Stephen Gowans

Land theft, ethnic cleansing, and Jewish supremacy: Israel’s settler colonialism in Syria’s Golan, the forgotten occupied territory

Posted in Israel, Syria, Zionism by what's left on March 31, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

March 31, 2019

Israel’s occupation, annexation, and plunder of Syria’s Golan recapitulates all that is repugnant about the Zionist state: its wars of aggression, land theft, ethnic cleansing, racism, quest for lebensraum, and contempt for international legal norms. It also shows that Israeli citizens, including the country’s Left, are not only complicit in these abominations, but approve of them. Moreover, Washington’s toleration of Israeli actions reveal that it has long accepted the Zionist state’s criminality, while falsely professing the deepest respect for international law; US president Donald Trump’s sanctifying Israel’s illegal 1981 annexation of Syrian territory only formalizes the United States’ informal acceptance of the Israeli crime.

Syria’s Golan is a 1,800 square kilometer plateau which overlooks Israel to the west, Lebanon to the north, and Jordan to the south. Two-thirds of the territory, 1,200 square kilometers, is occupied illegally by Israel, while Damascus retains control of the remaining one-third. Exhibiting a pro-Israeli bias, Western journalists often define the territory as coterminous with the area occupied by Israel, ignoring the Syrian-controlled portion. [1]

Golan is coveted by Israel for its strategic military significance as a commanding height overlooking three Arab countries, as an important source of fresh water, and as lebensraum—soil on which to settle Jews who have difficulty finding housing in crowded Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An important oil discovery in recent years has only enhanced the attractiveness of the Syrian territory to the self-proclaimed Jewish state. (Many Jews reject the idea that Israel is their state and prefer not to be associated with it. The appellation Jewish state is one Israel arrogates onto itself.)

Through the years, Israel has used its possession of stolen Golan territory to attempt to extract concessions from Syria; Israeli politicians have offered to return the occupied parts of the plateau to Damascus in return for a peace deal of the kind worked out with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat in the late 1970s. In exchange for the Sinai, seized by Israel in 1967 along with Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan, Egypt agreed to renounce its Arab nationalism, and accept as legitimate Zionist claims to a state in Palestine. As recently as 2010, Benjamin Netanyahu offered to return the Israeli-occupied part of Golan to Syria, if Syrian president Bashar al-Assad severed his alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, and renounced the Syrian Arab Republic’s commitment to Arab nationalism.

Prior to its capture by Israel, Golan was home to approximately 140,000 Syrians. All but a little over 6,000 were ethnically cleansed by Israel — expelled from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. Today, the population is a little more than one-third of what it was then. About half of the current population of 50,000 residents of the Israeli-occupied part of Golan are Jews and the other half are Syrian Druze the Israelis didn’t expel to avoid alienating Druze citizens of Israel. Most Druze residents of Israeli-colonized Golan do not recognize Israel’s conquest, and refuse to take Israel citizenship. Israel runs an apartheid regime on the captured territory, denying the Syrians equality with Jewish settlers.

How Israel came to occupy Golan

In1967, a half century had elapsed since the British cabinet, on no authority, moral, legal or otherwise, promised Palestine, part of the Arab homeland, to Jews who viewed their co-religionists as a nation rather than a religious community and sought to recreate the Jewish state of antiquity in Palestine as a palladium against European anti-Semitism. Twenty years had elapsed since the United Nations, at the time dominated by First World states, many with long histories of colonizing Asia, Africa, and Latin America, promised 56 percent of Palestine to a Jewish state, even though Jews in Palestine, most of them recent immigrants, constituted a minority that owned no more than ten percent of the land. Their immigration to Palestine had been opposed by the Arab natives who recognized that the Jewish settlers had come not to live as equals but to displace the Arabs. Nineteen years had elapsed since the declaration of a Jewish state, ruling on nearly eighty percent of Palestinian territory, and the defeat of the Arab armies in 1948. The plunder of most of Palestine, by colonial settlers, abetted by colonial states, was attended by the forced exile of over 700,000 Arabs. For 50 years Arabs had been afflicted by one Zionist injury after another, and in the view of the Arab people, it was time for the injustices to end. Arabs pressured Gamal Abdel Nasser, the president of Egypt, who they viewed as a new Saladin, to carry out a war of liberation, to free the homeland from the European implantation in Palestine, and to recover Arab dignity.

In Arab aspirations for immediate redemption, however, lay the seeds of a disaster. The Arab armies were in no state to wage war against Israel. The Egyptian military, the largest of all, had an air force that lacked pilots; its army reserve was poorly trained; and Egyptian officers were largely incompetent. [2] The government’s financial situation was so straitened that Nasser could afford a war that lasted no more than a few days. [3] A lightening war, a blitzkrieg, may have been possible if Egyptian military power was many orders greater, but it wasn’t, and to make matters worse, Nasser’s best troops were tied up in Yemen, fighting with republican forces against a monarchy supported by Israel, the Shah of Iran, and the Saudi royal family, coordinated by Washington. [4]

The Israelis welcomed a war with Nasser, were ready to start one, and knew they would win. [5] What’s more, they were certain that if, by chance, matters should go awry, the United States would step in to prevent a Nasserist victory. More importantly, they had an ace up their sleeve—an atomic bomb. As The New York Times reported in 2017, in the weeks leading up to the war, the Israelis raced to assemble an atomic device. A secret plan, called a ‘doomsday operation,’ had been developed to force the Arab armies to back off if the tide should improbably turn against the Jewish state. In the event of an impending defeat, the atomic bomb would be detonated atop a mountain in the Sinai desert as a demonstration of the horror Israel could inflict on its Arab adversaries. [6] Victory for the Arabs, then, was completely out of the question. The Israelis had a nuclear sword, and all Nasser had was a poorly-trained, ill-equipped, under-staffed and incompetently-led military, the best part of which was deployed over a thousand miles away. Everything augured against an Arab victory and everything portended a rapid Arab collapse. Leaving nothing to chance, the Israelis had even arranged for the Kurds, who they had been supplying with training and arms since 1958, to mount an offensive against Arab nationalist Iraq, to prevent the Iraqi army from rushing to Nasser’s aid. [7] A trap had been set, and the Arab street was blindly pushing Nasser toward to it.

In March 1967, tensions grew between Syria and Israel over the demilitarized zone separating the two states. [8] The Soviets warned Nasser that Israel was preparing an attack on his Syrian ally. In April, the Jordanians and Saudis, taking their instructions from the CIA, accused Nasser of cowardice. He talked big, they said, but his inaction belied his words. He was nothing but a paper tiger. Their intention was to goad the Arab leader into attacking Israel, to hand Israel the casus belli it needed to eliminate the new Saladin and his Arab nationalist movement, a movement which threatened the Saudi and Jordanian monarchies as much as it did Zionist settler colonialism. [9]

On May 12, Israel threatened to invade Syria to topple its Arab nationalist government, and immediately moved troops to the Syrian border. Convinced that an Israeli attack on Syria was imminent, Nasser ordered UN forces to withdraw from the Sinai, to clear the way for a deployment of Egyptian troops to the Israeli border. The United Nations had deployed peacekeepers to the Sinai in 1956 in the wake of the British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt, known as the Suez Canal Crisis. The withdrawal of UN forces would allow the Egyptian army to advance toward the Israeli border, positioning Egypt for an attack on Israel if Israel pursued an attack on Syria. [10] On May 18 and 19, Egyptian troops, dressed for battle, paraded in front of Western embassies in Cairo, before heading to the Sinai. In a further effort to deter Israeli aggression, the Egyptian president signed a defense pact with Syria and Jordan.

With Egyptian forces advancing on the Israeli border, Arab states importuned Nasser to close the Strait of Tiran, Israel’s nexus to the Red Sea and to the Indian Ocean beyond, in order to pressure the Zionists to back off their threats to attack Syria. Nasser complied, blocking Israeli shipping from the Gulf of Aqaba into the Red Sea. The Israelis declared this to be an act of war. [11]

In an effort to lower tensions, the US and Soviet ambassadors to Egypt told Nasser on May 26 that the Israelis wouldn’t launch an attack. Nasser assured the ambassadors that he too had no intention of firing the first shot.

Nasser was in no position to go to war with the Israelis and expect anything other than total defeat. The odds were stacked heavily against him. It’s very unlikely that he was ready to undertake a suicide mission. The Israelis knew this. Yitzhak Rabin, at the time Israeli chief of defense staff, noted that Nasser had sent only two divisions to the Sinai, hardly sufficient to launch an offensive war. “He knew it and we knew it,” recalled Rabin. “I don’t think Nasser wanted war.” [12] Menachem Begin, a guerrilla leader and prime minister, and at the time an Israeli cabinet minister, said: “We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” [13]

On June 2, Moshe Dayan joined the Israeli cabinet as minister of defense. Dayan, a one-eyed Zionist Spartan who defined Israel’s role as acting as the West’s bulwark against Arab nationalism, was known for advocating war with Egypt to undermine Nasser. [14] Having lulled the Arab paladin into a false sense of safety by assuring him that Israel would not attack, Washington gave Dayan the green light to initiate an attack. Working with the Israelis, the CIA developed the military plans that would guide the Israeli offensive. [15] CIA director Richard Helms assured the US president Lyndon Johnson that an Israeli victory was certain. [16]

On June 5, Israel struck, executing a plan that had “been in the making for ten years,” according to Shimon Peres, an Israeli prime minister who years before had been involved in the planning of the British-French-Israeli assault on Egypt. [17] Israel destroyed 304 Egyptian warplanes of a total of 419, or 73 percent, in the first two hours of the war, most as they sat on ground. [18] Four days later, most towns and cities in the Sinai had fallen to the Israelis. On June 10, Israeli forces captured Syria’s Golan, and prepared to march on Damascus. The Soviets warned the Israelis to go no further. Washington took the warning seriously and enjoined the Israelis to stand down. [19]

On June 11, a ceasefire went into effect. In just six days, the Israelis reduced the Egyptian army to ruins. According to Nasser’s accounting of Egypt’s war losses, eighty percent of its military equipment was destroyed. [20]

The war was an unalloyed triumph for Israel; it significantly expanded its territory. Rather than the Arabs moving forward to victory against the colonization of the Arab world, an outcome they hoped their new Saladin would bring about, the Zionists had colonized even more of it. [21]

On November 22, 1967, the United Nations Security Council weighed in on Israel’s occupation of Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan. Resolution 242 noted that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible under international law and affirmed that the fulfillment of the principles of the United Nations Charter required the “[w]ithdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Israel ignored the resolution.

With Israel defying international law, Egypt and Syria took matters into their own hands. On October 6, 1973, the two countries launched a surprise attack on Israeli forces in the Sinai and Golan, with the aim of recovering their territories. The two armies initially met with considerable success. Iraq sent 30,000 troops, including an armored division, to reinforce Syrian troops in the battle to recover the Golan. But Israel, as it had from the moment of its birth, enjoyed technical superiority over its Arab adversaries. This, combined with emergency airlifts of arms by the United States, negated Syria’s early gains. By October 26, the fighting was over, and Israel was still in possession of the territory it had captured in 1967. [22]

A disengagement agreement in 1974 divided Golan into three zones. The largest, comprising two-thirds of the plateau, would be controlled by the Israelis. The remaining territory would be split between the Syrians and UN peacekeepers, with the peacekeepers controlling a thin buffer zone between the two armies. [23]

In 1981, Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin annexed the Israeli-occupied portion of Golan, touching off riots by Syrian locals and a complaint by Syria to the UN Security Council. [24] The Security Council issued Resolution 497, declaring “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.” Israel ignored this resolution, as it had Resolution 242. In practice, so too did the rest of the world ignore the resolutions, including those countries such as the United States which exercised great leverage over Israel, but did little to force the Zionist state to comply with the Security Council’s directives.

Israel’s settler colonialism in Golan

According to the New York Times, within a month of the 1967 war, Israel had established a settlement, Merom Golan, on Syrian soil. [25] Settlement building on occupied territory is illegal under international law, but Israel acts as if it’s unbound by the international legal order and its patron, armorer, and financier, the United States allows the Zionist state to defy international law with impunity. That Israel allowed Jews to establish exclusivist communities on the plateau belied its claim that it was occupying Syrian territory for defensive purposes. Settlement activity was an early indication, since confirmed by events, that Israel’s aim is to build a Jewish settler colonial state on as much of Arab land as it can seize by force of arms.

