The Real Cause of the War in Ukraine: Capitalism

“Capitalism can pursue no other policy than that of imperialism.” Rudolph Hilferding

“Imperialism is the reproduction of capitalist competition on a larger scale.” Nikolai Bukharin

By Stephen Gowans

June 18, 2022

Blaming the war in Ukraine on Russian aggression or, alternatively, NATO provocations, represents a failure to understand capitalist imperialism as a system of rivalry among states for economic advantage. Imperialism is not what Russia alone does, or only what the United States and its janissaries do, but is, instead, a system in which all capitalist powers and blocs are enmeshed. It is not a policy choice, but the inevitable outcome of rivalry among states that originates in the expansionary imperatives of capitalism. To borrow from Lenin, capitalist imperialism is “the struggle for the sources of raw materials, for the export of capital, for spheres of influence, i.e., for spheres for profitable deals, concessions, monopolist profits, and so on, in fine, for economic territory in general.” [1] Blame for wars that spring from this system cannot be assigned to only one state or alliance. The blame lies with capitalism itself. Capitalism inevitably creates antagonisms among states, and the antagonisms can, and often do, escalate to war.

The historian William Appleman Williams explained this well.

The issue is not whether capitalism is a unique cause of war. It is not. The causes of war, including the economic ones, operate within capitalism just as they have within other systems of political economy. It does seem demonstrable, however, that capitalism heightens and intensifies the role and impact of economic factors in causing wars. The essential dynamic engine of capitalism, after all, is held to be a never-ending economic competition within a world marketplace. … the competition has an inherent tendency to escalate into political tension and conflict, and that exacerbates and reinforces other causes of such contention. For this reason, capitalism reveals a strong propensity to produce or result in organized violence … [The] capitalist outlook structures the world in such a way that capitalist leadership often sees itself as being confronted with a choice between war or defeat in the competitive marketplace. [2]

Assigning blame for war to one bloc or state, rather than to the internal workings of capitalism, was denounced by all leading Bolsheviks, and much later, by Domenico Losurdo, who faulted the historian Fritz Fischer for blaming WWI on Germany alone. Losurdo wrote: “Fritz Fischer’s weighty monograph, [Germany’s Aims in the First World War] published in the early 1960s, makes the mistake of always defining imperialism in the singular, as if the German variety alone were operative.” [3] In a similar vein, we can fault many contemporary Marxists and anti-imperialists for making Fischer’s mistake of always defining imperialism in the singular, in this case, as if the US variety alone is operative.

Lenin wrote of one imperialist war, WWI, as “the natural continuation of the policies of the capitalist class and of the governments of all countries” (emphasis added). [4]  Commenting on the same war, Lenin’s colleagues, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, contended that “Undisputedly, the game of grab played by all the great powers was the real cause of the war. Only an idiot can continue to believe that the war took place because the Serbs killed the Austrian crown prince or because the Germans invaded Belgium” (emphasis added). [5]

They continued:

“The German capitalists maintained that Russia was the aggressor, whereas the Russians proclaimed everywhere that Germany began it. In Britain word went round that the British had entered the struggle on behalf of ‘gallant little Belgium.’ In France, everyone was writing, screaming, and singing to prove how gloriously France was behaving in defense of the heroic Belgian nation. Simultaneously in Austria and Germany it was being trumpeted that these two countries were repelling a Cossack invasion and were waging a purely defensive war.” [6]

“This “was all nonsense,” declared the two Bolsheviks, “a fraud.” [7] In truth, they said, “The essence of the imperialist war was … that in it, all were aggressors” (emphasis added). [8] That’s because the “essential desire of every one of the financial capitalist [States] is to dominate the world; to establish a world empire, wherein the small group of capitalists belonging to the victorious nations shall hold undivided sway” (emphasis added). [9] “In this manner,” Bukharin and Preobrazhensky argued, “the reign of financial capital must inevitably hurl all mankind into the bloody abyss of war for the benefit of bankers and [billionaires]; a war which is not for a people’s own land but for the plunder of other lands; a war that is waged in order that the world be subjugated by the financial capital of the conquering country.” [10]

It’s a surprise, then, to find that a Communist-led organization should make the same error the Bolsheviks and Losurdo condemned.  “The West – driven by the imperialist ambitions of the United States and its NATO allies … provoked the actions of the Russian government,” declares the Canadian Peace Congress. [11] This is no different from saying, Germany, driven by imperialist ambitions, provoked the actions of the Entente. In a prize fight, the fighter who lands the first blow has not—driven by his ambition to win the fight—provoked the actions of his opponent. If we want to understand prize fighting, we have to understand it as an institution, as a system of rivalry in which the actors seek the same prize at the expense of their rivals. The same is true of capitalism on a world stage.  

In concert with the Peace Congress’s attempt to identify the guiltier party, a recent online discussion panel, sponsored by the Toronto Association for Peace and Solidarity [12], also promoted an erroneous understanding of imperialism. Rather than locating the root cause of the war in rivalry among states driven by capitalist compulsions, it focused, in a climate of febrile attention to the war on Ukraine, exclusively on NATO, as if a war that is at the fore of public awareness can be understood in the motivations of one belligerent alone, or that the central problem is NATO (just one of many instruments of imperialism) rather than the capitalism-driven system of rivalry itself.

One cannot help but think that were the Bolshevik intellectuals transported across time to the present, they would, contrary to the approach of the Peace Congress, take a whole-system perspective, examining the role of capitalism and its imperatives in creating multiple antagonisms among the United States and its NATO alliance, the EU, Russia, and Ukraine. 

The Canadian Peace Congress tries to explain the war in Ukraine as an outcome of the United States’ “imperialist ambitions,” but says nothing about the source of these ambitions (where do they come from?) and nothing about the imperialist ambitions of Russia (as if Russia, a country as thoroughly capitalist as any of those of the NATO alliance, is somehow immune to ambitions to defend and expand its economic territory.) That’s odd, considering the Congress is Communist-led. You might expect Communists to point out that:

  • Imperialist ambitions arise inevitably from the internal workings of capitalism.
  • Capitalism compels business people to nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, and set up connections everywhere, as the Communist Manifesto explained, which means that capitalists from various countries are always bumping up against each other in pursuit of the same profit-making opportunities in the world market.
  • The compulsive drive for markets, investment opportunities, and raw materials creates antagonisms among states.
  • Capitalism is a danger because it incubates imperialist ambitions that conduce to war.
  • Blame for capitalism-driven war lies, not in the actions of a single belligerent state or bloc, but in capitalism itself.
  • Ending the seemingly interminable succession of capitalism-driven wars will only happen when, as Lenin put it, “the class which is conducting the imperialist war, and is bound to it by millions of economic threads (and even ropes), is really overthrown and is replaced at the helm of state by the really revolutionary class, the proletariat” (emphasis in the original).[13]
  • These wars won’t be ended by cheering on one or more of the contestants, hoping that in the struggle for the world market one side grows stronger and the other weaker, as the apostles of multipolarity do today.

Instead of a communist, or class, analysis of the war in Ukraine we have been presented, not only by the Canadian Peace Congress, but by many groups and people who present themselves as Marxist-Leninists, with a Fritz Fischer-like perspective—one that makes the mistake of always defining imperialism in the singular, as if the US variety alone or the Russian variety alone is operative. This perspective transforms the meaning of imperialism from a system of rivalry for markets, raw materials, investment opportunities, and strategic territory into a denunciatory label to be attached to whichever bourgeois power one happens to dislike. 

Similarly indefensible and often sophistical arguments are presented by soi-disant Marxist-Leninists to justify departures from class analyses.

For example, some say that while they recognize all parties to the war in Ukraine to be aggressors, they reserve their condemnation for their own country’s government because it is the only one over which they can exert some influence. There are two problems with this argument.

First, people can, and have, exerted influence over foreign governments. The movements to pressure South Africa to abandon apartheid, and the similar BDS movement aimed at apartheid Israel, represent such efforts. The worldwide demonstrations for peace in the lead-up to the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, were also efforts to influence what, for most of the participants, was a foreign government: that of the United States. Those who refuse to condemn Russia on the grounds that it is a foreign country over which they have no control, have had no reservations in the past about condemning the United States, Israel, and South Africa, and seeking to alter these countries’ courses of action. The argument they make to justify their silence on Russia, therefore, lacks credibility.

Second, even if it were true that no pressure can be exerted on foreign governments, it does not follow that this binds one to omerta, a code of silence on the actions of foreign governments. The related argument that one’s main duty is to oppose one’s own government fails for the same reason; opposing one’s own government is not equal to refusing to acknowledge that other states, also enmeshed in a system of rivalry for markets, investment opportunities, and strategic territory, also behave, as a consequence, in repugnant ways. What’s on trial, or ought to be, is not the United States or Russia, but imperialism, a system of rivalry in which all states under the sway of capitalism (including China) are ensconced. As much as I can walk and talk at the same time, so too can I condemn Russia for its aggression in Ukraine and oppose my own government’s contributions to the war, while at the same time locating the source of their imperialist ambitions and belligerent actions in the systemic imperatives and logic of capitalism.

Others say they fault all belligerents, but refuse to cite Russia’s aggression for fear of adding to the weight of pro-war sentiment in their own country. This view is problematic. Failing to acknowledge Russia’s aggression when it has been visibly brought to the public’s attention, in no way challenges one’s own government’s arguments for war or makes the argument against war any stronger. It does, however, guarantee that, in failing to acknowledge the obvious, building credibility with the larger public becomes unnecessarily difficult. It seems far more likely that a public, in Europe anyway, that already sees Russia as an aggressor, but favors a rapid end to the war and opposes military build-ups [13], will be more receptive to an argument that acknowledges the apodictic reality of Russian aggression. A sounder approach to refusing to acknowledge Russia’s belligerent actions, or worse, to defend or excuse them, is to argue thus: Russia’s attempt to retain Ukraine within its sphere of influence by war is indefensible, but at the same time, so too are the actions of the United States and its allies, to draw Ukraine into the EU sphere, and therefore, the larger US ambit. Two blocs are fighting over the profit-making opportunities and strategic assets that repose within the borders of Ukraine, and the victims are the ordinary people around the world who are paying, if not in their lives or displacement through war, through their pocket books, in increasingly unaffordable energy and food, and higher taxes or foregone social expenditures due to increased military outlays, to say nothing of facing an elevated threat of nuclear war. This is not a war of justice, where one bloc has virtue on its side, but a war against humanity in which all participating governments are aggressors.

