Noam Chomsky recently co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times, portraying the embattled Venezuelan government as an arbitrary undemocratic state, and calling upon it “to liberate all political prisoners, both military and civilian.” The occasion for the op-ed was the release from parole of Venezuelan judge María Lourdes Afiuni. Chomsky had weighed in on her case in 2011, in an interview with the British newspaper, The Observer. The newspaper ran the interview under the headline “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy”. The linguist denied he had done this, calling the headline “a complete deception.” It turned out the only deception was Chomsky’s denial.
Chomsky took issue with Chavez jailing people who threatened the Bolivarian Revolution, arguing that such harsh measures were only warranted “for specific circumstances, let’s say fighting world war two.” The implication was that US efforts to block the reform program set in train by Hugo Chavez—the 2002 coup, the attempted 2019 coup, economic warfare, destabilization, military intimidation, the attempted assassination of Maduro, US-organized diplomatic pressure on the government to step down—were not of the same magnitude as WWII and therefore emergency measures were unwarranted.
During both the first and second world wars, the United States suspended civil liberties, jailed dissidents and potential fifth columnists, and concentrated authority in the presidency, including the authority to direct the economy. Yet the threat posed to the United States by its enemies was vanishingly small. The United States, or at least the North American part of it, was protected on either side by two vast oceans and two friendly countries. There was no chance the WWI Central Powers would cross the Atlantic to invade the United States, and no chance either of fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or militarist Japan crossing thousands of miles of ocean to launch a general assault on continental US soil. Nor were any of these enemies in a position to engage in anti-US economic warfare of any consequence, or to engineer a coup d’état in Washington.
The same, however, cannot be said about the power of the United States, its allies, and myrmidons, to topple the Venezuelan government. Venezuela has unquestionably faced a severe emergency from the moment Hugo Chavez came to power, with a vision of overcoming a semi-colonial past and resisting an imperialist present. At that point, Washington began organizing the overthrow of his revolution. To suggest, as Chomsky does, that the Venezuelan government has the latitude to assert a program of national independence in the face of US hostility while according full freedom to the US-backed opposition to organize its downfall, is either naïve, or artful. Whatever the case, it’s an invitation to the Maduro government to commit suicide.
Chomsky frequently complained that The New York Times wouldn’t run his op-eds because his points of view were outside the acceptable limits of ruling class opinion. Well, it seems that not all of them are.
No sooner had Chomsky performed his valuable service to Washington of traducing the Venezuelan government as undemocratic and arbitrary, than Gilbert Achcar, a Chomsky co-author, was revealed to be doing his own service to the United States’ global dictatorship by working with the British Ministry of Defense. Anyone who has followed Achcar’s work won’t be surprised. The University of London professor hasn’t met a US intervention he didn’t like. His speciality is to formulate arguments to prove that interventions against forces of national assertiveness and local sovereignty are, despite appearances, actually anti-imperialist and pro-socialist.
Achcar has been training the” British military “on ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and other topics,” for the past two years, according to The Morning Star. Why the British military would pay the slightest attention to him is mind-boggling. Achcar is a charlatan, much given to double-talk and sophistry, whose analyses of the topics on which he holds forth with studied authority are stunningly wrong.
This raised the question of why an analyst with such a horrible track record would be sought after for articles, co-authorship, interviews, and training, by the likes of Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and the British military? That, I guess, says something about Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and the British military.
There has long been a cankered part of the political Left that has used sophistry to justify support for imperialism. Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and Achcar, stand in a long tradition, stretching back to the socialists who supported their own governments in WWI, and presented what they said were perfectly sound socialist and anti-imperialist reasons for doing so. Then as now, their arguments and actions were a betrayal of the socialism and anti-imperialism to which they affected fidelity.
The “Iranian leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat.” – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, November 7, 2018 
June 17, 2019
By Stephen Gowans
Who is responsible for the recent attacks on the fuel tankers in the Gulf of Oman?
Washington blames Iran, and has offered what it calls proof—a grainy video allegedly showing what are said to be Iranians removing what is said to be a mine from what is said to be the hull of a stricken tanker. But the video proves nothing more than someone removed, or appeared to remove, (not affixed but removed) something from the hull of a ship. Even The New York Times was skeptical of the video-graphic indictment. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo argued that the attacks could only have been carried out by a perpetrator with “a high level of expertise,” i.e., a state, and not just any state, but Iran. But the Times pointed out that “the video depicts a curiously haphazard operation, with an ill-advised placement of the mine on the ship, careless safety procedures to remove it and little effort to hide the activity.”  This is hardly what you would expect of a sophisticated perpetrator with a high level of expertise. That this so-called proof of Iranian culpability was provided by Pompeo, who in May crowed that as director of the CIA “we lied, cheated, and stole”  hardly makes the case more convincing.
On the other hand, while Iran fervently denies responsibility for the attacks, its denials carry little weight. The country has very good reason to disrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, and equally good reason to deny it is doing so. Iran is the target of an undeclared but hardly secret war by the United States and of efforts by Washington to reduce Iranian oil exports—the country’s major source of revenue—to zero. Tehran warned as long ago as 2011 that it would retaliate against efforts to block its oil shipments, and that it would do so by dint of lex talionis—that is, via the Old Testament justice of an eye for an eye.  The logic is clear. Since continued access to oil revenue is a sine qua non of Iran’s existence as a viable independent state, it cannot afford to allow the United States to sever it connections to the world economy. One of the few effective measures it can take to force Washington to back off is use its geostrategic position in the Gulf to disrupt the flow of oil on which US investors depend for profits and US allies depend for energy. Accordingly, Tehran has “repeatedly threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if Iran isn’t allowed to export oil.”  The idea, then, that Iranian operatives may be behind the oil tanker attacks is hardly far-fetched. And, Iran’s leaders, hardly simpletons, would never willingly acknowledge responsibility, since an admission would quickly be turned by Washington into a casus belli.
This isn’t to say that Iran is indeed the perpetrator; only that it may be the perpetrator, and that if it is, the fact that it is, is entirely predictable. As William J. Burns, a former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration put it, “If the Iranians were responsible for the attacks on shipping in the gulf, it is … a predictable consequence of an American coercive diplomacy strategy.”  What’s more, considering the nature of the undeclared US war on Iran—one led by a program of what Iranian foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif aptly calls ‘economic terrorism’—Iranian retaliation against US-allied shipping is not only predictable, but legitimate, as one of the few, if not only, means available to the Iranian state to safeguard its existence against an unprovoked attack by the United States.
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in May, 2018, Pompeo issued a list of 12 demands to Iran,  reducible to three overarching requirements:
End support for opponents of US allies Israel and Saudi Arabia;
Abandon the Syrian government in its fight against a Western-backed Sunni Islamist insurgency;
Forebear from enriching uranium and developing ballistic missiles, activities that could provide the basis for a militarized nuclear self-defense in posse.
In short, Pompeo demanded that Iran capitulate to a US dictatorship over the region.
There is only a vanishingly small chance that the current government in Tehran, which is constitutionally opposed to monarchy (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, hence, Washington’s Arab allies), European settler colonialism (Israel), and submission to US tyranny, will prostrate itself before Pompeo’s diktats. Which means the only way Washington could possibly achieve Iranian compliance is by replacing the country’s current government with a regime of marionettes. While Washington denies it seeks regime change in Tehran, Brett McGurk, the former US envoy for the fight against ISIS, acknowledges the obvious. “Trump may not even realize it, but particularly since the arrival of John Bolton as national security adviser last year, his administration has been pursuing what are effectively regime-change policies in not one but three countries: Venezuela, Syria, and Iran.” McGurk explains that while the United States is not explicitly calling for regime change, it is pursuing policies “that, if carried to their logical conclusion, necessitate a change of government.” 
There is no doubt that, its denials notwithstanding, Washington seeks regime change in Iran. Former U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill points out that Pompeo’s 12 demands are “effectively impossible for Iran to accommodate without fundamentally changing its leadership and system of government.”  Pompeo admitted to “Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., that the administration’s strategy would not coerce Iranian leaders into a friendlier stance. But, he said, ‘I think what can change is, the people can change the government.’”  In other words, since the current government is unlikely to bow to US demands, a new government must be installed, one willing to pander to US requirements. This accords with the thinking of US national security advisor John Bolton. In July 2017, Bolton opined, “The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change and, therefore, the only solution is to change the regime itself.’”  If any further proof is needed that Washington is pursuing a regime change program, consider this:
Bolton has long been on record as demanding regime change in Iran. “The declared policy of the United States should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran,” Bolton said before being hired by US president Donald Trump.  Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, argues that given Bolton’s very clear positions, “If you hire him, you’re making a clear signal that’s what you want.”  “In May 2018, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told reporters that the administration is ‘committed to regime change’ in Iran.” 