At first, the settler population was small, only 600 in 1972, but it has grown apace. In 1983 it reached 6,800, jumped to 13,000 in 1995, grew to 20,500 in 2014, [26] and has reached an estimated 30,000 today, spread out over 33 Jews-only colonies. [27] Jewish aliens now outnumber those of the original inhabitants and their descendants who weren’t ethnically cleansed in 1967. [28] “The settlers [have] built orchards, wineries, boutique hotels and a ski resort, turning the area into an Israeli vacation spot.” [29] In 2015, Naftali Bennett, at the time a senior Israeli minister, proposed an aggressive development goal — 100,000 new residents across the Golan in five years … to solidify Israel’s hold on the Golan.” [30]

To make way for Israeli boutique hotels and ski resorts, 130,000 Syrians were driven from their homes and two hundred Syrian villages were razed. [31] Only five Druze villages remain. [32]

The ethnic cleansing of Syrians from Golan is hidden by Western press reports, which use anodyne language and obfuscations to spare the Israelis bad press. The New York Time’s David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner characterized the systematic expulsion of over 95 percent of the Syrian community as a ‘depopulation,’ in which “thousands of Syrians [fled] north.” [33] In the New York Times’s account, Syrians appear to have engaged in a voluntary act of self-depopulation. Worse, Sophia Marchesin, writing in Le Monde Diplomatique, conceals Israeli ethnic cleansing altogether behind these words: “Some 115-120,000 Syrians are believed to have moved from the Golan to Damascus and other parts of southern Syria early that June.” [34] This is equivalent to saying that a number of people the Nazi state deplored moved to the Polish town of Auschwitz in the early to mid 1940s, or that the aboriginal people of the Ohio Valley moved to the West.

By contrast, Zena Agha, a Palestinian-Iraqi writer and poet from London, wrote in Foreign Affairs that “130,000 Syrians … were forcibly transferred or displaced at the start of the Israeli occupation of the Golan in 1967,” [35] while Zachary Laub, writing for The Council on Foreign Relations, an informal think-tank of the US State Department, noted that the Syrians had been “forcibly displaced in 1967.” [36] Nazareth-based independent journalist Jonathan Cook correctly characterized the depopulation of Golan as a systematic expulsion carried out by the Israelis. [37] In prosecuting a campaign of ethnic cleansing, Zionist Jews reprised the systematic expulsion of Palestinians they had carried out in 1947 and 1948, and later in 1967. The Zionists sought to accomplish a feat of demographic engineering necessary to create a Jewish-majority state in a land in which the Jews were a minority. The Israeli historian Ilan Pappe called this ‘the ethnic cleansing of Palestine,’ and wrote about in a book by the same name. [38] The ethnic cleansing of Golan is continuous with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine; it is a manifestation of the same pathology of settler colonialism that lies at the core of the Zionist project.

Today, the Druze community in Israeli-colonized Golan numbers 22,000, up from 6,400 in 1967. Their five remaining towns and villages are outnumbered by the 33 illegal Jews-only settlements. [39] As non-Jews living in territory the Israeli state claims as a Jewish homeland, the Syrian Druze are subjected to unequal treatment, i.e., an apartheid regime. According to Al-Marsad, a Golan-based human rights group, “Syrians in the occupied Golan face calculated Israeli efforts to restrict their building and land use, destroy their enterprises, cleanse their Arab culture, manipulate their Syrian identity, and suffocate their freedom of movement.” [40]

Why Israel conquered the Syrian territory

There is no single reason why the Zionist state conquered Golan; Israeli actions in connection with Golan originate in a network of mutually reinforcing multiple causes.

First, Israel, from its inception, has been an expansionist state, bent on absorbing as much of its neighbors’ territory as it can seize, part of a vision of creating an expanded Jewish settler state, a Greater Israel, from the Euphrates to the Nile, the territory the Jews’ mythology says a supernatural being named Yahweh gave them. Territorial expansion based on a desire to recreate the Jewish state of antiquity, justified by a mythology of a privileged relationship of Jews to Yahweh as a chosen people, is at the core of the Zionist project. In 1956, the Jewish nationalist state attempted to pirate the Sinai from Egypt, in a conspiracy with Britain and France, which, to the chagrin of the conspirators, was quickly upset by the intervention of Washington. As shown above, the June 1967 war was an Israeli-initiated aggression whose outcome was a vast expansion in territory under the control of Jewish nationalists. The evidence for Israeli expansionism is found in Israel’s behavior. The Zionist state settled Jewish colonists in all conquered territory—Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan. After the 1967 War, Israel also settled Jews in the Sinai. The regional Leviathan invaded Lebanon in 1982 with the war aim of expelling the PLO, but continued to occupy southern Lebanon for the next 18 years, despite having quickly brought about the PLO’s expulsion. The only reason the Star of David no longer flies over Lebanese territory is because Hezbollah, a nationalist movement that arose with the specific purpose of expelling the Israeli invaders, through its violent resistance, made the foreign occupation of their land too costly for the invaders.

Second, conquering territory provides diplomatic leverage over hostile states that quite naturally want their territory back, and may be willing to bargain away principled opposition to Israel’s settler colonialism for irredentist aims. Anwar Sadat’s peace deal with Israel in exchange for the return of Sinai has been a boon for Israel. The compact eliminated Egypt as an Arab nationalist state and placed it firmly in the orbit of the US Empire. It is now a de facto ally of Israel, linked to the US satellite by a common patron, the United States. Israel no longer has to worry about Egypt limiting its room for manoeuvre, as it did when the Arab behemoth was led by Nasser, a man the Arab world counted on to rescue it from the settler colonial project that Britain had implanted at its heart (along with backing a string of puppet monarchs: the king of Egypt, the king of Iraq, the king of Jordan, the king of Saudi Arabia, among others.)

Since Israel’s annexation of Golan in 1981, “both left-leaning Labor and right-leaning Likud governments in the years after carried out negotiations with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, and later his son Bashar, over a possible normalization of relations,” according to The Council on Foreign Relations. [41] “In the most recent round of negotiations, in 2010, Netanyahu reportedly was willing to withdraw [from Golan] in exchange for Bashar al-Assad breaking his ties with Iran and Hezbollah. But Netanyahu broke off those negotiations after the Arab Spring came to Syria in March 2011.” [42]

That may have been just as well, as far as the Israelis were concerned. As then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin remarked in 1995, “the greatest danger Israel has to face in the negotiations with Syria is the possibility of losing control over the Golan Heights’ water resources.” [43]

“More than one-third of Israel’s water supply comes from” Golan. The territory “offers access to two major water systems: the drainage basin of the Jordan River and its tributaries to the west, and Lake Tiberias and the Yarmuk River to the south.” [44]

What’s more, “Golan also has more than 200 springs and scores of streams, many of which Israel impounds in reservoirs for settler use. Since 1984, Israel has built more than eight deep wells to access Syrian aquifers. Combined, these wells have extracted more than 2.6 billion gallons of water, which is mostly pumped to settlements for unfettered access.” [45]

Four years ago, “Afek, an Israeli subsidiary of Genie Energy, a US oil company, announced that it had found considerable reserves of oil under the Golan,” [46] totalling potentially billions of barrels—a highly lucrative prize. But for US investors and the Israeli state, salivating at the prospect of reaping a bounty of oil profits from Israeli-colonized Golan, there was a hitch. Under international law the proceeds belong to Syria. [47] Jonathan Cook argued in 2015 that were “the US to recognize Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan, it would likely clear the way for Israel to plunder any economically viable reserves located there.” [48] That may be why shortly after the discovery Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began calling on the United States to recognize Israeli authority over Golan. In August 2016, Netanyahu led a cabinet meeting in Israeli-colonized Golan “calling on the world to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the conquered territory.” At the same time, the Israeli prime minister, who had only five years earlier been willing to bargain away Golan in return for Syria formally designating as legitimate a Jewish-exclusivist state on Arab soil, was now vowing “that Israel would never give [Golan] back.” [49]

Netanyahu advanced a series of sophistries to explain why Israeli-colonized Golan should be recognized as part of Israel. It had “been an integral part of the land of Israel since ancient times,” he argued, adding that “dozens of ancient synagogues in the area … attest to that.” [50] Soon after its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israel dispatched survey crews to find evidence of ancient Jewish habitation of the country it had just invaded. As in Golan the purpose was to establish an historical claim to the territory. The presence of ancient synagogues on Syrian soil led Netanyahu to conclude that Golan had been occupied by Syria from the point Israel was founded in 1948, until the territory was ‘recovered’ in 1967. [51] His reasoning was that Golan was inhabited by Jews in antiquity, that Israel is the successor to the Jewish state of antiquity, and, as such, it has an historical right to all territory that the ancient Jews once controlled, including Golan. Therefore, authority over Golan reverted to Israel in 1948, and Syrian authority over the territory from that point forward was illegal. In fact, Syria had occupied Golan!  For his part, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman intoned that he could not “imagine, frankly, a circumstance where the Golan Heights is not a part of Israel.’” [52]

Golan offers Israel another attraction: living space. Michael B. Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to Washington, and an Israeli legislator, sees Golan “as a way to ease the housing crisis in crowded, expensive areas around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.” [53] By settling Jews atop the 200 destroyed villages of the 130,000 original Arab occupants of Golan, the plan envisages surcease for Jews from the plagues of overcrowding in Israeli cities. How is this not like Hitler’s plan to dispossess Slav untermenschen to make way for German settlers devilled by the housing crisis in crowded, expensive areas around Berlin, Hamburg, and other pullulating German cities?

Once US president Donald Trump agreed to recognize Israel as sovereign over the two-thirds of Golan that Israel had stolen from Syria, Netanyahu struck a different note. Instead of invoking irredentist claims based on Jewish occupation of the land in antiquity, he declared that Golan was the just spoils of a ‘defensive war.’ “There is a very important principle in international life,” he opined. “When you start wars of aggression, you lose territory, do not come and claim it afterwards. It belongs to us.” [54] Of course, this inverted reality; Israel’s 1967 war of aggression—the one of which Menachim Begin had said “We must be honest with ourselves; we decided to attack”—had become a defensive war, in Netanyahu’s highly tendentious view of history. The Israeli prime minister told reporters, “Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this proves you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours.” [55]

The next day, at the State Department, a reporter had this question for secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Pompeo is a Christian Zionist, who believes, as many evangelical Christians do, that as a project promoting the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, the creation of Israel is an act of the supernatural being in which the Christians believe, and that this presages an important supernatural event in Christian mythology, the rapture, when Christ will return to earth to lead believers to heaven, leaving Jews and other unbelievers to a Dantesque fate. [56]

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. Just to follow up on the Golan, yesterday Prime Minister Netanyahu said that basically he is entitled to keep it because they won it by war. Are you setting a precedent that powerful countries can actually overtake land over international law?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yes, ma’am, that’s a good question. The answer is absolutely not. This is an incredibly unique situation. Israel was fighting a defensive battle to save its nation, and it cannot be the case that a UN resolution is a suicide pact. It simply can’t be, and that’s the reality that President Trump recognized in his executive order yesterday. [57]

Pompeo wriggled out the conundrum of seeming to legitimize acquisition of territory by force by echoing Netanyahu’s mischaracterization of Israel’s part in the June 1967 war as self-defensive. Little noticed is that Pompeo inadvertently made the case for why North Korea should not face international sanctions for its nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang’s programs are self-defensive, intended to protect the small country against the aggressions of the US Leviathan, and it cannot be the case that a country’s bending to international sanctions is a suicide pact.

