personification of the calvary, rushing to the aid of hapless Syrian civilians, by dispatching tanks across the Turk-Syrian border.

Erdogan, Abdulrahim writes, “has threatened to launch a full attack on Syrian government forces if Mr. Assad doesn’t halt the military offensive. Turkey has sent more than 10,000 troops and more than 2,000 pieces of artillery, tanks and armored vehicles into Idlib.” (4)

It all seems fairly simple: Assad is a brute who has launched a military offensive “to defeat the remnants” of Syria’s “armed opposition”, sparking a humanitarian catastrophe in embryo, while Erdogan, our hero, acts to stay the tyrant’s hand.

It’s a good story, but wrong. The “armed opposition” is not a group of plucky liberal democrats fighting for freedom, but Al Qaeda; Turkey is not the calvary, but a foreign aggressor with designs on Syria that has long backed Al Qaeda as its proxy in Idlib; and Erdogan’s goal isn’t to rescue Syrians from a tyrant, but to impose a Turkish tyranny by proxy on Idlib. All of this has been reported previously in the US news media, including in Abdulrahim’s own Wall Street Journal, but has since been lost down to the memory hole. Additionally, other realities have been minimized, including the continued Al Qaeda attacks on the Syrian military and Syrian civilians.

In early March, 2015 Erdogan flew to Riyadh to meet Saudi Arabia’s recently crowned King Salman, to agree on a new strategy to oust Assad. Both leaders were keen to see Syria’s Arab nationalist republic dissolved. Erdogan, an Islamist with connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, objected to Syria’s secularism and long-running war with the Muslim Brotherhood. Salman, a misogynistic, democracy-abominating monarch backed to the hilt by Washington, objected to Syria’s anti-monarchism, Arab nationalism, and insistence that the Arab world achieve independence from US domination–ideologies which threatened his family’s rule over the Arabian peninsula and its vast oil resources.

To overcome the Syrian menace, Erdogan and Salman agreed to establish a joint command center in Idlib in order to coordinate the activities of Al Qaeda (operating in Syria at the time under the alias Jabhat al-Nusra.) Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups had taken up the Muslim Brotherhood’s struggle against the Assad government’s secularism and Arab nationalism. The jihadists were threatening to seize control of all of Idlib, and the Turkish Islamist and Saudi despot were eager to lend a hand. [5]

Erdogan wanted to run Idlib through his Al Qaeda proxies to gain leverage in order to shape the outcome of post-conflict talks on a new political arrangement for Syria. [6] This would allow him to further his Islamist agenda in a neighboring country—he had taken numerous steps to Islamize his own country—and to acquire profit-making opportunities in Syria for Turkish business people.

Erdogan’s plans were soon brought to fruition. By February, 2018, Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the US campaign against ISIS, could call Idlib “the largest al Qaeda safe haven since 9/11.” [7] The veteran foreign affairs correspondent Robert Fisk would refer to the Syrian province as a territory teeming with “the Islamist fighters of Isis, Nusrah, al-Qaeda and their fellow jihadists.” [8] In September, 2019 The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt said that Idlib province contained “a witch’s brew of violent Islamic extremist groups, dominated by the larger Qaeda-linked organization Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front.” [9] Hayat Tahrir al-Sham would control 99 percent of Idlib and surrounding areas. [10], creating what Cockburn dubbed an “al-Qaeda-run mini-state” [11]—behind which sat Erdogan, on the Sultan’s throne.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Al Qaeda are one and the same. After undergoing a previous rebranding as Jabhat al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch morphed once again, this time into HTS. As the Syrian delegate to the United Nations, Bashar Ja’afari, explained to the UN Security Council in May,

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham … is the Al-Nusra Front, which itself is part of Al-Qaida in the Levant, which in turn is part of Al-Qaida in Iraq, which in turn is part of Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Therefore, we are all talking about Al-Qaida, regardless of its different names; all are designated by the [UN Security] Council as terrorist entities. [12]

The Washington Post described Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as “an extremist Islamist group that began as al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria and has tried to rebrand itself several times during the war.” [13] The New York Times says Hayat Tahrir al-Sham “is affiliated with Al Qaeda,” [14] while The Wall Street Journal lists the group as “a branch of al Qaeda.” [15]

But of Western mainstream journalists, Cockburn perhaps describes the group best. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, he wrote in early 2019, is “a powerful breakaway faction from Isis which founded the group under the name of Jabhat al-Nusra in 2011 and with whom it shares the same fanatical beliefs and military tactics. Its leaders wear suicide vests studded with metal balls just like their Isis equivalents.” [16]

HTS’s size is a matter of dispute. Cockburn estimates that it “can put at least 50,000 fighters into the field” [17] while The New York Times puts the number closer to “12,000 and 15,000 fighters.” [18] The Syrian government says that the group has “tens of thousands of foreign terrorists, including 15,000 Europeans.” [19]

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has “centered its agenda on combating the government of Mr. al-Assad, with no interest in conducting attacks abroad, according to a recent United Nations assessment.” [20] This makes the Al Qaeda group acceptable to the United States, and, in train, to the US news media. It also explains why an organization seen as terrorist outside of Syria, is often described by US new media in neutral language when it operates in Syria, like “armed opposition” and “rebels.” Following this convention, we could talk of the “armed opposition” and “rebels” who attacked the United States on 9/11, and Washington’s 19 year war on Al Qaeda as the war on “the armed opposition to the US regime.”

“In September 2018, Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire agreement for Idlib to forestall a military offensive,” explained The Wall Street Journal. “The deal required that” Al Qaeda fighters “withdraw from a demilitarized buffer zone along the front line.” [21] Rather than withdrawing, Al Qaeda expanded areas under its control. [22] while continuing to carry on its fight against the Syrian military. The jihadists attacked Syrian army positions, targeted the Russian airbase at Khmeimim, and shelled towns and villages, “killing civilians and forcing more than 10,000 to flee,” according to the United Nations. [23] Turkey stood by while its proxies violated the cease-fire, failing “to meet its commitment to disarm” its fighters. [24]

In response, the Syrian army, backed by its Russian and Iranian allies, launched an offensive to liberate Idlib. It has done this because Al Qaeda’s attacks have never stopped and because the government of Syria has an obligation to protect its citizens and control its own territory.

When Ja’afari addressed the Security Council in May he asked:

When will it be recognized that the right we are exercising is the same right others have exercised in confronting terrorist attacks against the Bataclan theatre and the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, as well as terrorist acts in Niece, London, Boston and other cities? The terrorists that members have confronted in their own countries were not equipped with Turkish rocket launchers and tanks. [25]

Apart from glossing over such inconvenient facts as the true character of the “armed opposition” and Erdogan’s connection to it, the US news media have failed to address a number of key questions.

First, is it legitimate for a government to use force to recover territory occupied by an armed enemy, even if the use of force endangers civilians or sparks their flight? If the answer is no, then the Allies acted illegitimately during World War II in liberating Europe from Nazi occupation, for their project was impossible without endangering some civilians and creating refugees.

Moreover, if civilian casualties and their displacement were acceptable consequences of US forces taking Raqqa from ISIS—the US defense secretary at the time, James Mattis responded to concerns about the effect of the US siege on civilians by noting that “Civilian casualties are a fact of life in this sort of situation” [26]—how is it that they are unacceptable in the case of Syrian forces liberating Idlib from Al Qaeda?

A still more basic question is, Is it acceptable to respond in force to attacks from an enemy? The answer is obvious, which may be why it is never asked, for if asked, Syrian military operations against continued Al Qaeda attacks would have to be accepted as legitimate, rather than falsely portrayed as acts of aggression against Syrian civilians.

Third, is Turkey’s presence on Syrian soil legitimate? The answer is categorically in the negative. The invasion of Syria by Turkey and the occupation of part of Syrian territory by Turkish forces is no different in law, politics, or morality than the Nazi invasion of Poland, France, the low countries, the Soviet Union, and so on. It is clearly illegal, and an affront to the ‘rules-based international order’ to which the United States, Turkey, and other NATO countries so conspicuously and hypocritically profess allegiance. The invasion and occupation have been carried out in defense of Turkey’s Al Qaeda proxy, and to advance the interests of Turks and Islamists against the interests of Syrians and secularists. Erdogan is no hero, but a villain, whose hands are as maculated by the blood of Al Qaeda’s Syrian victims as are those of his Al Qaeda proxies.

Finally, what are the costs of Al Qaeda’s continued rule over millions of Syrians in Idlib? Are they greater than the costs in civilian casualties and displacement of bringing that rule to an end? The US news media have been generally supportive of the immense costs in blood and treasure Washington has incurred to wage its war on Al Qaeda in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. While noting the civilian cost of driving ISIS from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the US news media have never denounced the US war on ISIS as a humanitarian horror story, a term it uses to denounce Syria’s war on Al Qaeda. Instead, ISIS itself is portrayed as a humanitarian horror story, and efforts to undermine and defeat it are welcomed. This should be true too of Syria’s war on Al Qaeda. It is Al Qaeda that is the humanitarian horror story and it is the actions of the Syrian military in undermining and defeating it that ought to be welcomed and met with approbation.