Bolton “warned Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, after the 40th anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution, that he should not expect ‘many more to enjoy’ (suggesting that Khamenei may be gone in a year).” 
Pompeo has referred to the US “effort to make sure that the Iranian people get control of their capital”  and has “suggested the Iranian public could take matters into its own hands.” 
If the US goal of regime change in Iran isn’t secret, then neither are the means by which Washington intends to achieve its objective. The methods are clearly spelled out in open source documents and have been reported widely in the US news media. In sum, the United States seeks to recruit Iranian citizens en masse as US agents of regime change. The goal is to induce Iranian citizens to “take matters into [their] own hands” and “get control of their capital.” The lash that will drive them to do this, according to the plan, will be the misery created by US efforts to destroy the Iranian economy, chiefly by driving Iran’s oil revenue to zero, a goal to be achieved by threatening secondary sanctions on any country that does business with the Islamic Republic. Driven by economic desperation, Iranians will channel their energies into movements to overthrow the government, facilitated by a CIA-led program of subversion, if the plan proves successful. At the same time, the CIA will stir up unrest among Iran’s ethnic minorities, adding to the maelstrom.
Washington has subjected Iran to what Pompeo calls “the strongest sanctions in history,”  which he describes “as being calculated to produce domestic political unrest in Iran.”  “What Mr. Trump and his team are trying to do,” observed The Wall Street Journal, “is to use economic sanctions to generate unprecedented pressure on Iran … to create enough economic distress in Iran that the regime could buckle under the weight of popular discontent.” 
Whether the sanctions are the strongest in history, as Pompeo claims, is unclear. But what is clear is that they attack the length and breadth of the Iranian economy. The United States “has sanctioned the oil sector, the metals industry and military leaders by cutting them off from the American-led international financial system. To compel unhappy allies to go along, it has threatened to cut off their companies as well if they continue doing business with Iran.” 
More “than 700 Iranian banks, companies and individuals, have been targeted.  And Washington imposed “sanctions that would severely penalize any foreign or U.S. company that does business with Iran.”  The US goal is to completely cut off all Iranian oil sales  and to blockade the country economically.
Iran’s foreign secretary calls the sanctions economic terrorism, and with good reason. If terrorism is the threat, or infliction, of harm on civilians in order to achieve political ends, then the US measures clearly constitute terrorism. There’s no doubt that the measures are intended to achieve the political goal of regime change; that they’re intended to pressure Iranian civilians; and that they’re causing harm to civilians.
As a result of US economic coercion, Iran’s economy is cratering, according to The Wall Street Journal.  The New York Times says the Iranian economy is “reeling from sanctions”  and that it is “in a bad state.”  Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, says his country is facing the worst economic challenge in forty years. 
US economic warfare on Iran has caused the value of the country’s currency, the rial, to plunge.  This, in turn, has “led to a sharp increase in the prices of imported goods.”  “By raising the cost of imports, the currency collapse” has sparked a massive inflation. Inflation is running at 40 per cent.  Inflation has bankrupted businesses and put many imported goods, such as critical medicines, beyond the reach of ordinary Iranians.  The IMF predicts that the economy will continue to undergo significant contraction.  In turn, the misery of ordinary Iranians will increase.
The cratering of the Iranian economy by itself creates the possibility of social unrest, but leaving nothing to chance, Washington has established a CIA program to help the process along. “In 2017, John Bolton—not yet national security adviser—recommended in a memo to President Trump that the U.S. support ‘internal resistance’ and minorities inside Iran,” according to The Wall Street Journal.  As it turned out, the administration was already working along these lines. HR McMaster, Bolton’s predecessor as national security advisor, had “signed and put out a 27-page methodical Iran strategy with two prongs. The first was…a subversion campaign to influence Iran’s population. The second was confrontation,” according to Bob Woodward, in his book about the Trump White House, Fear.  The New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman had reported in June 2017 that the US president had “appointed to the National Security Council hawks eager to contain Iran and push regime change, the groundwork for which would most likely be laid through C.I.A. covert action.” According to the reporters, “Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the council’s senior director for intelligence — the main White House liaison to intelligence agencies” had told other administration officials that he wanted “to use American spies to help oust the Iranian government.” Appointed to lead the subversion operation was Michael D’Andrea, “the Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden.” D’Andrea goes by the sobriquets “Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike.” 
In late December 2017 and early January 2018 economic “problems and political complaints led to a wave of public protests in more than 100 Iranian cities.”  Trump aides pointed “to outbursts of protest in the streets of Iranian cities as a sign that, maybe” Pompeo’s “strongest sanctions in history” were producing their intended effect. One senior administration aide acknowledged “that the protests are ’sporadic’ and without any central organization, but” said: “In a hundred cities and towns in the country there is enormous dissatisfaction.”  According to The New York Times, “with runaway inflation, broad economic problems and labor unrest, the Iranian government believes its popularity is weakening.” 
Bolton had also called on Washington to foment secessionist unrest among “minorities inside Iran.”  Ethnic minorities, including Kurds, Arabs, and Baluchis, account for one-third or more of Iran’s population,  and uprisings by these communities could substantially add to the chaos already occasioned by Washington’s economic war on the Persian Gulf state. The Wall Street Journal reported that “Iran’s non-Persian ethnic groups, once relatively quiet, are increasingly discontented with the regime,” and that the “wave of protests across much of the country … has been strongest in the predominantly non-Persian districts.”  “Kurdish groups have been clashing with Iranian forces with increasing frequency in the northwest, where most of Iran’s roughly 8 million Kurds live.” To the south, Arab separatists launched a September 2018 attack on a military parade in Iran’s main oil hub. Meanwhile, “to the east, insurgents fighting for greater autonomy or independence for the Baluch people of Iran have hit military posts in an area bordering Pakistan.” 
Bad enough as these malign US actions are, US economic terrorism and CIA subversion are only two layers of a palimpsest of US aggression, overlaid upon ongoing US military pressure. As The New York Times notes, “The United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet patrols the Persian Gulf. American forces are deployed in Iraq to the east, Afghanistan to the west and in other regional neighbors including Turkey, Bahrain and Qatar.”  Iran is hemmed in by hostile US forces.
The country has also been the target of a major US cyberwarfare effort. “In the early years of the Obama administration,” wrote David E. Sanger and Mark Mezzetti in The New York Times, “the United States developed an elaborate plan for a cyberattack on Iran in case the diplomatic effort to limit its nuclear program failed and led to a military conflict. The plan, according to the reporters, is “code-named Nitro Zeus,” and is “devised to disable Iran’s air defenses, communications systems and crucial parts of its power grid.” At its zenith, “the planning for Nitro Zeus involved thousands of American military and intelligence personnel, spending tens of millions of dollars and placing electronic implants in Iranian computer networks to ‘prepare the battlefield,’ in the parlance of the Pentagon.” 
Earlier, the United States’ “fast-growing ranks of secret cyberwarriors” had blown up nuclear centrifuges in Iran in an effort to prevent the country from acquiring a latent nuclear weapons capability that could be actualized in an emergency to defend itself. “The attacks on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, begun in the George W. Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games, destroyed roughly 1,000 centrifuges and set back the Iranians by a year or so,” according to The New York Times. 
Recently, Washington has ratchetted up its military pressure on Iran, sending a carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, “and its accompanying ships as well as what is known as a bomber task force to the region.”  The US warship carries more than 40 F-18 Super Hornets, which are “now conducting ‘persistent presence’ missions in international airspace near Iran,”  that is, unremitting patrols along the edge of Iranian airspace with one purpose: intimidation. “The U.S. also is sending the amphibious assault ship USS Arlington to the Middle East. The ship carries U.S. marines, amphibious vehicles and helicopters that can be used in a range of military operations.” 
Additionally, “Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated military plan that envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East.” Some US officials dismiss the plans as a scare tactic,  a bluff designed to frighten the Iranians. But bluff or not, the intent is to intimidate, and is thus part of the undeclared war on Iran.
If Iran is indeed responsible for disrupting the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf (and it may not be), its actions are only the predictable consequence of the multilayered US aggression. What’s more, attacks on Persian Gulf shipping may be the only practicable means by which Iran can defend itself against a threat to its very existence as a viable independent state. What recourse has Iran to avert the complete collapse of its economy, and the starvation of its citizens, while retaining its independence, but to carry out deniable attacks on Persian Gulf shipping to disrupt the tranquil digestion of US oil company profits and uninterrupted delivery of oil supplies to US allies? Despite the promises of the European Union to rescue Iran from economic collapse by way of a financial mechanism that would allow the country to circumvent the US blockade, Brussels has failed to deliver. “These days, the biggest, baddest weapon in the American arsenal isn’t a missile, or a tank, or a fighter jet. It is America’s economic clout,” observes The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib.  The Iranians, it seems, are on their own, fated to mount a defense against the economic clout of the world’s largest economy and the military clout of the planet’s biggest war machine.