Collusion of Israeli Jews, including the Left

Today, the idea that Golan is an integral part of Israel “goes without saying for the vast majority of Jewish Israelis, including many on the political left who refuse to visit West Bank settlements but do not hesitate to drink wine produced in the Golan or hike among its waterfalls.” [58] In 2015, the Center-Left candidate for minister of defense, Amos Yadlin, proposed that Washington recognize Israel’s authority over Golan to repair the ill-will it had earned by signing the Iran deal. [59] “Before fighting took hold in Syria,” noted Jonathan Cook, “polls showed between 60 and 70 percent of Israelis rejected returning the Golan to Syria, even if doing so would secure peace with Damascus. The percentages are likely to be higher now,” he speculated. [60]

As for the United States and its allies, “neither the platitudes of the international community nor the displeasure of the United Nations [have] stopped Israel from building settlements, kibbutzim, wineries, and even a ski resort deep into the territory,” Zena Agha observes. [61]

Israel as a US bulwark against Arab forces of independence

Following Trump’s announcement that he would sanctify Israel’s Golan annexation, the Golan-based human rights group, Al-Marsad, issued this statement:

“Israel committed an act of aggression when it attacked Syria in 1967, seized the Syrian Golan, and forcibly displaced 95 percent of its population. Israel continues to violate international law in the occupied Golan, including the Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions, which regulate belligerent occupation. The United Nations, including in multiple U.S.-backed Security Council Resolutions, has always rejected Israel’s activities in the occupied Golan. With its decision today, the U.S. shows support for egregious abuses of international law and encourages territorial expansionism through aggression. This sets an extremely hazardous standard. The U.S. has proved that it can no longer be an honest broker in the Middle East.” [62]

Notwithstanding the statement’s last sentence, the United States has never been an honest broker in the Middle East. US Middle East policy is governed by the interests of the US business community which seeks to control the region’s vast petroleum reserves and the shipping routes to and from its oil wells and gas fields; it does this for strategic and corporate profit-making reasons. Accordingly, US policy is to suppress the local forces of independence and national assertiveness that contest US control of the region’s assets, and which aim to vest them in the hands of the local population, for the local population’s benefit. That’s where Israel comes in. From its founding Israel has hired itself out to empires in exchange for protection. This was an imperative identified by Theodore Herzl, Israel’s ideological founding father. Since 1967, Herzl’s Jewish state has acted as an outpost of US power in the Middle East; before that, it was a beachhead of British and French influence in West Asia. In his 1993 book, A Place Among Nations, Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that Israel is, indeed, “the West’s outpost in the Middle East.” [63] Moshe Dayan, who had multiple roles in the Israeli state, including chief of defense staff, articulated the role Israel would play as the West’s cudgel against Arab forces of independence. The “Jewish people has a mission, especially its Israeli branch,” Dayan is reputed to have said. “In this part of the world, it has to be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism will be broken.” [64]

The Syrian Arab Republic, the self-proclaimed den of Arabism (i.e., Arab nationalism), has been among the most uncompromising of the Arab forces of independence and national assertiveness and has kept the flame of Arab resistance burning where it has guttered out in other Arab capitals. As a result, Washington has waged a long war on Syria, seeking to topple its Arab nationalist governments in favour of a collaborationist regime. Israel has played an important role in this effort.

To believe that the United States was ever an honest broker in the Middle East is to be misled by the guile Washington propagates to disarm its critics and pacify opposition. As the Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled observed in 1973, “Israel is America and Europe combined in Palestine” (emphasis added.) [65] For all his egregious failings, Trump’s lone virtue may be that he has made plain what Khaled observed years ago: the United States isn’t a neutral party. Israel is an instrument of US policy in the Middle East—a dagger pointed at the heart of the movement of Arab nationalism. The wielder of the dagger cannot be an honest broker between the weapon he brandishes and the enemy his weapon is intended to slay.

1. For example, William R. Polk, writing in The Atlantic (December 10, 2013), and Sophia Marches in Le Monde Diplomatique (October 2016) define Golan as a 1,200 square meter plateau, excluding the portion over which Syria exercises authority, as if it doesn’t exit, or the only part of Golan that is of any significance is that part in which Israel plays a role.

2.Said K Aburish (a), The Last Arab: A Biography, (St. Martin’s Press, 2004), 102.

3. Aburish (a) 257.

4. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why, (Pantheon Books, 1987), 18.

5. Aburish (a), 251.

6. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “Last secret’ of 1967 war: Israel’s doomsday plan for nuclear display,” The New York Times, June 3, 2017.

7. Beit-Hallahmi, 19.

8. Aburish (a), 252.

9. Aburish (a), 253.

10. Aburish (a), 253.

11. Aburish (a), 255.

12. Khalid Amayreh, “The 1967-war revisited (Part I),” The Palestinian Information Center, June 6, 2009.

13. Amayreh

14. Aburish (a), 255.

15. Aburish (a), 258.

16. Aburish (a), 256.

17. Aburish (a), 260.

18. Aburish (a), 260.

19. Aburish (a), 264.

20. Khaled, Leila, (with George Hajjar). My People Shall Live: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary, (Hodder and Stoughton. 1973), 103.

21. “Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine”, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, February, 1969.

22. Said, K. Aburish (b), Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge, (Bloomsbury, 2001), 106.

23. Zachary Laub, “The Golan Heights: What’s at Stake With Trump’s Recognition,” The Council on Foreign Relations, March 28, 2019.

24. Laub.

25. Jodi Rudoren, “As Syria reels, Israel looks to expend settlements in Golan Heights,” The New York Times, October 2, 2015.

26. Rudoren

27. Sophia Marchesin, “Golan Druze hang on,” Le Monde Diplomatique, October, 2016.

28. Ben Hubbard, “The Golan Heights Was Once an Arab Rallying Cry. Not Anymore.” The New York Times, March 22, 2019.

29. Hubbard.

30. Rudoren.

31. Jonathan Cook, “Israel stakes claim to Golan after oil find,” Middle East Eye, November 13, 2015.

32. Marchesin; Cook.

33. David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner, “Netanyahu Says Golan Heights Move ‘Proves You Can’ Keep Occupied Territory.” The New York Times, March 26, 2019.

34. Marchesin.

35. Zena Agha, “What’s driving Israeli claims to the Golan Heights? Israel wants the region’s water,” Foreign Affairs, November 1, 2018.

36. Laub.

37. Cook.

38. Illan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, (Oneworld, 2006).

39. Cook; Marchesin.

40. “Al-Marsad Denounces U.S. Recognition of the Occupied Syrian Golan as Israel,” March 25, 2019, https://golan-marsad.org/al-marsad-denounces-u-s-recognition-of-the-occupied-syrian-golan-as-israel/ .

41. Laub.

42. Laub.

43. Agha.

44. Agha.

45. Agha.

46. Cook.

47. Cook.

48. Cook.

49. Isabel Kershner, “Israel will never give Golan Heights to Syria, Netanyahu vows,” The New York Times, April 17, 2016.

50. Kershner.

51. Kershner.

52. Agha.

53. Rudoren.

54. Halbfinger and Kershner.

55. Halbfinger and Kershner.

56. Edward Wong, “The Rapture and the Real World: Mike Pompeo Blends Beliefs and Policy,” The New York Times, March 30, 2019.

57. Michael R. Pompeo. Secretary of State. Press Briefing Room. Washington, DC., March 26, 2019.

58. Rudoren.

59. Rudoren.

60 Cook.

61. Agha.

62. Al-Marsad.

63. Quoted in Adam Shatz, “The sea is the same sea,” The London Review of Books, (Vol. 40 No. 16 · 30 August 2018).

64. Beit-Hallahmi, 8.

65. Khaled, 128.

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In recognizing Israel’s conquest of Golan, Trump reveals the truth about the United States’ relationship with its beachhead in the Middle East

Posted in Israel, Syria by what's left on March 27, 2019

March 28, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Washington’s decision to recognize Israel as sovereign over Golan doesn’t make Israel’s possession of the Syrian territory legitimate; Golan will always be part of Syria by right, regardless of what is decided in the capital of a country with its own rich history of territorial annexations (one-third of Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands, to say nothing of the ruthlessly plundered land of the native Americans.)

Neither is legitimacy conferred on the possession of any other territory by the Jewish settler state as a consequence of US recognition—not Jerusalem, and not those parts of Palestine that the UN, in 1947, at the time dominated by colonial powers, assigned to a Jewish state. And not the territory the UN assigned to an Arab state that Zionist settlers seized and declared their own. Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, belongs to Palestinians, not to European settlers, no matter what the United States says.

Nor does recognition of Israel’s claim to stolen Syrian territory make the act of conquest lawful. In matters of international relations, Washington has no authority to decide unilaterally what is legal and what is not. The US decision, then, means nothing.

But by acknowledging openly what has long been acknowledged implicitly, Washington has torn the mask off its collusion with Zionist settler colonialism. Where the United States once affected to act as an impartial arbiter between the Israelis and the Arabs whose land the settler state had expropriated, it now declares it is no longer willing to maintain the fiction of neutrality. “Trump’s recognition of Israel’s” absorption of Syrian territory, observed the journalist Robert Fisk, merely accepts “what we’d all secretly gone along with.”

Indeed, the United States and its major allies could have easily forced Israel to relinquish the conquered Golan, but haven’t. In 1967, Israel was prepared to conquer Damascus, just a short drive down the road from the newly seized Golan. Washington laid a restraining hand on its Middle East Sparta, and Damascus remained an Arab capital. In 1982, at Washington’s behest, Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, territory also pirated in 1967 as part of the Zionist state’s six-day war of territorial expansion. Israel, like an obedient attack dog, obeys its master.

As a small island of only six million Jews in a vast sea of Arabs, Israel depends on the West for its survival. Its 1967 conquest of Egyptian (Sinai and Gaza), Syrian (Golan), and Jordanian (West Bank and East Jerusalem) territory was possible only owing to its possession of an atomic bomb, acquired with the assistance of France, which it was prepared to detonate in the Sinai; arms from Washington; aid from the CIA; the diplomatic conniving of the United States; and the fact that a large part of the Egyptian army was in distant Yemen.

The states that border Israel—Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan—are home to over 130 million Arabs who wish the dissolution of Jewish supremacy over Arab land as indigenous south Africans hoped for the end of apartheid.

As a state which assigns permanent political ascendancy to Jews, Israel would perish in a moment without Western support—not because Arabs have an enmity to Jewish settlers because they’re Jews, but because they’re settlers who have stolen their land and frustrate Arab aspirations to shape their own destiny.

On the other hand, transformed into a democratic state in which all citizens have equal rights and obligations, regardless of religious affiliation, language, and ethnicity, Israel, or a successor state under a different name, could exist quite peacefully with its neighbors, and would not require Western support to survive, so long as it renounced its existence as the West’s outpost in the Middle East, as Benjamin Netanyahu once called Israel.

Western states, inheritors of the colonial tradition, have, in practice favored the first model—Israel as a settler colonial state in which Jews (European settlers) exercise permanent political supremacy over the natives, just as they favored the apartheid state of South Africa, as a settler colonial state in which another group of European settlers did the same. The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—themselves the product of settler colonialism, go along with Israel’s annexations and land grabs, as does Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan, states which once dispatched their own settlers to foreign lands to exercise permanent political supremacy over the natives. It’s a Western tradition, and not one the West, in its support for its outpost in the Middle East, is entirely prepared to retire.

While going along with Israeli colonialism, the United States and its allies backed UN resolutions calling on their Israeli protégé to end its occupation of territories conquered in 1967, including Golan, but did nothing to enforce Israel’s compliance, even though, if the outpost’s compliance was genuinely desired, the United States had it within its power to obtain. It was a sham. And Trump has exposed the sham for what it is.

US vice-president Mike Pence declared that “we stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight.” What Pence didn’t say is that the cause, values, and fight which bind the two countries are rooted not in democracy but in its very antithesis—settler colonialism and the enforcement of the international dictatorship of the United States.

Moshe Dayan, an Israeli chief of defense staff, minister of defense, and minister of foreign affairs, is reputed to have said that the “Jewish people has a mission, especially its Israeli branch. In this part of the world, it has to be a rock, an extension of the West, against which the waves of… Arab nationalism will be broken.” Those waves have included Nasser’s Egypt, Ba’athist Syria, and Ba’athist Iraq, fierce opponents of US domination of the Arab world. Iran and Hezbollah have also opposed US control of West Asia, and have, accordingly, been targeted by Israel.

The United States stands with Israel because her cause (the projection of US power) is its cause, because her values (settler hegemony over the natives) is it values, and because her fight (suppressing the national aspirations of the natives) is its fight.

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‘Rule of law’ states defend Israel’s cold blooded murder of peaceful demonstrators while trying to rob Venezuela of its oil

Posted in Economic Warfare, Israel, Venezuela by what's left on March 17, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

March 18, 2019

A recent independent investigation sponsored by the United Nations Human Rights Council into the killing and injury of unarmed Palestinian refugees who were participating in peaceful demonstrations demanding that they be allowed to return to territories they, or their forbears, had been driven from, concluded that Israeli security forces unlawfully killed almost 200 and injured over 9,000 over a nine-month period last year.

The February 28 report of the Human Rights Council’s independent international commission of inquiry into the protests in Gaza, concluded that Israeli snipers “killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor where they directly participating in hostilities.”

Israeli snipers killed 183 Palestinians and injured 6,106 by live ammunition; 1,576 by bullet fragmentation or shrapnel; 1,084 by direct tear gas canister hits; and 438 by rubber-coated metal bullets, the investigation found.

