Zimbabwe’s political opposition deploys its own WMD claim

By Stephen Gowans

Zimbabwe’s political opposition and its Western-sponsored civil society allies are concocting stories of an impending genocide to call for Western intervention to oust the economic nationalist Zanu-PF government of Robert Mugabe. Yet they themselves have used threats of violence to destabilize the country to pursue an agenda shaped by and conducive to the interests of Western corporations and investors and the white settler community.

The opposition had planned to use the March 29 elections to follow the color revolution script written in Washington to springboard to power. That script called on the opposition to declare victory in elections before the first vote was cast, and then to denounce any outcome other than a clear opposition victory as evidence of electoral fraud. If the opposition failed to prevail at the polls, its supporters were to be mobilized to take to the streets to bring down the government, in a repeat of previous Western-engineered color revolutions in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.

On the eve of the election, Ian Makoni, director of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s campaign, explained that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would avoid the failures of the past.

“The lesson from (the election of) 2002 is we didn’t plan for after the vote. Everyone stayed at home and said we will go to the courts. What happened in Kenya was they knew there would be fraud and they were ready. We will be out in the streets celebrating when the polls close. It can turn into a protest easily. Zimbabweans are angry; they are desperate; they are ready to protest. It’s the tipping point we are planning for.” [1]

But when the opposition’s charges of vote rigging fell flat as election results showed the governing Zanu-PF party losing its majority in the assembly and the party’s presidential candidate Robert Mugabe trailing Tsvangirai in the presidential contest, the edifice on which the MDC’s color revolution plan was predicated collapsed. If the vote had been rigged, Mugabe’s party would have sailed to victory. Instead, Zanu-PF trailed. The margin separating the two parties, however, was slim, revealing the opposition’s support to be limited. With Tsvangirai unable to command overwhelming support, despite massive Western intervention in the election against Mugabe, the opposition needed a way to grab power without having to rely on the uncertainties of a run-off election. It decided to take a leaf from the book of its US and British patrons, inventing a pretext for military intervention on par with the WMD fiction used as the basis for US-British intervention in Iraq. Outside forces, preferably those of the former colonizer Britain, whose corporations still have a large stake in the country, would be called upon to intervene militarily to avert an impending genocide and in the process, install the MDC as the new government.

Over a month ago, MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti appealed to his “brothers and sisters across” Africa not to “wait for dead bodies in the streets of Harare.” “Intervene now,” he demanded. [2] Twelve days later, with no sign of an impending genocide, Morgan Tsvangirai called on the West to launch a humanitarian intervention. [3] The next day, church clerics weighed in with their own warning: “If nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa and elsewhere.” [4] Two days later, MDC-T (the faction of the party led by Morgan Tsvangirai) spokesman Nelson Chamisa warned that “If something isn’t done in a few days, this country is going to be converted into a genocide zone.” [5] That was more than three weeks ago. A half a month later and with still no looming genocide in sight, Biti sounded the genocide alarm once again, calling on Zimbabwe’s neighbors to ease Mugabe from power “before rivers of dead people start to flow, as they did in Rwanda.” [6]

It is true that there has been politically-motivated violence in Zimbabwe, but it has occurred on both sides, is political, not ethnic, and has led to nowhere near the number of deaths that would even remotely qualify as genocide.

The stakes in the election aftermath are high. Violence has erupted on the part of some Zanu-PF supporters because they fear the loss of what they gained through their revolutionary struggles, and there’s no doubt that an MDC government would set back the project of investing national liberation with real content. That the elections were neither free nor fair has only made Zanu-PF supporters more embittered by Zanu-PF’s poor showing in the elections. Jabulami Sibanda, chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association, has criticized the vote for being held “when people were being pushed by hunger and illegal sanctions to conduct themselves in a way that could have been different.” [7] And Zanu-PF itself has challenged the fairness of the elections, pointing out that:

o NGOs distributing food threatened to cut off food aid if Zanu-PF won the election.

o The sanctions, which will be removed if Zanu-PF is ousted, amount to Western blackmail.

o The campaigns of the MDC-T and former Zanu-PF member Simba Makoni were financed by foreign governments and corporations.

o Western-financed anti-Zanu-PF radio stations, including Radio SW Africa (financed by the US State Department) and the Voice of America’s Studio 7 stepped up their broadcasts during the election period.

o MDC activists doubled as vote educators working for the US government-financed Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network and used their position to promote the opposition under the guise of explaining electoral procedures. [8]

There’s no question there has been massive Western interference in the elections. During the election campaign British Prime Minister Gordon Brown informed the British Law Society that his government’s funding to civil society organizations in Zimbabwe opposing the Mugabe government had been stepped up. [9] On May 14, 2007 Australia announced it would spend $18 million backing critics of Mugabe, two-thirds of which was slated to be spent in the run-up to the elections. [10] And this doesn’t include the much more extensive funding Mugabe’s opponents have received from the United States, other Western governments, corporate foundations, and wealthy individuals.

Western interference has made the post-election period one aptly described by Sibanda as “a battle between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries: Zimbabwean people represented by President Mugabe and foreign interests (represented by) the MDC.” [11] Under these conditions, and especially considering that MDC youth activists have a history of using violence to provoke the police, and then to use the police response to paint the government as authoritarian and repressive, some degree of political violence is inevitable. But is it out of hand? And is it one-sided?

The documentation of violence against MDC supporters has been gathered by the US Embassy in Harare, which is hardly neutral and has an interest in discrediting Zanu-PF to bring its favored vehicle, the MDC, to power. Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is dominated by former members of the US foreign policy establishment, has also been involved. But even HRW acknowledges the violence isn’t exclusive to supporters of Zanu-PF. “Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that…MDC supporters had burned homes of known Zanu-PF supporters and officials.” [12] Louise Arbour, the UN’s top human rights official, who, in previous jobs has invariably sided with the US and Britain, notes that the information she has “received suggests an emerging pattern of political violence” that is not exclusively inflicted by supporters of Zanu-PF. [13] Kingsley Mamabolo, a senior South African official who led the region’s observer team for the March 29 elections agrees that violence is “taking place on both sides,” as do human rights and doctors groups in Harare, most of which have Western sources of funding. [14] Paul Themba Nyathi, a civil rights lawyer and MDC member, says that “Tsvangirai’s followers seem to be saying to themselves that they can win elections by beating people and by using the crudest methods of intimidation.” This has largely escaped the attention of the media, he adds, “because the big prize is still to rid the country of Mugabe.” [15] Police arrested 58 opposition activists on May 9 on suspicion of setting fire to the homes of Zanu-PF members. On May 14, they arrested 50 Zanu-PF activists.

While Mugabe is often portrayed as a monster egging on thugs to beat opposition supporters (whereas we’ll see below, it is opposition leaders who have egged on their followers to use violence), he has spoken out against violence. On May 17, he told the country that “Such violence is needless and must stop forthwith.” He added that “support comes from persuasion, not from pugilism. Genuine support for the party cannot come through coercion or violence.” [16] At the same time, Zanu-PF has proposed a joint Zanu-PF-MDC committee to investigate political violence. Zanu-PF representative Patrick Chinamasa invited the MDC-T to form a joint team “to investigate violence so that we do not end up with false allegations.” MDC-T spokesman Nelson Chamisa voiced no objection, “as long as there was commitment among the parties.” [17]

Despite these developments, it’s unlikely the opposition’s calls for military intervention will cease. Last summer, then Archbishop Pius Ncube called on Britain to invade. “I think it is justified for Britain to raid Zimbabwe and remove Mugabe,” he said. “We should do it ourselves but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready.” [18]

Former head of the British military General Lord Charles Guthrie revealed that the British government had pressed him to consider invading Zimbabwe on a number of occasions. Guthrie says he advised against an invasion, warning military intervention would backfire. [19] But that hasn’t stopped the politicos from pressing for a military assault. Tony Blair’s chief of staff for 10 years, Jonathan Powell, argued in a Guardian article in November for British military intervention in Zimbabwe on humanitarian grounds. In the article, Powell defends interventions in Yugoslavia and Iraq and argues for a British invasion of Zimbabwe. “Are we really saying we just have to wait while (Mugabe’s) people suffer?” [20] If Powell were genuinely concerned about the suffering of Zimbabwe’s people, he would press for the removal of sanctions, the principal cause of Zimbabweans’ suffering.

Basildon Peta, an opposition journalist, also makes the case for Western intervention. “The philosophy that African states should take the lead in Zimbabwe is bankrupt,” he argues. “Most of these entities would not survive without Western subsidies. We Zimbabweans have reconciled ourselves to the fact that our fellow Africans will do nothing for us in our hour of need. In desperation we have to look to our former colonizers for help.” [21]

The MDC claims to be the party of democratic change, founded on the non-violent principles of Ghandi and King, but its behaviour belies its claims. No sooner had the party been born, with Britain acting as mother, father and midwife, than it was threatening political violence. “What we would like to tell Mugabe is please go peacefully,” said leader Morgan Tsvangirai. “If you don’t want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently.” [22]

When Tsvangirai lost an internal vote on whether to boycott or participate in Senate elections, he claimed that the leader of the party was not bound by the majority’s decision. What ensued showed the party’s non-violent credentials to be as bogus as its democratic principles. An internecine war flared between the two factions, featuring beatings, hijackings, posters stripped from street polls, and the party’s director of security thrown down a stairwell. [23]

Leader of the alternative MDC faction, Arthur Mutambara, is equally prepared to use violence to achieve political goals. “I’m going to remove Robert Mugabe, I promise you, with every tool at my disposal,” he told supporters. “We’re going to use every tool we can get to dislodge this regime. We’re not going to rule out or in anything – the sky’s the limit.” [24] Were Mutambara the leader of an opposition group opposed to a British or US ally, he would find himself on the US and EU official lists of terrorists.