The Syrian military advance to recover Idlib and liberate it from Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization which has imposed a harsh regime of religious intolerance and Islamist despotism on millions of Syrians, has not been welcomed by the US news media. Although the campaign is praiseworthy on multiple levels—it recovers national territory held by proxies of a foreign aggressor, and aims to liberate millions of people who have been tyrannized by a rule imposed on them by an organization made up of thousands of foreign fighters—US media, betraying their commitment to US geopolitical agendas, portray the commendable as indefensible. We ought to applaud the actions of the Syrian military, along with those of its Russian and Iranian allies, not deplore them. These actions are blows against reaction, oppression, and foreign aggression, and in defense of democracy on an international level, as well as in the furtherance of the welfare of the Syrian people.

1. Raja Abdulrahim, “’I feel like this is the end’: A million fleeing Syrians trapped by Assad’s final push,” The Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2020.
2. Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
3. Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
4. Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
5. Desmond Butler, “Turkey officials confirm pact with Saudi Arabia to help rebels fighting Syria’s Assad,” AP, May 7, 2015.
6. Carlotta Gall, “Syrian attacks draw Turkey deeper into Syrian war,” The New York Times, February 12, 2020.
7. Sune Engel Rasmussen and James Marson, “Syrian offensive creates new frictions among foreign powers,” The Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2018.
8. Robert Fisk, “To unlock the diplomatic mysteries behind the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, take a look at Syria,” The Independent, November 22, 2018.
9. Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Officials Warn of Rising Threat From Qaeda Branch in Northwest Syria.” The New York Times, September 29, 2019.
10. Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch, “Russian-backed Syrian offensive kills dozens, displaces tens of thousands,” The Washington Post, December 25, 2019; Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, “Syrian forces move into strategic town, tightening grip on rebels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2019; Patrick Cockburn, “Trump says Isis has been defeated, but he is ignoring the bigger and much more worrying picture,” The independent, February 8, 2019; Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia, 553rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council, June 18, 2019.
11. Patrick Cockburn, “Trump says Isis has been defeated, but he is ignoring the bigger and much more worrying picture,” The independent, February 8, 2019.
12. Mr. Ja’afari (Syrian Arab Republic) United Nations Security Council, 8535th Meeting, May 28, 2019.
13. Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch, “Russian-backed Syrian offensive kills dozens, displaces tens of thousands,” The Washington Post, December 25, 2019.
14. Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, “Syrian forces move into strategic town, tightening grip on rebels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2019.
15. Raja Abdulrahim, “Syrian government captures strategic town in last opposition stronghold,” The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2019.
16. Patrick Cockburn, February 8, 2019.
17. Patrick Cockburn, February 8, 2019.
18. Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Officials Warn of Rising Threat From Qaeda Branch in Northwest Syria.” The New York Times, September 29, 2019.
19. Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, 553rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council, June 18, 2019.
20. Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Officials Warn of Rising Threat From Qaeda Branch in Northwest Syria.” The New York Times, September 29, 2019.
21. Raja Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
22. Raja Abdulrahim, February 20, 2020.
23. Vivian Yee and Hwaida Saad, “Syrian forces move into strategic town, tightening grip on rebels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2019; Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia, 553rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council, June 18, 2019.
24. David Gauthier-Villars and Nazih Osseiran, “Turkish troop losses mount after clash with Assad forces,” The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2020.
25. Mr. Ja’afari (Syrian Arab Republic) United Nations Security Council, 8535th Meeting, May 28, 2019.
26. Raja Abdulrahim and Nour Alakraa, “Civilian casualties mount as coalition moves to oust ISIS in Raqqa,” The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2017.

Soleimani assassination only one of many (and not the most consequential) US acts of war against Iran

January 5, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

While the assassination of an Iranian general by a US drone attack in Iraq has been construed in some quarters as a consequential act of war, it is only one, in a long series of US actions, that constitute de facto acts of war by the United States against Iran that have caused considerable harm to the country.

Ever since Iranians overthrew the US puppet ruler, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in 1979, Washington has pursued an unceasing campaign of aggression against the sovereign state with the aim of returning Iran to its orbit. Since 2018, US aggression has intensified. In a stepped up effort to topple the independence-minded government in Tehran, Washington has undertaken campaigns of destabilization on top of information-, cyber-, and economic-warfare—significant aggressions against which the assassination of Major General Qassem Soleimani is but a minor act.

Press TV

The roots of anti-Iranian US hostility can be summed up in one sentence: Tehran rejects the hegemony of the United States and its allies over the Middle East and the Muslim world. [1] This is consistent with the view of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Iran, they testified before the US Congress in 2017, seeks to “counter the influence of the U.S. and our Allies.” [2] Accordingly, the Iranian government has been declared an enemy of the United States. In short, Washington insists on imposing its will on the Middle East, and Tehran refuses to submit to US despotism. A former Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, once expressed the Iranian position this way: “We tell [the United States] that instead of interfering in the region’s affairs, to pack their things and leave.” [3] Insisting there should be no limit to its global influence, Washington targets for elimination any force that insists limits must be imposed. Advocacy of local independence and national assertiveness, in the US view, is an act of war against the United States, and must be met by aggression. That, at its base, explains Soleimani’s demise, and explains the character of US foreign policy—thuggery in the service of an international dictatorship.

The immediate goal of Washington’s campaigns of destabilization and information- and economic-warfare “is to spur uprisings in Iran that would lead to the overthrow of the cleric-led government,” according to The New York Times. [4] Washington is using economic tools to destroy the Iranian economy, along with US influence over media to mislead the Iranian population into attributing the collapse of their economy to government mismanagement, and therefore to view the solution to their misery as the overthrow of their own government.

Acts of war I: Economic terrorism

To destroy Iran’s economy, Washington has acted to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero. Additionally, by “sanctioning many of the country’s largest banks, including its central bank, it has severed most of Iran’s financial ties to the world. Other major non-oil sources of revenue have also been targeted—including the auto, aluminum, and petrochemical sectors—and insurers are prohibited from covering Iranian shipments,” according to The Wall Street Journal. [5] The sanctions, in the words of US president Donald Trump, are “massive.” [6] Indeed, the United States has used its economic weight and pressure on other countries to impose a total embargo on Iran, adding the Islamic republic to the list of countries now facing a total US embargo, including Venezuela, North Korea, Syria and Cuba. [7] Significantly, all of these countries share a single thing in common: refusal to submit to US domination.

The “massive” sanctions are hardly limited, surgical, or targeted—that is, restricted to government figures with exemptions for the civilian population. On the contrary, as the Iranian diplomat Majid Takht-Ravanchi explained to the United Nations Security Council in June,

The sanctions are basically designed to harm the general public, particularly those who are vulnerable, such as women, children, the elderly and patients. The sanctions harm the poor more than the rich, the ill more than the healthy and infants and children more than adults. In short, those who are most vulnerable suffer the most. For instance, patients who have severe conditions and therefore need scarce and expensive medicines and advanced medical equipment, which in most cases must be imported, suffer the most. [8]

“Sanctions aren’t an alternative to war,” tweeted Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif in June. “They ARE war.” [9] Indeed, if we define war as the use of harm to achieve political ends, then harmful coercive economic measures are acts of war. As Takht-Ravanchi told the Security Council,

The United States is weaponizing food and medicine against civilians, which is a clear manifestation of the collective punishment of an entire nation, amounting to a crime against humanity and thus entailing international responsibility. [10]

Terrorism is the deliberate harm of civilians to achieve political goals. Economic warfare is terrorism. Washington’s anti-Iranian sanctions program has a clear political aim: to topple the independence-minded government in Tehran in order to re-assert US hegemony over the country. And there is no question it is aimed at civilians. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, acknowledged the terrorist nature of the US economic warfare campaign when he said “The Iranian leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat.” [11]

“These days, the biggest, baddest weapon in the American arsenal isn’t a missile, or a tank, or a fighter jet. It is America’s economic clout,” remarked Gerald F. Seib, a columnist with The Wall Street Journal. [12] Patrick Cockburn, the veteran Middle East correspondent with The Independent, echoed Seib:

Because the media and much of the political establishment in Washington and western capitals are so viscerally anti-Trump, they frequently underestimate the effectiveness of his reliance on American economic might… At the end of the day, the US Treasury is a more powerful instrument of foreign policy than the Pentagon for all its aircraft carriers and drones. [13]

The US drone strike on Soleimani killed a handful of soldiers, people who had devoted their lives to local independence and national assertiveness. The Treasury Department’s sanctions have harmed vastly more people—of a different category: civilians, the victims of the United States’ crazed drive to extend its dictatorship over as many countries as will bow to US coercion.

Pompeo’s threat to starve Iranians unless Tehran capitulates to US demands was anticipated by Martinique-born Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon, author of The Wretch of the Earth. ”’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.’ Because the imperialists continue to have economic power,” remarked the late Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo, “they can condemn a people to hunger, by means of blockades, embargoes, or underdevelopment.” [14]

Acts of war II: Information warfare

Annihilating the Iranian economy is easily within the Treasury Department’s power, but misleading tens of millions of Iranians into understanding their misery as originating in their own government’s mismanagement, rather than US economic terrorism, is a task of an altogether different sort. In an effort to “win over the Iranian public” Washington has launched “an information campaign blaming the country’s economic hardship on its leaders and discrediting those who oppose the White House’s policies,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “The campaign aims to erode public support for the leadership in Tehran with hashtags, YouTube videos and traditional pro-U. S. media outlets broadcasting in the Middle East.” [15]

To this end, Washington “has helped anti-Iranian government hashtags to trend on Twitter, including #40YearsofFailure that coincided with the 40th anniversary of the country’s revolution. It has used Persian-language social media to blame deadly floods … on government mismanagement, tapping into a complaint many Iranians have made.” Additionally, Washington relies on its formal propaganda apparatus, the Voice of America, to beam messages aimed at discrediting the Iranian government to 14 million residents of Iran. [16] The propagation of lies to discredit a state in order to destabilize it and bring down its government is every bit as much an act of war as the assassination of Soleimani.