US chauvinists will retort that while the war on Iran is undeclared and may be reasonably described as terrorism that it is, all the same, justifiable as a measure to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, to say nothing of pressuring Tehran to curb its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Syrian government, and to cease its opposition to Israel and Saudi Arabia. There is insufficient space to reply in full here, except to make the following points:
If Iran had ever been working on a militarized nuclear program, it abandoned the work as long ago as 2003, according to the US intelligence community. 
If Iran embarks on a militarized nuclear program, it will be the predictable consequence of ongoing US and Israeli military pressure.
If the United States, Israel, Britain, France, and other countries can maintain nuclear arsenals in order, they say, to protect themselves from nuclear blackmail, why should that option be permanently foreclosed to Iran (or any other country whose sovereignty is outraged by more militarily formidable opponents)? If nuclear weapons are to be counted among the military equipment available to imperialist powers and settler colonial states, should they not also be available to states seeking to defend themselves against the formers’ predations?
Using pressure to coerce Iran to alter its foreign policy to accommodate US needs is an act of imperialism and a violation of Iran’s independence, to say nothing of its being an incentive to Iran to develop the nuclear weapons Washington claims it seeks to prevent Iran from developing.
Iran’s foreign policy is rooted in the country’s opposition to monarchy and European settler colonialism, along with its intolerance of Western domination of the Muslim world. Since most of Washington’s Arab allies collude in the US tyranny over West Asia, and since most of its Arab allies are monarchies, and since Israel is a settler colonial state, Iran, quite naturally, finds itself at odds with Washington’s satraps in the region, and allied to Syria and movements opposed to Israeli apartheid and US dictatorship. It ought to be clear who the good guys are in this struggle—or at the very least, who they aren’t. Iran may not be on the right side of every progressive struggle, but it is clearly on the right side of this one—a struggle against three of humanity’s most abhorrent institutions: monarchy, settler colonialism, and empire.
1 Quoted in “Iran letter to the UNSG and UNSC on Pompeo provocative statement,” Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran, November 30, 2018.
4 David E. Sanger and Annie Lowrey, “Iran threatens to block oil shipments, as U.S. prepares sanctions,” The New York Times, December 27, 2011.
5 Benoit Faucon, Costas Paris, and Summer Said, “Gulf of Oman attacks trigger together security on key shipping routes,” The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2019.
6 David E. Sanger and Edward Wong, “After placing blame for attacks, Trump faces difficult choices on confronting Iran,” The New York Times, June 13, 2019.
7 Michael R. Gordon, “US lays out demands for new Iran deal,” The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2018.
8 Brett McGurk, “American foreign policy adrift: Pompeo is calling for realism—Trump isn’t delivering,” Foreign Affairs, June 5, 2019.
9 Edward Wong, “Trump pushes Iraq to stop buying energy from Iran,” The New York Times, February 11, 2019.
10 Vivian Yee, “US sanctions cut deep, but Iran seems unlikely to budge,” The New York Times, May 12, 2019.
11 Walter Russel Mead, “Trump’s Iran gambit,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2018.
12 Patrick Cockburn, “The mysterious ‘sabotage’ of Saudi oil tankers is a dangerous moment in Trump’s pumped up feud with Iran,” The Independent, May 13, 2019.
13 David E. Sanger and Gardiner Harris, “’America First’ bears a new threat: military force,” The New York Times, March 24, 2018.
14 Walter Russel Mead, “Trump’s Iran gambit,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2018.
15 Brett McGurk, “American foreign policy adrift: Pompeo is calling for realism—Trump isn’t delivering,” Foreign Affairs, June 5, 2019.
16 Edward Wong and Ben Hubbard, “Pompeo’s anti-Iran tour faces obstacles of a fractious Middle East,” The New York Times, January 14, 2019.
17 Ian Talley, “US toughens stance on future Iran oil exports,” The Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2018.
18 Michael R. Gordon, “US lays out demands for new Iran deal,” The Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2018.
19 Mark Landler, Maggie Haberman and Eric Schmitt, “Trump tells Pentagon chief he does not want war with Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2019.
20 Gerald F. Seib, “Amid the fog, Trump’s real agenda in Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2019.
21 Gerald F. Seib, “The risks in overusing America’s big economic weapon,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2019.
22 Ian Talley and Courtney McBride, “As new Iran sanctions loom, US aims to plug gaps,” The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2018.
23 Greg Ip, “Trump trade levers test long-term US alliances,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2019.
24 Ian Talley and Courtney McBride, “As new Iran sanctions loom, US aims to plug gaps,” The Wall Street Journal, November 2, 2018.
25 Grep Ip, “Trump trade levers test long-term US alliances,” The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2019.
26 Edward Wong and Clifford Krauss, “US moves to stop all nations from buying Iranian oil, but China is defiant,” The New York Times, April 22, 2019.
27 Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran is changing, but not in ways Trump thinks,” The New York Times, June 25, 2018.
28 Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran faces worst economic challenge in 40 years, president says,” The New York Times, January 30, 2019.
29 Sune Engel Rasmussen and Michael R. Gordon, “Iran defies US bid to curb its Middle East influence,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2018.
30 Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran is changing, but not in ways Trump thinks,” The New York Times, June 25, 2018.
31 Patrick Cockburn, “The mysterious ‘sabotage’ of Saudi oil tankers is a dangerous moment in Trump’s pumped up feud with Iran,” The Independent, May 13, 2019.
32 Edward Wong and Clifford Krauss, “US moves to stop all nations from buying Iranian oil, but China is defiant,” The New York Times, April 22, 2019; Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran’s economic crisis drags down the middle class almost overnight,” The New York Times, December 26, 2018.
33 Patrick Cockburn, “Europe doesn’t have the power to be much more than a spectator in the escalating US-Iran conflict,” The Independent, May 11, 2019.
34 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.
35 Bob Woodward. Fear: Trump in the White House. Simon & Shuster. 2018. p. 133.
36 Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Goldman, “CIA names the ‘dark prince’ to run Iran operations, signaling a tougher stance,” The New York Times, June 2, 2017.
37 Asa Fitch, “New unrest roils Iran as US ramps up pressure,” The Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2018.
38 Gerald F. Seib, “Amid the fog, Trump’s real agenda in Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2019.
39 Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon builds deterrent force against possible Iranian attack,” The New York Times, May 10, 2019.
40 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.
41 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.
42 Walter Russel Mead, “Trump’s Iran gambit,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2018.
43 Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan, “Iranian groups press for rights—and Tehran hits back,” The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2018.
44 Rick Gladstone, “Iran’s missile tests and the nuclear deal,” The New York Times, March 10, 2016.
45 David E. Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. had cyberattack plan if Iran nuclear dispute led to conflict,” The New York Times, February 16, 2016.
46 David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. cyberweapons, used against Iran and North Korea, are a disappointment against ISIS,” The New York Times, June 12, 2017.
47 Gordon Lubold and Michael R. Gordon, “US deploys forces to Mideast to deter Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2019.
48 Gordon Lubold, “US commander weighs an expanded Mideast force to counter Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2019.
49 Nancy A. Yousef, “US bolsters its Gulf defense to counter Iran,” The Wall Street Journal, May 10, 2019.
50 Eric Schmitt and Julian E. Barnes, “White House reviews military plans against Iran, in echoes of Iraq war,” The New York Times, May 13, 2019.
51 Gerald F. Seib, “The risks in overusing America’s big economic weapon,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 2019.
52 David E. Sanger, “US says Iran could expedite nuclear bomb,” The New York Times, September 10, 2009.
Below is an excerpt from my new book, Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform. The excerpt is from Chapter 3, titled Nakba. The book is available from Baraka Books.
May 14, 2019
By Stephen Gowans
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution 181, calling for the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, linked by an economic union, with Jerusalem set aside as an international territory outside the jurisdiction of either state. Palestine would be divided into eight parts. Three parts would constitute the Jewish state, while the Arab state would be comprised of three other parts, plus a fourth, Jaffa, which would be an Arab exclave within the territory of the Jewish state. Jerusalem—envisaged as a corpus separatum, or international city—was the eighth part.
The Jewish population had grown rapidly from World War I under the stewardship of the British colonial administration from approximately 10 percent of the population to about one-third. Yet, while Jewish settlers remained in the minority and were outnumbered two to one by the indigenous Arabs, the resolution granted the Jewish state 56 percent of the Palestinians’ country, while the Arabs, with two-thirds of the population, were given only 42 percent. The balance, two percent, represented Jerusalem.