Perhaps thinking wrongly that organizing against the war in Ukraine amounts to supporting Russia, the Peace Congress avers that it takes courage to promote “peace and solidarity in moments of crisis and in an atmosphere of pro-war frenzy and propaganda.” But what courage is really needed to say what a majority of the population already thinks, namely, that

  • Russia’s actions are deplorable;
  • the US and NATO should have accommodated Russia’s request to negotiate a security architecture in December;
  • Washington should not be taking measures to prolong and intensify the war; it should be working toward a diplomatic solution.

(The Congress doesn’t say who it is promoting solidarity with, but one gets the sinking feeling it’s Russia. No wonder it thinks courage is required.)

One especially vacuous argument presented by those who misunderstand imperialism holds that failing to take a side in a rivalry among capitalist states for markets, spheres of influence, and investment opportunities is an exercise in cowardice. A side must be taken, these imbeciles insist. As a matter of logic, there is no compelling reason why one must take a side in a conflict. This is particularly true if the disputants pursue goals that are either indifferent or inimical to one’s own interests. In point of fact, the Bolshevik view of imperialism does take a side: that of the proletariat. What it doesn’t do is take the side of one bourgeoisie against another.  The imbeciles demand we do.

Finally, some have dismissed the Bolsheviks’ analysis of imperialism as outdated, faulting it for being specific to conditions that prevailed in WWI, and therefore incapable of capturing the dynamics of a world dominated by a single hegemon. Two points can be made about this objection.

First, the early twentieth century was characterized by the predominance of the British Empire, which held large parts of the world under its sway, if not in its thrall. Britain’s primacy may not have been as strong as that of the United States today, but the empire was unquestionably first among great powers. The difference between a world dominated in the early twentieth century by the British Empire and the world dominated by the United States today, is quantitative, not qualitative, a matter of degree, not kind.

Second, while for a very brief period the United States was almost completely unchallenged as a global leviathan, both Russia and China have emerged as “revisionist” capitalist powers, to challenge the primacy of the United States and “revise” the US-superintended world order. By revise the world order, I mean repartition the world’s economic and strategic territory. Some people think there’s something progressive about this. If so, then World Wars I and II were progressive events, for they were the outcomes of Germany’s and Japan’s attempts to revise the world order to create greater multipolarity.

Germany and Japan, driven by the needs of their growing capitalist economies, emerged in the early twentieth century to challenge the British Empire, and to revise the global order London led—that is, to take from Britain and other great powers, the economic territory Berlin and Tokyo said they needed to thrive. Germany at a minimum lusted after a sphere of influence in all of continental Europe, while Japan sought pre-eminence in East Asia. Russia, today, is driven to protect its economic territory from US-led encroachments, while China’s capitalism-driven need for foreign markets and secure access to raw materials entangles it in a rivalry (along with complementarity) with the United States and the European Union. The rivalry may lead to war.

The period of conflict between the United States as the leader of the capitalist world, and the Soviet Union and Maoist China, as large powers, is different in one fundamental respect from the great power rivalry that marks the present: Russia is not a socialist country (and neither, by any common definition of the word “socialist”, is China.) That it is necessary to make a statement as blindingly obvious as this, one on par with, the earth is a sphere, is testament to the fact that some Marxist-Leninists are in the grips of an extraordinary delusion about the political economy of Russia and China. No, Russia is not the Soviet Union, and China, highly integrated into the US economy as a sphere of exploitation for US corporate behemoths seeking low-wage labor, while at the same time, a hot house for a growing clutch of billionaires with interests around the world, are not tribunes of the people, as some luftmenschen would like to believe.

The world politics on which the Bolsheviks cut their analytical teeth bears a much stronger resemblance to that of the world today than to the post-1945 twentieth century struggle between capitalist and communist blocs. Today, capitalist Russia and a China very much under the sway of capitalism, appear more like Germany and Japan during the so-called Second Thirty Year War, 1914-1945, namely, as rising capitalist powers with a mission, developed under the lash of capitalist expansionary imperatives, to repartition the world, than they resemble the Soviet Union and Mao’s China.

While NATO has unquestionably played a role in bringing about the war in Ukraine, focusing on NATO, and identifying the United States and its allies as bearing the greater guilt for the conflict, presents imperialism as if it were a policy that governments can adopt or reject at will rather than a capitalism-driven rivalry for the world market in which antagonisms among states are inevitable and wars are nearly ineluctable. We ought to be at a place where we can, to borrow from Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, explain the cause of the war in Ukraine as the outcome of “the game of grab played by all the great powers” and not—as “only an idiot can continue to believe”—either NATO provocations or Russian aggression.

[1] V.I. Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. International Publishers. 1939. P. 124.

[2] William Appleman Williams. The Great Evasion. Quadrangle Books. 1964. P. 75.

[3] Domenico Losurdo. War and Revolution. Verso. 2015. P. 137.

[4] “Resolution introduced by the delegation of the central committee of the RSDLP to the International Socialist Women’s Conference at Berne”, in Lenin: The Imperialist War. International Publishers. 1930. P. 472.

[5] N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky. The ABC of Communism.Penguin Books. 1970. P. 158.

[8] Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, p. 159.

[7] Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, p. 159.

[8] Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, p. 159.

[9] Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, p. 155.

[10] Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, p. 155.

[11] “Negotiate to End the War in Ukraine Now!” The Canadian Peace Congress, April 22, 2022. https://www.canadianpeacecongress.ca/statements-cpcon/negotiate-to-end-the-war-in-ukraine-now/

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=7bFEdpj5dYU While this may not be true of the Toronto Association for Peace and Solidarity, some solidarity groups see their mission in connection with the war in Ukraine as one of expressing solidarity with one capitalist country, Russia, against an alliance of other capitalist countries, NATO, rather than solidarity with the proletariat, whose blood, labor, and future, is threatened by the struggle between these two bourgeois blocs.

[13] V.I Lenin, “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky,” 1918, in Lenin’s Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pp. 227-325.

[14] See, Ivan Krastev  and Mark Leonard, “Peace versus Justice: The coming European split over the war in Ukraine,” European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2022. https://ecfr.eu/publication/peace-versus-justice-the-coming-european-split-over-the-war-in-ukraine/

Eva Bartlett and the Pleasures and Displeasures of “Independent Journalism”

By Stephen Gowans

May 2, 2022

Moscow wanted ‘to claim complete control of Mariupol by May 9, with Russian propagandists recently arriving in the city to set conditions for further claims of a Russian victory.‘” The New York Times, May 5, 2022*

Eva Bartlett, called by some an independent journalist, has close to 100,000 followers on Twitter. On her Twitter profile she says “I go to the places I write about.”

I’ve met Eva and talked to her. She is warm, amiable, polite, funny, combative, smart, and considerate. A delight. I have no doubt that she is extraordinarily courageous. There are great many people who like her, and for good reason. She has many shining personal qualities.

When I recently described a report Eva wrote from Mariupol, I said it was propaganda for the billionaires’ government of Russia.

I do believe that that is what it is. I don’t mean, however, that she is in the employ of the Russian government; only that her agenda is the same.

My motive in impugning Eva’s report was to raise legitimate questions that are all too infrequently asked about the kind of journalism Eva practices, and about journalism more generally.

The first question is how do we know that any of what Eva tells us is true? This isn’t a nasty insinuation that it isn’t true, only, how do we know it is? How should we test its veracity?

I suspect Eva’s answer would be that, one, she’s independent, and two, she goes to the places she writes about. Therefore, what she writes is true.

But “independent” is a vague word. Almost every journalist says they’re independent, but independent of what? Reporters for privately-owned media say they’re independent, because they’re not on a government payroll. But that doesn’t make them independent of the media owners on whose payroll they depend.

Freelance journalists say they’re independent, but they’re not independent of the agendas of the media outlets they sell their stories to.

Eva could say she’s independent if her reports are self-published. But she’s not independent of the agendas of the web sites that post her material. RT, a news outlet founded to propagate a Russian point of view (or at least a point of view that is highly critical of Russia’s rival, the United States) features regular contributions from Eva. That doesn’t mean she’s tailoring her writing to what pleases Moscow; only that the Moscow line and her writing are simpatico, which is why RT publishes it.

Eva’s Mariupol report was posted on the web site Internationalist 360, which has its own agenda, and is unlikely to publish reports that are inimical to its particular objectives. (Internationalist 360 appears to be associated with the Gaddafi family.)

I said I knew what Eva would find in Mariupol before she even arrived in the city. I said this because I know her biases, evidenced in RT frequently publishing her work.

Eva may be called an independent journalist, but the word “independent,” as far as journalism is concerned, is largely meaningless. Eva is more accurately called an advocate for people fighting US imperialism, including Washington’s imperialist rivals, who poses as an independent truth-seeker. (Mainstream journalists can also be described as advocates—in their case on behalf of the business community that owns the publications they write for—who also pose as independent truth-seekers.)

What about me? Am I independent? I wrote a book on Syria for Baraka Books. I would never have been asked to write the book had the publisher not had a pretty good idea, based on my previous writings, that what I would say would be consistent with his own agenda. The late Louis Proyect, one of my critics, could have said that he already knew what I would write before I had ever written the book. He would have been right.