Neither is the Roman Catholic Church averse to violence, as already seen in former Archbishop Pius Ncube’s desire to lead the people, guns blazing. “In an Easter (2007) message pinned to church bulletin boards around the country, Zimbabwe’s Roman Catholic Church bishops called on President Robert G. Mugabe to leave office or face ‘open revolt.’” [25]

Ncube contemns Zimbabweans as cowards. “The idea of dying for your country was something valuable in Western countries. We haven’t grasped the idea of laying down your life. The people are cowards. I was hoping the politicians would do it but it seems that don’t have any convictions. We must torment and harass the government. Zimbabweans are a bit lethargic and we find ourselves caught with our pants down.” [26] Zimbabweans are hardly cowards. Many fought in the war to liberate Zimbabwe from British colonial rule and Rhodesian apartheid. They are understandably uninterested in rallying behind Ncube and others who are leading the charge to restore Britain to its former dominant position in Zimbabwe.

Finally, it should be noted that MDC-T spokesman Nelson Chamisa, whose colleague Tendai Biti was crying wolf over an impending genocide a little over one week later, warned three days before the elections that if Zanu-PF won, Kenya would look like a picnic. [27]

Zimbabwe’s government has been far more lax in its tolerance of violent dissent than Western governments would ever be. In the US or Britain, a political leader who threatened to use violence to oust the government, appealed for foreign military intervention and economic warfare, and accepted funding from hostile foreign powers, would be branded a terrorist and traitor and locked up. Not surprisingly, there are some in Zimbabwe urging the government to take a harder line. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Justice has importuned the government to declare a state of emergency. “Zimbabwe is at war with foreign elements using local puppets,” says the organization’s chief advocate Martin Dinha. “Western countries are known to fuel violence, civil war and strife.” The government, Dinha says, should “consider the possibility of declaring a state of emergency to quell the disturbances.” [28]

Clearly, the opposition, with the massive backing of Western governments, corporate foundations and wealthy individuals, intent on coming to power to reverse Zanu-PF’s economically nationalist policies, has no qualms about using violence, nor deception, to carry out its Quisling aims. Tsvangirai, Biti, Chamisa and their civil society allies are prepared to use a lie as great as the WMD deception of their British and US patrons for the same end: to justify military intervention in order to put the West firmly in charge. Where Zanu-PF has used violence, has been in the struggle against oppression. Where the opposition has threatened and carried out violence has been in the pursuit of an agenda shaped by and conducing to the interests of Western economic elites. There is no looming genocide in Zimbabwe, only the threat of Western military intervention whose justification is a lie concocted by fifth columnists doing their masters’ bidding.

1. The Guardian (UK), March 28, 2008.
2. The Independent (UK), April 9, 2008.
3. The Times (London), in The Ottawa Citizen, April 22, 2008.
4. Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishop’s Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. The Independent (UK), April 23, 2008.
5. The New York Times, April 26, 2008.
6. The Washington Post, May 16, 2008.
7. TalkZimbabwe.com, April 4, 2008.
8. The Herald (Zimbabwe) May 3, 2008.
9. The New African, April 2008.
10. Reuters May 14, 2007.
11. The Herald (Zimbabwe) April, 2, 2008.
12. Human Rights Watch, April 25, 2008.
13. The New York Times, April 28, 2008.
14. The New York Times, May 10, 2008.
15. TalkZimbabwe.com, April 28, 2008.
16. Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe), May 18, 2008.
17. The Herald (Zimbabwe), May 20, 2008.
18. The Sunday Times (UK), July 1, 2007.
19. AFP, November 21, 2007.
20. The Guardian (UK), November 18, 2007.
21. The Independent (UK), September 20, 2008.
22. BBC, September 30, 2000.
23. The New York Times, May 5, 2007.
24. Times Online, March 5, 2006.
25. The New York Times, April 9, 2007.
26. The Guardian (UK), April 2, 2007.
27. The Herald (Zimbabwe), March 27, 2008.
28. TalkZimbabwe.com, May 15, 2008.

Zunes’ Compromising with Capitalism’s Sad Reality

By Stephen Gowans

Stephen Zunes has written a reply to my article criticizing his connections to US government- and ruling class-funded “peace” organizations, but far from rebutting my criticisms, he helps make my point.

He writes, “The unfortunate reality in capitalist societies is that most non-profit organizations – from universities to social justice organizations to art galleries to peace groups (and ICNC as well) – depend at least in part on donations from wealthy individuals and from foundations which get their money from wealthy individuals.”

On this we agree: The capitalist class, through its money power, dominates capitalist societies, including its universities, social justice organizations, peace groups and scholars of non-violence (at least those willing to feed at the trough.) Is it any surprise, then, that handsomely-funded social justice organizations, peace groups, progressive media and scholars of nonviolence might be understood to be agents of capitalism and imperialism within the left community?

But Zunes continues: “Just because the ultimate source of funding for various non-profit groups is from members of the ruling class, however, does not mean that ruling class interests therefore set the agenda for every such non-profit group; they certainly do in some cases, but not in many other cases, including that of ICNC.”

There’s an obvious exceptionalism in Zunes’ argument. Maybe others are bought, but not me. Lay that aside. The ruling class doesn’t need to set the agenda for all organizations and individuals; it only needs to fund individuals and groups who promote its interests. This is the same argument Chomsky and Herman have made in connection with the mainstream press propagating elite narratives. Media outlets don’t need to set the agenda for journalists; they simply need to hire journalists who say the right things, and fire those who don’t. The New York Times won’t hire Chomksy or Herman to write a regular column, but it will hire Thomas Friedman, because he can be relied on to stay within a narrow band of opinion acceptable to ruling class interests. No one sets an agenda for Friedman. But, then, no one has to. As Humbert Wolfe once said, “You cannot hope to bribe and twist, thank God, the British journalist. But seeing what the man will do unbribed, there’s no occasion to.”

So what does Zunes do, unbribed, that obviates his funders setting an agenda for him? For one, he promotes a peaceful activism at home that is useful to the ruling class in channeling inchoate militancy into ritualistic, symbolic, forms of protest, whose effect in countering the ruling class is approximately zero. He says he “has even been arrested on a number of occasions protesting US imperialism” (doubtlessly in a ritualistic way that minimizes inconvenience for all concerned) but his being arrested has accomplished nothing, except to bulk up his credentials as an activist. And all those who have followed his lead had the same effect. The Washington Consensus is in no danger of falling apart and US war-making hasn’t been set back a millimeter in its relentless advance.

By contrast, non-violent activists in Belarus, Zimbabwe, Iran and formerly in Serbia can be much more effective; they have the US ruling class on their side. They’re helped immensely by the sanctions Washington deploys against their governments, by the threats of war the US uses to intimidate governments it wants to overthrow, by US bombing campaigns, by US assistance to the political opposition, and by the wads of money from the NED, USAID, and their equivalents in Britain, Germany and so on. Non-violent regime change in foreign countries is only possible as a result of contextual violence related to economic and conventional warfare. The contextual violence is absent in the case of peaceful protest in the US, which is why non-violent activism plus sanctions plus threats of war plus funding of subversion plus establishing media to broadcast anti-government propaganda works abroad and non-violent activism plus none of these other things doesn’t work at home.

Another reason the ruling class foundations on which Zunes relies do not have to set his agenda is that Zunes is an absolutely reliable amplifier within the progressive community of the arguments the State Department uses as the basis for its human rights imperialism. He assures us, without adducing the tiniest jot of evidence, that Belarus, Iran, and Zimbabwe are dictatorships and that Yugoslavia was in 1999. That’s helpful to the imperialist class in dampening interest among those politically conscious enough to be inclined to get in the way of imperialist designs being carried out against target countries. Who’s going to spring to the aid of foreign governments and anti-imperialist movements that are widely portrayed in the mass media, and seconded by foundation-supported “independent” progressive scholars, as oppressive and dictatorial?

Indeed, there are three ways Zunes promotes the ruling class agenda within the progressive community which makes the setting of an agenda for him by the wealthy individuals and foundations who furnish him with money completely unnecessary. He (1) lionizes ritualistic and symbolic forms of non-violent protest at home which have no effect in impeding the ruling class in pursuing its interests, and which, therefore it seeks to promote as an alternative to potentially more effective opposition (and if this safe outlet of opposition can be promoted by someone with activist credentials, all the better); by (2) amplifying ruling class justifications for its meddling in the affairs of other countries and thereby turning progressives against ruling class foreign policy targets; and (3) by burnishing US government regime change operations, portraying them as legitimate home-grown operations against oppressive governments.

The only way we cannot accept that Zunes is an agent of imperialism, is if we accept that the ruling class is incredibly stupid and funds the activities of those who are against its interests and fail to promote its agenda. Since this is highly unlikely, it is also highly unlikely that he is not a grassroots lieutenant of imperialism, along with all the other left scholars who have made their compromise with “the unfortunate reality” that in capitalist societies peace groups and social justice organizations are funded by wealthy individuals and their foundations.

Will the Real Che Guevara Please Stand Up?