The overwhelming majority of victims, including clearly marked journalists and medical personnel, as well as children, women and persons with disabilities, “were hundreds of metres away from the Israeli forces and visibly engaged in civilian activities” when they were shot. Of the thousands of cases of injury or fatality, the commission found only two in which an individual was engaged in hostilities or posed an imminent threat to life or serious injury.

The commission concluded that “the use of live ammunition by Israeli security forces was unlawful” and observed that “intentionally killing a civilian not directly participating in hostilities is a war crime.” It also raised the possibility that Israeli actions constituted a crime against humanity.

In less diplomatic language, Israel behaved as a gangster state, murdering nearly 200 Palestinians in cold blood, who posed no direct threat to Israel and injured over 9,000 others. Some of the injuries, the investigation found, were “long-term” and “life-changing” and in some cases led to “paralysis” or “amputations.”

These thuggish, criminal acts are hardly Israel’s worst atrocities. Tel Aviv’s contempt for international law is unmatched, except by its patron, the United States. It has undertaken a series of wars of aggression and territorial annexations, both de jure and de facto. The state is based on a racist doctrine that demands the differential assignment of rights to Jews and non-Jews. It constructs Jewish-only colonies on land it hasn’t already plundered from the original Arab occupants. The enterprise is redolent with the stench of settler colonialism, an institution long recognized as an abomination against humanity, which, all the same, carries on in Palestine under the aegis of the United States, Canada, and European Union.

If we are to enumerate the crimes of Israel and conclude that it is a gangster state, we will almost certainly be accused of practicing the ‘new’ anti-Semitism, an accusation no more meaningful than denouncing critics of Al Capone’s crimes as practicing a new anti-Italian bigotry.

The United States, Canada, and the EU—advocates of this new approach to silencing critics of the West’s beachhead in the Middle East—sanction dozens of countries, including Venezuela, Syria, and North Korea, and do so in many cases illegally, without the authorization of the UN Security Council, knowing that there are no legal grounds on which the sanctions can be based, and so bypass the Council altogether. These self-designated ‘rule of law’ states do not, however, sanction Israel.

Read that again. Western states, which never tire of presenting themselves as champions of an international order based on the rule of law, are unlawfully sanctioning Venezuela, while overlooking Israel’s cold-blooded murder of almost 200 Palestinians—people who were peacefully demanding their rights and asking for nothing more than to be granted the charter of humanity.

The sanctions on Venezuela have created untold economic hardship, according to Alfred de Zayas, an independent expert who wrote a report for the Human Rights Council in the autumn of last year. De Zayas wrote:

Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees. A difference, perhaps, is that twenty-first century sanctions are accompanied by the manipulation of public opinion through “fake news”, aggressive public relations and a pseudo-human rights rhetoric so as to give the impression that a human rights “end” justifies the criminal means. There is not only a horizontal juridical world order governed by the Charter of the United Nations and principles of sovereign equality, but also a vertical world order reflecting the hierarchy of a geopolitical system that links dominant States with the rest of the world according to military and economic power. It is the latter, geopolitical system that generates geopolitical crimes, hitherto in total impunity.

The ostensible reason for imposing a medieval siege on Venezuela is to drive the resource nationalist Maduro government from power for its alleged departure from democratic norms.

Set aside for the moment that Maduro’s favored replacement, the foreign-investment-friendly Juan Gauidó, intends to sell off Venezuela’s publicly-owned oil to private interests, and that this is a flagrant oil-grab, as US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has frankly acknowledged.

Even were it true that Maduro’s election was fraudulent—and there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that it was—this would hardly compare to the massacre of longsuffering residents of Gaza, who, it should be added, are living under an Israeli-imposed medieval siege which the “United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross have both found” to constitute “collective punishment”—that is, to violate international law.

So, Israeli murderers gun down Palestinians who peacefully demand what is due to them as human beings, and this passes without comment by the self-proclaimed defenders of the rule of law. In Western capitals, the only discussion about Israel is one pivoting on the contrived concept of the ‘new’ anti-Semitism, an all too transparent ploy to suppress criticism of Al Capone’s crimes, while John Dillinger gets on with robbing Venezuela of its treasure trove of oil and gold.

 

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Maduro’s claim that Washington has used cyberwarfare to bring down Venezuela’s power grid cannot be so easily dismissed

Posted in Venezuela by what's left on March 10, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

March 11, 2019

In the last few days Venezuela has been afflicted by power failures, escalating the misery of a population already menaced by an ongoing economic crisis.

Two explanations are offered to account for the outages.

Western news media point to the alleged economic mismanagement of the Maduro government, which has, in their view, crippled Venezuela’s power gird via under-investment.

The Maduro government counters that the United States has brought down the power grid through a cyberwarfare attack, part of its project of bringing Juan Guaidó, the US-backed Venezuelan legislator to power, by plunging the country into chaos and blaming the crisis on Maduro.

The US news media say that Caracas has offered no evidence to back up its accusation that Washington has unleashed a cyberattack on Venezuela, but equally offer no evidence to substantiate their own accusation that the Maduro government’s economic policies are to blame for the crisis.

We are thus presented with a fact (the outage) and two competing narratives, neither based on hard evidence. Which of these narratives is more credible?

Washington very likely has the cyberwarfare capability to cripple Venezuela’s power grid. On November 12, 2018, David Sanger reported in the New York Times that,

The United States had a secret program, code-named “Nitro Zeus,” which called for turning off the power grid in much of Iran if the two countries had found themselves in a conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. Such a use of cyberweapons is now a key element in war planning by all of the major world powers.

If the United States can turn off the power grid in Iran, using a cyberweapon that is now a key element in war planning of all the major world powers, it’s highly likely that it can do the same in Venezuela.

What’s more, the United States has on at least two occasions carried out cyberattacks against foreign states. Significantly, the attacks were unleashed against governments which, like Venezuela’s, have refused to submit to US hegemony. US cyberattacks were used to cripple Iran’s uranium enrichment program (now widely acknowledged) and to sabotage North Korea’s rocket program, the latter revealed by various sources, including, again, by the New York Time’s Sanger:  “[F]or years….the United States has targeted the North’s missile program with cyberattacks,” the reporter wrote in August, 2017.

The aforesaid, of course, is only evidence of capability, not of commission, but when placed within the context of Washington making clear its intention to topple the resource nationalist Maduro government, US capability, motivation, and practice, does very strongly cast suspicion on the US government.

Last week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton conceded (even boasted) that US policy in Venezuela is guided by the Monroe Doctrine, a doctrine which effectively claims US hegemony over the Western Hemisphere. In November, he used florid language to rail against Venezuela and other Latin American states which have rejected the Monroe Doctrine as belonging to a “Troika of Tyranny,” and forming part of a “triangle of terror” while acting as “a sordid cradle of communism in the Western Hemisphere.”

In 2002, as undersecretary of state, Bolton added Syria, Libya, and Cuba to George W. Bush’s infamous “Axis of Evil,” a regime change hit list which initially included Iraq, Iran and North Korea. All of the designated states were regime-changed or subjected to attempted regime change by Washington.  Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria were or are resource nationalist states, like Venezuela.

Revealingly, Bolton used the occasion of denouncing what he called Venezuela’s “poisonous” ideology of socialism (more accurately termed resource nationalism) to sing hosannas to Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, an unequivocal reactionary, who Bolton lauded as a positive “sign for the future of the region” in light of Bolsanaro’s “commitment to free-market principles.”

Commitment to free-market principles is code for welcoming the takeover of a country’s land, labour, markets and resources by US free enterprise. Bolton infamously told Fox Business that “It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically, if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.” Indeed it will. Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil, and is teeming with other natural resources, including gold, coveted by wealthy investors, including those with stakes in Canada’s giant mining companies (explaining why Ottawa has played a lead role in the Lima Group’s efforts to drive Maduro from power in favor of the foreign investment-friendly Guaidó.)

Guaidó showed why he has been decried as a US puppet when he said his economic “plan called for … opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment,” along the lines envisaged by Bolton. The self-proclaimed president’s plan “includes privatizing assets held by state enterprises,” according to the Wall Street Journal. Under the Maduro government, investment in Venezuela’s oil industry must take the form of joint ventures with the country’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, which is required to hold a majority share. Under a Guaidó government, that would change. Foreign private-owned companies would be allowed to own a majority stake in any joint-venture, and reap higher profits.

To return to the US narrative: If we accept the US-directed view that the power outages are caused by the Maduro government’s putative mismanagement of the electrical system, it appears all too convenient that the blackouts should happen precisely at the moment Washington is engaged in an effort to drive Maduro, and his “poisonous” ideology of resource nationalism, from power.

It seems more likely, given Washington’s long history of sabotaging the economies of countries that are insufficiently accommodating of US free enterprise, that US cyberwarfare capabilities were pressed into service to force Venezuelans to endure even more misery than has already been engendered by US-orchestrated sanctions. The aim is to increase pressure on Maduro to step down. As the Economist revealed, “Mr Guaidó and Mr Trump are betting that hardship will topple the regime.”

This parallels US efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba. As historian Louis A Perez Jr. explained in a 2002 article in the Journal of Latin American Studies,

[C]entral to US objectives was the need to maintain the appearance that the collapse of Fidel Castro was the result of conditions from within, by Cubans themselves, the product of government economic mismanagement, and thereby avoiding appearances of US involvement. The United States sought to produce disarray in the Cuban economy but in such a fashion as to lay responsibility directly on Fidel Castro.

US officials affirmed that the goal was to make “Castro’s downfall seem to be the result of his own mistakes’.”

[US Ambassador Philip Bonsal] in Havana early stressed the importance of appearance: ‘ It is important that the inevitable downfall of the present Government not be attributed to any important extent to economic sanctions from the United States as major factor.’ The United States, Bonsal wrote … sought ‘ to make it clear that when Castro fell, his overthrow would be due to inside and not outside causes’. This was the purport of a lengthy memorandum by George Denney, Director of State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The idea was to eliminate Castro ‘without resort to invasion or attributable acts of violence and violations of international law’, specifically by ‘creating the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba … as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the US’.

If the “Castro Communist experiment” was to “appear to have failed not on its own merits but as a result of obvious or inadequately disguised US intervention,… the validity of Castro’s revolutionary course might remain unquestioned.” Denney warned that if Cuba’s socialism was interrupted by the force of the world’s foremost ‘imperialist’ and ‘capitalist’ power in the absence of a major provocation, such action [would] discredit the US and tend to validate the uncompleted experiment.”

In Cuba, the United States sabotaged the economy through sanctions and tried to pin the blame on Castro and socialism. In Venezuela, the United States appears to have sabotaged the electrical grid and pinned the blame on Maduro

To be sure, there is, at this point, no concrete evidence that Washington has sabotaged Venezuela’s electrical grid, but it has the capability to do so, a record of using cyberattacks against countries slated for regime change, a motivation to throw Venezuela into crisis, and a game plan it has used repeatedly in other countries.

The US hand may be absent from this week’s power failures in Venezuela, but chances are it wasn’t.

 

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In Venezuela, Washington, with Canada’s help, plays the same old regime change game

Posted in Venezuela by what's left on February 5, 2019

February 5, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro has called Juan Guaidó, the self-declared interim president of Venezuela, a treasonous figurehead of a plot orchestrated by the United States to capture Venezuela’s vast oil reserves on behalf of wealthy US investors.

As a summary of what’s happening in the oil-rich South American country, Maduro couldn’t have done better.

As the Canadian Press reported, Canada and other members of the so-called Lima Group, an ad hoc body formed to oust Maduro, encouraged the opposition to find a new face without political baggage around whom it could unite. This is a standard US regime change tactic, previously used to attempt to bring about a change in government in Yugoslavia and Zimbabwe.

Venezuela’s opposition, comprised mainly of representatives of the middle and upper classes, selected Guaidó, a young unknown. One poll indicated that most Venezuelans had never heard of him.

Soon after being anointed as leader, Guaidó slipped into Washington to secretly meet with the Trump administration, presumably to secure its blessing.

Guaidó then hastened back to Venezuela where the opposition followed through on the Lima Group’s pre-arranged plan to elect the young unknown as head of the National Assembly. According to a recent poll, the assembly has a 70 percent disapproval rating.

Next, Guaidó declared himself president—also, one gathers, part of the pre-conceived Lima Group plan– arguing that Maduro’s election was fraudulent and that the presidency was therefore vacant.

If that isn’t enough to paint Guaidó as a treasonous figurehead of a plot orchestrated by Washington and Ottawa, consider this: According the Wall Street Journal, Guaidó’s plan for reviving the sanctions-crippled economy is to open Venezuela’s vast oil sector to foreign investment, privatize assets held by state enterprises, and indulge wealthy investors.