And when Washington isn’t using its influence over information media to try control the minds of Iranians, it’s acting to silence those who present an opposing point of view. Last year, Instagram cancelled Soleimani’s account, after Washington designated him the head of a foreign terrorist organization—an act of stunning hypocrisy, considering that the US government is targeting the entire Iranian population with harm in order to achieve its political goals, i.e., is practicing terrorism. What’s more, US terrorism is carried out on a massive scale, far in excess of anything the insurgents Washington labels as terrorists could ever hope to emulate. Additionally, Washington moved to discredit expatriate Iranians who contested the US war on Iran by dubbing them as propagandists for the Iranian government. According to The Wall Street Journal, “an online platform funded by the State Department, the Iran Disinformation Project, spearheaded a campaign to discredit Iranian journalists and scholars living in the U.S. and Europe, accusing them of being mouthpieces for the Iranian regime.” Their offense was to support the 2015 nuclear deal. [17]

Acts of war III: Covert CIA action

The total embargo of Iran is the principal means by which Washington intends to destabilize the country. But Washington is also relying on CIA covert action to help foster political instability. In 2017, The New York Times, citing multiple US defense and intelligence officials, reported that the Trump administration intended to use US “spies to help oust the Iranian government.” [18] The CIA destabilization program would be led by Michael D’Andrea, nicknamed “the Dark Prince”, who led the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In the years after 9/11, D’Andrea was “deeply involved in the detention and interrogation program,” which resulted in the torture and deaths of a number of prisoners. [19]

Citing a former US military commander, The New York Times reported that “there was a range of options that the Pentagon and the C.I.A. could pursue that could keep Iran off balance but that would not have ‘crystal-clear attribution’ to the United States.” [20] These included putting a bounty “on Iran’s paramilitary and proxy forces” to encourage “mercenary forces to take on Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies.” It could also include spreading “information, either embarrassing truths or deliberate false rumors, aimed at undermining the support that Tehran’s elites have for Iran’s leaders.” Additionally, Washington could provide assistance to Iran’s labor movement to make its protests against the government more effective. [21]

Acts of war IV: Cyber options

On top of these acts of war, Washington has carried on an ongoing campaign of cyberwarfare against the Iranian state. According to The New York Times, “The head of United States Cyber Command, Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, describes his strategy as ‘persistent engagement.’” According to a senior US defense official, US operatives “are carrying out constant low-level digital attacks.” [22] One of the most ambitions campaigns of cyberwarfare ever launched, namely, the Stuxnet virus, was developed jointly by the United States and Israel to disrupt Iran’s entirely legal uranium processing activities.

Of the multiple means Washington has used to try to impose its will on Iran and negate the country’s sovereignty—from total embargo, to the deliberate spreading of lies, to the suppression of alternative voices, to aid to dissidents, to persistent harassment of the Iranian state through cyber-operations—the assassination of the Quds Brigade commander has been the least significant in producing harm to Iran and perhaps the most likely to backfire and harm the United States.

Fighting back

What measures may a state legitimately take, in a de facto or de jure state of war, to protect itself from an aggressor? In 1939, the British authorities rounded up and jailed members of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. While Mosley’s followers were not accused of crimes, [23] their loyalty was deemed to be questionable. Accordingly, they posed a credible threat to national security during a period of acute crisis, and were duly incarcerated. Few people today would challenge the British government’s decision to lock up British fascists while the country was at war with a fascist state. Neither would they question the decision to suspend elections and confer extraordinary powers on the prime minister, that is, to establish a totalitarian state, while the country was at war.

There is no question that Iran finds itself in a state of emergency and a de facto state of war, arising through no fault of its own, but through Washington’s unceasing efforts to project its influence over the entire face of the globe and negate the sovereignty of other states. Whatever political police state measures Tehran takes to protect itself from US despotism are fully justified under the standards invoked by leading Western democracies during two world wars and other national emergencies.

I make this point because there is a principle that lies at the heart of Iran’s struggle against US tyranny—the principle of independence and local sovereignty, one which partisans of the tradition of equality, liberty, and international solidarity must defend. Defending this principle, however, can be difficult. Witness Washington’s attempts to discredit expatriate Iranians who have spoken out against the de facto US war. To avoid such difficulties, some seek an escape route. A favored tactic is to eschew support for states deemed official enemies of the United States on the grounds that they are police states, or authoritarian, or have abridged human rights. Of course, all of these descriptions fit. But if official enemies are police states, it is because they have been made so by US actions, in the same way the crises of world wars made leading Western democracies into robust police states. If we’re genuinely concerned with human rights, political openness, and political democracy, the way to make these institutions flower is to stop Western governments from poisoning the soil in which the institutions thrive.

Deciding one’s attitude to targets of US aggression on the basis of whether they’re police states sets an impossible standard. It mandates that countries attacked by the West must deny themselves the same defenses their own countries have taken in times of emergency to merit our support. In this view, our solidarity and assistance are available only to those who allow themselves to be victimized, while those who act in the real world, in realistic and consequential ways in defense of laudable principles and aims, are shunned, deplored, ostracized, and excoriated. The consequences of this for the preservation of the principles of democracy on an international scale, for self-determination, and for equality, are not difficult to discern.

Conclusion

While the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani was an act of international barbarity, emblematic of the thuggish nature of US foreign policy, it was neither the only de facto act of war the United States has undertaken against Iran, nor the most harmful. Indeed, against the total embargo Washington has imposed on Iran with the intention of starving Iranians into submission or inducing them to overthrow their government, the killing of Soleimani is a act of little consequence, even if its significance in provoking widespread outrage and galvanizing opposition to US aggression is undoubted.

1. Said K. Aburish, The Rise, Corruption and Coming Fall of the House of Saud, Bloomsbury, 2005, p. 137.

2. Posture statement of 19th Chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff before the 115th Congress Senate Armed Services Budget Hearing, June 13, 2017.

3. Howard Schneider, “Iran, Syria mock U.S. policy, Ahmadinejad speaks of Israel’s ‘annihilation’”, The Washington Post, February 26, 2010.

4. Edward Wong, “U.S. Turns Up Pressure on Iran With Sanctions on Transportation Firms,” The New York Times, December 11, 2019.

5. Ian Talley and Rebecca Ballhaus, “Trump imposes sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, others,” The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2019.

6. Michael R. Gordon, Ian Talley and Laurence Norman, “US plans new Iran sanctions as Europe tries to defuse tensions,” The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2019.

7. Vivian Salama, “US expands sanctions against Venezuela into an embargo,” The Wall Street Journal, August 5, 2019.

8. Takht Ravanchi (Islamic Republic of Iran) 8564th meeting of the United Nations Security Council, 26 June 2019.

9. Laurence Norman and Stacy Meichtry, “Iran threatens to pull out of nuclear treaty, like North Korea,” The Wall Street Journal, June 27, 2019.

10. Takht Ravanchi.

11. 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.

12. Gerald F. Seib, “The risks in overusing America’s big economic weapon,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2019.

13. Patrick Cockburn, “Europe doesn’t have the power to be much more than a spectator in the escalating US-Iran conflict,” The Independent, May 11, 2019.

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

15. Sune Engel Rasmussen and Michael Amon, “US aims a megaphone at Iranian public as part of pressure campaign,” The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2019.

16. Rasmussen and Amon.

17. Ibid.

18. Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman, “CIA names the ‘dark prince’ to run Iran operations, signaling a tougher stance,” The New York Times, June 2, 2017.

19. Ibid.

20. Julian E. Barnes, Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “White House is pressing for additional options, including cyberattacks, to deter Iran,” The New York times, June 23, 2019.

21. Ibid.

22. Julian E. Barnes, “US cyberattack hurt Iran’s ability to target oil tankers, officials say,” The New York Times, August 28, 2019.

23. David A. Price, “’Agent Jack’ review: Tell it to Hitler.” The Wall Street Journal, November 8, 2019.

Kim Jong Un: Until the US shows it’s interested in peace, North Korea will continue to build strategic weapons

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

January 2, 2020 

By Stephen Gowans

On January 1, North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, presented the DPRK position on the current state of US-North Korean relations, as articulated by Kim Jong Un at a high-level meeting. I’ve summarized the report below, retaining some of the English language text as it originally appeared in the KCNA report, but editing for clarity. I’ve included the Castro quote at the head of this article for the sole reason that, in my opinion, it succinctly sums up the North Korean position.

Kim’s main message is that the DPRK has seen no interest on the US side in peace. On the contrary, despite professing to be interested in a dialogue with the DPRK, the United States has persisted in conducting war games (despite promising to suspend them), has stepped up provocations (by transferring new weapons systems to South Korea), and has intensified it efforts to bring about the collapse of the DPRK (by adding still more sanctions.) This has left North Korea with no option but to continue to build its strategic nuclear defense, while resolving to endure the sanctions. 

http://www.barakabooks.com/

My summary of the KCNA report follows: 

The United States has labelled the DPRK an enemy, part of an “axis of evil,” and a possible target of a pre-emptive nuclear strike. It has applied the most brutal and inhuman sanctions against the country and posed a persistent nuclear threat to the DPRK over the past seven decades. 

