Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plans and MoveOn

By Stephen Gowans

Michael D. Yates wrote an MRZine article accusing Fox and CNN journalists, and Michael Steele, the first black person to be selected to chair the Republican National Committee, of being complete boneheads. That Yates chose MRZine as his vehicle for launching a diatribe against the intellectual failings of the likes of Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer means he must have been looking for an easy sell. He might as well have told Palestinians that Zionists are not their friends.

Everyone on the Left knows there are plenty of right-wing morons, but rarely acknowledged is the plenitude of liberal morons. Progressives, for obvious reasons, don’t talk about them, though liberal morons are no less deserving of invective than Dobbs, Blitzer and Steele are.

Consider, for example, Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org. MoveOn.org, to quote directly from Sourcewatch.org,

“is a web-based liberal advocacy organization that raises tens of millions of dollars for Democratic Party politicians and causes from the millions of people on its e-mail list. MoveOn funds or sponsors with other liberal advocacy organizations various coalitions such as Americans Against Escalation in Iraq (AAEI), SavetheInternet.com Coalition, and Win Without War. It endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic Party primaries, fundraised and organized for him, and has become perhaps the lead lobby organization for his policies in 2009, apart from Obama’s own Organizing for America.”

My evidence for Ruben’s gobsmacking stupidity lies in the following four paragraphs from the New York Times of February 26. Discussing President Obama’s plans for “withdrawal” from Iraq, Times’ reporters Peter Baker and Thom Shanker note that “Even after August 2010 (the target date for withdrawal) as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops now in Iraq would remain.”

MoveOn's Justin Ruben: Complete nitwit or complicit in Obama's deception on Iraq troop withdrawal or both?
MoveOn's Justin Ruben: Complete nitwit or complict in Obama's deception on Iraq troop withdrawal or both?

Obama says he intends to withdraw the remaining 50,000 “by 2011 in accordance with a strategic agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush before he left office,” (1) but has carefully chosen his words “to avoid a firm commitment.” (2) Intending to withdraw is different from committing to withdraw, and is reminiscent of the Bush administration’s talk of aspirational goals, as in: I aspire to do something, but that doesn’t mean I will.

Obama, the February 26 New York Times article continued,“plans to seek more money for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from a separate fund outside the Pentagon’s base budget, which will also grow beyond the 2009 spending plan of $513 billion. The separate ‘war costs’ budget proposal for 2010 could reach $130 billion to $140 billion, officials said.”

These are hardly the actions of a president preparing to wind down the war, but are entirely in keeping with the actions of a president whose country is structurally compelled to pursue an aggressive foreign policy.

“Word of Mr. Obama’s impending decision generated little of the anger that has flavored the Iraq debate for years,” The New York Times’ reporters noted. “Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, a group that has strongly opposed the war, said activists were willing to give Mr. Obama the benefit of the doubt.”

“’People have confidence that the president is committed to ending the war’,” Mr. Ruben said. “’This is basically what he promised in the election.’”

What Obama promised and what people think he promised are not often the same. But even in the face of Obama acting against what people thought he promised, morons like Ruben are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. In the divide between those selling you a bill of goods, and those being suckered, Obama sits on one side and Ruben on the other. Or is Ruben on Obama’s side? Is he the confederate who shouts from the crowd, “I’ll take ten of those,” after the snake oil salesman finishes his spiel on his amazing elixir that cures cancer, heart disease, flagging libido and the fleas?

It should be noted that plans for a stay-behind-force of around 50,000 troops were in the works under the Bush administration — another brick in the wall of evidence showing there are no foreign policy discontinuities of significance between Republican and Democrat administrations. Regime change in Iraq was official policy under the Clinton administration and the permanent military occupation of Iraq is as much a fixture of Obama’s foreign policy as it was of Bush’s. Indeed, that Obama has chosen to retain the Bush team’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates (who has served under seven previous presidents (3)) and Generals Petraeus and Odierno, shows he has not only “decided not to challenge the fundamental strategic orientation” of the Bush administration, but that he has chosen not to break to with the US policy of permanent military aggression. Obama’s carry-overs from the Bush administration will “oversee and manage the Iraq occupation” and “the widening U.S war in Afghanistan and the aerial assaults on Pakistan.” (4) Nothing has changed.

That Obama is carrying on in the traditions of previous US presidents should come as no surprise. What matters are not the personnel in Washington, and whether the president is black, brown, yellow, red, white, liberal or conservative, but the systemic imperatives that structure US policy and the interests of the corporate class whose wealth and connections are used to place people with the right politics in senior state positions.