Promotion of the book billed me as an independent analyst. Leaving aside that I wasn’t independent of Baraka and its agenda, it was true that I had no institutional affiliations. I could, therefore, be described reasonably as an analyst who is independent of any connection to governments, businesses, universities, thinks tanks, and so on. While this might have proved that I wasn’t a gun for hire, it didn’t in any way demonstrate that what I wrote about in my book was accurate. Independent doesn’t mean right. Likewise, dependent doesn’t necessarily mean wrong.

The idea that a report is legitimate simply because the reporter travels to a place she reports on—Eva’s claim to legitimacy—is meaningless. Even if we assume that a reporter doesn’t have a political ax to grind, and is highly perspicacious, does visiting a place suddenly make one an expert on all of its variegated complexities?  It’s possible to poll 10 different Syrians who have lived in the country all their lives and get 10 different views on events since 2011. But if being in a place gives one special insight into the place, as Eva claims, how is it that 10 different people who have lived in the same place all their lives can have multiple, conflicting insights about the same place?  The reality is that many people with experience of one place can have conflicting views about that place. Judging whether a view is sound on the basis of whether a person has experience of the place is impossible.  

Eva’s Mariupol report consisted of “on the ground” interviews. But it’s possible for anyone to travel anywhere and find a number of people who express opinions that match the particular point of view one wants to emphasize. And while it is a technique commonly used by journalists, its value is approximately zero. More compelling would be a methodical, unbiased, opinion poll, designed and analyzed by someone sitting in a downtown Toronto office who has never visited the place in question. Hence, not only is it impossible to judge whether a view is sound on the basis of whether a person has experience of the place, it’s possible that a person who has no experience of the place has a better view.  

As an aside, Vanessa Beeley, another advocate who poses as an independent truth-seeker and who also fetishizes travelling to the places she writes about, had no reservations about pontificating on Ottawa’s Freedom Convoy from thousands of miles away, going so far as to dismiss the points of view of people who were actually there, myself included. Based on her conduct and sympathy with the convoy’s anti-vaccine agenda , I would surmise that had Vanessa actually travelled to Ottawa, she very likely would have interviewed only Freedom Convoy supporters and ignored everyone else.

A basic question one ought to ask of any reporting is how do I know it’s true? Some people say they know Eva’s reporting is true because it matches what they already know to be true. Of course, this invites the question, how do they already know the truth? And why do they need a reporter to tell them what they already know? The reality is that they don’t know the truth, but like the version of reality Eva presents.

Regarding Eva’s Mariupol report:

  • How do we know she didn’t selectively cull opinion to satisfy a pre-determined narrative? I’m not saying she did, but how do we know she didn’t? And even if she selected her interviewees at random, the methodology of interviewing a handful of people and then making sweeping generalizations is invalid.
  • Is it even thinkable that Eva could have returned from Mariupol with a story that wasn’t simpatico with the Moscow line? If she had, how would her many admirers have treated her? Would they have believed her? Or would they have denounced her as a traitor and immediately unfollowed her? My guess is that they would have discarded her—and that she knows it.

Another guess: It’s not independent journalism that Eva’s many followers seek, but merely someone to tell them what they want to hear. Telling people what they want to hear is a great gig. If you satisfy your followers’ need to have their views validated, they treat you as a hero. And they certainly don’t ask tough questions like, “How do I know any of this is true?”

We should be asking tough questions. We demand too little of the people who write articles and books and conduct interviews, and who lead our political parties and peace groups. And the result is that the quality of our politics is subpar. Sadly, it will always be so, if we prefer the soothing caress of people who tell us what we want to hear, rather than the challenge of people who tell us what we need to know.

We also ask too little of our advocates. If they’re going to be effective, we better be sure the material and arguments they produce are sound and compelling, and not shot through with holes. The only way do achieve this outcome is to ask hard questions and demand work be held to a high standard.

*Michael Schwirtz, “Putin’s Forces Battle in East Ukraine to Feed His Hunger for a Victory,” The New York Times, May 5, 2022

In the War in Ukraine, Which Side Are You On?

By Stephen Gowans

May 1, 2022

What’s more important? Addressing the climate emergency or entangling Russia in an exhausting war? For Washington—which plans to invest more in keeping the war in Ukraine going than in arresting the threat to humanity of climate change—the answer is the latter.

To avert a war in Ukraine, the US could have accepted Russia’s reasonable proposals for a new security architecture in Europe. It declined. Now that war has broken out, it could be working on a negotiated peace in Ukraine. (Even the IMF urges it to do so.) Washington prefers not to.

Instead, the US is investing heavily in keeping the war going as long as possible, in order, it says, to weaken Russia. The US lured Russia into the trap of war. Moscow stupidly took the bait. Now, much of the world, arms manufacturers excepted, suffer.

In what does the contest between the US and Russia originate?

It originates in a struggle over the questions of whether:

  • The profit-making opportunities of Ukraine will belong to the EU or a customs union with Russia.
  • Europe will depend for its energy on US-controlled suppliers or Russia.

Which side do you want to be on?

  • The side seeking Ukraine’s integration into the EU and Europe’s energy dependence on US-controlled suppliers?
  • The side seeking Ukraine’s integration into a customs union with Russia and Europe’s continued energy dependence on Russia?

In other words, whose billionaires are more important to you? The US’s or Russia’s?

Or are billionaires, and their contests for profits on a world scale, the problem? And is choosing sides in their contests, rather than eliminating them altogether, a grave error?

The war in Ukraine offers no benefit to ordinary people that I can think of.

But it does present multiple harms:

  • Higher energy and food costs.
  • A migrant crisis.
  • Supply chain disruptions.
  • A significantly heightened risk of nuclear war.
  • Higher government expenditures on arms at the expense of spending on health care, education, housing, and addressing the climate emergency.

Ordinary Ukrainians face the threats of death, injury, homelessness, and economic harm. The standard of living of ordinary Russians is declining, and will decline further. There is nothing good in this war for ordinary people, anywhere.

What’s more, based on the way the war is unfolding, it appears that the United States and NATO will emerge stronger. Anyone who thinks this war will be a blow to US primacy is sorely mistaken.

Who could possibly support this war?  The answer is:

  • Investors in arms and energy companies.
  • Investors in businesses that stand to gain from securing new profit-making opportunities in Ukraine.
  • Operatives of any of the belligerent states.

Alongside these bourgeois supporters of the war, stand a few proletarian supporters. Among them are:

  • The ignorant.
  • The confused.
  • Class traitors.
  • People who pose as socialists, peace-activists, or “independent journalists,” but are in reality propagandists of the belligerent governments.

The only wars worth supporting are wars against oppression. The struggle between Washington and Moscow for control of Ukraine and the supply of energy to Europe does not fall into this category.  Ukrainians are not oppressing Russians.

Choosing sides in a contest between national groups of billionaires vying for business opportunities in Ukraine and Europe is, for ordinary people, an exercise in self-harm. If we’re going to chose a side in a war, let it be the side of you and me, not the side of billionaires.

And let the war be a battle against the menaces of climate change, precarious work, unaffordable housing, exploitation, racial oppression, and pandemics, not a contest over whether US billionaires or Russian billionaires will dominate Ukraine’s profit-making opportunities and the European energy market.

Talking about Israel on Coming From Left Field podcast

Conversations with Greg Godels and Pat Cummings.

11-“Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East” with guest Stephen Gowans – YouTube

I talk with Greg and Pat on their podcast Coming From Left Field about Israel, a US beachhead in the Middle East.

Pat Cummings grew up with middle-class privilege in a close and happy Irish-American military family. He came of age in the Vietnam era, beginning his activism in the antiwar movement. He spent his life in public education, where he saw first-hand the systemic inequalities that elevated some but suppressed many.

Greg Godels grew up in a working-class family and in a working-class neighborhood. His family’s strong labor ties lead him to anti-racist and anti-capitalist activism and to Marxism-Leninism. He identifies with the legacy of Communism in the US. His writings have appeared in a number of publications in the US and internationally.

Cruelty with a Point: The Continuing US Immiseration of Syria

[We] take our rewards in the goodies of the imperial marketplace and in the false coin of self-righteousness. – William Appleman Williams*

By Stephen Gowans

August 19, 2020

Two US scholars, writing in the unofficial journal of the US State Department, Foreign Affairs, have denounced the cruelty of US intervention in Syria, while passing over its criminal and imperialist nature, and accepting as legitimate assumptions underlying US foreign policy about the fundamental goodness of the United States and the fundamental depravity of its victims.

In The Pointless Cruelty of Trump’s New Syria Sanctions, Joshua Landis, a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma, and Steven Simon, Senior Director for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs at the White House from 2011 to 2012, denounce the sanctions Washington has inflicted on Syria. However, far from being an anti-imperialist j’accuse, the piece perpetuates myths about the aims of US foreign policy and sanitizes the nature of the US intervention.

washingtons-long-war-on-syriaThe problem with US sanctions, the authors argue, is that they’re pointlessly cruel, which is to say that they are at the same time highly punitive and incapable of achieving the goals they are putatively designed to achieve. Presumably, cruelty, if it worked, would have a point, and would be acceptable; but the current cruelty does not work and therefore is pointless and should be brought to an end, the scholars contend.

What sanctions have failed to achieve, and will continue to fail to achieve, Landis and Simon argue, is the replacement of the current Syrian government with one acceptable to the United States. If the Syrian government has yet to fall, despite the enormous efforts the US government has made to see that it does, more sanctions are not the answer. Landis and Simon write:

“Assad and his supporters won the country’s civil war against considerable odds. They did not crack when rebels massacred their entire national security team early in the war; they did not crack when they lost Palmyra, Idlib, half of Aleppo, the oil fields, the northeast, or the southeast; they brushed off Trump’s 60-second bombing campaign; and they withstood an energetic U.S. effort to equip and train the armed opposition. If nine years of brutal violence … did not defeat Assad and his military, economic embargoes are unlikely to faze him.”