Despite the DPRK halting its nuclear tests, suspending the test firing of ICBMs, and shutting down its nuclear-test site—measures taken to build confidence—Washington has not reciprocated with comparable confidence building measures; instead it has continued to conduct joint military drills which US president Donald Trump personally promised to stop. At the same time, Washington has threatened the DPRK by shipping ever more lethal arms and weapons systems to South Korea. On top of these hostile actions, Washington has imposed additional tranches of sanctions on North Korea. The United States’ ambition to stifle the DPRK is undiminished.

In light of the continued US hostility toward the DPRK it can only be concluded that there is no commitment on the US side to arrive at an agreement on denuclearization and that the United States is feigning interest in dialogue and negotiations in order to buy time to allow sanctions to further weaken the DPRK. Accordingly, the DPRK no longer feels bound to take confidence building measures. 

It is true that we urgently need an external environment favourable to our economic development, but the DPRK cannot trade security for visible economic results. Washington’s current posture indicates that the confrontation with the United States will be a long one. 

The DPRK-United States stand-off began in the last century and persists into this one. The DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are a pretext for US hostility. Absent the nuclear issue, the United States would find fault with the DPRK for some other reason. The United States’ military and political threats will never end. 

This reality urgently requires us to resolve to live with sanctions for as long a necessary and also to actively push forward the project of developing strategic weapons. 

A long history of overcoming difficulties and defending our rights and dignity in the face of harsh opposition has shown us that through self-reliance we can foil the enemies’ sanctions and blockade and preserve our sovereignty and dignity. 

Our goal is to build a national defense strong enough to deter any power from using its armed force against us. We must be sufficiently armed to keep hostile forces at bay so that they will never dare to undermine our sovereignty and security. As part of our continuing effort to achieve this goal, we will soon reveal a new strategic weapon. 

If the United States persists in its hostile policy towards the DPRK, the Korean peninsula will never be denuclearized. Instead, the DPRK will steadily develop strategic weapons for the security of the state. It will continue to do this until the United States rolls back its hostile policy towards the DPRK and a lasting and durable peace-keeping mechanism is built. 

Source: “Report on 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK,” KCNA, January 1, 2020.

* William R. Long, “Radicalism not necessary, Castro advises Sandinistas,” The Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1985.

 

Washington’s Xinjiang smear

With help from The New York Times and an anti-communist fanatic of questionable mental competence, Washington orchestrates a smear campaign in an effort to widen one of China’s ethnic fault lines

January 1, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

A Chinese government campaign to bring jobs to a poor region of the country plagued by Islamist-inspired secessionist violence is being depicted by The New York Times as “ethnic subjugation,” “social re-engineering,” and a “crackdown on Muslims.” This echoes the US State Department descriptions of the economic development campaign as “Orwellian,” a “gross human rights violation,” and “one of the worst stains on the world of this century.”

“Chinese leaders have struggled for decades to suffocate separatist sentiment in Xinjiang, a mountainous expanse abutting Central Asia that 12 million Uighurs—nearly half the region’s population—regard as their homeland,” according to The Wall Street Journal. [1] Beijing’s efforts to more fully integrate the predominantly Muslim Uighurs into China’s multi-ethnic community have sparked recriminations in the West. Chinese leaders have been accused of incarcerating a million or more Uighurs in “indoctrination” camps.

Adrian-Zenz-Uyghurs-China-Christian-fundamentalist
Democracy Now! labels a fanatical anti-communist who is employed by a US government-established foundation and believes he’s on a mission from God to destroy the People’s Republic of China as “an independent researcher.” 

For the past two decades the United States has waged war on Islamist-inspired anti-US violence in the Middle East, a campaign marked by assassinations, invasion, occupation, torture, incarceration of Islamist militants, gross violations of international law, and programs to re-educate Islamist radicals. In contrast, Chinese efforts to deal with Islamist-inspired violence, (and within its own borders, in contrast to a US “war on terror” which is carried out in other peoples’ countries), have been mainly based on job training, job creation, and re-education.

Chinese leaders “attribute ethnic tensions and sporadic violent attacks in Xinjiang to the influence of radical Islam.” [2] Creating jobs has been central to the government’s strategy. “A person with a job will be stable,” said Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2014. [3]

In a campaign to end poverty nationwide by late 2020, Xi has pushed Xinjiang officials to create economic opportunity for Uighurs, as a way not only of ameliorating the material conditions of China’s Muslim population, but also of more fully integrating it into Chinese society. [4] “The government goals are sweeping,” says The New York Times—up to one million new jobs in Xinjiang by late 2023. [5]

Dozens “of factory zones have emerged across Xinjiang,” The New York Times reports, attesting, it says, to Beijing’s ambitions to end poverty nationwide by late 2020 [6]—a laudable goal.

But rather than depicting the Chinese campaign in meritorious, or even neutral, terms, The New York Times echoes the US State Department, turning what would appear to be a welcome job creation program into something dark, namely, “an aggressive campaign to remold Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities … into an army of workers for factories and other big employers.” [7] A program of job training and placement for “idle villagers” is described as “social re-engineering,” while lifting Xinjiang residents out of poverty is demonized as “a major effort by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to entrench control over this region.” We would soon enough dismiss as rank propagandists Chinese journalists who would decry a US job creation program for impoverished areas of the United States as a major effort by the US president to entrench control over disadvantaged regions. We ought to do the same when US journalists propagate the same nonsense.

To portray China as the site of a massive assault on human rights, New York Times’ reporters Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy turn to the Uyghur Human Rights Project [8], an organization backed by the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED). 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’.” [9] In other words, the NED overtly works to destabilize governments Washington doesn’t like, under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights. It does so by providing funding and encouragement to dissident groups, like the Uyghur Human Rights Project.

Drawing on the testimony of the CIA-surrogate-funded group, The New York Times depicts Beijing’s vigorous poverty reduction program as an effort to “remold Xinjiang’s minorities into loyal blue-collar workers to supply Chinese factories with cheap labor,” as part of a program of “ethnic subjugation”. [10]

If the negative spin isn’t enough to raise questions about The New York Times’ agenda, the newspaper’s reference to Beijing’s efforts to deal with Islamist-inspired secessionist violence as a “crackdown on Muslims” [11] is. If the campaign could indeed be described fairly in these terms, we would have to redefine ‘crackdown’ to mean ‘education and job creation’ and ‘Muslims’ to mean ‘violent Islamist-inspired secessionists.’ The New York Times would never describe the US ‘war on terror’ as ‘a crackdown on Muslims,’ for the obvious reason that it doesn’t target all Muslims, but only a very small violent, anti-US, subset. The newspaper, however, finds itself unable to make the same distinction where a strategic US competitor is concerned, preferring instead to portray measures of repression against a small, Islamist-inspired violent subset of Chinese Muslims as measures directed at all of them.

In July, “a host of Muslim-majority nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Syria and the United Arab Emirates, joined North Korea, Myanmar and others in signing a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council praising China’s governance of Xinjiang” [12]—an indication that Beijing’s campaign to address secessionist violence in the remote Chinese region is not the Orwellian stain on humanity that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would have us believe. A better candidate for ‘gross human rights violation’ – another of Pompeo’s slurs on the Chinese job training program—might be the State Department supremo’s warning that the United States will see to it that the Iranian people starve if Tehran continues to refuse to renegotiate its nuclear deal with Washington. [13]

In a resolution on protecting the rights of Muslim minorities around the world, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a group of 57 nations that has been a vocal defender of the Rohingyas and Palestinians, praised China for “providing care to its Muslim citizens” [14]—another endorsement at odds with the US campaign to smear its rising strategic competitor as an anti-Muslim power.

Meanwhile, as Washington poses as the champion of China’s Muslims, it has little to say about the litany of abuses heaped upon India’s Muslims by its friend, the Hindu-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi. Any unbiased effort to identify crackdowns on Muslims would arrive at India’s doorstep long before it arrived at China’s. In the recent past, Modi—on whom Washington relies to execute its Indo-Pacific Strategy to eclipse the rise of China as a strategic competitor—has been responsible for banning a method of divorce allowed under Muslim religious law and ending the autonomy of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir. To add insult to injury, Modi welcomed a Supreme Court decision that would allow Hindu groups to build a temple in the city of Ayodhya on a site where Muslims want to rebuild a mosque torn down by a Hindu mob in 1992. [15]

On top of these anti-Muslim actions, senior leaders of Modi’s party say they want to introduce a citizen registry that would require all residents to produce documents proving their citizenry. Muslims who are unable to produce the required documents would be treated as immigrants, while all others would be able to naturalize. [16] According to The Wall Street Journal, “Muslims in India say they feel increasingly targeted and vulnerable.” [17]

Washington, then, is prepared to overlook the anti-Muslim actions of an ally, while presenting the efforts of a strategic competitor to improve the material conditions of its Muslim population as a dark, communist-guided Orwellian campaign to brainwash Muslims in order to subordinate them to Han rule. This is the same kind of nonsense Hitler and other counter-revolutionaries used to serve their own reactionary ends, except in their case they depicted communist efforts on behalf of Europe’s working class as a dark, Orwellian campaign by Marxists to bring Germans and Russians under Jewish control.