In other words, the US-Canadian agent plans to substantially scale back the public sector, surrender Venezuela’s economic sovereignty, and turn over the country’s vast treasure trove of natural resources to foreign investors.

Is it any surprise that the United States and Canada, home to big oil and big mining, have taken a leadership role in sponsoring him?

Carried through, Guaidó’s plan would re-Americanize the Venezuelan economy and reverse the Bolivarian Revolution initiated by Hugo Chavez and backed by Venezuela’s teeming poor.

US oil companies would benefit, a matter US national security adviser John Bolton alluded to in a recent television interview. Canadian mining companies would make off like bandits. And Venezuela’s economic elite would return to the good old days. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people would find, once again, that they exist to make the wealthy wealthier.

The Lima Group is nothing more than an ad hoc assemblage of countries brought together for the sole purpose of overthrowing the Maduro government in order to open Venezuela’s oil and gold industries to ownership by wealthy US and Canadian investors.

It excludes the United States to disguise the obvious imperialist character of the project, and it deliberately excludes members of the Organization of American States who oppose the blatant interference in a member’s internal affairs.

And here’s a warning.

Venezuela is only the first of three Latin American countries the United States is targeting for regime change, according to US administration officials. The other two are Cuba and Nicaragua, which, together with Venezuela, make up what the administration calls a Troika of Tyranny, but in reality represent states engaged in the project of putting the interests of their own populations ahead of those of North American businesses. The administration says that “the attempt to force out the president of Venezuela” marks “the opening of a new strategy to exert greater US influence over Latin America.”

The United States is no stranger to overthrowing governments. In the twentieth century, Washington undertook 41 successful regime change interventions in the hemisphere, an average of one every two and a half years. And that doesn’t count the unsuccessful ones, like the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In this century, the United States, working with Canada, overthrew left-wing governments in Haiti in 2004 and Honduras in 2009, and tried but failed to overthrow Hugo Chavez in 2002. The narrative of the failed overthrow of Chavez anticipated the one Washington and its Lima Group co-conspirators are using today—the president’s policies no longer work for Venezuelans and the people are rising to defend democracy.

We’ve heard it all before.

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When liberal democracy means plutocracy

Posted in Democracy by what's left on January 29, 2019

Western politicians and major news media say that the liberal democratic order is under threat. But what do they mean by ‘liberal democracy’? 

January 30, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

Early in a series of lectures delivered in 1965, the political scientist C.B Macpherson observed that, “Democracy used to be a bad word.” [1] Little did he know that in 2019 “used to be” would no longer fit, and that democracy, the concept, would become a foul thing in the pages of the United States’ newspaper of record, the New York Times, even if democracy, the word, would retain its favourable connotations.

In what is surely an extraordinary pair of articles, the first on 1 November (“The weaknesses in liberal democracy that may be pulling it apart”) and the second on 21 January (“When more democracy isn’t more democratic”), Max Fisher, whose job at the New York Times is to “explore the ideas and context behind major world events,” presents an essentially Marxist critique of liberal democracy, albeit in a non-Marxist idiom, and with the Marxist valorization turned on its head; rather than praising majority rule and the popular will as good things, Fisher presents them as evils.

The New York Times says there’s a specter haunting the West: the people’s will.

Fisher argues that democracy comprises “two conflicting imperatives: majority rule and liberalism.” Majority rule serves the interests of the majority (as the majority understands it) and liberalism protects the interests of the establishment, which the establishment defines as universal and equal to the common good.

Voting creates the illusion of legitimacy—that the system is responsive to the popular will, when, in reality, it resists it—while liberalism checks the popular will so that establishment interests remain ascendant in the face of the latent threat of the majority to elite interests.

In “recent years a series of changes, including the rise of social media and online fund-raising, have severely weakened the establishments’ power,” Fisher observes, undermining its ability to hold the popular will in check. This is the danger inherent in democracy, or its promise, depending on whether you come down on the side of the establishment or the majority. In Fisher’s account, the only tolerable democracy is one that isn’t a democracy—that is, one in which liberalism, the instrument of the elite, is used to negate majority rule, the instrument of the many.

Fisher doesn’t present all of his argument in quite these terms, but that’s the gist of it. And where a Marxist would condemn the check on the popular will exerted by the establishment through its institutions and representatives, Fisher treats liberal democracy as a system working as it was designed to work, namely, against the majority, and not on its behalf.

Here’s a summary of his argument, in his own words.

Liberalism, the columnist writes, creates “institutions and representatives” which “balance majority opinion against considerations like universal rights and the common good.” In a democracy “the people’s will is carefully incorporated but rarely intended to dominate” (emphasis added.) This invites the questions: Who established the system’s aims? Why shouldn’t the popular will dominate? And how is the people’s will incorporated, if it is not allowed to dominate?

Lurking in Fisher’s account of liberal democracy is the idea that it is not the people who define the common good but “institutions and representatives.” At the same time, evident in his view, plainly exposed on its surface, is the notion that in a liberal democracy the people’s will is not decisive; it is, instead, the institutions and representatives of the establishment that dominate.

Empirically, this is the case. In their 2014 study of over 1,700 US policy issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page demonstrated that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests”—the establishment—“have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [2]

The reality is amply evident to the majority. Since 1958 the University of Michigan has conducted a public opinion survey every two years in which a broad range of Americans are asked this question: “Would you say that the government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves or that it is run for the benefit of all the people?” In 2012, 79 percent said “a few big interests.” [3]

Canada’s global affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, says the liberal democratic world is under strategic threat.

In Fisher’s view, this is hardly a reality that needs to be challenged and transformed, but accepted, even celebrated, as the best of worlds. The people do not know the common good; they’re incapable of understanding it. The common good must therefore be protected from the people’s whims and misapprehensions. It is incumbent on those of mature judgment to define the common good and protect universal rights from majoritarian impulses.

To make his point, Fisher cites Edmund Burke, a giant of 18th century reactionary thought, whose concern was for the universal rights and common good of the aristocracy. Burke was an adamantine opponent of democracy, and Fisher’s citing the conservative icon in this context has all the persuasiveness of invoking Hitler to make the case that checks on democracy are desirable. Burke and Hitler belong to a reactionary tradition which regards democracy as an abomination. Fisher appears to fit comfortably in this trend—and it is fitting and predictable and hardly surprising that a major columnist of a major newspaper owned by the establishment of the major world imperialist power holds these views.

Fisher shares Burke’s solicitude for the universal rights and common good of the establishment, and contempt for the right to self-determination of the majority. “Leaders have always needed the support of both voters and establishments to win elections,” Fisher explains. “Voters wanted popular rule, establishments wanted checks and institutions; the two held each other in balance.” And that—the negation of the popular will by a minority—is a good thing, if we’re to believe the Burke-quoting Fisher.

But voters have grown “skeptical of the entire idea of accruing power to bureaucrats and elites” Fisher warns, and now want (gasp!) “to replace institutions with … direct rule by the people.” Direct rule by the people would be a tyranny, Fisher warns—of the majority over “the common good” and “universal rights.” He doesn’t spell out what rights are universal, but we can be pretty sure he means the right to live on rent, profits and interest, the right to resist the people’s will, and the right of establishment figures “of mature judgment” to define the common good. In other words, universal rights and the common good are none other than the rights and common good of the economic elite and organized business interests.

In the Fisherian view, democracy as it is practiced in the West, creates a tension between the tyranny of the majority (majority rule, or the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Marxist vernacular) and the tyranny of the establishment (liberalism, or the Marxists’ dictatorship of the bourgeoisie) in which the latter tyranny almost always—and should almost always—prevail over the former.

Majority rule “feels democratic to members of the majority,” Fisher observes, but when the tyranny of the establishment checks the majoritarian impulse of the masses, it “can feel tyrannical.” It is, but that’s how the system is supposed to work, he explains.

Sometimes the inherent tensions within the system threaten to be resolved in the majority’s favor, and Fisher fears that the balance is tipping threateningly close to majority rule. Fisher discerns a specter haunting the West—“the vision of democracy as rule by the people.” It “persists.”

Railing against the people’s revolt against “the entire idea of accruing power to bureaucrats and elites,” Fisher reminds us that democracies “are not designed for direct popular rule.” They are “designed to resist” it. Sure, the “checks imposed on popular will can feel like democracy failing,” he explains, but that “is actually the system working as intended.”

The French Marxist Henri Barbusse defined liberal democracy as a system with “a President instead of an Emperor, an armchair instead of a throne” [4]—much the same as the elite tyranny which preceded it, if different on the surface. This is essentially Fisher’s view, but Barbusse rejected Fisher’s acceptance of elite tyranny as desirable.

Of course, what Fisher is really raising the alarm about is the growing refusal of the majority to allow liberal institutions and representatives to resist the popular will, reflected, for example, in the Brexit vote, or in the election of leaders of whom the establishment disapproves whose route to power has been through their promises to address the basic existential concerns of the majority: jobs, a liveable income, and economic security.

In the 1970s, the establishment’s Trilateral Commission defined the demand that government policy reflect the will of the majority as a “crisis of democracy”—a sickness originating in democratic “excess.” In the 1920s in Italy and in the 1930s in Germany, earlier crises of democracy were resolved by fascism, another instrument of the establishment.

Clearly, the New York Times, and the economic elite and organized business interests it represents, are not prepared to tolerate a democracy of the many, or simply, democracy as it has always been understood. A democracy of the few, one of which Burke would approve—namely, not a democracy at all but a tyranny of the economic elite, a plutocracy—is more in line with the newspaper’s, and the establishment’s,  predilections.

All the same, that won’t stop the New York Times, the US government, and the Western intelligentsia, from appropriating the good name of democracy to beautify and disguise their preferred system of anti-democratic rule, all the while defaming the people as democracy’s enemies.

1. C.B. Macpherson, The Real World of Democracy, CBC Enterprises, 1990, (1).

2. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014.

3. H. Bruce Franklin, Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War, Rutgers University Press, 2018, (72)

4. Henri Barbusse, Stalin: A New World Seen Through One Man, Read Books, 2011, (50).

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Chomsky Venezuela Statement: A Stronger Alternative

Posted in Venezuela by what's left on January 26, 2019

January 26, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

A lot of good people signed the statement opposing US interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs, posted at Venezuelanalysis.com on January 24, but one wonders whether they gave the particulars of the statement sufficient thought.

The Chomsky et al statement called on Washington to cease interfering in Venezuela’s internal politics, “especially for the purpose of overthrowing the country’s government.” Excellent. But it should have added a call to support the Maduro government’s project of overcoming Venezuela’s racial and socioeconomic oppression. And stopped there.

Instead, it proposed US intervention in the form of support for what it defined as “the only solution”: negotiations to resolve the country’s longstanding racial and socioeconomic divisions. Thus, the statement defined division (that is, conflict), and not racial and socioeconomic oppression, as Venezuela’s core problem.

The proposal that the United States sponsor negotiations is problematic.

First, the question of negotiations is one for Venezuelans to decide. If sovereignty means anything, then a people has the right to choose the methods by which it resolves its problems, free from outsiders telling it how it ought to be done.

What’s more, the proposal calls to mind Western-sponsored negotiations to resolve the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How well has that worked out? And what is the end state sought: justice for the oppressed, or only their quiescence?

Second, negotiation implies conceding ground to a racial and socioeconomic elite that wants to continue its exploitation of the majority. If that’s how Venezuelans, together, wish to proceed, fine. But the idea that all conflicts can or ought to be resolved through negotiation is naïve. The statement’s drafters appear to be more interested in averting violence than achieving justice.

Imagine a slave rebellion, in which the slave owners are supported by a foreign state, and the citizens of that state call on their government to end its intervention on the side of the slave owners, but at the same time call on their government to sponsor negotiations between the slaves and slave owners to find a solution to the ongoing crisis and the country’s racial and socioeconomic divisions. Would these foreign citizens be calling for an end to the injustice of slavery or an end to the violence of rebellion?

While it begins strongly, the statement ends by standing for nothing; certainly not for the Maduro government and its aims. Nor does it stand against anything, except (though importantly) against a US supported coup d’état, but not against all intervention. Intervention of the kind that leads to a negotiated stalemate in a struggle against racial and socioeconomic oppression and the continuation of injustice is deemed desirable.

The following statement would have been stronger.

o The US government should cease its efforts to overthrow the Maduro government.
o The US government should provide what reasonable assistance it can to the Maduro government’s requests for aid in carrying out its program of overcoming the racial and socioeconomic oppression that has afflicted Venezuela for far too long.