By Stephen Gowans

It seems every leftist partisan group wants to claim Che as their own. Some admirers of Trotsky believe Che was moving toward worship of their Christ, an idea dismissed by Fidel Castro. Admirers of Stalin point to things Che wrote to suggest he shared their admiration. Maoists make the case Che was on their side. One novelist imagined a scenario in which Che had never been killed in Bolivia but had gone into hiding to emerge later as a social democrat.

Because the idea of Che is enormously popular, partisans try to claim him as their own. If Che is seen to be a Trotskyist (or Stalinist or Maoist or social democrat) maybe Trotsky’s (or Stalin’s or Mao’s or social democracy’s) ideas will become more popular.

It’s a variant of the appeal to authority, the tired and tiring game of trying to make an argument more persuasive by invoking the name of a respected figure, rather than relying on the merits of the argument itself. It’s Pavlov in the service of persuasive communication.

Not too long ago, Michael Karadjis, an Internet gasbag who believes that socialism means condemning in no uncertain terms whoever Western state officials are condemning at a particular moment, invoked Che’s name to make the case that socialists should tremble with indignation whenever George Bush tells them to. Any socialist who doesn’t join in the two minutes hate against Milosevic, Kim Jong Il, Mugabe, and Ahmadinejad is denounced as a thug-hugger, member of the pro-fascist left, a deplorable authoritarian, and so on.

For their exercising a degree of skepticism and critical thinking where the claims of the US government are concerned, Karadjis despises Michael Parenti and Edward Herman. Challenging the pretexts Western governments use to justify intervention abroad (often involving a faux moral crusade to rid the world of some heinous evil-doer) can be such a trial for an aspiring hate party host. Why would anyone show up for the party if creeps like Parenti and Herman keep calling the need for the party into question?

Karadjis is not particularly fond of me either (which is about the kindest compliment I’ve ever received.) According to Karadjis I’m “the guy still dressing up Milosevic and the Serbian Chetnik genocidaires that almost wiped Balkan Muslim civilisation off the face of the earth as some kind of wrongly ‘demonized’ ‘socialists’ a decade later, well now he’s get some other vile, corrupt bloody dictatorship to dress up as ‘socialist’ in some sense but merely ‘demonized’ by the imperialist powers.”


Never one to be accused of eschewing adjectives, Karadjis, resonating with the zeitgeist, has taken to invoking the memory of Che, as if Che would, were he alive, be on the frontlines denouncing every Third World leader whose country is about to be sanctioned, threatened, bombed or invaded by the US and its allies.

After launching one of his recent broadsides against someone who had failed to show up at the latest hate party, Karadjis paused to say: “Yeh well as Che said: ‘If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, you are a comrade of mine.’ That’s our agenda.”

How could you not applaud? The trouble is, everyone believes they have justice on their side. George Bush does. Hitler did. The key question is: is their idea of justice the same as your own?

In the case of Karadjis’s and Che’s, the answer is: no.

At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria in 1965, Che did something people like Karadjis have been denouncing “pro-fascist leftists” for, for years. He put a plus sign beside countries and movements the US government put a minus sign beside.

“If the imperialist enemy, the United States or any other, carries out its attack against the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries, elementary logic determines the need for an alliance between the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries. If there were no other uniting factor, the common enemy should be enough.”

Karadjis and his co-liberal-moralists would tremble with indignation at anyone who suggested that “the common enemy should be enough” to unite socialists with the undeveloped peoples and the socialist countries. Putting plus signs where the US puts minus signs is strictly verboten. One can imagine the denunciatory blasts Karadjis would have fired at Che.

Of course, just because Che had put plus signs where the US put negative signs, doesn’t, by itself, make the practice right, but Karadjis’s invoking Che, betrays a good deal of ignorance.

It also stands in a long tradition of people trying to make dead revolutionary figures less revolutionary and more acceptable to polite society. It continues today with Marx, who, if you are to believe some of his recent biographers, would be canvassing for Labour, selling ethical mutual funds and showing up regularly at Karadjis’s hate parties, were he alive.

It should also be pointed out that while some define socialism as the fight for justice in the absolute, others have defined socialism in another way: as a fight for justice, where justice is construed as the liberation of wage workers from exploitation. In some views (including Che’s), this project is furthered by an alliance of wage workers with oppressed nations against exploitation by imperialism. The idea is that if you weaken imperialism, you give socialist countries more room to grow, and make strong socialist movements more likely to arise at home. That means an alliance with people your mother might not approve of.

The idea of justice as contingent can be seen in how different nations define what is just. Zimbabwe’s governing ZANU-PF party believes that when it redistributes land from the descendants of European settlers to the descendants of dispossessed Africans, it has justice on its side. Descendants of European settlers believe they have justice on their side when they act to oust a government that threatens their property. Unfortunately for Karadjis and his friends, there are no absolute standards of justice for them to adopt as their agenda, only definitions contingent on class and nation. Still, that won’t stop them from claiming affinity with an absolute. When Karadjis says his agenda is justice, is it the justice of oppressed nations he’s for, or of dominant nations?

Let’s let Che have the last word: “Ever since monopoly capital took over the world, it has kept the greater part of humanity in poverty, dividing all the profits among the group of the most powerful countries. The standard of living in those countries is based on the extreme poverty of our countries. To raise the living standards of the underdeveloped nations, therefore, we must fight against imperialism. And each time a country is torn away from the imperialist tree, it is not only a partial battle won against the main enemy but it also contributes to the real weakening of that enemy, and is one more step toward the final victory. There are no borders in this struggle to the death. We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, because a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory, just as any country’s defeat is a defeat for all of us. The practice of proletarian internationalism is not only a duty for the peoples struggling for a better future; it is also an inescapable necessity.”

You would be hard pressed to make the case that the person who spoke these words would have much patience for Karadjis and company.

New Imperialism, Old Justifications

The old imperialism, backed up by an old set of racist justifications, is back in fashion.

By Stephen Gowans

British politicians say Britons must stop apologizing, and start celebrating, their imperial past. Conservative historians say Africa was better off under British rule. Top political advisors promote renewed colonialism as a solution to Africa’s problems. Journalists write nostalgically about “the lost paradise of the big white chief” (Rhodesia’s Ian Smith) and point to the descent of Zimbabwe into economic chaos as a cautionary tale about what happens when enlightened white administration is ceded to benighted, corrupt natives.

“Barely a generation after the ignominious end of the British empire,” observes Guardian columnist Seamus Milne, “there is now a quiet but concerted drive to rehabilitate it, by influential newspapers, conservative academics, and at the highest level of government.” (1)

Why has the drive occurred?

One reason is that intervention in other countries is now more of a possibility than it was three decades ago when the Soviet Union was still around. Jonathan Powell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s longtime chief of staff, argues that Britain should not fear to intervene in Zimbabwe and Myanmar to defend “our interests” and promote “our values” because “intervening in another country no longer risks tipping the two superpowers into global war, because there is only one superpower.” (2)

The other reason is because the structural compulsion to exploit other countries economically has never gone away.

With the compulsion still there, and a major deterrent to exercising it gone, an ideology is needed to justify it.

The Ideology

“In the Ancient world, order meant empire,” observes the man who served as Blair’s foreign policy guru, Robert Cooper. “Those within the empire had order, culture and civilization. Outside it lay barbarians, chaos and disorder.” (3)

Today chaos is found in what Cooper classifies as “pre-modern states” — “often former colonies – whose failures have led to a Hobbesian war of all against all.” (4)

Writer Peter Godwin thinks the chaos in pre-modern states is attributable to Britain abandoning its colonies. “The disengagement from Africa was irresponsible,” he writes. It was “little more than a hasty jettisoning of colonies, however ill-prepared they were for self-rule, and a virtual guarantee that they would fail as autonomous states.” (5)

British historian Andrew Roberts echoes Godwin’s reasoning. “Africa,” he says, “has never known better times than during British rule.” (6)

Top politicians also seem to agree. Gordon Brown sprang to the defense of Britain’s colonial record in Africa after South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki justifiably complained about British imperialists “doing terrible things wherever they went.” Brown, then chancellor of the exchequer, used a trip to former British colony Tanzania to declare that “the days of Britain having to apologize for its colonial history are over,” and that “we should celebrate much of our past, rather than apologize for it.” (7)

Godwin points specifically to Zimbabwe to make the case that Africa was better off under white rule. “The terrible situation in Zimbabwe,” he writes, “today conforms in many ways to the worst of everything Ian Smith had feared of black majority rule, and is the very specter that inspired him to fight so hard to prevent it.” (8)

The Telegraph’s Graham Boynton seconds Godwin’s point, arguing that Ian Smith, who said blacks could never rule themselves successfully, “has sadly been proved right.” (9)

“Today, Zimbabwe is a failed state with a non-functioning economy, a once flourishing agricultural sector now moribund, and a population on the brink of starvation….So much for liberation.” (10)

If Boynton and his empire-nostalgics are to be believed, the natives can’t be trusted to run their own affairs. But there are many other places bedeviled by war, poverty, misery and chaos that are never pointed to as crying “out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets,” as former Wall St. Journal editor, Max Boot, once put it. (11)

One such troubled land is Ethiopia. Its army invaded Somalia, contrary to the UN Charter (a crime on par with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait), and is fighting an anti-insurgency war in the Ogaden region of the country that has provoked a humanitarian disaster. The country’s leader, Meles Zenawi, jails political opponents, threatens them with the death sentence, limits press freedom, and has been accused of rigging elections.