Some Western newspapers allege that a million Uighurs have been detained in re-education camps, and that the figure is based on a UN report. But as The Grayzone’s Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal have pointed out, the figure is not based on a UN report, but on a report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a group backed by the CIA-surrogate NED. It is more apt to label the report, not as a UN-produced document, but as report bankrolled by a US destabilization agency.

Not only does the network’s backing by the US government constitute prima facie evidence of a pro-US, anti-China bias, but the dubious methodology by which the US-backed group arrived at its estimate of one million Uighur detainees further calls its claims into question. The estimate is based on the testimony of eight Uighur opponents of the Chinese government who were asked to guess how many Muslims from their respective villages had been detained by authorities. Their answers were then projected regionally. The methodology, in its reliance on an extremely small and non-random sample—without making the slightest effort to identify who the detainees are (violent radical Islamists or Muslims selected at random?)—is so compromised as to be virtually useless, if not a complete joke. No legitimate researcher or reporter would take it seriously.

Neither would anyone of an unbiased mind take seriously Adrian Zenz, anointed by Western governments and their faithful scribes in the mainstream (and even progressive) media, as a Xinjiang expert. Zenz has become the go-to guy for Western media and governments for commentary on China’s treatment of its Muslim citizens.

According to Singh and Blumenthal, Zenz is “a far-right fundamentalist Christian who opposes homosexuality and gender equality, supports ‘scriptural spanking’ of children,” but more importantly “believes he is ‘led by God’ on a ‘mission’ against China.” [18]

The New York Times bills Zenz as a researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. [19] The foundation’s name speaks volumes about its agenda, but it also helps to know that it was created by the US government, and that its mission is to discredit communist governments, including China, by calling their human rights records into question.

The foundation’s view of the world, according to its website, reposes on the following  premises:

• Communist regimes commit the worst human rights abuses on the widest scale in the world today.
• Communists have killed more than 100 million people over the past century.
• Communism promises to make everyone equal, but delivers radical inequality.
• Every time it is tried, it ends either in economic collapse or a police state. [20]

It’s a virtual certainty that Zenz, as a researcher at an anti-communist foundation, has an a priori anti-China agenda. Laying aside questions about his mental competence—indicated in his belief that “God has sent him on a holy crusade against the People’s Republic of China” [21]—there is no possibility that he is anything but an advocate for a US-friendly, anti-Chinese point of view. In other words, he has zero credibility. All the same, he has appeared before the US Congress and Canadian Parliament as a Xinjiang expert, and has been sought out by Western media from The New York Times to Democracy Now! for commentary. [22] Here’s one of Zenz’s gems from The New York Times: “The long-term strategy [of the Chinese jobs program] is to conquer, to captivate, to win over the young generation from the beginning.” [23]

Washington’s reasons for trying to strengthen secessionism in Xinjiang, and for attempting to discredit Beijing’s efforts to allay it, are not difficult to find. From the Obama Administration forward, US policy has focused on countering the rise of China. A standard tactic states use against rivals is to provide assistance and encouragement to dissident groups to weaken rivals internally. The idea is to find existing fault lines, and then to press on them. In China, Washington has targeted four weak links: Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang. “Xi told Trump that China is deeply concerned about ‘the negative words and deeds’ of the United States on issues related to” these four regions. [24] The negative deeds include the flow of funding from the CIA-surrogate NED to pro-secessionist groups, as well as Western government and media support for phony China experts who are paraded before global audiences to portray China as a human rights abuser. This is part of the United States’ larger project of eclipsing the rise of a strategic competitor in order to protect US global hegemony.

Scratch the surface, and the US campaign is revealed as a bad joke. It depends on portraying Beijing’s efforts to lift China’s Muslims out of poverty as an Orwellian plot to enforce Han ethnic rule over Uighurs and relies on groups funded by a foundation created to carry out destabilization operations once entrusted to the CIA. At the same time, it elevates a fanatical anti-communist who believes he’s imbued with a mission from God to destroy the People’s Republic of China to the role of the world’s leading expert on Xinjiang.

1. Josh Chin, “China stresses investment, invokes New Zealand massacre in defending treatment of Muslims,” The Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2019.
2. Chin.
3. Eva Dou and Chao Deng, “Western companies get tangled in China’s Muslim clampdown,” The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2019.
4. Chris Buckley and Austin Ramzy, “Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities into an Army of Workers,” The New York Times, December 30, 2019.
5. Buckley and Ramzy.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Hernando Calvo Ospina, “US: overt and covert destabilization,” Le Monde Diplomatique, August, 2007, https://mondediplo.com/2007/08/04ned
10. Buckley and Ramzy.
11. Amy Qin, “In China’s crackdown on Muslims, children have not been spared,” The New York Times, December 28, 2019.
12. Jon Emont, “How China persuaded one Muslim nation to keep silent on Xinjiang camps,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2019.
13. 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.
14. Jane Perlez, “With pressure and persuasion, China deflects criticisms of its camps for Muslims,” The New York Times, April 8, 2019.
15. Eric Bellman, “India says the path to citizenship will get easier, but Muslims see a Hindu plot,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2019.
16. Vibhuti Agarwal and Krishna Pokharel, “With protests, India Muslims push back against Modi government,” The Wall Street Journal, December 20, 2019.
17. Eric Bellman, “India says the path to citizenship will get easier, but Muslims see a Hindu plot,” The Wall Street Journal, December 11, 2019.
18. Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal, “China detaining millions of Uyghurs? Serious problems with claims by US-backed GO and far-right researcher ‘led by God’ against Beijing,” The Grayzone, December 21, 2019.
19. Qin.
20. https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/vision
21. Singh and Blumenthal.
22. Ibid.
23. Qin.
24. Steve Holland and Roxanne Liu, “Xi accuses US of interfering in China’s internal affairs in phone call with Trump,” Reuters, December 20, 2019.

America’s enforcer in the Middle East

Paul Graham: Stephen, the title of your latest book pretty much says it all. “Israel serves Western imperialism” would be a, a shorter title perhaps. Can we begin at the beginning? Where did the idea of Israel as a modern Jewish state originate?

Stephen Gowans: It originates in the thought of Theodore Hertzel or not only him, but he has probably the most consequential figure. He was a 19th century secular Austrian Jew who was searching for a solution to the problem of antisemitism. And his solution was for Jews to get out of Europe and establish a Jewish majority state elsewhere. I think it’s important to note that his solution contrasts with an alternative solution of building a world of universal equality where all would be equal and free from prejudice and discrimination, as well as free from oppression and exploitation. This latter view was the view proposed by socialists and more robustly, by communists. And it’s a very different view from, the view espoused by Herzl and the solution that he proposed.

Paul Graham: In reading your book, I was amazed to learn that Napoleon Bonaparte was an early proponent of some kind of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Who were some of the other early Zionists?

Stephen Gowans: Well, Zionism was not originally an idea of Jews as one might think today, but of Christians, and they took their Zionist views from their reading of the Old Testament. Indeed, Western statesmen who were the most ardent supporters of political Zionism were usually men who read their Bible regularly. So they believed and evangelical Christians believe today that Palestine was promised to the Jews by their gods, that is, the god of the Christians and the Jews and the Muslims, and that the return of the Jews to Palestine fulfills a biblical prophecy. So you know, evangelical Christians today, and previous decades, believed that anti Zionism or any political position at odds with wholehearted support for Israel is against biblical prophecy. So consequently, they are ardent supporters of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Continued at https://paulsgraham.ca/2019/11/16/americas-enforcer-in-the-middle-east/

The United States has produced very few anti-imperialists. Noam Chomsky is not among them.

Imperialism has penetrated the fabric of our culture, and infected our imagination, more deeply than we usually think.—Martin Green. [1]

[Americans] have produced very, very few anti-imperialists. Our idiom has been empire.—William Appleman Williams. [2]

November 3, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

In a recent Intercept interview with the beautiful soul Mehdi Hassan, Noam Chomsky resumed his efforts to recruit the political Left into a scheme to support US imperialism.

In the interview, Chomsky spoke about his reasons for trying “to organize support for opposition to the withdrawal” of US troops from Syria. US troops ought to remain in Syria, he said, to deter a planned Turkish invasion and to prevent what he warned would be the massacre of the Kurds. Yet weeks after the Turks moved into northeastern Syria nothing on the scale of massacres had occurred.

The high-profile anarchist, former champion of international law, and one-time outspoken critic of wars of aggression, supports the uninterrupted invasion of Syria by US forces, despite the fact that the invasion is illegal and contravenes the international law to which he had so frequently sung paeans.

http://www.barakabooks.com/

But the principles he once upheld appear to have been sacrificed to the higher goal of defending the anarchist-inspired YPG, the Kurdish group which had sought and received support from Washington to establish a Kurdish mini-state in Syria in return for acting as a Pentagon asset in the US war on the Arab nationalist government in Damascus. In this, the YPG recapitulated the practice of political Zionism, offering to act as muscle in the Levant in exchange for imperialist sponsorship of its own political aspirations. For Chomsky, the desired end-state—what he would like the political Left to rally in support of—is the restoration of the status-quo ante, namely, robust US support for a Kurd mini-state in Syria.