Stronger still would have been a statement that made these points:

o The Maduro government has worked to put the interests of ordinary Venezuelans ahead of those of foreign investors;
o The opposition, backed by Western governments, has sought to frustrate those aims;
o Now the United States and a number of other countries are encouraging a coup d’etat;
o If successful, a coup d’état will lead to a rightwing government that will implement policies that indulge foreign investors and treat ordinary Venezuelans harshly; Venezuela’s longstanding racial and socioeconomic oppression will continue;
o We stand with the Maduro government’s efforts to build a society and economy that puts the needs of the majority of Venezuela’s citizens first;
o At the same time, we oppose the efforts of the United States and its allies to impede, undermine and eliminate the Maduro government’s program to end the racial and socioeconomic oppression that has afflicted Venezuela for far too long.

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US-Led Efforts to Overthrow Maduro Spurred by Business Interests, Not Democracy

Posted in Uncategorized, Venezuela by what's left on January 24, 2019

January 24, 2019

By Stephen Gowans

The US-led and coordinated intervention to overthrow Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro by recognizing Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly as the interim president, has nothing whatever to do with restoring democracy in Venezuela (which was never overturned) and everything to do with promoting US business interests.

Washington’s imperial arrogance in effectively appointing Guaidó as president, attempting to go over the heads of Venezuelans—who alone have the right to decide who their leaders are—is motivated by the same concerns that have motivated other US interventions around the world: toppling governments that put their citizens’ interests above those of US investors.

That Washington has a propensity to engage in destabilization operations against leftwing governments is hardly a secret. From 1898 to 2004, the US government undertook 41 successful regime change interventions in Latin America, an average of one every two-and-a-half years. And that excludes the unsuccessful ones, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.

In almost every instance, US regime change interventions around the world have been motivated either directly or indirectly by commercial considerations, and were undertaken to restore or protect the primacy of US business interests in foreign lands. And in many cases, the interventions paved the way for the installation of rightwing dictatorships.

One ultimately unsuccessful US intervention was the 2002 coup d’état against Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s predecessor. Washington immediately recognized the coup, hailing it as a victory for democracy, but privately recognized it as a major win for US business interests in an oil-rich state teeming with potential profit-making opportunities for US free enterprise.

Washington disliked Chavez because the charismatic leftist leader promoted the welfare of ordinary Venezuelans, rather than pandering to US investors. But the coup against Chavez was short-lived. In a blow against tyranny, the regime change was quickly reversed and Chavez, the country’s legitimate leader, was restored to the presidency.

Determined to eliminate leftist governments in Latin America, Washington stepped up its campaign of economic warfare against the South American country, aiming to plunge its economy into ruin and the Venezuelan people into misery. This was a game plan Washington had followed countless times before and since, in China, Cuba, North Korea, Chile, Zimbabwe, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, and Iran: ruin the target country’s economy, attribute the chaos to “the failures of socialism” and economic mismanagement, and wait for the people to rise in revolt against their misery.

The idea that Washington’s intervention in Venezuela has even the slightest connection to protecting democracy is laughable. The US government has notoriously supported a string of rightwing dictatorships throughout Latin America, including that of Augusto Pinochet, who was installed in the wake of a 1973 US-engineered coup against Salvador Allende. Allende crossed Washington by doing what Maduro, and a host of other Third World leaders, had done: put the interests of the local population ahead of those of corporate America.

In the Middle East, the United States’s closest Arab allies are a military dictatorship (Egypt) and absolutist monarchies, chief among them Saudi Arabia, whose abhorrence of democracy is absolute. Washington rewards Egypt with $1.3 billion in military aid annually, and robustly supports the Saudi tyranny.

Saudis regard their parasitical royal family as completely unacceptable. To protect itself from its own population, the monarchy maintains a 250,000 troop-strong National Guard. The Guard exists, not to defend Saudi Arabia from external aggression, but to protect the monarchy from its own subjects. The al-Saud family’s protectors are trained and equipped by the United States and its satellites, including Canada, which has a $10-billion contract to supply the force with armored personnel carriers, used to put down the frequent uprisings of disgruntled Saudi subjects.

The National Guard’s armorer, Canada, also recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president, dishonestly attributing its decision to follow the US-lead to its purported commitment to democracy. Ottawa has colluded with the dictators of Riyadh in their crackdown on long-suffering, democracy-deprived, Saudi citizens, at the same time supporting General Dynamics Canada’s efforts to rake in Pharaonic profits from arms sales to the democracy-hating Saudi despots.

Let’s be honest about a few things.

First, the agendas of US and Canadian political leaders are set by the economic elites and organized business interests on which they depend for campaign contributions, policy recommendations, and lucrative post political career job opportunities, and with which they’re tightly integrated personally and professionally. Accordingly, they care about the profits of US and Canadian investors, not about the welfare, freedoms or democracy of ordinary Venezuelans. Indeed, they secretly harbor contempt for the bulk of their own citizens and wouldn’t, for a moment, tolerate the flowering of an authentic, robust, democracy in their own countries. The idea that they care about the residents of a distant South American land is a fantasy for political innocents and the weakly naïve.

Second, US-led campaigns of economic warfare do make people’s lives miserable, and many people may attribute their misery to the actions of their own government and wish to see it step down. Others may recognize that sanctions are the cause of their misery, and may support regime change as a way of winning relief from foreign-imposed misery. Indeed, the logic of economic warfare depends on these assumptions being true.

Third, governments threatened by foreign-sponsored regime change face legitimate national emergencies. Maduro is not a dictator. He is the elected head of a government confronting a genuine national emergency engineered by hostile foreign powers. Measures taken by the government to defend its citizens against the determination of the United States to impose on Venezuela policies which cater to the interests of corporate America at Venezuelans’ expense are wholly legitimate; they represent the actions of a democracy against a US-led international tyranny.

It is important to remember that Maduro’s government, like Chavez’s, has sought to put the interests of ordinary Venezuelans ahead of those of US investors. As a result, it has provoked Washington’s enmity. The US intervention in Venezuela in recognizing Guaidó as interim president is emblematic of countless other US regime change interventions. Invariably, these interventions are targeted at leftwing governments that threaten the profit making interests of US businesses. The interventions have nothing whatever to do with democracy; on the contrary, where successful, they are almost always followed by rightwing regimes that build US investor-friendly business climates and integrate their countries economically, militarily, and diplomatically into the US-superintended and Wall Street-led global order. Foreign investors are indulged, and the local population is treated harshly. Far from spurring transitions to democracy, US regime change interventions aim to reverse democracy, and strengthen US global tyranny. The latest US-led intervention in Venezuela is no different, and is just a repeat, with local variations, on similar efforts in Syria, Iran, Cuba and North Korea.

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The US war on China’s economic model

Posted in China, Public Ownership and Planning, Uncategorized by what's left on December 30, 2018

The growing hostility of Western governments to China is more about the interests of Western investors than legitimate security fears

December 30, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

The United States stations 320,000 troops in the vicinity of China [1], maintains a continuous B-52 bomber presence in the region, including over waters claimed by the East Asian giant, [2] and has sent its “most advanced warfighting platforms to the region, including multi-mission ballistic missile defense-capable ships, submarines, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.” [3] The 2018 US National Defense Strategy lists China first among the United States’s “five central external threats” including “Russia, North Korea, Iran, and terrorist groups with global reach.” [4] The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has called China the “great threat for the U.S. in the long term.” [5] According to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward, the Trump administration considers China “the real enemy.” [6]

What has China done to make successive US administrations see it as a major external threat and the real enemy? The answer is that China has developed a state-led economic model that limits the profit-making opportunities of US investors and challenges their control of high-technology sectors, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, essential to US military supremacy. Washington is engaged in a multi-faceted war “to prevent Beijing from advancing with plans … to become a global leader in 10 broad areas of technology, including information technology, aerospace and electric vehicles.” [7] Washington aims to “hobble China’s plans to develop advanced technology” [8] and to “force China to allow American companies to sell their goods and operate freely” in China, under conditions conducive to maintaining US economic and military supremacy. [9]

For its part, China seeks to alter a global economic system in which it is allowed only “to produce T-shirts” while the United States produces high-tech, according to Yang Weimin, a senior economic adviser to China’s president Xi Jinping. [10] Xi is “determined that China master its own microchips, operating systems and other core technologies” [11] in order to become “technologically self-reliant.” [12] But self-reliance in industries like aerospace, telecommunications, robotics, and AI means removing China, a large market, from the ambit of US high-tech firms. [13] Moreover, since Western military supremacy has always relied on Western technological superiority, Chinese efforts to challenge the Western monopoly on high-tech translates directly into an effort to challenge Washington’s ability to use the Pentagon as an instrument for obtaining investment and trade advantages for US investors.

China’s economic model

China’s economic model is often called “state capitalist” or “market socialist.” Both terms refer to two important elements of the Chinese model: the presence of markets, for materials, products and labor, and a role for the state, through industrial planning and ownership of enterprises. [14]

The “mainstay of the economy” [15] is China’s over 100,000 state owned enterprises. [16] The state has a strong presence in the commanding heights of the economy. “Key sectors such as banking are…dominated by state-controlled companies.” [17] State-owned enterprises “account for about 96% of China’s telecom industry, 92% of power and 74% of autos.” [18] Beijing “is the biggest shareholder in the country’s 150 biggest companies.” [19] The combined profit of state-owned “China Petroleum & Chemical and China Mobile in 2009 alone was greater than all the profit of China’s 500 largest private firms.” [20]

Industrial planning is carried out by the National Development and Reform Commission. The commission uses various means to incubate Chinese industry in key sectors [21] and drafts plans “to give preferential treatment” to Chinese firms in strategic areas. [22]

Beijing is counting on state owned firms “to become global leaders in semiconductors, electric vehicles, robotics and other high-technology sectors and is funding them through subsidies and financing from state banks.” [23] The planning commission also guides the development of steel, photovoltaics, high-speed trains, and other critical industries. [24]

Beijing has closed sectors it considers strategic or vital to national security to foreign ownership. These include “finance, defense, energy, telecommunications, railways and ports” [25] as well as steel. All steel industry firms are state-owned and all are financed by state-owned banks. [26] In total, “China … has restricted or closed off 63 sectors of its own economy to foreign investors, such as stem-cell research, satellites, exploration and exploitation of numerous minerals and media, as well as humanities and social-sciences research institutes.” [27]

China also relies heavily on joint venture arrangements to acquire Western technology and know-how. This idea was initially introduced to China by General Motors, which proposed a joint venture in 1978 with the Chinese car industry. GM’s idea was to trade off its technology and know-how for access to a vast market and low-wage labor. [28]

Chinese leaders saw joint ventures as a way “to propel its industries up the value chain into more sophisticated sectors and the country into rich-nation ranks.” [29] Technology acquired from Western partnerships diffused into the Chinese economy, allowing Chinese firms to become competitors of the Western companies. [30] For example, Chinese rail companies used technology acquired through joint ventures with Japanese and European firms to become giants in high-speed rail. [31]

China seeks to achieve self-sufficiency in high-tech by 2025 under a plan called Made in China 2025. The idea is to vault into the top ranks of high-tech, matching and eventually overtaking the West. Xi has complained that Chinese “technology still generally lags that of developed countries” and that China must “catch up and overtake” the West in “core technological fields.” [32] To help achieve this goal, Beijing plans to “spend billions in the coming years to make the country the world’s leader in A.I,” [33] among other areas.

China’s economic model is not new. According to the economist, Chang Ha-joon:

“In a way, what it is doing is actually not that different from what the more advanced countries were doing in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Many countries, including Japan and Germany, like China today, were using state-owned enterprises to develop their strategic industries. You can say that China is going through what all the other economically advanced countries have been through, and examples range from the U.S. in the mid-19th century to South Korea in the 1970s and 80s.”[34]

US objections

Countries which dominated the globe economically, politically, and militarily have always been the great champions of free trade. The United States had no use for free trade until it became the dominant economic power in the wake of the Second World War. Until the end of WWII, US tariffs were among the world’s highest. Emerging from the war as the planet’s strongest economic power, the United States did all it could to impose free trade, free markets and US free enterprise on as much of the world as it could, and wasn’t shy about using economic warfare, the CIA, and military force to accomplish its goal.