Ethiopia sounds like one of Cooper’s pre-modern states, complete with a Hobbesian war of all against all raging within its bosom. But Ethiopia — which receives hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid from the US and Britain — is not on the empire-nostalgics’ radar screen. Could it be that the “failed” states empire-boosters say need to be brought under the wing of enlightened Western rule are simply states that aren’t doing the West’s bidding? Is it chaos, or independence, that’s the problem?

Iraq, too, is a troubled land, one for which the idea of a Hobbesian war of all against all seems especially fitting. And yet chaos in Iraq is a product of the “enlightened” Western rule people like Max Boot call for.

The Solution

“The most logical way to deal with chaos, and the one employed most often in the past, is colonization,” writes Cooper boldly. Today, colonialism needs to be practiced as “a new kind of imperialism…an imperialism which aims to bring order and organization.” (12)

Cooper sets out his case in an article titled “Why we still need empires.”

“The postmodern world has to start to get used to double standards. Among ourselves, we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But, when dealing with old-fashioned states outside the postmodern continent of Europe, we need to revert of the rougher methods of an earlier era – force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary to deal with those who still live in the nineteenth century world of every state for itself. Among ourselves, we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle.” (13)

That the rougher methods of an earlier era have already been deployed against Zimbabwe is fairly obvious. The US, Britain and other “postmodern” states organize, fund and provide support to civil society groups within and outside Zimbabwe to bring down the Mugabe government. In place of the current government, Britain seeks a new government willing to accommodate “our values” and “our interests.”

As prime minister, Tony Blair even went so far as to privately argue for an invasion of Zimbabwe, but the head of the armed forces, General Sir Charles Guthrie, counseled Blair against it. You’d lose too many African allies, he warned. (14)

The Nazi Theory of International Relations

While Cooper seeks to give a pleasing gloss to his “we still need empires” view, it is at odds with the foundations of post-war international law. More than that, it is tantamount to the Nazi’s theory of international relations.

The Nuremberg Tribunal’s affirmation “of national sovereignty as the cornerstone of the international system…stood in marked contrast to the political philosophy of the Nazis, who had treated the concept of state sovereignty with contempt,” explains John Laughland.

Any state that intends to intervene in the affairs of other states for the purpose of dominating them will, naturally, express contempt for national sovereignty. This, NATO, and other “postmodern” states, began to do so in the run up to the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia – and have been doing so since.

“One can say,” adds Laughland, “that the commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of states…is an attempt to institutionalize an anti-fascist theory of international relations.” (15) By the same token, an attempt to establish a justification for forcibly re-imposing colonial domination on independent Third World countries is an attempt to revivify a Nazi theory.

If you’re going to knock down the doors of other countries, you have to find some pretty reasons for doing so. People like Cooper, Roberts, Max Boot in the US, and liberals like Michael Ignatieff, are only too happy to supply the justification.

Our Interests and Values?

The imperial ideologues always eventually get around to pinning the necessity of the new imperialism on the pursuit of “our interests” and “our values,” implying that the interests of everyone in the West are common and that our values (also assumed to be homogeneous) have something vaguely to do with human rights. But are the interests of a bus driver in Liverpool the same as those of a London investment banker who collects board appointments? Which of these two has the greatest chance of shaping British foreign policy?

In a certain sense it is true that we all share interests in common. We share an interest in being free from violence. Pro-imperial ideologues cite this interest to justify the unapologetic resurrection of open imperialism. Unless we bring the war to them, they’ll bring the war to us. Unless we impose order, chaos will spread.

This is a good argument, if you’re trying to sell a Nazi theory of international relations. But it’s more likely that “our interests” and “our values” refer to the interests and values of the economic class that has a firm grip on the media and state. It’s not our interests and values that are being pursued, but theirs.

Investors, financial houses and corporations – tied to the media, universities and state in a thousand different ways — suck mountains of profits out of Third World countries. They have an interest in a muscular foreign policy to safeguard their investments and to open doors that have been closed by communist, socialist and economic nationalist governments that pursue social improvement, rather than foreign investment-friendly, objectives. Is it any surprise, then, that the media, conservative academics and state officials are rehabilitating colonialism?

In an article on Ian Smith in the Sunday Times, RW Johnson draws an invidious comparison between Smith’s Rhodesia and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Smith, he tells us, had “run the country and economy surprisingly well in the face of tough international sanctions,” unlike Mugabe, who has presided over an economy that has faltered under the weight of sanctions.

When “Mugabe gained power in 1980, Smith…rolled up every day at Government House to offer his help” and “Mugabe was delighted to accept” it. Significantly, “the two men worked happily together for some time, until one day Mugabe announced plans for sweeping nationalization. Smith told him bluntly he thought this a mistake. Their cooperation ended on the spot.” (16) And Zimbabwe, we’re to believe, from that point forward, began its descent into economic chaos.

In a certain respect, this is true. Britain, which still dominated Zimbabwe’s economy, had no truck for Mugabe’s nationalizations, and nor for his refusal to follow IMF prescriptions or his expropriation of farm land. These sins against private property — which Smith would have steered clear of — set off Britain’s resort to the rougher methods of an earlier era to push Mugabe aside. Along with its imperialist senior partner, the United States, Britain schemed to make Zimbabwe’s economy scream, hoping to galvanize Zimbabweans to throw Mugabe out of office, either at the polls or in the streets. Drought and region-wide energy shortages helped crank up the misery.

But what was the real problem? That Mugabe, as a black man, was too stupid to know how to run the country? Or that Mugabe took on white economic interests?


Politicians, journalists and academics, have launched an ideological assault to justify a new imperialism — an aggressive and expansionary foreign policy whose aim is to bring to heel countries resisting integration into the Anglo-American orbit.

Under the “enlightened” domination of the US and Britain these countries will be expected to open their doors to foreign investment, privatize state-owned enterprises, tear down tariff walls, and rescind performance requirements on foreign firms. Above all, they’ll be expected to respect the property Western investors and the decendants of white settlers lay claim to.

The assault is based on two deceptions.

The first is that that Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets once provided enlightened administration. The second is that we need (an American-led) empire to impose organization and order on chaos.

But much of the chaos in the Third World is a product of, not a reason for, Western intervention. Iraq was once a thriving modern secular state, until Anglo-American imperialism visited upon it chaos of unprecedented scope.

“We hear a lot about the rule of law, incorruptible government and economic progress, but the reality was tyranny, oppression, poverty and the unnecessary deaths of countless millions of human beings,” points out Cambridge historian Richard Drayton. (17)

And so it goes.

1. Seamus Milne, “New Labour, Old Britain,” Le Monde Diplomatique, May 2005
2. Jonathan Powell, “Why the West should not fear to intervene,” Observer, November 18, 2007
3. Robert Cooper, “Why we still need empires,” The Observer, April 7, 2002
4. Cooper
5. Peter Godwin, “If only Ian Smith had shown some imagination, then more of his people might live at peace,” The Observer, November 25, 2007
6. Quoted in Milne
7. Daily Mail, January 15, 2005
8. Godwin
9. Graham Boynton, “Ian Smith has sadly been proved right,” Telegraph, November 25, 2007
10. Ibid
11. Max Boot, “The case for American empire,” The Weekly Standard, October 15, 2001
12. Cooper
13. Ibid
14. Milne; Agence France Presse, November 21, 2007
15. John Laughland, Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic and the Corruption of International Justice, Pluto Press, 2007, p. 66
16. RW Johnson, “Lost paradise of the big white chief”, The Sunday Times, November 25, 2007
17. Quoted in Milne

Blair’s Goebbels Justifies Wars of Aggression

The Nazis held the idea of national sovereignty in contempt and would have had little patience with a national sovereignty-based international law. The reasons are obvious. The Nazis needed to justify their wars of aggression and the idea of the inviolability of national sovereignty stood in the way.

In the following essay, Jonathan Powell, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s chief of staff for 10 years, embraces Nazi foreign policy, without actually mentioning (or recognizing) it’s Nazi foreign policy he’s embracing. He argues that military interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were just, and that interventions elsewhere, including in Zimbabwe, would defend “our” interests and values, and should be pursued without hesitation.

Although he doesn’t say it, “our” does not refer to you and me, but to the dominant economic interests of the US and Britain, who have an interest in Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe adopting IMF reforms, a free market, and safeguarding property rights. Likewise, NATO’s war of aggression on Yugoslavia served dominant Western economic interests in dismantling Yugoslavia’s socialism, while the conquest of Iraq serves US and British oil interests.

The problem is, it’s difficult to elicit popular support for a policy of plunder, despoliation, renewed colonialism and aggressive war. Imperialist aggression has to be dressed up in the rhetoric of a high moral mission, if the public’s consent, cooperation, and at minimum, acquiescence is to be secured. Goebbels played the role of investing Nazi imperialism with a moral gravitas. Powell does the same for Anglo-American imperialism.  

Why the West should not fear to intervene

Jonathan Powell
Sunday November 18, 2007

The principle of non-interference in other nations’ affairs was established by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and brought to an end the 30 Years War. Unprecedented devastation had been visited on the continent by armies trying to impose the Reformation or the Counter-Reformation on neighbouring states and the two sides had fought themselves to a draw. The monarchs of the day decided to bring these wars to a permanent end. In future, it would be OK to defend yourself against attack and OK to fight over territory or succession, but countries could no longer fight for ideas.

The principle of non-interference lasted through the succeeding centuries and was regularly invoked by the Soviet Union. We in the West used it as an excuse to avoid doing anything about the Hungarian Uprising or the Prague Spring. It was morally questionable but probably sensible in a nuclear-backed stand-off.