Washington’s illegal military intervention has been the guarantor of the YPG’s aspirations to create a state on approximately one-third of Syrian territory. A YPG state east of the Euphrates would be an asset to the US imperialist project of expanding Washington’s already considerable influence in the Middle East. A Kurd-dominated state under the leadership of the YPG would function as what some have called a second Israel. As Domenico Losurdo put it in a 2018 interview,

In the Middle East, we have the attempted creation of a new Israel. Israel was an enclave against the Arab World, and now the US and Israel are trying to realize something similar with the Kurds. That doesn’t mean to say that the Kurds don’t have rights and that they haven’t been oppressed for a long time, but now there’s the danger of them becoming the instruments of American imperialism and Zionism. This is the danger—this the situation, unfortunately. [3]

To make the US invasion palatable to the political Left, Chomsky misrepresents the US aggression as small-scale and guided by lofty motives. “A small US contingent with the sole mission of deterring a planned Turkish invasion,” he says, ‘is not imperialism.” But the occupation is neither small, nor guided by a mission limited to deterring a planned Turkish invasion. Either Chomsky’s grasp of the file is weak, or he’s not above engaging in a spot of sophistry.

Last year, the Pentagon officially admitted to having 2,000 troops in Syria [4] but a top US general put the number higher, 4,000. [5] But even that figure was, according to the Pentagon, an “artificial construct,” [6] that is, a deliberate undercount. On top of the infantry, artillery, and forward air controllers the Pentagon officially acknowledges as deployed to Syria, there is an additional number of uncounted Special Operations personnel, as well as untallied troops assigned to classified missions and “an unspecified number of contractors” i.e., mercenaries. Additionally, combat aircrews are not included, even though US airpower is critical to the occupation. [7] There are, therefore, many more times the officially acknowledged number of US troops enforcing an occupation of parts of Syria. Last year, US invasion forces in Syria (minus aircrew located nearby) operated out of 10 bases in the country, including “a sprawling facility with a long runway, hangars, barracks and fuel depots.” [8]

In addition to US military advisers, Army Rangers, artillery, Special Operations forces, satellite-guided rockets and Apache attack helicopters [9], the United States deployed US diplomats to create government and administrative structures to supersede the legitimate government of the Syrian Arab Republic. [10]

“The idea in US policy circles” was to create “a soft partition” of Syria between the United States and Russia along the Euphrates, “as it was among the Elbe [in Germany] at the end of the Second World War.” [11]

During the war on ISIS, US military planning called for YPG fighters under US supervision to push south along the Euphrates River to seize Syria’s oil-and gas-rich territory, [12] located within traditionally Arab territory. While the Syrian Arab Army and its allies focused on liberating cities from Islamic State, the YPG, under US direction, went “after the strategic oil and gas fields,” [13] holding these on behalf of the US government. The US president’s recent boast that “we have secured the oil” [14] was an announcement of a longstanding fait accompli.

The United States has robbed Syria of “two of the largest oil and gas fields in Deir Ezzour”, including the al-Omar oil field, Syria’s largest. [15] In 2017, the United States plundered Syria of “a gas field and plant known in Syria as the Conoco gas plant” (though its affiliation with Conoco is historical; the plant was acquired by the Syrian Gas Company in 2005.) [16] Russia observed that “the real aim” of the US forces’ (incontestably denominated) “illegal” presence in Syria has been “the seizure and retention of economic assets that only belong to the Syrian Arab Republic.” [17] The point is beyond dispute: The United States has stolen resources vital to the republic’s reconstruction, using the YPG to carry out the crime (this from a country which proclaims property rights to be humanity’s highest value.)

Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma professor who specializes in Syria, has argued that by “controlling half of Syria’s energy resources…the US [is] able to keep Syria poor and under-resourced.” [18] Bereft of its petroleum resources, and deprived of its best farmland, Syria is hard-pressed to recover from a war that has left it in ruins.

To sum up, the notion that the US occupation is small-scale is misleading. The Pentagon acknowledges that it deliberately undercounts the size of its contingent in Syria.  But even if there are as few US boots on the ground in Syria as the US military is prepared to acknowledge, that still wouldn’t make the US intervention trivial.

US boots on the ground are only one part of the occupation. Not counted are the tens of thousands of YPG fighters who operate under the supervision of US ground forces, acting as the tip of the US spear. These troops, it should be recalled, acted as muscle for hire to seize and secure farmland and oil wells in a campaign that even US officials acknowledge is illegal. [19]

Another part of the occupation—completely ignored by Chomsky—is US airpower, without which US troops and their YPG-force-multiplier would be unable to carry out their crimes of occupation and theft. US fighter jets and drones dominate the airspace over the US occupation zone. Ignoring the significant role played by the US Air Force grossly distorts the scale of the US operation.

What’s more, Chomsky’s reference to the scale of the intervention as anodyne is misdirection. It is not the size of an intervention that makes it imperialist, but its motivations and consequences.

http://www.barakabooks.com

Additionally, Chomsky completely misrepresents the aim of the US occupation. It’s mission, amply documented, is to: sabotage Damascus’s reconstruction efforts by denying access to revenue-generating territory; to provide Washington with leverage to influence the outcome of any future political settlement; and to block a land route over which military assets can easily flow from Tehran to its allies Syria and Hezbollah. [20] In other words, the goal of the occupation is to impose the US will on Syria—a textbook definition of imperialism.

The idea that it is within the realm of possibility for Washington to deploy forces to Syria with the sole mission of deterring aggression is naïveté on a grand scale, and entirely at odds with the history and mechanisms of US foreign policy. Moreover, it ignores the reality that the armed US invasion and occupation of Syrian territory is an aggression itself. If a man who has been called the principal critic of US foreign policy can genuinely hold these views, then Martin Green’s contention that “Imperialism has penetrated the fabric of our culture, and infected our imagination, more deeply than we usually think,” is surely beyond dispute.

The US occupation, then, is more substantial than Chomsky alleges; it is an aggression under international law, not to say under any reasonable definition; the claim is untenable that the sole motivation is to deter Turkish aggression; and the US project in Syria is imperialist. All the same, one could still argue that US troops should not be withdrawn because their presence protects the YPG and the foundations of the mini-state is has built. If so, one has accepted the YPG’s and political Zionism’s argument that it is legitimate to rent oneself out as the tool of an empire in order to achieve one’s own narrow aims, even if it is at the expense of the right of others to be free from domination and exploitation.

  1. Quoted in William Appleman William, Empire as a Way of Life, IG Publishing, 2007, p. 10.
  2. Ibid. p. 33-34.
  3. Domenico Losurdo, “Crisis in the Imperialist World Order,” Revista Opera, March 2, 2018
  4. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017.
  5. Andrew deGrandpre, “A top US general just said 4,000 American troops are in Syria. The Pentagon says there are only 500,” The Washington Post, October 31, 2017.
  6. John Ismay, “US says 2,000 troops are in Syria, a fourfold increase,” The New York Times, December 6, 2017; Nancy A. Yousef, “US to remain in Syria indefinitely, Pentagon officials say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2017.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Dion Nissenbaum, “Map said to show locations of US forces in Syria published in Turkey,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2017.
  9. Michael R. Gordon, “In a desperate Syrian city, a test of Trump’s policies,” The New York Times, July 1, 2017.
  10. Nancy A. Yousef, “US to send more diplomats and personnel to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2017.
  11. Yaroslav Trofimov, “In Syria, new conflict looms as ISIS loses ground,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2017.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Raj Abdulrahim and Ghassan Adnan, “Syria and Iraq rob Islamic State of key territory,” The Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2018.
  14. Michael R. Gordon and Gordon Lubold, “Trump weights leaving small number of troops in Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, October 21, 2019.
  15. Abdulrahim and Adnan, November 3, 2018.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Raja Abdulrahim and Thomas Grove, “Syria condemns US airstrike as tension rise,” The Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2018.
  18. Joshua Landis, “US policy toward the Levant, Kurds and Turkey,” Syria Comment, January 15, 2018.
  19. Michael Crowley, “’Keep the oil’: Trump revives charged slogan for new Syria troop mission,” The New York Times, October 26, 2019.
  20. Gordon Lubold and Nancy A. Youssef, “US weights leaving more troops, sending battle tanks to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2019; Gordon and Lubold, October 21, 2019.

Washington’s ‘We demand, you give’ approach to DPRK talks will never work

October 7, 2019

Renewed talks between Washington and Pyongyang Saturday quickly fell apart, as North Korean diplomats said the US brought nothing new to the table. With past talks collapsing due to US intransigence to compromise, future talks are unlikely to be any more effective, no matter how great a negotiator US President Donald Trump believes himself to be.

Stephen Gowans joined Radio Sputnik’s By Any Means Necessary Monday to discuss how the US is failing to build the much-needed confidence of North Korea that’s necessary to strike a working deal on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

Continued at Sputnik International.

Israeli election makes it difficult to deny the character of Israel as a racist state

September 20, 2019

Mainstream Western newspapers would never brand Israel as a racist state, a reality which says more about the nature of Western newspapers than about the character of Israel. But occasionally newspapers in the West do make observations which reveal the racist character of Israel, if the observations are placed within the context of liberal democracy and are compared with what is formerly tolerable within such countries as the United States and Canada.