Some people continue to see the partition resolution—and its descendant, the two-state solution—as fair and practical, but it was neither of these things. Laying aside the inequitable apportionment of a greater territory for a Jewish state to a smaller Jewish population, there are larger issues to confront.
The first is the denial of Palestinian sovereignty. There is no question that the indigenous population was adamantly opposed to the expropriation of its land. While it made up the majority of Palestine’s inhabitants, its wishes were completely ignored by the United Nations. This was predictable. At the time the world body was dominated by First World powers steeped in the colonial tradition. Many of the countries that voted for the resolution were settler colonial states themselves: Britain, France and Belgium, and the British settler offshoots, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. There was no chance that a similar resolution would have passed from the 1960s onwards, when the balance of power in the United Nations General Assembly shifted from the First World to the Third World. Countries with colonial pasts unwaveringly considered Zionism a legitimate political ideology, while countries victimized by colonialism regarded it as a form of colonialism.
The second issue, following from the first, is that the partition resolution called for the creation of an unacceptable institution: a colonial settler state. Colonial settler states have been overcome one by one by determined resistance—in Algeria, Rhodesia, South Africa, and elsewhere—to the deserved applause of the majority of humanity. The demise of each settler colonial state is a sign post in the progress of humanity. The question of whether the Jewish state envisioned by the partition resolution, or Israel today, is a colonial settler state isn’t even controversial. Neither Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, David Ben-Gurion, the father of the state of Israel, nor Le’ev Jabotinsky, founder of revisionist Zionism, were in any doubt that a Jewish state built by settlers on the land of another people was unequivocally settler colonialism.
As to the practicality of Resolution 181, it is as indefensible as the partition plan’s alleged equity. A practical settlement to the conflict would have been one that all sides accepted. But neither side accepted the resolution. The indigenous population rejected it for the obvious reason that it denied them sovereignty over 56 percent of their territory and handed it to a minority population of recent immigrants. No people on earth would have accepted this proposal for themselves; why the Palestinians were expected to accept it, boggles the mind. Ben-Gurion accepted the resolution in words, but only as a tactical manoeuvre, recognizing that an embryo Jewish state could be incubated into the Land of Israel through military conquest. The Revisionists rejected the planned partition, because it fell short of fulfilling Zionist aspirations for a Jewish state in all of south Syria (the name by which Palestine and Jordan were known by the indigenous population.)
For the settlers, the demographics of the partition plan were all wrong. The Jewish state would contain 500,000 Jews but almost as many Arabs. There would be 440,000 Arabs living in the territory Resolution 181 envisioned for the Jewish state. Jews, then, would constitute only a bare majority. A bare majority could quickly become a minority, depending on immigration, and on the birth rates of the two communities. Moreover, how could 500,000 Jews rule almost as many Arabs, considering that the Arabs rejected Jewish rule? The plan was completely unworkable. The only way to create a viable Jewish state would be to engineer a radical reduction in the number of Arabs living within its frontiers while at the same time expanding its borders to absorb as many of the 10,000 Jewish settlers the resolution had assigned to the Arab state.
The resolution’s proclamation immediately touched off fighting between the native Arabs and the immigrant Jewish settlers. The settlers were determined to drive as many natives as possible out of the territory assigned by the UN to a Jewish state, while capturing territory assigned by the UN to an Arab state. When the dust settled, a Jewish state, named Israel, was proclaimed, comprising 78 percent of Palestinian territory, not the 56 percent envisaged by the resolution. Meanwhile, 700,000 Arab natives had been exiled from their homes and the settlers refused their repatriation, keen to protect the outcome of their demographic engineering.
Today, Israelis insist their state grew out of a UN resolution that Arabs rejected and Jewish settlers accepted. While the Arab natives certainly rejected the resolution, the settlers rejected most of it as well, accepting only one small part of it—the call for the creation of a Jewish state. They rejected all the other parts, including the call for the creation of an Arab state within specified borders; the prohibition against expropriating Arab land within the Jewish state; the designation of Jaffa as an Arab exclave; the creation of an international Jerusalem; and the creation of an economic union between two states.
British rule of Palestine came to an end on May 15, 1948. On May 14, Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, sparking what has become known as the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It was the first in a series of settler-native wars—armed conflicts between the army of the Jewish colonial settler state and various Arab armies and Arab irregulars.
The Arab belligerents in 1948—Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria—dispatched some 20,000 troops to help their compatriots resist settler efforts to transform Palestine into the Land of Israel. Only three of these states— Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq—had armies of consequence, and only one, Jordan, had an army that was prepared for war. All three states were British clients, governed by kings who served at the pleasure of London. All were armed by John Bull, and Jordan’s army was under the direct command of 21 British officers who took their orders from London. This was significant, since Britain favored the settlers, and could—and did—restrict the flow of weapons and ammunition to their client states. It’s not by accident that the core Arab armies did not intervene in Palestine until after British forces exited Palestine, even though settler forces began operations to drive the Arab natives out of Palestine five months earlier. When the British-controlled Arab armies did finally intervene, the settlers had largely ethnically-cleansed Palestine, and their entry into the affray was a near farce.
The Arab forces had no central command and no coordination. It has been remarked that one of the reasons five Arab armies were defeated by one Israeli army was because there were five Arab armies.
Worse, there were inter-Arab rivalries that further weakened the combined Arab forces. Jordan and Iraq, led by British-installed kings, brothers of the Hashemite dynasty, were eager to see the defeat of the Egyptian army of King Farouk. Farouk was a rival for influence in the Arab world, and the Hashemites desired his defeat. Jordan and Iraq, then, had no intention of doing anything to help their rival’s military forces.
On top of these problems, was the general weakness of the Arab armies. The Egyptian forces were under equipped and poorly led. They had no maps, no tents, and insufficient logistical support. Their officers were generally incompetent, having attained their rank through political connections. When orders were issued to soldiers in the field, they were often contradictory. The Iraqi army was even worse; it was sent into battle without ammunition.
Finally, there was betrayal. Abdullah, the king of Jordan, had secretly worked out an arrangement with the settlers to annex the West Bank to his kingdom. Glubb Pasha, the British officer who commanded Abdullah’s army, deliberately restrained his forces, ordering them not to enter territory assigned by the UN to a Jewish state, though Israeli forces had seized territory assigned to an Arab state.
It would have been difficult enough for the Arab armies to prevail under these trying circumstances, but the fact that they were outnumbered made victory all but impossible. Under-manned, lacking coordination, incompetently-led, ill-equipped, largely untrained, betrayed from within by Abdullah, and sabotaged by their British masters, 20,000 Arab soldiers were no match for the 60,000 unified and determined settlers under arms, many of whom were highly trained soldiers, having served in the British Army during the Second World War.
The Israelis have misnamed the First Settler-Native War as The War of Independence, as if it were a national liberation struggle of an oppressed people against a colonial power, Britain. On the contrary, it was a colonial war fought by Jewish settlers whose victory was aided in the background by the British. It was a war of dispossession, not a war of restitution.
Reporter Anne Barnard has written a long piece in The New York Times titled Inside Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons: How Bashar al-Assad Crushed Dissent. The undoubted effect of the article—which accuses the Syrian government of running “a sprawling system of secret prisons” in which opponents of the Syrian state are maltreated, even raped and tortured—is to cast Syria as a rogue state operating outside the bounds of international norms.
It’s difficult to assess whether Barnard’s accusations are true. Exaggerated and even false atrocity stories are the norm in times of war, and the United States is unquestionably at war with Syria, and has been since the 1950s. This doesn’t mean that Barnard’s story is, ipso facto, false or exaggerated, only that it must be treated with scepticism appropriate to the context in which the story has been published, i.e., by a US newspaper with myriad connections to the US state, reporting on an officially designated enemy.
Barnard relies on the work of an outfit called The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). It is a civil society organization, likely reliant on funding from Western and allied governments and wealthy individuals. Judging by its partnership with The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect, the SNHR is part of the civil society apparatus of human rights imperialism, a movement which accepts a view, at odds with international norms, that Washington has a unilateral right—indeed, an obligation—to abridge the sovereignty of foreign states in response to major violations of human rights. In practice, the responsibility to protect movement gives license to the United States to intervene against whichever of Washington’s adversaries it can prepare a human rights case against, but never against its allies, many of which, by the US State Department’s own accounting, are major human rights violators. Expecting the United States—long a de jure white supremacist state, now a de facto one, which boasts the world’s greatest per capita incarceration rate, and which, until recently, ran a sprawling network of CIA secret torture prisons and continues to carry out targeted assassinations of political opponents—to act as the world’s champion of human rights, makes as much sense as asking Al Capone to protect banks from robbery.