The most conspicuous aspects of the US intervention in Syria are its flagrant illegality and manifest imperialism, yet at no point do the scholars point out that the US occupation of northeastern Syria, the US take-over of Syria’s oil fields, US training and funding of insurgents, US missile strikes on Syria, and the imposition of coercive economic measures, are criminal, murderous, and anti-democratic, though they openly acknowledge that Washington has pursued all of these means to achieve its goal of overthrowing the Syrian government.  It’s as if Landis and Simon set out to write an article about the history of Hiroshima and somehow overlooked the fact that it was the site of the first atomic bombing. Landis and Simon fail to mention the following additional expressions of US imperialism: US complicity in Turkey’s military occupation of northern Syria and US endorsement of the Israeli annexation of two-thirds of the Syrian province of Al Qunaytirah, conquered by Israel in 1967 and then ethnically cleansed and illegally settled. The invaders changed the name of the territory to the Golan Heights.

The goal of the US intervention, thoroughly anti-democratic in stamp, is to impose the US will on another people. Landis and Simon fail to question the legitimacy of this goal. Instead, they accept the aim as a desirable part of a larger US project of constructing “an international liberal order premised on the conviction that free trade and a vital middle class [will] produce democratic governance and societal well-being.”  What free trade will produce, pace Landis and Simon, is not democratic governance and societal well-being, but continued poverty for poor countries, and continued affluence for the wealthy. Poor countries are incapable of competing on a global level against rich countries, and can only develop economically by emulating the policies rich countries themselves pursued to become rich: tariff barriers to nurture infant industries, industrial planning, subsidies, state-owned enterprises, and restrictions on foreign investment. [1]

Free trade is central to the story of why the United States has waged a long war on Syria. The Syrian government’s failure to open its economy to US investment and exports on US terms, and insistence on independent economic development—emulating what the rich countries did to become prosperous—is as much a part of the reason Washington has tried to oust the Assad government as is the fact that Damascus has long irritated Washington by acting as a beacon of local independence and national assertiveness in the Arab world.  Assad vowed in 2013 that “Syria will never become a western puppet state” and that his government would do whatever was necessary to “best serve the interests of the Syrians,” not the West.  [2] Promoting the interests of a republic’s citizens is what a president is supposed to do, remarked Robert Mugabe during an address to the United Nations General Assembly, but under a US-superintended liberal order, what presidents are really supposed to do is submit to a global order based on free trade designed to promote the interests of US investors. Syria has been non-compliant with the US-agenda, operating what US government researchers described in a 2005 report as a largely publicly-owned, state-planned economy based on “Soviet models” while supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, [3] enemies of US-attack dog, Israel, the Zionist state in colonized Palestine.

From the birth of the US empire as 13 British colonies in a stolen land to the present day, the foundation of the empire’s foreign policy—guiding its continental expansion, and then its extra-continental enlargement through formal and informal colonialism—has been to crush any force of local independence and national assertiveness that stands in the way of US economic interests.  Washington must replace the Syrian government with one that accepts the international liberal order, an order which various figures in the US foreign policy establishment have described as: created by US officials with US interests in mind and US prosperity (though unmentioned, specifically that of corporate America) as its goal.

The late John McCain wrote that “We are the chief architect and defender of an international order governed by rules derived from our political and economic values. We have grown vastly wealthier and more powerful under those rules.” [4] Barak Obama described the US-superintended international order as one upon which US prosperity depends. [5] The recently deceased Brent Scowcroft, a US national security power broker,  “for decades mentored generations of national security professionals … in a realist brand of foreign policy that championed a U.S.-led international order … and looked on revolutionary change with suspicion.” [6] Revolutionary change, it should be noted, often involves transferring ownership of economies from foreign investors to local governments or local business people, an act inimical to US investor interests.

If we’re to be honest, the prosperity of investors and high-level executives of major corporations is the principal aim of the liberal (note, not liberal democratic, but liberal sans democratic) international order which Landis and Simon cite as the desired end of US policy. The prosperity of US citizens en masse—Main Street not Wall Street—is not the primum mobile of US foreign policy. Neither is building democratic governance and middle-class societies abroad an authentic goal, however much this deceit figures in the rhetorical flourishes of various US experts in casuistry, Landis and Simon included.

One need only look at Latin America, a region on which Uncle Sam has long imposed his will. The outcome of the United States’ smothering influence after hundreds of years is that Latin America remains poor, despite its being forced, often at the point of a US gun, to accept US economic prescriptions based on free trade, a regime William Appleman Williams once described as a piratical “We need, you give.” [7] Those prescriptions, while dishonestly presented as the key to a future Latin American prosperity, have left the region stagnating in poverty. Meanwhile, the United States has prospered.

Landis and Simon have constructed their argument within a framework of assumptions that accepts without question that the United States wants to “make a positive contribution to regional development” and create “freedom and advancement” in Syria (presumably just as it promised but failed to do in its Latin American backyard.) Clearly, the United States has delivered neither freedom nor advancement to either Syrians or Latin Americans. Instead, in Syria, US policies have led to the strangulation of the Syrian economy, immiseration of the Syrian people, and creation of public health and refugee crises.

To explain the contradiction of an allegedly benevolent US foreign policy producing obviously malevolent results (the foreign policy equivalent of the theodicy problem—How can an omnipotent God be benevolent if he allows misery and cruelty to flourish?), Landis and Simon point, not to the obvious answer that US foreign policy is not benevolent, but to US-produced malignancies as the unintended consequences of policy missteps by the US foreign policy establishment. US intentions are good, they contend, but US officials have blundered; they’ve drawn from the wrong policy set. Economic warfare ought never to have been pursued against Syria, they argue, because “there is little evidence that economic sanctions ever achieve their objectives. Even the best designed sanctions can be self-defeating, strengthening the regimes they were designed to hurt and punishing the societies they were supposed to protect.”

What Landis and Simon don’t accept, despite the evidence staring them in the face, is that sanctions were never intended to protect foreign populations. Instead, they were deployed to do precisely what they almost invariably do—immiserate.  If the stated aim of policy x is to produce y but almost always produces z, at what point do you accept that z is the real aim and that y is a misdirection?

The point of immiserating a people—what makes the cruelty rational, rather than pointless—is to weaken local forces of independence and national assertiveness to the point that they’re no longer capable of challenging US power. A further objective is to make an example of such forces so that other countries never emulate them, seeing subordination to the US will as preferable to being sanctioned (and in some cases bombed) back into the stone age. For the United States, the fewer independently-minded rich countries to compete against, the better. Washington doesn’t want Syria or Iran following a development model that will monopolize profit-making opportunities, exclude US investors and exports, and set the two countries on a path to becoming future Chinas (though on a much smaller scale.) The US grievance against China is that it used its opening to US economic penetration to acquire the capital and know-how necessary to build, under a regime of dirigisme and industrial planning, home-grown enterprises which now compete against—and sometimes out-compete—US enterprises for the same profit-making opportunities. Washington is dead-set against allowing Syria and Iran do the same.

In her study of the Vietnam wars, Marilyn B. Young wrote that by the early 1950s, the US foreign policy establishment “had accepted a set of axioms … as unquestionable as Euclid’s.” The first axiom, she wrote, could be summarized as follows:

“The intentions of the United States are always good. It is possible that in pursuit of good ends, mistakes will be made. But the basic goodness of US intentions cannot ever be questioned. The intentions of the enemies of the United States are bad. It is possible that in the pursuit of bad ends, good things will seem to happen. But the basic badness of enemy intentions cannot ever by questioned.” [8]

The axiom reverberates throughout the Landis and Simon piece; indeed, it is the glue that holds it together. Not only are US intentions in Syria good, but the basic badness of the Syrian government (demonized accordingly as a regime) cannot be questioned. This leads Landis and Simon to argue that sanctions should be abandoned because “Assad doesn’t care if more of his people starve.”

We have no evidence of whether Assad cares or doesn’t care about whether Syrians starve, except this: By failing to bow to US aggression, he allows US sanctions policy to continue, and therefore condemns Syrians to starvation as victims of US policy. This is tantamount to saying that FDR didn’t care about whether US conscripts died in a terrible war, citing his failure to bow to Japanese aggression as evidence. According to the axioms of US foreign policy, standing up to foreign aggression is heroic when it’s done by US leaders, but sinister when done by foreign leaders in response to US aggression.

While we don’t have evidence of indifference to the suffering of Syrians on the part of Assad, we do have evidence of US indifference to the fate of Syrians. It is after all, Washington, not Assad, that pulled the trigger on the starvation policy. Blaming sanctions-related Syrian deaths on Assad is equal in principle to attributing WWII US military casualties in the Pacific to Roosevelt.

We have further evidence of Washington’s indifference to the misery of foreign populations. Washington cared not one whit that it killed over half a million Iraqi children under the age of five through sanctions-related disease and malnutrition. When this figure was cited by a UN agency in 1995, and accepted by the US government as valid—and moreover, defended as ‘worth it’—sanctions continued for another eight years, and the US-produced Golgotha grew ever larger. No tears were shed by US leaders.

What’s more, the US government doesn’t care if Iranians starve.  The “Iranian leadership,” warned US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, “has to make a decision that they want their people to eat.” [9] Unless Tehran accepts US demands—a long list that amounts to Iran surrendering the right to make consequential decisions independent of US oversight—Pompeo is prepared to see this grim outcome brought to fruition.