1. Peter Baker, “With pledges to troops and Iraqis, Obama details pullout,” The New York Times, February 28, 2009.

2. ANSWER coalition response to President Obama’s Iraq Speech of Friday, February 27.

3. “Iraq: Will Obama’s ‘change’ be more of the same?” Proletarian, Issue 28 (February 2009)

4. ANSWER coalition response

Spielberg: Chauvinist in humanitarian drag

By Stephen Gowans

Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has withdrawn as artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing because China has failed to pressure Sudan to end the war in Darfur.

China is developing oil fields in the embattled region of Sudan and Spielberg wants Beijing to use its clout to end the insurgency in the west of the country.

Arguing that “Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility” for the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, Spielberg blames China for failing to do “more to end the continuing human suffering there.” (1)

“China’s economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change,” Spielberg says. (2)

But while Spielberg wants China to use its influence in Khartoum, he has released no statements, of which I’m aware, to press Washington to use its influence to end the larger humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia and Iraq, both of which are directly attributable to the actions of his own country, and therefore should be well within the grasp of the US government to end.

China’s ability to end the Darfur conflict, however, is a far more uncertain matter.

Three of the five rebel groups fighting Sudanese forces in Darfur are unwilling to negotiate a peace, according to the UN’s special envoy to Darfur, Jan Eliasson. (3) This makes it difficult for Khartoum, let alone China, to bring an end to the conflict, unless ending the conflict means Khartoum capitulating and handing Darfur and its oil assets to the rebels and their Western backers. This, of course, would suit strategists in the US State Department, to say nothing of the US oil industry.

By comparison, ending the much larger humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia (with 850,000 displaced, Somalia has been called Africa’s largest and most ignored catastrophe) and Iraq (four million refugees and hundreds of thousands dead as a result of the US invasion) is directly within the capability of Washington. (4)

The US simply has to order Ethiopia, which it directed to illegally invade Somalia in December 2006, to withdraw. (5) If the Ethiopians balk, cutting off the rich flow of military aid Washington rewards the Meles regime with, will exert needed pressure. (6)

As regards the tragedy of Iraq, there can be no greater ameliorative act than immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. Withdrawal should occasion no fear of touching off a full-scale civil war. The Pentagon’s own research shows that Iraqis attribute sectarian tensions to the US military presence and ardently wish to see the Americans leave. (7) If a civil war were to ensue, it could hardly be worse than the suffering the US continues to visit upon Iraq in lost lives, mangled bodies, rampant disease, hunger and homelessness – far in excess of the tragedy in Darfur.

If China’s ties to the government of Sudan provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change, doesn’t Spielberg’s visibility, and his status as a US citizen, provide him with the opportunity and obligation to press for change where his own government has created far greater human suffering?

In the fall of 2002, Spielberg said he “could not not support” the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq (8). Today, he seeks to embarrass China over Sudan, another oil-rich country Washington seeks regime change in. And as far a Spielberg is concerned, the US-authored humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia and Iraq are best ignored. Are these the actions of a humanitarian, or of a chauvinist whose concern for the suffering of others stops at the door of, and indeed caters to, US ruling class interests?

(1) New York Times, February 13, 2008.
(2) Ibid.
(3) New York Times, February 8, 2008.
(4) Displacement of Somalis, Washington Post, November 14, 2007; Iraqi refugees, The Independent (UK), July 30, 2007. There are a number of estimates of deaths in Iraq due to the US invasion: The Iraqi Body Count, 47,668; World Health Organization, 151,000; Johns Hopkins, 600,000; British polling firm ORB, 1.2 million (mid-range estimates.)
(5) US General John Abizaid visited the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in November, 2006. Ethiopia invaded Somalia the next month. “The US provided key intelligence from spy satellites…CIA agents traveled with the Ethiopian troops, helping direct operations…US forces have carried out at least four attacks inside the country in the past 12 months.” The Independent (UK), February 9, 2008.
(6) Stephen Gowans, “Looking for Evil in all the Wrong Places,” http://www.gowans.wordpress.com, November 20, 2007, https://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/looking-for-evil-in-all-the-wrong-places/
(7) Washington Post, December 19, 2007.
(8) In September 2002, Spielberg pledged support for the gathering US war on Iraq. “Film director Spielberg lines up with Bush war drive,” WSWS, October 3, 2002, http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/oct2002/spie-o03.shtml

Divide et Impera

The US is using a hoary imperial tactic dating back to the Romans to dominate Iraq and to justify a long-term military presence in the country

By Stephen Gowans

A US-financed program to build a Sunni paramilitary Guardian organization in Iraq, and US proposals for a soft partition of the country, are the latest steps in a divide and rule strategy the US is pursuing to keep Iraqis fighting among themselves so they won’t fight the occupation. Sectarian strife also provides the US with the pretext it needs to establish a long-term military presence in the country.