In a September 19 report on the Israeli election, The Wall Street Journal observed that “Mr. Netanyahu and other politicians have framed Arab-Israeli politicians as enemies who would undermine Israel’s…Jewish character.”

http://www.barakabooks.com

While the statement may clearly reveal Netanyahu’s narrow racism, the broader racism of the Israeli state may not be immediately apparent. But it becomes evident if it is placed within the framework of US or Canadian politics. Imagine the parallel of white US politicians framing black US politicians as enemies who would undermine the United States’ white character, or of a Roman Catholic Canadian politician framing a Muslim politician as an enemy who would undermine Canada’s ‘commitment to Western (i.e., Christian) values.’

Formally, the United States is a state of all its citizens, not a state of white people. Formally, Canada is a state of all its citizens, not a state of the English or of Christians. In contrast, Israel is not a state of all its citizens, but one in which Jews have priority. Netanyahu makes no apologies for this, and nor do most Jewish Israelis.

Netanhyahu’s equivalent in the United States, namely, US politicians who would identify their ‘whiteness’ as a significant political category, brand black politicians as enemies, and seek to defend the ‘white character’ of the United States, would quite rightly be denounced as racists. They would almost certainly be open or covert members of the KKK, or open or covert admirers.

Likewise, the notion that the ‘white character’ of the United States must be preserved would be clearly recognized as a white supremacist concept and anyone who spoke of, or even hinted at ‘the white character’ of the United States as a normative idea would be justifiably censured as an intolerable racist whose views must be immediately renounced and corrected. Why then would the parallel view of the Jewish character of Israel as a normative concept, when expressed by Israelis or their supporters, not be denounced as racist?

The New York Times has often dismissed as unthinkable the prospect of Palestinian refugees exercising their right, under international law, to return to the homes from which they were driven or fled on what is now Israeli-controlled territory. The “refugees number in the millions, and their return,” explained David M. Halbfinger in a 2018 article, “would probably spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.” In other words, Palestinians cannot be repatriated otherwise the ethnic character of Israel as a Jewish state will be undermined.

This is not unlike justifying an immigration policy that bars the entry of non-whites into the United States on the grounds that the influx of millions of dark-skinned people would threaten the United States as a white state, or bars Muslims in order to preserve ‘the Christian character’ of the country. Such a policy would be recognized as racist in the US or Canadian contexts, so why would the parallel policy in the Israeli context not be branded as racist as well?

The case is made stronger, if we acknowledge that the parallel is imperfect. Unlike prospective immigrants to the United States, the Palestinians are natives of the territory to which they seek entry, not aliens. They have a right to be there, and many of them are not there, because the founders of the Jewish state organized a program of demographic engineering to create an artificial Jewish majority (that is, to create a state with a Jewish character) by ethnically cleansing a large part of the Palestinian homeland. The current caretakers of the state preserve the outcome of the founders’ demographic aggression by denying the Palestinians’ their UN-mandated and UN-enjoined right of repatriation.

Hence, the Israeli policy of denying natives repatriation to their own land in order to preserve the ethnic character of Israel as a Jewish state is indefensible on multiple grounds.

  • It defines the natives (Palestinians) as aliens and the aliens (Jewish immigrants who carried out the ethnic cleansing and their descendants) as the natives.
  • It violates international law.
  • It preserves the outcome of a program of ethnic cleansing.
  • It is racist.

Calling out Israel as a racist state is countered by Israel and its supporters by the levelling of accusations of anti-Semitism against anyone who dares to proclaim the obvious. Indeed, in some circles, defining as racist the notion that Israel ought to have a Jewish character is defined as anti-Semitic. This exercise in casuistry rests on the logical error of equating Zionism with Judaism, so that criticism of Zionism becomes construed as criticism of Judaism and Jews.

But by this logic anyone who decried the racism of apartheid South Africa or white supremacist Rhodesia, or decries the KKK as white supremacist, is anti-white. And by the logic that undergirds the Zionism equals Judaism formula, all whites are supporters of the KKK and apartheid South Africa, so that anyone who denounces the KKK or racist South Africa denounces whites as a category.

Imagine a definition of anti-white racism as denial of the Afrikaners’ right to a white settler state in southern Africa on the stolen land of the natives. If you can imagine this, then you’ve imagined the growing practice of formally defining anti-Zionism as an element of anti-Semitism. Denial of the Afrikaners’ right to a white settler state in southern Africa on the stolen land of the natives is also the denial of apartheid South Africa’s right to exist, and is equivalent to denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state on the stolen land of Palestinians. To deplore racism while at the same time proclaiming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is to deplore racism except when it is exercised by Zionists. By what logic is the racism of Zionism uniquely exempted as an instance of racism? By no logic at all, and instead by:

  • The illogic that holds that because Jews were the victims of a crime of great enormity perpetrated, not only by the Nazis, but by their European collaborators, that the actions of a state claiming to talk in the name of the Jews are beyond reproach.
  • The politics of power by which the United States defends Israel and allows it a free hand because it collaborates in the defense and promotion of US economic and strategic interests in the petroleum-rich Middle East.
  • Calumniating as an anti-Semite anyone who insists that Zionism is a form of racism.

Pointing out that Israel is a racist state that does not have a right to exist as an ethnic state for the Jews, nor as a settler colonial state whose Jewish majority is a product of demographic engineering, is not anti-Jewish racism; on the contrary, denunciation of any kind of ethnic privilege is not inherently hostile to the ethnic communities that seek it. It is, instead, inherently inimical to the assignment of rights, obligations, and privileges on the basis of ethnic hierarchies; that is, it supports universal equality and freedom from racist oppression.

Political Zionism, the ideological basis of the Israeli state, originated in an attempt to find a solution to anti-Jewish racism through separation. The trouble is that it did so by mimicking nineteenth century European nationalism, with all its racist underpinnings, and rejecting the growing movement for universal equality, which saw the solution to racism, including that of an anti-Jewish stripe, in the building of non-ethnic states of equality for all, regardless of one’s race, religion, language, and ethnicity, as well as one’s sex or possession of property. Jews were an important part of the movement for universal equality, and remain so today.

Indeed, Michael Oren, formerly an Israeli ambassador to the United States, identifies the Jewish community in the United States as belonging to the latter tradition of universal equality in contrast to Israeli Jews, who have embraced the former, Jewish nationalist solution to anti-Jewish racism. The Jewish nationalist solution is an anti-Arab racist solution to anti-Jewish racism of European origin, or of getting out from beneath one’s own oppression by oppressing someone else. The idea is inherently supremacist in defining the welfare of Jews as superior to that of Palestinians so that the welfare of Palestinians can be sacrificed in the service of the welfare of Jews. In this view, Jews and Palestinians are not equal; instead, Jewish rights trump Palestinian rights.

“The American Jewish idea is fundamentally different from the Jewish Zionist idea,” Oren told The Wall Street Journal. “The American Jewish idea is that Judaism is a universal religion, that we are not a nation or a people, that our duty is to all of humanity, and that America is the promised land, and that the Land of Israel is not the promised land,” he said.

“That fundamental gap, he added, has prompted many Israeli right-wing politicians to essentially give up on liberal American Jews and focus on friendlier constituencies such as evangelicals.” Significantly, US evangelicals, including US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, embrace Christian Zionism, the idea that the ingathering of Jews to Israel fulfills a biblical prophesy. In their view, by supporting Israel as a state with a Jewish character—that is, by colluding in racism—they’re abiding by their deity’s will.

Zionism is largely misunderstood as an exclusively Jewish ideology, when it has always also been strongly a Christian ideology, whose principal supporters have been officials of imperial states who read their bibles. This was as true in the early twentieth century when such statesmen as Arthur Balfour in England and Woodrow Wilson in the United States found support for the fledgling political Zionist movement in their reading of the bible, as it is today. Last year, Pompeo told a reporter for The New York Times Magazine that the Bible “informs everything I do.” The reporter noticed an open Bible in his office, with a Swiss Army knife marking his place at the end of the book of Queen Esther.” In the bible’s telling of the tale, Queen Esther saved Jews from being massacred by Persia (Iran’s forerunner.)

At the same time, historically, the movement for universal equality attracted Jews at a rate far in excess of their numbers in the population. As Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi wrote, Jews who fought alongside non-Jews in the struggle against racism and for universal equality “refused to limit their concerns to their own tribe. Theirs was a grander, purer dream. Salvation not just for Jews, but for the whole of humanity, and that would eliminate the ills of the Jewish condition once and for all.”

On the one hand, a pure and grand vision, dating from the French Revolution, of Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité, and the universalist idea of a state of all its citizens; on the other, the particularist idea of the ethnic state for Jews, made possible by the demographic engineering of a Jewish majority, obtained by the expulsion of the natives and denial of their repatriation, and the exercise of a racist regime over the natives who weren’t dispossessed; in short, the idea of universal equality versus the conservative tradition of hierarchy, racism, colonialism, and religious bigotry. To criticize Israel and Zionism is not to hate Jews, but to deplore the conservative tradition of ethnic privilege, racism, and colonialism from which Israel sprang and which it continues to exemplify.

North Korean cyber-theft. If it’s really happening, it’s entirely defensible.

September 16, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

The US Treasury Department has accused North Korea of stealing “around $700 million in the last three years and” attempting “to steal nearly $2 billion” by means of cyber operations.

The accusation, by itself, is evidence of nothing. North Korea may have done this, or not.

Here are three reasons to doubt the Treasury Department’s allegation:

#1. The intelligence on which the allegation is based may be genuine, but flawed. “The problem with intelligence is it’s always contentious. It’s always arguable,” warns John E. McLaughlin, former deputy director of the CIA.