All the same, the basic accusation levelled by Barnard and the SNHR—that the Syrian government jails its opponents—is beyond dispute. Imprisoning political opponents, especially during times of war, is hardly a departure from international norms. A fundamental characteristic of all states is to deny the freedom of state opponents who seek to organize the state’s demise.
It is also likely that some opponents of the Syrian government have been maltreated, even tortured, by state authorities. Maltreatment of prisoners appears to be an invariable characteristic of states, across time and place.
Barnard’s accusations do not demonstrate that Syria is a rogue state, or that it is in violation of international norms.
Syrian government actions toward its opponents, principally jihadists, including those belonging to, or affiliated with Al Qaeda, are not out of line with the accustomed practice of states facing existential emergencies.
Indeed, the United States itself ran a sprawling system of secret prisons, in which Al Qaeda and other jihadists were imprisoned and tortured, many to death.
Human rights issues including allegations of torture by security officials are hardly unique to Syria, but are typical of the United States’s closest allies in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.
The US State Department has long viewed Middle East oil as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.”  But in order to seize this prize, Washington has had to overcome an obstacle—the Arab and Persian peoples. The people of the Middle East have formed, or backed, what one State Department official called “local forces of independence and national assertiveness.” These forces have sought to control the great material prize of Middle East oil for their own development. The Arab nationalist movement has been counted among local forces opposed to US control of the region’s resources, and Syria has been a principal state representative of the movement. Indeed, it remains the sole state representative today.
From the 1950s, Washington sought to undermine, degrade and eventually destroy Arab and Persian nationalist opposition to US control of the Middle East. In addition to intervening directly in Arab Asia, Washington has worked through three proxies to crush Arab nationalist opposition to US hegemony: the Muslim Brotherhood and its Sunni political Islamist offshoots, Israel, and local British-imposed Arab monarchies, which depend on US protection to survive. (As US president Donald Trump recently reminded Saudi King Salman: “King – we’re protecting you – you might not be there for two weeks without us.” )
Syria has been at war with Israel since 1948. The Jewish settler state currently occupies part the Syrian Golan. Israeli warplanes regularly bomb Syrian territory. Israel is immeasurably stronger militarily than Syria, largely owing to generous subsidies it receives from Washington. These subsidies are provided for the purpose of weakening local forces of independence and national assertiveness which resist US control of the Middle East.
Since the 1960s, Washington has worked with the Muslim Brotherhood to overthrow Arab nationalism in Damascus. Recently, Israel armed, equipped, and healed, Islamist fighters operating in south Syria against the Arab nationalist government.
In 1979, the United States initiated a campaign of economic warfare against Syria, reacting to the Arab nationalist government’s alliance with the Islamic Revolution in Iran, which proclaimed its opposition to US domination of the Middle East. Washington escalated sanctions in 2003, as an alternative to a contemplated US military invasion, which was to follow the invasion of Iraq, but was abandoned when opposition in Iraq proved more vigorous than anticipated. US efforts to strangle Syria economically—to detonate an economic atom bomb (a metaphor alluding to the devastating human consequences of sanctions)—grew even more determined in 2011, as an accompaniment to an Islamist uprising Washington facilitated.
On top of Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan, one-third of Syria is now under US military occupation.
In the face of the high level of threat to the Arab nationalist project posed by the United States, Israel, and US-, Israeli-, Turkish-, and Saudi-backed jihadists, the Syrian government has two choices: allow opponents operating within its territory to freely organize the government’s demise (that is commit suicide), or abridge civil and political liberties in the face of an undoubted national emergency. As Lenin said when the Bolsheviks similarly faced determined opposition to their project, “We do not wish to do away with ourselves by suicide [by allowing our opponents to freely organize against us] and therefore will not do this.”  This is true of all governments.
During both the First and Second World Wars, the executive branches of the US and Canadian governments assumed dictatorial powers, limited civil and political liberties, and locked up political opponents and suspected or potential fifth columnists. Significantly, neither country faced a national emergency as severe as that faced by Syria today. Both countries were protected by two vast oceans from their enemies; neither was subjected to an economic blockade; neither faced an internal insurrection supported by enemy powers; and North America wasn’t under occupation by enemy forces. On the battlefield, US and Canadian soldiers maltreated and abused prisoners, engaged in unlawful killings, and resorted to torture.
Similarly, when Al Qaeda attacked New York and Washington in 2001, the US government escalated its police state powers, and launched the most extensive program of internal surveillance any country has ever carried out, and yet the threat posed to the United States by Al Qaeda paled in comparison to the damage the same organization has inflicted on Syria. What Al Qaeda did to the United States on one day, it did to Syria every day for years. In pursuit of its Al Qaeda foe, the CIA ran a sprawling network of secret prisons, in which jihadists were tortured. At the same time, the Pentagon ran a prison at Abu Ghraib, in which opponents of the US invasion were infamously abused. Jihadists of the same stripe the Syrians have locked up, were sent to a prison at Gauntanamo Bay, which operates outside the parameters of US law.
In its war against violent jihadism, the United States tortured to death more than 100 prisoners in a sprawling system of prisons.  US General Barry McCaffrey said, “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.”  And when, embarrassed by negative publicity, Washington abandoned its torture program, it replaced it with targeted assassinations by drone strikes, i.e., unlawful killings.
To the extent that Barnard’s and the SNHR’s allegations are true, the actions of Damascus are no different from those of Washington. Nor are they different from the actions of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East.
Consider, for example, the actions of the Egyptian government in connection with the Muslim Brotherhood. What follows are excerpts from a January 25, 2019 Wall Street Journal article, “Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a new autocrat is determined not to permit a sequel.”
Mr. Sisi’s government is restricting freedom of expression more than Mr. Mubarak ever did, jailing thousands of dissidents, expanding censorship of the media and banning key opposition parties.
Mr. Sisi , a former chief of the armed forces, came to power after the military ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was the country’s largest opposition group under Mr. Mubarak.
Mr. Sisi soon began a lethal crackdown on political opponents. He has said that he wants to prevent a repeat of the 2011 uprising, arguing that his type of security state is the only alternative to the chaos gripping such Arab countries as Libya and Yemen. President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have lauded Egypt’s regime as a bulwark against extremism in the Middle East.
Since the 2013 military coup, Mr. Sisi has given the country’s security forces a free hand to detain political opponents and snuff out dissent. Many activists and intellectuals associated with the 2011 revolt are in prison or exile. 
“Some 40,000 people have been arrested for opposition to the government since 2013,” according to The Wall Street Journal. “Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood officials and their supporters have been sentenced to death, including Mr. Morsi.” 
Volumes could be written on the draconian lengths to which the Saudi government goes to repress the very strong opposition to its illegitimate rule, but a Wall Street Journal assessment sums up the situation succinctly: “Saudi Arabia remains one of the planet’s most repressive societies, where public practice of religions other than Islam is outlawed, where women can’t drive and where critics of the government face prison or execution.”  The following, from a recent New York Times article, offers only a hint of the kingdoms brutality:
On Tuesday, the official Saudi news agency announced that 37 men, nearly all from the minority Shiite Muslim community, had been executed on terrorism-related charges. Executions in Saudi Arabia are usually by beheading, often in public, and the Interior Ministry said one man was also crucified, something reserved for the most grievous crimes.
According to Human Rights Watch, 11 of the men were charged with spying for Iran and 14 in connection with protests during the Arab Spring of 2011. Some of the convictions were based on confessions that the men withdrew in court, saying they had been tortured. One of those beheaded was Mujtaba al-Sweikat, who was 17 and preparing to enter Western Michigan University when he was arrested in 2012 after attending a pro-democracy rally.
The most-heralded evidence of modernization under Prince Mohammed was his lifting of a ban on women driving. The very fact that there was such a ban is ridiculous, but a few weeks before it was ended, in May 2018, several women’s rights activists were rounded up — including women who had campaigned against the driving ban — and accused of crimes against the kingdom.
According to human rights organizations and their families, at least some of the women were tortured. The techniques included beatings, electric shocks, whipping and waterboarding. 
About Turkey, a US ally that borders Syria, and has been instrumental in facilitating the armed jihad against the Arab nationalist government in Damascus, we can note this: The government, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, immures 50,000 political opponents in a sprawling network of prisons, “including, by several counts, more than 170 journalists and over a dozen lawmakers.” Additionally, it has dismissed or suspended “more than 140,000 Turkish workers, including several thousand academics as well as tens of thousands of teachers, prosecutors and civil servants who were believed to be critical of Turkey’s authoritarian, religiously conservative government.” 