The US occupation authority has made ethnicity and religion salient in Iraq, where once it was a matter of little moment in the daily political lives of Iraqis. The US organized elections and the army along sectarian lines. It decided which parties could run in elections, favoring those that emphasized religious affiliations (Sunni vs. Shia) and ethnicity (Arab vs. Kurd), while banning the largest non-sectarian party, the Baath party. Key government positions were doled out along sectarian lines. The interior ministry was turned over to the Badr Brigade, a sectarian Shia paramilitary organization. From head to toe, Iraq has been transformed from a secular society into one in which religious and ethnic identity matter. Imagine the Department of Homeland Security being turned over to the KKK, the Pentagon to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, while the Democrat and Republican parties are banned and replaced by religious and ethnic parties. If ever there was a recipe to get people fighting among themselves, this is it.

The most recent manifestation of the US divide and rule policy is a program to create a Sunni paramilitary Guardian force whose mandate is to protect Sunni neighborhoods (1). Imagine Washington creating a Black paramilitary Guardian force, a White paramilitary Guardian force, and a Hispanic paramilitary Guardian force in the US. The effect in sparking racial tension would be the same.

Now, some US policy makers are talking about partitioning Iraq into Kurd, Sunni and Shia regions. Leading advocates include senior politicians and US ruling class foundations. Joseph Biden, chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee and a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination endorses “soft” partition, as does Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the influential Council on Foreign Relations (2). Last year, the two put together the Biden-Gelb plan, which calls for a “soft” partition of Iraq. Soft partition would see Iraq divided into three distinct ethno-religious regions: Kurdistan, Shiastan and Sunnistan, held together by a weak federal government.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, argues the “time may be approaching when the only hope for a more stable Iraq is soft partition (3).” The Brookings Institution, associated with the Rockefellers, is one of the most influential US ruling class policy-making organizations.

Western politicians portray Iraq as a country whose simmering sectarian tensions were held in check by the brutal repression of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni who ruled on behalf of the Sunni population and its political vehicle, the Baath party. It’s only now that Mr. Hussein’s tyranical rule has ended that sectarian conflict has slipped its restraints and come to the surface. At least, that’s the favored US view. Trouble is, it’s a crock of shit. When “the Committee of Debaathification issued a list of 100,000 senior Iraqi Baathists who would not be allowed to enjoy government posts,” 66,000 of them turned out to be Shiites (4). And anyone who cared to check the deck of cards used to list the 55 top Iraqi officials the US invasion force wanted dead or alive, would discover that half were Shiite, and the remainder a mix of Sunnis, Christians and Kurds (5).

The former Ottoman territory that is now Iraq was governed as a single territory before 1880. The three provinces that were pieced together in 1921 to form modern Iraq had no “clear sectarian identities (6).” “For much of Iraq’s history, the two communities (Shia and Sunni) co-existed peacefully (7).”

Partitioning the country would be no mean feat. “The geographic boundaries do not run toward partition. There is no Sunnistan or Shiastan.” On the contrary, conditions are “highly commingled” with people “totally intermixed, especially in the major cities (8).” Five million Iraqis would have to be moved were the country to be divided into homogeneous ethno-religious slices (9).

More importantly, most Iraqis don’t want their country partitioned. “Apart from the Kurds in the north, there is no unanimous, popular demand for federalism or soft partition or any partition at all (10).”

The 1920 Revolution Brigades, one of three resistance groups to form the political office of the Iraqi resistance, rejects the idea of a sectarian division in Iraq. “Our position,” says its spokesman, “is that there are two kinds of people in Iraq: not Sunni and Shia, Kurdish and Arab, Muslim and Christian, but those who are with the occupation and those who are against it (11).” Sectarian divisions in Iraq have been amplified, he says, “as part of the ‘British imperial tactic of divide and rule (12).’”

The British employed the Roman principle of divide et impera to enslave colonial peoples. The US has taken up the tradition. “Our endeavour,” remarked Lieutenant-Colonel Coke, Commandant of Moradabad during the middle of the nineteenth century, “should be to uphold in full force the (for us fortunate) separation which exists between the different religions and races, not to endeavour to amalgamate them. Divide et impera should be the principle of Indian government (13).” Lord Elphinstone, Governer of Bombay, seconded the motion. “Divide et impera was the old Romon motto, and it should be ours (14).”