The world has changed since then. Intervening in another country no longer risks tipping the two superpowers into global war, because there is only one superpower. More important, the force of globalisation has changed the world. With 24-hour news, massive global travel and migration, the world has become a much smaller place.

So whether or not isolationism was ever sensible or moral, it is no longer practical. We can’t protect our industries from competition by erecting tariff barriers and we can’t protect our citizens from terrorist attack simply by better border controls. If we stand by while other peoples are brutally suppressed in other parts of the world, from Kosovo to Iraq, and if we turn a blind eye when countries disintegrate into anarchy, as we did in Afghanistan and Somalia, we will face the consequences at home. And that is why what is happening now in Pakistan is so important to us.

Let me look at the lessons to be drawn from the 10 years of the Blair administration and our four wars. First, Sierra Leone. We could hardly claim self-defence for our military action there. As it was a success, no one questioned its theoretical justification. Now, with a democratic change of government in Sierra Leone, and democratic government established in neighbouring Liberia, there is real hope for the people of that part of West Africa.

Kosovo was trickier. First, the Clinton administration did not want to deploy ground troops after what had happened in Somalia. We applied pressure because we believed, correctly, it was impossible to win the war from the air. They did the right thing and Milosevic crumbled. But we never managed to secure UN support for the war because of the Russian veto. No one in the West questioned that because the operation was a success.

Afghanistan, again, was not self-defence. The ultimatum to the Taliban was clear – give up al-Qaeda or we will topple your regime. And that is what the US did. This time, no one complained, even though the intervention has not yet been a sustained success.

Iraq was the most difficult, even if not very different theoretically from our other interventions. No one in their right mind would wish to see the blood-letting and chaos that is going on in Iraq today. There is no point in trying to pretend it is all a wonderful success. But equally, I don’t think there are many people in Iraq or the rest of the world who want Saddam back. There was, however, a problem with the justification of the invasion – the holding of weapons of mass destruction in breach of UN resolutions. We now know Saddam didn’t have them. But to suggest it was all a conspiracy between Tony Blair and George W Bush to pretend he did is nonsense. We believed he had them, as did pretty much every other government in the world, whatever they say now. We didn’t kit our troops up in chemical warfare suits in the desert every time a missile was fired just for fun. So suggesting it was all a matter of Alastair Campbell cobbling together a dossier to pretend there were weapons of mass destruction is nonsense.

We should have been clear we were removing Saddam because he was a ruthless dictator suppressing his people. But the lawyers said there was no legal basis for proceeding on these grounds, and so we were not able to make this case as wholeheartedly as I would have liked.

Next the UN. The argument goes that we should not have intervened without a second United Nations Security Council resolution. But we intervened in Kosovo without such a resolution. The two crucial differences from Afghanistan and Kosovo were that a) we could not get a majority of countries on our side and b) we were not successful on the ground.

One of the reasons we argued so hard for a second resolution and tried so hard to get countries such as Mexico and Chile on side was that we believed if things got difficult in Iraq, we would do much better if we had the balance of the international community with us. And it is clearly true that if we had secured that support, we would be in a different place today, with a major UN role in Iraq and majority support around the world.

So if success on the ground was one of the big differences with Kosovo, why were we so relatively unsuccessful in Iraq? The biggest failing in my view was not fully to understand the consequences of our intervention. When you remove a brutal dictator who has annihilated all opposition for 30 years, it is inevitable you will face a period of anarchy when he is gone. All the basics of an ordinary society and law and order are not there. And when you superimpose that on a country where the minority, the Sunni, have ruled the majority, the Shia, for centuries, and you are trying to replace that with a majoritarian regime, it takes a long time to shake out the problems.

Let me draw some lessons from our 10 years of experience. We need a rules-based system. As other big countries rise to be superpowers they will have very different value systems from us. So it is in the US interest, as it is in the interest of medium-sized powers like the UK, to have the rule of law applied internationally as it is domestically.

We need a strong and reformed UN Security Council with the addition of Japan, Germany, India and Brazil. We need to make sure we have effective alliances that allow intervention to be undertaken when it can’t be done by medium-sized countries like ours alone. That means working with France to develop effective European intervention forces. And most of all it means trying to ensure that the US does not revert to isolationism. If it withdraws into itself as it did after Vietnam and Somalia, I fear it will face another 9/11 and all the rest of us will suffer.

We need to be better prepared for the aftermath of intervention. We weren’t properly prepared in Kosovo, in Afghanistan or in Iraq. It is no good saying as Donald Rumsfeld did, ‘We don’t do nation building.’ That is exactly what we do need to be able to do.

In making the argument for interventionism, I am not suggesting we should go around invading countries willy-nilly. Tony Blair’s Chicago speech of 1998, in which he made the case for liberal interventionism, set out five conditions in which intervention may be appropriate and I think these still hold:

1. We need to be sure of our case. War is a very imperfect instrument for righting wrongs, but armed force is sometimes the only way of replacing dictatorships.
2. Have we exhausted all diplomatic options? We should always give peace every chance.
3. Are there practical and sensible military options? Sending gunboats to Zimbabwe won’t work.
4. Are we prepared for the long term? We talk about exit strategies, but we cannot just walk away when a fight is over.
5. Do we have national interests engaged? That does not mean oil, but do we promote our own security better by protecting the rights of others in a particular situation?

I think there are cases today where the application of those tests would lead to a more robust approach.

Take Burma. What about actually doing something about the obscene regime of the generals? Are we just spectators as the monks march and are killed? Of course, the primary responsibility lies in the hands of its neighbours, but we can do far more to encourage them to be more robust in their attitudes.

Or Zimbabwe? Mugabe can use anything we say or do to stir the dying embers of anti-colonialism. And again, the primary responsibility lies with its neighbours, particularly South Africa, but are we really saying we just have to watch while his people suffer?
What are we going to do in Iraq? The first thing is to recognise that the solution is political rather than military. Now the danger of the country splitting apart is past, it is the moment to concentrate on trying to get the Shia and Sunni to come to an accommodation. Once the Sunnis have come to terms with sharing power with the Shia, our task will be done. It is only when there is a political settlement that we will be able to leave.

In Iran, I am not in favour of a military option because I don’t think it is practical. No one is suggesting invading Iran to overthrow the regime. That is the task of the overwhelmingly young population that wants to be rid of the corrupt mullahs. The difficulty we face is one of timelines. The regime will be overthrown. And if there was a democratic and stable regime in place, I suppose, as in the case of India, we would not object so much to a nuclear-armed Iran. But we don’t know when it will be overthrown. In the meantime, they are developing nuclear weapons, helping attacks on our troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan and supporting Hizbollah and Hamas. Western policymakers have yet to come up with a way of dealing with these different timelines and I do not have the answer either, although I suspect it lies in a combination of sanctions targeted on the regime. There is nothing like measures that affect the bank accounts of the Republican Guard to get their attention quickly.

My former boss is fond of saying that the political divide that matters in the world now is not that between left and right but that between open and closed. The threat we face is from those that advocate isolationism, protectionism and nativism – and it is striking how the debate on immigration has taken off in Europe and in the US. The enemy are the people who want to divide us into groups, to turn people against one another and take society backwards. The only hope we have is that those who want openness, tolerance and progress still have the political will to fight that battle and resist the tide of Luddism.

I believe the idea of liberal interventionism will survive as the best way of defending our interests and the moral way of promoting our values.

Faith in UN Intervention in Darfur Misplaced

By Stephen Gowans

Many Western activists have rallied around calls for sanctions on Sudan and UN intervention in Darfur. But a review of recent Western interventions in the world’s trouble spots suggests their faith is misplaced. While the US and its allies, and the UN Security Council, point to lofty goals as the basis for their interventions, the true goals are invariably shaped by the economic interests of the corporations and investment banks that dominate policy making in Western countries. Worse, intervention has typically led to the deterioration of humanitarian crises, not their amelioration.

Conflict as Pretext

The United States and other imperialist powers look for conflicts, or provoke conflicts, in countries they do not dominate politically. They use these conflicts as pretexts to intervene in other countries in multiple ways: militarily, through proxies (which may include the UN), by funding an internal opposition, or by some combination of these means. The goal is to exploit these countries economically. Political control, through a strongman or puppet government, allows great nations to protect and enlarge the investments of their corporations and banks and to open doors to their exports. That is, the United States and other imperialist powers are engaged in a relentless pursuit of political domination of countries they do not currently dominate, in order to exploit their resources, assets and markets, by creating or looking for conflicts that provide pretexts for intervention.