The United States State Department has this to say about the Kingdom of Jordan, another US ally:
Human rights issues included allegations of torture by security officials, including at least one death in custody; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of activists and journalists; infringements on citizens’ privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; restrictions on freedom of association and assembly; reports of refoulement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees to Syria without adjudication of whether they had a well-founded fear of persecution; allegations of corruption, including in the judiciary; “honor” killings of women; violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and conditions amounting to forced labor in some sectors.
Here’s the State Department report for the United Arab Emirates, a close US ally:
Human rights issues included allegations of torture in detention; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, by government agents; political prisoners; government interference with privacy rights; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including criminalization of libel, censorship, and internet site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; the inability of citizens to choose their government in free and fair elections; and criminalization of same sex sexual activity, although no cases were publicly reported during the year. The government did not permit workers to join independent unions and did not effectively prevent physical and sexual abuse of foreign domestic servants and other migrant workers.
Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinian are too innumerable to mention, and are in a category of their own. The apartheid state’s treatment of the occupants of the open-air prison known as Gaza, to say nothing of its brutal treatment of other Palestinians, exceeds in cruelty Syria’s repression of internal opposition. There are 1.8 million people imprisoned in Gaza, far in excess of the number of people Barnard and the SNHR claim are locked up in Syrian prisons. Additionally, Israeli authorities jail, and in some cases assassinate, Palestinians who resist their ongoing and systematic oppression. They even shoot unarmed demonstrators. A recent independent investigation sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council found that Israeli security forces unlawfully killed almost 200 and wounded by gunfire over 9,000 Gaza residents last year who were peacefully protesting Israeli oppressions. More significantly, by itself, the settler colonialism on which Israel is founded as a state, is a gross violation of human rights.
Clearly, no matter how unpleasant the Syrian government’s crackdown on its opponents, the jailing and maltreatment of its opponents is by no means an indication that Syria is a rogue state operating outside the bounds of international norms. On the contrary, its actions are consistent with, if not more restrained relative to the existential threat it faces, than those of other states in the region, and with those of the United States itself.
With the able assistance of the interlocked US media, Washington has labored to make the world perceive the Syrian insurgency as the product of a vicious crackdown on pro-democracy dissent by a brutal dictator. Not only is this a misrepresentation (the insurgency is Islamist-inspired and what democratic content it had was meager at best), it is sheer hypocrisy and indicative of Washington’s lack of sincerity. Washington has no particular dislike for vicious crackdowns on pro-democracy dissent; its Arab clients—all of them anti-democratic kings, emirs, sultans, and military leaders—are doing precisely what U.S. officials accuse the Syrian government of doing, except in their case, Washington averts its gaze. “We give a free pass to governments which cooperate and ream the others as best as we can,” a U.S. official explained in a moment of candor. 
The Saudis, Turks, Egyptians, Jordanians, Emiratis, and Israelis cooperate with Washington in protecting US access to the stupendous strategic and material prize of Middle East oil; the Syrians do not. Accordingly, Washington’s regional allies get a free pass to crack down on dissent without restraint while the Syrian government is reamed, including by the US state-interlocked New York Times, for reacting to the eruption of jihadist violence in the same manner U.S. authorities reacted to jihadist violence from the same organization, Al Qaeda. What is clear is that the actions of the Syrian state are hardly unique, and are hardly unexpected in light of the national emergency it faces.
To be sure, the Syrian government might be admired as a moral paragon if it gave its opponents a free hand to organize its downfall, but the moral victory it would gain would come at the expense of an opportunity to build a society in the Middle East that is responsive to local needs, rather than to those of US investors bent on monopolizing the stupendous material prize of the region’s oil and a US government determined to control a stupendous strategic asset.
1] Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, (Pluto Press, 1999), 61.
2] “Patrick Cockburn, “How the disappearance of a journalist and a humiliating remark by Trump shows Saudi Arabia’s weakness,” The Independent, October 5, 2018.
3] “A Letter to G. Myasnikov,” Lenin’s Collected Works, 1st English Edition, vol. 32, (Progress Publishers, 1965), 504-509.
4] Seamus Milne, “Sending troops to protect dictators threaten all of us,” the Guardian, December 10, 2014.
5] Glenn Greenwald, “The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture,” Salon.com, June 30, 2009.
6] Jared Malsin and Amira El-Fekki, “Eight years after Egypt’s uprising, a new autocrat is determined not to permit a sequel,” The Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2019.
7] Tamer El-Ghobashy, “Egypt moves to head off popular unrest,” The Wall Street Journal, January 21, 2016.
8] Yaroslav Trofimov, “Saudi claim to lead Muslims gets a Trump boost,” The Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2017.
9] “What price profit in Saudi Arabia?”, The New York Times, April 24, 2019.
10] Patrick Kingsley, “On the road with protesters marching across Turkey to condemn Erdogan’s purge,” The New York Times, July 2, 2017.
11] Craig Whitlock, “Niger rapidly emerging as a key U.S. partner,” The Washington Post, April 14, 2013.
On the heels of another Washington-backed attempt to engineer a coup d’état in Venezuela, Jacobin, a periodical that bills itself as “a leading voice of the American Left,” has published an assault on the Bolivarian Revolution. Following Oscar Wilde’s quip about enemies stabbing you in the back but friends stabbing you in the front, Jacobin contributor Gabriel Hetland has aimed his dagger squarely from the front, though not before voicing a profusion of friendly bon mots about Leftist solidarity. The University of Albany academic, another agent of imperialism masquerading as a beautiful soul, has done what a long line of Left imperialists has done before him: counselled against supporting those who have organized to overcome their oppression by Western states.
In “Venezuela and the Left,” Hetland draws on a 2016 article he wrote for The Nation, titled “Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?” In that article, the Jacobin contributor points to the near “impossibility of disentangling the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ aspects of the crisis” in Venezuela, noting that “the government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment.” A reasonable person might agree. The hostile domestic and international environment has structured the viable range of responses available to the Venezuelan government, and we can’t understand or evaluate the government’s actions without taking account of the environment in which it has had to act. One might conclude, then, that Hetland is a reasonable person.
However, no sooner does he acknowledge the near impossibility of disentangling the internal and external aspects of the crisis, than he declares the Gordian knot cut. “To an agonizingly large degree,” he tells us, “Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making.” And thereupon the hostile domestic and international environment vanishes, never again to trouble our thoughts.
According to the political sociologist, “Chávez committed several major errors that have come back to haunt Venezuela today. In particular, he failed to effectively tackle corruption, dismantle currency controls after they had served their purpose, and wean Venezuela from its extreme dependence on oil.”
Doubtlessly, Chavez made errors. But what Hetland calls Chavez’s errors are not errors at all, but failures to work miracles. Hetland presents weaning Venezuela from its extreme dependency on oil as a policy lever that Chavez could have pulled or not. In Hetland’s thinking, Chavez faced a binary choice: end oil dependency or continue it, and the Venezuelan leader chose to continue it rather than end it, and thereby blundered.
Does Hetland really believe that it was possible for Venezuela, over a little more than the decade Chavez was in office, in a hostile domestic and international environment, to wean itself from its extreme oil dependency? If so, he’s living on a planet of utopias. How many major oil-producing countries have successfully weaned themselves from oil dependency in half a century, let alone the 11 years Chavez was president?
The same can be said about corruption. Hetland seems to think that corruption in Third World countries is easily eradicated, as if a lever simply needs to be pulled, and shazam, corruption comes to an end. If we think like Hetland, then Chavez could have chosen to accept corruption or reject it. In Hetland’s agonizingly confused thinking, because corruption carried on, Chavez must have accepted it.
This isn’t serious analysis. To an agonizingly large degree it is superficial; a large dollop of virtue-signalling upon a veneer of utopianism. Hetland may just as well have said that to an agonizingly large degree, Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making because Chavez failed to surround himself with angels capable of carrying out miracles.
Hetland mimics the agonizingly didactic style of Patrick Bond, Stephen Zunes, and Gilbert Ashcar, other members of the academy, who also deliver pronouncements with great certitude on both empirical and moral questions, backed up by an agonizingly large degree of superficial thinking. Presumably, they can’t get away with this in peer-reviewed journals, but feel free to stretch their legs on Z-Net, Jacobin, and Counterpunch, where the demands for defensible analysis are less exacting.