Adumbrating US imperial tactics in Iraq, the British devised a system of separate electorates in India and separate representation by religion, caste and ethnicity. Sound familiar? “The effect of this electoral policy,” observed one commentator, was “to give the sharpest possible stimulus to communal antagonism (15).” Prior to British rule in India there was no trace of the type of Hindu-Muslim conflict that later emerged under British rule (16).

“There is no natural inevitable difficulty from the cohabiting of differing races or religions in one country (17).” Mulsim and Hindu lived side-by-side peacefully until the British arrived in India; Sunni and Shiite commingled peacefully before the US imposed its occupation on the country. “The difficulties arise from social-political conditions. They arise, in particular, whenever a reactionary regime is endeavouring to maintain itself against the popular movement (18).”

In the USSR, diverse religions and races lived together amicably. Germans and Jews lived together peacefully under Germany’s Weimar Republic. It wasn’t until the Nazis emphasized national identity to weaken growing working class consciousness that systematic persecution of Jews began.

The strategy is simple. The last thing an occupying power wants is for the people it’s dominating to recognize their common situation and interests. Were they to do that, they might mobilize their energies to fight their common enemy. So occupied countries are organized by their occupiers along color, religious and ethnic fault-lines. Iraqis mustn’t think of themselves as Iraqis, but as Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, locked in a struggle with each other for access to resources.

The same is true within imperialist countries. People who work for a living mustn’t identify with their class, but with their ethnic, religious or racial cohorts, or must be imbued with patriotism, so that they equate their personal interests with those of their ruling class. In this way, Americans and Britons who have nothing to gain personally from their country’s occupation of Iraq, and much to lose, are bamboozled into supporting the war. Likewise, employees who have much to gain from coming together as a class are diverted by racism, religion and patriotism.

Another thing the US divide et impera tactic provides is an excuse to maintain a military presence in Iraq, and therefore, the continued domination of Iraq by Washington. For liberals, the argument that the US can’t leave Iraq now, otherwise a full-scale civil war will erupt, is decisive. But what this view ignores is that the possibility of a full-scale civil war is the product of the occupation itself. Had the US not fomented ethnic and religious divisions, the possibility of a civil war would never have arisen. On the other hand, were the US to cease efforts to pit Iraqi against Iraqi, the occupation – already greatly challenged by the resistance, despite US divide and rule tactics – would surely be defeated, an outcome the US will never willingly consent to. Soft partition, then, seems to those seeking both sectarian peace and US withdrawal, to be the answer. But slicing the country up into Sunnistan, Shiastan and Kurdistan, won’t set the stage for a US pull-out. On the contrary, “senior military planners caution that should partition become American policy, withdrawal almost certainly wouldn’t. Partition would require a stabilization force – code for American military presence – of 75,000 to 100,000 troops for years to come (19).” Heads I win, tails you lose. No matter what, the US figures to be hanging around Iraq for a long time, using sectarian tensions as the justification for its ongoing presence. What will foil these plans are non-sectarian groups, like the 1920 Revolution Brigades, that recognize there are only two kinds of people in Iraq: those who are with the occupation and those who are against it.

1. New York Times, August 19, 2007.
2. The CFR brings together CEOs, government and military officials and scholars, to recommend policy to the US State Department. The policy recommendations are typically responses to problems identified in corporate boardrooms, or exclusive clubs catering to the ultra-wealthy. The State Department relies on very little internal expertise, and uses the ruling class funded, directed and staffed think tanks and foundations to suggest policy. The CFR is the most important and influential of these organizations in matters of US foreign relations. See G. William Dumhoff, Who Rules America? McGraw-Hill, 2005.
3. New York Times, August 19, 2007.
4. Workers World, February 11, 2007.
5. Ibid.
6. Reidar Visser, who studies Iraq’s sectarian issues at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, quoted in New York Times, August19, 2007.
7. New York Times, March 26, 2006.
8. Joost Hilterman, deputy director of Middle East programs for the International Crisis Group, quoted in New York Times, August 19, 2007.
9. New York Times, August 19, 2007.
10. Hilterman.
11. Guardian (UK), July 19, 2007.
12. Ibid.
13. R. Palme Dutt, The Problem of India, International Publishers, New York, 1943, p. 98.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., p. 101.
16. Ibid. p. 97.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. New York Times, August 19, 2007.