But in the morally astigmatic view of Landis and Simon, it is Assad, Saddam, and the Ayatollah who starve their people by refusing to submit to a US-superintended international liberal order of free trade, and not the United States, which punishes states that are refractory to this demand by strangling their economies and starving their populations.  Domenico Losurdo cited Frantz Fanon. “When a colonial and imperialist power is forced to give independence to a people, this imperialist power says: you want independence? Then take it and die of hunger.” Losurdo continued: “Because the imperialists continue to have economic power, they can condemn a people to hunger, by means of blockades, embargoes, or underdevelopment.” [10]

For all its failings, the Landis and Simon article reveals the depravity of the US intervention in all its repugnant detail. The scholars acknowledge that:

a) Washington is pursuing a “scorched-earth policy” whose aim is “to gain enough leverage to reconstitute the Syrian government along the lines that the United States imposed on Japan after World War II.”

b) To that end, the US is “systematically bankrupting the Syrian government.”

c) “To increase pressure” on Syria, Washington has “endorsed Israeli strikes against Syrian territory and Turkish expropriation of Syrian energy resources. It has also closed the main highway to Baghdad to choke off trade.”

(d) Washington has hired “a U.S. firm to manage the oil fields”  (that are now under an illegal US military occupation. Not only is Turkey freebooting in Syria; so too is the United States.)

e) Washington has designed its sanctions “to make reconstruction impossible. The sanctions target the construction, electricity, and oil sectors, which are essential to getting Syria back on its feet.”

f) The United States has added humanitarian exemptions to its sanctions, but the exemptions are “deliberately vague” to produce “overcompliance”—a phenomenon in which nongovernmental organizations decline to provide humanitarian aid out of fear that they will become inadvertently entangled in complex legal issues and will themselves to be subjected to US sanctions.

g) “Blocked from reconstructing their country and seeking external assistance, Syrians face mass starvation or another mass exodus.”

It is important to emphasize that the opposition of Landis and Simon to US intervention in Syria is predicated, not on the intervention’s  imperialist and criminal character, but on its cruelty. This suggests a parallel with the opposition that arose in the West to the rape of the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold.  There were two classes of critics: those who opposed Leopold’s imperialism (mainly ignored) and those who viewed the intervention as legitimate but objected to the cruelty of Leopold’s methods (frequently lionized.) The latter believed that Africans were inferior to Europeans and should submit to European rule, but felt that European rule ought to be more humane. Their attitude to Africans paralleled that of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; dogs and cats were clearly inferior creatures, which must be kept in servile relations to their masters, but they were to be treated humanely. So too Africans.

Another parallel exists between those who criticize US military interventions on the grounds that they are unjust and imperialist, and those whose concern is limited to whether the interventions conform to conventions related to the just conduct of war. The following oppositions are equivalent in principle: to Leopold’s intervention in the Congo because it was cruel (not imperialist); to the wars on Iraq, because they violated the principle of jus in bello (not because they transgressed the principle of jus ad bellum); to the US intervention in Syria, because its methods are cruel (not owing to the repugnance of Washington seeking to replace the Syrian government with another acceptable to the United States and US investor interests.)

Landis and Simon believe that Syrians ought to submit to US rule, but that US rulers ought to avoid pointless cruelty in bringing Syrians under their boot. In their Foreign Affairs article they have set out to portray the US war on Syria as a masterpiece of incompetence and pointless cruelty which dishonors the basic goodness of US goals. In reality, US intervention in Syria has been a masterpiece of cruelty with a point—an enterprise redolent with the stench of criminality and imperialism, aimed at imposing the US will on a foreign population for the benefit of corporate America.

That Landis and Simon should have a favorable attitude to a US-led liberal international order based on free trade is no mystery. They are a fellow and research analyst respectively at The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think tank funded by some of corporate America’s largest foundations: among others, The Charles Koch Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and billionaire investor George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Foreign Affairs, the journal in which the scholars’ article appears, is owned by The Council on Foreign Relations, an organization Laurence H. Shoup has described in books by the same names as Wall Street’s Think Tank and an Imperial Brain Trust.

*  William Appleman Williams, America Confronts a Revolutionary World, 1776-1976, William Morrow & Company, 1976, p. 183.

1) Erik S. Reinert, How Rich Countries Got Rich, Why Poor Countries Stay Poor, Public Affairs, 2007.

2) Syrian Arab National News Agency, August 27, 2013.

3) Alfred B. Prados and Jeremy M. Sharp, “Syria: Political Conditions and Relations with the United States After the Iraq War,” Congressional Research Service, February 28, 2005.

4) John McCain, “John McCain: Why We Must Support Human Rights,” The New York Times, May 8, 2017.

5)  Letter of outgoing US President Barack Obama to incoming President Donald Trump.

6) Warren P. Strobel, “Brent Scowcroft, a U.S. National Security Power Broker, Dies at 95,” The Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2020.

7) William Appleman Williams, “Confessions of an Intransigent Revisionist,” in ed. Henry W. Berger, The William Appleman Williams Reader, Ivan R. Dee, 1992, p. 343.

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

9) Mike Pompeo, November 7, 2018, quoted in ”Iran letter to the UNSG and UNSC on Pompeo provocative statement,” Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, November 30, 2018.

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

US attorney general explains the real reason Washington is hostile to China

In a major speech, US Attorney General William Barr dwelled at length on the threat Chinese-owned firms pose to corporate America’s domination of the global economy, but said little about Chinese policy on Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea, the usual reasons Washington cites for its growing anti-Chinese animus. 

July 19, 2020

In a 17 July speech on China policy at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, US Attorney General William Barr explained why the United States has escalated its cold war on China. The cold war began in earnest when the preceding Obama administration initiated the US military ‘pivot to China,’ a project to ‘contain’ the rapidly developing nation.

The roots of the US-initiated war lie in the threat the People’s Republic of China poses to US technological supremacy, according to Barr.

In his speech, the attorney general argued that the “prosperity for our children and grandchildren” depends on the global economy remaining Americanized. Chinese-owned firms, in his view, must be prevented from dominating key emerging growth sectors, including 5G, robotics, and AI; these sectors must remain the preserve of Western (and preferably US) investors.

Barr’s analysis comports with the widely held view in Washington and on Wall Street that the PRC’s desired role in the global economy is one of facilitating US profit-making, not competing against it. China, in this view, must return to the role originally envisaged by US policy-makers of a vast consumer and low-wage labor market teeming with investment and profit-making opportunities for corporate America, not as a rival for economic supremacy.

Significantly, Barr’s speech was mostly free from the rhetoric that has marked the accustomed Sinophobic diatribes and slurs which nowadays are de rigueur in Washington. Mainly absent were references to alleged Chinese human rights violations in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong and accusations of Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

These allegations and accusations ring hollow, coming from a US state whose principal allies in West Asia—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, and Israel—are hostile to the human rights and democratic values Washington professes falsely to champion, to say nothing of the United States’ own egregious human rights failings (witness, for example, the events that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement) and its robust imperialism (including continued direct colonialism; consider Puerto Rico, for example.)

Washington’s substantive grievance with China is that the Chinese Communist Party has pursued a state-directed development model which has vaulted China from the ranks of poor countries relegated to the role of serving US profit-making interests, to a level of technological and economic prowess which threatens to topple corporate America from its perch atop the global economy.

Barr’s speech is important in revealing the material basis of US anti-Chinese hostility. Washington routinely conceals its struggles for commercial advantage behind Olympian rhetoric about democracy, human rights, and selfless devotion to humanitarian causes. The practice resonates with an observation Hitler made in Mein Kampf. “[Man] does not sacrifice himself for material interests…[He] will die for an ideal, but not for a business.” Recognizing that its citizens will not support a struggle for Wall Street’s narrow interests, Washington, as much as Hitler, has resorted to rhetoric about ideals rather than plainspoken references to profit-making, to mobilize public opinion behind, what is at its base, a struggle for commercial supremacy.

The following excerpts from Barr’s speech elucidate the fundamental economic question underlying US hostility to China. Lenin observed in 1917 that it is “impossible to understand and appraise modern war and politics”, without understanding “the fundamental economic question”, namely, the “question of the economic essence of imperialism.”

Excerpts from Barr’s speech

“Since the 1890’s, at least, the United States has been the technological leader of the world. And from that prowess, has come our prosperity, the opportunity for generations of Americans, and our security. It’s because of that that we were able to play such a pivotal role in world history. … What’s at stake these days is whether we can maintain that leadership position and that technological leadership. Are we going to be the generation that has allowed that to be stolen- which is really stealing the future of our children and our grandchildren?

“[At] the dawn of America’s reengagement with China, which began obviously with President Nixon in 1972 … it was unthinkable that China would emerge after the Cold War as a near-peer competitor of the United States.

“Deng Xiaoping, whose economic reform launched China’s remarkable rise had a famous motto: “hide your strength and bide your time.” That is precisely what China has done. China’s economy has quietly grown from about 2 percent of the world’s GDP in 1980, to nearly 20 percent today. And by some estimates based on purchasing parity, the Chinese economy is already larger than ours. The General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping … now speaks openly of China moving closer to the center stage, building a socialism that is superior to capitalism…From the perspective of its communist rulers, China’s time has arrived.

“The People’s Republic of China is now engaged in an economic blitzkrieg—an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government (indeed, whole-of-society) campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent technological superpower.  A centerpiece of this effort is the Chinese Communist Party’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, a plan for PRC domination of high-tech industries like robotics, advanced information technology, aviation, and electric vehicles, and many other technologies.  Backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, this initiative poses a real threat to U.S. technological leadership.  Despite World Trade Organization rules prohibiting quotas for domestic output, “Made in China 2025” sets targets for domestic market share (sometimes as high as 70 percent) in core components and basic materials for industries such as robotics and telecommunications.  It is clear that the PRC seeks not merely to join the ranks of other advanced industrial economies, but to replace them altogether.

“‘Made in China 2025’ is the latest iteration of the PRC’s state-led, mercantilist economic model. … To tilt the playing field to its advantage, China’s communist government has perfected a wide array of … tactics [including] tariffs, quotas, state-led strategic investment and acquisitions … [and] state subsidies,

“The PRC also seeks to dominate key trade routes and infrastructure in Eurasia, Africa, and the Pacific.