Hetland appoints himself as a man with all the answers, able to sort through what he assures us are difficult questions, and to do so in only 1,000 words. He begins his Jacobin article by asking: “How should we respond?” to the crisis in Venezuela (which, let’s remember, was brought about by Washington seeking to topple the Maduro government) after which he proceeds to enumerate a series of “we shoulds,” as if he’s a pontiff declaring how the faithful ought to conduct itself. Amusingly, he tells us there are no easy answers, and then quickly furnishes us with some. Easy answer 1. Chavez should have ended Venezuela’s oil dependency. Easy answer 2. Chavez should have ended corruption. Easy answer 3. Chavez should have….And so on. If only Chavez had consulted Hetland, arbiter of difficult questions, the whole crisis could have been averted. Easy answer 4. We should support the angels.
I was also struck by this: “The first duty of leftists is to provide solidarity to the oppressed.” I would have thought that the first duty of leftists is to overcome oppression. Without reference to a concrete project of overcoming oppression the statement “We ought to provide solidarity to the oppressed” is meaningless. Counterpunch’s Eric Draitser also argued that the left should confine itself to showing solidarity with the oppressed of Syria, but it was unclear who he meant by the ‘oppressed.” He seemed to mean Syrians who neither support the US government’s attempt to dictate the political and economic policies of Syria or the government that zealously resists this.
Hetland and Draitser are simply calling for a withdrawal from the real world of politics and the abjuring of side-taking in clashes between an organized project of oppression and an organized project to overcome it. When they say we ought to provide solidarity with the oppressed they really mean we ought to avoid providing solidarity to organized projects which seek to overcome the international dictatorship of the United States. Who comes out ahead in this is clear.
For all their attempts to present themselves as champions of the oppressed, Hetland and Draitser come down on the side of the US oppressor. Hetland makes a show of acknowledging the hostile domestic and international environment, but ends up attributing the hardships Venezuelans endure to Chavez’s “blunders” rather than the hostile domestic and international environment, or even to decisions Chavez made that were constrained by the hostile domestic and international environment. The regime-change efforts of the US government to bring the Bolivarian Revolution to an end—hardly secret—are dismissed by Hetland as a matter of little moment
Accordingly, the solution to the crisis appears, in Hetland’s view, to lie in the removal of the Venezuelan government; after all, isn’t it the Venezuelan government that, to an agonizingly large degree, has created the crisis in the first place? It would seem to follow, then, that its abolition would relieve Venezuelans of their crisis. Accordingly, Hetland endorses “a peaceful transition,” but to what he doesn’t say. Just as long as Maduro goes, the faux-neutral Hetland will be happy. So too will Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Elliot Abrams.
Israel does Washington’s dirty work in Syria where US law limits the Pentagon’s actions, former US envoy reveals
April 23, 2019
By Stephen Gowans
In his book A World Without Islam, former Kabul CIA station chief, Graham E. Fuller, argues that the 9/11 and other attacks on the United States by aggrieved Muslims would have occurred even in a world without Islam, because the attacks were a reaction against US imperialism, and were not a product of the attackers’ religion. It “would be a mistake,” wrote Fuller, “to consider Islam as the source of the resistance; otherwise we would have to believe that if these Muslims were not Muslims, they would not be rebelling against foreign domination.” 
US domination of the Middle East is attributable, above all, writes Fuller, to “the Muslim world’s oil and energy-resources.” Oil is the “key driver for incessant Western intervention.” US Middle East policy is shaped by concerns about “ownership of oil, control of the oil companies, pricing policies and shares of prices [and] political manipulation of leaders in order to obtain the best deals on oil,”  according to Fuller, who also served as the vice chairman of the US National Intelligence Council at the CIA.
What’s more, there’s the reality that “The United States today is, by its own reckoning, the overwhelmingly dominant power of the globe in nearly all spheres, with the determination to impose its will by one means or another.”  This, it does, far beyond the Middle East. As a country that began as 13 colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, but expanded across a continent, and added colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean, the United States is, and always has been, an imperialist country.
In contrast, some people believe that US domination of the Muslim world is traceable to the influence of wealthy Jews and the Jewish lobby on US foreign policy decision-makers, and that, in a world without Israel, the United States would not intervene militarily and politically in the Middle East. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt famously made this case in a 2006 article in The London Review of Books, “The Israel Lobby,” and in a book the following year. Others, including Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone, have gone further, arguing that “as far as the drive to war with Syria is concerned, it is Israel that directs U.S. policy.”  According to these analysts, the processes that made the United States an imperialist behemoth the world over are somehow absent in the Middle East. But to paraphrase Fuller, it would be a mistake to consider the Israeli lobby or Tel Aviv as the source of US foreign policy decisions; otherwise we would have to believe that if Israel didn’t exist, the United States would not seek to dominate the oil-rich Muslim world.
The United States has used Israel as an instrument for protecting and advancing its economic and related strategic interests in the Middle East since 1967, when the self-proclaimed Jewish state did a great service to Washington and US oil interests by handily defeating Arab nationalism—which opposed US domination of the region under the slogan “Arab oil for the Arabs” —in the June War.
Ever since, the role that Israel has played as an instrument of US power has been overlooked in the West, but rarely in the Third World. Arab opponents of US imperialism, from Gamal Abdel Nasser to Leila Khaled to Hassan Nasrallah, have understood Israel to be a cudgel used by the United States against the Arabs. For Hugo Chavez, Israel was one of the United States’ “imperialistic instruments.”  Even Israel’s political and military leaders, from Moshe Dayan to Benjamin Netanyahu, agreed. Dayan said that Israel’s mission is to “be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism [bearing the banner Arab oil for the Arabs] will be broken.”  Netanyahu described his country as the “West’s outpost in the Middle East.” 
Only in the West has Israel’s role as an apparatus of the United States been difficult to grasp. That’s partly because the contribution of Israel to US power projection has sometimes been inconspicuous. At other times, it has hidden behind false claims of self-defense, with Israel’s actions on behalf of its US patron appearing to be motivated by purely Israeli concerns for self-preservation rather than shared US-Israeli goals of weakening forces inspired by the idea that the Arab world should exist for the Arabs, not Jewish settlers and US oil companies.
For example, Syria and Iraq declined to back the PLO in 1970 against Jordan’s King Hussein, fearing that if they acted to help topple a US puppet, that Washington would order Israeli attacks against both countries. Both Syria and Iraq knew they were no match for the powerful Israeli military, and had no intention of precipitating Israeli retaliation. As Sun Tzu observed, the best general is the one who wins without fighting, and Israel has often used its US-supplied military edge to deter local forces of independence and national assertiveness. But because in these instances it doesn’t have to fight to win, its contribution to cementing US domination of the region is difficult to see.
Israel played the lead role in preventing Iraq and Syria from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, destroying nuclear reactors in both countries, thereby facilitating the US invasion and conquest of Iraq in 2003 and the recent US invasion and occupation of one-third of Syria. The airstrikes which destroyed the reactors were presented by Israel and its US patron as self-defensive, but since Israel was already nuclear-armed, the development of a nuclear weapons capability by either Arab country would only have established nuclear parity, not an offensive threat to Israel. Nuclear arms in the hands of Iraq or Syria, would at best, have deterred US and Israeli attacks. This was confirmed by Major General Amir Eshe, chief of the Israeli army’s planning division, who asked whether the United States would have “dared deal with …Saddam Hussein if [he] had a nuclear capability?” “No way,” he replied.  The same question can be asked about Syria. Would the United States have so freely installed itself in one-third of Syria had Assad possessed a nuclear capability? Doubtful.
More recently, Israel has acted as a US instrument by carrying out airstrikes in Syria against forces aligned with Damascus. The attacks—Israel carried out thousands of bombing raids in Syria in 2017 alone —are portrayed as defensive strikes against Iranian efforts to establish a military presence in Syria to threaten Israel. But that’s a cover.
The truth of the matter is that the United States has no domestic legal authorization to attack Syrian and Iranian forces, both of which seek militarily to recover on Damascus’s behalf Syrian territory under US occupation. To conduct its ongoing fight to shape Syria’s post-war environment, Washington has recruited Israel, unconstrained by US law, to act as its proxy. As Brett McGurk, until recently the United States’s special envoy in Iraq and Syria, revealed a few days ago in Foreign Affairs, “The United States coordinated its approach with Israel, which in 2017 began launching air strikes against Iranian military assets in Syria [because] Washington had no legal authority to target Iranian forces inside Syria.” McGurk notes that the “combination of Israeli hard power, American diplomacy, and the U.S. military presence [in northeastern Syria have given] Washington a powerful bargaining chip with the Russians” to influence what McGurk calls “post-civil war” Syria. 
None of this is to say that Israeli actions on behalf of its US patron are inimical to its interests; they aren’t. Israeli and U.S. objectives in the Middle East largely overlap, which is why the two states have a special relationship. Both are keenly interested in suppressing local forces of independence and national assertiveness, though their reasons for doing so differ. Washington aspires to control the region’s petroleum resources and the sea and land routes to and from them on behalf of the US business elite, monopolizing the benefits at the expense of the local population. Israel seeks to contain, weaken, and undermine local forces of independence and national assertiveness in order to preserve its Herrenvolk democracy on land plundered from the Arabs. Both states rely on the other to achieve their respective goals.