Today, Washington objects strenuously to the Chinese economic model, to the point that it’s willing to use economic warfare, military intimidation, and perhaps even outright war (see below) to impede it. Access to Chinese markets and low-wage labor is highly valued by the US state, but Washington resents access being made contingent on joint venture arrangements which allow US technology to be absorbed by Chinese businesses. The United States demands that US investors be freed from such conditions, that US corporations be granted unfettered access to all Chinese markets, and that US firms be allowed to compete with Chinese enterprises on equal terms, without favor for Chinese companies. There are two reasons Washington makes these demands: to maximize the profit-making opportunities available to US investors in China and to prevent Beijing from building ‘national champions’ able to compete with US corporations. [35]

The US economic elite has for years expressed its grievances over China’s state owned enterprises. It complains that it is “denied lucrative government business, which goes instead to the state champions.” [36] US business people grouse that “In the past few years, China has significantly increased the government’s role in the economy, pumping up the state sector and crowding out private and foreign businesses.” [37] And they lament that the “heavily protected and subsidized Chinese state-owned enterprises … are pounding U.S. companies not just in China but in competition globally.” [38] In response to these grievances, Washington is pushing for “reducing the role of state-owned firms in China’s economy.” [39]

Made in China 2025 is a significant irritant to Washington. Peter Navarro, US president Donald Trump’s trade adviser, denounces it as “economic aggression” because it “threatens the U.S. technology sector.” [40] US vice-president Mike Pence calls it Beijing’s master plan to bring “90% of the world’s most advanced industries” under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. [41] An emblematic US media description of the Chinese plan is: “Made in China 2025 is Beijing’s plan to dominate global markets in a wide range of high-tech products. China’s strategy is to give large government subsidies to state-owned companies and supplement their research with technology” acquired from Chinese partnerships with, or purchase of, US firms. [42] The description contains within it a diagnosis and implied US treatment plan: Compel Beijing to a) end subsidies to state-owned enterprises; b) lift joint venture conditions which allow Chinese firms to acquire US technology; and c) prevent Chinese companies from buying Western firms as a means of acquiring Western technology.

The New York Times has reported that the US trade representative Robert Lighthizer “wants China to reduce subsidies and other aid to Chinese firms competing internationally in advanced technology” [43] and that one US “demand is for China to halt its subsidies for its ‘Made in China 2025’ program aimed at giving its companies a foothold in aircraft, robotics and other areas of advanced manufacturing.” [44]

“Beijing believes in state-driven research to help state-owned industries,” observes The Wall Street Journal, “while the U.S. depends on the private sector, along with a healthy dose of government-funded basic research.” [45] That’s not entirely true. The privately-owned Chinese telecom equipment maker, Huawei, spent “$13 billion last year … developing its own technologies, outpacing Intel Corp. and spending almost as much as Google parent Alphabet Inc.” [46] And corporate America’s reliance on government-funded R&D is far greater than usually acknowledged.

Washington started investing heavily in R&D after the allegedly innovation-stifling Soviet economy allowed the USSR to beat the United States into space, and then chalk up a series of other firsts: the first animal in orbit, first human in orbit, first woman in orbit, first spacewalk, first moon impact, first image of the far side of the moon, first unmanned lunar soft landing, first space rover, first space station and first interplanetary probe. Beat by the Russians, the United States was galvanized to take a leaf from the Soviet book. Just as the Soviets were doing, Washington would use public funds to power research into innovations. This would be done through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The DARPA would channel public money to scientists and engineers for military, space and other research. Many of the innovations to come out of the DARPA pipeline would eventually make their way to private investors, who would use them for private profit. [47] In this way, private investors were spared the trouble of risking their own capital, as free enterprise mythology would have us believe they do. In this myth, far-seeing and bold capitalists reap handsome profits as a reward for risking their capital on research that might never pay-off. Except this is not how it works. It is far better for investors to invest their capital in ventures with less risk and quicker returns, while allowing the public to shoulder the burden of funding R&D with its many risks and uncertainties. Using their wealth, influence and connections, investors have successfully pressed politicians into putting this pleasing arrangement in place. Free enterprise reality, then, is based on the sucker system: Risk is “socialized” (i.e., borne by the public, the suckers) while benefits are “privatized” (by investors who have manipulated politicians into shifting to the public the burden of funding R&D.)

A study by Block and Keller [48] found that between 1971 and 2006, 77 out of R&D Magazine’s top 88 innovations had been fully funded by the US government. Summarizing research by economist Mariana Mazzucato, former Guardian columnist Seumas Milne pointed out that the

[a]lgorithms that underpinned Google’s success were funded by the public sector. The technology in the Apple iPhone was invented in the public sector. In both the US and Britain it was the state, not big pharma, that funded most groundbreaking ‘new molecular entity’ drugs, with the private sector then developing slight variations. And in Finland, it was the public sector that funded the early development of Nokia – and made a return on its investment. [49]

Nuclear power, satellite and rocket technology, the internet and self-driving cars are other examples of innovations that were produced with public money, and have since been used for private profit. When he was US president, Barack Obama acknowledged the nature of the swindle in his 2011 State of the Nation Address. “Our free-enterprise system,” began the president, “is what drives innovation.” However, he immediately contradicted himself by saying, “But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.”

Today, the United States “is spending roughly $1 billion to $2 billion annually, much of it federal funds, to build the first ‘exascale’ supercomputer—capable of a quintillion calculations a second, which is at least 100 times faster than today’s champion. Such a machine would help in everything from designing futuristic weapons to investigating brain science.” [50] The US government is also “boosting spending in semiconductor research, an area of intense Chinese interest.” [51] Meanwhile, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy is funding research on “quantum mechanics to eventually make computers and communications operate at speeds and efficiency well beyond anything possible today.” [52] And on top of these public R&D expenditures, the DARPA continues to fund advanced research, including on A.I. [53] Simultaneously, Washington is demanding that China halt its own R&D spending in the same areas.

All of this points to a number of important facts. (1) The United States kick-started innovation in its own economy by emulating the Soviet model of state-directed research because free enterprise was not up to the task. (2) Rather than emulate the Soviet model for public benefit, the United States channels public money into R&D for private profit. (3) US high technology supremacy relies significantly on public funding, yet (or rather because of this) Washington demands that China forbear from its own public funding of innovation research. Washington will only tolerate public funding of basic research that benefits US investors.

Explaining US hostility to China

Understanding the economic and political organization of the United States helps understand why Washington is antagonistic to China’s economic model. The following explains the US political elite’s hostility, currently expressed in the declaration of China as the United States’ top external threat; in the US-instigated trade war against China; in the blocking of Chinese purchases of US companies; and in the exclusion of, or threat to exclude, such Chinese corporations as Huawei and ZTE from Western markets.

The US political elite is interlocked with the community of major US investors. US administrations, the US senate, and the top strata of the US bureaucracy, are mainly staffed by wealthy individuals whose wealth derives from investment income. Additionally, organized business groups and major corporations exert significant influence on the political elite through lobbying, via the funding of policy formation think-tanks, and by ownership of the mass media. In their 2014 study of over 1,700 US policy issues, the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page demonstrated that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [54] Accordingly, US foreign policy defines external threats as threats to the interests of US “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests”—the very same community which dominates the formulation of public policy.

The US National Defense Strategy does not define China as a threat to the United States but as threat to US interests. Unlike the United States, which has a significant military presence in the air, sea and land around China, the East Asian giant does not have a military presence in the Western hemisphere, and is not currently capable of projecting force into it. China does not therefore constitute a military threat to the United States. What, then, are the US interests that China’s threatens? Consistent with the interlocked nature of the US political and economic elites, US interests refer to the profit-making interests of US investors.

China’s economic model threatens the profit-making interests of US economic elites and organized business groups in the following ways.

• State-owned enterprises are closed to US investors and compete against US investment.
• Protected sectors deny US investors profit-making opportunities.
• Joint venture requirements limit US investment and are used to acquire technology to develop enterprises which become capable of competing with US firms.
• State incubation of national champions develops competitors to US investment.
• Made in China 2025 locks US investment out of Chinese high-tech markets, competes against US high-tech investment globally, allows China to contest US military supremacy, and undermines US capabilities to use force to obtain trade and investment opportunities under favorable conditions.

China’s economic model also threatens US (investor) interests by offering an exemplar for other countries to follow, which, if followed, would reduce US profit-making opportunities even more significantly. The Chinese model has had undoubted success in lifting China from poverty. In 1984, three-quarters of the Chinese population still lived in extreme poverty. By 2018, extreme poverty had fallen to less than one percent. [55] And China is poised to challenge the West’s technological supremacy. These extraordinary accomplishments were not the product of Beijing following Washington’s economic advice; they are “due to planning in a socialist market, not conventional capitalism,” observes Robert C. Allen, a specialist in economic development. [55] Even The Wall Street Journal acknowledges that China’s “rapid economic development” is due to “state enterprises operating under an industrial plan.” [57] Washington cannot allow such a model to take hold and spread, for if it does, the profit-making opportunities on which US investors depend will shrink. US free enterprise, from Washington’s point of view, must be welcomed everywhere—and the division of the world between exploiting countries and exploited ones must continue ad infinitum.

Time and again, underdeveloped countries have implemented economic models at the core of which have been state-owned enterprises and industrial planning. In almost every case, Washington has used sanctions, the CIA, or the Pentagon, or all three, to put a stop to this threat to the profit-making interests of the United States’s ‘substantial’ citizens. Today, the US elite is agreed that China must be ‘contained’, even if there is no agreement on how. The think-tank, the RAND Corporation, funded by the US government, US corporations, and US investors, has even contemplated open war as a solution, in a 2016 study titled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. [58]

The words of Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon who served in Mao’s Eighth Route Army, come to mind.

“Behind all stands that terrible, implacable God of Business and Blood, whose name is Profit. Money, like an insatiable Molloch, demands its interest, its return, and will stop at nothing, not even the murder of millions, to satisfy its greed. Behind the army stands the militarists. Behind the militarists stands finance capital, and the capitalists. Brothers in blood; companions in crime.” [59]

1. Elisabeth Bumiller, “Words and deeds show focus of the American military on Asia”, The New York Times, September 10, 2012.

2. Jeremy Page and Gordon Lubold, “U.S. bomber flies over waters claimed by China,” The Wall Street Journal, December 18, 2015.

3. Trefor Moss and Jeremy Page, “U.S. stationing warplanes in Philippines amid South China Sea tensions,” The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2016.

4. National Defense Strategy, 2018, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/IN10855.pdf.

5. Steven Erlanger, “Tillerson’s ouster has allies hoping for coherence, but fearing the worst,” The New York Times, March 14, 2018.

6. Bob Woodward. Fear: Trump in the White House, (Simon & Schuster, 2018), 298.

7. Bob Davis, “Trade rift within Trump administration sends stocks on wild ride,” The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2018.

8. Bob Davis, Vivian Salama and Lingling Wei, “China issues retaliatory tariffs as trade fight heats up,” The Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2018.

9. Neil Irwin, “The Trump trade strategy is coming into focus. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will work.” The New York Times, October 6, 2018.

10. Lingling Wei, “US and China dive in for prolonged trade talks,” The Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2018.

11. Chris Buckley and Paul Mozur, “What keeps Xi Jinping awake at night,” The New York Times, May 11, 2018.

12. Ibid.

13. Adam Segal, “Why does everyone hate Made in China 2025?” Council on Foreign Relations blog, March 28, 2018.

14. Robert C. Allen, The Industrial Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford University Press, 2017), 126.

15. James T. Areddy, “Xi Jinping aims to rebrand China—as an importer,” The Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2018.

16. New York Times, June 3, 2009.

17. The Globe and Mail, October 17, 2008.

18. John Bussey, “Tackling the many dangers of China’s state capitalism”, The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2012.

19. “The rise of state capitalism”, The Economist, January 21, 2012.

20. Bussey, September 27, 2012.

21. Allen, 126.

22. Michael Wines, “China takes a loss to get ahead in the business of fresh water”, The New York Times, October 25, 2011.

23. Bob Davis, “When the world opened the gates of China,” The Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2019.

24. Allen, 127.

25. Michael Wines, “China fortifies state businesses to fuel growth”, The New York Times, August 29, 2010.

26. Allen, 126.

27. Steven Chase and Robert Fife, “CSIS report warns of Chinese interference in New Zealand,” The Globe and Mail, May 30, 2018.

28. Lingling Wei and Bob Davis, “How China systematically pries technology from US companies,” The Wall Street Journal, September 26, 2018.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Carlos Tejada, “Beg, borrow or steal: How Trump says China takes technology,” The New York Times, March 22, 2018.

32. Chris Buckley and Paul Mozur, “What keeps Xi Jinping awake at night,” The New York Times, May 11, 2018.

33. Cade Metz, “Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and the feud over killer robots,” the New York Times, June 9, 2018.