#2. Washington has a long record of lying to justify aggressive actions against states it seeks to discredit, undermine, or overthrow. Recall Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

#3. “I was the director of the CIA. We lied, cheated, and stole,” boasted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, adding that US lying, cheating, and stealing “reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

On the other hand, here’s a reason to believe the allegation might be true.

http://www.barakabooks.com/

Washington has tried to asphyxiate the DPRK economically via its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign. In so doing, it has created an existential imperative for North Korea to find a way around the blockade, or face mass hunger. Cyber-theft may be one of the few ways the besieged country can prevent the collapse of its economy and starvation of its people.

The Wall Street Journal says that “U.S. intelligence, security companies and North Korea watchers say that” the cyber-operations “are largely for revenue-generation purposes,” and that the “cyber operations have become a crucial revenue stream.”

Sanctions kill.

US-led sanctions on Iraq during the 1990s produced over 500,000 deaths among children under the age of 5 through disease and malnutrition, more than the number of people killed by the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. US Secretary of State Madeline Albright didn’t deny this was true, but said it was ‘worth it.”

Recently economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs found that sanctions on Venezuela “have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Iran must do what the United States says “if they want their people to eat.”

Washington is trying to starve Iran, Venezuela, and North Korea into submission. It also has its hands on the necks of Syria and Cuba.  These countries are linked in this: They allow a significant role for the state in their economies and refuse to grant unfettered US access to their markets, their resources, their land, and their labor, preferring economic sovereignty.

Would it be any surprise if one of one or all of these targets resorted to illegal means to combat sanctions of mass destruction?

Some will rejoin that North Korea does have an option: It could surrender its nuclear weapons. The problem with this option is that it ignores a few crucial points.

First, the United States has been trying to asphyxiate North Korea economically since 1948, the year the state was born, long before it had nuclear weapons. Washington’s problem with the DPRK is not Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, but its refusal to become part of the US-superintended world economic order. If Pyongyang abandons its nuclear arms, it can expect to continue to face sanctions of mass starvation. Iran’s agreement to abridge its rights under international law to process uranium hasn’t stopped the United States from using siege tactics to try to coerce Tehran into yielding to other demands, unrelated to nuclear technology. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s abandonment of his nascent nuclear weapons program didn’t make life better for Libyans; on the contrary, it produced a humanitarian disaster whose end is nowhere in sight.

Second, North Korea developed nuclear weapons to defend itself against seven decades of US hostility—hostility that predated it decision to build a nuclear deterrent. Giving up its means of defense wouldn’t persuade US officials to drop their butcher knives and become Buddhists. Indeed, the DPRK’s nuclear weapons are the only guarantee of North Korea’s continued existence as an independent state.

Third, the demand that North Korea surrender its nuclear weapons, invites the obvious question: If North Korea must do this, why not the United States? Those who insist North Korea bow to US demands and abandon its nuclear deterrent have no answer for why the United States shouldn’t do the same. If the military behemoth United States needs nuclear weapons to defend itself, then surely the military pipsqueak North Korea has an even stronger self-defensive need of nuclear weapons.

In short, Washington won’t stop trying to starve the DPRK into submission until Pyongyang capitulates totally, and allows Korea north of the 38th parallel to be annexed to the United States economically and militarily, as Korea south of the parallel is.

Do North Korea’s nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles pose a threat to US national security? The Treasury Department warns that “North Korean hacking groups … have been perpetrating cyber attacks to support illicit weapon and missile programs,” leading The Wall Street Journal to characterize the cyber-operations as a “national security threat.”

The idea that DPRK cyber-operations would threaten US national security is ludicrous, even if the revenue gained were used exclusively to develop nuclear arms and the means to deliver them, rather than to prevent the collapse of the economy and mass starvation.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs are strictly defensive, a point on which the US foreign policy establishment, and South Koreans, agree. As the New York Times’ Choe Sang-hun observed, “To South Koreans, the idea that North Korea would fire a nuclear-armed ICBM at the United States without being attacked is absurd. They argue that Mr. Kim knows the United States would retaliate by destroying the North and that they do not regard him as suicidal.”

The only threat North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ICBMs pose to the United States is the threat of self-defense. As former US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis once said, “Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor.”  He said this in response to complaints about the United States supplying advanced arms to Ukraine, but the principle is the same.

The US military budget is 18 times the size of North Korea’s entire GDP. Washington has threatened North Korea with total destruction on numerous occasions. Anyone who thinks the United States isn’t the aggressor, hasn’t been paying attention.

Robert Mugabe: The national liberation hero who was demonized for trying to make liberation meaningful

September 6, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

It seemed almost inevitable six years ago that on the day Western newspapers were filled with encomia to the recently deceased South African national liberation hero, Nelson Mandela, that another southern African hero of national liberation, Robert Mugabe, would be vilified. “Nearly 90, Mugabe still driving Zimbabwe’s economy into the ground,” complained one Western newspaper.

Mandela and Mugabe were key figures in the liberation of black southern Africa from white rule. So why did the West overflow with hosannas for Mandela and revile Mugabe? Why was Mandela the ‘good’ national liberation hero and Mugabe the ‘bad’?

A lot of it had to do with the extent to which the liberation projects in South Africa and Zimbabwe threatened or didn’t threaten white and Western economic interests—hardly at all in Mandela’s South Africa and considerably in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

The media-propagated narrative was that Mandela was good because he was ‘democratic’ and Mugabe was bad because he was ‘autocratic.’ But scratch the surface and Western and white-elite economic interests burst forth.

Land ownership in South Africa continues to be dominated by the white minority, just as it was under apartheid. What land redistribution has occurred has proceeded at a glacial pace, at best. In Zimbabwe, in contrast, land was redistributed from white colonial settlers and their descendants to the black majority. South Africa’s economy is white- and Western-dominated. Under Mugabe, Zimbabwe was taking steps to indigenize its economy, placing majority control of the country’s natural wealth and productive assets in the hands of its indigenous people.

The centrality of economic interests in the Western demonization of Mugabe was revealed in complaints about his plan to indigenize Western-owned mining companies, a process which would force a few wealthy investors in the West to surrender a majority stake in the mining of Zimbabwe’s mineral wealth. To the Western media, an African government giving its people an ownership stake in their own economy was unthinkable.

Mandela, in contrast, rejected calls to nationalize South Africa’s mines, accepting Western and white domination of the country’s economy as a bedrock principle of sound economic management.

In 2013, The Financial Times celebrated the South African leader for acting as “a reliable steward of sub-Sahara Africa’s largest economy, embracing orthodox fiscal and monetary policies.” That is, Mandela made sure that the flow of profits from South African mines and agriculture into the coffers of foreign investors and the white business elite wasn’t interrupted by the implementation of the ANC’s economic justice program, which called for nationalizing the mines and redistributing land. Nationalization, and redistribution of land, would become the sole project of Mugabe.

But at one point, Mugabe too was a Western-approved liberation hero, in the days when he shared Mandela’s predilection for orthodox fiscal and monetary policy, that is, putting Western business interests ahead of those of the people he was supposed to represent.

But the West’s love affair with Mugabe came to an abrupt end when the Zimbabwean president changed course and embarked on a fast-track land reform program. The West’s disdain for him deepened when he launched an indigenization program to place majority control of the country’s mineral resources in the hands of indigenous Zimbabweans.

Hence, Mugabe’s transition from ‘good’ liberation hero to ‘bad’, from saint to demon, coincided with his transition from “reliable steward” of Zimbabwe’s economy (that is, reliable steward of foreign investor and white colonial settler interests) to promoter of indigenous economic interests. And as he moved to invest Zimbabwe’s liberation project with real meaning, giving Zimbabweans both political and economic sovereignty, the West responded with sanctions aimed at starving the country to force it to reverse course. “When a colonial and imperialist power is forced to give independence to a people,” remarked Frantz Fanon, the “imperialist power says: ‘you want independence? Then take it and die of hunger.’”

As the West’s campaign of economic warfare plunged Zimbabwe’s economy into chaos, Western journalists attributed the country’s economic difficulties to what they called Mugabe’s ‘mismanagement’, overlooking Washington’s Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act, which blocked financial assistance to Harare from international lending institutions, a major impediment to the country’s economic development. It’s as if the Soviet Union’s crippled post-WWII economy had been blamed on socialism, rather than the destruction wrought by war and the Nazi invasion. In this, Western media followed their standard operating procedure in dealing with pro-independence Third World governments, attributing a sanctioned country’s economic difficulties to mismanagement and not the sanctions that caused them. The practice is evident today in connection with Venezuela, where the oil-rich country’s economic distress is discussed in Western media with a studious disregard of Washington’s detonation of an economic atom bomb in the middle of Caracas in the form of a program of economic warfare.

As to the democrat vs. autocrat dichotomy, it was a propaganda contrivance. It’s what Western governments and media use to legitimize leaders who protect and promote Western corporate interests and demonize leaders (from Castro to Kim Jong Un to Maduro to Xi Jinping to Mugabe) who protect and promote the interests and development needs of their own people.

We can argue about whether Mugabe failed to calibrate the pace of his land reform and economic indigenization programs to take account of the power of Western governments to counter them, but we can’t argue about whether he was a genuine hero of national liberation—one who recognized that a country whose economy is controlled by outsiders and a settler minority is independent in name alone.