Update

According to a December 19, 2007 Washington Post article (All Iraqi Groups Blame U.S. Invasion for Discord, Study Shows) “Iraqis of all sectarian and ethnic groups believe that the U.S. military invasion is the primary root of the violent differences among them, and see the departure of ‘occupying forces’ as the key to national reconciliation, according to focus groups conducted for the U.S. military last month.”

“D3 Systems, a Virginia-based company that maintains offices in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces…showed [in a survey conducted in September] the same widespread Iraqi belief voiced by military focus groups: that a US departure will make things better. A State Department poll in September 2006 reported a similar finding.”

“Few [focus group participants] mentioned Saddam Hussein as a cause of their problems.”

Film-makers Steve Connors and Molly Bingham spent five months with resistance fighters in Iraq, from April to August 2003. They discovered that “the idea that has recently become common currency, that Iraq is a country riven by ancient sectarian hatreds, is a claim for which [they] found little evidence…Indeed, the research [they did for their documentary film Meeting Resistance] indicates that any existing fissures in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion were exploited and exacerbated by coalition forces and administrators in order to enable the success of the occupation.”

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.

The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster

By Stephen Gowans

In a speech before the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the conflict in Darfur “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today.” (1)

Britain, along with the United States and other Western countries, have been pushing Sudan to accept a beefed up contingent of peacekeepers in Darfur. The new mission, which will operate under UN command, will replace the current African Union mission.

The AU mission represented a compromise between African nations and the West.

“The Americans and Europeans promised…that as long as the Africans deployed in these kinds of situations, (they) would pay for the soldiers and equip them.” (2)

That suited the Sudanese government, which feared the West would use a UN peacekeeping mission to re-colonize Sudan.

But Washington wasn’t pleased. The Bush administration complained of “the pervasive role played by the government of Sudan in Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries,” describing Khartoum’s stewardship of the country’s oil resources as a threat to “U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.” (3)

Western financial support for the AU mission began to dry up. Soon after, Washington started to call for a UN force, arguing that the (underfinanced) AU mission was too small and too underequiped to be effective.

After months of pressure, cajoling and threats from Washington, the UN Security Council finally gave Washington want it wanted. It authorized the deployment of 26,000 soldiers and police to Darfur under UN, not AU, command.

Brown’s describing the conflict in Darfur as “the greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today” was intended to raise support for the new UN mission.

But is Darfur really the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster?

Not by a long shot. There are many humanitarian disasters, but few are as great as one Brown’s own government shares a large part in creating: Iraq.

“Iraq’s civilians are suffering from a denial of fundamental human rights in the form of chronic poverty, malnutrition, illness, lack of access to basic services, and destruction of homes, vital facilities, and infrastructure, as well as injury and death,” (4) reported Oxfam International just days before Brown declared Darfur the world’s principal humanitarian disaster.

Eight million Iraqis – one-third of the population – “are in urgent need of water, sanitation, food and shelter.” Seven in 10 do not have adequate access to potable water, up from 50 percent in 2003, when US and British forces invaded on fraudulent grounds. More than one-quarter of children are malnourished, up from 19 percent in 2003. (5)

It’s unclear how many people have been displaced by fighting in Darfur. The UN says 686,000. (6) Other estimates reach as high as 2.5 million. While these figures are alarming, they’re not as alarming as the figures for Iraq. Some four million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US and Britain invaded, the greatest refugee crisis in the Middle East ever, topping the Nakbah of 1948 and as great as the refugee crises of WWII Europe.

An estimated 200,000 have died in Darfur, most from malnutrition. But in Iraq, a 2006 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study estimated there had been between 426,000 and 794,000 excess civilian deaths since the start of the invasion in 2003. (7) Considering there were 150,000 civilian deaths as a result of the Gulf War, 1.5 million deaths as a result of 13 years of sanctions, and somewhere in the order of 650,000 deaths as a result of the latest Anglo-American war on Iraq, the total death toll reaches as high as 2.3 million.

The US and Britain are the authors of this unacknowledged disaster – a disaster on a greater scale than the one that bedevils Darfur. Who, but the truly naïve, would believe a UN Security Council dominated by the US and Britain can solve – or indeed, is even genuinely interested in solving — the crisis in Darfur?

(1) New York Times, August 1, 2007.
(2) John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, Washington Post, May 12, 2007.
(3) Cited in Nativdad Carrera, “U.S. imperialists increase efforts to recolonize Sudan,” Party for Socialism and Liberation, November 3, 2006.
(4) The Washington Post, July 31, 2007.
(5) The Independent, July 30, 2007.
(6) Guardian, June 23, 2007.
(7) New York Times, October 11, 2006.