34. Seung-yoon Lee, “Ha-Joon Chang: Economics Is A Political Argument,” World Post, June 4, 2014.

35. Yoko Kubota, “Trade war punctures China’s price in its technology,’ The Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2018.

36. John Bussey, “Tackling the many dangers of China’s state capitalism”, The Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2012.

37. Lingling Wei and Bob Davis, “China prepares policy to increase access for foreign companies,” The Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2018.

38. John Bussey, “U.S. attacks China Inc.”, The Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2012.

39. Bob Davis, “US tariffs on China aren’t a short-term strategy,” The Wall Street Journal, October 6, 2018.

40. Michael C. Bender, Gordon Lubold, Kate O’Keeffe and Jeremy Page, “US edges toward new Cold-War era with China,” The Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2019.

41. Martin Feldstein, “Tariffs should target Chinese lawlessness, not the trade deficit,” the Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2018.

42. Ibid.

43. Bob Davis, Peter Nicholas and Lingling Wei, “”Get moving’: How Trump ratcheted up the trade battle with China,” The New York Times, June 7, 2018.

44. Neil Irwin, “The Trump trade strategy is coming into focus. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will work.” The New York Times, October 6, 2018.

45. Bob Davis, “The country’s R&D agenda could use a shake-up, scientists say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2018.

46. Dan Strumpf, Min Jung Kim and Yifan Wang, “How Huawei took over the world,” The Wall Street Journal, December 25, 2018.
47. Mariana Mazzucato, The Entrepreneurial State, Demos, 2011,
http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Entrepreneurial_State_-_web.pdf?1310116014).

48. Fred Block and Matthew R. Keller, “Where do innovations come from? Transformations in the U.S. national innovation system, 1970-2006,” Technology and Innovation Foundation, July 2008.
http://www.itif.org/files/Where_do_innovations_come_from.pdf

49. Seumas Milne, “Budget 2012: George Osborne is stuck in a failed economic model, circa 1979,” The Guardian (UK), March 20, 2012.

50. Bob Davis, “The country’s R&D agenda could use a shake-up, scientists say,” The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2018.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid.

53. Ibid.

54. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014.

55. Phillip P. Pan, “The West was sure the Chinese approach would not work. It just had to wait. It’s still waiting.” The New York Times, November 18, 2018.

56. Allen, 127.

57. Andrew Browne, “China builds bridges and highways while the US mouths slogans,” The Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2018.

58. David C. Gompert, Astrid Stuth Cevallos, and Cristina L. Garafola, War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable, The Rand Corporation, 2016.https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1100/RR1140/RAND_RR1140.pdf

59. Norman Bethune, “Wounds,” in Roderick Stewart, The Mind of Norman Bethune, (Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2002), 183-186.

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No matter how it appears, Trump isn’t getting out of Syria and Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Syria by what's left on December 22, 2018

He’s just shifting the burden to allies and relying more on mercenaries

December 23, 2018

By Stephen Gowans

The announced withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the drawdown of US occupation forces in Afghanistan very likely do not represent the abandonment of US aims in the Middle East, and instead more likely reflect the adoption of new means of achieving longstanding US foreign policy goals. Rather than renouncing the US objective of dominating the Arab and Muslim worlds through a system of veiled colonialism and direct military occupation, US president Donald Trump is merely implementing a new policy—one based on shifting the burden of maintaining the US empire increasingly to allies and private soldiers bankrolled by oil monarchies.

Trump’s foreign relations modus operandi have been guided consistently by the argument that US allies are failing to pull their weight and ought to contribute more to the US security architecture. Recruiting Arab allies to replace US troops in Syria and deploying mercenaries (euphemistically called security contractors) are two options that have been actively under consideration at the White House since last year. What’s more, there already exists a significant ally and mercenary presence in Afghanistan and the planned withdrawal of 7,000 US troops from that country will only marginally reduce the Western military footprint.

US defense secretary Jim Mattis’s clash of worldviews with Trump is misperceived as a contradiction of views about US objectives, rather than how to achieve them. Mattis favors prosecution of US imperial aims through the significant participation of the US military, while Trump favors pressuring allies to shoulder more of the burden of US-empire maintenance while hiring security contractors to fill in the gaps. Trump’s goal is to reduce the empire’s drain on the US treasury and to secure his voting base, to whom he has promised, as part of his “America First” plan, to bring US troops home.

Significantly, Trump’s plan is to reduce expenditures on US military activity abroad, not as an end in itself, but as a means of freeing up revenue for domestic investment in public infrastructure. In his view, expenditures on the republic ought to have priority over expenditures on the empire. “We have [spent] $7 trillion in the Middle East,” complained the US president to members of his administration. “We can’t even muster $1 trillion for domestic infrastructure.”[1] Earlier, on the eve of the 2016 election, Trump groused that Washington had “wasted $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East — we could have rebuilt our country twice — that have produced only more terrorism, more death, and more suffering — imagine if that money had been spent at home. … We’ve spent $6 trillion, lost thousands of lives. You could say hundreds of thousands of lives, because look at the other side also.” [2]

In April of this year, Trump “expressed growing impatience with the cost and duration of the effort to stabilize Syria,” and spoke about the urgency of speeding the withdrawal of US troops. [3] Administration officials scrambled “to develop an exit strategy that would shift the U.S. burden to regional partners.” [4]

The national security adviser, John Bolton, “called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, to see if Cairo would contribute to the effort.” [5] Next Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were “approached with respect to financial support and more broadly to contribute.” Bolton also asked for “Arab nations to send troops.” [6] The Arab satellites were pressured to “work with the local Kurdish and Arab fighters the U.S. has been supporting” [7]—in other words, to take the baton from the United States.

Soon after, Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater USA, the mercenary firm, was “informally contacted by Arab officials about the prospect of building a force in Syria.” [8] In the summer of 2017, Prince—the brother of US education secretary Betsy DeVos—approached the White House about the possibility of withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan and sending mercenaries to fight in their place. [9] The scheme would see the Persian Gulf oil monarchies pay Prince to field a mercenary force to take over from US troops.

Trump announced in April that “We have asked our partners to take greater responsibility for securing their home region.” [10] The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal applauded the move. Trump’s plan, it said, was “the better strategy”—it would enlist “regional opponents of Iran,” i.e., the Arab potentates who rule at Washington’s pleasure, in the project of turning “Syria into the Ayatollah’s Vietnam.” [11]

There are currently 14,000 acknowledged US troops in Afghanistan, of whom half, or 7,000, will soon be withdrawn. But there are somewhere around 47,000 Western forces in the country, including NATO troops and mercenaries (14,000 US troops, 7,000 NATO forces [12], and 26,000 private soldiers [13]). Cutting the US contribution in half will still leave 40,000 Western troops as an occupation force in Afghanistan. And the reduction in US forces can be made up easily by hiring 7,000 mercenary replacements, paid for by Persian Gulf monarchs. “The drawdown,” reported The Wall Street Journal, “could pave the way for more private contractors to take over support and training roles,” as outlined in “the long-time campaign by Erik Prince.” The Journal noted that education secretary’s brother “has carried out an aggressive campaign to persuade Mr. Trump to privatize the war.” [14]

Mattis’s resignation has been interpreted as a protest against Trump’s “ceding critical territory to Russia and Iran” [15] rather than a rebuke to Trump for relying on allies to bear the burden of pursuing US goals in Syria. The defense secretary’s resignation letter was silent on Trump’s decision to bring US troops home from Syria and Afghanistan, and instead dwelled on “alliances and partnerships.” The letter outlined Mattis’s concerns that Trump’s turn in direction fails to pay adequate attention to “maintaining strong alliances and showing respect” to allies. While this has been construed as a reprimand for abandoning the US tip of the spear in Syria, the Kurds, Mattis referred to “alliances and partnerships” in the plural, indicating that his grievances go further than US relations with the Kurds. Instead, Mattis expressed concerns that are consistent with a longstanding complaint within the US foreign policy establishment that Trump’s incessant efforts to pressure allies to bear more of the cost of maintaining the US empire are alienating US allies and undermining the “system of alliances and partnerships” that comprise it. [16]

The notion, too, that Mattis’s resignation is a rebuke to Trump for abandoning the Kurds, is baseless. The Kurds are not being abandoned. British and French commandos are also present in the country and “are expected to remain in Syria after the American troops leave.” [17] Mattis appears to have been concerned that by extracting US forces from Syria, Trump is placing the weight of securing US goals more heavily on the British and French, who can hardly be expected to tolerate for long an arrangement whereby they act as Washington’s expeditionary force while US troops stay at home. At some point, they will realize they might be better off outside the US alliance. For Mattis, long concerned with maintaining a “comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships” as the means to “advance an international order that is most conducive to [US] security, prosperity and values,” Trump’s burden-shifting hardly amounts to “treating allies with respect” or “providing effective leadership,” as Mattis said in his resignation letter that Washington ought to do.

Russian president Vladimir Putin greeted the Trump announcement with skepticism. “We don’t see any signs yet of the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” he said. “How long has the United States been in Afghanistan? Seventeen years? And almost every year they say they’re pulling out their troops.”[18] Already, the Pentagon is talking about shifting US troops “to neighboring Iraq, where an estimated 5,000 United States forces are already deployed,” who will “’surge’” into Syria for specific raids.” [19] The force would also be able to “return to Syria for specific missions when critical threats arise,” [20] which might include the Syrian army attempting to recover its territory from Kurd occupation forces. What’s more, the Pentagon retains the capability of “continued airstrikes and resupplying allied Kurdish fighters with arms and equipment” from Iraq. [21]

Trump never intended to bring a radical redefinition of the aims of US foreign policy to the presidency, only a different way of achieving them, one that would take advantage of his self-proclaimed prowess at negotiation. Trump’s negotiation tactics involve nothing more than pressuring others to pick up the tab, which is what he has done here. The French, the British, and other US allies will replace US boots on the ground, along with mercenaries who will be bankrolled by Arab oil monarchies. To be sure, US foreign policy as an instrument for the protection and promotion of US profit-making has always relied on someone else to foot the bill, namely, ordinary Americans, who pay through their taxes and in some cases with their lives and bodies as US soldiers. As wage- and salary-earners they reap none of the benefits of a policy that is shaped by “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests,” as the political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page showed in their 2014 study of over 1,700 US policy issues. Big business, the scholars concluded, “have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [22] In other words, big business formulates US foreign policy to its benefit, and gets ordinary Americans to shoulder the cost.

That’s the way things ought to be, in the view of Mattis, and other members of the US foreign policy elite. The trouble with Trump, from their perspective, is that he is trying to shift part of the burden that presently weights heavily upon the shoulders of ordinary Americans to the shoulders of ordinary people in the countries who make up the subordinate parts the US empire. And while allies are expected to bear part of the burden, the increased share of the burden Trump wants them to carry is inimical to maintenance of the alliances on which the US empire depends.

1. Bob Woodward, Fear: Trump in the White House, (Simon & Shuster, 2018) 307.
2. Jon Schwarz, “This Thanksgiving, I’m Grateful for Donald Trump, America’s Most Honest President,” The Intercept, November 21, 2018.
3. Michael R. Gordon, “US seeks Arab force and funding for Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, April 16, 2018.
4. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
5. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
6. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
7. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
8. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
9. Michael R. Gordon, Eric Schmitt and Maggie Haberman, “Trump settles on Afghan strategy expected to raise troop levels,” The New York Times, August 20, 2017.
10. Gordon, April 16, 2018.
11. The Editorial Board, “Trump’s next Syria challenge,” The Wall Street Journal, April 15, 2018.
12. Julian E. Barnes, “NATO announces deployment of more troops to Afghanistan,” The Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2017.
13. Erik Prince, “Contractors, not troops, will save Afghanistan,” The New York Times, August 30, 2017.
14. Craig Nelson, “Trump withdrawal plan alters calculus on ground in Afghanistan,” The Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2018.
15. Helene Cooper, “Jim Mattis, defense secretary, resigns in rebuke of Trump’s worldview,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
16. “Read Jim Mattis’s letter to Trump: Full text,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
17. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon considers using special operations forces to continue mission in Syria,” The New York Times, December 21, 2018.
18. Neil MacFarquhar and Andrew E. Kramer, “Putin welcomes withdrawal from Syria as ‘correct’,” The New York Times, December 20, 2018.
19. Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt, “Pentagon considers using special operations forces to continue mission in Syria,” The New York Times, December 21, 2018.
20. Gibbons-Neff and Schmitt, December 21, 2018.
21. Gibbons-Neff and Schmitt, December 21, 2018.
22. Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall 2014.

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