In Yugoslavia, the US, Germany and the UK encouraged secessionists to unilaterally declare independence from the Yugoslav federation and helped ethnic Albanian Kosovars wage a guerrilla war to establish Kosovo as an independent country. The ensuing conflicts with the federal government were used as a pretext by NATO to intervene militarily to bring the conflicts to an end. The secessionist governments and KLA guerrillas were portrayed by the Western media as the victims while the federal government, which was reacting to the provocations, was portrayed as the instigator. The result was that Yugoslavia was re-balkanized and brought under the control of the US and Germany, who have since imposed a neo-liberal tyranny and whose corporations, banks and wealthy investors have bought up the former federation’s state- and socially-owned assets. (1)

In Iraq, the US uses the conflict between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, as a pretext to remain in the country as an occupying force. Were troops withdrawn too early, we’re told that an all-out civil war would ensue (as if a state of all-out war, sustained by the presence of US and British troops, does not already exist.) Likewise, we’re assured that if troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, al Qaeda will resume its use of the country as a base for its operations, leading to a string of 9/11s. More than a decade ago, the US provoked a conflict in the Gulf – or at least allowed one to go ahead – when Iraq wasn’t turned down by the US ambassador, April Glaspie, after it sought permission to invade Kuwait. Iraq was thereby entrapped into undertaking an invasion Washington used as a pretext to launch the Gulf War. The effect was to begin the process of bringing Iraq, and its considerable petroleum resources, under the control of the US. (2)

Sudan is not today under US political control, and like Iraq, is a source of immense oil reserves and the potential for gargantuan petroleum profits to be reaped by foreign oil companies. The Bush administration complains that the Sudanese government interferes in Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries. Khartoum is not, then, a partisan of the three freedoms that matter most in Washington: free trade, free enterprise and free markets. This, from Washington’s point of view, is a threat to US foreign policy (i.e., corporate) interests. If Sudanese policy prevents US oil companies from exploiting the country’s oil resources, Sudan is a threat to the foreign policy interests of the United States. Accordingly, it must be treated as an enemy. And indeed it is an enemy – but only an enemy of the class of corporate board members, hereditary capitalist families and investment bankers in whose interest free trade, free enterprise and free markets are promoted and enforced. Sudan, its people, and the economically nationalist policies of its government are not, however, enemies of the bulk of Americans. (3)

There are existing conflicts in Darfur which the US and its allies have used to argue for Western intervention. There is a conflict over water and land between sedentary and nomadic peoples, made worse by desertification. There is a conflict between rebel groups, which have attacked government installations, and the government itself. And there is a conflict among rebel groups. These conflicts are used by the US and its allies as pretexts to impose sanctions and to argue for intervention. But the US is no more interested in resolving these conflicts than it was in resolving conflicts in Yugoslavia. It’s interested in dominating Sudan politically, so that US and British oil companies can amass huge profits from Sudan’s vast petroleum reserves.

A record of deception

There was no genocide in Kosovo. When forensic pathologists went looking for the scores of thousands of bodies NATO said were hidden throughout Kosovo, they found two thousand – a number that was consistent with a small scale guerrilla war, not a campaign of genocide. But after NATO intervened militarily with a 78-day bombing campaign, thousands fled, bridges, factories, schools and hospitals were destroyed and hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians were killed. What was a low intensity guerrilla war was turned into a humanitarian crisis by NATO. (4)

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But after the US and Britain invaded, some 600,000 Iraqis died as a result of violence provoked by the invasion, four million fled their homes, poverty became rampant and infrastructure destroyed by US and British bombs remained in a state of disrepair. A once modern country that had used its oil revenues to develop itself economically and to build a robust system of social welfare was turned by the US and Britain into an almost peerless humanitarian disaster. (5)

According to the UN commission appointed to investigate Washington’s charges that the Sudanese government is pursing a policy of genocide, the accusations have no foundation. It’s true, the commission found, that Khartoum has responded disproportionately to attacks on government forces by rebel groups, and it’s true that Khartoum is implicated in war crimes, but the commission found no evidence the Sudanese government is engaged in the project of seeking to eliminate an identifiable group, the defining characteristic of a policy of genocide. As far as humanitarian disasters go, the disaster in Iraq is far worse. So who would trust the perpetrators of that disaster – who, after all lied about there being a genocide in Kosovo and banned weapons in Iraq — to intervene in Darfur to resolve the humanitarian crisis there? That would be like giving your car keys to a known thief and pathological liar. (6)

Ignoring conflicts

The other side of the coin is that there are countries the United States already dominates in which terrible humanitarian disasters and human rights violations occur about which very little is said. When conflicts occur in these countries, the conflicts are ignored by the Western media, because they’re not needed as a pretext for intervention by Western governments. In fact, it’s in the interests of Washington that these conflicts not be brought to the attention of the public.

In Ethiopia, for example, thousands of members of the opposition were imprisoned after elections were disputed. Recently, the government threatened to execute dozens of opposition leaders on treason charges. Foreign reporters and human rights groups have been expelled from the country. Because Ethiopia is politically dominated by the US, there’s no reason to bring its deplorable record to the public’s attention. There is no need to build a case for intervention. Ethiopia is already under the US thumb. Accordingly, few people know anything about what’s going in the country because Ethiopia is off the Western media’s demonization radar screen. But they are likely to know about Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, who many believe has committed all the crimes Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, has committed. Except Mugabe hasn’t arrested thousands of members of the opposition or threatened to execute the opposition’s leaders. The difference between Zenawi and Mugabe is that Zenawi is a US puppet and Mugabe isn’t. For opposing imperialist meddling in southern Africa and seeking to indigenize Zimbabwe’s economy, Mugabe is in the dead center of the West’s demonization radar screen. (7)

There are about half a million people displaced in Somalia as a result of an invasion by Ethiopia, undertaken at the behest of the US government. This is a humanitarian disaster created by a US proxy. There is no Save Somalia Campaign. (8)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is a conflict provoked by the former intervention of US proxies Rwanda and Uganda that has led to the deaths of four million people since 1997. The 200,000 deaths in Darfur (80 percent from starvation and disease; 20 percent from violence) are dwarfed by the millions of deaths in DR Congo. But while there’s a Save Darfur campaign, there is no Save Congo campaign. (9)

The solution to Darfur

If UN intervention in Darfur isn’t a solution – and it isn’t — what is? While it sometimes seems that the UN is a neutral body that democratically decides how to resolve conflicts, that’s not what the UN really is. The UN, in all important respects, is the UN Security Council, a small group of mainly imperialist powers who do what imperialist countries do: try to divide the world up among themselves. The United States, the dominant member of the Security Council, has no interest in resolving the conflict in Darfur. It’s interested in establishing a permanent military presence to wrest control of Sudan’s oil from the Sudanese government. If the US can induce other countries to commit troops to carry out its objectives, so much the better. Bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, a UN military mission to secure the US goal of bringing Sudan under US domination is a welcome development in Washington.

It should be clear that the record of UN and NATO interventions is one in which small conflicts are turned into humanitarian disasters. Gordon Brown, the prime minister of Britain, says Darfur is the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster. There are 200,000 dead in Darfur but there are probably 600,000 dead in Iraq. There are four million refugees in Iraq and far fewer in Darfur. (10)

Liberal public intellectuals like Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard professor and now aspirant to the job of Canadian prime minister, said a war needed to be waged on Iraq because of what Saddam did to the Kurds. US military intervention under the authorization of the UN was supposed to deliver peace, prosperity, human rights and democracy between the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates. What it delivered was something far worse than when Saddam was around. (11)

The solution to Darfur is to stop pressuring the US government to intervene in Sudan and start pressuring the one rebel group that won’t sign a peace accord to do so. Khartoum has sat down with the rebel groups to work out a peace deal and one group has refused to even participate in the talks. Conflicts cannot be resolved if one side is uninterested in peace. Nor can they be resolved if powerful forces are using the conflicts as pretexts to invade and impose sanctions.

If pressure is imposed on the hold-out rebels to arrive at a peace with Khartoum, and peace ensues, what then? Will the activists who agitated for Western intervention in Darfur turn their attention to rescuing the Congo from its humanitarian crisis? Will grassroots pressure be brought to bear on Ethiopia to withdraw from Somalia? And what of Iraq? Will the same people who worked themselves up into high moral dudgeon over Darfur demand immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq? Shouldn’t they demand this first? After all, the dimensions of the Iraq disaster are worse than those of the Darfur disaster, and it is the activists’ own governments that have authored the larger disaster. One would think Americans and Britons would give priority to working for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, rather than channelling their energies into pressing the governments that lied about and created tragedies in Yugoslavia and Iraq to intervene in yet another oil-rich country. Activists have an obligation to understand the institutional patterns of behaviour of their own governments, to inquire into the forces that shape those patterns, and to prevent emotion from undermining reason and analysis. It does no good to allow our own governments and media to mobilize our energies to work on behalf of imperialist goals, while diverting us from projects that are legitimately in the interests of the bulk of humanity.

(1) Michael Parenti, To Kill a Nation, Verso, 2002; Elise Hugus, “Eight Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4.
(2) David Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, 2005.
(3) Nativdad Carrera, “U.S. imperialists increase efforts to recolonize Sudan,” Party for Socialism and Liberation, November 3, 2006, http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5949
(4) Parenti; Stephen Gowans, “Genocide or Veracicide: Will NATO’s Lying Ever Stop?” Swans, July 23, 2001, http://www.swans.com/library/art7/gowans02.html
(5) Stephen Gowans, “The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster,” What’s Left, August 1, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/the-unacknowledged-humanitarian-disaster/
(6) Stephen Gowans, “Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and the Politics of Naming,” What’s Left, July 9, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/07/09/ethiopia-zimbabwe-and-the-politics-of-naming/
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Ibid.
(10) The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster
(11) Stephen Gowans, “Ignatieff’s Mea Culpa,” What’s Left, August 5, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/08/05/ignatieff%e2%80%99s-mea-culpa/

Ignatieff’s mea culpa

Even in apologizing for backing the war, Ignatieff defends “imperialism lite”

By Stephen Gowans

Former Harvard professor and now Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff is admitting he made a mistake in backing the 2003 US invasion of Iraq (1). But not because the invasion was based on a fraud, but because the humanitarian goals he and others attributed to the invasion have not been achieved.