While U.S. and Israeli objectives mesh, US foreign policy goals in the Arab world exist independently of Israel. A Middle East without Israel would still be a region bursting with “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history” , as a US State Department analysis described the Arab world before there was an Israel. What’s more, a world without Israel would still be a world in which the United States was dominated by titans of industry and masters of finance, scouring the globe for profit-making opportunities, acutely interested in great material prizes.
As I explain in the final paragraph of my new book Israel,A Beachhead in the Middle East,
At the heart of the unceasing wars on the Middle East reposes the question of who owns and controls Arab and Persian oil and the marine and overland routes to and from it—the natives, or the US government and the investors it represents? The Zionist answer has always been clear: Western political and economic interests must have supremacy in the Middle East. Israel began as a European colony, established anachronistically just as the great wave of decolonization was getting underway. As the United States superseded Britain and France as the dominant imperialist power in the region, Israel transitioned from the formers’ outpost of terror in the Arab world into a power projection platform for US investor interests. Throughout this transition Israel has remained interlocked with imperial power, unfailingly serving as the West’s beachhead in the Middle East.
These arguments are developed more fully in Israel,A Beachhead in the Middle East, now available from Baraka Books.
1) Graham E. Fuller. A World Without Islam, (Little, Brown & Company, 2010), 256.
6) Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why, Pantheon Books, 1987), 5.
7) Adam Shatz, “The sea is the same sea,” The London Review of Books, (Vol. 40 No. 16 · 30 August 2018).
8) Ethan Bronner, “Israel sense bluffing in Iran’s threats of retaliation”, The New York Times, January 26, 2012.
9) David Morrison, “Israel complains about violation of its sovereignty while being a serial violator,” Open Democracy, March 1, 2018; Gregory Shupak, “Painting an Israeli attack on Syria as Israeli ‘retaliation’,” Fair.org, February 21, 2018.
10) Brett McGurk, “Hard truths in Syria: America can’t do more with less, and it shouldn’t try,” Foreign Affairs, April 16, 2019.
11) Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, (Pluto Press, 1999), 61.
If you think Washington’s long war on Syria has been largely defeated by the combined opposition of Syria, Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, think again.
While attention turns to another US regime change campaign, this one in Venezuela, the long war on Syria grinds on.
“The United States still has cards to play in Syria,” concludes two analysts linked to the US foreign policy establishment. “If it plays them well, the U.S. intervention in Syria may yet become an enduring American success.”
Indeed, the US intervention in Syria has already been a success in at least one respect.
“Syria is currently in a state of de-facto partition,” observe Merve Tahiroglu and Andrew Gabel, research analysts at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think-tank that is interlocked with the US government.
The SDF, the 60,000-strong US-superintended Kurd-led army, controls about one-third of the country, containing “more than 90 percent of Syria’s remaining oil reserves and a significant portion of its viable agricultural land.”
To repeat: Through its SDF proxy army, Washington controls a substantial part of Syria—and not just any part, but the richest part. What’s more, Washington has no intention of giving this territory back to any government not under its sway. Indeed, one of the United States’ goals is “to prevent the Syrian [government] from attempting to [recover] the country’s northeast with Iranian and Russian assistance.”
And with Washington’s 60,000 SDF boots on the ground and the United States Air Force’s unchallenged supremacy over northeastern Syria, Washington is much farther along the road to calling the shots in Syria than it was in 2011. Why, then, would anyone believe that Washington’s war on Syria has failed?
Writing in Foreign Affairs, the unofficial journal of the US foreign policy establishment, Tahiroglu and Gabel point out that without northeastern Syria, Assad lacks “access to almost all of Syria’s remaining oil reserves, in addition to much of its arable land, on the heels of Syria’s worst crop yield since 1989.”
Denying Damascus access to the country’s oil and arable land ties in with US sanctions that have ravaged Syria’s economy for the past 40 years—and were put in place long before the 2011 Islamist uprising that is mistakenly believed to mark the beginning of US efforts to oust the Assad government. By strangling the economy, the United States is hurting not only Syria, “but its backers in Moscow and Tehran, who [are] stuck propping up an expensive, economically moribund partner.”
These are the other respects in which the US intervention has scored successes. It has greatly weakened Syria, a pole of opposition to US hegemony in the Middle East. And it has drawn Russia and Iran into a conflict that strains their treasuries.
No less part of the US war on Syria is Washington’s recent declaration of two-thirds of the Syrian Golan as part of Israel, an event greeted with yawns by much of the world.
Golan, a New York Times reporter once observed, is the forgotten occupied territory. By contrast, northeastern Syria may become the occupation that will never be forgotten for the simple reason that it was never noticed.
As to Washington’s long war on Syria, it was largely unnoticed until 2011, and appears to be returning to an unnoticed-in-the-West phase, partly because it depends in large measure on economic coercion (which attracts far less attention than does kinetic warfare, even though economic ‘atom bombs’ can be equally, if not more, devastating) and partly because it relies on diplomatic measures, like recognizing Israel’s annexation of Syrian territory, which also largely fly under the radar of public attention. Also, the US and other Western forces in Syria are mainly special operations forces that operate covertly.
Another factor explaining the near invisibility of the US war on Syria is that it is hardly talked about anymore in the Western mass media. As the White House-driven media agenda diverts attention to other matters, the real business of extending the reach of the international dictatorship of the United States goes on unobserved.
Meanwhile, some friends of Syria are in raptures over the possibility of Tulsi Gabbard, the US representative for Hawaii, capturing the Democratic nomination for US president. Gabbard, who volunteered to join the US occupation force in Iraq, recycles US war propaganda about Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “There is no disputing the fact that Bashar al-Assad in Syria is a brutal dictator,” she announced on the TV talk show The View. “There is no disputing the fact that he has used chemical weapons and other weapons against his people.”
Gabbard believes US interventions are motivated by humanitarian goals, but are misguided because they fail to achieve their humanitarian objectives. Presumably, she would favor any US intervention that lived up to the humanitarian ideals she believes undergird US foreign policy. It’s not imperialism or the international dictatorship of the United States she opposes—just US imperialism that produces outcomes that make the United States look bad.
You cannot turn US citizens away from policies that facilitate their country’s imperialism by reinforcing the myths that are used to justify them. Rather than challenging these myths, Gabbard accepts them, and offers, instead, an appeal to US citizens’ self-interest. The interventions are costly, she says, and cause harm to US military personnel.
The trouble with this approach is that Washington uses tools deliberately designed to minimize and disguise the burden on US citizens of its interventions in order not to arouse public opposition. These tools include economic warfare, cyber-warfare, covert CIA operations, special operations forces, mercenaries, proxy armies, and reliance of proxies to act in place of US boots of the ground—weapons of war that can be concealed behind a cloak of secrecy and which minimize the involvement of the US public. For example, we don’t know how many US troops are in Syria, but we do know that the number is greater than Washington will say. The Pentagon has admitted that its number of 2,000 troops is an “artificial construct”—that is, a low-ball figure that excludes special operations forces and other troops on secret missions. It also excludes the British, French, and German special operations forces that work under US leadership. For all we know, there could be 10,000 Western troops and mercenaries or more occupying northeastern Syria, on top of the 60,000 strong SDF proxy army.
Gabbard also invokes the idea that US interventions make matters worse for the people of the countries in which the interventions take place. This inevitably invites the reply, “But how can we stand by idly while brutal dictators gas babies?’ Having reinforced the very myth that enkindles these concerns (for example, Gabbard’s assertion that there is no question that Assad is a brutal dictator who has used chemical weapons against his own people), she offers nothing but, what can only appear to be, cruel, hard-hearted counsel that, tough as it may be to turn away, turn away we must. Her advice fails to comport with the myth US citizens imbibe from birth, that the United States is a force for good in the world, and has a duty to lead for the greater welfare of humanity. So long as US interventions imposes no visible burdens, the country’s citizens will gladly accept them as moral crusades that exemplify US moral superiority.
Curiously, Gabbard excites the imaginations of some of the very same people who rail bitterly against Noam Chomsky for similarly characterizing Assad as a brutal dictator. But Gabbard’s sins appear to have been cancelled by her virtues: youth, undoubted good looks, eloquence, and a pleasing personality. “She’s very charming,” one besotted friend of Syria put it. Plus, she has a superficially pleasing patter about avoiding interventions. Were Chomsky female, 50 years younger, and whole lot better looking, he too might be setting hearts aflame.