“Another ambitious project to spread its power and influence is the PRC’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.  Although billed as “foreign aid,” in fact these investments appear designed to serve the PRC’s strategic interests and domestic economic needs.

“I have previously spoken at length about the grave risks of allowing [China] to build the next generation of global telecommunications networks, known as 5G.  Perhaps less widely known are the PRC’s efforts to surpass the United States in other cutting-edge fields, like artificial intelligence.  Through innovations such as machine learning and big data, artificial intelligence allows machines to mimic human functions, such as recognizing faces, interpreting spoken words, driving vehicles, and playing games of skill, much like chess or the even more complex Chinese game, Go.  In 2017, Beijing unveiled its “Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Plan,” a blueprint for leading the world in AI by 2030.  Whichever nation emerges as the global leader in AI will be best positioned to unlock not only its considerable economic potential, but a range of military applications, such as the use of computer vision to gather intelligence.

“The PRC’s drive for technological supremacy is complemented by its plan to monopolize rare earth materials, which play a vital role in industries such as consumer electronics, electric vehicles, medical devices, and military hardware.  According to the Congressional Research Service, from the 1960s to the 1980s, the United States led the world in rare earth production.  “Since then, production has shifted almost entirely to China,” in large part due to lower labor costs and lighter economic and environmental regulation.

“The United States is now dangerously dependent on the PRC for these essential materials.  Overall, China is America’s top supplier, accounting for about 80 percent of our imports.  The risks of dependence are real.

“For a hundred years, America was the world’s largest manufacturer — allowing us to serve as the world’s “arsenal of democracy.”  China overtook the United States in manufacturing output in 2010.

“How did China accomplish all this?  … [No] one should doubt that America made China’s meteoric rise possible.  China has reaped enormous benefits from the free flow of American aid and trade.  In 1980, Congress granted the PRC most-favored-nation trading status.  In the 1990s, American companies strongly supported the PRC’s accession to the World Trade Organization and the permanent normalization of trade relations.  Today, U.S.-China trade totals about $700 billion.

“Last year, Newsweek ran a cover story titled “How America’s Biggest Companies Made China Great Again.”  The article details how China’s communist leaders lured American business with the promise of market access, and then, having profited from American investment and know-how, turned increasingly hostile.  The PRC used tariffs and quotas to pressure American companies to … form joint ventures with Chinese companies.

“Just as American companies have become dependent on the Chinese market, the United States as a whole now relies on the PRC for many vital goods and services.  The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a spotlight on that dependency.

“China’s dominance of the world market for medical goods goes beyond masks and gowns.  It has become the United States’ largest supplier of medical devices.

“America also depends on Chinese supply chains in other vital sectors, especially pharmaceuticals.  America remains the global leader in drug discovery, but China is now the world’s largest producer of active pharmaceutical ingredients, known as “APIs.”  As one Defense Health Agency official noted, “[s]hould China decide to limit or restrict the delivery of APIs to the [United States],” it “could result in severe shortages of pharmaceuticals for both domestic and military uses.”

“To achieve dominance in pharmaceuticals, China’s rulers went to the same playbook they’ve used to gut other American industries.  In 2008, the PRC designated pharmaceutical production as a “high-value-added-industry” and boosted Chinese companies with subsidies and export tax rebates.

“To secure a world of freedom and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, the [United States] … will need to win the contest for the commanding heights of the global economy. ”

(Transcript of Attorney General Barr’s Remarks on China Policy at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Friday, July 17, 2020)

Why North Korea blew up the inter-Korean liaison office

“But peace cannot be hoped for on the basis of some making concessions and the others making none. Peace based on the demands of the other side is not peace, it is ignominious surrender, and no revolutionary country sells itself or surrenders.” Fidel Castro. [1]

June 20, 2020

North Korea recently blew up the “inter-Korean liaison office in the western border town of Kaesong,” an act The Wall Street Journal described, and other Western news media saw as, “provocative.” [2]

The liaison building, located in North Korea, opened “following a 2018 inter-Korean pledge to tone down military hostilities and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.” “At the 2018 opening ceremony, a large white-and-blue unification banner, showing the entire Korean Peninsula, was draped down the building’s front.” [3]

Now the banner, and the building, are gone. Hopes for peace between the two Koreas have, according to Western press accounts, dissolved in a puff of North Korean smoke.

http://www.barakabooks.com/

In late April 2018 the leaders of the two Koreas, Kim Jong Un, from the north, and Moon Jae-in, from the south, met at Panmunjom, a village located in North Korea where the 1953 Armistice Agreement had been signed. The armistice brought the open hostilities of the Korean War to a close. Officially, however, the war continues, a peace treaty having never been signed.

At the ‘peace village’ Kim and Moon “solemnly declared before the 80 million Korean people and the whole world that there” would “be no more war on the Korean Peninsula” and that a new era of peace had begun. [4]

A little over two years later, the Panmunjom declaration is in shreds. North Korea no longer sees South Korea as a peace partner, but as an enemy.

What went wrong?

At Panmunjom both governments “agreed to completely cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict.” [5]

They also agreed to stop broadcasting propaganda through loudspeakers and through the distribution of leaflets, usually carried by balloons. [6]

Additionally, they pledged to embark on programs of mutual disarmament. [7]

In short, both leaders committed to refrain from provoking or threatening the other side. This presumably meant that the South Koreans would bring to a halt the war games they regularly conducted with the United States which the North Koreans regarded as dress-rehearsals for an invasion of their country.

Moreover, they would forbear from acquiring new and more lethal weaponry. In fact, they would do the opposite—reduce arms. And they would stop denigrating each other through broadcasts and the launching of propaganda balloons across their shared border.

Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech

On January 1 Kim Jong Un briefed his country on the status of peace talks with the United States, the other piece of the puzzle of how to bring about a new era of peace on the peninsula. The United States is, through the UN Command, a party to the Armistice Agreement, has nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea, and has orchestrated the campaign to coerce North Korea into abandoning its nuclear arms.

Kim was frustrated. While Pyongyang had proposed that the two states engage in a series of reciprocal confidence-building measures, Washington was pursuing a campaign of maximum pressure, designed to strongarm Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons. [8] The campaign was, on the world stage, what Derek Chauvin’s knee on the neck of George Floyd was on the streets of Minneapolis—an act of suffocation designed to bring about submission, even death. Washington’s aim was to starve North Korea of oxygen by organizing a near-total blockade of the country, using occasional summits and meetings with the North Koreans as platforms for demanding a North Korean surrender.

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Kim observed that while he had halted his nuclear tests, suspended his missile tests, and closed his nuclear-test site—measures taken to persuade Washington he was sincere in his intentions to work out a durable modus vivende with the West—Washington had done little in return. To the contrary, rather than acting to mitigate tensions, Washington had acted to escalate them. It continued to conduct joint military drills with South Korea (despite US president Donald Trump promising to suspend the exercises and Moon declaring at Panmunjom that all hostile acts against North Korea would cease.)

Washington had also escalated the military threat against North Korea by sending to South Korea state-of-the-art weaponry that far out-classed anything in North Korea’s conventional arsenal. Additionally, Washington had intensified its economic war on North Korea.

Kim said that Washington had evinced no commitment to peace and was simply buying time to allow sanctions to bring about North Korea’s surrender or collapse. Washington’s professed interest in dialogue and negotiations was pure theater, he said. North Korea had been played.

This, by the way, wasn’t the first time the United States had played North Korea. To dissuade the North Koreans from building nuclear weapons, after they had threatened to do so in the wake of the US Air Force announcing in the early 1990s that it was re-targeting some its strategic missiles away from the now dissolved Soviet Union to North Korea, the Clinton Administration promised to build two proliferation-safe light-water reactors in North Korea in return for Pyongyang shuttering its plutonium reactor. But Washington tarried on construction of the reactors, figuring that with the demise of the USSR, and the disintegration of the socialist bloc on which Pyongyang had depended for trade, North Korea would follow East Germany down the path of absorption by its capitalist neighbor. Why live up to the terms of the deal, when North Korea’s days were numbered? But when the prediction of an imminent North Korean collapse failed to pan out, Washington reneged on the deal, issuing a virtual declaration of war on the revolutionary government, listing it as part of an “Axis of Evil,” along with Iraq and Iran, two other countries that had also insisted on independence from the United States.

Kim acknowledged that North Korea urgently needed peace to afford the space, trade, and resources necessary to develop his country’s economy. That’s why he had agreed to talks. But he would not give up security for economic rewards.

The North Korean leader also observed that while the United States professed that its hostile actions were motivated by its opposition to North Korea’s nuclear arms program, the reality was that Washington had pursued a policy of unrelenting hostility to North Korea from the very first moments of the country’s birth more than seventy years earlier. Indeed, North Korea had built its nuclear arsenal as a response to US hostility. He reasoned that Washington would always find some fault with North Korea, and would never abandon its campaign to destroy the North Korean state qua state committed to achieving the freedom from foreign domination of Koreans as a nation.

As a consequence, North Korea must resolve, Kim said, to live with sanctions for as long as necessary. It would also expand its strategic weapons program to strengthen its ability to deter US aggression. North Korea’s goal, Kim said, was to build a national defense strong enough to deter any power from using its armed force against North Korea. We must be sufficiently armed, he declared, to keep hostile forces at bay so that they will never dare to undermine our sovereignty and security. [9]

Seoul’s failure to abide by the Panmunjom agreement

As Washington dissimulated negotiating peace with Pyongyang, Washington’s junior partner, South Korea, flouted the commitments Moon had made at Panmunjom. Seoul was buying advanced F-35A jet fighters from the United States, providing South Korea, already more advanced militarily than North Korea, with war-fighting capabilities light years ahead of anything North Korea could muster with its aging fleet of obsolete and frequently ground MiG fighters, acquired from the old Soviet Union.