Ignatieff’s mea culpa comes on the heels of an Oxfam report that paints a grim and disturbing picture of an Iraq that has become a shocking charnel house, where four million are displaced, infrastructure remains in a shambles, and poverty is rampant. More than Darfur, Iraq is a humanitarian disaster; it is an acute embarrassment for those who plumbed for war on humanitarian grounds, promising the ouster of Saddam Hussein would usher in an era of peace, prosperity and the flowering of human rights between the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates.

That doesn’t mean that Igantieff is backing away from the doctrine of humanitarian intervention he and others championed to justify the “imperialism lite” that has wrought such misery in Iraq. On the contrary, his mea culpa is a defense of the thinly disguised justification for military imperialism left-liberal public intellectuals have promoted since Yugoslavia to elevate wars of conquest waged on behalf of the corporate elite to human rights crusades.

Ignatieff says his support for the war grew from the moment he “saw what Saddam Hussein did to the Kurds (2).” It was at that point he became convinced that Saddam Hussein had to go, and that a war to remove him could be justified on those grounds alone. Others, including Noam Chomsky, also believed the Iraqi leader was a menace whose forced removal from power would constitute a major gain for humanity, though, to be sure, not all of those who shared this view backed the war. With hundreds of thousands dead as a result of the invasion, and a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since WWII, one wonders how many of those who invested the war with moral gravitas by demonizing the Iraqi leader, regret their craven pandering to Washington’s propaganda requirements. I suspect few do.

That doesn’t mean, however, that a few soft-left public intellectuals are not squirming in embarrassment. Ignatieff, for one, can no longer leave unaddressed the uncomfortable gulf between the reality of what the invasion has created and the promises of the war’s ameliorative effects the humanitarian interventionists inveigled the public into accepting.

Ignatieff’s error, he says, was in letting his good intentions cloud his judgment. He didn’t realize it would be so difficult to hold Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites together without “Saddam’s terror” or that it would be impossible to build a “free state” on the foundations of “35 years of police terror.” What’s more, his revulsion at Saddam’s repression of the Kurds (apparently one he doesn’t feel for the Turk’s repression of the same people, at least not enough for him to plead for a war on Turkey on humanitarian grounds) left him blinded to the reality that just “because America defended human rights and freedom in Bosnia and Kosovo (didn’t mean) it had to be doing so in Iraq.”

Ignatieff’s mea culpa has enough references to “Saddam’s terror” to make plain he still regards the invasion as justifiable on moral grounds (as in, it’s all right to kill 600,000 to depose one man from power, especially when he keeps giving away all the oil concessions to the wrong countries.) Moreover, his claim that US intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo represented a defense of human rights and freedom genuflects to the myths upon which the doctrine of humanitarian intervention is built. Ignatieff isn’t apologizing for “imperialism lite”; he’s defending it.

The United States no more defended human rights and freedom in Bosnia and Kosovo than it is doing today in Iraq and Afghanistan, except for the rights of those who own income-producing property and the freedom of US corporations, banks and investors to secure profitable investments, i.e., rights that are against the interests of you and me but are dearly held by those who give Ignatieff high-profile academic posts, open the op-ed pages of the New York Times to him, and encourage him with money and advice in his bid to become Canada’s prime minister.

Ignatieff speaks the language of the bamboozler. It is enough, he knows, to invoke the terms human rights and freedom, without in any way indicating whose rights he’s talking about and what referent he’s pairing freedom with (free to achieve what or be free from what?) to get people to at least acquiesce to the idea of war. This, George Bush, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown also know. And so, in his mea culpa, human rights and freedom get star billing. Ignatieff wants us to believe his intentions, like those of America, were good; it’s just that his zeal to promote human rights and freedom kept him from seeing that Saddam had poisoned the soil in which the US government has so painstakingly tried to plant the seeds of democracy.

It’s impossible to take Ignatieff seriously. His self-appointed role is to justify the US ruling class’s naked pursuit of its class interests by dressing them up in the galvanizing language of humanitarianism to bring the rest of us onboard. His job is to enlist you and me to be the dupes who will sign up to fight in, promote, or acquiesce to, wars Bechtel, Exxon-Mobil, Lockheed-Martin, Chase Manhattan and scores of wealthy investors will profit from.

For this he is amply rewarded with high-profile academic positions, a pulpit in high-circulation establishment newspapers, and financial backing for his dalliances with electoral politics. Were he a German in Hitler’s Germany he would be on Goebbels’s payroll, putting a humanitarian gloss on the Fuehrer’s aggressions; in Mussolini’s Italy he would be demonizing Haile Selassie, pleading for an Abyssinian invasion; and in Tojo’s Japan, he would be calling for the invasion of China to liberate Asia from Western imperialism.

Like the sophists who hired out their forensic skills to the highest bidder, Igantieff is an intellectual whore who trades his credentials and skills of persuasion to shape public opinion in support of his patron’s wars for profits. His mea culpa is no apology; it is simply an attempt to save face now that the humanitarian disaster of Iraq has become an embarrassment that can no longer be ignored.

(1) Michael Ignatieff, “Getting Iraq Wrong”, The New York Times, August 5, 2007.
(2) Ignatieff’s deep feelings of humanitarian solidarity extend only to ethnic minorities whose plights Washington uses as a pretext to intervene in the affairs of other countries. Ignatieff feels sympathy for the Muslim community of Bosnia and ethnic Albanian Kosovars, but not for Palestinians or Lebanese. During the summer, 2006 Israel re-invasion of southern Lebanon, Ignatieff dismissed deaths of Lebanese civilians by Israeli forces as something “he wasn’t losing sleep over.” Globe and Mail, August 31, 2006.

Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and the Politics of Naming

By Stephen Gowans

When Africa scholar Mahmoud Mandani looks at the slaughter and displacement of civilians in Darfur he notices something odd. The mass death of civilians in Darfur has been called a genocide, but slaughters of civilians of similar magnitude in Iraq and on a larger scale in Congo have not.

According to the World Food Program, about 200,000 civilians have died in Darfur, 80 percent from starvation and disease, and 20 percent from violence. Close to 700,000 have been displaced(1). This, the US government, calls a genocide.

But 600,000 Iraqis have died since 2003 as a result of violence related to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq (2) and 3.7 million have either fled to neighboring countries or are internally displaced (3).

“I read about all sorts of violence against civilians,” says Mamdani, “and there are two places that I read about – one is Iraq, and one is Darfur … And I’m struck by the fact that the largest political movement against mass violence on US campuses is on Darfur and not on Iraq.” (4)

If Darfur is modest in comparison to Iraq, both are pipsqueeks compared to Congo. There, some four million civilians have been slaughtered over several years, largely as a result of intervention by US proxies, Uganda and Rwanda.

In Somalia, 460,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting sparked by a US-backed and assisted invasion by Ethiopia (5). That invasion was aimed at ousting the popularly-backed Islamic Courts Union, which had brought a measure of stability to Somalia. “In the six months the Islamic courts (governed Somalia), less than 20 people lost their lives through violence. Now, that many die in 10 minutes,” observes Hussein Adow, a Mogadishu businessman (6).

Why is there is a Save Darfur Campaign, but no Save Congo Campaign and no Save Somalia Campaign?

Mamdani says that people in the West don’t react to the mass slaughter of civilians but to the labels their governments and media attach to them.

“Genocide is being instrumentalized by … the United States,” he explains. “It is being instrumentalized in a way that mass slaughters which implicate its adversaries are being named as genocide and those which implicate its friends or its proxies are not being named as genocide.”

Mandani calls this “the politics of naming.”

The politics of naming isn’t limited to the question of which slaughters are named genocide and which aren’t. It applies too to the question of which regimes are called dictatorial, repressive and brutal (and so must be changed), and which are not (and so should be left in peace.)

Take the case of Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Tons of printer’s ink have been consumed by Western newspapers denouncing Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe. According to the Western narrative, he is as a dictator who steals elections, represses the opposition and cracks heads to stay in power.

But Mugabe’s government, in view of concerted efforts from outside and within to overthrow it, is remarkably restrained. Archbishop Pious Ncube, one of the government’s most vociferous critics, recently called on Zimbabwe’s former colonial master, Britain, to remove Mugabe through military means. “We should do it ourselves,” he added, “but there’s too much fear. I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing, but the people are not ready.” (7) (Imagine Noam Chomsky calling for a coalition of Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran and north Korea to invade the US to force Washington to end its occupation of Iraq. “I’m ready to lead the people, guns blazing,” he might say, “but the people are not ready.” How long would it be before Chomsky was hustled off to jail?)

Ncube isn’t the first government opponent to threaten a campaign of violence to oust Mugabe. And yet Ncube and others remain at liberty to call for sanctions, outside military intervention and insurrection to depose the government.

Ethiopia, on the other hand, is a cipher. It receives little coverage from the Western media, and even less attention from people who routinely denounce the Sudanese and Zimbabwean governments from the left.

That’s odd, for the Ethiopian government has all the flaws the Zimbabwean government is said to have that arouse so much moral indignation.

Ethiopia “jails it citizens without reason or trial, tortures many of them, and habitually violates its own laws.

“The government was … severely criticized for a 2005 crackdown in which tens of thousands of opposition members were jailed and nearly 200 people killed after elections in which the opposition made major gains.

“Ethiopian officials … have expelled many foreign journalists and representatives of human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.” (9)

Disputed elections, crackdowns on the opposition, expulsion of journalists: this resembles the charge sheet against Mugabe. So why isn’t Melawi as thoroughly excoriated as Mugabe is?

A July 9th Reuters’ report says, “Ethiopian prosecutors demanded the death penalty for 38 opposition officials convicted of trying to overthrow the government, treason and inciting violence.

“The officials were convicted last month of charges relating to violent protests over disputed elections in 2005 that the opposition says were rigged.

“Nearly 200 people were killed in clashes between protestors and security forces over the vote.

“Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he regretted the post-poll violence, but blamed it on opportunistic rioters and an opposition conspiracy to topple him by force.”

I read the Reuters’ article to a friend, but replaced Ethiopia with Zimbabwe and Zenawi with Mugabe. There seemed nothing out of the ordinary to her. And indeed, it’s likely that most people in the West would not have detected the deception. It meshes with the Western narrative on Zimbabwe. If you’ve been reading Western press accounts, you would expect Mugabe to round up the opposition (whose leaders have long threatened the violent overthrow of the government), charge them with treason, and seek their execution. But he hasn’t.

Had he, a storm of indignation would have swept the Western world. Yet Zenawi does the same, and no politician works himself up into high moral dudgeon, no calls are made for sanctions or Western military intervention, and no emergency meeting of the UN Security Council is convoked. Just a solitary Reuters’ dispatch. Why?

The answer is that Ethiopia is fully within Washington’s orbit, acting as a reliable proxy enforcing US geopolitical interests in the resource-rich Horn of Africa. Zimbabwe, by contrast, pursues the opposite tact, implementing policies that seek to free itself from Western domination and to frustrate US imperial designs on the continent.

Zimbabwe indigenizes its agriculture and economy; Ethiopia intervenes militarily in Somalia at the behest of Washington, to restore a US-puppet government.

Weeks before Ethiopia invaded Somalia, US General John P. Abizaid flew to Addis Ababa to arrange for Zenawi to unleash the US-trained Ethiopian military on Somalia. Washington even went so far as to shelter Ethiopia, whose military relies on equipment made in north Korea, from penalty for violating UN-sanctions against north Korean arms sales. Ethiopia needed to import replacement parts from north Korea if the invasion was to go ahead without a hitch. Washington, which championed the sanctions, said “go ahead.” (9)

Numberless people are being manipulated by Western governments and media, their outrage harnessed to achieve geopolitical goals that have nothing whatever to do with human rights and democracy, and everything to do with the question of who gets to control the oil spigot, mining concessions and vast tracts of fertile land.

Mamdani calls those caught up in the Save Darfur Campaign innocents. The same could be said of those caught up in the dump Mugabe campaign.

1. UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ estimate, cited in The Guardian, June 20, 2007.
2. Johns Hopkins study, published online by The Lancet, cited in The Guardian October 12, 2006.
3. UN High Commissioner for Refugees, cited in Workers World, February 15, 2007.
4. Interview with Mahmoud Mandani, Democracy Now! June 4, 2007.
5. According to the UN High Commission for Refugees (Guardian, June 20, 2007).
6. Quoted in the The London Times, cited in Party for Socialism and Liberation, July 3, 2007.
7. The Sunday Times, July 1, 2007.
8. The Globe and Mail, May 29, 2007.
9. The New York Times, April 8, 2007.

Will Sudan be Re-Colonized?

By Stephen Gowans

The United States is maneuvering to introduce a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur, as a first step to securing control of the region’s vast supply of oil. US control of Darfur’s petroleum resources would deliver highly profitable investment opportunities to US firms, and scuttle China’s investment in the region, thereby slowing the rise of a strategic competitor whose continued industrial growth depends on secure access to foreign oil. Washington is using highly exaggerated charges of genocide as a justification for a UN intervention it would dominate, while at the same time opposing a workable peacekeeping plan acceptable to the Sudanese government that would see the current African Union mission in Darfur expand.

While Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is often presented as obstinately opposing the introduction of peacekeepers into Darfur, Sudan has already accepted an AU force, urges the strengthening of the current AU mission, but opposes its replacement by Western troops. Bashir’s fear is that a Western military presence will become permanent, and that Sudan — the first country south of the Sahara to gain independence — will be the first country to be re-colonized.

His fears can’t be dismissed.

There is no shortage of turmoil in Darfur for Western trouble-makers to exploit. Conflicts over water and grazing land have raged for decades between sedentary farmers and nomadic tribes. And now there’s a new flashpoint: who will reap the benefits of the region’s new found oil resources?

In other places, the practice of the United States, Britain, Germany and other Western powers has been to inflame tensions within countries whose resources and cheap labor make them attractive targets for economic take-over, or whose public policies block or impose conditions on foreign investment and trade. The turmoil is often used as a pretext for intervention. While the real reasons for intervention are inextricably bound up with profit-making opportunities, the stated reasons are invariably presented as being related to selfless humanitarianism. This was as true of the Nazis, who said they were intervening militarily in countries across Europe to rescue oppressed German minorities and to save the continent from communism, as it is of the United States today, which, we’re expected to believe, can’t afford to provide healthcare to all its citizens, but can spend countless billions on wars to deliver democracy and freedom to non-citizens half way across the globe.

Consider Yugoslavia. There the United States and Germany encouraged secessionism, and then used the ensuing conflicts as justification to establish a permanent NATO military presence, followed by the sell-off of the dismembered federation’s publicly- and socially-owned assets. While the secessionist conflicts were real, the consequences were often grossly exaggerated to justify intervention on humanitarian grounds. The tens of thousands of bodies NATO spokesmen warned would be found scattered throughout Kosovo after the 1999 78-day NATO terror bombing campaign — like the weapons of mass destruction used to justify another war – were never found. Heaps of bodies thrown to the bottom of the Trepca mines, like Iraq’s banned weapons, were inventions.

True to form, Washington declares the conflict in Darfur to be a genocide (another invention), a finding that compels international action, but Washington quietly reveals its true motivations in an executive order to strengthen sanctions on Sudan, which cites “the pervasive role played by the government of Sudan in Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries.” Washington then declares Sudan’s control of Sudanese petroleum resources to be a threat to “U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”

Two realities suggest that it is US foreign policy interests (which is to say, the interests of the banks, corporations and hereditary capitalist families which dominate policy-making in Washington), and not genocide, that shapes US policy on Sudan.

First, while there has unquestionably been a large number of violent deaths in Darfur, there has never been a genocide. This is not to say that Khartoum isn’t guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. It may be just as securely ensconced in the club of war criminal countries as the US, Britain and Israel. But on the matter of genocide, the UN Commission on Darfur was quite clear: there has been no genocide in Darfur, notwithstanding Washington’s allegations. What there has been is a disproportionate response by Khartoum to attacks by rebel groups on police stations and government buildings, and while that response has targeted entire groups, it has not been aimed at eliminating them.

The response of the public in the West – one based on uncritical acceptance of the genocide alarm raised by a notoriously untruthful Bush administration – speaks volumes about the power of Western governments, the media and ruling class foundations and think-tanks to selectively galvanize support for interventions in some countries, while effacing all recognition of comparable or greater levels of violent conflict and avoidable tragedy elsewhere. The number of violent deaths in Darfur (in the hundreds of thousands) is modest by the standards of other African conflicts. Fighting has claimed four million lives in the Congo since 1998. Were there ever Save Congo marches, as there were Save Darfur marches worldwide last September? Some 600,000 Iraqis are dead as a result of the US and British invasion of Iraq. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 3.7 million Iraqis are displaced, the largest refugee crisis since 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from ex-Mandate Palestine by Zionist forces in 1948. There will be no US or British-sponsored Save Iraq or al-Awda campaigns.

Second, Washington has systematically undermined the peacekeeping efforts of the African Union in Darfur. The AU force was raised by funds provided by the US and EU. Washington and the Europeans had struck a deal with the African Union a decade ago to underwrite interventions in the continent’s hot spots by African troops, but their promises have never been completely delivered upon. Midway through 2006, Washington announced funding would be withdrawn for the AU force in Darfur and that a stronger UN force needed to take its place. The AU force, it was lamented, had too few troops to be effective. A stronger UN force was needed. But if so, why had the US and EU not spent the money necessary to maintain an effective AU force in the first place? And why not spend the money that would go to building a larger UN force on strengthening the existing AU force? This would be acceptable to the Sudanese government. It’s happy to endorse a bulked-up AU force, but is frightened a UN force, made up of Western troops, will be used to bring about regime change and force Sudan back under a Western colonial heel.

A chess match is now been played out between pro-intervention members of the Security Council (the US and Britain), those opposed (China), and Khartoum, whose approval is required before UN troops can be deployed. From Khartoum’s and China’s point of view, an outright rejection of a UN mission is undesirable because it could hand Washington and London a pretext to assemble a coalition of the willing to invade Sudan. Both countries, then, have an interest in compromising on a UN peacekeeping mission, so long as it is held in check by significant AU participation. The US and Britain, on the other hand, are angling to give UN authorities as much influence as possible. These considerations can be seen in a tentative June 12 deal which would see the creation of a new peacekeeping force made up mostly of African troops, with an AU commander given operational authority, while overall authority resides with the UN. The AU commander would make decisions on the ground but UN authorities could over-ride his decisions if they disagreed. Considering the US’s history of trying to change the Sudanese government, its defining of Sudanese state control of the oil industry as a threat to US foreign policy interests, and its strategic interest in sabotaging China’s access to Darfur’s oil, it would not be long before the UN found a reason to disagree with the AU commander’s decision, and assumed full control of the mission.

There is indeed a very real risk that Sudan could be brought back under Western colonial domination, with a UN peacekeeping force setting the stage. The ideology of humanitarian intervention will, as has always been the case when imperialist powers seek to use force to advance the interests of their economic elites, provide the pretext.