At the same time, the South Koreans were allowing US pilots to fly strategic bombers through Korean airspace, rattling the North Koreans.

And while all this happened, Seoul continued to participate in war games with the United States. The exercises, as the North Koreans like to point out, are rehearsals for an invasion of their country.

Last year, North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA, complained that South Korea “has persisted in the introduction of offensive weapons including F-35A and held more aggression war drills with outsiders … maintaining that ‘there is no change in military posture despite the south-north agreement in the military field’ [10] – a reference to South Korea’s declaration at Panmunjom to “cease all hostile acts” that produce “military tension and conflict.”

The North Koreans further complained about the Janus-faced actions of their southern compatriots. As the South Korean military dismantled military posts and removed land mines from the Demilitarized Zone, it simultaneously carried out “military exercises with the foreign force and brought the latest military hardware aiming at [its] fellow countrymen” [i.e., North Koreans.] [11]

What’s more, despite explicitly committing at Panmunjom to end the distribution of propaganda leaflets, the practice continued. North Korean officials said balloons were released across the border 10 times in 2019 and three times in the first six months of 2020. [12]

When balloons were launched in June, Pyongyang had had enough.

A spark tossed upon the accumulated kindling

“Having seen that the balloons are still being launched and having observed reports that South Korea-US joint military exercises are continuing to take place at the battalion level and lower, North Korea” saw “South Korea as breaking the inter-Korean agreement,” explained Korean National Diplomatic Academy Chancellor Kim Joon-hyung. “There’s been discontentment building up over that, and it looks like it has now erupted over the balloon issue.” [13]

While talking peace, the United States and South Korea refused to depart from their hostile maximal pressure strategy. As always, the two countries cooperated to exert military, political, economic, and propaganda pressure on the Kim government—placing their conjoined knees on the DPRK’s neck—hoping the North Korean state would either surrender, or expire. Kim had grasped the open hands of Trump and Moon, at summits that had been billed as ‘historic’, but he finally had to concede that his interlocutors brandished knives behind their backs.

“When we say ‘imperialism is ferocious’,” Mao once observed, “we mean that its nature will never change, that the imperialists will never lay down their butcher knives, that they will never become Buddhas, till their doom. Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, fight again . . . until their victory; that is the logic of the people, and they too will never go against this logic. [14]

Despite their lofty words about peace, Trump and Moon have not become Buddhas.

This, however, isn’t the story told in the West. The Wall Street Journal says that “Seoul has long exercised restraint with its provocative northern neighbor, in hopes of drawing Pyongyang into peace talks,” and that Moon continues to encourage “the North to not give up on peace.” [15]

But a country that regularly carries out war games, incessantly expands its military budget, buys ever more deadly weapons systems, colludes with the world’s principal military power in incessant acts of intimidation against its neighbor, and continues to allow the scattering of propaganda leaflets denigrating its ‘peace-partner,’ can hardly be described as exercising restraint. Nor can such a country be described accurately as setting conditions favorable to the pursuit of peace on mutually agreeable terms.

So, rather than offering an account of the parties’ records in meeting their commitments, and then noting which party has succeeded and which has failed, we’re treated to an explanation of the breakdown of the Korean peace regime that lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the North Korean leadership. “North Korea’s near-term aim appears to be distracting its domestic audience from immediate economic challenges caused by U.S.-imposed sanctions and the spread of the coronavirus,” writes Andrew Jeong, The Wall Street Journal’s Korea reporter. “By labeling South Korea as an enemy, the North can blame any internal dysfunction on an external threat.” [16]

But wait. In creating economic challenges for North Korea by imposing ever more onerous sanctions, is the United States committed in any discernable way to peace on the Korean peninsula? Yes, if peace means elimination of an enemy. In Tacitus’s formulation, peace is the annihilation of the other side. And since North Korea’s economic challenges originate in Washington’s organizing a near total economic blockade of North Korea—to say nothing of the incessant US-South Korea military pressure which forces North Korea to divert scarce resources needed for economic development to its military—how could blaming “internal dysfunction on an external threat” be anything but a true and uncontroversial assessment?

If we believe the Western news media, by blowing up the inter-Korean liaison office, North Korea has scorned hopes for peace on the Korean peninsula. But neither Washington nor Seoul were ever interested in peace, except on US terms, and US terms require North Korea’s surrender and its absorption into a hierarchy of nations in which the United States sits at the top.

North Korea has given its answer. It will not happen.

1. William R. Long, “Radicalism not necessary, Castro advises Sandinistas,” The Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1985.
2. Timothy W. Martin, “North Korea Blows Up Liaison Office With South, Seoul Says”, The Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2020.
3. Ibid.
4. “Full text of Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula,” The Strait Times, April 27, 2018.
5. Ibid
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. “Remarks of Vice President Pence at the 6th US-ASEAN summit,” November 14, 2018.
9. “Report on 5th Plenary Meeting of 7th C.C., WPK,” KCNA, January 1, 2020.
10. “KCNA commentary urges S. Korean authorities to be prudent,” KCNA, October 24, 2019.
11. “S. Korean Authorities Deserve Punishment: KCNA Commentary”, KCNA, June 19, 2020.
12. Ibid.
13. “Likelihood of N. Korea launching ICBMs or escalating military tensions is low, former S. Korean ambassador to Russia says”, The Hankyoreh, June, 15, 2020.
14. Mao Tse-tung, “Cast Away Illusions, Prepare for Struggle” (August 14, 1949), Selected Works, Vol. IV, p. 428.
15. Andrew Jeong, “South Korea Takes Harder Line After North Blows Up Liaison Office”, The Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2020.
16. Ibid.

If you think the coronavirus lockdown is worse than the disease, you don’t understand the disease

By Stephen Gowans

May 16, 2020

It’s no accident that one of the world’s great morons—he who thinks injecting disinfectants and shining bright lights into bodily cavities will save the world from COVID-19—should be cheering on one the world’s most moronic public health policy choices.

The novel coronavirus—aptly dubbed the stealth virus—is highly infectious, if not peerlessly contagious. People can be infected by the virus—and spread the disease to others—for up to two weeks before showing symptoms. Or they can experience symptoms so mild that they’re not aware they’re ill. If we believe it’s now safe to co-mingle with people who aren’t visibly sick, we’re mistaken.

It’s estimated that if no measures to limit the spread of the virus are taken, each infected person will pass on the pathogen to three others. If you do the math, it will soon become apparent that left unchecked, the coronavirus will spread like wildfire. According to standard epidemiological models, a virus as contagious as this will reproduce exponentially until 60% of the world’s population is infected, whereupon the spread will begin to slow. In the end, 90% of us will be infected. With an estimated death rate of 1%, COVID-19 will kill 68.4 million people (the world’s population of 7.6 billion X a 90% final epidemic size X a 1% fatality rate)—that is, if we decide that letting the virus spread unfettered is better than continuing the lockdown until the virus is brought to heel.

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of those infected won’t die, and the fatality rate is miniscule, but a miniscule fraction of a large number (the world’s 7.6 billion people) can be surprisingly large. Only 3% of the world’s population was killed by the Second World War, but we would hardly blithely accept a reprise of that conflict simply because most of us would make it out alive.

If the pandemic is allowed to run its course, millions more will die from other conditions than can’t be treated as hospitals are overwhelmed and doctors and nurses are left bedridden by infection. Millions will die from heart attacks, strokes, other infections, postponed surgeries, delayed cancer treatments, and trauma that over-stressed healthcare systems can no longer accommodate. Economies will teeter, and then collapse, from massive absenteeism, as workers succumb to infection or refuse to show up to work to protect themselves from a now raging pandemic. If you think lockdown is tough, just wait to see what happens when the virus spreads unchecked.

On the precipice of a disaster

Fatigued by the lockdown, a number of countries, jurisdictions, and people, are giving up the fight. They’re lifting suppression measures, or ignoring social distancing guidelines, on the grounds that ‘the cure can’t be worse than the disease.’ The trouble is, if the disease is an out-of-control pandemic whose destination is 68.4 million dead, healthcare systems in collapse, and supply chains breaking down under massive worker absenteeism, it will be far worse than they imagine—and unquestionably far worse than the cure.

In North America, some states and provinces are pressing ahead with the phased reopening of their economies despite the counsel of public health officials that it’s too early; the virus has not yet been brought under control. In some jurisdictions, rather than slowing, the virus has resumed a growth path. The R value, a measure of the virus’s reproduction rate, has climbed above 1.0 in many places—indicating that the number of new infections has returned to an exponential path. In jurisdiction after jurisdiction, economies that weren’t supposed to reopen until the number of new infections had unremittingly declined over many weeks, are now throwing caution to the wind, and inviting populations to begin resuming normal activities.

The idea is to sacrifice some people, mainly the elderly, so we can save the economy. But killing off 68.4 million people so we can get back to work, won’t produce the desired outcome. On the contrary, as bodies pile up in mass graves, economies will collapse—the worst of all possible worlds.

UCLA economist Andrew Atkeson explains:

Under the policy of resuming normal activity now, or in 30 days, the disease is likely to spread rapidly. The dynamics of the disease would build to a crescendo over the next several months. At peak, over 10% of the population would have an active infection at the same time, and the daily death rate is likely to be very high – on the order of 20,000 deaths per day. And all of this would be going on in the context of a completely overloaded healthcare system. One naturally wonders whether under these conditions, Americans would lock themselves down, afraid to go out to shop and work given the illness and death around them, meaning that economic activity would grind to a halt then just as it is doing now under lockdown likely to spread rapidly. The dynamics of the disease would build to a crescendo over the next several months. At peak, over 10% of the population would have an active infection at the same time, and the daily death rate is likely to be very high – on the order of 20,000 deaths per day. And all of this would be going on in the context of a completely overloaded healthcare system. One naturally wonders whether under these conditions, Americans would lock themselves down, afraid to go out to shop and work given the illness and death around them, meaning that economic activity would grind to a halt then just as it is doing now under lockdown.

US treasury secretary Stephen Mnuchin has been lobbying for the reopening of the US economy on the grounds that it’s being ravaged by the lockdown. In a tense Oval Office meeting, US national security adviser Robert O’Brien—exhibiting more foresight and critical analytic skill than Mnuchin—told the treasury secretary that, on the contrary, the economy would be destroyed if officials did nothing.

A policy that kills the economy, and dispatches 68.4 million people to early graves, is, come to think of it, the public policy equivalent of injecting Lysol in your arm and shining a bright light up your ass.

The US ways of waging war, then and now

Seventy-five years ago Monday, the United States scorched, boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo than went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the single greatest terrorist attack in history. Three quarters of a century later, Washington wages war in less dramatic ways, relying on sanctions—economic firebombings—that are carried out silently by the Treasury Department and which kill civilians in even greater numbers than were incinerated in the infamous March 9-10, 1945 raid on Tokyo.

March 7, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

Monday, March 9, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the US firebombing of Tokyo, the single most destructive bombing raid in human history, and the single greatest terrorist attack ever undertaken.

Probably “more persons lost their lives by fire at Tokyo in a 6 hour period than at any time in the history of man,” concluded the official US Strategic Bombing Survey. The “largest number of victims were the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly.” (Selden, p. 84)

“The full fury of firebombing and napalm was unleashed” when 334 US B-29 bombers swept “low over Tokyo from the Marianas. Their mission was to reduce [the Japanese capital] to ruble, kill its citizens, and instill terror in the survivors, with jellied gasoline and napalm that would create a sea of flames,” wrote Mark Selden, the editor of the online Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus. (Selden, p. 83)

Curtis_E._LeMay
Curtis LeMay, the primary architect of US policies of putting enemy cities, and later villages and forests, to the torch, from Japan to Korea to Vietnam. Mastermind of the greatest single terrorist attack in human history.

The raid was planned by General Curtis LeMay, “the primary architect, a strategic innovator and most quotable spokesman for US policies of putting enemy cities, and later villages and forests, to the torch, from Japan to Korea to Vietnam.” (Selden, p. 82)

The single bombing raid killed an estimated 100,000 civilians, equal to the total number of US soldiers killed in every action of the entire Pacific War. (Selden, p. 90) One million were left homeless. (Selden, pp. 84-85)

“Whipped by fierce winds, flames generated by the bombs leaped across a fifteen-square-mile area of Tokyo, generating immense firestorms.” (Selden, p. 83) According to Sven Lindqvist, author of A History of Bombing, “People threw themselves into the canals and submerged themselves until just their mouths were above the surface. They suffocated by the thousands with the smoke and lack of oxygen. In other canals the water got so hot that people were boiled alive.” (Lindqvist, p. 107)

“No previous or subsequent conventional bombing raid came close to generating the toll in death and destruction of the great Tokyo raid of March 9-10.” (Selden, p. 85)

LeMay said he wanted Tokyo “burned down—wiped right off the map.” (Selden, p. 85) In his memoirs he wrote, “Nothing new about death, nothing new about deaths caused militarily. We scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo that night of  March 9-10 than went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” (Hasegawa, p. 117)

“In the summer of 1950, Japanese civilians at Yokota Air Base loaded the B-29s that had firebombed Tokyo five years earlier, for targets in North and South Korea.” (Young, p. 167) Having perfected the art of incinerating cities and cremating civilians, LeMay now applied what he had learned in Japan to Korea. He recalled that “over a period of three years or so … we burned down every town in North Korea and South Korea, too”. (Selden, p. 93) By 1953, there were only two modern buildings left standing in the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang. (Armstrong)

korean-war-atrocities-bombing
LeMay: We burned downed every town in North Korea and South Korea too.

US forces dropped 14,000 tons of napalm during World War II, principally on Japan. The amount was more than doubled, to 32,000 tons, for the war on Korea. The Vietnam War saw a more than ten-fold increase in the use of Dow Chemical’s incinerating jelly. (Lindqvist, p. 162)

The difference between cremating civilians in cities and cremating Jews in death camp ovens is too trivial to mention.

In 1959, the US historian Lewis Mumford wrote, “In principle, the extermination camps where the Nazis incinerated … helpless Jews were no different from the urban crematoria our air force improvised in its attack by napalm bombs on Tokyo.” (Hasegawa, p. 97)

Peter Englund, writing about the July 1943 US-British firebombing of Hamburg, which killed 35,000 German civilians, noted that “When the rescue teams made their way into Hamburg’s shelters, they were faced with scenes reminiscent of those encountered at the same time by Jews forced to clear the bodies of other Jews out of the gas chambers—‘intertwined piles of people, killed by fumes and pressed against the vents of the barricaded doors.’” (Lindqvist, p. 97)

Lindqvist recounts that Freeman Dyson, the recently deceased nuclear physicist, served as an operations analyst for the Royal Air Force Bomber Command “at the time of the firestorm in Hamburg. … ‘I sat in my office until the end, carefully calculating how to murder most economically another hundred thousand people.’ After the war he compared himself to the bureaucratic-murderers working in Eichmann’s death machine: ‘They sat in their office, writing memoranda and calculating how to murder people efficiently, just like me. The main difference was that they were sent to jail or hanged as war criminals, and I went free.’” (Lindqvist, p. 96)

Death camp ovens
Mumford: In principle, the extermination camps where the Nazis incinerated … helpless Jews were no different from the urban crematoria our air force improvised in its attack by napalm bombs on Tokyo.

The arsonist, LeMay, was never sent to jail or hanged as a war criminal. The victors’ war crimes tribunals decided that since the German, US, British, and Japanese militaries all engaged in the indiscriminate bombing of civilians, terror bombing—the bombing of civilians with the express intention of inducing terror to sap their morale—was no longer a war crime. In a circular logic, if the United States did it, it was good…or a least not a crime.

For all its horrors, the March 9-10 air raid on Tokyo produced fewer fatalities than the Allied blockade of Germany during World War I, which killed more than 750,000 German civilians through disease and malnutrition (and which the Allies maintained, even after the Germans laid down their arms.) (Mueller and Mueller) UN sanctions on Iraq from 1990 to 2003 killed over 570,000 Iraqi children under the age of five, according to a UN agency (Crossette) —in only the first five years of a 13-year program of economic strangulation. And while 35,000 German civilians were cremated by US and British bombers at Hamburg in 1943, economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs estimate that sanctions on Venezuela “have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018.” (Weisbrot and Sachs)

The indiscriminate bombing of civilians meets the textbook definition of terrorism: the deliberate use of violence against civilians to achieve a political objective. Economic firebombing is no different. Its aim is to create enough hunger, disease, and death that the civilian population of a sanctioned country has no choice but to pressure its government to bring about the political change desired by the sanctioning power. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s ultimatum to Iran, that its “leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat,” illustrates the point. (Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran)

In an article titled “It’s time we saw economic sanctions for what they really are—war crimes,” the veteran foreign affairs correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote that economic firebombing is an “attraction for politicians”, because it “can be sold to the public, though of course not to people at the receiving end, as more humane than military action.” (Cockburn, 2018)

But economic firebombing can, and often does, produce more deaths than military intervention. The United States can silently kill 500,000 civilians through disease and malnutrition and arouse little opposition. But a firebombing raid on Pyongyang that killed many fewer civilians would be met by widespread moral indignation throughout the world.

Invisible war
Sanctions, economic firebombings, are not a humane alternative to war. They are war, even if carried out invisibly.

From the perspective of the US government, it is now much more effective to rely on the US Treasury, the department which now does quietly what LeMay once did visibly, than to rely on LeMay’s successors at the Pentagon. “At the end of the day, the US Treasury is a more powerful instrument of foreign policy than the Pentagon for all its aircraft carriers and drones.” (Cockburn, 2019)

Today the United States and its allies will carry out economic firebombing raids on North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Syria, and Iran, as they did yesterday and have done in the days and months and years and sometime decades before. It’s the new way to wage war. And it can be much more deadly than the old way.

Stephen Gowans is the author of Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform (2019); Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Fight for Freedom (2018); and Washington’s Long War on Syria (2017). All are published by Baraka Books, Montreal.

Armstrong, Charles. “The Destruction and Reconstruction of North Korea, 1950-1960,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Japan Focus, Volume 7, March 16, 2009.

Cockburn, Patrick. “It’s time we saw economic sanctions for what they really are—war crimes,” The Independent, January 19, 2018.

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

Crossette, Barbara. “Iraq Sanctions Kill Children, U.N. Reports,” The New York Times, December 1, 1995.

Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi . “Where the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki justified?” in Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. Young, Eds., Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History, The New Press, 2009.

Lindqvist, Sven. A History of Bombing, The New Press, 2000.

Mueller, John and Karl Mueller. “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 1999.

Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Michael R. Pompeo, November 7, 2018, quoted in ”Iran letter to the UNSG and UNSC on Pompeo provocative statement,”

Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, November 30, 2018.

Selden, Mark. “A forgotten holocaust: US bombing strategy, the destruction of Japanese cities, and the American way of war from the Pacific War to Iraq,” in Yuki Tanaka and

Marilyn B. Young, Eds., Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History, The New Press, 2009, p. 84)

Weisbrot, Mark and Jeffrey Sachs, “Economic sanctions as collective punishment: The case of Venezuela,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 2019

Young, Marilyn B. “Bombing civilians from the twentieth to the twenty-first centuries,” in

Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. Young, Eds., Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History, The New Press, 2009.

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

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

February 23, 2020

By Stephen Gowans

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

Washington's Long War on Syria
http://www.barakabooks.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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